Sunday, May 14, 2017

Love, loneliness and lingering

Reviewed by ASIF ANWAR ALIG 

A Blueprint for Love, by Chatura Rao, Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, Year2016.

ome nine decades ago, the arrival of A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, defined the true ascent of love, loneliness and lingering in the backdrop of Italian campaign of World War I. 

It had pleaded to overcome human agonies. While reading A Blueprint for Love by Chatura Rao, I digressed to similar feelings. Reverberating with human anguishes and hollowness in the relationships, this book portrays why mankind’s anarchies haven’t diminished yet.

Almost a century ago, Hemingway augured the scenario of a landscape of war-torn world, and expressed such anarchies through his fiction work. Meanwhile, A Blueprint for Love realizes today’s sufferings of the Gujarat carnage milieu besides an unfinished love story set in current context.

Blending the stories of love, defiance and communal disharmonies of today’s India metamorphosed into human sycophancies, Rao’s novel asserts unique manifestation—of love lost, of human identities and relationships when Indian mindset is conspicuous through fast changes at the heights of mayhem. 

From the communal disharmonies to religious chauvinism, this book questions such pandemonium in Indian identities to human barbarism which demonize moral values and at the same juncture perish love.

Unlike other love-themed fictions, this novel engages readers with diversified plot and scenes thoroughly scripted as metaphors of realities which humans face. It beautifully crisscrosses from present to past to also highlighting human loneliness and shillyshallying of characters with the towering creative instinct.

Montage of scenes projected through characters portrays happy childhoods to anguished adolescents. Balancing scenes of unnerving rustic serenity with an urban chaos, the feelings and emotional experiences are meticulously presented. What makes the novel appealing is justice for the characters, locale and the projections to provide the readers with a feel of love, edginess and newer kind of segregation. They have been highlighted in the social paradigm.   

A must read for Indian fiction lovers, A Blueprint for Love takes the readers to various locations—scenes from Pune to Himalayan foothills, Mumbai to Gandhinagar and Baroda to Delhi, to experience it how relationships entice through egos for extempore sufferings. Its storyline sinuously appeal to the readers to know the places where the characters move. It balances the expressions of loveliness, personal sufferings, lifelessness, homelessness and hopelessness to India’s political tragedies in an era while human sanctity is utterly devalued.  

Novel’s protagonist characters Suveer, Reva, and equally powerful Aboli—whom novelist presents in memory—is symbolic of love and passion. Other character, Tarun appearing in the backdrop to Suveer’s frequent travels to Gujarat on journalistic assignment finds the plot digresses to a different connotation. With the shifting of plot to Gandhinagar, novel narrates how home of a Muslim businessman in the Hindu-dominated neighborhood becomes bone of contention in modern progressive India.

The stories of sufferings, especially that of Muslim woman being molested by the Hindu rioters and the tales of betrayals in the urban societies, symbolizes a very different kind of India. Incidents, such as Suveer doing his best to save the same Muslim woman, Mahnoor by even risking his life, to getting hospitalized and other related incidents are worth inspection.
That communal chauvinism was simply vested interest of a few selected people. It appealed in this context that in every scene of the novel that reflects either melancholy or failure to understand the emotional punch. They thus, truly define the blueprint of love—whether platonic or passionate.

Suveer is at crossroads in his life but other character, Reva barely overcomes her own share of sufferings. Love redefines itself in numerous paradoxes. Each character of this novel meticulously describes love as a longing. The empowered theme of this novel is while summer-filled romance has its place; some of the recognizable characters are groomed for bloodlust due to sectarian violence. They juxtapose social realities having been translated into fiction.

This novel concludes while a mob-molested Muslim character Mahnoor feels solace in her recuperation with a hilltop Hindu family host to revitalize for her willingness to lead life afresh. Her husband Zahyan though fails to overcome his share of trauma. Misguided by community’s political zealots—so called savors of him—he is fated to choose the downwards path of hatred and thus fails to enjoy normal life.

Rao’s novel is a welcome addition, and an engaging read. 

This review article was first published in Ceylon Today, May 14, 2017 edition.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

A life marvelously lived

India is believed to be one of the world’s fastest growing economies. While it grows in all sectors, urban railways have seen a lion’s share of benefit in the upturn. Karmayogi: A Biography of E. Sreedharan by M.S. Ashokan, projects the multifaceted aspects of the personality of modern India’s Metro-Man—Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, who brought about a resurgence in the country’s railway infrastructure.

A thorough insight into E. Sreedharan’s personality, this exceptionally written book captivates the reader with ample information about the celebrated technocrat. His extraordinary career is an inspiration for future generations. His achievements in a long career in the Indian Railways, his attempts to remodel country’s railways, is pivotal. Whether building the Kolkata Metro or the Konkan Railway, to the successful completion of the Delhi Metro and numerous other metro projects in India, he became well known, ever since the early days of his career while rebuilding the Pampan Bridge to connect Ramesawram to Tamil Nadu.  

M.S Ashokan originally wrote this book in Malayalam while Rajesh Rammohan translated it into English for its wider reach. For Rammohan to translate this, is a great tribute.

Besides dealing with how Sreedharan met the challenge to modernize, as well as to expand India’s railways transportation system, to match global standards, this book also sheds light on the details of his career as a technocrat. It is worth knowing how he emerged from a moderate family against all odds to attain the success which has made him something of a cult figure.  

This book cursorily discusses his early life in a remote Kerala village to his educational journey and a fulfilling career. From Basel Evangelical Mission Higher Secondary School to Victoria College in Palghat and then completing a Civil Engineering course at the Government Engineering College, Kakinada, he was educated like other ordinary students but an out of the box mentality served to bring him into the national and global spotlight.

Before joining Indian Railways, Sreedharan had brief stint as a lecturer in Civil Engineering at the Government Polytechnic, Kozhikode. He worked at the Bombay Port Trust as an apprentice for one year but his career got a boost after qualifying for the Indian Engineering Service by UPSC in 1953. Ever since he took his first assignment in the Southern Railway as a Probationary Assistant Engineer in December 1954, he never looked back.

Sreedharan’s association with the Konkan Railway Project, which aimed to connect India’s financial capital Mumbai with the southernmost areas of Kerala and the nearby regions through Goa, was notable for his outstanding planning and execution abilities. His achievements helped to make India proud of its engineering accomplishments. It would have been difficult for Indian Railways to traverse the Indian West Coast due to the tough terrain between the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea. Sreedharan made it all possible.

The book has a detailed description about the Konkan Line project which ran through 59 stations and which covered 760 kilometers while crossing three Indian states. 

It also explains the practical difficulties the Line faced to become successful by passing through the 92 tunnels along the route, of which nine were more than 3 kilometres long, the longest being 6.5 kilomteres. This line had 149 large bridges and numerous smaller ones with more than 21 kilometres of them crossing water. This project is still unquestionably considered an engineering marvel and was completed in just over seven years.

Sreedharan is also remembered for his professional acumen in rebuilding the Pampan Bridge to connect Ramesawram with the rest of the Tamil Nadu mainland. He led the team to rebuild the bridge when he was but thirty. The seas fury had swept the earlier bridge away but he managed to recover 126 girders. He successfully re-installed them in a record four months. Besides their appreciation, he was also given a cash award of Rs. 1000/- by the Indian Government for his remarkable role at such a young age.  

He then joined the Calcutta Metro in 1971 and showcased his exemplary technical skills there. His five years stint at Calcutta Metro had many ups and downs. Out of the whole line, 16.45 kilometres had to be underground. He ensured its completion on time, despite hurdles. This success is considered to be the foundation of modern infrastructure engineering in India.

During his stint as Managing Director of the Cochin Shipyard, Sreedharan launched the yard’s first ship, ‘MV Rani Padmini’ in 1981. He had many obstacles to overcome but the launch proved historic for the yard.

India’s national capital, Delhi could hardly be a global city without the Delhi Metro infrastructure. It connects every part of the city. Through extensive planning, boosting the morale of the team to a positive approach during the project, he succeeded and brought about a renaissance of the city’s transportation system.

The Delhi Metro association were the originators of the name, ‘Metro Man’ for Sreedharan. 

Today, he is still active in several roles including technical consultant, post superannuation. He has been principal advisor to the Kochi Metro Rail project. The Indian Government recognized his skills as a technocrat when they awarded him the Padma Shri in 2001 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2008.

The Government of France awarded Sreedharan the Chevalier de la L├ęgion d’honneur in 2005. Time Magazine named him as one of Asia’s Heroes in 2003. Furthermore, he was recently appointed to serve on the United Nations’ High Level Advisory Group for Sustainable Transport (HLAG-ST).

M.S. Ashokan’s groundbreaking research makes this biography of E., Sreedharan, highly informative. He is one of the great geniuses of the Indian subcontinent and a pathfinder for the future generation.
This article had first appeared in Ceylon Today, Colombo, May 07, 2017 edition.