I am fifteen days late in publishing the annual Dharma Dispatch reading list but better late than never. Without further ado, here is the booklist for 2020 not categorized in any particular order but for their value in providing insights, new information and compelling arguments. The following are some of the books I read in 2020 and were not necessarily published in the same year.
1. The Kingdom and the Power Behind the Scenes at The New York Times: Gay Talese
This is a truly masterly work to understand the inner workings of one of the oldest news organisations in the world, The New York Times. Written by Gay Talese, once an iconic writer and journalist known for his finely-crafted and vivid prose, it is an extraordinary journey that has the power to almost physically transport us to the building itself, not to mention how it reveals the minute details of this newspaper.
2. Beyond Belief: V.S. Naipaul
This is the follow up work to Naipaul’s pathbreaking Among the Believers in which he narrates his experiences in four “non-Arab Muslim countries” as he puts it. That work was an instant bestseller and deservedly so. In Beyond Belief, Naipaul revisits the same countries—Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Iran—after fifteen years and some of the trends and phenomena that he had foreseen in Among the Believers have now become gruesome realities. In the process, for example, he discovers that Pakistan is now no longer a nation but a “criminal enterprise” swamped with corrupt judges, fanatical Muslim clergy, constant tribal wars, and a situation where the country is just waiting for that final push before it shatters into chaos. The book is at once delightful, tragic, and chilling. Naipaul calls himself a “manager of narrative,” and downplays his writerly role in these terms: “the writer is less present, less of an inquirer. He is in the background, trusting to his instinct, a discoverer of people, a finder-out of stories. These stories, opening out one from the other, make their own pattern.”
3. Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History: Vinayak Damodar Savarkar
A majestic work of original history authored by one of India’s greatest sons, Veer Savarkar. There is another fundamental reason Savarkar was and continues to be demonized by a bigoted section of the so-called intelligentsia and academia in India: the reason is couched in this work itself. Six Glorious Epochs presents the sweeping panorama of Indian history from the perspective of the rise and fall of Hindus celebrating their rise with candid pride and is unapologetic about the causes and the people responsible for its downfall. These six glorious epochs begin with Chanakya-Chandragupta Maurya followed by the “Yavana-destroyer” Pushyamitra Sunga, Chandragupta Vikramaditya, Yashodharma, the Maratha Power, and India’s freedom from British rule. A huge percentage of Indians today will be shocked to learn the fact that Six Glorious Epochs was a serial bestseller in all languages it was published: from the original Marathi to Hindi to English. Its copies were exhausted almost immediately after it hit the bookstalls.
4. Collected Works: Periyar E.V.R.
Aldous Huxley said that “a bad book is as much of a labour to write as a good one; it comes as sincerely from the author's soul.” The same quote applies one hundred percent to perverted ideologues and violent-revolution mongers masquerading as social reformers throughout history. “Periyar” E.V. Ramaswami Naicker easily rubs shoulders with the worst of such epic, perverted ideologues. When Hitler’s Mein Kampf was initially published, it was a flop but became a bestseller after his rise to power. For more than a decade, it was the Bible of the Nazis. On his part, Ramaswami Naicker had no such luck at political power but his speeches and writings did become popular because he complemented them with his equally incendiary political activism. It eventually led to the Dravidianist takeover, which destroyed Tamil Nadu in an unprecedented fashion. His Collected Works is essential reading because the same atavistic forces that he unleashed are making a renewed comeback though not with the same intensity. Another crucial reason why they must be studied is because the larger society ignored him for a long time, dismissing him merely as a semi-crazed activist at their peril. Collected Works is an unabashed tome of fanatical Brahmin hatred and an open advocacy of violence against Brahmins. History is proof that this textual violence became a ground reality in direct proportion to the growth in Dravidianist political power. The Alwars are “Dravida betrayers” and all Dravidas who worship them are “disloyal Dravidas.” Kamban is a villain. There is “nothing educative to Tamils” to follow the Ramayana. “Aryan” women were impregnated not by men but “lower animals.” The Bhagavad Gita is “directly opposed to” Thirukkural. Perhaps “Periyar’s” most honest revelation is when he compares himself to Satan who declared that he preferred to be Number One in Hell than be Number Two in Heaven. This is how “Periyar” puts it: “Even if I were to lead a life in hell, I would deem it better than the earthly one.” His Collected Works makes for truly sickening reading but it is essential reading to understand the sort of monsters lurking amidst us. In their own words.
5. Strong Religion, Zealous Media Christian Fundamentalism and Communication in India: Pradip N. Thomas
This is one of those books that has not received the attention it really merits. The academic and scholar Pradip Ninan Thomas undertakes a rigorous and thorough scholarly study on a fairly phenomenon that has impacted entire nations and the Hindu society in India specifically, in a far-reaching fashion. The manner in which Television and the Internet have been used by both Islamic and Christian fundamentalist organisations to proselytize and alter societies and cultures across the globe. However, the author’s focus is centred on how Christian fundamentalism has used new-age media to spread its propaganda in India. He starts off with this premise: “ Christian fundamentalists, in particular, rank among the world’s foremost users of the media, because in their way of thinking, every medium of communication is a gift from God and a potential ally in the dissemination of God’s unvarying, eternal truth.” The level of detail and the systematic manner in which vast sections of public institutions have been subverted by the Christian fundamentalists is frightening. For example, when Samuel Rajashekhara Reddy (YSR) was Chief Minister, Hyderabad became the “location of the Christian Broadcasting Network’s Indian operations.” P. Chidambaram was the chief guest of the “Every Tongue Every Tribe” convention organised by the Indian Pentecostal Church in January 2006. These are but two high-profile instances of the global missionary network’s silent but scary takeover of India. The book also provides a laundry list of evangelical Christian TV channels operating within India in various Indian languages. The decades-long strategizing, planning and execution down to the last pin should have been a tremendous wake-up call. Pradip N. Thomas’ work was published in 2008. Enough said.
6. Last Days of the British Raj: Leonard Mosley
At one time, this work was widely cited by scholars of R.C. Majumdar’s status. Time has sadly dimmed its appeal and importance. The signal value of Last Days of the British Raj is the insights, facts and primary sources that it provides regarding the tumultuous years preceding India’s partition and freedom. It asks and answers these questions: what made the British give in to partition? Why was Mountbatten even sent to India? Why didn’t the British take any precautions to avoid the genocide in the wake of the partition? Leonard Mosley has access to important documents, papers, and official letters related to these questions and he talks to several important people who played a big part during those years including but not limited to Nehru, K.M. Munshi, Ismay, Mountbatten, V.P. Menon, Radcliffe, Rajagopalachari, General Thimmayya, Master Tara Singh, and Ayub Khan. Do read it. A huge eye-opener.
7. A Tapestry of Pen-Portraits: Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy
This is an English translation of the venerable journalist and scholar Dr. S.R. Ramaswamy’s pen portraits of literary and scholarly eminences hailing from 20th century Karnataka. It was translated into English and recently published by Prekshaa Pratishthana with the foregoing title and opened to immediate critical and popular acclaim. A detailed review is available here.
8. The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America: David Horowitz
This is akin to a Rogues’ Gallery of American academia published in book form. Former Communist and now its most avowed critic, David Horowitz makes a meticulous list of Far-Left professors in America providing detailed proofs of how they wrecked higher education and created what are today known as wokes. The common traits underscoring all these academics include a visceral hatred of America, apologias for Islamic terrorism, advocacy of cultural Marxism and the breaking up of traditional society. Some prominent names include the Indian-born Professors Vinay Lal, and Priya Parmar, Noam Chomsky, Hamid Dabashi, Angela Davis, John Esposito, Richard Falk, Melissa Gilbert, Tom Hayden, Robert Jensen, Gayle Rubin and Howard Zinn. Overall, no university—big, small, reputed or obscure—has been spared of their clutches: Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Emory, New York, MIT, Penn State, Northwestern, Princeton, Purdue, Rutgers, Stanford, and Syracuse. David Horowitz provides enough convincing evidence to show that all these universities have been turned into centres of indoctrination into the Far-Left ideology and the damage they have left in their wake. It is a frightening but important read. One wishes a similar compilation was made with respect to Indian academia. Out here, that number would be in multiples of 101.
9. The House of Medici: Its Rise and Fall: Christopher Hibbert
An extraordinarily well-written work of popular history, The House of Medici narrates the vivid, gripping and often brutal story of the infamous House of Medici, dubbed the Bank of the Pope. At the height of its power, the House of Medici produced four Popes and two queens of France. It financed constructions on a grand scale, patronized art, literature and music, and funded businesses and wars. For over three centuries, the House of Medici commanded more wealth and power than the houses of Windsor, Kennedy and Rockefeller put together. And suddenly, it lost everything just like that. Christopher Hibbert has created a true masterpiece with this work, which by itself is also a great model for aspiring writers of popular narrative history.
10. Beyond the Last Blue Mountain: A Life of J.R.D. Tata: R.M. Lala.
A fascinating, interesting, inspiring and moving biography of one of India’s greatest business icons, J.R.D. Tata, this is a tale of an epic life narrated with great care and finesse. It is also a work of contemporary history woven with rich anecdotes, most of which were unknown till the work came out. Here is a tidbit. Noting the state of the economy after India attained independence, JRD says, “never once has any Prime Minister asked me what I thought of the economic policy of the country. In no other country would that have happened.” Eventually, Indira Gandhi’s Principal Secretary P.N Haksar asks him the question. JRD thinks that is a genuine request and his team at the Tatas prepares a detailed, confidential paper on economic policy. It is immediately leaked to the Communist yellow press, which takes a cue to launch a series of agitations against such evil capitalists. And when R.M. Lala asks J.R.D Tata why he wishes to die abroad, the reply is poignant: “If I die abroad, I will be no bother to people here.” Do read this highly underrated but engrossing biography.
That’s it for this year. Do let me know your feedback in the comments section.
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