Book Review: Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a Book written in 1943/1944 by George Orwell and is widely regarded as a Classic.

I had come across the Book in my student days but never got around to reading it.

I am glad I did so now.

The Book is about how animals on a Farm get tired of their human supervisors and overthrow them

They start with very lofty slogans of Equality, Fraternity etc but gradually one set of animals (pigs in this case) take charge and slowly but gradually things revert back to how they were

This Book is considered one of the most satirical pieces on Communism and hints at the Stalin-Trotsky fight in a very amusing way. The Book also has a reference to religion which I found funny.

The Book is relevant even today. In the Indian context, one can immediately relate it to the AAP party in Delhi who came to power on a clean platform only to become like the other political parties.

I would certainly recommend this Book to those interested in Classics and power politics.

Book Review: The RSS

The Book ‘The RSS’ is written by Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, a well known writer and journalist.

RSS and its sister organizations , known as the Sangh Parivar, is a behemoth . The Sangh Parivar runs India’s largest educational network Vidya Bharti (>12,000 schools), India’s largest trade union Bhartiya Mazdoor Sangh ( > 10 Million Members), India’s largest political party BJP , India’s largest tribal organization BVKA, India’s largest Hindu Organization VHP etc

I picked up the Book as I was wanted to know more about the Sangh Parivar. However the name of the Book is the misnomer. It does not cover the history of the RSS in a chronological fashion. Instead it views RSS through the lens of a few leaders and influncers.

These leaders covered in the Book are Hedgewar, Veer Savarkar, Guruji Golwalkar, S P Mookerjee, Deendayal Upadyaya, Balasaheb Deoras, Rajmata Scindia, Vajpayee, Advani, Ashok Singhal and Bal Thackeray

Each of these leaders deserve a book in their own right and the author is unfortunately not able to do justice to the lives and times of these icons.

The Book does however give a flavour of the thinking of the RSS,its organizations, its value systems etc

John Maynard Keynes once said “Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Mad men in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

Similarly, in the Indian context, many of the issues which are centre stage in Indian politics- Ram Mandir, Article 370, UCC etc have their genesis in the publications /lectures of RSS leaders.

For instance , a slogan coined by S P Mookherjee in the 1950s with respect to Kashmir is still going strong today:

Ek desh mein do vidhan

Ek desh mein do nishan

Ek desh mein do pradhan

Nahin chalenge, nahin chalenge

What is striking about the RSS is its organizational strength , discipline and its single minded focus to spread it’s message.

Eknath Ranade, RSS leader had once quipped “There are two types of people- those who agree with the RSS and those who will eventually agree with the RSS”

I would recommend this Book only to those interested in Indian politics

Book Review: Dead Companies Walking

The Book ‘Dead Companies Walking’ is written by hedge fund manager Scott Fearon

The author has made his career betting against or shorting the scrips of such companies. He narrates his experiences in the Book and it makes for a riveting and entertaining read.

As per the author, investors lose money in companies that are either frauds, fads or failures. Frauds and fads form a small percentage of such companies. The bulk of the businesses fail due more prosaic reasons such as the economic cycle, competition, lousy products, high cost structures etc

He has a very simple criteria for screening such companies – ‘Rising debt and falling sales’

In his opinion, most businesses fail because of one or some of six common mistakes:

–They learned only from the recent past i.e. the past one or two cycles and not beyond that

( True for NBFCs in India )

–They relied too heavily on a formula for success

(True for Crony Capitalists who gamed the Indian Banking System)

–They misread or alienated their customers

(True for Micro Finance Companies in India before the AP crisis)

–They fell victim to a mania

(True for the Infra/Power Sector in India)

–They failed to adapt to tectonic shifts in their industries

(True for PSU Banking Sector in India)

–They were physically/emotionally removed from the Companies’ operations (Wondering if it will be true for Siddharth Lal of Eicher Motors who has relocated to London)

One great takeaway from the Book for me was the importance of meeting managements. This was the first lesson the author learnt from his Boss:

“Geoff believed human-to-human contact was the best way to gauge a company’s future performance. He valued numbers and raw data, but he knew the numbers were easy to fudge or misread. You had to study the people behind the numbers to get the full story. You had to go see them where they lived and worked- their own offices”

One interesting aspect of meeting managements that the author highlights is as follows:

“People in management positions, even very senior management positions, are often completely wrong about the fortunes of their own companies. More important, in making these misjudgements, they almost always err on the side of excessive optimism”

Reading this Book makes one wish that there was an easier way to short companies in the India other than the ones in the F&O list.

I dare say it would be easier to make money shorting the thousands of such ‘dead companies’ in India than paying nose bleed valuations for quality cos !

I would strongly recommend this Book to anyone interested in the markets

Book Review: Cycling Home From Siberia

The Book ‘Cycling Home From Siberia’ is written by Rob Lilwall, a British adventurer.

Rob used to work as a Geography teacher in the UK till the adventure bug bit him.

The Book describes his epic cycling journey from Magadan, Siberia to London.

The journey took around three years and covered more than 30,000 Miles.

Along the way, he cycled through Russia, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium and finally home.

The author is very honest about his experiences along the way and the Book makes for an interesting light read.

The Book is full of interesting events and anecdotes which includes a mugging, fire, cyclones etc

One anecdote I found particularly amusing was when author got bored cycling in Japan. Everything was too perfect and monotonous. So, like any other crazy Englishman, he thought it would be a good idea to cycle around naked. Of course, within no time, the police were on him and he had to put back on his clothes .

Couldn’t help but wonder that if he had done the same stunt in our chaotic India, nobody would have been bothered…possibly, he would have become even more famous as a ‘Cycle Wala Baba’ !

One aspect of the Book that stuck me was that the author was able to travel the world on a shoe string budget. The entire trip cost less than 8,000 Pounds.

One reason why he was able to do so was that he used to stay at Churches etc and used the extensive Church network wherever possible.

The second reason was he used to pitch a tent next to the road whenever he felt tired and needed a break.

Another thing that I found remarkable was how he successfully parlayed his adventure into speaking sessions, books and National Geographic shows.

Is there anything to learn from such adventures? Other than the trite “Anything is possible if you put your mind to it” or “The world is full of good people”

The author himself disagrees.

He says “Although I had been thrilled to discover the world is full of wonder, beauty and good people, I had also seen meanness, misery, conflict, poverty and the cruelty of life.

Although I achieved more than I thought possible, I also became aware of my own limits and mortality”

I would recommend this Book only for those into endurance sports.

Book Review: Rise and Kill First

The Book ‘Rise & Kill First’ is written by Ronen Bergman, who is the world’s foremost authority on Israeli Intelligence.

The title of the Book come from the Talmud which says “If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first.”

The State of Israel heeds this counsel very seriously and hence has a policy of assassination even before it was formed.

The Book covers in meticulous detail the various assassinations or operations carried out by Israel over the years and makes for fascinating reading.

Some takeaways I found interesting:

  • There are no sacred cows.Any person who is perceived as a threat to State Security can be killed. Over the years, Israel has killed an Iranian diplomat,a Syrian General,political leaders etc. The most ruthless was the killing of Iran’s nuclear scientists which delayed Iran’s nuclear program by many years
  • There are no geographic off limits. Assassinations have taken place in various countries across continents.Israel does not hesitate to use its Army/Navy Commandos for the same. In 2010, Mossad agents were caught on CCTV cameras killing a Hamas leader in Dubai
  • There are no time limits. Even if your enemy has renounced arms, he still has to pay the price for the death of innocents he caused earlier.
  • There is no limit to the ways you can kill your enemy.One of the most fascinating operation was how a terrorist leader was killed.Israeli intelligence replaced the tooth paste he was using with a poisoned one. Every time, the terrorist brushed his teeth a small portion of poison was deposited on his gums which eventually killed him
  • Innocents will die.In counter-insurgency operations, the price of killing your enemy often involved the killing of innocents including women and children. This leads to anger, hatred and even more attacks…making peace a non-possibility
  • Two types of intelligence- HumInt and SigInt. HumInt depends on humans-spys, informers etc.SigInt is communications, eavesdropping etc. Israel is a master in both of them
  • Extensive Use of Technology. I was astounded to know that Israel had invented drone technology way back in 1982 ! They were so good at it that eventually they had built war scenarios where they could destroy the Syrian Army just using drones !
  • Another interesting aspect is how Israel kills its enemies in the Occupied Territories.The skies of Gaza and West Bank are filled with thousands of drones. The moment a target is identified, he is marked with laser. Then Apache/F16s take over the laser painted target and fire missiles at the target thus annihilating it.They are so accurate that they were able to kill Sheikh Yassin, Hamas Leader when he was sitting in a wheel chair and was carried by his followers on the street !
  • Extensive collaboration with other intelligence agencies,The entire Middle East operates on the principle of ‘The Enemy of my enemy is my friend’…so you have Israel collaborating with other states like Egypt,Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc depending who’s the common enemy

I found the Book to be a great read and yet after reading the Book, I felt a bit sad.

The reason is that the very success of Israeli intelligence in killing its enemies ensures that there will be no political settlement in the region and hence no peace

I would strongly recommend this Book to those interested in Israel and Military Affairs.