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The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh
The Accidental Prime Minister: The Making and Unmaking of Manmohan Singh
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Rare Peek inside the Government's Head..., April 22, 2014
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Sanjaya Baru, the Indian PM's media adviser from 2004-2008, had a unique ringside view of how Mr. Manmohan Singh, the venerable PM worked with the bureaucracy and the political establishment. This book is s short memoir describing some of the key events during this period. Limited by the Official Secrets Act, and his personal loyalty to the PM, the book nevertheless offers some valuable insights into the PM's mind and style.
The book is divided into 13 thematic chapters, which are also somewhat chronological. It starts with how Mr. Baru was invited to join the PM, how he developed his relationship with the PM, the problems he faced along the way, and his eventual evolution into a trusted adviser. This autobiographical content is interwoven with material about policy initiatives taken by the PM and how some of these panned out.

A richer strand is of the difficult relationship between the PM and the party President, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. The book offers a number of cameos to show how this relationship worked, the problems that arose, and the compromises that were made. Though Mr. Baru's loyalties are clear, he does makes an effort to be even-handed. The picture you get is of an honest PM, hobbled by inner Party politics, watched fearfully by dynastic hangers-on, and hamstrung by lack of a political background.

Another rich vignette is that of the relationship between the Left and the Congress. Dr. Singh's work was hampered by the schisms within Left - he took advantage of some and was undone by others. Again Mr. Baru is even handed, though his irritation with Mr. Prakash Karat shows through.

The book also suffers from some flaws: Mr. Baru has to leave out big chunks - some due to Official Secrets Act, and others due to his limited access to Dr. Singh's mind or how some of the games were played out. Another flaw is language - though Mr. Baru is a journalist and quite in command of English, some of it appears to be a little stultified. Maybe he has spent too much time writing the PM's speeches - it is difficult for him to write short sentences or use active voice. He also quotes longish passages from the speeches - is this narcissistic or a necessity?

Nevertheless, an excellent book overall. It also deserves less sensationalism and more reading. I wish more bureaucrats would write more often about how our Government works!

The edition I read was Kindle. Good layout on Paperwhite, though the speech text appears to be much smaller than the main text, and is difficult to read.


The Private Patient (Inspector Adam Dalgliesh Book 14)
The Private Patient (Inspector Adam Dalgliesh Book 14)

4.0 out of 5 stars Quite enjoyable, December 17, 2013
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Rhoda is a lonely, investigative journalist, with a sad past. She goes to a countryside clinic for cosmetic surgery and loses her life. Adam Dalgliesh is called in, and eventually the mystery is solved. The eventual solution, and Adam's detection are not flawless, but still fairly good. Adam, as usual, does not get the full credit for the solution or bask in the solution, as for example, Sherlock Holmes would have done.

However, what is indeed outstanding is the character development of most of the players. Ms. James' narrative and descriptive powers are par excellence, and thoroughly enjoyable. Some scenes sound as if you are there yourself. She has also kept up with the changes in the society and the technology, which is quite creditable.

She also does a fine job of describing the passage of the English country life into history and it's rebirth into something more sustainable. This is happening in India as well, where old Havelis and palaces are being converted to heritage hotels - the heirs simply do not have the surplus to maintain these garangutan places.

All in all, quite enjoyable. I had a good time.


Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh Book 3)
Unnatural Causes (Adam Dalgliesh Book 3)

3.0 out of 5 stars Unnatural Ending, December 9, 2013
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Having discovered P D James very late with a recent purchase of 'Cover Her Face', I was keenly anticipating a similar level of satisfaction from this book. Unfortunately, Unnatural Causes did disappoint.

The book has a very promising opening and the first half is fairly good. The description of Suffolk Coast reads well. Several characters are developed fairly well. The relationship between Adam and his aunt is worth cherishing. However, an extraordinary amount of time is spent on Adam himself, rather than the plot or the players.

As a result, the story struggles. Three fourths of the way, and the plot still seems lost. And then suddenly, swoosh - every thing is explained with great detail, in just about 4-5 pages, by the murderer themselves. On a tape recording! And with all the psychological warts and moles. This part becomes very jarring, and appears contrived. Almost as if the writer ran out of patience and wanted to end it quickly.

Was a great plot and could have been a great story, if it had not been ended in this manner.


Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]
Kindle Paperwhite, 6" High Resolution Display with Built-in Light, Wi-Fi [Previous Generation]

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Enormous Improvement, April 28, 2013
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A friend had gifted a 2nd Generation Kindle to me a few years ago - I found it useful, but highlighting, making notes and all was cumbersome. I found the Kindle on iPad a distinct improvement, especially for highlighting, bigger screen and so on. However, an iPad is really heavy for prolonged use, so I found that reading long books on it was very tiring.

I ordered Kindle Paperwhite in March, and it came dot on time, beautifully packed. Amazon organised the customs clearance, so it was not a hassle for me. Setting up was easy. I had ordered a Kindle cover also, which seems to have been a good idea - it makes it easier to hold and use the Kindle securely. I have now been using Kindle Paperwhite for nearly a month, in preference over the iPad and the 2nd Gen. The screen is good, though a little slow to refresh when turning pages or moving back and forth in the book. The touchscreen is fairly responsive, though not as smooth as iPad screen. I also miss the multi-colour highlighting on the iPad. The touch keyboard is better than the pearl-button keyboard on 2nd Gen, but not as good as iPad. As a result, making detailed notes is a bit of a strain, though highlighting is okay.

That said, the Kindle Paperwhite is much easier to use for reading books, than for instance the iPad. Firstly it is just the right size and weight for you to hold with one hand. It really feels like you are holding a book. Second, you don't need to keep the room lights on to read at night. The screen does look like paper (and has a similar texture too!). The lighting is even, though you can glimpse the LEDs at the bottom showing through like footlights on a stage. You can increase the decrease the lighting and the font size - you can also change the font itself and the margins. The Amazon Kindle cover has a nice texture, and a very satisfactory magnetic clasp, so that Kindle goes to sleep whenever you snap it shut. You also don't need to charge the battery very often - the screen doesn't use up much power.

How about magazines or newspapers? The Kindle screen is too small and plain for any serious reading of magazines or large format papers. I find the iPad is much better for magazines, though Kindle beats it hands down for reading books.

All in all, a great improvement, and good value for money. I do wish that Amazon would work a little bit more on the keyboard, though.


2/E Writing Audit Reports
2/E Writing Audit Reports
by Mary Cogan Bromage
Edition: Hardcover
11 used & new from $0.28

5.0 out of 5 stars More of a Tribute, than a Review, December 16, 2012
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I first discovered this book in 1986 in a bookshop in Delhi, when I was struggling to find a way to write readable audit reports. I read through parts of it at the time, and found that the advice was both sensible and practical. I absorbed a number of useful tips into my writing and forgot all about this book.
Twenty years later, I found that the Team Leaders in our audit were struggling badly with narrative reports. I then remembered this book but could not find it anywhere in a book-shop or on the net. People seemed to have forgotten this book completely.
Early 2012 I located an old copy of the book on Amazon, with one of the resellers. I snapped it up, and it finally adorns my book-shelf once again. I have been reading the book again and I find that it remains as relevant today as it was 25 years ago. There is probably no other comparable book on audit report writing.
Unfortunately, Mary Bromage passed on in 1995 - and a new edition has not come out since the 1984 edition. Which is quite a loss, for all of us.
Though some of the advice has now become a little anachronistic due to technological changes, her ideas about structuring, reader orientation, format, content, remain vibrant and fresh. I am hoping that this book will work as well for our Team Leaders, as it did for me.
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God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World
God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World
by Cullen Murphy
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $27.00
89 used & new from $0.01

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ...Condemned to repeat it, February 4, 2012
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Though I have been reading bits about inquisition for the last 15 years, I always thought it was mainly something that the Spanish and the Portuguese did. I also thought that it ended in the 19th century. Mr. Murphy disabused me thoroughly of both the notions. He shows how it spilled over from Europe into the colonies, as far as Brazil. I also learned that England had its own date with inquisition as did the Vatican. He does not restrict himself to inquisition proper, but also writes about witchcraft, censorship and other forms of religious persecution. Through this all, he travels to the places where all this happened and talks to a number of players. This gives a very 'current event' kind of feeling to the book.

He then goes on to show that though inquisition primarily started as a religious institution, it gradually became entwined with the State. Finally in the modern 21st century, the religious overtones are almost completely gone, and all that remains is the bureaucracy and the machine, put to effective use by the modern secular state. And this is happening the world over - from Russia to the US.

Despite the title, this book is not about religious persecution. The church origins and history of the inquisition are used to launch and dramatise the story. This helps us focus on modern realities, thinking about the intrusions of the state into our lives, and where it might all lead us. Those who do not learn from history are....

Mr. Murphy is a journalist and it shows in the readability of his prose. He also is very good at dovetailing events across centuries and drawing parallels. The writing is very live, and it is difficult to put the book down. There is an enormous amount of information and delicious tidbits for people interested in inquisition per se. And there is a lot to chew on for others who are concerned about just how much the government and corporations intrude into our privacy and personal lives. Mr. Murphy is a modern Catholic, very perceptive and his insights are invaluable.

The hardcover edition that I read was bound quite nicely, with good paper and a readable type face. There is a useful index, though somewhat stingy in terms of references, considering the amount of information in this book. There is a bibliography, as well as notes.

All in all, readable, thought provoking, informative writing and a great book!
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 22, 2014 11:26 AM PDT


Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men
Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men
by Mara Hvistendahl
Edition: Hardcover
60 used & new from $0.01

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Asia's Unborn Daughters, August 6, 2011
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Mara Hvistendahl makes an interesting point. It is evident that easy availability of abortion clinics (Marie Stopes) and of ultra-sound diagnostic tests has helped make it easier for Indians to get rid of unborn daughters with less fuss and qualms than before. Secondly, the Government's vigorous promotion of a two-child family norm and its wide-spread social acceptance would tempt many into 'ensuring' they had a son while sticking to the two-child norm. Kishore Mahbubani (Can Asians Think?) has also pointed to the influence that Aid agencies and rich nations exercised over population control in Asian nations. This appears to be true - for India at least.

However, the preference for sons over daughters appears to an ancient one, and widely reflected in Hindu literature and mythology. King Pandu, in Mahabharat, asks only for sons and ends up with five. His elder brother, Dhritarashtra has 100 sons, and only one daughter. King Dashrath has four children in old age - all sons. King Sagar has 60,001 children - all male. Ultrasound technology probably means that what was once sought as a divine boon is now available over the counter, for a few thousand rupees.

The shortage of women in ancient India may also be corroborated by the practice of bride-price, which was later condemned as uncivilized behaviour, amounting to sale of daughters.

Secondly, mid-wives in India had a versatile tool-kit for killing off unwanted children (whether illegitimate sons or merely female). This indigenous technology certainly did not come from the West. However, it worked only when the child was born.

To counter this, the smritis (codes of conduct) recommended social ostracism for those who aborted a foetus. This stigma, possibly never very strong, appears to have been completely extinguished by the Government's vigorous, no-questions-asked promotion of abortions.

All in all, Ms. Hvistendahl argument is valid to the extent it helps us understand that it is not just local culture that is to blame for this ongoing silent genocide in Asia. Rich Western nations may also have some blood on their hands, when it comes to killing of the never-born.


Tinderbox - The Past and Future of Pakistan
Tinderbox - The Past and Future of Pakistan
by M. J. Akbar
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $35.99
29 used & new from $8.19

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, February 13, 2011
Mr. M. J. Akbar, an experienced journalist, sets out to trace and analyse the process of partition of South Asia into two warring countries: India and Pakistan. For this he begins not with the arrival of the British, and their `divide and rule' policy, as is the convention. He goes back to Emperor Akbar's reign, who first actively sought to create a syncretic nation, bringing Muslims and Hindus together. The clerical reactions to this, and the theory of distance that these reactions spawned, apparently bore fruit 500 years later in the bloody partition of the sub-continent.

Mr. Akbar's thesis is fascinating and despite containing a heavy dose of research and analysis, reads well, given Mr. Akbar's journalistic credentials. He completely demolishes the theory that the British were the cause of the partition - their role appears to be similar to that of Pontius Pilate who washed his hands off the crucifixion of Lord Jesus Christ. Refreshingly, he also examines Mahatma Gandhi's actions and thoughts with a sincere honesty, as an Indian, rather than as a Muslim or a Hindu. He also lends considerable weight to the new argument that Mr. Jinnah was a reluctant Pakistani, and not the primary cause of partition. It would be great if this book sparks a fresh debate into the causes of partition, and the lessons that we need to draw from it.

The book has been criticised for its failure to talk about the future of Pakistan. This is fair, if we assume that the book was expected to devote an equal amount of space to the past and the future. But if we agree that Pakistan started forming 550 years ago, then Mr. Akbar has given proportionate attention to both sides of the timeline. In any case, Mr. Akbar is a journalist, not a seer. And at this point of time, even a seer would have a hard time prophesying the future of Pakistan!

The hardbound Harper Collins edition has been printed and bound well, with an easy to read typeface. The paper tends to absorb ink, if you like making notes in the margins.

All in all, an excellent book. A must-read for all those interested in the future of the sub-continent.


QuickBooks Pro 2010 - Old Version
QuickBooks Pro 2010 - Old Version
3 used & new from $395.27

4.0 out of 5 stars Looking good over the years - could be better..., April 10, 2010
My download went through quite smoothly, on a broadband connection. I then installed it and had it running on Windows 7 (32 bit), in about an hour's time. I then converted my 2002 files, which went through without a hiccup. I then purchased two more licenses, as I need to use this on three computers, often simultaneously. I installed another copy on a computer running Windows XP. This also went through, after an initial glitch - I had to uninstall the 2002 version first. The software was activated on the internet, and there was no problem in the license numbers getting synchronized, even though I had purchased in two installments. I have now been using this for about 50 days, and am quite satisfied. Definitely a great improvement over 2002. Buying twice meant I had to spend an extra $7, but well, better safe than sorry.

Activating the third copy was more of an adventure. It did not happen automatically over the internet, and I had to call up a US number long-distance, several times, and use an Interactive Voice Response. I couldn't figure out what 'pound' means, and kept trying to locate the British Pound symbol on the key-pad. Finally, I searched the Internet, and found out that what we know as the hash key (#) is called pound key in US and Canada. Then there were other glitches, so I ended up being redirected (possibly to South Asia), and spoke to a chatty lady, who asked the same questions several times, before she reluctantly gave me the activation code. Maybe some of the customers are right - Quickbooks possibly likes to build up an address database.

Now for the flip side. I couldn't buy it for a very cost-effective $119 from Amazon, as Amazon ships / downloads this only to US customers. So I tried Intuit. But the Intuit store again had a problem - it wasn't shipping or downloading to India. The store page did not also offer a solution or a tip. Their Indian web-site does not list the software. There was a sale consultant (Madonna) hovering on the web-site, and she sent me a link for downloading in India. This worked fine, though I had to pay $159, an extra $40 which really hurt!

Navigating within Quickbooks can be a little frustrating - especially as they have now added a very large number of icons and items. The basic layout remains the same. However, it does not appear to be as Intuit-ive as 2002 did. Possibly, Quickbooks navigation has not moved with the times, though I find it quite sufficient for my needs, and far superior to the clunky and ubiquitous (and far more expensive) Tally or Ex, which seem to dominate Indian market. And since Microsoft has now bowed out of the race (Accounting Professional discontinued Nov'09), there hardly seems to be a choice.

In 2002, Intuit tried to nudge you to buying stuff from time to time, but it wasn't a nuisance. Now with increased e-commerce, Intuit has changed their strategy. You are cajoled, pushed, shoved, dragged all the time to buying extras from Intuit. It's a little like going to a restaurant, and having to pay separately for the table cloth, napkin, water, the lights, the music, (and possibly, one day, even for being allowed to go out). Quite annoying.

All in all, no troubles in downloading, installing or activating. Good to use - definitely over here in India. Can be better, though. One tip - shop around for a good price before you buy. Also, the download version is slightly cheaper.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 12, 2010 4:37 PM PDT


QuickBooks Pro 2010   [Download] [OLD VERSION]
QuickBooks Pro 2010 [Download] [OLD VERSION]

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Much ado about nothing...., April 10, 2010
Reading all the reviews about problems in downloading and activating, I was really worried whether my money on Quickbooks Pro 2010 would go down the drain. But I had little choice as my Quickbooks 2002 version doesn't work beyond windows XP, and I had to constantly boot up my netbook (running XP) to see what the accountants were doing. So I finally downloaded one copy, with my fingers crossed. It went through quite smoothly, on broadband connection. I then installed it and had it running on Vista 32 bit, in about an hour's time. I then converted my 2002 files, which went through without a hiccup. I then purchased two more licenses, as I need to use this on three computers, often simultaneously. I installed another copy on a computer running Windows XP. This also went through, after an initial glitch - I had to uninstall the 2002 version first. The software was activated on the internet, and there was no problem in the license numbers getting synchronized, even though I had purchased in two installments. I have now been using this for about four days, and am quite satisfied. Definitely a great improvement over 2002. Buying twice meant I had to spend an extra $7, but well, better safe than sorry.

Now for the flip side. I couldn't buy it for a very cost-effective $119 from Amazon, as Amazon ships / downloads this only to US customers. So I tried Intuit. But the Intuit store again had a problem - it wasn't shipping or downloading to India. The store page did not also offer a solution or a tip. Their Indian web-site does not list the software. There was a sale consultant (Madonna) hovering on the web-site, and she sent me a link for downloading in India. This worked fine, though I had to pay $159, an extra $40 which really hurt!

Navigating within Quickbooks can be a little frustrating - especially as they have now added a very large number of icons and items. The basic layout remains the same. However, it does not appear to be as Intuit-ive as 2002 did. Possibly, Quickbooks navigation has not moved with the times, though I find it quite sufficient for my needs, and far superior to the clunky and ubiquitous (and far more expensive) Tally or Ex, which seem to dominate Indian market. And since Microsoft has now bowed out of the race (Accounting Professional discontinued Nov'09), there hardly seems to be a choice.

In 2002, Intuit tried to nudge you to buying stuff from time to time, but it wasn't a nuisance. Now with increased e-commerce, Intuit has changed their strategy. You are cajoled, pushed, shoved, dragged all the time to buying extras from Intuit. It's a little like going to a restaurant, and having to pay separately for the table cloth, napkin, water, the lights, the music, (and possibly, one day, even for being allowed to go out). Quite annoying.

All in all, no troubles in downloading, installing or activating. Good to use - definitely over here in India. Can be better, though. One tip - shop around for a good price before you buy.


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