Books Gyaan

What’s that one book that will totally change the way I look at things?

I asked this to my Facebook and Instagram followers. They responded. I am listing down all the recommendations that I received (arranged by categories).

I have added few from my own experience too (* marked). From the recommended list, unless otherwise stated, I’ve not read them. That also means my categorization could be faulty in some places. If you spot such categorization errors, please do point them to me and I will rectify.

Also, ideally you should buy a book to read but if money is an issue, here is the torrent of bookstores where you will find 99% of the books.

Though I recommend don’t download all of the books below (you will just save them in a nice folder and then never read anything). Download & read one (or few) at a time.

And one last thing – if there is a perspective-altering book that you think must be in here, let me know; will add.

Category 1: Why the world is the way it is / why we act the way we do

  • Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2014) by Yuval Harari (have read)
  • Irrational Man (1990) by Bill Barrett
  • Guns, Germs and Steel (1999) by Jared Diamond (started)
  • Factfulness (2019) – Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling (have read)
  • The God Delusion (2006) by Richard Dawkins (started)
  • *Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011) by David Graeber

Sub-category: theories

  • on how brain works – Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahnemann (started)
  • on how nature works – The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
  • Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind by Annaka Harris
  • on how randomness works – The Black Swan – The Impact Of The Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
  • on creativity – The Courage to Create (1975) by Rollo Reece May
  • on how morality works – *The Righteous Mind by Jon Haidt
  • The Art of Dying – by S. N. Goenka & others
  • The Mind Body Problem by Rebecca Goldstein
  • How we die by Dr Sherman Nuland
  • Ways of seeing (1972) by John Berger
  • The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
  • The Power of Moments by Dan & Chip Heath
  • *Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker

Category 2: Life Philosophy

  • Man’s search for meaning by Viktor E. Frankl 
  • Sidhartha, Narcissus and Goldmund by Herman Hesse

Sub-category: the ones where the author writes whatever needs to be written to propagate his theories on the right way to live life (generally put together from a mix of existing theories)

  • Blessing or Curse – you can choose, by Derek Prince
  • Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Stephen Mitchell’s translation)
  • Life is beautiful by Tony Martin
  • The subtle art of not giving a fuck by Mark Manson
  • The power of intention by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
  • The Heartfulness Way: Heart-Based Meditations for Spiritual Transformation by Kamlesh Patel
  • Inner Engineering by Sadhguru
  • Jinnsutra volumes 1,2 & 3 by Osho Rajneesh
  • Gyanyog by Swami Vivekananda

Sub-category: religious

  • The Bible
  • Bhagwad Gita

Note: Personally, I am not very interested in the last two sub-categories. They tend to become preachy and their only basis are stories and storytelling. But may be if I read enough, I may change my opinion.

Category 3: Science

  • The Baloney Detection Kit by Carl Sagan (or any other book by the same author)
  • The Body: A guide for occupants by Bill Bryson
  • Surely you’re Joking Mr Feynman: Adventures of a Curious Character – by Richard Feynman
  • *A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  • Physics problems by IE Irodov

Note: I know the last one is an odd one out, but those who needed to solve the problems in the book (especially mechanics), would recall that once you learn how to solve those problems, you do end up developing a new perspective of looking at things.

Sub-category: intersection of science and philosophy

  • Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra

Category 4: Fiction

Pre 1900:

  • Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Anna Karenina by Tolstoy

First published between 1900-1950:

  • The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  • The Outsider by Albert Camus
  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories by Bruno Schulz
  • Brighton Rock by Graham Greene
  • The Trial by Franz Kafka (have read)
  • Of Mice and men by John Steinbeck
  • As I lay dying by William Falulkner
  • Zorba the Greek – Nikos Kazantazakis
  • The Heart of the Matter by Graham Greene

First published between 1950-80:

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Post Office by Charles Bukowski
  • The War of the End of the World by Mario Vargas Llosa
  • Things fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • Kiss of the Spiderwoman by Manuel Puig
  • One hundred years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez (have read)

Post 1980:

  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (have read)
  • Mars trilogy by Kim Robinson (Sci-fi)
  • Dark Forest trilogy by Cixin Liu (Sci-fi)
  • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • *Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig
  • *Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie

Category 5: Health

  • Pure, White and Deadly: How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it by John Yudkin
  • Fat Chance: Beating the Odds Against Sugar, Processed Food, Obesity, and Disease by Robert Lustig
  • Lies My Doctor Told Me: Medical Myths That Can Harm Your Health by Dr. Ken Berry
  • The Obesity Code by Dr. Jason Fung (also Life in Fasting lane)

Note: this is not my area of interest in the present; may be will dive into these in the future.

Category 6 – How to…

  • be more productive – Four hour week by Ferriss Timothy
  • do good parenting:
    • Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting – by Pamela Druckerman
    • The Awakened Family by Dr. Shefali Tsabary
  • get what you want – The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (have read)
  • unclutter your life – The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

Category 7 – Comic Books

  • Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson (who has not seen at least some strips?)
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman

Category 8 – History

  • Freedom at midnight – by Dominique Lapierre
  • Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader
  • Ten thousand Miles without a Cloud by Sun Shuyun
  • After Tamerlane: The Rise & Fall Of Global Empires by John Darwin
  • Nicholas and Alexandra: The Classic Account of the Fall of the Romanov Dynasty by Robert K. Massie
  • *India After Gandhi – Ram Guha

Sub-category: autobiographical that tell us something about history / historical events

  • King Rat by James Clavell (World War 2)
  • *Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita (a Kashmiri Pandit’s take on his exodus).

By this time, if you have forgotten what * is for – it is to denote the books that were not recommended to me by anyone, but I’ve added to the list based on my personal experience.

Category 9 – Theories on society, its biases, its beliefs etc.

  • Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd
  • Everyone Loves a Good Drought by P. Sainath
  • *The Republic of Religion by Abhinav Chandrachud

Category 10: Business

  • Small Giants: Companies That Choose to Be Great Instead of Big by Bo Burlinghamis
  • Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh
  • Ben Jerry’s Double Dip: Lead With Your Values and Make Money by Ben Cohen
  • Made In Japan by Akio Morita And Sony
  • *Bottle of Lies by Katherine Eban (on Ranbaxy fraud)

There are two more categories in which nobody recommended me anything, but I would like to recommend them to everybody.

  • 11 Communication & storytelling
    • The Communication Book: 44 Ideas for Better Conversations Every Day by Mikael Krogerus.
    • Story: Style, Structure, Substance, and the Principles of Screenwriting by Robert Mckee
    • Made to Stick – by Dan & Chip Heath
  • 12 Relationship – The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman


Update – found a recent thread on Twitter asking the same thing – this may give you few more recommendations (may update my list with the extra suggestions below).


The rise of Animal Crossing and how brands are trying to benefit.

I haven’t played video-games in a while. I have never been much of a video-game person actually. But few weeks ago, I came across a news link about a video-game called Animal Crossing. Up until then, I had never heard of the game.

Animal Crossing: New Horizons’ Sells 22.4M Copies Since March Release

International Business News

Nintendo posts 5-fold profit jump as ‘Animal Crossing’ sales top 22 million

Business Standard

I would later find out that Nintendo ended up selling close to 2 million copies of New Horizons just in Japan in merely three days! What explains such massive sales in the time of pandemic? The game itself.

In the game, players land on a deserted island after purchasing a getaway package. Their mission is to complete various odd tasks to transform the once-barren island into a bustling paradise filled with animal neighbors. The game has received wide acclaim for its slow-paced take on living.


“The game honestly couldn’t have come out at a better time for Nintendo,” says James Whatley, strategy partner at Digitas UK. “It’s the most horrendous way to frame it, but it’s true.”

The Drum, Apr 2020

Animal Crossing has existed since 2001 but what its latest version – New Horizons, has achieved is unprecedented.

Now why am I talk about video-games when I don’t even play them myself?

Well because I am a video-creator.

When we think about video as a content, we often don’t realize that video-games are videos too – just that instead of merely watching the video, the viewers (gamers) are themselves in the video (through a character).

And when you have content, you have brands trying to advertise themselves. Animal Crossing seems to be everyone’s favourite this year – a lot of brands have been doing a lot creative things to make their presence felt in this virtual world.

Animal Crossing is emerging as a media channel for brands in lockdown

In July, KFC opened a branch inside the virtual world.

And this month, the mayonnaise brand Hellmanns took things a notch higher by going much beyond just opening a virtual outlet.

In fact this month has been crazy – a lot of brands have been showing off a lot of approaches.

Gillette for example has partnered with a celebrity graphic designer to create its “Skinclusive” Summer Line available inside the game!

If you want to check out some other such brand appraoches, Hollywood Branded has a fantastic collection of examples.


The Getty Museum has created an Animal Crossing Art Generator, a database of renowned art pieces and their corresponding QR codes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has also hopped on the bandwagon with their online collection…


Talk Show!!

Inspired by the game’s customizing freedom, Gary Whitta, writer of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, created his own late-night talk show complete with celebrity guests and musical sets.


Before I end this blog, let me bring you back from the virtual to the real world. Did you know of Rig Fit Adventure? Just watch the video below. Looks like so much fun (and sweat)!

The company [Nintendo] said it underestimated demand for “Ring Fit Adventure”, which uses a springy plastic “Ring-Con” so gamers can exercise while playing, leading to a worldwide shortage. Higher production has helped lift total sales to 4 million units, it said.

BS, 06 Aug 2020

That’s all for this blog! If you are a gamer and want to share something cool that I should check out, do let me know. I may not be into playing video games, but I am always interested in noting how culture and economics overlaps.

Gyaan history politics

Ayodhya Dispute timeline summary

The first place where I read about the Ayodhya dispute in some detail was L. K. Advani‘s autobiography – “My Country My Life“. This blog began as a summary of what he wrote. And then I read some more on Wikipedia and other online articles (linked in the end) and added additional points / perspectives to create this comprehensive timeline. If I have missed out on anything important or misreported anything, do let me know. (

600 BC (Buddha’s time) – Ayodhya (Saketa) is one of the six largest cities of North India. But over the next few centuries, it falls into relative neglect.

During the 11th and 12th century, the Gahadavalasa build several Vishnu temples in Ayodhya, five of which would survive till Aurangzeb’s reign. 

In subsequent years, the cult of Rama develops within Vaishnavism, with Rama being regarded as the foremost avatar of Vishnu. Ayodhya’s importance as a pilgrimage centre grows.

1520s – Mir Baqi (Baqi Tashakandi) – a Mughal army commander under emperor Babur, supposedly builds Babri Masjid, by demolishing a temple (we will soon come to proof / lack of proof).

Babur – India’s first Mughal emperor

No written records of a mosque at the site exist up until 1700’s (hence the use of word ‘supposedly’). Many have believed that the Mosque was built by Aurangzeb (much later than 1520s). Archaeologists acting as observers during the 2003 ASI excavations at the site would also indicate that Babur probably just ordered a new mosque where a smaller older one existed.

There was clearly a Buddhist community here, in the period, roughly from the 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. To us, it looks like this was then abandoned and reoccupied sometime around the 11th-12th century and possibly because there was a Muslim settlement that came up. And they had a small mosque, which was expanded as the community increased, in size and finally a much larger mosque was built by Babar in 1528.

Supriya Varma, Archaelogist appointed as observer to ASI excavations by the Sunni Waqf Board in 2003. Source.

1574Tulsidas moves to Ayodhya (from Varanasi) and begins writing Ramcharit Manas. Surprisingly there is no mention of the mosque in his writing.

1611: An English traveller William Finch visits Ayodhya and writes about the “ruins of the Ranichand [Ramachand] castle and houses”. Even he makes no mention of any mosque.

1672: Lal Das’s Awadh-Vilasa describes the location of birthplace of Ram, but without mentioning a temple (which some claim implies that a mosque probably exists by this time).

1766–1771 Joseph Tieffenthaler visits India and mentions the Mosque in his writings

Emperor Aurangzeb got the fortress called Ramcot demolished and got a Muslim temple, with triple domes, constructed at the same place. Others say that it was constructed by ‘Babor’. Fourteen black stone pillars of 5 span high, which had existed at the site of the fortress, are seen there. Twelve of these pillars now support the interior arcades of the mosque.

Jesuit priest Joseph Tieffenthaler, on his visit to Awadh

Tieffenthaler also writes that Hindus worship a square box raised 5 inches above the ground – the “Bedi, i.e., the cradle”, and “the reason for this is that once upon a time, here was a house where Beschan [Vishnu] was born in the form of Ram.”

1777 – Sawai Jai Singh acquires the land of Rama Janmasthan

1813-14: Francis Buchanan (also called Buchanan-Hamilton) does a survey of the Gorakhpur Division on behalf of the British East India Company. Buchanan’s report (never published but available in the British Library archives) states that the Hindus generally attributed destruction of temples “to the furious zeal of Aurangzabe [Aurangzeb]”, but the large mosque at Ayodhya (now known as Babri Masjid) was ascertained to have been built by Babur by “an inscription on its walls.”

DISPUTE PHASE 1: 1853-1885

1853: First recorded incident of Hindu-Muslim violence over the site with Hindus alleging the mosque was built on the site of a razed Hindu shrine dedicated to Lord Ram.

1859: British rulers erect a fence and allow Muslims and Hindus to worship in the inner and outer courtyards respectively. This also aligns with the Britishers’ divide & rule policy post the revolt of 1857. By this time, a new chabutra is also built in the Hindu side.

Image via

1862-63: ASI founder surveys Ayodhya – finds no “ancient” structure

Alexander Cunningham, the founder of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), conducts a survey of Ayodhya. He identifies Ayodhya with Sha-chi mentioned in Fa-Hien’s writings, Visakha mentioned in Xuanzang‘s writings and Saketa mentioned in Hindu-Buddhist legends.

Alexander Cunnigham, Founder ASI

According to Cunnigham, Gautama Buddha spent six years at this place.

Cunningham does not find any ‘ancient’ structure in the city. According to him, the existing temples at Ayodhya are of relatively modern origin.

His theory is that when King Vikramaditya of Ujjain visited the city around first century CE, he did construct new temples at the spots mentioned in Ramayana, but by the time Xuanzang visited the city in the 7th century, those temples had “already disappeared” – the city had become a Buddhist centre, with several Buddhist monuments.

1877: The British Govt. opens a door on the northern side of the outer courtyard and passes it to the Hindus to control and manage.

1885 – a court finally intervenes

Some Muslims mount an attack on Hanuman Garhi temple (situated close to the Babri Masjid / Janambhoomi) under the rumours that the Hanuman temple had been built over a mosque. Nawab of Avadh sends his army and saves the temple from getting destroyed.

Mahant Raghubardas appeals to Faizabad High Court to get an order for construction of a temple on Janambhoomi (next to the masjid) – where the chabutra is.

A judgement given within a year says “it is most unfortunate that a masjid should have been built on land specially held sacred by the Hindus, but as the event occurred 356 years ago it is too late now to agree with the grievances. All that can be done is to maintain the party in status quo”.

DISPUTE PHASE II: 1934 till the 60’s (a local issue)

1934: Communal violence erupts, many die and the mosque is damaged. Nirmohi Akhara, a sect that claimed to have been worshipping Lord Ram at his ‘birthplace’ since the 1400s is involved in the clashes and is made to pay for the mosque repairs.

The gate is locked (and would continue to remain locked till 1950).

Soon thereafter, Muslims stop using the site as a mosque or for offering prayers (true till date); Hindus continue to worship (darshan from outside the gate).

1946: An offshoot of the Hindu Mahasabha called Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha (ABRM) starts an agitation for the possession of the site. Given that most of India is busy with the anytime-now independence from Britishers, this is definitely not a “national news” sort of thing at this point of time.

1947 – Announcement of Somnath temple resurrection by Sardar Patel sets the precedent for Govt. intervening in temple constructions.

By 1947 end, Indian Govt. takes over the princely state of Junagadh (Nawab of Junagadh escapes to Pakistan). Four days later Sardar Patel declares that Somnath temple (stood destroyed since 1706) will be rebuilt. Moulana Abul Kalam Azad suggests handing the site over to ASI. Patel refuses. Mahatma Gandhi says he is fine as long as money for construction doesn’t come from GoI. Nehru is not okay – he views this as an act as “Hindu revivalism”.

1949 – beginning of the modern dispute at Ayodhya

Sant Digvijay Nath of Gorakhnath Math joins the ABRM (Akhil Bharatiya Ramayana Mahasabha founded three years earlier). He organizes a 9-day continuous recitation of Ramcharit Manas. At the end of the recitation, Hindu activists break into the mosque and place idols of Rama and Sita inside. This was already anticipated.

The then Faizabad superintendent of police (SP) Kripal Singh had written a latter to the DM – KKK Nayar a month before the “appearance” of the idol at the site.

There is a strong rumor that on purnamashi the Hindus will try to force entry into the mosque with the object of installing a deity.

Kripal Singh’s letter to Nayar, a month before the break-in.

Nair acts surprised!

People are led to believe that the idols have ‘miraculously’ appeared inside the mosque. One of the mahants who did this, admits to doing so in the Ram ke Nam documentary shot and made in the early 90s (before the mosque was illegally demolished by kar sevaks).

Nayar (the DM ) and his fellow local official Guru Dutt Singh do not act to remove the idols despite instructions from then Chief Secretary Bhagwan Sahay and Inspector General of Police BN Lahiri.

Nayar in fact allows daily worship to take place (he would later join the Jan Sangh).

Nehru sends a telegram to UP CM Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant “Dangerous example is being set there which will have bad consequences”.

Sardar Patel soon writes a letter to Pant too – “such matters can only be resolved peacefully if we take the wiling consent of the Muslim community with us. There can be no question of resolving such disputes by force”.

The state govt. locks the complex gate.

1950: The start of the court case in independent India

Gopal Singh Visharad – a Hindu Mahasabha leader, files suit in Faizabad city court seeking exclusive rights to perform prayers for Ram Lalla. He also seeks judicial restraint on the removal of idols. What he doesn’t ask for is any right to “title of the land” (which would be first claimed only in 1959 by Nirmohi Akhara – and then later claimed two more times in subsequent years).

Mahant Paramahans Ramchandra Das files another suit to continue with the Hindu prayers and keeping the Ram idols at the Babri majid.

This same year, Sardar Patel dies and K. M. Munshi (his confidante and a Union Minister) takes over the responsibility of getting Somnath temple built in spite of severe opposition from Nehru (who finds it easy to dominate now with Sardar gone). Once the temple is constructed, the President of India – Dr. Rajendra Prasad inaugurates it. The precedent of state involvement in a so called “secular” country is set (you can read my detailed blog on the myth of secularism in India).

1955: the Allahabad High Court upholds unrestricted right to worship for Hindus but since the “title of the property” issue is not yet resolved, only a priest is allowed to enter the locked gates to perform prayers (regular pilgrims to Ayodhya cannot).

From this point onward, till the 80s – the nation at large moves on and the Ayodhya issue exists only as a local issue – not a national one – until Rajiv Gandhi would bring it back to limelight.

1959: Nirmohi Akhara files suit seeking transfer of disputed site – this is the beginning of the “land title dispute” that would get resolved only after sixty years by the Supreme Court of India.

They claim that their mahant (chief priest) and sarbrahakar (administrator) have been managing the site and been responsible for prayers to Lord Ram there since their founding in the middle ages – what is known as ‘shebaitship’.

1961: Uttar Pradesh Sunni Central Board of Waqf files suit seeking possession of Babri mosque site (so this is now the second claim for land title). They also make a plea for the removal of Ram idols from the Mosque. They claim that Muslims had been worshipping till 1949 (when the idols were placed inside).

DISPUTE PHASE III: 1980s onwards – from local to national

1984: First Dharm sansad in Delhi resolves to “liberate” the birthplace of Ram through a peaceful mass movement. Ramjanmabhoomi Muktiyanja Samiti (RMS) is formed. It brings many Hindu religious leaders together for a “common goal”. A mass awareness yatra is undertaken from Bihar (Sitamarhi) to Ayodhya – demanding opening of locks for everybody. Later that year Indira Gandhi is assassinated and Rajiv Gandhi becomes the new PM. Ayodhya issue is still a local issue and not a national one.

1986 – Rajiv Gandhi manages to bring back Ayodhya in the national limelight

A conference of Hindu religious leaders resolves to break open the locks on Mahashivratri. But the state government decides to open the locks and to that effect gets favourable court order (from Faizabad District Court).

The Allahabad High Court orders the opening of the main gate and restoring of the site in full to the Hindus.

Rajiv Gandhi publicizes this “achievement” and makes the so far “local issue”, a national thing.

Rajiv Gandhi, the sixth PM of India

Earlier in the year, Rajiv Gandhi was heavily criticized for surrendering to an unfair Muslim pressure (the Shah Bano case). So this over-publicity to opening of locks is most likely a way for him to undo that image in the public.

1989: VHP (Vishwa Hindu Prasishad – formed in 1964) plans to carry Ram shilas from all over the country to Ayodhya and perform shilanyas of the temple. BJP openly supports VHP (the first time a leading political party did so).

All cases related to the title suit of the disputed site, are transferred to the Allahabd High Court.

Towards the end of the year, both Rajiv Gandhi and the state govt under Vir Bahadur Singh allow the shilanyas, justifying by stating that the site of the shilanyas is “adjacent” to the disputed site. In fact Rajiv Gandhi had kickstarted his Lok Sabha election campaign from Ayodhya this year.

The shialanyas takes place.

Congress loses election by year end and V. P. Singh becomes the new Prime Minister (Janta Dal). It’s a hung government with outside support of BJP.

Vishwanath Pratap Singh, India’s 7th Prime Minister

Some Muslims form All India Babri Masjid Action Committee (AIBMAC) – the first national level Muslim organization to agitate for a change in Allahabad High Court order from 1950s.

1989 – the third title suit is filed by Bhagwan Sri Ram Virajman (the god’s idol, also known as Ram Lalla Virajman) and Sri Ram Janmabhoomi (the birthplace). These deities are represented by their ‘next friend’, retired judge Deoki Nandan Agarwala, associated with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Indian law has long recognised that deities can be considered legal persons, and so this suit is included without batting any eyelids.

Allahabad High court clubs all the threee title cases into one – hearing would begin only in 1993 and would go on till 2002 (Godhra).

1990 – the year of the Rath Yatra

Saints associated with Ram Janambhoomi decide to resume Kar Seva. Prime Minister V. P. Singh asks them to give him four months time to solve the problem. 

V. P. Singh Govt. comes up with a resolution formula: the Babri masjid and the site can be handed over to a new Hindu trust on the condition that it would build the Ram temple without disturbing the Babri masjid. Also, a wall would be constructed between the temple and the adjusted structure.

To take this idea ahead, Krishan Kant, the then Governor of AP (would later become India’s VP) arranges meeting between Swami Jayendra Swaraswati of Kamchi Kamakoti Math and Ali Mian, a Muslim theologian from UP.

In the mean time Advani makes a statement warning the PM – “any attempt to scuttle the Kar seva would lead to the greatest mass movement independent India has eve seen”.

Four months get over, no resolution comes and VHP sets up a date for Kar Seva.

“Gains of victory needed to  be consolidated” – Advani says in his autobiography (victory = election victory).

Advani, with help of Pramod Mahajan decides to do a Rath Yatra from Somnath to Ayodhya in a way that Advani would reach Ayodhya on the same day as the date of Kar seva (30 Oct 1990). The rath is basically a decorated vehicle. In his autobiography, Advani explains it was Pramod Mahajan who suggested this idea of a “rath” after Advani shared with him that he was contemplating undertaking a pad-yatra. Narendra Modi is another key organizer (who Advani acknowledges in his autobiography).

Rath Yatra begins. It attracts a lot of attention, both on ground and in press (do the check out the Ram Ke Naam documentary that I shared earlier, to see some visuals from the time).

‘Jo Hindu ki baat karega, vahi desh pe raj karega’. I immediately stood up to affirm that BJP represents every citizen of India irrespective of whether he is a Hindu or a Muslim or a Christian or a Prasi or any other faith.

L. K. Advani, My country my life

There is no major communal violence in the Rath Yatra route itself. But there are many instances of riots in various other parts of the country.

In the mean time, V. P. Singh Govt is considering a new resolution formula – the central Govt can acquire both ~70 acres of undisputed land and ~2.5 acres of disputed land of the proposed temple complex, then hand over the undisputed land to Kar Sevaks, retain with it the masjid (in as-is condition) + 30 ft area around the masjid, and ask Supreme Court to settle the disputed land area (2.5 acres) – on which the masjid stands.

The SC would be asked to consider its judgment based on whether a temple (not necessarily Ram temple) ever existed where the masjid now exists. As per Advani, V. P. singh accepts this proposal at first. Central govt. decides to work on an ordinance to this effect. V. P. Singh’s Govt. even holds a press conference to announce about this ordinance. But within a day, the Govt. withdraws the ordinance. Apparently, Mulayam Singh Yadav (then CM of U.P) opposed this formula. As a result, BJP withdraws support to V. P. Singh Govt.

“Tens and thousands of devotees from all over country started to arrive in Ayodhya for the scheduled Kar Seva” – Advani.

Towards the last phase of the Yatra, Lalu Yadav, the CM of Bihar arrests Advani. He is released after 5 weeks.

Kar Seva happens in Ayodhya. Police fires at devotees. Some Kar sevaks climb atop the mosque to destroy it but are unsuccessful. 50+ people die.

V. P. Singh loses Vote of Confidence in Parliament and Chandrashekhar becomes the new PM. “He made the most sincere and consistent efforts to final  negotiated solution to the problem” – Advani.

New negotiations with AIBMAC begin. As per Advani, they initially agree for masjid relocation if it can be proved that a temple existed there earlier. But they later change their condition – they would agree for relocation only when it can be proved that there was specifically a “Ram temple” and not just any temple.

1991 – from Kalyan Singh’s land acquisition to Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination

Kalyan Singh of BJP becomes the CM of UP. Immediately after becoming the CM, he, with his colleagues, “visited Ayodhya and took a vow to construct Ram temple there itslef”, as per CBI chargesheet to be filed later.

Later that year, the state government of Kalyan Singh acquires 2.77 acres of land around the Masjid complex under a Land Acquisition Act for the purpose of “promoting tourism”.

This acquired land is not disputed – it includes the spot where Rajiv Gandhi had allowed shilanyas to be performed in 1989). 80% of this 2.77 acres has in fact been acquired from VHP (who had over time acquired the land by “gift” or purchase from original land-owners). The Ram ke Nam documentary also indicates the possibility of corruption and fraud in the entire VHP land purchase business (unaccounted for sources of money).

AIBMAC challenges the land acquisition in the Allahabad High Court – the court asks the Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Chandrashekhar’s Govt. falls.

Rajiv Gandhi is assassinated.

Congress comes back to power in the centre and PV Narasimha Rao is the new PM.

A 17 day kar seva takes place in Ayodhya. PM invites the sants for discussion. “He assured them he expected the problem to be solved within four months and requested them to discontinue the kar seva” – Advani.

The sants stop the kar seva. But no resolution happens in four months. The sants restart the kar seva.

1992 – the year the Babri Masjid is demolished by Kar Sevaks

In July 1992, the Sangh Parivar lays the foundation for the proposed Ram temple by digging around the Babri Masjid and filling the area with 10-foot thick layer of reinforced cement concrete. This is in spite of the fact that the year before Allahabad High Court had asked the State Govt. to not make any permanent structure of the land.

Kalyan Singh’s government calls it a “platform” for performing bhajans while the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) declares it as the foundation for Ram temple.

Allahabad High Court begins hearing on the title dispute.

In the mean time in Delhi, Kamal Nath (working for PM) proposes to Advani a new solution. Central Govt. can acquire land needed to build Ram Temple and pass it to RJB Nyas on the condition that mosque not be touched till a judicial verdict. Advani agrees. Advani later realizes that Kamal Nath doesn’t have PM Narasimha Raos’ approval on this solution.

Advani and Murali Manohar Joshi start a new yatra (one starting from Varanasi, another from Mathura). In the mean time over 1 lakh “Ram Bhakts” have arrived in Ayodhya.

The Indian Express photographer Praveen Jain caputures secret videos and photos that show the kar sevaks have taken some training to execute demolitoin.

Below is Atal Behari Vajapayee saying in Luckow, a day before the demolition – “the ground at the site must be levelled” (althouh in a clever indirect manner).

06 Dec 1992: Advani makes a spirited speech from the Ram Katha Kunj, few hundred meters from the site and charges up the sevaks who then climb atop the Babri Masjid and bring it down. None of the BJP leaders who were present, including Advani makes any effort to stop them. Upon demolition, they distribute sweets.

Kalyan Singh resigns and President’s rule is imposed by evening. Kar sevaks continue building a make shift temple over the night and safely place the idols inside the make shift temple.

Advani leaves Ayodhya for Lucknow.

Within half an hour of our departure from Ayodhya, our car was stopped by the police. On seeing that the car carried Pramod Mahajan and me, a senior officer of the UP Govt. walked up to us said ‘Advaniji, kuch bacha to nahi na? Bilkul saaf kar diya na’

Those who took Hindu concerns and aspirations for granted, and tried to thwart them through an endless process of political machinations and judicial delays, got an answer which they will hopefully not forget.

Advani in his autobiography.

More than 2,000 people are killed in the riots following the demolition. Riots break out in many major Indian cities including Mumbai, Bhopal, Delhi and Hyderabad.

PM charges the leaders of the temple movement with conspiracy, criminal intent and perfidy. Advani claims the demolition was not pre-planned (but if you watch the interviews and the slogans as documented in the Ram ke Naam documentary that was shot before the demolition, the threat to demolition is real and talked about by many).

Govt. orders arrest of the top leaders including Advani, imposes ban on VHP, RSS, Bajrang Dal, Jamait-e-Islami hind and the Islamic Sevak Sangh and sets up Liberhan Commission to enquire into the incident.

The best compilation of all the video footage from around the demolition time that I have found on the internet.

1993: Liberhan Commission begins its investigation after 3 months of being setup (which will go on for 17 years).

In the meantime, central Govt. releases a White Paper giving official version of the Ayodhya events leading to the demolition of Babri Masjid. It holds Kalyan Singh’s govt responsible for it because of his instruction to the police ‘not to use force’.

Allahabad High Court allows pilgrims to have darshan of Ram Lalla at the makeshift temple.

In his appearance before the Liberhan Commission, Narsimha Rao is asked why the Centre did not request the Allahabad High Court for an early verdict on the UP Govt’s land acquisition matter. His reply was – “How could the Central Govt. make any sure request even if it wanted to , when it was not a party to the proceedings before the Allahabad High Court.

L. K. Advani from his Autobiography

The President of India orders acquisition of some land parcel around the disputed site and refers the matter to the Supreme Court.

PM Vajpayee / CM Modi

2001: Dharam Sansad at the Maha Kumbh held at Prayag adopts a resolution urging removal of “all hurdles” in the way by 12 March 2002 – the day of Mahashivaratri.

2002: Leaders of the temple movement begin a 100 day purnaahuti yagna in Ayodhya. Advani is the home minister (Vajpayee the PM). Three days later, 58 persons, many kar sevaks die by fire in train in Godhra. Hindu Muslim riots ensue, many die – under the governance of CM Narendra Modi.

Allahabad High Court begins the title dispute hearing.

Supreme Court prohibits religious activity of any kind by anyone either symbolic or actual and also forbids the Govt. of India from handing over any part of the acquired land to anyone.

2003 – the year of the ASI findings

By the order of the High Court, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is asked to conduct an in-depth study and an excavation to ascertain whether the type of structure that was beneath the rubble indicates definite proof of a temple under the mosque.

The remnants are found to have more resemblance to a Shiva temple. In the words of ASI researchers, they discover “distinctive features associated with… temples of north India”. Their conclusion would later be questioned by the archaeologists who are observers on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, during the excavation.

ASI offers no explanation for discovery of animal bones and glazed pottery at the site during excavation.

Udit Raj’s Buddha Education Foundation would claim later that the structure excavated by ASI was a Buddhist stupa, destroyed during and after the Muslim invasion of India.

2004: Manmohan Singh becomes the PM

2005: The make shift temple is attacked by five Lashkar-e-taiba terrorists. They are all shot dead.

2009: The Liberhan Commission finally submits its report after 17 years

The Commission indicts 68 people for the demolition, including a number of BJP leaders (Advani, Vajpayee, Murali Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharathi, Kalyan Singh). The report states that the then CM Kalyan Singh had appointed officers to the area who were less likely to act to prevent the demolition.

At the site of the then disputed temple, the Uttar Pradesh police and the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) were placed outside the structure, while the Central Reserve Police Force was inside. On the very first evening, I spotted a PAC constable shouting “Jai Shri Ram” slogans along with kar sevaks barely a few metres away from the disputed structure.

As I moved through the holy town wearing a two-day stubble and soiled clothes, I interacted with many PAC men. Always, I was treated with respect, even deference. One night some kar sevaks and I spent hours chatting with a group of PAC personnel. “We are solidly behind you. Don’t worry,” said a policeman. “If we are ordered on December 6 to attack you, we will lay down our arms and join you,” reassured another. “Come what may, we will force the paramilitary to surrender,” said a third.

Sanjay Kaw – The Asian Age (source)

The LC report also states that the demolition was “neither spontaneous nor unplanned”.

2010: the first verdict

Two archeologists – Supriya Varma and Jaya Menon who were observers during the excavation on behalf of the Sunni Waqf Board, claim that the ASI violated ethical codes and procedures during the excavation. In a paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly (EPW), they challenge the methods used in collecting evidence and its interpretation. They also tell the Allahabad High Court that the excavation did not find anything that supported ASI’s conclusion. You can read more about the contradictions to ASI findings here.

The Allahabad High Court pronounces its verdict on four title suits relating to the Ayodhya dispute – land to be divided into three equal parts to Ram Lalla (represented by Hindu Maha Sabha), Sunni Wakf Board and Nirmohi Akhara.

The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha and Sunni Waqf Board move to the Supreme Court of India, challenging part of the Allahabad High Court’s verdict.

2011: Supreme Court of India stays the High Court order and says that status quo will remain. 

2017: a special CBI court frames criminal conspiracy charges against Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi, Uma Bharti, Vinay Katiyar, and several others.

2019 – the final verdict

SC forms a 3 member mediation panel headed by former SC judge FMI Kalifulla. The panel fails to resolve the dispute. A 5-judge Constitution bench, headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi, of Supreme Court then starts the final hearing on the case.

Sixty years after the start of the land title hearing in Indian courts, a final verdict is given.

SC orders the disputed land to be handed over to a trust to build the Ram temple. It also orders the government to give 5 acres of land inside Ayodhya city limits to the Sunni Waqf Board for the purpose of building a mosque.

2020 – the year of the corona virus

Additional sources:

Full text of the 2019 Supreme Court verdict

audio Gyaan

The myth of a Secular India

You can also listen to the content of this blog, in the below podcast.

This blog (and the podcast above) relies almost entirely on the information presented in the fourth Chapter of the insightful book “Republic of Religion” by Abhinav Chandrachud.

Broadly speaking, two factors go into making a secular state (at least from a broad legal point of view):

  1. no religion should be established by law as the official state religion; and
  2. all citizens should have the freedom to practice their own religious beliefs.

India has never really been a fully secular country in this sense. I will illustrate this claim by focusing only on one aspect of governance – administration of religious institutions (mainly temples).

Pre-colonial rulers were pretty much involved in the administration of religious institutions like temples and mosques.

In 1790, Tipu Sultan for example issued an order to his officials that Hindu temples were under their management – “the offerings to the god and temple illumination are duly regulated… out of the govt. grants”. Tipu Sultan was just following ‘a pattern imposed by centuries of history’ in India.

When East India company took over the control of India, it continued administering religious institutions. There were two main reasons – one, it was a good source of revenue and two, this lent legitimacy to their rule itself.

  • 1796 – the British collector of Madras takes over the administration of Hindu temples at Conjeevaram (Kanchipuram).
  • 1806 – the Indian government issues regulations for the ‘superintendence and management’ of the Jagannath Temple in Orissa, introducing a pre-colonial tax on pilgrims
  • 1810 – a law is enacted for Bangal – “the general superintendence of all lands granted for the support of mosques, Hindoo temples.. and for other pious and beneficial purposes.. vested in the colonial government”
  • 1833 – Madras Govt. reports it is in charge of the administration of 7600 Hindu temples.

So when did the “secularism” move take place?

Common perception is that revolt of 1857 has to do with it – which is true, no doubt. But the effort seems to have started more than a decade before the revolt. For example the pilgrim tax at the temple of Jagannath was revoked in 1840 itself.

What happened is that, with the increasing entanglement of the British East India company with mostly Hindu religious administration, Christian missionaries and members of the Christian clergy in Britain and India, started to get annoyed. And it was discouragement from them that the East India company moved to a ‘secular’ way of governing.

“Pilgrim tax gave the government an incentive to promote and encourage the superstition out of which the tax is derived”, the Court of Directors (CoD) wrote in a letter. CoD is equivalent to the modern day Board of Directors (East India Company was a ‘company’ after all).

The move towards secular administration certainly picked up post 1857.

For example in 1862, a bill was introduced in the legislative council of the Viceroy to “enable the Govt. to divest itself of the management of Religious Endowments”. The bill was soon enacted.

Section 22 of the Act said “it would no longer be lawful for any Government in India, or for any Officer of any Government in his official capacity to take over the superintendence of any land or other property belonging to a Mosque, Temple or other religious establishment… ”

It’s interesting how the native Indians reacted to this withdrawal of the govt. from the management of religious endowments.

Such a move was bitterly criticized by many Indians – mostly because the involvement of the British Govt. was not considered ‘anti-secular’ as much as it was seen as an effective means to reduce corruption in the functioning of many of these trusts.

Anyway so from this point onward, it was left to the courts to exercise limited power of superintendence over religious endowments. They could do so under section 539 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1877 that stated that whenever there was a breach of trust ‘created for public charitable purposes’ then the advocate general or any two (or more) persons having a direct interest in the trust could institute a suit. In fact this provision, slightly modified, still stands as of today in the form of Code of Civil Procedure 1908.

Thereafter some cases were indeed decided by courts as per this law (eg: Manohar Ganhesh Tambekar case of 1887). But things began to change in 1915 when Indian political leaders finally came to power at the provincial (state) level in British India.

The Indian leaders in the provinces started demanding the right to decide how to carry out administration of the religious endowments. And the GoI Act 1919 finally did transfer that power to the Indians (which until then had remained with the Governor General of India).

So soon the provinces got into action. Madras Hindu Religious Endowments Act 1926 for example, established boards of Hindus to be appointed by the government and the trustee of all the temples under the jurisdiction were bound to obey instructions issued by the boards. For example the surplus funds of temples could now be spent by the boards and other such changes. Net, net, these govt. appointed boards were provided with enough powers that in effect, it was the provincial govt. running things.

And then of course India got Independence in 1947.

What was our constitution – being drafted – going to do about the then existing state interference in the operation of religious institutions?

(c) 2020 – Amrit Vatsa

In March 1947, Ambedkar prepared a draft on fundamental rights that contained something called an Establishment Clause (EC), that stated “the State shall not recognize any religion as State religion”.

Another draft prepared by K. T. Shah also said that the sate would be entirely a secular institution which would maintain no official religion and would observe absolute neutrality in matters of religious belief, worship or observance.

Had these clauses found their way into the Constitution, India could have been a truly secular state. That never happened.

When in April, the subcommittee on fundamental rights presented its report to the Advisory Committee – the Establishment Clause (EC) was not there in the report any more. And surprisingly, Ambedkar didn’t even protest.

Later in 1948, after the draft constitution was prepared, comments were again received – this time from B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya and others who did want the reintroduction of EC. But still, nothing happened.

Later, H. V. Kamath tried introducing EC in the Constituent Assembly via a proposed amendment. But his amendment was put to vote and eventually rejected!

Finally it was K M Munshi‘s draft that was used as the template for what eventually became Article 25 of the Indian Constitution.

His 1947 draft “gave all citizens the freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion though in a manner compatible with public order, morality or health”. There is no mention of even the word secular in there.

The draft also contained an exception that “economic, financial or political activities associated with religious worship would not be included in the freedom to religion”.

Later an additional explanation was added to the draft – “freedom of religion would not debar the State from enacting laws for the purpose of social welfare and reform and that the government could enact laws to open Hindu religious institutions of a public character to any class or section of Hindus”. This was later broadened to Sikhs, Jain & Buddhists.

The Constitution also contained another related Article – no. 26 that gave to every religious denomination or section of it, subject to public order, morality and health, the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes.

Once the constitution came into effect, several states enacted laws which would allow the state government to regulate religious institutions – usually Hindu temples. And over the years SC has permitted a lot of government interference.

Most recently, a religious rule that excluded women between the ages of ten and fifty from entry into the Sabarimala Temple in Kerala was found to be unconstitutional.

At this point it’s important that we understand how judiciary typically decides…

when Govt. interference is constitutional and when it’s not.

SC’s decision primarily rests upon one fundamental question – does the right of the trustees to manage and administer temples amount to a practice that’s “integral” to the religion?

If not, government can intervene because the issue is then in a secular realm.

“Religion” itself means two things, as far as the SC is concerned:

  1. liberty of religious opinion and belief; and
  2. acts done in pursuance of religious belief – these are protected only as long as they are “integral” or essential to the religion.

But then who decides what is essential and what is not? The answer to this is interesting.

Up until the Ayodhya verdict (2019), the onus to decide the above question, rested on Judiciary itself. For example, SC has earlier held that a mosque is not an essential part of the practice of the religion of Islam and namaaz by Muslims can be offered anywhere, even in the open.

In another case, SC held that followers of Sri Aurobindo were not a religious denomination since his teachings were a philosophy not a religion.

What changed via the Ayodhya verdict?

It was argued in the court that many theologically prescribed principles of Islamic law (for example no grave should be situated close to the mosque) were not observed there, so Babri Masjid was technically not a mosque – in the manner that mosques are known to exist by the religious laws of Islam.

But the SC rejected the above argument stating it would be inappropriate for the court to “enter upon an area of theology and to assume the role of the interpreter of the Hadees. …. The true test is whether those who believe and worship have faith in the religious efficacy of the place where they pray.”

The 5 judge bench was hearing to resolve only the “title” dispute – and not any “fundamental right” related provision, but this judgment does set up a new precedent on who decides what is essential and what is not.

As of this writing, a bigger 7 judge bench has yet to decide if courts have the power to investigate whether a practice is essential to religion. We will get more clarity on this – whenever this bench arrives at a decision.

Do we have examples where SC did not let the state intervene in certain aspects of religious institutions? We do actually.

Government cannot interfere with the personal property of the head of a temple or a math, like a mahant or shebait. In the Shirur Math case, the Madras law mandated ‘pathakanikas’ (personal gifts) made to the mahant to be spent only for the purposes of the math, and required the mahant to maintain accounts for those gifts. But the SC struck down that provision.

To be clear, unlike a Mahant, a priest cannot have any such propitiatory rights over offerings made by devotees to the temple, since those offerings are technically for the temple, not the priest.  

Anyway, so I hope with these examples it is now clear that it is just a myth that India is a secular country. This is in much contrast with US for example, where the entanglement of state governments with religious institutions would simply be impermissible. The first amendment to the US Constitution, prohibits the Congress from making any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ or ‘prohibiting the free exercise thereof’.

I hope you found these insights useful. If you are aware of any important context / perspective that I may have missed, do let me know.

And once again, if this subject fascinates you, “Republic of Religion” by Abhinav Chandrachud is highly recommended. It has six chapters (‘Temple and State’ being just one of them) that take upon different aspects of governance to illustrate how secularism in its true sense is a myth.

Also if you are not already subscribed to my (sort of) weekly newsletter, please do?


The science behind Ammonium Nitrate Explosion

I will be honest. I didn’t read up much about the tragic accident that took place in Beirut, when I first heard of it. But last night, I read briefly in The Economist that Ammonium Nitrate (AN) has been causing major such explosive accidents regularly since the beginning of the 20th century! And then today morning I read in the papers that ~700 tonnes of seized Ammonium Nitrate is stored in a Container Freight Station in Manali – not the hill station but an industrial region north of Chennai . And this bit of news is definitely scary. Could that explode too? What is the science behind the AN explosion anyway?

As a wedding photographer / film-maker, this clip hits me harder

As I am writing this blog, I’ve just discovered a new information:

18,000 tonnes? Wow! But the NewsMinute article above doesn’t mention if this AN is explosive grade or not. I hope not! Anyway, I just got interested in reading up a bit on the science behind this explosion – sharing it here.

Ammonium Nitrate (AN) is a fertilizer. Why does it explode?

In general, AN (or NH4NO3) is a stable compound and doesn’t explode. You may have read / heard that it also used as an explosive material in mines and landslide clearance – but that is not just AN. That explosive is a mixture of AN and FO (fuel oil, usually diesel) – in short ANFO. The typical ratio of AN and FO is 96:04

But there have been multiple instances of AN explosion too – starting from the beginning of the 20th century.

Wikipedia has a tabulated list of each major AN related disaster.

Anyway, so what causes AN explosion even without the FO? Typically fire. Overall, there are only so many ways to trigger any ‘explosive’ material:

  • heat (or sometimes just spark)
  • impact
  • friction
  • electromagnetic radiations

The quantum of the above parameters needed to make a chemical / compound explode tells us how ‘sensitive’ the material is (and different materials could be differently sensitive to different parameters).

One one of the most sensitive materials that exists is NI3 – Nitrogen Tri-iodide. See for yourself in the video below.

As you can see, NI3 is pretty extreme. But there are several other more usable highly sensitive chemicals like Mercury Fulminate or Lead Azide – they are called primary explosives. They explode by decomposition and it is easy to trigger them to explode.

Then we have the secondary explosives that require relatively more amount of energy to get triggered. Guess what, AN is not even that!

AN (and even ANFO) is a tertiary explosive.You simply cannot make it explode easily. In fact for ANFO, explosion occurs from ‘combination’ instead of ‘decomposition’.

But yes, beyond a certain temperature (or massive force of impact) AN does decompose and explosion can happen – the way it did in Beirut (and in all the other instances listed in The Economist’s chart shared above).

Once a temperature of 170 C is reached, ammonium nitrate starts breaking down, emitting nitrous oxide, better known as laughing gas. Any sudden ignition causes ammonium nitrate to decompose directly into water, nitrogen and oxygen, which explains the enormous explosive power of the salt.

DW, 05 Aug 2020

What’s up with the terrifying white cloudy ‘shock-wave’ that that we see in the videos from Beirut?

To understand the answer to this question, you need to know the two phases of decomposition of an explosive material.

In the first phase, a “chemical reaction wave” travels through the material, slower than the speed of sound. The term for it is deflagration. In many explosive materials, the chemical reaction wave speed will never cross this limit (they are called low explosives – propane, gasoline, gunpowder etc.).

But AN is a high explosive (note: not highly). Here as the chemical reaction wave continues to travel, eventually its speed crosses that of sound (detonation), transforming the chemical reaction wave into what we call a “shock wave”.

Shock-waves are high pressure waves that travel through air (or water). The white misty wave thing that you see in the big explosion in the Beirut videos is basically water vapor condensing out of the air, because of really low pressure right behind the high-pressure shock wave. And then you see it disappear right away as the condensed mist evaporates back, once the pressure equalizes (to atmospheric pressure).

Anyway, so that’s the science behind the explosion. What happened really sucks. Other than the 130+ dead, a single explosion has rendered 3 lakh folks homeless (houses damaged or outright destroyed). 3 lakh! In just few seconds!


Research sources:


The three theories that explain China’s border aggression with India.

You an also listen to this post below.

Has the below question crossed your mind too?

Of course, it is not just India that China has been messing up with. The list is long and growing – the Philippines, Australia, Europe, the US, and Canada.

The puzzle is why China is choosing aggression over magnanimity, or even over mere inaction. After all, China’s current leaders probably view America as a declining power that will soon organically vacate the hegemonic position that China seeks to occupy. If so, just as Deng Xiaoping, the father of China’s reforms 40 years ago, advised geopolitical patience until China became stronger, a Dengian strategy today would be to wait for the US to become weaker.

Arvind Subramanian, Business Standard 21 Jul 2020

Theory 1 – This shall unite the Chinese citizens.

One of the first few persons who I found had a theory to explain this behaviour by China, was Sonam Wangchuk.

Sonam theorizes that China is probably doing what it is doing to project the country in some kind of a big global fight with rest of the world. This perception of a common enemy (many common enemies rather) will unite all the Chinese and keep their support for CCP intact.

Why does CCP need to unite the Chinese? Are they not united already?

Sonam claims that there is a growing unrest within the Chinese populace. That may eventually lead to civil protests bigger than what China has seen in its recent history (unless of course CCP succeeds in its strategy). In the later part of his video, Sonam gets into the ‘what do we do about’ mode, which I’d like to avoid addressing.

By the way an astrologer (who did his B.Tech from IIT Madras long time ago) proclaims that China will soon get split into smaller countries (like what happened to USSR). Don’t ask me why I watch such astrology videos – let’s just call me super curious. 🙂 This same astrologer also predicts that Modi will come back to power for a third term, but will leave midway and take sanyas!

Coming back to China, one day I randomly stumbled upon a Youtuber (Winston aka serpentza) who’d published a video titled “Why I left China for Good”.

The above embedded video should play from 06:45 – where he basically says that from his personal experience of having lived in China (he is originally from South Africa), CCP does not let any criticism of the government come out in public. That to him was a very stifling environment to live in – so he decided to move out.

Most of you would instinctively agree with this claim. Me too. Of course one may say that the way a person from SA (or US, UK, even India) sees this situation – stifling – may be very different from how it is probably viewed by an average Chinese citizen. The Chinese citizens are – may be – used to such behavior from Govt. and don’t mind it as much.

Of course this view is debatable. In any case, it is something I will skip getting into, for now. All that even the internet offers on this, are just anecdotes – some Chinese tell you they don’t like their Govt., others say they are okay with it. How does one even find out what the “average” Chinese opinion is?

On a side-note, what definitely felt weird to me while watching the above video was this realization – that the very words this Youtuber chose to express his feelings for CCP, can as well be used to describe the present Indian Govt! Again, some of you may not agree with me, but let’s discuss that some other time!

Theory 2 – Message to India.

Shekhar Gupta (the below video should play from 09:41) talks about China’s need to give India a ‘message’ that it is the big boss (they apparently got triggered by major infra development by India along the border).

It sure is a theory, but a little too simple, isn’t it? A better, more plausible theory comes from Arvind Subramanian, who I quoted earlier.

Theory 3 – The time to rule the world has come.

Arvind sums it up nicely:

Perhaps China’s leaders once again see the world through a victim’s lens. As they perceive it, the powerful West had kept a weak China in check since the early 1800s. Now that the roles are reversed, the regime believes it is time to correct historical injustices. With Xi’s aggressive insecurity having replaced Deng’s calm confidence, China now places a premium on settling its borders and returning to the glory days of the Middle Kingdom.

Arvind Subramanian, Business Standard 21 Jul 2020

So yeah, these are the three theories that I have come to find so far. Do you have any other theory? Have you heard of anything else that explains why China is doing what it is doing with India? Do let me know.

If you want a quick refresher on the Indo-China border conflict, I created a 10-slider illustration some time back (mostly relying on a NY times summary article).

I had made the above deck when the Galwan valley thing had just started. As of now (24 Jul 2020), what we know is that in spite of all the talks about de-escalation and disengagement, things haven’t really cooled down.

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Anyway, other than getting inspired to draw informative illustrations and satirical cartoons, I also had the urge to read up more about China. So I got hold of few books.

I am reading the first one – by Job Fenby – on Kindle and listening to the second one on Audible (When China Rules the World by Martin Jacques). Both are insightful.

I’ll see if I ever get to the third book – ‘Has China Won’ – that I came to know about when I randomly stumbled upon the below video (where the author is interviewed). This is the second time I used the phrase “randomly stumbled upon”, didn’t I? But is anything ‘random’ on Youtube anymore? 🙂

This is not a contest between a democracy & a communist party system. It’s a contest between a plutocracy (US) and a meritocracy (CCP).

Kishore Mahbubani (in the video above)

Are you reading anything on China too? Do let me know. That will be all for this post.


Why has India not yet ratified the UN Convention against Torture ?

United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) is an international human rights treaty, that aims to prevent torture and other acts of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment around the world.


A week or two ago, I saw an insightful video. Sonali, a young law student explains in there, how most of us demanding justice for the shopkeeper father-son from Tamil Nadu (tortured to death by police), were demanding something that had already been provided.

In her IGTV video, she then suggests some specific demands that we should probably make if we really care about improvement of the policing system in India:

  1. setting up of a Police Complaint Authority
  2. making CCTV mandatory in police stations
  3. better training & sensitization of police officers
  4. signing of UNCAT

She explains how there are only 9 countries in the world that have not yet signed the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT) – India is one of them. There is a slight inaccuracy in this statement that I will clarify in a bit. Hold on.

Anyway, so her video made me wonder – have tortures gone down in countries that have signed the Convention? But even before that, I needed to figure out an explanation to the obvious question.

Why has India not yet signed the UNCAT?

Like most things, I found the answer on Youtube.

It so happens that India has signed the convention. It did so in 1997 itself. What it has not done is – ratify the same.

‘Ratification’ is the next step after signing, where in the country becomes legally obliged to adhere to the rules of the Convention. Signing just shows intent – there is no legal obligation as such. It’s been 23 years since the signing. India has not yet ratified UNCAT. Why?

Most of our Indian laws are borrowed from Britishers – we modified and adapted them once we got independence. Even today, in 2020, most Indian states follow the Indian Police Act 1861 (with few modifications).

Since they were the Britishers who set up the policing system, they didn’t see any issue in ingraining a culture of torture in there. It probably made sense – they were the ‘rulers’, the Indians their subjects.

The issue is – the overall ideology of how policing should happen, has continued till date.

What this means is, if and when India chooses to ratify the UN convention against torture – it will have to fundamentally redesign the policing structure / ideology (across all states – each state has its own policing regulation). And this probably is too much of work! And so India has done nothing about it! Since 23 years!

I also came across an interesting and a very recent video where Karan Thapar interviews India’s former Law Minister Ashwani Kumar (AK held this position for about six months during the second term of Congress Govt. under Dr. Manmohan Singh).

I learnt two important things from watching the video:

  1. The Congress Govt. did spend 3 months preparing an anti-torture bill (in 2010) but didn’t do enough to get it enacted (I’ve linked the bill for you to read, it’s only few pages).
  2. At some point, Arun Kumar took up this issue with Supreme Court, requesting the court to ‘nudge’ the present Modi Govt. to do something about ratifying UNCAT. The Supreme Court however said in 2019 that this wasn’t something it should be doing (in the video, you can see AK expressing how this is a weird thing for SC to say because it has taken up similar issues earlier where it did ‘nudge’ the Govt. to act, like for mob-lynching related laws).

Do we have enough laws already? Would more laws change anything? One can debate for years I guess. But let me come to my million dollar question.

When a country ratifies the UN convention against torture, do incidences of torture go down?

Because if the above is not happening, what’s even the point?

I tried hard to find an answer but there is nothing really. The best I could discover was this book from early 2000 that tries to assess UNCAT. But you can only read few pages in here, and those pages don’t answer my question. The book doesn’t seem to be available anywhere (either in print or as an e-book).

So let me just go ahead and raise another question.

Why does police torture anyway?

Primarily, two reasons:

  1. to show the victim who the boss is (display of power); and
  2. to extract useful information that can help in an investigation (possibly saving innocent lives as a result).

Point 1 is about mentality. Britishers probably designed the policing system in this way because it was important for them not just to extract information, but also, once in a while to show who the boss was.

The fact that this mentality still exists in the police force, is shameful. At least that’s what I think.

On point 2 – many studies show that it’s not so clear that torture really works (if you click on the link, you can read for yourself; there’s a book too if you really want to dig deep).

Intuitively, many of us certainly believe that torture must work because what else explains this statistic: over 70% of Indians (& Chinese) are okay with torture as long as the bigger objective of ‘protecting the public’ is met.

Whether or not ratifying the UNCAT brings down the cases of torture in India, it will be nice if policing system is reformed. Attempts to reform don’t always lead to any real change as was observed in Tanzania, but it’s worth trying at least? It’s not that no reform has happened in India.

The first National Police Commission in 1981 delivered eight reports addressing a range of police issues. In 2005, the Police Drafting Committee drafted a Model Police Act to replace the existing and archaic Police Act, 1861. Most recently, last year, the Supreme Court issued new directives to state governments to implement the directives that the apex court had recommended in 2006. Thus, both the problems and potential solutions to India’s police problems are well-understood.

What has perhaps stymied the implementation of these reforms is the lack of political will, which in turn could be linked to the growing criminalization of politics. When lawmakers increasingly feature serious criminal charges in their resume, they have very little incentive to professionalize the police force.

Sriharsha Devulapalli, Vishnu Padmanabhan, LiveMint

As far as I could find out, the draft of “Model Police Act” remains just that – a draft. And our police personnel continue to torture and execute ‘encounters’ as they please. There will always be good cops who will never do this, but the system allows and approves of the killings if and when a cop (or the politician s/he reports to) wants to.

We, the citizens, outrage when we feel that the person tortured / killed was innocent. But we are okay, even somewhat relieved when we feel that the person killed were anyway criminal / terrorist / rapist.

Sahi hai!


1. Sonali’s video (watch from 5:30 onwards if you just want to listen to what else we can demand from our government)

2. Explanation of why India has not yet ratified the UNCAT.

3. Karan Thapar’s interview with Ashwani Kumar

general Gyaan

How do you survive 450 million years as a species? Have beach orgies!

I am not kidding. Watch this NatGeo video below (even if you watch it later, notice the title of the video – Horseshoe Crabs Mate in Massive Beach “Orgy”).

Horseshoe crabs have been around for 450 million years. To put that in perspective, our ancestors have been around only for about 6 million years (and the modern form of humans evolved just 200,000 years ago). May be we weren’t having enough beach orgies!

Jokes aside, something happened last month that made BBC publish this article yesterday, which then showed up in my inbox today (I have a Google Alert set for “Covid vaccine”, yes).

So how is a 450 million year old crab species connected to Covid vaccine?

It’s not just Covid. Since 1977, it is mandatory in US for any vaccine / drug / surgical instrument (that can come in contact with blood) to pass something called a ‘LAL’ test that depends upon the blue blood of horseshoe crabs.

Their blood is blue because it is rich in copper (there are several other organisms with blue blood). LAL has nothing to do with copper though.

L: limulus (short for Limulus polyphemus – the biological name of these crabs – which btw are not really crabs but belong to a different species of anthropods – closer to scorpions and spiders)

A: amebocyte – a kind of cell found in these crabs that contains…

L: lysate

When a bacteria (with endotoxin) comes in contact with this lysate, clotting occurs immediately and you know that the bacteria is there. Endotoxins can kill humans if not detected.

So to make sure a vaccine will not cause any infection when injected, you drop a small quantity of LAL in it and if the LAL doesn’t coagulate – you are good to go. Simple! But I told you this was approved in 1977. So how did we manage before that?

Before LAL, the only way to test the toxicity of any new vaccine (or experimental drug) was to inject lab rabbits and monitor their symptoms. It was a time consuming manual process that sucked big time. And if you are into animations and all that, the below video is fun to watch – shows cute rabbits.

So who came up with this briLALiant idea?

Although the LAL test was approved by US in 1977, research started almost twenty years earlier by this guy called Fred Bang, who btw received some sort of an award only in 2019 (that’s pretty much the only thing you will find about him in the Wiki page linked to his name).

Fred Bang

Today, around 400k to 500k of these crabs are caught (once a year) and taken to labs where ~30% of their blue blood is removed from a vein near their heart. They are then released back to the beach / ocean.

In the 1980s and through the early 1990s, the process seemed sustainable. The pharma industry claimed that only 3% of the crabs died. But in recent years, it’s been estimated that upto 30% may be dying from this process.

The number of horseshoe crabs in Delaware Bay (NJ) for example dipped from 1.2 million in 1990 to just 300k+ by 2003, but has thankfully hovered around that figure since then.

By the way, lysate is super expensive. Present estimates seem to range anywhere between 13,000 to 16,000 USD per liter of the blue blood!

Is there no alternative?

Actually there is. Back in 1997 itself, scientists at the National University of Singapore – Ling Ding Jeak and Bo How
(husband-wife), created something called an rFC test (using only lab made formulations) that could also detect endotoxin (in bacteria) just like the LAL test.

There have been several more studies since then. It took a lot of time for anything to change as the world at large continued to rely on the blue blood sucked from these crabs (which are not crabs).

It was only four years ago, in 2016 that the synthetic alternative to crab lysate was approved in Europe (which I guess is still valid) and it seemed that US would go down that route too but eventually it didn’t. And this brings me back to the BBC article that I wrote about in the beginning.

The article shares how last month (June 2020), US stated that the safety of the synthetic alternative is ‘unproven’ and so, any new drug / vaccine must continue to use LAL test (or else FDA will not approve it).

What about India?

I tried to find if the LAL test is mandatory in India, only to realize there is no way to search for this keyword. All Google shows me are sites that mention Dr. Lal labs! LOL!

By the way if you want to read up more on what went behind creating the synthetic lysate – here is a great article. Bloomberg also did a mini-doc on Prof. Ding’s breakthrough – see below (will play from 3:29 when she shows up with her husband – they are cute).

That’s it for this blog – hope you learnt something new and if you are up to learn even more, how about this – horseshoe crabs have two compounded eyes and seven simple eyes – a total of nine eyes! Ok, byes, byes. Need to plan this beach orgy thing now. Gotta live long!


Research source:

Gyaan videos

Breaking down the storytelling of “The Evolution Of Michael Phelps”

I saw a short 15 minute documentary video on the legendary swimmer Michael Phelps just now. One of my Facebook friends had shared it on his timeline. And because I loved the way the film was made, I thought of breaking down the storytelling bit (my newest obsession – every time I see a good story, whether it be a documentary – short or otherwise, or a Hollywood movie).

1. Protagonist

  • From whose point of view is the story being told (or in other words, who is the protagonist)? Michael Phelps – he is the protagonist. He knows what he wants, it’s not easy for him to get what he wants, and he never totally gives up.
  • What does the protagonist want? To figure out his ultimate purpose in life.
  • Protagonist’s motivation? We all want to figure this out, right? This is a basic human nature.

2. Empathy

So why does the audience care about what the protagonist wants?

If the record holder of the highest number of Olympic medals is not sure what the purpose of his life is and is fucked up in any way, we all want to know why! It’s difficult not to care about his journey to see if he can figure things out (which he most likely will, we kind of know that), but more importantly, how exactly does he figure things out? Did someone help him in this journey? Did he bump into something (by accident or choice) that opened his eyes? ‘Tell us all’, the audience screams.

3. The challenge & what’s at stake?

What makes it difficult for Michael to figure out what he truly wants from his life is what makes it difficult for any of us – there is no well defined way of finding this out really! We also get to know about his estranged relationship with his father, which was not easy to sort out.

At stake was a) his reputation as a celebrity Olympic champ and b) his life. Two pretty high stakes really!

4. Visual-flow

Unfortunately, this story lacks a visual flow. There is no connecting start and end. Do I think having a visual flow would have elevated the story? Yes, absolutely.

5. Insights gained?

Following, methinks, are main ones:

  • Even Olympic champions can get suicidal – and not because they have stopped doing well professionally but for reasons as relate-able as unresolved personal relationships.
  • Life is not about how low you get – it’s about how you bounce back.
  • We all need that helping hand in our lives, in times of despair and self-doubt. And if we hang on, things eventually do get better.

6. The end and summary

  • What happens in the end? In the end, Phelps’ life is more or less sorted (and the viewers know how it happened). With help from those who cared about him, he came out of his depression, sorted issues with his dad, got married, became a father and is now ready to compete again – in this year’s Olympics!
  • Summary of the story in one or two sentences – this was the story of how one of the biggest Olympic champions of all times, dealt with his depression and came out of it successfully.

Whether you are writing a story (doesn’t really matter if it’s fiction or non-fiction) or making a film, do make sure you story answers these questions! Because every good watchable story, generally does! You can read more about the importance of each of these questions in another detailed blog here.

Feature image source.

Gyaan travel

The couple that went climbing – part 6

Link to part [1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Let met post some statistics on my batch. There were 80 students in our batch overall, we were told. But I could jot down names of only 76. Based on that, and based on additional information that I had collected during the course, following are some of the graphs that I could generate.

Before you get confused, Local means Darjiling / Siliguri; Army / Navy / IAF are the ones who keep on moving all the time – so location is not applicable to them; West Bengal refers to people from the state of WB other than the local ones; similarly Karnataka refers to people from Karnataka other than those from Bangalore (apply the same logic to Maharashtra-Mumbai); Firangi means all non-Indians except Bangladeshis; and North-East includes Sikkim.

Some of the key-take away from the above chart are:

  • the local residents and defense personnel alone accounted for almost 1/3rd of the entire batch
  • If you include the local residents, West Bengal as a state alone accounted for 31% of all students – followed by Maharashtra and Karnataka, contributing 10% and 9% respectively
  • amongst the metros, the cities that contributed maximum students can be ranked in the following order: Mumbai (9%) > Delhi (5%)> Hyderabad (4%) > Bangalore = Chennai (~2% each)

HMI has a lower age limit of 16 and an upper age limit of 40. Maximum students were in the age-group of 25-30 years, followed very closely by 20-25 and 15-20.

Once again, before you get confused, college students includes both those who were in college and those who had just graduated – except the MBA students; all the school students had just written their Xth or XIIth; Regular corporate includes everyone working in the regular corporate world except software professionals; although we had two doctors in our batch, one of them had just finished his MBBS  and was ready to pursue higher studies – so has been included in ‘college students’ by me.

If there indeed were 80 students, I am pretty sure that the four missing names were all males and none of them successfully completed the course. In that case, if I revise my figures (the above two charts show percentage as %age of 76 students), both the percentage of females and percentage of successful completion will fall down slightly to say about 10% and about 81-82% respectively.