'Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire' by Alex von Tunzelmann is a book of history that deals with the events leading to and after the Independence, and the Partition of India. It also takes a closer look into the lives of the main players of the Indian politics at that time. Most of the history books look into the events and what caused those events. Rarely a book forays into the personal lives of the characters. This book goes beyond just facts and it tells about the chemistry between many leaders involved in the Indian freedom struggle. The build up to the Independence was well described by Tunzelmann.

'Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire' by Alex von TunzelmannAs the cover page suggests, the romantic relationship between Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten is more or less at the center of the book. In fact, the relationship between Edwina and Louis Mountbatten and their relationships with other men and women were discussed in detail. These were then used to tell that Edwina’s relationship with Nehru was out of mutual admiration for each other's work and difficulties in their fields. Louis Mountbatten never objected to their relationship like he did not for her relations with other men. This closeness between Nehru and Edwina was a later subject of gossip in power circles of Delhi and Jinnah believed that it was used to give unfair concessions to India during and after the Independence. Even after the Independence, they kept writing letters to each other and whenever they visited each other's country, they made it a point to meet each other. Tunzelmann also tells us that Mountbatten and Nehru-Gandhi family refused to share the correspondence between them which could have been used to divulge more details of their relationship as well as that of the freedom struggle and their opinion about the events happening at that time.

Tunzelmann paints Louis Mountbatten, affectionately known as Dickie, as a person who lacked military acumen but was given critical assignments in Navy because of his friendship with powerful persons in the United Kingdom and also, because of his semi-royal lineage. His handling of many events was questioned and he almost died in one such mishap. Then he was given the most important assignment of his life - Viceroyalty of India. His task was cut out before he landed on the Indian soil - to smoothly transfer the power to two successor states - India and Pakistan. How much he succeeded in that is a matter of great debate, but in retrospect, it could be said that he could have done little when riots started and when there was no clear border demarcation. Tunzelmann also dwells into the life of Dickie after his service in Navy and discusses the plot of a coup in the United Kingdom in which Dickie was asked to play a significant role.

Two leaders of the freedom movement who commanded great respect and command from public and leaders alike were Gandhi and Jinnah, although they have their appeals limited to sections of the society. Gandhi brought the spirituality into the movement which was till then largely irreligious. His idea of a village-centered democracy was cheered by the common public but was hotly debated by the leaders like Nehru. Many times in the freedom movement Gandhi took a backseat but continued to exert his influence through leaders like Nehru. Nehru needed Gandhi for leadership who can inspire the masses and Gandhi needed someone who can turn his words into the actions. They both needed each other. On the other hand Jinnah, once a staunch supporter of Hindu-Muslim unity, later insisted on separate country of Pakistan. Tunzelmann gives many instances to tell that he may not have thought that he will get Pakistan and this was more likely his bargaining chip. In fact, according to some sources, he admitted before dying that creation of Pakistan was the biggest mistake of his life.

The main events after Independence that were described by Tunzelmann are Kashmir problem, accession of Hyderabad and Junagadh states to India. He describes Sardar Patel as iron-handed in approach and as one who used all the options available on the table to make princely states accede to India. Nehru handled Kashmir. His association with that state was described by the author to be less pragmatic and more emotional. Probably Nehru's family roots as a Kashmiri Pandit had much to do with this emotional association. Towards the end of his life, his authority deteriorated and he was visibly a lonely man. He had made up his mind to resign from the post of Prime Minister but was persuaded not to do that.

Tunzelmann's presents history in a credible way. The way she recreated the events of history was good, not to forget the analysis of the dilemma and emotions from the letters of that period like those between Edwina and Nehru; and between Jinnah and Churchill. Starting the book with describing India as faring better than England during Aurangzeb's rule, she went on to describe the ups and downs of the Company Raj and then British Raj. She ends the book on an optimistic note that India and Pakistan continue chasing the dream of their forefathers.

Credit should be given to Stephen Hawking for presenting scientific concepts and theories in such a way that a person without a background in science can understand them. Hawking takes the fascination of the common masses with black holes and builds it to a whole new level. The best thing about this book is the absence of complex mathematical equations although there are few complex mathematical concepts discussed in the book. In his own admission, Hawking says that he was advised that each mathematical equation would halve the readership of the book. In the end, he sticks with the cornerstone of general relativity and one of the most famous equations, E=mc2.

'A Brief History of Time' by 'Stephen Hawking'Hawking starts the discussion with the approach of ancient generations to the science. He describes the Ptolemaic approach to the universe. Ptolemy extended the earth-centric approach of early Greeks and it was adopted by the Church because it allowed the possibility of heaven, a concept so deeply ingrained in all the religions. Centuries later Galileo and Newton contested the Aristotelian approach. The basic difference between their approach was the method of reaching the conclusion. Galileo emphasized on the experimental verification while Aristotle believed that everything can be proven by abstract thought. And in that were laid the roots of modern science.

In next few chapters, Hawking discusses the Big Bang Theory and Uncertainty Principle. Hawking ponders over "Who we are and how did we came here." He then proceeds to scientifically justify the Big Bang Theory. The Uncertainty Principle puts rest to the efforts to determine the present state of universe accurately. The Uncertainty Principle leads to the development of a new branch of science, i.e. quantum mechanics. Subatomic particles and nature of different forces are also discussed.

The black holes have caught the imagination of popular science since few decades. A black hole is formed when a star uses up its hydrogen fuel and then because of its gravity contracts inwards. Due to the strong gravitational forces, nothing can escape, not even the light. A new thinking has emerged which allows the detection of Gamma rays from black holes thus raising a possibility that black holes are not so black. Hawking uses quantum mechanics to reach a conclusion that the universe has always been there and will always be and thus, there is no need to have a creator God.

The most interesting concept is that of the time. There is a possibility that time can go backward, into the past. But this suggestion contradicts the second law of thermodynamics which says that a closed system always behaves in such a way that its entropy increases. Thus, movement back through the time is ruled out. Also, human memory remembers only the past, not the future. Then Hawking discusses the dream of physicists to have a unified theory to explain all the phenomena. So far many theories have been proposed, but a single theory to explain all of them is yet to come. Hawking accepts the possibility that no unified theory may be possible.

Hawking should be given full marks for explaining such topics in all simplicity. He ends the book with word portraits of Einstein, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton. As in the introduction of this book Carl Sagan says that although adults do not care much about the understanding of the universe, children do. Adults often turn to religious concepts to explain the unanswerable questions. Hawking refutes religious concepts in this book in a convincing way.

"Sometimes it's better to be with the sheep, who don't say anything. And better still to be alone with one's books. They tell their incredible stories at the time when you want to hear them. But when you're talking to people, they say some things that are so strange that you don't know how to continue the conversation."

The Alchemist is the Guinness Book record holder for a maximum number of translations of a book in different languages. This is also the book which made Paulo Coelho famous for the mysticism in his stories. According to Coelho, this book was written only in two weeks and the idea of this story was 'written in his heart.' Originally in Portuguese, The Alchemist promotes optimism and encourages one to follow his dream. It also says that one should not worry about the road not yet traveled. Instead, he should follow his heart, take the road untraveled and face the consequences.
 'The Alchemist' by Paulo Coelho
The story revolves around a young boy Santiago who leaves his home in Spain to go to pyramids in Egypt in search of a hidden treasure that he had seen in a dream. He sells his sheep to travel to Egypt. During his quest, he is robbed, works for a local merchant and joins a caravan in Sahara desert. There he meets an English traveler who tells him about a two-hundred-year-old alchemist on an oasis. Because of his dreams, he foresees the coming events and that leads to oasis being saved from an imminent attack. The word spreads and he is called by the alchemist to meet. The alchemist gives him the gold and sends him off to the pyramid. There Santiago is beaten by two men, one of these men tells him that he had seen a similar dream of a hidden treasure beneath a church where Santiago had his original dream.
The story encourages risk taking as depicted by the Santiago's travel to unknown lands, inspired only by a dream. He is robbed and is beaten in his journey but he never abandons his journey. Also while working for the merchant, he encourages the merchant to take risks and this makes both of them rich. He parts with the merchant taking his share of the money. Coelho emphasizes on listening to one's heart. As he says, "The boy and his heart had become friends, and neither was capable now of betraying the other." Indeed when presented with many options with none of the options markedly better than the other we should listen to what our heart says because that way we will have fewer chances of repenting later.
The most famous quote of this book, "when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it", also says to follow one’s dream. In the start, when one is not sure about the outcome of his journey, then these lines by Coelho should inspire him. "Everyone has his or her own way of learning things. His way isn't the same as mine, nor mine as his. But we're both in search of our destinies, and I respect him for that." It was meant to say that one’s journey is not like the journey of any other person. The victory or loss of someone should not manipulate others.
While emphasizing dreams and futuristic outlook, Coelho also cautions about that. He says, “The secret is here in the present. If you pay attention to the present, you can improve upon it. And, if you improve on the present, what comes later will also be better." In the story, Santiago finds his treasure at his home although he traveled to Egypt for that. Santiago always lived in the present, never repenting for the unfortunate events during his journey and always working to make his present useful to take the leap into his dreams from there. Had he not worked at the merchant’s shop after being robbed or not continued his journey after his marriage proposal was rejected by Fatima, he would not have found his treasure.
Although the overall message of optimism runs through the message, sometimes it becomes unrealistic. Continuing with the notion that whatever you want, you will get it if you want it badly, Coelho builds the whole narrative. But this notion is incomplete in the sense that it shows only one-half of the picture. It never makes you realize the real challenges of the journey and preparedness. Prepared to follow your dream is one thing and prepared to follow the consequences is an altogether different thing. Even then this book should be read once and it has some nice quotes spread throughout the book.
"We are afraid of losing what we have, whether it's our life or possessions and property. But this fear evaporates when we understand that our life stories and the history of the world were written by the same hand."

नदिया चले, चले रे धारा

हर बार हिमालय की गोद में आकर कल-कल बहते हुए पानी को देखकर वैसे तो बहुत कुछ सीखने को मिलता है, लेकिन ऐसा कुछ है जो कि मन में बस सा गया है। अगर आपने कानपुर और वाराणसी में गंगा के पानी को देखा होगा तो आपको जरूर हृषिकेश में गंगाजल की याद आई होगी, जहाँ पर आप नदी का तल देख सकते हैं, पानी इतना स्वच्छ है। थोड़ा आगे जाकर आपने दूर से देवप्रयाग में भागीरथी और मन्दाकिनी के संगम को भी देखा होगा, जहाँ एक मटमैली धारा एक हरे रंग की धारा के साथ मिलती है। देहरादून जाते समय पथरीली घाटी भी दिखाई दी होगी, जो वैसे तो पूरे साल सूखी रहती है लेकिन बरसात में रौद्र रूप धारण कर लेती है। कसोल में पार्वती नदी को देखकर बस एक ही चीज मन में आती है कि नदी के उस पार तैरकर जाना संभव भी है क्या। और देवरिया ताल में छोटी सी झील को देखकर महाभारत काल में चले जाना स्वाभाविक है क्योंकि मान्यताओं के अनुसार इसी झील के किनारे यक्ष ने युधिष्ठिर से प्रश्न किये थे।

ये हिमालय से निकलने वाली धाराएं कोई सामान्य धाराएं नहीं हैं और जैसा कि मैंने पहले भी ‘नदी बहती रही’ में कहा है कि मनुष्य के जीवन और नदी के बहाव में अत्यधिक समानताएं हैं। जैसे मनुष्य अपने बाल्यकाल में शरारती स्वाभाव का होता है जिसे संसार के किसी भी दुःख दर्द की परवाह नहीं होती है और जिसका दिन खेलते कूदते हुए ही बीत जाता है उसी प्रकार नदी भी कंकरीली पथरीली भूमि पर बहते हुए उछलती कूदती हुई चली जाती है। जब मनुष्य परिपक्व हो जाता है उसके स्वभाव में एक गंभीरता आ जाती है, उसके निर्णयों में एक सोच समझ झलकती है उसी प्रकार नदी भी जब मैदानी भागों में प्रवेश करती है तो उसकी गति मंद पड़ जाती है मानों उसे जिम्मेदारियों के बोझ तले दबा दिया गया हो। जब मनुष्य वृद्धावस्था में प्रवेश करता है तो उसकी शक्ति क्षीण हो जाती है और ब्रह्मलीन होने के पहले उसका मन कई दिशाओं में भटकता रहता है। ठीक उसी प्रकार नदी भी सागर के पास पहुँचते पहुँचते बहुत धीमी हो जाती है, बीच में कई टापू उभर आते है और कई शाखाओं में बँट जाती है।

मनुष्य का जीवन हमेशा एक रूप में ही थोड़े ही रहा है। कभी तेज तो कभी धीमा। कभी प्रखर तो कभी समझौतावादी। कभी प्रयत्नशील तो कभी भाग्यवादी। कहीं जीत तो कहीं हार। कभी झुकना तो कभी फिर उठना। वैसे ही पानी को भी कई बार रूपांतरण करना पड़ा है। कभी बर्फ बनकर पहाड़ों पर थम गया तो कभी झरना बनकर बार बार पत्थर के विवेक पर चोट की है। कभी खेतों को सींचने के लिए थम गया तो कभी पहाड़ों को हिला देने वाली गति से चल उठा। कभी बाँध बनाकर इसे रोक दिया गया तो कभी भूस्खलन में पूरे पहाड़ आकर इसके कलेजे में धंस गये। कभी भगवान शंकर की जटा में बैठ गया तो कभी आंसू बनकर लोगों की भावनाओं की अभिव्यक्ति का साधन बना। और रैदास ने तो कहा भी है कि ‘तुम चन्दन हम पानी’ जिसमें उन्होंने पानी को सब कुछ आत्मसात करने वाला बता दिया है।

तो जब हरिद्वार में हर की पौड़ी में चण्डी देवी को निहारते हुए गंगा किनारे बैठकर सोचता हूँ कि इस बार इस आत्म मंथन से क्या लेकर जाऊंगा तो मैं सोचता हूँ कि जिंदगी में इतने अनगिनत पड़ाव आते हैं कभी सुख तो कभी दुःख झेलना पड़ता है। संसार में कितनी ही असफल जिंदगियाँ हैं, कितने ही दुर्गम रास्ते हैं और कितने ही अक्षम्य अपराध मनुष्य ने किये हैं जिसके कारण उसे हारकर बैठना पड़ता है। कितनी ही बार मनुष्य अनुत्तरीय प्रश्नों के आगे निरुत्तर रह गया है और बस अपने भाग्य को कोस कर रह गया है। कई बार क्या पाया है सोचने की बजाय क्या खोया ज्यादा सोचने लगता है। तो ऐसे में मैं फिर अविरल धारा की ओर आशा भरी नज़रों से देखता हूँ कि शायद यहाँ कोई जवाब मिल जाये।

और नदी की धारा ने मुझे यहाँ भी निराश नहीं किया। कितनी बार नदी की धारा को बाँध बनाकर मंद किया गया। अलग अलग धारायें निकालकर उसको क्षत-विक्षत किया गया। उसके किनारे मानव बस्तियाँ बसाकर उसको गन्दगी ढोने का एक साधन बना दिया गया। पूजा के नाम पर कितने फूलों पत्तियों को तोड़कर उसमें समाहित कर दिया गया। और तो और वर्षा की अति होने पर उसे हानि के लिए कोसा भी गया। मैंने पूँछा नदी से कि इतनी विपरीत परिस्थितियों के बाद कभी ऐसा नहीं लगता कि जीवन जिया ही क्यों जाये। नदी की एक छोटी सी धारा मेरे पैरों के पास रुकी और कहा कि कुछ भी घटित हो, आशातीत या आशानुरूप, जीवन निर्बाध रूप से चलता रहता है। इतना कहकर वह धारा फिर अपनी राह पर चल पड़ी।

नदिया चले, चले रे धारा । तुझको चलना होगा ।
नदिया चले, चले रे धारा । तुझको चलना होगा । 

India: A History by John Keay is a meticulously researched and detailed book narrating Indian history since prehistoric times. While presenting the great and long story of India, Keay kept in mind that it should not get boring at any time and his style of storytelling is commendable. The use of maps and dynasty trees explains the points such as inheritance and expansion of a kingdom in detail. Still, this book is not a stereotypical academic history book where sunk in facts and data you will give away after some time. Neither it is an attempt to be politically correct, being used to propagate a point of view of any kind of a revisionist. Also, the author's habit of quoting from the whole spectrum of historians and also accommodating the views and justifications, from historians having views contrary to that of the author, made it one of the most neutral works on Indian history.
India : A History by John Keay
The book starts with the pre-Harappan times and takes into account the oldest creations of archaeological importance found in India such as paintings of Bhimbetka and those of Badami caves. As with the usual historian’s approach, these paintings were used to determine the level of evolution of the human race of that time. In the subsequent chapters, the author moves to Indus civilization and rates the achievements of the Indus Valley Civilisation at par with, if not above then, those of ancient Egyptian and Chinese civilizations. Sure they did not make anything like pyramids of Giza, but the elaborate urban plan with streets and water tanks was admired by historians. Evidence of trade links with Mesopotamia civilization can be found in abundance. The author gives many possible reasons for the decline of Harappan civilization but without full certainty about any of them. This decline would again convert the subcontinent to agrarian one where each village was more like a congregation of few families led by a person known as raja of that village.

Keay then moves to Vedic age and early kingdoms of Gangetic plains and present-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. Magadha would emerge as a center of Indian might and will continue to be like that for centuries. The start of foreign invasions on the subcontinent was also be discussed. He tells that not every time these invaders were disliked by the local populations. Sometimes they were invited by a king to defeat a neighboring kingdom. Many times these invaders settled here, had matrimonial alliances and would assimilate into the Indian culture, a template that would be followed for close to two millennia. Also constant would be the tales glorifying the richness of Indian subcontinent and thus in effect luring many tribes and clans to conquer India. Mauryan empire had the greatest extent and in that aspect rivaled by Mughals only many centuries later. Kingdoms in the subcontinent would continue fighting among themselves, sometimes taking help from a rival of rivals. Keay takes few Vedic concepts like 'Digvijay' where a king would try to conquer large swaths of lands in all direction i.e. enlarging his kingdom. Keay would draw a comparison with later events. Keay also discusses and finds a pattern in the dynastic succession of Mughals.

During all these centuries the concept of a nation-state was almost alien to Indians and it would be no exaggeration to say that these concepts were brought to India by Europeans. Starting as traders these European companies then became rulers and Britain would surpass other European countries like Portugal, Netherlands, and France as far as wealth acquired and territory ruled is concerned. During first 100 years, they promoted studies of Indian culture and history and would enact laws to abolish traditions such as Sati Pratha and legalize widow remarriage. These actions antagonized the masses. Still, it took them decades to realize that they are being ruled by a foreign power. Then happened the 'The First War of Independence' or 'Sepoy Mutiny,' after which the British Rule became more iron-handed, but such was the irony of India that the Raj would have an equal number of friends and foes in India. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, many people of a generation went to the UK to study and these people, most of them lawyers, acquainted with ideas like nationalism, equality, socialism, revolution, and democracy, would later pronounce the death verdict of the Raj. In Indian freedom struggle, we find a unique experiment in history in which Gandhi used satyagraha and civil disobedience against the Raj. After Independence and the Partition, three countries charted similar courses initially and then became much different from each other later.

I would accept that writing a history of 5000 years in a 600-page book will make few important events of history not getting the attention that they deserve but even in that condition Keay maintained the flow. His analysis of the period before 200 AD is interesting because few concrete proofs of dates and events are available and one has to rely on the rock edicts for any information about the reign of a king. The first part of the book was more interesting and newer as that period is scarcely covered and quoted in public discourse and even when done then in a highly exaggerated manner. The post-independence part is not only about India as the name of the book might suggest but is about the three successor countries and due importance has been given to events in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Nearly 8 kilometers away from Dhanolti, lies the Surkanda Devi Temple on the top of a peak. Nearest point till one can get conveyance is Kaddukhal. Buses and Taxis are available from Chamba and Dhanolti to Kaddukhal. From Kaddukhal there is a steep trek of about two kilometers to reach Surkanda Devi temple. Seeing the horses which some people use to climb the hill made me remember a road in Kufri near Shimla that was so dirty because of these horses. To my surprise, the way to the Surkanda Devi temple was not full of horses and it was very clean.

Surkanda Devi Temple from Kaddukhal

Seeing the Temple from the gate makes the climb difficult. It looked like it was situated very high and very far. This can give you mixed feelings, first, of a task that is very difficult and second, of a challenge to achieve something that is very difficult. With those feelings, we started the climb. We would stop at many points to see the beautiful surroundings and also the road to Dhanolti where moving vehicles looked so small. Kaddukhal was a very small settlement as looked from the steps. Beyond those shops which give you items of worship there were few step farms. As with the human thinking of "The grass is greener on the other side", I wanted to be on those step farms which looked like they were so carefully constructed with few trees here and there. But before that, I had to complete the trek to the temple. 

View of Kaddukhal en route to Surkanda Devi Temple

With the lifestyle that we live of a sedentary worker, this climb was difficult and we had to rest few times. There were good arrangements for that and this also provided an opportunity to stop and look around and capture the shots. Seeing from there the clouds which were touching the other shorter peaks were looking as if they were originating from those peaks. Deep down between the two peaks we could spot few houses. In the next moment, clouds would block the view. That day the weather was so pleasant due to the presence of these clouds that we reached the temple in less than one hour without too much effort.

The legend behind Surkanda Devi temple is that while Lord Shiva was carrying the dead body of Sati after she jumped into the fire, her head fell at this place. That is why it was named Sarkanda which changed to Surkanda Devi with the passage of time. This was a small temple where an annual fair is held. We were thinking that how difficult it would be to reach the temple when snowfall begins and also how fabulous would it be to look, from the temple peak, 360 degree around covered in snow. We got to know from a board that we could see cities of Haridwar, Rishikesh, and Roorkee from there, but we could not do that because of thick clouds. 

While exploring the area nearby we went outside the temple from the other gate directed towards Chamba. This place was not crowded by pilgrims and tourists and we spent some time there playing hide and seek with clouds. We were standing on a peak and the valleys should have looked very deep from there but we could not see that because of ever-present black clouds. Sometimes sunrays appeared at the distant end like silver linings. 

Invitation to Kaudia Park

From Surkanda Devi temple we went to Kanatal, approximately 10 kilometers from there. On the internet, it was one of the famous destinations near Chamba, but there was not much to do apart from a jungle safari. This place must have been popularized by the Club Mahindra resort situated just outside the gates of Eco Park, Kaudia Range. We started our jungle trip after taking passes. It was a jungle trek of around 8 km to the hilly village of Kaudia. Initial stretch was covered with tall Deodar trees but as we went deeper into the jungle those long trees disappeared gradually and were replaced by the trees of all shapes and size. We were very hopeful of seeing snowy peaks from the jungle as suggested by the local people but could not get that too because of clouds. 

Deep inside Eco Park, Kaudia

Now deep into the jungle, going up and down with sometimes barely a foot-wide path, meeting small water streams, we kept on moving towards Kaudia. We could not meet any person, no wildlife creature could be spotted except occasional chirruping of the birds. There we thought that we should at least had a small knife or a torch for our safety. Moving on we saw trees with strange shapes, leaves with interesting colors. There came a moment when it was so dark that in photographs only outline of a person could be recognized. We estimated the time it would take us to reach Kaudia and then come back to the main road and that did not allow us to complete the trek. We abandoned the jungle safari midway and left for the Haridwar via Chamba.