Saturday, January 07, 2023

Thiyagaraja Aradhana, a unique musical experience...

Yesterday I went to the annual Thiyagaraja Aradhana (worship)  Music Festival at Thiruvaiyaru, 25 kms from my village. 

I had been to this festival in 2019. But this time it is bigger with 294 concerts (242 last time) packed into six days from 6 to 11 January. This is the 176th year of organisation of the festival

Every day, the festival starts off in the morning and ends in the night with Nadhaswaram concerts. In the 2023 edition, there are a total of 80 Nadhaswaram concerts. This is interesting in view of the fact that Nadhaswaram and the accompanying drum instrument Thavil are not considered as part of classical Carnatic Music. But no marriage is conducted or temple procession held without the accompaniment of the auspicious music of Nadhaswaram. 

There are some Veena, and Violin concerts too although most are vocal performances.  

This festival should be one of the most efficiently organised events in India with strict adherence to punctuality. Each artiste is given slot of 20 or 15 or 10 minutes. 

This is a typical page from the program booklet..

But a few minutes before the end of each performance, the next group has to sit on the second stage and be ready to start in time. This is how 60 concerts are organised each day from 9 am to 1020 pm. 

The artistes perform not for money but as payment of tribute to Thiyagaraja, the most famous composer of Carnatic music who lived from 1767 to 1847. The stage faces on the other side the samadhi (tomb) of Thiyagaraja where his body was cremated.

Although the audience is very small in the mornings and afternoon, the crowd increases in the evening when the famous artistes like Sudha Ragunathan perform. The audience has to sit on the sand floor and enjoy the breeze coming from the Cauvery river on one side and the aroma of the filter coffee made on the other side of the venue.

The residents of Thiruvaiyaru can listen to the music from the loud speakers put up in the main streets of the town.

The festival is open to the public free of cost. There are no tickets. 

There are people who travel from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka to watch this concert. Many compositions of the composer Thiyagaraja are in Telugu language.

Here is a colorful member of the audience enjoying himself while putting up a show of his own..

Here is a blog I wrote on the 2019 Aradhana with the title Carnatic music flowing into Cauvery river

The Thiyagaraja Aradhana is certainly one of the largest, most unusual and interesting classical music festivals in the world. It is a unique and memorable musical experience

Thursday, March 17, 2022

“Karunanidhi: A Life” – book by A S Panneerselvan

 “Karunanidhi: A Life” – book by A S Panneerselvan
I bought the book instinctively when I saw a quote of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (one of my favourite Latin American writers) in the author’s introduction, “ I told Karunanidhi I was using Gerald Martin’s biography of Gabriel Garcia Marquez as a model. I shared with him what Marquez told the biographer: ‘Everyone has three lives: a public life, a private life and a secret life. What Márquez meant to Martin is what Karunanidhi means to me”.

As a journalist, Panneerselvan had interacted with Karunanidhi and those close to him from the family and party. He had worked on the book off and on for about twenty years.
The book gives a glimpse of the life and achievements of Karunanidhi whose talents and achievements are admirable. He is a rare combination of a creative writer with extraordinary oratorical talents, visionary leadership, political instincts, organizational skills and administrative competence. It is even more amazing in the light of the fact that he did not complete school education after having failed repeatedly in the final year school examination. 
Karunanidhi was a prolific writer. He has written scripts for 67 films starting with “ Rajakumari” in 2011 and “Ponnar Sankar” in 2011. He has authored 46 short stories, 13 plays, 10 novels, 2 novellas and 7000 letters he wrote daily in Murasoli newspaper. He also wrote literary pieces and lyrics for some film songs. He had even acted in some of the plays. His autobiography nenjikku needhi ( justice to the Conscience) runs into several volumes. He edited newspapers and magazines. An early riser, he used to finish most of his writing before breakfast and before the arrival of party cadres. The combination of prodigious talent, strict discipline and a work ethic was the secret of Karunanidhi’s prolific output as a writer. 
He was a mesmerizing orator with a unique style of poetic expressions, inimitable humour, witty word play and inspiring ideas. I remember how I was moved to cry while listening to his eulogy in radio when Annadurai died in 1969.There is no other Tamil political leader who could match Karunanidhi’s speeches.
Karunanidhi was chief minister of Tamil Nadu for five terms and leader of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) for over five decades. He has a record of victory in all the 13 times he stood for elections. He was a star campaigner and strategist for DMK party. He got more ministerial posts in the coalition governments in Delhi and got more than the due share of the state from the central governments through skillful negotiations. 
The author has put Karunanidhi’s life’s events in the context of the larger political developments in the state, the country and in the world. One such larger issue was the anti-Brahmin movement in the state and Karunanidhi’s promotion of Tamil language and non-Brahmins.  The author cites an incident in one of the Thiagaraja Aradhana music festivals in Thiruvaiyaru. The musicians who participated in the festival used to sing only in Sanskrit and Telugu and not in Tamil. The reason for this was the fact that the Trinity of Composers of Carnatic music comprising  Thyagaraja, Muthuswami Dikshitar and Syama Sastri had composed only in Telugu and Sanskrit. Many of the Brahmin singers and composers looked down on Tamil considering it as a language of the lower castes. For them, Sanskrit was the divine language. During an annual festival, one of the singers rendered a Tamil song at the end of his performance in honour of Tyagaraja. The next singer refused to sing till the place was ‘purified’ as it had been polluted with a Tamil song. The organizers immediately called for priests to perform a special puja to purify the place; they cleaned the concert stage with holy water and then invited the next singer to perform. Reacting to this Karunanidhi had said, “‘My music classes were in reality my first political class. I learnt about the subjugation of human beings based on their caste; I could witness the glee with which some people could humiliate others as well as the self-righteousness of others in practising their customs without even realizing that they are ill-treating a vast majority of the people”.
While the author has covered the achievements of Karunanidhi, he has not gone into the failures, mistakes, electoral defeats of the party, corruption allegations and dynastic politics. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Saraswati, the goddess of learning

Yesterday was Saraswati Poojai. I do not believe in poojas and gods. I am an atheist, typical of the generation which was influenced and shaped by the Dravidian social reformist movements in Tamilnadu. 
Beyond my atheistic mindset, there is a secret image of Saraswati in my heart.  I remember fondly the Saraswati Poojas in my childhood. The image of Saraswati  as the goddess of learning, wisdom and arts had fascinated and inspired me as a child and has been etched strongly in my memory. I liked the picture of the goddess sitting on the white lotus flower with a book in the hand. 

As a kid, I was fond of books and tried to read whatever I could get hold of and whenever I could. But my illiterate uncle, who brought me up did not believe in Saraswati. He worshipped Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth. He believed that pursuit of agriculture was the best way to invite Lakshmi into the home. Unknowingly my illiterate uncle believed in the Thirukkural..  
உழுதுண்டு வாழ்வாரே வாழ்வார்மற் றெல்லாம்
தொழுதுண்டு பின்செல் பவர்.
(Life with a plow is the real life
The rest are those who follow behind)
My uncle would scold me if he saw me with a book in hand outside the school days. So I would hide the book behind my back while walking around the fields. 
I had access only to the school text books. No one bought non-text books in the village. There were no books at home in the house of my illiterate uncle and aunt. Neither my elementary school in Raramuthiraikottai nor my high school in Mariammankovil had libraries. Fortunately the village Panchayat Board building had some books including epics such as Ponniyin Selvan and Sivakamiyin Sabadam. But they had only some parts of the several volumes. So I would go to other village panchayat boards to get the missing parts. Poondi Pushpam college where I went after school had a large library. I was thrilled to read so many books and magazines outside my chemistry subject. I read so many Tamil poems... And I got carried away..I wanted to become a poet. In fact, I had applied for MA Tamil Literature in Pachaiyappa’s College, Madras. But my Tamil professor in Poondi college advised me against that and persuaded me to study MSc chemistry which would have more job opportunities. 
While working as a junior lecturer in Pachaiyappas College, I used to carry non-chemistry books to the staff room for reading to prepare for the civil service examination. Some of my senior colleagues would laugh behind my back and thought that I was delusional. So I had to hide the general knowledge books from the colleagues.
I was lucky that my reading resulted in the selection to the Indian Foreign Service. During the whole career of thirty five years I had to constantly keep up reading every day to update my knowledge of international affairs. Posting in different countries every three years meant that I had to study and learn about different cultures, markets and political systems. 
Since my retirement in 2012, I follow the advice of Bharathiar… 
காலை எழுந்தவுடன் படிப்பு - பின்பு
கனிவு கொடுக்கும் நல்ல பாட்டு
மாலை முழுதும் விளையாட்டு - என்று
வழக்கப் படுத்திக்கொள்ளு பாப்பா.
(Reading in the morning 
Listening to music later
Playing in the evening
Make this as the habit)
I read in the morning, play golf in the afternoon and listen to music in the evening with a drink, which Bharathi missed out mentioning..
I keep a little bronze idol of Saraswati on my desk which reminds me every day the importance and joy of reading and learning. But the more I read, the more I realise the wisdom of the Tamil poet Avvaiyar.. 
கற்றது கை மண் அளவு.  கல்லாதது உலகளவு.
(what one has learnt is just handful of sand..what is more to learn is vast like the earth)

Monday, January 11, 2021

Ved Mehta: From a blind child to a celebrity writer

Indians go to US for higher education, jobs and some of them to settle down in the Promised Land.  But Ved Mehta who became blind at the age of three went to US for a different reason in 1949 when he was fifteen. In his own words, “I constantly dreamed of and worked on getting out of India and making my way to the West, where my disability would not be perceived as a barrier to education”. He got admission in a school for the blind in Little Rock, Arkansas. He went to Harvard and Oxford universities for higher studies. He settled in New York and became an American citizen in 1975. He was a staff writer for New Yorker from 1960 to 1993. Besides writing, he taught in Yale and New York universities.

He started writing for New Yorker magazine, when was a college student. He published his first book, an autobiography, when he was 23. He says that he wrote it out of a feeling that he could partly alleviate a life of deprivation, by writing about it. He was proud that he had earned his livelihood with his pen, since his 20s. His chosen method for improvement of his writing was to read and reread works of masters such as Shakespeare and Milton.

Mehta is the author of 27 books of fiction and non-fiction covering a variety of themes such as  Indian politics, Oxford Dons and American education. He has written a monumental autobiography “Continents of Exile”, in twelve installments between 1972 and 2004. He calls it as a cross- cultural story of India, England and US.  

Mehta became blind at the age of four due to meningitis. Since then, his life was about overcoming the disability. He says,” I had to prove every day to everyone that I was able to do things that they thought I could not do. Whenever people tried to help or protect me, they jarred my self- confidence and dulled my senses”.  To prove to others, he drove cycle in his childhood and car in his youth to impress his date, much to the consternation of others.

Every day of his life was struggle for him, as he admits, “ There was hardly a day that I did not feel defeated, condenscended to and humiliated- when I did not long to be spared the incessant indignities that assailed me”. Reliance on his own will to overcome his disability made him feel lonely and the pain of loneliness was unrelenting.


He compares himself to those blessed with eye sight saying,  “I was in the grip of the fantasy that I could see. Even then I maintained the habit of checking external reality. I never accidentally walked off a cliff, for instance. Without such continual checking, I could not have survived in the sighted world. But the sighted can think what they like about the blind without feeling the need to check the reality of the blind. Every moment, I instinctively translated into images any and all information received by my sharpened senses. I was creating my own reality, seeing things in my own way- only imagining that what I saw was identical to what other people saw”.


He sought romantic relationship during his college years but found that girls were prepared to be friends with him but generally spurned any romantic overtures. It was only after he started writing and publishing that girls took romantic interest in him. He has written about his romance and muses in the book “ All for love”. 


Mehta died on 9 January 2021. 

In his website, he says, " Deprivation often makes a writer". 

I am inspired by his life story and achievements. As I struggle with my own amateurish occasional writings, I am encouraged by his statement,"Some forty years after I published my first book I am struggling with words and sentences, drafts and alterations. I was constantly tempted to put off writing, a process which is turbulent and involves a lot of angst."


Thursday, December 31, 2020

New Year Inspiration

While most of the world was depressed counting the number of corona cases and deaths every day, Sandhya, the college student, had celebrated 2020 writing a blog every day of the year. This was her New Year Resolution on 31 december 2019. Yesterday she wrote, "366 days and 366 posts. I have written so much, so widely- exploring books, thoughts, experiences, food, and much more! The journey of blogging everyday has been a happy spark in the otherwise dull year." She says, "I've been experimenting now with not just book reviews, but other subjects like movies, interesting ideas that bounce around my head"


Sandhya started her blog in April 2010, when she was twelve years old. She wrote 295 posts till 31 December 2019. She has now added an incredible 366 in 2020. It is not just amazing in quantity. Her blogs are inspiring, moving, educative, thought provoking and entertaining. 


She is a child prodigy. She had devoured books eagerly like the kids go after ice cream and chocolates. She relishes poetry, novels and non-fiction, besides her own subject of law. She studies law at the National Law Institute, Ahmedabad. 


Her reading list includes PG Wodehouse, Charles Dickens, Steinbeck, Ayn Rand, Crichton, Harari, Che Guevara and Einstein. In her own words, " I read fiction and non-fiction, classics and contemporary writing, thrillers, humour, sci-fi, tragedies and comedies, poetry and prose, and quite a few plays. I read new authors, and old ones. I read books on shoes, horses, rabbits, beasts, bandits, and humans; read on businesses and their success, and one even on its failure. I read fantasy on one side, and memoirs on the other. I read the small ones, the medium, and the big, covering the popular ones and the barely known. I read some history, and some chemistry, and a little lit of law, too". She has read over sixty books in 2020 and hopes to cross hundred in 2021.

She started serious reading since when she was five. Eloor library in Chennai was what nurtured her reading. She says, " I remember going there every weekend, and picking up four or five books to read through the week. In fact, that is the library that has literally seen me grow into the reader I am today. From the Beetle series, that had just a big picture and a single small line in a page, to binge reading series like the Famous Five, Amelia Jane, Sleepover Girls, Harry Potter and Hardy boys, to slowly exploring H G Wells, Robert Stevenson, and the children’s classics section that held Heidi, Hans Brinker and Silver Skates, Treasure Island, Little Women and the likes, to obsessing over the racks of Agatha Christie, Perry Mason, Robin Cook and Dan Brown, to graduating into Shaw, Dickens, Tolkien and the likes, as I grew older, the library has given me everything!".

She loves short stories. She says, "Short stories are wonderful. I love them. They can introduce you to a new author, they can turn a day around, they can make you marvel at the clever narrative, and make you fall in love with some of your favourite characters all over again"


She wrote her first novel " Wizile" in 2012, when she was in school. She has written two more novels (Much Of A Muchness and Sir Antiquarian) and another book on football.


Sandhya has a gift of English language with a rich vocabulary. She writes fluently and spontaneously. But what is more interesting is that she has developed strict discipline and focussed mission with which she lets her talents to flourish and soar.


On her record of 366 blogs in 2020, Sandhya reflects, "This year has been all about me writing my way through my thoughts, and anything at all that comes to my mind. Sometimes the thoughts are deep, sometimes just off the surface; sometimes the thoughts are original, sometimes borrowed (with due credit always given); sometimes it's ranting, and sometimes there are solutions. But, 2021 can't roll the same way for me- it's high time I move on and focus more on the content in the coming year. So, writing regularly for a year now has made me realize what I want to focus on writing more about. Of course, the books, the thoughts, the fun rants- they're all here to stay, just that I look forward to regulate them more so that I plan out time to write the stuff that I have been meaning to, more often."

Sandhya is not only a reader and writer but a guru too.. She advises five lessons for aspiring writers :

1. Don't be scared to start

2. Focus one day at a time.

3. Set small landmarks, and celebrate small victories.

4. Roll with it.

5. How you see things around you, changes when you work on yourself. 


So what are her plans for 2021? Having succeeded quantitativly exploring many subjects, now she wants to narrow her focus this year to write stories and academic posts. She ' loves writing short, concise, thoughtful academic posts in law, and even on academics itself'. She has asked her readers to give suggestions for reading and writing and welcomes comments on her blogs in the website


I will go beyond Sandhya’s 2021 plan with the prediction that she has the promise of a literary figure in the future. My favourite author Mario Vargas Llosa has written a manual for aspiring writers in his book " Letters to a young novelist". In this, he says, " a person develops precociously in childhood or teenage a penchant for dreaming up people, situations, anecdotes and worlds different from the world in which she or he lives, questions real life ( raison d'être of literature) and become rebellious. Such inclination is the first sign of a literary vocation. But there is an abyss that the vast majority of human beings never cross between the propensity to retreat from the real life into imagination and the actual practice of literature. Those who do cross and become creator of worlds with the written word are the writers, the minority who have reinforced their penchant with an exertion of the will called as ‘Choice’ by Sartre. I believe that Sandhya has exercised this ‘choice’. 

Sandhya is my inspiration for 2021. Happy New Year...  




Thursday, December 17, 2020

Birds and birdies...

Golfers dream ... birdies, eagles and albatrosses..

Birds and birdie-seeking golfers fill the golf courses with their colourful feather and costumes as well as songs of joy and cries of pain..
DLF Golf Club has published and gifted to us (members)copy of a Coffee Table book " The birds of DLF5 Golf Links. There are 101 species of birds such as pochards, koels, pigeons, herons, cuckoos, swallows, coots, hornbills, kingfishers, parakeets, warblers, bulbuls, mynas and cormorants sharing the golf course with the players.

Some birds are water-based, some reside on the trees, some in the bushes and some migratory visits from other places. The book gives details of the birds as well as the places in the course where they can be spotted and at what times.
The 200 acre-course of 27 holes, with large and deep lakes, water falls, running streams, thousands of trees and shrubs, provide ample space for the birds to find food, drink honey from the flowers, lay eggs, bring up chicks and regenerate their species. The birds fill the course with their melodious mating calls, chirps, whistles and songs. During the rainy season, the peacocks dance around to attract the males. In summer they jump into the water to cool themselves and in winter take sun bath in the fairways. There are a few instances when the birds mistake the ball for egg and take them away..
The course is surrounded by a thousand acre Aravalli hills which provide extra space for the birds to fly out and in. The golf course with its green grass, colourful flowers and blue water bodies stands out like an oasis amidst the arid Aravalli forest of thorny bushes and stone-filled reddish soil.
The photographer Andre Jeanpierre Fanthome has made the birds come alive with his powerful lense.

The birds, players and balls have some things in common. The birds have colourful feathers while the players wear colorful costumes. The birds sing in joy and cry in pain and the players do the same depending upon the outcome of their shots. The birds lay their eggs under the bushes while the balls tend to go and hide in the bushes. The birds are attracted to the lakes for fish while the balls have an irresistible pull from the water.
While some birds fly, others run on the surface or swim in the water. Some golfers fly the balls high, others cannot get them up while a few let the balls swim and sink..
When the players are lost in the bushes searching for their balls the crows find their sandwiches in the golf carts.

Players imitate the peacocks after making birdies while those who made double bogies try to hide like ostrich.
Golfers like the fairways, greens and holes. But the balls and birds like the bushes, trees and water..
The scenery of lake and the music of waterfalls and streams look so pleasing and soothing to the eyes ..which get wet when the ball falls into the water. The only consolation after losing the ball in water is when the opponents also do the same.
They say that the level of water in the lakes keeps rising ..with the tears of players who lose balls....and the thousands of balls which keep filling up the bottom of the lakes..

Saturday, December 12, 2020

‘A Promised Land’- book of Barack Obama

 Barack Obama could have made a career as a successful writer, if he had chosen writing instead of politics. This is evident from his book “ A Promised Land” in which he has displayed  his creative language skills, gift of storytelling, poetic sensibility, intellectual depth, and philosophical ruminations. Obama attributes his learning to a number of authors who had influenced his own writing and inspired him. He keeps the readers interested throughout the thousand pages of its length with his stories, analysis of events and cerebral reflections. He delves deep into the grand political issues while at the same time paying attention to small details and giving graphic description of people, places and situations through his observant eyes and rich imagination. 


Obama has approached his life of achievements with a deeply introspective and detached manner in his signature style of self- criticism and self-deprecating humour. He is a rare politician who openly admits his weaknesses, limitations, dilemmas, gaffes, flaws and failures. He tries ‘constantly taking stock to make sure I wasn’t buying into the hype and remind myself of the distance between the airbrushed image and the flawed, often uncertain person I was’. He has not been carried away by the glamour and power of the POTUS ( President of the United States). He concludes, ‘for all its power and pomp, the presidency is still just a job and our federal government is a human enterprise like any other, and the men and women who work in the White House experience the same daily mix of satisfaction, disappointment, office friction, screw-ups, and small triumphs as the rest of their fellow citizens’. He confesses, ’The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back’. For him, ‘each day had its share of aggravations, worries, and disappointments. I’d stew over mistakes I’d made and question strategies that hadn’t panned out. There were meetings I dreaded, ceremonies I found foolish, conversations I would have rather avoided’. 

Here is an example of his self-criticsm, " By nature I’m a deliberate speaker, which, by the standards of presidential candidates, helped keep my gaffe quotient relatively low. But my care with words raised another issue on the campaign trail: I was just plain wordy, and that was a problem. When asked a question, I tended to offer circuitous and ponderous answers, my mind instinctively breaking up every issue into a pile of components and subcomponents. If every argument had two sides, I usually came up with four" e lede!” Axe (his advisor) would practically shout after listening to me drone on and on and on". He then started making his statements brief and go with the absorption capacity of the audience.


He has not filled the book with just about himself. He has given generous credit to numerous people who inspired him, supported and advised him at all levels including his butlers, security men, secretaries, drivers and gardeners with whom he had sincere conversations and shared experience and jokes. He shows genuine interest in the lives of others and expresses appreciation for other people’s achievements and sacrifices. 


Obama gives pen portraits of people describing their face, body and appearance with apt descriptions such as ‘tall and angular, with a jutting jaw, deep-set eyes’, ‘face of an Irish boxer’, ‘ long, hangdog face and throaty midwestern drawl’, ‘ruddy-faced with a whisk-broom mustache’,  ‘voices soft as the patter of rain (Japanese emperor and his wife), ‘smile brushed with melancholy’, ‘raspy-voiced, lip-biting Arkansas charm (Bill Clinton), ‘the man was all muscle, sinew, and bone, with a long, angular face and a piercing, avian gaze’,’ broad-shouldered and sturdy with a Roman nose’.


Here is his take on some of the world leaders he had met:


British PM David Cameron – ‘possessed an impressive command of the issues, a facility with language, and the easy confidence of someone who’d never been pressed too hard by life. with a youthful appearance and a studied informality (at every international summit, the first thing he’d do was take off his jacket and loosen his tie)


German Chancellor Angela Merkel- ‘I found her steady, honest, intellectually rigorous, and instinctually kind. But she was also conservative by temperament, not to mention a savvy politician who knew her constituency’.


French President Nicholas Sarkozy- ‘was all emotional outbursts and overblown rhetoric. With his dark, expressive, vaguely Mediterranean features  and small stature he looked like a figure out of a Toulouse-Lautrec painting’.


Sonia Gandhi – ‘striking woman in her sixties, dressed in a traditional sari, with dark, probing eyes and a quiet, regal presence’.


Rahul Gandhi – ‘has an unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject’.


PM Manmohan Singh- ‘a gentle, soft-spoken, wise, thoughtful, and scrupulously honest and uncommonly decent man’.


On the substantial political issues faced by him, he gives clinical and comprehensive analysis approaching the issues from all angles besides his own. He gives meticulous details of the issues, the various options to deal with them, the challenges in finding solutions and the compromises he was forced to make by the Republicans and other players. 


Obama reveals the powerlessness of POTUS on three issues: impunity of the Wall Street bankers, the all-powerful Israeli lobby and the multi- billion dollar military-industrial complex.  

He is of the view that ‘Wall Street really did increasingly function like a trillion-dollar casino, its outsized profits and compensation packages overly dependent on ever-greater leverage and speculation. Its obsession with quarterly earnings had warped corporate decision-making and encouraged short-term thinking. Untethered to place, indifferent to the impact of globalization on particular workers and communities, the financial markets had helped accelerate the offshoring of jobs and the concentration of wealth in a handful of cities and economic sectors, leaving huge swaths of the country.’  He was outraged when the AIG executives pocketed 170 million dollars of bonus after the company was saved from collapse by the 70 billion dollar rescue by the Treasury department with tax payers’ money. These were the same executives who had caused the subprime lending crisis with their reckless greed. The regulatory system and legislation was gamed by the Republican leaders and lobby to ensure impunity for the fat cat bankers. Obama expresses his anguish saying, “ many of the people most culpable for the nation’s economic woes remained fabulously wealthy and had avoided prosecution mainly because the laws as written deemed epic recklessness and dishonesty in the boardroom or on the trading floor less blameworthy than the actions of a teenage shoplifter”. The all-powerful POTUS could not touch them except expressing his anger in private.


He was equally helpless with the immunity enjoyed by Israel which got away with inhuman atrocities against the Palestines because of the unconditional solid support by the US under the power of the Jewish lobby. The Israeli PM Netanyahu simply ignored Obama and went over his head to the Congress to get whatever he wanted. With his offensive tactics, he put Obama on the defensive and made POTUS powerless.


The generals and the arms manufacturers pushed for more wars and intensification of the ongoing wars for billions of dollars of profit and trillion dollar business. The military-industrial complex did not care for the peaceful and non-violent diplomatic methods preferred by Obama. This reminds me of the interview in which the Chinese tech billionaire Jack Ma was asked about for his opinion on the loss of US jobs to China. He said, “ The US had spent around two trillion dollars in the destructive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, If the money was used for constructive domestic development, the US would not have had any unemployment problem”. Obama reflects, “ I found myself imagining what America might look like if we could rally the country so that our government brought the same level of expertise and determination to educating our children or housing the homeless as it had to getting bin Laden; if we could apply the same persistence and resources to reducing poverty or curbing greenhouse gases or making sure every family had access to decent day care”. He admits, “we meddled in the affairs of other countries, sometimes with disastrous results; we had invaded Iraq, broken that country, helped spawn an even more virulent branch of al-Qaeda”.


Since the right wing Republicans constantly attacked and teased Obama as incapable and unsuitable for being a commander in chief, Obama had to prove to them that he could also do what Bush did. This explains Obama’s regime change  war in Libya and killing of Qaddafi as well as the raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden.


Obama has handled the ‘black man issue’ upfront in some places and subtly and discretely in other contexts. He preferred to send his vice president Joe Biden to negotiate with the Republican leader Mitch McConnel because of his ‘awareness that in McConnell’s mind, negotiations with the vice president didn’t inflame the Republican base in quite the same way that any appearance of cooperating with (Black, Muslim socialist) Obama was bound to do’.  Obama has analysed and come out with the reasons for the backlash in the ugly form of Trump and right wing extremism. According to hi, the anti-intellectual and anti-reason movement started with Sarah Paulin when she campaigned as vice presidential candidate along with John MacCain. Unable to match the intellectual discourses of Obama, she took to trivializing and trashing Obama’s wisdom and erudition. Trump took it from where Sarah Paulin left and made a career out of attacking the black man. Obama says, “ antipathy had migrated from the fringe of GOP politics to the center—an emotional, almost visceral, reaction to my presidency, distinct from any differences in policy or ideology. It was as if my very presence in the White House had triggered a deep-seated panic, a sense that the natural order had been disrupted. Which is exactly what Donald Trump understood when he started peddling assertions that I had not been born in the United States and was thus an illegitimate president. For millions of Americans spooked by a Black man in the White House, he promised an elixir for their racial anxiety”.  Obama clarifies, ‘I recognize that there are those who believe that it’s time to discard the myth—that an examination of America’s past and an even cursory glance at today’s headlines show that this nation’s ideals have always been secondary to conquest and subjugation, a racial caste system and rapacious capitalism, and that to pretend otherwise is to be complicit in a game that was rigged from the start’.

The book ends with the chapter on the daring raid and killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. I look forward to reading the second volume of the memoir Obama is working on. 

I have read and reviewed his earlier books which were also equally inspiring:

Audacity of Hope

Dreams from my father

He wrote those two before he became President. But in this book he wanted to offer readers a sense of what it’s like to be the president of the United States. He has done it candidly and lucidly. Still I like better the part of his story before he became president. His narration of his emotions and feelings in chasing his dream and the struggle he went through are more fascinating and poignant than his writings on his presidential years.  


In the last four years, President Trump has made US as a laughing stock and insulted the intelligence of people with his shameless, wicked, indecent, racist and juvenile statements and actions. It comes as a relief and a source of confidence and optimism that the same US which disgraced itself by voting for Trump, had elected and reelected a black man with a muslim name. Obama's success becomes even more admirable and amazing after seeing the disastrous presidency of Trump who had unearthed the ugliness from under the ground.

Obama could not have achieved the success alone by himself. He could have become a successful lawyer or writer with his talents and skills. But to become the President, he had to move the whole country, which has a built-in system to discriminate the blacks even from voting, let alone get voted. He had to get past the torturous systems of primaries, no-holds barred debates, dirty tricks of the opponents, scrutiny of the media and above all the formidable candidature of Hillary Clinton. Obama was supported, helped and guided through the process by thousands of Americans who believed in him and worked hard much before he became famous. He also got the votes of many Republican states and whites. Most importantly, credit is due to the old rural white folks of Iowa who elected him in the very first primary giving him the much needed critical moral boost in the beginning of the game. This is why Obama calls the country as “A promised Land”.