Notable Book of the Year 2016 – The Vegetarian

“There’s nothing wrong with keeping quiet, after all, hadn’t women traditionally been expected to be demure and restrained?”

I’ve been meaning to write this review for several months now. I got derailed initially by the gruesome discovery of being allergic to Seltzer water, a discovery that was accompanied by pain and exhaustion for many a day. And just when I thought I was okay again, I realized I had my PhD Certifying Exams on the horizon. Fast approaching.

Anyway, after a nice and relaxing vacation (I cleared the exams; thanks for asking) I am back to finish what I started even if it is August and I should be getting a ready a list for 2018. I think I have digressed enough.

So, why The Vegetarian? Arguably, the year saw some great works of fiction such as Zadie Smith’s Swing Time or Elizabeth McKenzie’s The Portable Veblen. That is true; it’s just that my selection is a spectacular achievement on a different plane.

The Vegetarian is a dark, sordid novel. It reads very much like a horror movie. There is an icy feel to it that refuses to leave you. The author’s tone immediately makes you believe that just about any bad thing could happen. Split across three parts, the novel touches on the inherent violence in relationships, and how the need to force outliers to conform to societal roles can end up damaging these individuals in the most awful way.

Han Kang is a Korean author who (as I understand it) has often touched on the lack of agency that women have in their lives. The Vegetarian is a gruesome story in the same vein except that its complexity and unpredictability – I struggle to mention any “similar” story – leaves you hooked and in suspense.

It’s a short book and it wouldn’t do justice to talk about it at great length. Suffice it to say that the main character, Yeong-hye, is introduced as an unremarkable woman who decides to turn vegetarian after seeing a disquieting and mysterious dream. Nothing that follows is quite according to script.

The Vegetarian is grotesque, its invasive imagery only faithfully accentuating the torture Yeong-hye sees through her life with perverse violations of her freedom. If you think you’ve gained an idea of what the book is about, believe me, you’re probably wrong.

It’s a story of estrangement with allegory in the class of Kafka. I am disappointed by the Goodreads score on it but then again, I’ve consistently noticed that the Goodreads community under-rates books that are multi-layered. That’s just unfortunate.

Read The Vegetarian to experience a mythical story – it can be lifted from its own context and find resonance – if only through a trying and discomfiting ordeal – anywhere else in the world.

“That shuddering, sordid, gruesome, brutal feeling. Nothing else remains. Murderer or murdererd, experience too vivid to not be real. Determined, disillusioned. Lukewarm, like slightly cooled blood.” 

This blog was originally published at

Notable Book of the Year 2016 – Saving Capitalism

“I believe that if we dispense with mythologies that have distracted us from the reality we find ourselves in, we can make capitalism work for most of us rather than for only a relative handful.”


Repeating what I wrote in my Goodreads review. If you’re reading one non-fiction book this year, it should be this one.

Cold winds of change are blowing across the world. One cannot but think gloomily about our future in the midst of revanchist tendencies simultaneously and organically emerging in countries otherwise different in almost every aspect – think of the UK and the Philippines. There is no one grand overarching thesis that I think describes why all these countries are turning to the Dark Side. That would be ambitious or worse, disingenuous.

Being from India though, it is often surprising and a tad chilling to see the very beacons of “progress” and “development” (the quotes offered because their connotations vary wildly) turning their backs against the same ideals they held up to us for over decades now. Globalization is a doctrine that was developed when the benefits of fair trade and free mobility of labor and capital was seen as an essential step towards progress. When emerging countries resisted components of this policy it was the developed world that reminded us of its supposed virtues.

Similarly, despotic or xenophobic regimes were assumed to be signs of immaturity. In a democracy it was hoped that a combination of institutions and experience (and guidance from Paternalistic States) would push these backward tendencies away. There were other lessons that were offered not least of which were the benefits of unfettered markets, of intellectual property rights, of balanced budgets and what not1. Francis Fukuyama’s End of History hypothesis was a symptom of the optimism that liberal democracy would soon take over the world.

It didn’t. Clearly.

So what went wrong? Many say that the benefits of trade were oversold – while the economics behind it was solid it was based on giving adequate compensation to the losers (implicitly or explicitly). Some say that a productivity decline and the probable future absence of new inventions (of the order of the telephone) imply that growth in the developed world may never be the same. Others talked about a skill mismatch as technology demanded a more skilled workforce and rewarded these workers with higher wages.

Whatever it is, the ground facts are distressing and are routinely reeled off, by Left and Right. To quote one common example, a slow down in median household wages in the US means that, after adjusting for inflation, the levels were lower in 2013 than they were in 1989.

This is where Saving Capitalism comes in. I had ordered the book for the IIM Ahmedabad library last year (I wonder if anyone read it after me). The book arrived late and convocation was around the corner. I could only manage to get through 75% of it and, with a heavy heart, returned it to the library.

That was until I got my PhD admit at Columbia, and to say thank you to friends and professors (the intersection is pretty high), I was back in the institute in June. I finished the rest of the book in under an hour at the KLMDC makeshift library. I’ve been meaning to review the book ever since.

The fundamental thesis of Saving Capitalism is that capitalism is under threat from the concentration and subsequent abuse of market power. It starts with a simple and persuasive argument that is difficult to deny. Can markets exist without the government? Surely not, the government sets the rules of the game and offers protection to its participants. But that’s what people are told. The simple and erroneous dichotomy offered to most people is that it’s government versus free markets. That’s problematic in several ways.

“Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market.” It creates the market. The rules are neither neutral nor universal, and they are not permanent. Different societies at different times have adopted different versions. The rules partly mirror a society’s evolving norms and values but also reflect who in society has the most power to make or influence them.”

Reich, a professor at UC Berkeley, spends chapter after chapter describing how concentration of market power has weakened the better angels of capitalism. It’s pretty persuasive and the data he presents is uncomplicated yet revealing.

It is important to note at this point that the intuition offered by the basic economics most of us learn is often not sufficient to understand real life. In other words, it’s too simplistic. Consider this example: for years the idea of increasing minimum wages at the Federal or State level was taken to be taboo. The argument, as some of you may say, is that if you artificially increase wages, this price floor will lead to lower overall employment in the labor market – firms will hire less.

But that understanding is dangerously incomplete. In a now seminal paper in 1994 by David Card and Alan Krueger, a natural experiment found that employment does not fall when the minimum wage is hiked. The reason? The leading answer to this is believed to be a monopsony. Buyers of labor are concentrated and therefore they have the market power to artificially push down wages in the labor market. A mandated wage hike therefore, in a sense, remedies this situation2.

So that’s market power. It distorts the incentives in the market and can lead to a loss in welfare. Reich argues that this concentration hasn’t happened naturally. It is the result of decades of lobbying activities that have ensured that legislation does not curb the excesses of companies – allowing for only two players, for example, in cable; or letting patent laws being ridiculously generous. You can read more on this here. Another interesting discussion is on the argument that you get paid what you deserve.

“Yet the notion that you’re paid what you’re “worth” is by now so deeply ingrained in the public consciousness that many who earn very little assume it’s their own fault.”

It’s a smooth read. The last part deals with what Reich calls countervailing forces. In other words, unlike what many of my friends complain about in books like these, he actually offers solutions to remedying the situation. Admittedly, this part reads a bit optimistically; some suggestions ring a bit hollow with the recent election results but others are thought-provoking.

However, this book is your best bet to assess and analyze the state of an important developed nation. It gives you cues to understand and predict what’ll transpire in the coming five years. In many ways, Reich was prescient about what came to be…

You’ll struggle to find a shorter and crisper book that does that.

Other reviews

I am listing just the one by Paul Krugman which offers a more informed history of the conditions leading to, as he sees it, the mess we are in today. Also, on how Robert Reich changed from writing a book offering optimism and bullishness in the 90s to downright despairing in this book.

1. I have disagreements with many of these points but they are nuanced. There is great virtue in having a market for goods and commodities but is it necessary or even desirable to have markets in healthcare or primary education? We need strong contract and property rights but how do you ensure that these rights are not in favor of those who can manipulate them? Expect more rigorous discussions on these topics in the coming months.

2. In case you’re wondering about the viability of a 25 year old study, here’s a recent one that compares the performance of minimum wage increases in 18 states in the US. The results are the same. By and large, what we do know is that there is no negative effect on employment. Studies over the past two decades have encouraged governments to implement minimum wage laws in over a dozen countries.

(Quiz: So what does NREGA do well and how is it different, not necessarily in a wrong way?)

(This is third in a series of 5 posts on the best books I read through the year 2016. The last one was on comic books/graphic novels and one before was an Autobiographical work. The next in this series include fiction and science fiction novels! Follow me at

Notable Book of the Year 2016 – The Saga Series

“Once upon a time, each of us was somebody’s kid.
Everyone had a father, even if he never provided anything more than his seed.
Everyone had a mother, even if she had to leave us on a stranger’s doorstep.
No matter how we’re eventually raised, all of our stories begin the exact same way.
They all end the same, too.”

This edition of Notable Books of 2016 covers Comic Books/Graphic Novels.

(A disclaimer: I will not cover essentials and must haves such as The Watchmen, Maus etc. You should read them as soon as you get the chance)

The best comic book series of the year came to me in late November. In the middle of solving Real Business Cycle Models and finding General Equilibrium Pareto Optima, I was handed the series by a classmate and friend… to whom I am eternally grateful.

Saga is by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples. It’s not new – the series started way back in 2012 – but it’s still ongoing and is expected to continue for many more years.

To give you a tl;dr summary and at the risk of shameless self-indulgence this is what I wrote in my diary immediately after completing its third volume,

“Damn, it’s been a while since I read a good comic book! The Saga series is just about everything you can possibly demand from an awesome comic book series and it’s a gift that keeps on giving. A combination of satire and über-cool imagination laced with humor and gripping characters it comes at the top of any must-read book lists I can think of this year.”

Two days later and all volumes down my opinion only metamorphosed from calm admiration to crazy addiction. There are six volumes that are out at the moment and the series has been met with wide acclaim from critics and immense love from a growing legion of fans.

By Source, Fair use,

is what you get when you blend a story of war, of love in the time of war (with the lovers from the opposite camps), of robot royalty, of mercenaries, and, in general, of well chiseled characters that are surprisingly relevant in our own modern world.

The backdrop of Saga is a war between Landfall, a large and important planet in the galactic neighborhood, and Wreath, its satellite. The two worlds are vastly different from each other. For instance, people from Wreath routinely use magic in their lives (including as a weapon). Landfall and Wreath went to war a long, long time back and eventually wearied of it so much they decided to outsource the war to other worlds, recruiting or forcing other civilizations to fight on their behalf.

Alana (from the Landfall side) falls in love with her prisoner Marko (a native of Wreath) and that’s disastrous for both sides, not least because Alana has given birth to a Landfall-Wreath baby. That’s where we begin.

“Never worry what other people think of you, because no one ever thinks of you.”

Alana and Marko form the initial mainstay but they are soon supplemented by an impressive and intriguing set of characters who are slowly fleshed out in detail, their backstories opening up at different points leading inexorably to the impending grand finale. That’s the thing that stands out for me in Saga – its medley of characters.

There are robots

A coalition partner of Landfall is Robot Kingdom, led by blue-blood robot royalty. The robots are fascinating analogues to Rorschach – inscrutable and hidden behind a veneer of inhumanity while burying a maelstrom of emotions underneath.

There are mercenaries

A neutral group of mercenaries can be hired by either side to execute more devious and nefarious plans. There are a bunch of them and their paths intersect, in wicked ways.

There’s a lot more – a whole lot more

Making a list of all important characters is hopelessly futile – there are just too many – and pretty boring – for the writer and reader alike. The story makes you love them all and this is the moment when I should just ask you to go ahead and procure the series.

Before I conclude, however, let me note another praiseworthy feature of Saga. Through all the action and drama and laughs the series subtly weighs in on gender relations, on race and ethnic relations, and on the collateral damage a war creates. These are complex and multi-layered issues and Saga’s magic is to elicit empathy from the reader, an invaluable and rare lesson newspapers and dry debates pathetically fail in achieving. All this without batting an eyelid or dropping pace. Indeed, you can probably finish the series in a day and leave yourself waiting until March 2017 (like me) when the next volume is scheduled for release.

Must Read. A story of war and love and, somewhere in between, a story of a family as it tries to sort itself out.

“All good children’s stories are the same: young creature breaks rules, has incredible adventure, then returns home with the knowledge that aforementioned rules are there for a reason.
Of course, the actual message to the careful reader is: break rules as often as you can, because who the hell doesn’t want to have an adventure?”

Honorable Mentions

I am late to works by Joe Sacco but I would highly recommend them. Safe Area Gorazde (duh, I can hear the fans saying) must be read. Sydney Padua’s The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage was also a smooth read. And the graphic novel I would’ve covered if I hadn’t read Saga? Daniel Clowes’ Patience. It’s just awesome.

What was your favorite work this year?

(This is second in a series of 5 posts on the best books I read through the year. The last one was an Autobiographical work. The next in this series include non-fiction, fiction and science fiction novels! Follow me at

Notable Book of the Year 2016 – H is for Hawk

“Prisonface is terrified of life; he is a chameleon, a mirror, existing only through his reflection in the eyes of others.”

H is for Hawk is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an obscure book. If you wind the clock back a year and peruse through any best books list from 2015, you’d find its name there, typically at the top.

The first time I attempted to read the book was in early February. I failed. On that balmy day, with the sun dazzling through the oily leaves of the tree in front of dorm 10, I propped the book open on my lap and spent the next ten minutes absorbing its premise. And even in the Ahmedabad sun – the unrelenting, unremitting Ahmedabad sun – I experienced a chill down my spine. I couldn’t read it. Another nine months went by till the day I eventually sat down on a blustery morning in New York to read through it, an intensely rewarding experience which prompted me to write this review.

To explain why I couldn’t find the courage to proceed in my first attempt, you must understand what the book is all about.

At the core of H is for Hawk is the question of how people make sense of their lives by putting their selves in a symbol they hope represents everything they were meant to do (or be) in life. The symbol can be anything but it stands untarnished by compromise; unencumbered by bonds of love or pangs of suffering.

H is for Hawk is an autobiographical account of Helen Macdonald as she fights through the grief of losing her father. This is the essence of the story – a gut wrenching journey where the author spins hopelessly away into the void; struggles to stay afloat; closing down the world around her; a magnificent and ancient creature – a goshawk – her only company and Patronus.

To merely say the above, though, is to completely miss the point. H is for Hawk transcends genres – as a story about a young girl who only always desired to fly with majestic birds of prey; as a gorgeous handbook on falcons and the history of falconry; as a commentary on the quintessential English countryside; as a disturbing and piercing biography of a famous writer of the previous century.

By the way, a goshawk looks like this:

Reading H is for Hawk can be difficult. Helen’s personal sorrow drips out of every page. It imbues a melancholic strain that lingers, even when you’ve set the book aside to get back to your own existence. At times, this affects you. There was many a time when I flipped through the pages to the back cover, to find myself staring at Helen’s face and her brooding eyes. Eyes that seem heavy with sadness and a weight that looks almost impossible to bear.

The reader will persist. The prose is beautiful and Helen mixes up a story of depression and misery with the magical description of her Goshawk, Mabel. In one of the lighter moments in the book, she talks how giving a “tough” name for a hawk is a sure recipe for disaster.

“There’s a superstition among falconers that a hawk’s ability is inversely proportional to the ferocity of its name. Call a hawk Tiddles and it will be a formidable hunter; call it Spitfire or Slayer and it will probably refuse to fly at all.”

Darkness and despair doesn’t merely run through Helen’s own story. An important and intriguing element of the author’s narration is the parallel account of T H White (author of the famous The Sword in the Stone series). White’s life acts as a compelling counterfoil throughout the book, as he narrates a tortured existence and his desperate attempts to tame his own goshawk, Gos. White, former headmaster of a school, a misfit since childhood carrying many ghosts of his past tries to find refuge in the training of his hawk. The book moves back and forth between these two solitary and anguished narrators as Helen tries to make sense of her own sorrow. It’s a moving and powerful literary device.

Customarily, a book review must include perceived shortcomings. Allow me to end with one. Autobiographies by their nature can be one-dimensional and therefore it’s a mark of how well Helen has finessed her story that you end up demanding (unfairly) more details about the other characters in her life, who have a fleeting presence, being part participants exiting the stage almost as soon as they enter it. That’s it. I struggle to find more flaws in this exquisite book.

H is for Hawk is good literature that’s accessible to all kinds of readers. It makes you realize, as all good books do, that our smallest and most private tribulations have been expressed by the great artists of language.

“You are exercising what the poet Keats called your chameleon quality, the ability to ‘tolerate a loss of self and a loss of rationality by trusting the capacity to recreate oneself in another character or another environment.'”

The book is destined to be a modern classic, a story that leaves you with strength and hope, yes, but also little tidbits of enlightenment. For instance, Helen describes a tragedy as:

“…that it is the story of a figure who, through some moral flaw or personal failing, falls through force of circumstance to his doom.”

H is for Hawk is a must read in every sense.

(This is the first in a series of 5 posts on the best books I read through the year. The first one (as you can see) is an Autobiographical work. The next in this series include non-fiction, fiction and comic books/graphic novels! Follow me at

Can I troll you, please?

A couple of months back, there was an appalling controversy over television presenter Mayanti Langar, wife of cricketer Suart Binny, being trolled on twitter and other social media platforms for the cricketing performance of her husband. The extent to which people would go to abuse someone who is not even the direct subject of their ire is something that strikes at the root of what society has turned into today, led by a group of people who get immense satisfaction in making fun of celebrities.

Following this event, The Times of India ran a cover story on its supplement dealing with the issue of women cricket anchors being subjected to ridicule and abuse for how they look and how they present themselves. A famous anchor talked about how the news the next day would be on the dress she wore rather than the work she did. Another presenter mentioned that she used to wonder why people just commented on the way she looked and not on the interviews she took (either good or bad).There were also misgivings that a single mistake on their part would be hyped up while a mistake made by the men would be let off as just a slip of the tongue.

Public policy issue

While there is a tendency to look at this problem from purely a moral angle- on what is right and wrong, we can put on different caps to analyze this issue.

If we look at it from a policy perspective, we enter into the hotly debated topic of defining what is free speech and how If should or should not be constrained for public benefit.

Liberals freely quote Article 19(1) of the Indian Constitution that gives the citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression but conveniently forget the ‘vague’ 2nd clause of the same Article that places reasonable restrictions on various grounds, including those of morality and decency.  Since the definition of ‘reasonable’ is debatable, there have been several defamation and, in what seems to be the popular trend these days, sedition cases foisted on people who might have different ideologies.

The Tamil Nadu government alone has used it to their full advantage, slapping 200+ defamation cases against journalists and political opponents. The Supreme Court, rapped the TN government for restricting forms of dissent and said “If somebody criticizes the policy of the government, if the person criticized is a public figure, he has to face it instead of using the state machinery to choke criticism”.

But what about the others, who don’t have the public machinery to back them up?

Defamation as a criminal offense

In India, defamation can be either a civil or a criminal offence, with the complainant given the option to choose either or both.

Section 499 of the IPC defines defamation, saying that it can either be based on something published or spoken either with intent to damage reputation or with knowledge of reputational harm that might arise out of the aforementioned statements. Section 500 talks about the punishment, with imprisonment up to 2 years, with or without fine.

Recently, in May 2016, the Supreme Court, after hearing pleas from public figures like Subramanian Swamy, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal (there is something indeed that these leaders across political parties and ideologies agree on!) refused to quash the criminal defamation law saying “Right to free speech is not absolute. It does not mean freedom to hurt another’s reputation which is protected under Article 21 of the Constitution”.

Does this mean that every scratching comment on actors and presenters could, potentially, lead to a defamation suit?

Exceptions to the rule

There are certain exceptions to Section 499, which allows the harm to reputation, in some instances.

The sixth exception says “Merits of public performance.—It is not defa­mation to express in good faith any opinion respecting the merits of any performance which its author has submitted to the judgment of the public, or respecting the character of the author so far as his character appears in such performance, and no further.”

Which leads us the very pertinent question- what exactly was the role of the journalists/reporters and what constitutes their “performance”?

Would the media company employing the presenters, be able to prove that the only reason the presenters were selected was based on their cricket knowledge and that their role was just to pass on their knowledge to the public? Is there any way to prove or disprove that the way they look and dress are part of their ‘performance’? Or, would it really make a difference if the presenters were selected based on the same metrics that were commented on, in what can be loosely categorized as bad taste, by members of the general public? This is an issue that several actors and other celebrities might face day-in and day-out, especially with the increased use of memes and trolls on social media platforms to poke fun, sometimes without valid reasons.

Section 66A of the IT Act

Section 66A of the IT Act provides power to arrest a person for allegedly posting offensive content on websites. The Act came in the news after 2 youngsters in Maharashtra were arrested after ‘posting’ and ‘liking’ comments on facebook that a political party took offense to.

In March 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act was ‘draconian’ and called it unconstitutional as it compromises free speech. The Bench said, “It is clear that Section 66A arbitrarily, excessively and disproportionately invades the right of free speech and upsets the balance between such right and the reasonable restrictions that may be imposed on such right,”.

In this judgement, the Bench also stressed that the liberty of thought and expression was ordained by the Constitution and unless a clear degree of increment was present, ‘allegedly objectionable’ posts or discussions should not be curbed by anyone, clearly upholding the right to free speech.


Looking at the constitutional provisions and the judgements discussed above, it does look like people can mostly get away with statements that in normal parlance would be considered offensive and definitely unparliamentary (incidentally, you cannot be prosecuted for statements made in parliament!), even though defamation is still a criminal offense.

Women victims have an extra provision for protection through Section 509, which deals with ‘Word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty of a woman’.

A big problem with the way our laws are defined is that certain terms like reasonable/performance/decency/grossly offensive etc. are vague and open to interpretation. In today’s context, where everyone seems to have an opinion and shares it with the world on social media, it is very difficult to differentiate between what constitutes free speech and what is clearly defamation. It would really be interesting to see what would be the outcome if these television presenters did indeed file a defamation case!

Ramdas is a member of LSD. He is still confused with the thin lines separating business, media and the law. Any comments on the topic will be much appreciated.

A Tale from Two Cities – Buda & Pest


Travel, I have come to realize, is nothing but seeing, gathering, and sometimes living stories of lands away from home. Some are sad stories, some are joyful stories, some are miraculous, some run-of-the-mill; but they are all tales of people at once similar to and different from those we have grown up around, living lives that are often so like ours, but not quite.

Once in a while, you run into a story so powerful, so astonishing, that it absolutely deserves to be told. You turn it over in your head, like a Rubik’s cube you’re at the edge of solving but can’t quite get right. It grips you with the tenacity of a bulldog and simply will not let go. These are stories where words are, perhaps, simply not enough to convey the essence of what must be shared. Having run into one such story during my brief stay in Budapest, this is my first attempt at blogging with both photographs and words. I hope I am able to do some justice to it.


A little over two years ago, the government of Budapest erected this monument quite literally overnight, from 20th to 21st July 2014. The entire square was cordoned off and guarded by the police, while workers labored through the night to set it up. There had been significant protests against the plans for the monument when it was announced earlier. Why, one may ask? The monument depicts an imperial eagle, representing Nazi Germany, swooping down at a statue of Archangel Gabriel, meant to represent Hungary. The problem, as the Jews of Hungary saw it, as the descendants of the Roma saw it, as the homosexuals, or as any decent person saw it, is this – Hungary was a willing ally of the Nazis. From June 1941 till Germany’s defeat at Stalingrad, Hungary was a staunch supporter in all their demonic policies (including the Holocaust, to which Budapest’s Shoes memorial still pays a poignant and haunting tribute). The occupation of Hungary only happened in 1944, after Hungary tried to back out of the alliance in fear of an impending defeat of the Axis powers.

The monument was a blatantly offensive attempt at revising history to make the Hungarian government, and the Hungarian people, look like victims rather than perpetrators. The Jewish community, in particular, protested vehemently, as did the opposition, rights groups, civil society groups, and the like. Vigils, marches, and human chains were organized against Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

But the monument was not taken down. It stood, despite all protests. So the people of Budapest fought back in other ways.


The barbed wire guarding the monument became the canvas of the protesters. It began to fill up with clippings, photographs, news articles, and memorabilia that showcased the truth of those times- the roundup of Jews, executions, a few extraordinary tales of bravery (like that of Raoul Wallenberg, who saved nearly a 100,000 Jews in Hungary) and more. The people had decided that if the government would not demolish this monument, then they would ensure that the truth would find a voice.

There were attempts to have the site cleared. Multiple times, clearing activities were initiated.


The mementos would inevitably return, more poignant and in greater numbers. The entire area became a symbol of honesty and compassion for the fallen, and the locus of rage against political machinations. People raised their voices against a government who sought to take control of the national narrative, not too unlike what we see in so many parts of the world today.


In an era where textbooks are being re-drafted, where all one sees or hears is “us vs them”, where jingoistic nationalism and clickbait patriotism abound, it is impossible to stand in front of this monument and not be humbled. Humbled by the refusal of an entire people to accept the comfort of pretense, and by their bravery in revealing the rawness of their wounds in an effort to keep truth alive.

Budapest is a young democracy, only about 26 years old. They rose from a “gentle” Communism, which was preceded by a Stalin-esque dictatorship following the “liberation” of Hungary. There is, in the words of one of the locals, still a lot wrong with the systems of the country. But these are clearly people who will band together for the good of their nation. Theirs is not the patriotism so vehemently preached by the politicians of today. There is no loud chest-thumping to profess love for the country, no co-opting of institutions in the name of the “greater good”. There is simply a willingness to look at the rawness of history as it was, and to draw the painful but necessary lessons and use them to better their nation. There is compassion and empathy, a sense that both the persecuted and the erstwhile persecutors must now work together to erase the bloody stains of the past and live in harmony. This little square in central Budapest highlights so many lessons that the people of the world need to know today, that have been drowned out by the diatribe of those who would sow fear and discord in an effort to climb the rungs of power.

Sarthak is a member of LSD and is currently on a “study tour” in Europe. He blogs at:

Croatia, stirring thy soul

Language is a powerful paradox. On the face of it, it just has functional utility of communication. But as you peel off the layers, you unravel an intricate art spun from words. Deep in this web are some words that are special, having the potential to stir souls as no one can. If there was one word to describe these words, it would be exquisite. Countries pose a similar paradox, with the layers indicating only the usage of countries for habitation but as these layers are peeled off, you see some countries that stand out from others. For their nature, for their gifts and for their beauty. Croatia is one such exquisite country.

The Adriatic Sea coast enroute Dubrovnik, from Split

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