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Book Review: Teashop at Narkanda by Sumit Raj Vashisht

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tea-shop-at-narkanda

Shimla-based travel writer and a tourist guide, Sumit Raj Vashisht, had released his new novel ‘Teashop at Narkanda’ very recently. Himachal Watcher received a copy of the novel from the writer for reading. After reading it we thought of sharing a review with our readers. For avid readers, the novel is a four to five hours read. Two types of characters are, more or less, idealized. People are either pure evil or are overwhelmingly kind. Writer yearned to create a balance between agonies of human life and elements of hope. Role of destiny is emphasized irrespective of writer’s intentions.

However, the writer did succeed in creating a high-tension melodrama. Behavioral attributes of some characters agreed with reality. Description of routine life in Shimla or Narkanda and accounts of socio-cultural aspects are accurate. The writer is acquainted with religious rituals, ceremonies and beliefs of native culture. Depiction of geography is convincing as well.

Plot

Those who have been to Narkanda, can match the description of this bus stop at a small market in upper region of district Shimla, Himachal Pradesh. The plot is based on one of India’s dreariest natural disasters -Kedarnath flash flood in 2013 that had killed over 5,000 people and had rendered thousands homeless. Dreams and hopes of not only families but each individual were shattered in just one moment. Birju, the protagonist in the story, is one such teenager, who had lost everything including his parents and siblings. He is left with nothing back at home, so he moves to Shimla in a hope to find means to livelihood. He should have been to school at that age when empty pocketed he struggled for shelter and food. Carrying the trauma of his loss, he wanders like an orphan only to find trivial jobs at small dhabas. At night, he sleeps under a canopy behind the church on the Shimla Ridge. The narrator often saw him sitting on a bench in front of the Christ church. The narrator, who is also struggling in his own ways, hears the traumatic story of the boy. But the narrator finds himself helpless to offer any help to the boy owing to his own turmoil.

The story of Birju is narrated by the writer.

The usual, unhealthy work-environment and poor treatment of helpers at dhabas add to the agony of the protagonist. But that wasn’t all. The circumstances take a dramatic twist when the boy discovers a news about his family. Not all of his family members were dead. This discovery was followed by a long struggle for survival by protagonist and his family. The house, land, and all possessions were lost in the natural calamity. Evil relatives add to the misery of his family.

The academic ambitions of a teenager now conflicted with desperate need to earn a living. With little education, working at a tea shop at Narkanda was all he could find on the name of employment. He is stuck there for over a decade, living a miserable life.

New characters continue to emerge as story progressed. The writer used them to introduce twists in circumstances. The protagonist is more an outcome of circumstance than his karma or hard-work. But what was the ultimate fate of the protagonist and his family?

The perfect circle of helplessness that surrounds the protagonist throughout the entire story contradicts with attributed positive personality traits. It’s towards the end of the novel when Birju punches his owner and leave him unconscious. Otherwise, Birju is always a victim. This helplessness would appeal to emotionally sensitive readers, of course.

The writer tried hard to introduce characters with detailed description, which is admirable. To conclude the review, we would say, the novel is worth a read and readers will find it motivational.

About the Writer

Sumit Raj Vashisht was born at Shimla in 1967. His father, a railway engineer by profession also a well known Urdu poet under the pen name of Talat Irfani, was never interested in leaving Shimla. Hills are Sumit’s first love, he belong to them. Here, he tells stories, conducts educational camps for school children, writes books on his travels, works as a Heritage Guide and a Tour Companion on Himalayan Valleys outings and helps those British who return to India looking for their family history. His innovative ideas of providing experiences to his traveler clients have made Shimla Walks, his company famous.

Madan has studied English Literature and Journalism from HP University and lives in Shimla. He is an amateur photographer and has been writing on topics ranging from environmental, socio-economic, development programs, education, eco-tourism, eco-friendly lifestyle and to green technologies for over 7 years now. He has an inclination for all things green, wonderful and loves to live in solitude. When not writing, he can be seen wandering, trying to capture world around him in his DSLR lens.

Art & Culture

Book Review: ‘The Billionaire Raj: A Journey through India’s New Gilded Age’ by James Crabtree

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The Billionaire Raj A Journey through India’s New Gilded Age

For long, we all have broached the subject of India’s experiment with socialism. The state-controlled the various fields of business, planning was central; also the means of production were not with capitalists but with the state. The state promised to uplift the poor form the poverty, raise their living standard by utilization of these means of production to bring economic and social equality in society.

But years after embracing socialism growth was still sluggish, corruption percolating deep into the system, choices with the people were far and few. Inequality was, as ever, still prevalent in the society. Amenities like telephone and exuded power and exclusivity. The world mocked our “License Raj” and we became notorious for our Hindu Growth rate.

Eventually, the closed economy turned sclerotic and ran into trouble. On the contrary, economies worldwide grew rapidly, at this time. India was left with no other option, but to open its economy to the world. Finally, India yielded and opened its economy in 1991, with an hope of removing the ills of corruption, creating more jobs, removing social inequality and to overcome challenges of economic development. The new era of neo-liberalization was considered augury of prosperity and egalitarian society.

However, who would have imagined that within 27 years of opening up the economy, the majority of the wealth would be held by a handful of people. James Crabtree in his debut book, “The Billionaire Raj: A Journey through India’s New Gilded Age, offers an overview of this fascinating journey of India’s new Gilded Age.”

He writes,

Yet the decades after 1947, it at least grew economically more equal, with an elite that lived modestly by the standard of the industrialized West.

A silver lining to India’s bygone era of socialism.

The Billionaire Raj is the narrative of the breakneck rise of the Indian riches- Bollygarchs, as he calls them- corporate power, their lifestyle and the mansions.

The book is an overview of the concomitant of wealth: inequality, crony capitalism, massive corruption and mega scams. The writer explores the exorbitant funding of political parties by these tycoons, the costly affair of India’s election.

The book talks at length about the deep-rooted problem of mounting debt, IPL, about Modi and his tenure as Prime Minister of India. The pro and cons of various reforms ushered under his regime. Mr. Crabtree is successful in raising the fundamental question that holds imperative to India’s future.

The book is well researched, the exceptional storytelling skill of the writer keeps the readers engrossed; the personal interview with various business tycoons like Vijay Mallya, Naveen Jindal, Gautam Adani etc, offer the readers classic vignettes of their life, their perspective about the event that unfolded in this age.

The writer has successfully flagged various fissures as a warning that can pull India down. The country will have to fix these fissures first, only then it can fulfil the ambition to lead Asia.

Today India stands at the crossroads of what sort of superpower it will become

, he further writes.

Mr. Crabtree offers an optimistic view about India’s future:

India’s new Gilded Age can blossom into a progressive Era of its own, in which the perils of inequality and crony capitalism are left decisively behind,

he writes.

The Billionaire Raj will make us ruminate about the era of Neo-liberalization, as we did aggressively about Indian Socialism in the past. The Billionaire Raj is an eye-opener for all of us and will certainly be helpful in paving the way for our future ahead. The book is Locus classicus on the contemporary history of India- a must read for every Indian.

About James Crabtree

James Crabtree, a former Mumbai bureau chief for The Financial Times. He spent 5 years in India before moving to Singapore. At present, he is an Associate Professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, Singapore.

Book Review by Sunny Grack, Kotgarh, Shimla

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Art & Culture

HIMCOSTE’s workshop to aware rural artisans of Geographical Indications Act

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HIMCOSTE WOrkshop on Geographical Indications

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh Patent Information Centre (HPPIC) established under the aegis of Himachal Pradesh Council for Science, technology and Environment (HIMCOSTE) has been declared as the nodal agency for the filing of Geographical Indications applications for traditional valuable products of H.P under Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, IFS Kunal Satyarthi Member Secretary, HIMCOSTE, today informed.

He said till date, the Centre has been able to obtain registration for Kullu shawl, Kangra Tea, Kinnauri Shawl, Chamba Ruma and Kangra Paintings under Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

The applications of Chamba Chappal, Kala Zeera, Chulli Oil are under process with the Registrar of Geographical indications at Chennai
.
The Centre has identified a number of products (agriculture/horticulture/handicrafts/metal crafts etc.) for registration under GI Act, 1999 (for eg. Bharmour Rajmah, Chamba Chappal, Chamba metal crafts, Angoori, Kalpa Wine, Kinnauri Apple, Rajmah).

Also, the Centre has facilitated registration of about 200 Authorized Users (AU) of registered GIs from H.P.

Recently, the State Govt.has issued a notification on State Level committee on Registration and Protection of Goods in H.P and the State Govt. has also issued a notification regulation of Kullu Shawl GI under the Chairmanship of D.C Kullu.

The above committees would perform the task of checking falsification /counterfeiting of Registered GIs in H.P and would approach the appropriate authorities for taking necessary action in the matter.

HIMCOSTE’s One-Day GI Awareness Workshop

On August 3, 2018, one-day awareness workshop on Geographical Indication, “Creating Value through Geographical indication” will be organized by HIMCOSTE in collaboration with Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP), Ministry of Industry and Commerce, GoI.

Through this workshop, the HIMCOSTE aims to spread awareness and make the participants aware of the Geographical Indications Act. It would result in providing commercial opportunities to rural artisans of District Kullu, which in turn would result in the socio-economic development of rural artisans. During the workshop, applicants would be asked for registration of Authorised Usership of Kullu Shawl under Geographical Indications (Registration and Protection) of Goods Act, 1999.

After the workshop, D.C Kullu would chair a meeting of the committee constituted by Govt. of Himachal Pradesh. Issues related to infringement of Kullu Shawl and regulation of Kullu Shawl GI would be discussed in the meeting. About 200 participants would attend the workshop.

The Chief Guest for the workshop will be Minister of Forests, H.P Govind Singh Thakur. Yunus Khan, Deputy Commissioner, Kullu, IPS Shalini Agnihotri, Superintendent of Police, Kullu and will be the Guest of Honour.

On behalf of HIMCOSTE, Sh. Kunal Satyarthi, IFS, Member Secretary, HIMCOSTE will remain present during the workshop.

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Incentives to Himachali films under State’s own Film Policy: Govt

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Film policy of Himachal Pradesh

Shimla: The Himachal Pradesh Government today announced that it would form its own film-policy and will encourage local films and artists in various ways.

A meeting regarding formulating the film policy of the State was held here today under the chairmanship of Additional Chief Secretary Dr. Shrikant Baldi.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr. Baldi said the state had the advantage of adventurous, heritage, spiritual, seasonal and unexplored destinations and the efforts would be made to attract the filmmakers for film production in the state.

He said that the cultural, mythological, historical heritage and glorious traditions of the state would also be publicized in a big way to attract investment in the film sector in the state.

The government would endeavour to provide an opportunity to the talents in the field of acting and other related fields besides generating employment opportunities to the youth of the state.

Dr. Baldi said that production of regional films based on Himachali dialects would be especially encouraged, for which the government would provide various incentives to the producers.

Various other important issues like establishing required infrastructure and to make available desired facilities to the filmmakers and providing them attractive financial incentives were also discussed in the meeting.

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