Friday, February 22, 2013

Share Paanch Bela ( সাড়ে পাঁচ বেলা ) by Rajat Shubhra Bandyopadhyay- A book reveiw

A quintessential Bengali worth his salt would have delved into the lyrical nonsense of Sukumar Roy in his childhood and remembered them for a lifetime. Abol Tabol , that famous book of rhymes and poems of Sukumar Ray , had the inherent power to transform any reader to the realm of nonsense and jabberwocky much like Lewis Carol's Alice in Wonderland. Filled with more humour than satire the creations of Ray dealt with themes  as bizarre as the "theft of a moustache" or "hybrid animals,"  Supported by excellent sketches of Ray, Abol Tabol remains a landmark in the literary history of Bengal. Since Ray's untimely death at a very young age, attempts have been made to translate to English this book of yesteryear (first published in 1923, a few days before Ray's death)  few times starting with the one by his illustrious son and filmmaker , Satyajit Ray in 1970  and the latest by Sampurna Chattarji in 2004. The poems have also been put to songs and some have been animated to cartoons alongside the soundtrack.

But for the first time in 9 decades , someone has attempted to rewrite some of the poems of Abol Tabol by changing the gender of the protagonists in those poems. Sukumar Ray's rhymes have been criticised by the female readers ever since ,for not having a single female protagonist in any of his creations.  Now Rajat Shubra Bandyopadhyay , an IIT educated architect by profession and a nonsensical poet in heart, has attempted to do just this. Rajat has recreated 13 themes from the rhymes in Abol Tabol with a female lead . Rajat's book Share Paanch Bela ( সাড়ে পাঁচ বেলা )  contains 13 tremendous gender-recreations of Ray's Abol Tabol  along with 69 other creations, most of which are rhymes, poems . A few are short stories  about a character called Neruda , sketched much after Pagla Dasu of Sukumar Ray. Of course Rajat admits in his characteristic style (in the introduction) that quite a lot of his creations have been plagiarised from & modelled after Sukumar Ray's style of writing  and he is specially proud of that ("এই বইএর বহু লেখার ধাঁচ শ্রী সুকুমার রায়ের লেখা থেকে চুরি করা। এর জন্য লেখক বিশেষ  ভাবে গর্বিত।")

The themes of Rajat's creations cover the peculiar behaviour of animals & other non-speaking creatures like insects & fishes as well as peculiar men and women besides poems that juxtapose satires on present day political situations among lines that always rhyme and possibly have some set-meter that one day somebody interested could put into melodies. Humour is always dripping in all his creations and some of them keep the laughter hanging from the lips of the readers hours after reading them. Just like the  taste of pudding can be sensed by  eating it , Rajat's marvellous book of rhymes can be better appreciated by consuming them and bringing back the humour that seems to have been lost in the opportunistic & self-serving  times of the present.
To give you a sense of what's in store for the readers, I'm reproducing one of Rajat's creations,called   মানুষের মতন মানুষ (A suitable person), here.

মানুষের মতন মানুষ

মানুষ বড়ই আজব প্রাণী,
বিচিত্র আর ভেকধারী,
হরেক সময় হরেক মুখোশ,
রঙ - বেরঙ্গের , ঝকমারি।

আজকে যদি ডাইনে বেঁকে
ত্রিশূল হাতে লাফ মারে,
কালকে তবে বাঁদিক ঘেঁসে
কাস্তে শানায় বার বারে।

সমস্ত দিন ধান্দাবাজি,
মুর্গি ধরার ফন্দি রে!
সন্ধে হতেই খোলস ছেড়ে
পড়ছে ঢুকে মন্দিরে।

সুযোগ পেলেই নন্দীগ্রামে
ভৃঙ্গি হয়ে নাচতে যায়,
ওমনি আবার নারদ রূপে
সিঙ্গুর গিয়ে মন ভাঙ্গায়!

হঠাৎ কেমন হায়না সেজে
লোলুপ চোখে ঠোঁট চাটে,
তারপরেতেই আয়না দেখে
মুখ ভেঙ্গিয়ে জিভ কাটে!

তাইতো আমি ঠিক করেছি,
আর একটিবার জন্মাবো,
হবোই হবো পাগলা কুকুর,
মানুষ পেলেই কামড়াবো !!

Although the pictures  in Share Paanch Bela  (done by Ardhendu Sarkar) could have been better and the book too could have been fatter; still at 150 bucks , Rajat's third book is a must-buy for anyone who still have some humour left in him/her  or is looking to rewake the same. Share Paanch is a nice book to gift to younger generations and oldies alike and is available from the publisher,Presidency Library's address at 15, Bankim Chatterjee Stree , Kolkata-700073, ph: 22416138. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

'Fallen Angel: The making & unmaking of Rajat Gupta' by Sandipan Deb- A book review

If you are an IIT/IIM student or aspiring to be one, then you must be aware of the adage that "success is due to only 2% talent but  98% hard work." Rajat Gupta , an IIT-Harvard alumni, ex-chief of Mckinsey worldwide & a global philanthropist, probably lived up to the adage, literally till his 62nd year, till he was sent to prison on 8th January ,2013 convicted ;as he was, on charges of insider trading in USA. Rajat's remarkable rise and equally remarkable fall have attracted worldwide attention from people who not only consider themselves talented but also from scores of corporate executives who saw him as a role model par excellence. Rajat was convicted barely few months ago on 24th October'12 by Judge Rekoff and it's probably futile to expect a detailed book on this saga so soon  but Sandipan Deb , himself an IIT-IIM alumni and the author of the book "IITians," was on the job the moment his trial started in June'2012 and has now come out with the first book called , "Fallen Angel:The making and unmaking of Rajat Gupta."

Fallen Angel is a book that is heavily researched (although of the secondary kind ) from newspaper articles, news items and court papers. One is not sure whether Sandipan  tried to do some primary research by talking to Rajat's family of his wife and four daughters or his professional contacts  but he surely has contacted good number of Rajat's personal friends from his IIT days trying to unravel the mystique behind Rajat's saga which Sandipan calls rightfully "a tragedy of the Greek proportions."

The book has been divided into 15 chapters with emphasis on the struggle in the life of Rajat as he was orphaned at a very little age but used his remarkable talent, hard work & unique leadership style to climb on to the very top of his profession or to the very top of everything that he did;  on the genesis of his liaison with a crooked hedge fund manager, Raj Rajaratnam; on the case and the detailed transcript of the wire-trap of his conversation between him and Raj; on the pre-trial &  post-trial proceedings leading to his conviction and surprisingly a bit more emphasis on Rajat's ex-colleague, Anil Kumar, who testified against him and got away scot-free for cooperating with the investigating authorities. I am surprised why Sandipan devoted two chapters (The Protege & The one that got away) on Anil Kumar, the said ex-colleague in Mckinsey and the guy who introduced Rajaratnam to Rajat, Although right in the beginning the publisher has stated that "The author has asserted his moral rights," but I find it pretty warped that Sandipan would devote additional pages on Anil Kumar instead of on the  lifetime crook, Raj, to trace what shades of villainy Rajat conveniently overlooked in order to be  seen in the company of billionaires and top fund managers. The likes of Anil Kumar, who forget the cheques but remember the bills and who succumb easily to pressures, are pretty common among any fraternity but not the likes of Raj who manipulate & control relationships with people more talented than him to further their own gains.

At the trial it was disclosed that Rajat's net worth was somewhere around $110 million. Now everyone who's been reading about young  talented fund managers and venture capitalists whether from the Silicon Valley or elsewhere know that they make such amount of money many times over by investing in and exiting from promising start-ups and entrepreneurship opportunities. But Rajat , in spite of being heralded (at one time) by hundreds of CEOs of global corporations as well as by global  developmental organisations (like the United Nations) and by top-of-the -chart global entrepreneurs (like Bill Gates) as the smartest consultant and strategic thinker in the world, didn't possess the bank balance to match his smartness. Although Rajat had a king size reputation that those fund managers would pay their lifetime earnings  to possess; it is my conjecture that post-retirement this conflict between reputation and extreme-wealth drove Rajat to befriend people like Raj who's been paying fines to SEC almost ever three years to cover his trading  misdeeds.

Sandipan's secondary research threw little light on this conflict except for a mention by Raj that he seems "tormented," and wants to be in the "club of billionaires." Maybe another book later by Rajat himself or his future biographer would shed more light on the reasons of his torment  and the mismatch of expectations with reality while defining his goals of life  in his retirement.

Fallen Angel , however, is not a suitably arranged and rehashed book of news items but a fine chronicle of the events that marked Rajat's life. Personally I've read most of these accounts in the published articles but still came to know for the first time in Sandipan's book that Raj had a brother who too ran a similar but smaller hedge fund company called Sedna capital. It was while investigating Sedna Capital's trades that SEC lawyer  Andrew Michaelson chanced upon Raj's company, Galleon and armed with an anonymous letter that pointed to rampant inside trading in Galleon , Andrew caught the first small fish called Roomy Khan and used her to trap Raj. It was only later that the much acclaimed Preet Bharara took up the criminal case from the civil proceedings of SEC to trap Anil Kumar and finally the big fish Rajat.The entire account makes for exciting reading and Sandipan's style of writing is easy although nearly half the book he'd have wracked his head to not to make it appear like  a news article since most of his sources were precisely that.

Fallen Angel also deals elaborately on the contentious issues of using circumstantial evidences like taped conversations and no other evidence to bring down a man of epic proportions as the issue was debated and dissected during the pre-trial stage . Accounts of Rajat's character and style of leadership from highly-placed friends and colleagues can be real textbook material in management courses on leadership & motivation. Sandipan correctly paints Rajat as a strategic thinker and adviser with tremendous amount of networking & fundraising capabilities.

Its difficult to say why he allegedly did what he did but possibly Sandipan's Fallen Angel had a permanent flaw in his strategic thinking that often besets men who have not seen failures ever in their lives. In conclusion , Fallen Angel is a great first-book on Rajat but it leaves the reader dissatisfied that the author instead of dwelling more on the assertion of moral rights of the key players in the case chose to assert his own. Maybe , another book in a few years time with more material from primary  research would be welcome.