Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us – A Relook

Cover Page of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us by Daniel H Pink

Cover Page of Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates us by Daniel H Pink

 

I finished reading Daniel H Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us today and it is one of the best books that takes a reasoned re-look at the existing theories on what motivates humans to do what they do. I recommend it to not just those who are looking for a book on effective strategies to get motivated but also to others who are interested in human psychology.

In short, the book says that the old ideas of Carrot and Stick, of punishment and reward is a defunct system and is not suitable for this era and this age. Instead, he suggests that human beings are primarily looking for Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose once basic monetary benefits are met. Having a iron-fisted control over the work atmosphere is only going to hamper productivity according to Pink. He gives many examples including Google, Wikipedia and another company called Atlassian.

I reproduce here one of the effective methods mentioned in the book, which will take us closer to mastery over our subject of interest. It is to be borne in mind that, as the author notes in the book, mastery is an asymptote – the line and the curve only approach each other, they never meet.

Move 5 Steps Closer to Mastery

  • Deliberate practice is the key to mastery.
  • It is a life-long period of effort to improve performance in a specific domain.
  • Deliberate Practice is much more purposeful, focussed, and painful.
  • Following methods might help in approaching mastery –
    1. Remember that Deliberate Practice has only one objective – To Improve Performance.
      • Do not let it be a mindless repetition of previous practice sessions.
      • Change your performance, set new goals, strain yourself to reach a bit higher each time.
    2. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat.
    3. Seek constant, critical feedback.
    4. Focus ruthlessly on where you need help.
    5. Prepare for the process to be mentally and physically exhausting.

 

P.S. – Who said Mastery is easy?

 

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Book Review – Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

I rewrote the Review for a magazine, which I think is better than the original review. I am publishing it here in my blog.

The book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire is written by Alex von Tunzelmann, a British historian. Tunzelmann was educated in Brighton and at University College, Oxford. She has contributed to The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman, The Truth About Markets by John Kay, Does Education Matter? by Alison Wolf, and Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence. She has been recognized as a Financial Times Young Business Writer of the Year. Most recently she has collaborated with Jeremy Paxman on his book, On Royalty. Recently, she has begun writing a weekly column for The Guardian entitled “Reel history”, in which she discusses and rates popular films for their historical accuracy. India Summer is her first book and was released in 2007. Red Heat. Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean, 2011, covers the relationship of the United States with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti during the time of the Cold War.

Indian Summer focuses on that period of Indian history when India was fighting a war of its own which had been clouded by the much larger war going on in the world. Our traditional understanding of Indian history is dominated by left – leaning narratives. Most of the books which deal with the ‘Modern History’ of India, usually gains speed with the Battle of Plassey of 1757 which seals the question of Anglo- French rivalry in India. The Battle of Buxar which takes place 7 years later establishes the British as one among top powers in Indian subcontinent. This narrative of Indian history meanders through various ups and downs involving 1st War of Indian Independence in 1857, jumping next to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the Moderate – Extremist tussle, the Surat split of Congress, the 1916 merger and Lucknow pact, arrival of Gandhi, the Non-cooperation Movement of 1922, Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930, the passing of Government of India act 1935 and subsequent formation of Congress governments in various provinces, the Second World War and Quit India Movement, Arrival of Mountbatten, Partition and finally Independence. Nearly 190 years of history is compressed into books of some 500 pages long and is passed off as a thorough look at the various aspects of history; when the authors and readers themselves know that it is an impossible to task to capture in a single book, even the various strands of our national movement, leave alone the entire duration from the arrival of British to their exit. It is one of the reasons, why the division of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern, following the standard western practice, makes little sense.

Especially glossed over are those final years of Independence when readers are overwhelmed by the countless number of frantic attempts by both the Indian and British sides to reach an amiable solution to the question of Independence and the then elephant in the room, Partition. Hence we see a series of solutions following one after the other in quick succession: August Offer, Cripps Mission, Rajagopalachari Formula, Desai – Liaqat Pact, Wavell plan, Cabinet Mission and finally the Mountbatten Plan which eventually gets converted into Indian Independence Act 1947. But the amount of painful discussions gone into them, the thought process that went behind the decision, the names of those invisible men and women who held the strings of the political puppets, remain unacknowledged and rightly so. After all, the traditional historians are only trying to present the important milestones of our national movement and not write an encyclopaedia. It’s a different fact that those who were indeed entrusted by the government to write encyclopaedias only siphoned off the funds and later turned up empty handed with flimsy. The curious case of how these very researchers ended up publishing many history books on their own is detailed in ‘Eminent Historians’ by the inimitable Arun Shourie. One of the more famous accounts of those final days is given in the book Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, which is more of a hagiography of Mountbatten than a serious attempt at chronicling the history.

Among such books, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, with a better access to resources and a relatively novel attempt at narrating the final days of Independence, does stand out. The book is different from others of the same genre in such a way that it is less about a historical period and more about some of the key personalities – namely India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the last viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina Mountbatten – who shaped those crucial moments of our Independence movement. The author narrates incidents from the protagonists’ early days, leading up to the moment of their meeting, the influences they had on each other, how it continued to influence them even post – Independence and how all this inadvertently shaped India’s destiny.

Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on.

As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also recorded the Mountbattens’ activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a mess wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’

As a departure from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book.  She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time”

But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be because they do not have personalities as colourful as Nehru and the Mountbattens; but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book.

A book which shares similar topic with Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer is Ramachandra Guha’s voluminous India After Gandhi. Though Guha’s book is a work on the Independent India, topics such as Partition, Kashmir, the influence of Mountbatten, consolidation of Princely states are dealt in both, albeit with varying levels of indulgence. Indian Summer has a slight flair for theatrics while India After Gandhi uses a more tempered language, though it is amusing to note that Guha does not mind peddling half – truths about the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘magisterial work’ . Hence while Guha stops with how the Dewan of Travancore Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyer ‘used to launch an excoriating attack on Gandhi’, Tunzelmann doesn’t mince any words and quotes the Dewan that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off  young girls. Like India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra, Tunzelmann doesn’t try to present a picture perfect situation and treads the dangerous territory of the internal lives of Nehru and Mountbatten. She leaves the more bromide way of chronicling to other historians and livens up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”

Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a decent effort, but none the less, admirable.

Quotes from The Discovery of India – Jawaharlal Nehru – Part 1

Cover Page of The Discover of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

Chapter 1 – Ahmadnagar Fort

The Past in its Relation to the Present

I suppose I have changed a good deal during these twelve years (between writing his autobiography and Discovery …). I have grown more contemplative. There is perhaps a little more poise and equilibrium, some sense of detachment, a greater calmness of spirit. I am not overcome now to the same extent as I used to be by tragedy or what I conceived to be tragedy. The turmoil and disturbance are less and are more temporary, even though the tragedies have been on a far greater scale.

Is this, I have wondered, the growth of a spirit of resignation, or is it a toughening of the texture? Is it just age and a lessening of vitality and of the passion of life? Or is it due to long periods in prison and life slowly ebbing away, and the thoughts that fill the mind passing through, after a brief stay, leaving only ripples behind? The tortured mind seeks some mechanism of escape, the senses get dulled from the repeated shocks, and a feeling comes over one that so much evil and misfortune shadow the world that a little more or less does not make much difference. There is only one thing that remains to us that cannot be taken away: to act with courage and dignity and to stick to the ideals that have given meaning to life; but that is not the politician’s way.

Someone said the other day: death is the birth right of every person born – a curious way of putting an obvious thing. It is a birthright which nobody has denied or can deny, and which all of us seek to forget and escape so long as we may. And yet there was something novel and attractive about the phrase. Those who complain so bitterly of life have always a way out of it, if they choose. That is always in our power to achieve. If we cannot master life we can at least master death. A pleasing though lessening the feeling of helplessness.

Life’s Philosophy

What was my philosophy of life? I did not know. Some years earlier I would not have been so hesitant. There was a definiteness about my thinking and objectives then which has faded away since. The events of the past few years in India, China, Europe and all over the world hhave been confusing, upsetting and distressing, and the future has become vague and shadowy and has lost that clearness of outline which it once possessed in my mind.

This doubt and difficult about fundamental matters did not come in  my way in regard to immediate action, except that it blunted somewhat the sharp edge of that activity. No longer could I function as I did in my younger days, as an arrow flying automatically to the target of my choice, ignoring all else but that target. Yet I functioned for that urge to action was there and a real or imagined coordination of that action with the ideals I held. But a growing distaste for politics as I  saw them seized me and gradually my whole attitude to life seemed to undergo a transformation.

The ideals and objectives of yesterday were still the ideals of today, but they had lost some of their luster and, even as one seemed to go towards them, they lost the shining beauty which had warned the heart and vitalized the body. Evil triumphed often enough, but what was far worse was the coarsening and distortion of what had seemed so right. Was human nature so essentially bad that it would take ages of training, through suffering and misfortune, before it could behave reasonably and raise man above the creature of lust and violence and deceit that he now was? And, meanwhile, was every effort to change it radically in the present or the near future doomed to failure?

Ends and means: were they tied up inseparably, acting and reacting on each other, the wrong means distorting and sometimes even destroying the end in view? But the right means might well be beyond the capacity of infirm and selfish human nature.

What then was one to do? Not to act was a complete confession of failure and a submission to evil; to act meant often enough a compromise with some form of that evil, with all the untoward consequences that such compromises result in.

Some vague or more precise philosophy of life we all have, though most of us accept unthinkingly the general attitude which is characteristic of our generation and environment.

 

Books ! ! !

 

Books

Books

 

India’s Tryst With Destiny – Jagdish Bhagwathi and Arvind Panagriya

Guns Germs and Steel – Jared Diamond

Contemporary Banking in India – Naina Lal Kidwai

India – A Million Mutinies – Naipaul

Barons of Banking – Bakhthiar Dadabhoy

Great Game East – Bertil Lintner

Discovery of India – Jawaharlal Nehru

 

Thoughts on ” Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire “

Lady-Edwina-and-Lord-Loui-001

IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. ONE WAS A vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.

Thus begins Alex Von Tunzelmann’s amusing work Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire , chronicling the final days of Indian Independence. The book’s cover shows the first Prime Minister enjoying the twinkle in the last Vicerine’s eyes, while a sharply dressed last Viceroy looks the other way. That pretty much sums up the gossip rendered via the book.

Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on.

As a departure from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book.  She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time”

Edwina, dressed for the coronation of George VI, 1937

Edwina comes across as the archetypical heroine struggling with her internal conflicts. She is temerarious, she is magnanimous in charity, a lone rebel in her high society filled with a nimiety of princoxes, she is a passionate lover. Tunzelmann sets aside a considerable portion of the book in psycho-analysing her and her relations with various men including our first Prime Minister while simultaneously showcasing how the Vicerine outshone her husband in issues related to administration and relief work. The author points out how, when Lady Mountbatten noticed that the a refugee hospital camp was devoid of lamps, she had struggled to obtain one from the brigadier in New Delhi; how she took special care to pass the Nursing Council Bill before Partition through lobbying; how her friendship with Nehru boosted her left-leaning political beliefs; how Edwina had “trudged for hours around the grim hovels in which many thousands of the city‘s poor lived” and so on.

At the same time, the author, whose flair for theatrics is visible throughout the pages, gives rivetting details of Nehru and Edwina’s complex relationship. I leave here a lone paragraph so as not to play a spoil sport. “There is an intriguing tale told by S. S. Pirzada, later foreign minister of Pakistan, that Jinnah had been handed a small collection of letters that had been written by Edwina and Jawahar. ―Dickie will be out tonight—come after 10:00 o‘clock, said one of Edwina‘s. Another revealed, ―You forgot your handkerchief and before Dickie could spot it I covered it up. A third said, ―I have fond memories of Simla—riding and your touch.

The drama doesn’t end with just this curious romance, but inevitably extends to the power politics of the time. The issues of freedom and dominion formation has been explained in a more bromide, but none the less, academic manner in Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Tunzelmann has livened up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”. Interestingly, she has also included the infamous comment by Travancore Diwan C P Ramaswamy Aiyer when he had met Mountbatten, that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off  young girls.

As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also recorded the Mountbattens’ activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a mess wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’

Indian readers may be amused to know that the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is the nephew of Mountbatten and that he chiselled the Duke’s life into what it is now. There is also an interesting note about the later life of the Mountbatten, where a military coup by Mountbatten against the then Labour Government of Harold Wilson was stymied only because of the intervention of Queen Elizabeth, who was inturn,  greatly influenced by Mountbatten during her formative years. In fact, Prince Charles considered Mountbatten like a father figure to the extent that when Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, he had written in his journal that he had lost a “combined grand-father, great uncle, father, brother and friend. Life will never be the same now that he has gone”.

Winston Churchill comes across as a pervicacious blimp and rightly so. An adequate amount of space has been provided to the important role  Churchill played during the 1940s. In fact, there is ineluctable evidence to show that Jinnah had an active support of Churchill and it was only through Churchill that Jinnah could have been controlled. In more than one instance, it is shown how Jinnah took the advice of Churchill and toned down his demands, thereby making things easier for the British. On the other side, Mountbatten had a profound influence on Jawaharlal Nehru, and continued to have it, many years post independence, to the extent that when Nehru passed away the British High Commission in Delhi complained ― Now that Nehru is gone we shall no longer have the enormously valuable access to the India Government‘s inner councils which Lord Mountbatten‘s personal friendship with him gave us at crucial moments.

Nehru with Kennedys

Nehru and the Mountbattens shared a very complex relation from what it seems. Louis Mountbatten had immense admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru as a liberal leader and in turn Nehru felt that Mountbatten was India’s true friend in Britain. In a cinematic twist, both the men were madly in love with the same woman – Edwina. In hindsight it can be said that Mountbatten’s love for her was much more intense because he allowed her to carry on the affair with Jawaharlal Nehru and actively facilitated it, by suddenly coming up with reasons to leave home for long hours especially when Nehru visited the Mountbatten residence. Nehru on the other hand, had always been able to find love in almost every corner except in his wife. The author gives an interesting anecdote about Nehru’s US visit in 1961. “Kennedy brought up a range of topics which usually interested Nehru very much—Berlin, Vietnam, nuclear testing, Indo-Pakistani relations—and yet the Indian premier seemed out of sorts and could not be induced to grunt out more than a sentence or two in reply. That evening Nehru dined with Kennedy. During the dinner, Nehru eased up considerably—not least, noted Galbraith, because he ―had sat between Mrs. Kennedy and her sister and with the light of love in his eyes. The rest of the trip went without a hitch.”

But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be because they do not have personalities as colourful as Nehru and the Mountbattens; but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book.

Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a decent effort, but none the less, admirable. I end this review with one of the more moving episodes of the book.

At 7:30 the next morning, the Turners‘ secretary knocked on Edwina‘s door. There was no reply. She opened it to see the Countess Mountbatten of Burma lying on the bed. Her body was already cold. She had suffered heart failure a few hours before. Still one of the world‘s richest women, she had had no splendid possessions with her; only a pile of old letters on the bedside table. She must have been reading them when she died, for a few, having fluttered from her hands, were strewn across her bed. They were all from Jawaharlal Nehru.

Edwina had a horror of being interred in the claustrophobic family vault at Romsey Abbey and had asked her husband to bury her ―in a sack at sea. HMS Wakeful was offered by the Admiralty and sailed from Portsmouth. The coffin was discharged into the waves from beneath a Union Jack. Mountbatten, in tears, kissed a wreath of flowers before throwing it into the sea. The Wakeful was escorted by an Indian frigate, the Trishul. Jawaharlal Nehru had sent it all the way to the English Channel, just to cast a wreath of marigolds into the waves after Edwina‘s coffin.

 

 

Reading List for 2014 – India List

Biographies & Autobiographies

  1. Great Soul – Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India
  2. Gandhi Before India – Ramachandra Guha
  3. My Country, My Life – LK Advani
  4. The State of the Nation by Fali S Nariman
  5. Leadership In The Indian Army : Biographies Of Twelve Soldiers First Edition by Maj Gen V K Singh
  6. Walking with Lions: Tales from a Diplomatic Past by K. Natwar Singh
  7. Wings of Fire: An Autobiography – AP J Abdul Kalam
  8. Turning Points: A journey through challenges by A. P. J Abdul Kalam

 

History

  1. India A History Revised and Updated John Keay

Ancient

  1. India – A Sacred Geography
  2. The Difficulty of Being Good – Gurcharan Das
  3. A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India by Upinder Singh
  4. A History of the Sikhs 1469-1839 (Volume -1) by Khushwant Singh
  5. The Arthashastra by Kautilya, L. N. Rangarajan, L. N. Rangarajan

Medieval

  1. India – A Million Mutinies Now (Vintage International) – V.S. Naipaul
  2. The Agrarian System of Mughal India, 1556-1707 – Irfan Habib
  3. The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple
  4. White Mughals : Love and Betrayal in Eighteenth-Century India by William Dalrymple
  5. A History Of The Sikhs 1839-2004 (Volume – 2) by Khushwant Singh
  6. Emperors of the Peacock Throne : The Saga of the Great Mughals by Abraham Eraly

Modern

  1. Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity – Akbar Ahmed
  2. The Discovery of India – Jawaharlal Nehru
  3. Indian Summer The Secret History of the End of an Empire
  4. Freedom At Midnight 13 Edition  by Dominique Lapierre, Larry Collins
  5. The History of Assam from Yandabo to Partition by Priyam Goswami
  6. The East India Company: The World’s Most Powerful Corporation by Tirthankar Roy
  7. Economic History Of India, (1857-1947) by Tirthankar Roy
  8. A Tale of Two Revolts: India 1857 and The American Civil War by Gandhi Rajmohan
  9. His Majesty’s Opponent: Subhas Chandra Bose and India’s Struggle against Empire by Sugata Bose

 

Contemporary

  1. Working a Democratic Constitution An Indian Experience by Granville Austin
  2. Our Moon has Blood Clots: The Exodus of the Kashmiri Pandits by Rahul Pandita
  3. Himalayan Blunder: The angry truth about India’s most crushing military disaster : The Angry Truth about India’s Most Crushing Military Disaster  by J. P. Dalvi, Frank Moraes
  4. The Meadow  – The Kashmir Kidnapping that Changed the Face of Modern Terrorism by Adrian Levy, Cathy Scott Clark

 

India’s International Relations and Security Policies

  1. The Blood Telegram Nixon Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide by Gary J Bass
  2. Pax Indica: India and the World of the 21st Century – Shashi Tharoor
  3. Everyman’s War : Strategy, Security and Terrorism in India  by Raghu Raman, M. K. Narayanan
  4. India at Risk : Mistakes Misadventures and Misconceptions of Security Policy by Jaswant Singh
  5. Everyman’s War : Strategy, Security and Terrorism in India  by Raghu Raman, M. K. Narayanan
  6. The Kaoboys of R&AW: Down Memory Lane – B Raman

 

Contemporary Writings on India

  1. Development as Freedom  Amartya Sen
  2. Why Growth Matters – Jagdish Bhagwati
  3. The Indian Renaissance – India’s Rise After a Thousand Years of Decline – Sanjeev Sanyal
  4. The Siege – 68 Hours Inside The Taj Hotel – Cathy Scott-Clark & Adrian Levy
  5. A Better India: A Better World – N R Narayana Murthy
  6. Imagining India: Ideas For The New Century– Nandan Nilekani
  7. Reimagining India : Unlocking the Potential of Asias Next Superpower by Company, McKinsey
  8. Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change by Shankkar Aiyar
  9. The Service Of The State: The Ias Reconsidered by Bhaskar Ghose
  10. Corruption in India: The DNA and the RNA by Bibek Debroy, Laveesh Bhandari

 

A P J Abdul Kalam

  1. India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium [1998.]
  2. Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India [2002]
  3. Mission India [2005]
  4. Target 3 Billion [2011]
  5. My Journey: Transforming Dreams into Actions [2013]
  6. Squaring the Circle : Seven Steps to Indian Renaissance

Ramachandra Guha

  1. The Last Liberal and Other Essays (Permanent Black, 2004)
  2. Makers of Modern India (Viking/Penguin) (Editor, 2010)
  3. Patriots & Partisans (Penguin) (2012)
  4. Gandhi Before India (Penguin) (2013)

Shashi Tharoor

  1. Reasons of State (1982)
  2. India: From Midnight to the Millennium (1997)
  3. Nehru: The Invention of India (2003)
  4. Bookless in Baghdad (2005)[84]
  5. The Elephant, the Tiger, and the Cell Phone: Reflections on India – The Emerging 21st-Century Power (2007)
  6. India: The Future is Now (2013)

Arun Shourie

  1. Worshipping False Gods: Ambedkar and the Facts that Have Been Erased by Arun Shourie
  2. The World of Fatwas Or the Sharia in Action by Arun Shourie
  3. We Must Have No Price And Everyone Must Know That We Have No Price by Arun Shourie
  4. Missionaries in India:Continuities, Changes, Dilemmas by Arun Shourie
  5. Governance and the Sclerosis That Has Set In by Arun Shourie
  6. Are We Deceiving Ourselves Again by Arun Shourie
  7. Where Will All This Take Us? by Arun Shourie
  8. Will The Iron Fence Save a Tree Hollowed by Termites:Defence Imperatives Beyond the Millitary  by Arun Shourie
  9. Self Deception : Indias China Policies Origins, Premises, Lessons  by Arun Shourie

Mark Tully

  1. No Full Stops in India – 1992
  2. The Heart of India – 2000
  3. India in Slow Motion – 2003
  4. India’s Unending Journey: Finding balance in a time of change – 2008

 

 

Reading List for 2014

As the year draws to a close, I recount my first blog  of 2013 where I had listed a few books which I had intended to read.

  1.  A History of South India from Prehistoric Times to the Fall of Vijayanagar – KA Nilakanta Sastri
  2. India Grows at Night: A liberal case for a strong state – Gurcharan Das
  3. India Unbound
  4. India after Gandhi: The history of the world’s largest democracy Ramachandra Guha

The above listed books are four of the twenty books I had listed, which I had completed. Despite not reading the other 16, I in fact, managed read a decent number of many other books. It is my bad that I did not list them properly. May be I should I have done it. Rookie mistakes are so annoying! (Read that in Frank Underwood’s voice.)

I have made a list for 2014 – a mixed bag of books dominated by non-fictions . The list is pretty long and I intend finish reading them, because the topics are so interesting. I am going to list them here based on various genres.

2014 – Reading List

Self Development and Human Psychology

  1. Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman
  2. The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
  3. Gretchen Rubin – The Happiness Project (epub)
  4. The Irrational Bundle – Dan Ariely – Predictably Irrational, The Upside of Irrationality, The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty
  5. Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking – Malcolm Gladwell
  6. Daniel Pink -Drive – The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us
  7. A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness: From Impostor Poodles to Purple Numbers – VS Ramachandran
  8. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness (Paperback) Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein
  9. The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make A Big Difference – Malcolm Gladwell
  10. Focus : The Hidden Driver of Excellence – Daniel Goleman

International Relations and World History

  1. The End of History and The Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
  2. The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
  3. Why Nations Fail – The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty
  4. Forbidden Nation – A History of Taiwan Jonanthan Manthorpe
  5. Liberal Fascism The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning Jonah Goldberg
  6. Glimpses of World History Jawaharlal Nehru
  7. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – William L. Shirer
  8. The World Until Yesterday – What Can We Learn from Traditional Socities – Jared Diamond
  9. Currency Wars – The Making of the Next Global Crisis by James Rickards
  10. Mao’s Great Famine – The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958 – 62 – Frank Dikotter
  11. D- Day The Battle For Normany by Antony Beevor
  12. Lawrence in Arabia, War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East – Scott Anderson
  13. The Darker Nations A People’s History of the Third World- Vijay Prashad
  14. The Revenge of Geography Robert Kaplan
  15. On Liberty – John Stuart Mill
  16. Water for Sale: How Business and the Market Can Resolve the World’s Water Crisis by Fredrik Segerfeldt
  17. China A History (Paperback) by John Keay
  18. The Prabhakaran Saga by S. Murari
  19. Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan by William Dalrymple

Must Read Books on International Relations and World History

  1. Jared Diamond – Guns, Germs, and Steel–The Fates of Human Societies
  2. Karl Polanyi – The Great Transformation
  3. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics – John J. Mearsheimer
  4. Man, the State and War – A Theoretical Analysis – Kenneth N Walktz
  5. Perception and Misperception in International Politics by Robert Jervis
  6. Red Capitalism The Fragile Financial Foundation of China’s Extraordinary by Carl E Walter and Fraser J T Howie
  7. Seeing Like a State How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed + James Scott
  8. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics John J Mearsheimer
  9. Unbroken – A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption – Laura Hillenbrand

Specialised History

  1. The Age of Oil: The Mythology, History, and Future of the World’s Most Controversial Resource [Leonardo Maugeri]
  2. Plutonium A History of The World’s Most Dangerous Element
  3. Salt a World History
  4. Spice – Jack Turner
  5. The Prize – The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power by Daniel Yergin
  6. The Emporer of All Maladies – A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  7. The Nothing That Is – A Natural History Of Zero   Robert Kaplan

Military, Wars and Conflict

  1. On Killing – The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society by Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman
  2. Confronting Tyranny Ancient Lessons for Global Politics Edited by Toivo Koivukoski and David Edward Tabachnick
  3. The Origins of Violence Religion, History and Genocide by John Docker
  4. Dirty Dealing – The Untold Truth About Global Money Laundering, International Crime and Terrorism – Peter Lilley
  5. Terrorism and Global Disorder  Political Violence in the Contemporary World by Adrian Guelke
  6. Enemy Combatants, Terrorism, and Armed Conflicts A Guide to the Issues – Edited by David K. Linnan
  7. The Psychology of Terrorism – John Horgan
  8. The Mind of The Terrorist – The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda

Books on Pakistan

  1. Pakistan: A New History Ian Talbot
  2. Tinderbox: The Past and Future of Pakistan – M J Akbar
  3. Magnificent Delusions Pakistan, the United States, and an Epic History of Misunderstanding
  4. The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League, and the Demand for Pakistan; by Ayesha Jalal
  5. Jinnah: Creator of Pakistan, by Hector Bolitho
  6. Jinnah of Pakistan, by Stanley Wolpert
  7. Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity: the Search for Saladin; by Akbar S. Ahmed
  8. The Idea of Pakistan, by Stephen P. Cohen
  9. The Oxford Companion to Pakistani History Edited by Ayesha Jalal
  10. The Murder of History: A Critique of History Textbooks Used in Pakistan by K.K. Aziz
  11. New Perspectives on Pakistan Visions for the Future Edited, by Saeed Shafqat
  12. The Enigma That is Pakistan : Travel Memoirs from the ‘Land of the Pure’  Shivendra Kumar Singh
  13. Eating Grass: The Making of the Pakistani Bomb  by Feroz Hassan Khan

Miscellaneous

  1. Conversations with Myself – Nelson Mandela
  2. Basic Writings of Nietzsche [trans. Kaufmann]
  3. Midnight’s Children
  4. Haruki Murakami – Hear the Wind Sing, Pinball, 1973, A Wild Sheep Chase, Norwegian Wood

Merchants of Tamilakam: Pioneers of International Trade by Kanakaltha Mukund – A Review – Part 4

Overseas Relations

 

Carvings on the walls of Banteay Srei or Banteay Srey – a 10th century Cambodian temple dedicated to the Lord Shiva

The author divides the foreign policy of Cholas and Pallavas into two – Hindu Kingdom and Buddhist Kingdoms. 


The Hindu kingdoms cover from Thailand to Vietnam and Indonesian islands forming a region of greater India. The author explains one crucial feature of the imperial expansion adopted by the Monarchies of Tamilakam – “This overseas expansion did not come about as a result of military conquest. The expansion based on commercial and cultural interactions was long-lasting, while those made via naval attacks – such as in Sri Lanka and Sailendra Empire of Sri Vijaya proved that colonization based on military initiatives was not sustainable.

Not just the famous Angkor in Cambodia, built by Kambuja king Suryavarman II in 12th century, the many other lesser monuments, all-over SE Asia support the above opinion. For nearly 1000 years, these countries had close relation with empires of Tamilakam. But the Chinese supremacy over the region was given its due by sending embassies. Here too, the guild members of Ainnuruvar and Manigramam play a significant role. Inscriptions which show the public-works that had been completed by the two guilds, such as constructions of roads or water tanks, have been found in Thailand and Vietnam.

Buddhist Kingdoms consist of China, Sailendra Empire of Sri Vijaya in Sumatra, and Sri Lanka. These have been the most important countries as far as foreign policy of the Cholas was concerned. An interesting anecdote about a Hindu temple in China honouring the Khan of China is mentioned by Mukund:

“This 13th century inscription was discovered in Quanzhou, a famous medieval port of China, and refers to construction of a Siva temple in the port. The temple was called Tirukkanichhuram, meaning the temple of the Khan after the Khan of China, one more instance of Tamil custom of naming public places after rulers. Hindu artefacts found in the temple area indicate a sizeable Tamil population living in Quanzhou at that time.”

The Cholas had, in general, a normal relationship with Sri Vijaya. While Rajaraja administration was cordial to the Sri Vijaya, Rajendra I sent a naval force to attack Kadaram (present-day Kedah, a Malaysian province) and captured it along with vast amount of valuables. It earned Rajendra the title of Kadaram-konda. Historians suggest that the naval expedition was undertaken to protect the commercial interest of the merchants of Tamilakam; perhaps as a counter to the efforts of Sailendra kings to monopolize the trade to the east. Inscriptions found in the region, about the presence of Ainnurruvar only add to the above reasoning.
By far the most tumultuous relationship was between the Tamilakam and the Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka used to be referred to as ‘Ilam’. Both Rajaraja Chola and Rajendra Chola had invaded Sri Lanka. While Rajaraja destroyed Anuradhapura, and made Polonnoruwa the new capital, Rajendra completed the conquest and annexed the entire Lanka by 1018. But this did not last long.  By 1030 Vikkamabahu got back the Southern part and his successor Vijayabahu completely freed Lanka of the Cholas during Kulottunga I. There is an interesting part of the conquest which Mukund narrates:

“Tamil mercenary soldiers known as velaikkara forces revolted against Vijayabahu; who put down the rebellion with brutal effectiveness. The mercenaries gave an undertaking to serve the king loyally and the Buddhist shrine of Polonnuruwa was placed under their protection. According to Mahavamsa, the uprising was instigated by Kulottunga I who made a last-ditch attempt to restore the Chola rule in Sri Lank by exploiting the loyalty and sentiments of the very large Tamil population still living in the island.”


The economic history of Tamilakam and Sri Lanka is equally fascinating. In fact, these expeditions were not just to satisfy the imperial ambition, but also to allow the merchants and the merchant guilds to perform their trade without hassle. Aromatic woods, camphor, silk, porcelain, and fine goods from South East Asia and China was the main trade items between the two kingdoms. The Ainnuruvar appear to have played a large role in controlling the business in Sri Lanka. The guild survived despite the victory of Vijayabahu. The author attributes this to the social activities done by the guild such as supporting the Buddhist temples. Yet they themselves were Hindus and continued to remain so. 

The Importance of Temples

The temple had always been and continues to be a distinctive feature of Tamil society. Building supporting temples gave legitimacy to the ruling elite. Also, the temple construction and maintenance had many economic activities associated with them. Not just the fact that temple construction itself employed many artisans and craftsmen, the temples themselves juggled between various economically important roles – as employers, land owners, consumers of a variety of goods etc. Besides, temples were nodes of urban centres. Vaishnavite saint, Thirumangai Alvar describes the development of a town around the temple in Tiruvallikkeni.

“Tiruvallikeni has towers and groves with honey bees; it has been laid out by the Tondaiman (Pallava king), with wells, outer walls, towering monuments and many structures.”


The temples no longer remained a religious institution and instead had become a cultural, educational and social hub. To gain legitimacy, honour and religious merit, rich and poor alike donated money and goods to temples. As a result the administration of temple affairs became a coveted and prestigious posts and the importance of nagaram assemblies went higher. In short, temples became “the focal point of social interaction and an outlet for the concerns of the community”. It is no wonder that maximum information about this period is obtained from the inscriptions from the temple. The stone inscriptions throw light on the existing social mores. The following anecdote by the author is interesting:

“A tenth century inscription from Tanjavur district states that a Brahmin had gifted land to his second wife, which raises many conjectures as to why a purely private, intra-household disposal of assets needed to be recorded in a public institution.”


  • Temples and the Economy

It is surprising to note that the presiding deity of the temple was deemed to be a person in a legal sense and all transactions were carried out in the name of the deity. In India, even today, the temple deity is a legal entity. Temple was a major consumer of oil since it had lamps that burned day and night continuously called nonda vilakku and lamps lit during morning and dusk called – sandhya deepam. Similarly, it also consumed flowers, fruits, rice, imported aromatic substances etc. For this, temples needed sizable funds, which were mainly raised through donations. Donations were not just made through food and flowers. Land grants to temples were an important feature. Land donations had a lateral monetary intent of bringing more land under 
cultivation. This was a prominent feature of the Tirupati temple. 

Another feature of temple is that it acted like a bank. The nagarams, which are corporate assemblies, borrowed money from the temple, and agreed to supply the required amount of ghee or oil as interest on money. Temples thus enabled circulation of resources across a wide section of society. Mukund gives the following example to study how temples led to redistribution of resources 

“The Rajarajesvaram temple built by Rajaraja I in Tanjavur becomes a special case for studying the redistributive aspects of the temple. Donations to the temple were of two categories – livestock and money. Most of the livestock was donated by the king and nobility. Military officers were the main donors of money, accounting for 79.3% of all donations. Livestock was better redistributed since cattle or sheep rearing was done only by shepherds as an occupation group. Money, however, was borrowed almost exclusively by village assemblies (95.4%). Presumably this money was circulated in the local rural economy and used for the development of agriculture.”


This reminds one of the fabulous treasures discovered at Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram. This explains how Temples thus acted the soul of the Tamil society since time immemorial. 

Conclusion

Usually when books on such specific topics are written, it is done so with cognoscenti of history in mind. The remarkable feature of Kanakalatha Mukund’s Merchants of Tamilakam is that it doesn’t try to be intellectual. She explains the matters of history with lucidity and brevity; quite unlike the writer of this article. Most importantly, she touches on those aspects of history that are rarely mentioned, explored, let alone be shown in a positive light. In the midst of a tired group of historians and their anaemic books, Mukund shines. The book makes you proud of your history. The book makes you awe at the sophistication of our ancestors. The book allows you to reconnect with our oft-neglected cosmopolitan urban past. The book allows you to rewire your brain to an inspiring, agenda-free history. The book leaves you wanting for more. 

I end this review with a passage from the book, translates from Silappadikaram and Maduraikkanchi about my favourite city: 

“Madurai was encircled by a fearsome fortress wall surrounded by a moat and a strong hedge. There was an underground passage beneath the moat which was wide enough for an elephant to cross to reach the fort gate. Guarded by yavana carrying large swords, Madurai looked as grand as the opened jewellery casket of Indira himself. Madurai was so large and populous that, ‘like the ocean, which does not overflow or dry up, Madurai with its towers did not diminish when people took goods away nor did it become over crowded when more and more people came in … Madurai is as immeasurable as the Ganga flowing into the sea, with ships bringing tribute and many goods each day.”

Merchants of Tamilakam: Pioneers of International Trade by Kanakaltha Mukund – A Review – Part 3

Role of State and Polity 

An 16th Century Map of Madurai shows the Nayak fortresses and streets around the Meenakshi Temple

 
From 3rd to 6th century the history of Tamilakam is not known much except for the fact that a group called Kalabhras or Kalapparargal, who are described as an evil-race in Tamil works, ruled. It was during this time that Buddhism and Jainism spread in the Tamil region. Many historians note that it was during the Kalabhra rule that Silappadikaram, Manimekali, and Patinenkilkanakku were written. R S Sharma, in his Early Medieval Indian Society, rather foolishly compares the Kalabhra reign to a revolution of landless against the landed aristocracy. One can only guffaw at the extent to which the Marxist historians will go ahead to affix their personal world view into a reading of general history. 


Kalabhra interregnum was followed by four centuries of Pallava rule and this imparted to the Tamil society its distinct characteristics that are present till today including local institutions; temple based urban centres, and a strong relation with the south-east Asian nations through military, commercial and cultural exchanges. It is amusing to know that one of the last of the great Pallavas, Nandivarman II, whose rule lasted for 65 years, was a prince of the collateral branch of the family which had been ruling in Champa (present day southern Vietnam). He was selected by a college of senior officials of the Pallava capital when the direct Pallava line had died out. 

Chola dynasty dominated Tamilakam from about mid-tenth century, after the Pallava and Pandya dynasties had faded away. Chola region was called as the Cholamandalam, fancifully altered in the present as Coromandel. We still call the east coast of India as Coromandel Coast. 

These two dynasties actively promoted the local-governance, whose existence in turn pre-date any of the mentioned powers. For centuries Tamilakam had been a region of fragmented and unstable polity and because of that the local assemblies had done the job of administering the local inhabitants. It had persisted even during the Pallava- Chola rule and continued to exist post 13th century. There was a hierarchy of administrative units beginning from ur or village, nadu or sub-region, kottam or district/region, and finally nagaram or city. While the affairs of the ur, nadu and kottam were handled by local assemblies, nagaram was handled by an assemble of local merchants, since nagarams were mainly urban clusters with prime commercial importance. Mukund, repeatedly invokes the scenes of various nagarams, their cosmopolitan population having not just the Tamil people, but also families of the merchants from far away land, the different languages one could hear in the market places of nagaram. Number of nagarams increased during the Chola empire. 

There is a delicious portion of the book that explains how the markets in the nagarams were divided into kadai (shop), angaadi (markets), and perangadi (wholesale market). She explains: 

“The shops and markets were located on streets in the market zone which were referred to as perunteru, big or main streets. The nagaram was always associated with the big street and always referred to as ‘the nagaram of such and such big street’. To this day one can find a ‘big street’ in the central zone of most old cities in Tamil Nadu. This pattern of markets and trading can be seen even today in all major temple towns where the roads leading to the temple are lined with shops buzzing with traders and buyers.” 


I was momentarily transported to the busy Avani Moolai and Masi streets circling the Madurai Meenkshi temple while simultaneously being reminded of the Big Street in Tiruvallikeni (Triplicane), Chennai which houses the fabled Parthasarathy Temple. Books can indeed enable you to be at two places together.

The main duty of nagaram was to govern local trade. It was a link in a hierarchy of markets, linking the villages to market town, which was linked to higher order centres like the managaram and porttowns. It collected taxes, gave police protection, performed street cleaning and so on. In addition to its role as a marketing institution, the nagaram was actively involved in the administration of temples. In specific, they managed the accounts of deposits and donations made to the temple and their utilization. They also arranged various cultural programmes, much like a modern day temple committee. 

Mukund lists some curious anecdotes from her key reference material South Indian Inscriptions. She writes:

“A fine was imposed on the management when it was demmed fit, as happened when three nagarattar (administrators of a nagaram) of the Thillaisthanam Temple in Tanjavur district were found guilty of mismanagement of temple funds.”


Towards the end of Chola period, nagaram assembly began associating themselves with various merchant guilds, which in turn collected taxes from them. Mukund contends that Nagarams survived well into the 16th century because of such association even as ur, sabha and nadu disappeared under Vijaynagar rule.

Merchants of Tamilakam: Pioneers of International Trade by Kanakaltha Mukund – A Review – Part 2

Merchants and Merchant Guilds

Breaking the myth propagated by “NCERT” Historians, that the business communities were given no respect by the Indian society, Mukund cites various examples to show that the opposite was the case. Not only where the merchants highly esteemed; they were among the most prominent members of the Tamil society in contrast to the medieval Japan and the ancient Greece, where gains via plunder was considered noble. Even the central characters of the famous Silappadikaram – Kannagi and Kovalan – are shown to be from mercantile families. The following text from Pattinapalai one of the poems from Pattupattu (literally Ten Poems) throws light on the attitude towards the Merchants.

    “The merchants of Puhar are as straight forward as the crosspiece of yoke. They always speak the truth and are fair-minded, and fear ignominy. They value their goods and the goods of others by the same standard; they neither take too high a price for their goods, nor do they shortchange on what they sell. They openly state their profits on various goods they handle. Such merchants have lived in Puhar for many years.”


Though this might be the idealised version of the reality, it cannot be denied that an over-all attitude of positivity remained towards the merchants. There were many reasons behind it. The fact that they enabled the society to have a higher level of sophistication by selling goods not available locally is surely one among them. Another facet of this is the initiatives taken by the Merchant class to gain acceptance and good will of the society.  This was accomplished through the generous donations they made to the temples and supporting local festivals and cultural activities. This gave them not only religious merit, punniyam, but also gave an impression of somebody who respected the sentiments of the people. This in turn gave him the patronage of the temple authorities and the royal family.

Not just domestic merchants, even merchants from outside used to do the same to gain the trust of local people. This negated any antagonism and ill-will and established their credentials in an alien land. Says Mukund,

    Inscriptions are replete with references to itinerant merchants who made donations to temples in towns which were far from their homes. This indicates a high volume of overland trade which was being carried on by individual merchants. A significant proportion of itinerant merchants came from malaimandalam, the western hills of Kerala, participating in inter-regional overland trade of pepper and areca nut. Traders known as kudirai chetti from the west also came to sell horses which had evidently been imported from Arabia to the ports of the west coast. There are also occasional references to merchants from other regions, like Kaivaranadu in Karnataka and even Kashmiradesam.


Mukund also gives us a glimpse of the lives of the ancient capitalists when she describes their lavish lifestyles and tall multi-storeyed houses with its latticed windows that let in breeze. She writes “even the kites flying past would have liked to rest” in those houses!

Merchants were not only good in commerce but were also regarded as brave warriors and learned men. Manimekalai, the second great Tamil epic, was written by Sattanar, a grain merchant. Mullaipattu, one of the ten poems of Pattuppaattu was written by Nampudanar, a gold merchant. Famous poet Nakkirar was from a conch-cutting family. Several poems have been written by members of professions as varied as medical practitioners and goldsmiths. This shows the high level of literacy prevalent Tamilakam.

These merchants also had to double up as warriors because of the threat they faced on a regular basis from group of bandits ready to loot them. They were respected for their bravery and martial qualities, which were much admired in the local culture. Mukund has beautifully translated a portion of Perumpanarruppatai, one of the ten poems of Pattupattu.

    “They are hardworking; they were footwear and body cover; because of their skill they were able to evade the arrows of highway robbers and have no scars of wounds on their chests; at their side thye have shining swords with handles of ivory; they carry daggers on their waists which look like snakes; they are brave warriors who will not turn their backs but will attack robbers with spears which they carry like Murugan”.

This is one among the many examples which show that despite it being the duty of the state to protect the merchants from the robbers, the traders felt it pertinent to have a personal army. This must have been one of the reasons for the formation of merchant guilds. Mukund makes it clear that these guilds are not similar to European merchant guilds which were “governed by charters, strict constitutions, or rules. Nor was their membership restricted with stringent conditions.” Guilds presented many advantages which included lessened risk of physical danger during long-distance travel and the drawback of trading as a single merchant, especially in distant markets. Mukund also proposes that the guild formation would have become sources of capital for individual members to meet short-term requirements. Finally, the group identity created greater trust in all societies.  Though there were many guilds, two among them stand out prominently – Manigramam, based in Pudukkottai and Disai-ayirattu-ainnurruvar or simply Ainnuruvar (Five Hundred) based in Ayyavole or Aihole.


Manigramam seems to have become prominent by early 10th century AD. The location of Pudukkottai is strategically important because it connects the trading route from the Northern Tamilakam to the Southern Tamilakam ports. Thus it would have become an ideal spot for various merchants to come together and a form a base for overland trade. Later on records of smaller local level franchisee-like Manigramams could be found in many regions and they stopped over-seas trade.

Ainnurruvar group, which eclipsed the Manigramam, is first mentioned in an inscription in Aihole in 800 AD. Ainnuruvar believed in a charter called panchasata virasasanam, or five-hundred charters which enlisted the dharma of traders. There objective was “aram valara kali meliya” – “to promote religion and weaken the ill effects of Kali”. Close relationship between Chola Imperial expansion and mercantile interests of Ainnuruvar is hinted by Mukund. She suggests that
 

Position of Pudukkottai with respect to important commercial centres of Tamilakam

“The Chola campaign to conquer Mysore itself is attributed to the perceived need for controlling the main trade route from Tamilakam to the north and west and facilitating the movement of Ainnuruvar”

Similarly she attributes the reasons for annexation of Sri Lanka, by the Chola emporers Rajaraja I and his son Rajendra I, partly to the demands by Ainnuruvar to have a better trading environment. It must be noted that Ainnuruvar had a thriving presence in Sri Lanka, and South East Asian kingdoms, even before any hostilities between them and the Cholas had begun. Thus we can see how commercial interests played a factor in the foreign policy of Cholas. It enthrals an ardent student of history, that such a merchant – ruler coalition existed in the 1100s and that they successfully carried forward their interests. Mukund narrates with such sincerity that one would feel that the reader is in the middle of a serious discussion between the Chola Monarch and an assembly of Ainnuruvar merchants.


As has been mentioned earlier, Ainnuruvar too validated their position in the society through their association with the temples. As we draw towards the last stages of a weak Chola empire, Ainnuruvar had become powerful enough to have a few important temples and certain administrative positions under their control. The assembly of the guild used to meet up regularly and fix taxes and tolls on commodities imported to and exported from various town and also goods on transit. This shows how political power shifted to individual guild, when the Monarch wasn’t powerful. The main conclusion that one could infer, and which is repeatedly mentioned by Mukund at various intervals throughout her narrative, is “how a strong state was not a prerequisite for mercantile activities to flourish as long as latter were allowed to function freely without extortionate taxation, controls or other state intervention.” Interestingly, this is in line with the beliefs of the series editor Gurcharan Das, who has, through his various books – India Unbound, and India Grows at Night: A liberal case for a strong state – stresses how India grows despite its government. He writes in the foreword of this book: “The truth is that India never allowed state power to be as concentrated as in China, so that it could reach deeply and change its basic social institutions. The type of despotic governments emerged in China, which were able to divest the whole society of property and personal rights, have never existed in south Asia. Not surprisingly, India’s history is by and large one of competing political kingdoms, while China’s is one of strong empires.” I would add to this, that India still remains a region of competing regional political fiefdoms and China still remains a region of a strong single-party rule. History repeats and how!