This is a work-in-progress page that documents some interesting (mostly fiction) writing/media I’ve come across on what bureaucrats/ politicians mean in the world today. Please email me if you have something interesting for me to read/watch! I’ll add more stuff on this paper when time permits.
* = to read/watch
English August by Upamanyu Chatterjee (serving IAS officer)
Agastya Sen, known to friends by the English name August, is a child of the Indian elite. His friends go to Yale and Harvard. August himself has just landed a prize government job. The job takes him to Madna, “the hottest town in India,” deep in the sticks. There he finds himself surrounded by incompetents and cranks, time wasters, bureaucrats, and crazies. What to do? Get stoned, shirk work, collapse in the heat, stare at the ceiling. Dealing with the locals turns out to be a lot easier for August than living with himself. English, August is a comic masterpiece from contemporary India. Like A Confederacy of Dunces and The Catcher in the Rye, it is both an inspired and hilarious satire and a timeless story of self-discovery.
The Wandering Falcon by Jamil Ahmad (ex-political agent in FATA)
In this extraordinary tale, Tor Baz, the young boy descended from both chiefs and outlaws who becomes the Wandering Falcon, moves between the tribes of Pakistan and Afghanistan and their uncertain worlds full of brutality, humanity, deep love, honor, poverty, and grace. The wild area he travels — the Federally Administered Tribal Area — has become a political quagmire known for terrorism and inaccessibility. Yet in these pages, eighty-year-old debut author Jamil Ahmad lyrically and insightfully reveals the people who populate those lands, their tribes and traditions, and their older, timeless ways in the face of sometimes ruthless modernity. This story is an essential glimpse into a hidden world, one that has enormous geopolitical significance today and still remains largely a mystery to us.
The Prisoner by Omar Shahid Hamid (ex-police officer)
An American journalist has been kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan, days before the American president is due to visit. Those responsible have promised to execute him on video on Christmas Day. With no other leads, Constantine D’Souza, a Christian police officer, must get his former colleague Akbar Khan, a rogue cop imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit, to help track down the journalist. But to do so, he has to navigate the streets of Karachi, where police corruption is a way of life and political motives are never what they seem. Caught between the United Front—the militant ruling party—and the Pakistani Intelligence Agencies, D’Souza is in a race against time to save a man’s life and the honor of the nation.
Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole
After living in America for 15 years, a Nigerian writer returns to his homeland. Reunited with a beloved aunt, with whom he stays, he reconnects with a boyhood friend, now a struggling doctor, and visits the woman who was his first love, now married with a daughter, as he contemplates staying in Lagos. But he is struck by the omnipresent corruption, as officials at all levels, including police and soldiers, supplement often meager wages with bribes. He sees thieving “area boys” all around, Internet-scamming “yahoo yahoo” in cyber cafés, a jazz shop practicing piracy, and a national museum gone to ruin, its artifacts ill-maintained and its historical presentations inaccurate. Yet in addition to scoring high in corruption, Nigeria’s claim to fame is that it is the most religious country in the world and its people the happiest.
The Civil Servant’s Notebook by Wang Xiaofang*
Dongzhou City needs a new Mayor. Government corridors are awash with rumor and subterfuge as the local Communist Party mandarins go through the motions of selecting a candidate. Dangerous factions begin to form around the two contenders, Liu Yihe and Peng Guoliang. Devious plots, seduction, blackmail and bribery are all on the table in a no-holds-barred scramble for political prestige and personal gain. At the center of it all is a notebook whose pages contain information they shouldn’t. Penned by a former insider, this book offers a glimpse into the distorted psyches of those who roam the guarded halls of Chinese political power. “Serve the people” is just about the last thing on their minds. (HT Maira Hayat)
Raag Darbari by
Life her crawls along at a leisurely pace, unfolding at evening bhang-drinking sessions, the local bar, the village wrestling pit, at paan shops, in nearby lentil fields, at gambling sessiosn and country melas… M.A. pass Rangnath has just arrived here for some rest-and-relaxation. His host is his Uncle Vaidyaji, the local doctor, who pontificates on everything from ayerveda to politcs to the’essence’ of life. Vaidyaji is also Shivpalganj’s most important citizen. He controls the village’s grain co-operative and the intermediate college; his elder son, Badri Wrestler, swings arguments simple by weight of his no-nonsense lpresence; and his younder son, Ruppan Babu, unhesitatingly leads’college-student protests’ against anyone opposing his father. Hanging on to Vaidyaji’s coat-tails are a host of oddballs, including a college principla who never wants the College Committee to meet, and Sanichar,a layabout bhang-grinder who becomes Pradhan-elect of the Village Council.. But a rebellion is brewing among the college teachers and Vaidyaji’s sworn arch-rival, Ramadhin Bhikhmakhervi, Shivpalganj’s gambling dada, opium dealer and poet and boot, won’t give up the Village Council, his domaain, without a fight… lawsuits fly, the grain co-operative is ransacked, a Vaidyaji hoodlum ends up in the town court on a trumped-up burglary charge… factionalism, wheeling-and-dealing, corruption, all take centrestage, and Rangnath, confronted with such chaos, finds his textbook learning irrelevant. (HT Umair Javed)
Why a Kerala IAS officer’s rebellion against the system has the public enthused – a column in the Indian Express on Prashanth Nair, the district collector of Kozhikode, who “locked horns” with Congress MP MK Raghavan, by using social media.
Timekeeping and transport: The Minute Men of Karachi The drivers and conductors synchronize their digital Casio watches with the Timekeeper’s. One hundred Marwat Coach drivers and their one hundred Marwat Coach conductors are thus chronologically aligned — down to the minute. Their temporal alchemy persuades that all is never what it seems in Karachi, a city where we mistakenly believe the only order that exists is disorder.
Show Me a Hero (HBO)
In an America generations removed from the greatest civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the young mayor (Oscar Isaac) of a mid-sized American city is faced with a federal court order that says he must build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.
The Name of the Disease
The documentary “The Name of the Disease” explores the voices of patients, shamans, doctors, and varied health officials in some of the poorest parts of rural Rajasthan, India, to attempt an understanding of the complex and multi-layered narratives of the poor and the sick. The film looks at some of the often conflicting perspectives, and it addresses the questions of daily tragedy and fatalism, tradition and modernity and complacency and rage, as it traces stories that people tell about their lives. Featuring: Konkona Sen Sharma, National Best Actress Award winner, 2004, India. Filmmakers are Abhijit V. Banerjee, Arundhati Tuli Banerjee, and Bappa Sen.
A list of freebies given out in Tamil Nadu
Brazil the movie (HT Sarah Khan)*