’Tis the season for much reading 

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’Tis the season for much reading 


THE STORY OF LAWYERS

BOOK NAME:Courting Politics

PAGES:448

PRICE: Rs 695

AUTHOR: Shweta Bansal

Politics, they say, makes strange bedfellows. As, indeed, does the law. In the fractious mess that is today’s political landscape, it’s more than a little strange to have P. Chidambaram, former finance minister from the Congress party, sharing anything with Arun Jaitley, finance minister and member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or with Shanti Bhushan, the lawyer who successfully argued in 1971 that Indira Gandhi had won an election unfairly and had to be disbarred.

In many ways, Bhushan is the thread that joins the nine lawyers featured in Shweta Bansal’s Courting Politics. The Allahabad High Court disbarred Gandhi based on Bhushan’s arguments. The Supreme Court overturned that verdict, but that led to countrywide protests, which, in turn, led to the Emergency. The nine lawyers featured in Bansal’s enormously entertaining and informative tome grew to power during or after the Emergency.

Coming from vastly different backgrounds and political beliefs, all nine men worship at the same altar of justice, albeit interpreted in different ways. The general consensus seems to be that these are giants among lawyers-turned politicians. Of course, personal political biases may lead us to disagree, but the fact is that these nine men made their mark at a difficult time in history.

Before anything else, there’s one question I really have to raise: Where are the women? It’s a sad fact that there’s not a single woman lawyer-turned-politician from that age. It’s a sad reflection on the profession, on the country, and on society in general. But again, that’s not the thrust of this book.

Written by a lawyer, Courting Politics is refreshingly free of legalese or the pompous prose that the legal eagles seem to so love.

But then, I expected a racy read from the minute I saw that Bansal chose to quote George R.R. Martin and refer to Game of Thrones in her introduction!

Just because it’s easy to read doesn’t make this book any less of a heavyweight. Backed by an incredible amount of research, Bansal places these nine characters in their historical and political context.

The Emergency, the aftermath of that fraught period, the rise of the BJP and the legal war over the Ram temple at Ayodhya … Bansal seems to be writing the history of modern India as well as the story of the lawyers who have made this country.

A few typos (“ruff and tumble” has stayed with me) could have been avoided, but on the whole, it will take a real Grinch to hate this. Packed with drama (my personal favourite is Bhushan interrogating Gandhi, and his acerbic comments to the judge) and personal anecdotes (Chidambaram declaring his love to the woman who would become his wife), this book is something the law isn’t supposed to be: fun.

THE YOUNG ’UNS

BOOK NAME:On the Rise

PAGES:249

PRICE: Rs 395

AUTHOR: Tariq Khan

The law, said William Shakespeare, is an ass as well as being blind. It may well be the case that the Bard was right, but as a profession in India, it’s rapidly overtaking the old favourites of engineering and medicine, and going back to being a hugely popular field.

Law schools in India are fast becoming “cool”, and there’s stiff competition to get admission in the best institutes. Which is all good, except for one thing. There’s little real guidance and advice available to young lawyers or to students wanting to specialise in law.

Which is where Tariq Khan, himself a young lawyer, comes in with On the Rise. The book is a collection of biographies of lawyers—where they studied, what they do, and how they got there. So far, so boring.

What sets this book apart, however, is the fact that Khan profiles 20 young lawyers nobody outside the profession may have heard of: Avani Bansal, Anirudh Krishnan, Bharat Chugh, Manish Aggarwal … these are just some of the names cherry-picked from the 20.

There’s a template followed in all these profiles. A small bio (where the person studied and what he or she is doing now), a story of the early life of the person, the challenges they faced on the road to becoming a lawyer, what influenced his or her career choice, a career graph, practical tips for budding lawyers, future plans, and a note of caution to followers in the profession.

You won’t be blamed for taking this to be a textbook, as indeed it is. It’s a book that’s bound to be mandatory reading for a few generations of students, perhaps more. Except, unlike standard textbooks, this one is interesting even to non-lawyers.

What I would have liked was some idea of why these 20 lawyers were chosen. From all that we read, there are young lawyers to spare in the system. So why were only these 20 chosen to feature in the book?

Also, while some of them have been frank about their financial situation, it would have added value had the author chosen to speak about how much courses cost and how much lawyers can hope to make. Of course, that may be asking for too much, but one can always hope for full disclosure—even from lawyers!

The other huge issue, pointed out in Bansal’s book, really has less to do with the book than with the profession itself. And that is the tragic lack of female representation.

Law schools have traditionally been male dominated, and a book like this would have made the profession more accessible had Khan chosen to profile more women. It’s not like there are no young women lawyers, surely?

STAY SAFE ONLINE

BOOK NAME:Breach

PAGES:234

PRICE: Rs 399

AUTHOR: Nirmal John

How many times has your office firewall prevented you from accessing Facebook or your favourite music streaming site? And how often have you had e-mails quarantined because they come from unknown senders? In this office, we blame the tech support team and grumble and whine till the firewalls are lifted. After all, we say piously, we are a media organisation and our news should not be filtered.

Which is all very well, except most of us are shockingly unaware of how much of our data we are putting at risk by doing this. Sometimes, I must admit, the tech department knows what it’s doing. For one, most of us in large organisations are generally insulated from the new viruses and malware doing the rounds.

That’s not an opinion my former colleague Nirmal John fully subscribes to. To him, the real heroes of cybersecurity are the white-hat hackers who work to discover cybercrimes, or even to point out vulnerabilities in networks.

My biggest issue with this book is the fact that some of the most juicy stories are anonymised. But then, as John says, most companies believe that acknowledging a hack is injurious to reputation. Of course, there are outliers like Zomato, which publicly announced a hack as well as the steps it was taking to keep user data secure.

But this is a niggling problem that will not affect your reading of this book. It’s a fascinating collection of anecdotes, case studies, and conversations with people affected by cybercrime. It’s also scary, of course. Your money isn’t safe in banks, your data isn’t safe with a mobile app, your movies aren’t safe anywhere… Most of us wake up when a hacker hits us monetarily, like stealing money from our accounts. However, loss of data is also very dangerous. And that’s what John tries to explain through tales of hacking, hackers, and the various groups fighting hackers.

The good news, in a relative sense, is that Indian banks are far better prepared than their global counterparts in tackling cybercrime. “Indian banks and financial regulators have been repelling attacks in large numbers. Many in the financial services industry say that India’s financial sector has been one of the most proactive when it comes to fighting off such attacks,” writes John.

But then, like every silver lining, this comes with its own dark cloud: government banks. These banks, unlike their private sector counterparts, still hand out contracts to the lowest bidder—including cybersecurity contracts. That’s hardly going to get them top-of-theline security. But again, people who think that high security is having a functional anti-virus program are hardly going to be able to tell good security from a Pac-Man game.

The point this book really rams in is that human beings are the weakest link in the cybersecurity chain. Passwords not changed, software not updated… “India is used to the idea of physical theft,” explains John, “but most people haven’t got around to understanding theft in cyberspace.”

The good news is that the recent publicity given to ransomware attacks like WannaCry and the furore around data privacy issues regarding Aadhaar means that more people are at least aware of the fact that their data (and money) is not really safe anywhere. But still, writes John, “There is public apathy towards the idea of privacy.”

I would have liked to read a lot more about the people fighting cybercrime. And would definitely have appreciated a more liberal application of the blue pencil. But these are minor quibbles.

Overall, this is one of those books that anyone who goes online must read. The reason is in something John says early on: “Most people don’t care [about cybersecurity] because most people don’t know.”

The stories he has unearthed should let more people know, and therefore care. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all be a little safer the next time we receive an attachment or a strange URL.

A MORALITY TALE

BOOK NAME:Goliath of Shenzhen

PRICE: Rs 750

AUTHOR: Aritra Sarkar

I really don’t know if the author was making a larger philosophical point, but there are at least two ways to read Goliath of Shenzen.

Open it one way, and there’s an allegory in prose; turn it around and open it the other way, and it’s a graphic novel.

On the surface, this is fantasy, reminiscent of Stephen King in his The Dark Tower phase. Though, to be honest, I found parallels with Neil Gaiman too, particularly Anansi Boys, in the fascination with birds.

On a deeper level, this is a story of repercussions. It’s a cautionary tale about freedom, free choice, and choices, and about how those choices may affect the world around us. While the protagonists are young, the choices they make and the paths they take are far from childish.

It’s hugely unfair to any author, particularly a first-timer, to be compared with the greats of modern fantasy. But Aritra Sarkar lays himself open to such comparisons both in choice of characters and format (the graphic novel side is a bit Sandman meets anime). The voice, however, is fresh, and the form of the book itself is bold.

The story is set in China, but could as well have been set in any country. The only Chinese notes in the story are reminiscent of Mao-era stories of corruption.

It’s interesting that Indian writers are exploring the graphic novel genre in such an accomplished way. While I definitely take issue with the gratuitous bad language, the artwork is unexceptionable.

What brings this book down, for me, is the often stilted language, especially the dialogue. That may be because this is a first-time writer. What really jarred was the moralising at the end of the prose part of the book.

A morality tale works when you don’t have to spell out the moral lesson at the end of the story. “If we truly desire happiness, we must constantly venture out into the darkness and expand our zone of light,” expounds Sarkar. But if you’ve read the book and understand how Di tries to venture out, you don’t need this explanation.

The good news is that the graphic novel side replaces the moralising text with an illustrated “making of ” segment, which is both enjoyable and informative; in fact, it lends itself to an animated movie in my head.

Instead of the moral lessons, I’d have been glad to read a chapter on how Sarkar decided to write this book, why he chose China, what influenced him, and so on. I hope he’ll think of doing that in his next book—and I do hope there is one.

(The article was originally published in December 2017-March 2018 special issue of the magazine.)



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