Books: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Namita Gokhale and The Big Lebowski

Reading books has become something of a luxury in these modern times. I managed to snatch some time during the year to read a few books. Here are a few that I enjoyed reading and are mentioned in no particular order. Not all the books were published in 2017.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, 84, is the second woman to be appointed to the US Supreme Court. My Own Words is the first book by Ginsburg that was put together with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. William.

This is a fascinating book that takes you through Ginsburg’s childhood and how she became a lawyer and the role her husband played in helping with her career. She overcame many adversities during the course of her life and learnt how to deal with them.

The book has a selection of her writings and speeches like  interpreting the  constitution and women’s rights. Ginsburg offers us a look into the daily routine at the Supreme Court and how they work.  I enjoyed reading this book and realized that there is no substitution for determination and hard work.


Namita Gokhale’s Things To Leave Behind made for an absorbing read. It is not often that you can read a book about the forgotten Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and its rich and complex social and economic history. Set in the 19thc Gokhale’s fiction highlights the fascinating interaction between the local Kumaoni people, the British and the Christian missionaries.

Gokhale has tirelessly chronicled stories about Uttarakhand in her various books, and in Things To Leave Behind she once again brings to light the fascinating history and people of this forgotten state of India.

I read this book twice to fill the gaps in my knowledge of Uttarakhand, the home state of my parents. Like many before them they left Kumaon in search of better economic opportunities and all I knew about the state is through their stories and anecdotes. Kumonis love to tell stories and Gokhale certainly knows how to tell an absorbing one. She is a born story teller.

Ethan and Joel Coen’s (Coen brothers) The Big Lebowski did ok at the box office when it released in 1998. It went on to become a cult film that has spawned a dedicated fan base, festival and a religion of sorts. I got hooked to this quirky film when I heard Sam Elliot utter these lines at the start of the film.

I only mention it ’cause some- times there’s a man… I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero? But sometimes there’s a man… and I’m talkin’ about the Dude here … sometimes there’s a man, well, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there. And that’s the Dude, in Los Angeles.

The film has some far out memorable characters and dialog and I was always curious to find out how the Coen brothers concocted this yarn about this White Russian drinking dude, who is unfailing polite and lazy. I stumbled across I’m A Lebowski, You’re A Lebowski at my local library quite by accident. The book is studded with all sorts of trivia about the characters in the film and has interviews with all the actors. I wish they had an interview with the elusive Coen brothers, which would have been just far out.

If you are a fan of Coen brothers and The Big Lebowski then this book is right up your alley.



Meru is a stunning and inspiring film that captures the gruelling and difficult journey of renowned mountaineers Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk’s ascent of Mount Meru in Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand, India. The film won the audience award at the 2015 Sundance International Film Festival.

How did the mountaineers prepare for their journey? What did the “Clicking Baba,” in Garhwal Himalayas tell them about climbing this mountain? What mantra did he give them that they recited multiple times a day as they climbed up the mountain. In 2011 Anker, Chin and Ozturk were the first group to ascent Mount Meru’s central summit and the famous Shark’s Fin.

This interview is a highlight of a longer one with Anker and Chin. Stay tuned for that interview.

Film Notes: Meru



What is it about mountains that strikes that primordial chord of awe, wonder, respect and admiration?  These were the questions running through my mind as I sat in my comfortable seat and watched “Meru,” a mesmerizing and award-winning Sundance film.

Meet Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin and Renan Ozturk, three well-known and experienced climbers, who decide to climb one of the hardest mountains in the world. We are not talking of a regular Alpine mountain, but the “Anti Everest” of a Himalayan mountain that is crowned with a sheer vertical wall called “Shark’s Fin.” Conquering this Shark’s Fin of Mount Meru in the Garhwal Himalayas in the Indian state of Uttarakhand is a dream for mountaineers. A handful of experienced mountaineers have had to reluctantly abandon this difficult and arduous climb where you carry your own food, water and other supplies.

“Meru” is a spell binding narrative. This film is not just about climbing. It is about the inner and outer journeys of 3 brave climbers. This is a film  about trust, bravery, anxiety, remorse, injuries, conquering your inner demons, learning to be calm and still relentlessly pursue your dreams. These are emotions many of us experience in our everyday lives in varying degrees. Now imagine climbing a peak where it is just the three of you and you have to be prepared for all sorts of risks and unknowns and don’t have the luxury of calling 911. That is a scary place to be for most of us. I don’t know about you, but it certainly is for me. And when Anker, Chin and Ozturk finally conquer the mountain they made it look as if they were shimmying up a coconut tree.

Stay tuned we have an interview with Anker, Chin and  Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi.

“Meru” is screening at this year’s San Francisco International Film Festival (SFIFF).



Photo courtesy of Meru Film.

Podcast: Jules Stewart on Spying For The Raj

LISTEN: Jules Stewart on Spying for The Raj

Spying for Raj by Jules Stewart

Spying for Raj by Jules Stewart

London-based journalist and author Jules Stewart’s second book titled, Spying For The Raj: The Pundits And The Mapping of the Himalayas was released in 2006.  Sir Ranulph Fiennes, who is listed as the world’s greatest living explorer by the Guinness Book of Records, has written the forward for the book.

I caught up with Stewart in London in 2006 just before his book was launched. We spoke about the book, and why and how this difficult task of mapping the Himalayas was undertaken by the British. What were the geopolitical reasons that propelled the British to undertake this trans-himalayan survey? The 19th is generally regarded as the “Golden Age” of geographical surveys, and some of the most important ones took place in India, which was mostly under British rule at that time.

This fascinating book traces a 30-year (1864-1894) effort that was led by British Captain Thomas Montgomerie of Bengal Engineers to map the Himalayas stretching from Kashmir in the north to  all the way in the East to Darjeeling area.The official name of the project was The Great Trignometrical Survey of India. The trans-himalayan region was an unknown territory and the British had huge gaps in their knowledge about the contours of the mountain range, Tibet, and the rivers that originated in Mount Kailash

Captain Montgomerie recruited local people from various regions of the Himalayas, trained them and established standardized ways of measuring their steps. Their step was the basis of calculation and it was important they got that right. This was a secret, covert operation that used all sorts of creative ruses and devices to measure this unchartered territory. The goal of this small group was to execute their tasks, but stay below the radar and not get caught. The recruits were not pundits by caste, but were a small group of eclectic group who came from the Himalayan region.  There was Kinthup, the Tibetan tailor’s assistant from Darjeeling, and then there was Nain Singh Rawat  and his cousin Mani Singh from the Kumaon region (now part of Uttarakhand State) among others. Singh came from Pithoragarh district that is on the border of India, Tibet and Nepal.

A major geopolitical reason that propelled the British to undertake the survey was Russia’s ambitions in the Northwest frontier region of British Indian. The Russian search for a warm water port led them to this part of the world, and the British wanted to contain the Russian threat. In order to do that they needed to have a better idea of the terrain of the trans-himalayan region for military planning and logistics purposes. This was the Great Game of the 19th century, when the Russians were almost at the gates of India says Jules.

Stewart suspects that Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim had quite a few characters drawn from the survey. He thinks that Colonel Creighton in Kim was modeled after Captain Montgomerie.

Stewart is a journalist based in London. In 2005 he wrote his first book called The Khyber RiflesPresident Musharraf of Pakistan arranged for Jules to tour the Northwest frontier area. Stewart is already busy putting the finishing touches for his third book, which is a history of the Northwest frontier province. He is already thinking about his fourth book and is interested in writing about the Siachen glacier conflict.

This interview was originally recorded in May 2006 in London.