BOOK REVIEW: IMPERIUM by ROBERT HARRIS

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A history text book turned into a fiction would grab attention of any reader. Harris has done a great job in accounting the historical facts and creating a historical fiction – Imperium. Imperium is a book which captures the political and judiciary scenario which prevailed in the Ancient Rome.

IMPERIUM, the title of the book gives us a gist of the situation prevailing in Ancient Rome. Imperium implies OFFICIAL, POLITICAL POWER which is vested by the state in an individual. The greed, the need to achieve the POWER is shown through different characters. Imperium is the fictional biography of Cicero told through first person narrative, Tiro.

The main characters in the book include – Cicero, Tiro, Crassus, Lucius, Sergius Catilina, Verres, Pompey, and Hortensius. The protagonists of the book are Cicero and Tiro. The Antagonists are Verres and Catilina.  The book is divided into two sections- Senator and Praetor.

Imperium takes a form of memoir. Tiro, a shy intelligent, bookish slave writes and narrates the story. He is also known to be the inventor of the shorthand writing or precisely saying a Stenographer. Tiro was assigned with the task of taking down his speech poetry, literary works and his letters. He was praised by everyone because of his flawless accuracy in capturing the narration of his master. On one occasion, he was invited into Pompey’s conference to take down the proceedings of the conference.

But this was not the limit of Tiro’s status ,for he was the slave and confidential secretary of the Roman statesman , the person who reveals himself to us in all his manifold contradictions, an author himself, an ambitious man with brilliancy attached to his crown, his blindness and his vulnerability, it is none other than our protagonist: MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO.

Cicero was a greater orator, a celebrated lawyer and a Roman statesman who had a high ambition of gaining the highest political power, that is, the consulship. The story which is narrated in the eyes of a confidante, Tiro has given a close exposure of the character of Cicero. He recounts Cicero’s ascent into the consulship, politics. He fought against all the insurmountable odds in order to reach his power. The best part of Cicero was that though Tiro was a slave, he was never treated indifferent from other members of the family.

Cicero, unlike the other aristocrats of his time, was a parvenu, who didn’t have a family tradition of imperium to rise to the power. His only strength and spell-bounding power was his oratory skills. It was the oratory skills that raised him to the consulship and this journey is what Harris has used as his narrative.

The interesting part for me is that the book concentrates and briefly explains the major events in Cicero’s life. It starts from the beginning of his training to become an orator. It starts with a brief explanation of his excursion to the East to learn philosophy and oratory from the famous Apollonius Molon in Rhodes and ends at him achieving his desire of becoming consulship.

The prosecution of Verres is described as major turning event. This is a case where Cicero uses his wit and strategy to achieve what he had in his mind. This event was when he had shortened his speech and directly dealt with the victims. This is the case where he shamed the senate body using his oratory skills. This is the case where evidences were given importance than long speeches which would go on for days together.

Though years have passed, his speech made during this case still has an eerie relevance in the present world – “A belief has become established – as harmful to the Republic as it is to yourselves- that these courts, with you senators as the jury, will never convict any man, however guilty, if he has sufficient money.” Not only these words, there are many such speeches, words of Cicero which Tiro has accounted which will engulf the readers mind with questions about its relevance to the present generation.

Cicero character also reflects a grey shade about his character- his insecurity. In the book, the reader might notice this when he once writes to his friend Atticus about how he anxiously wondered what people would be saying about him in a thousand years’ time.

My favourite character in this book was Tiro and Cicero. Tiro, because of the way he has given importance to the structure and beauty of each and every character and describing all the incidents which is of trivial matter. His memory and his writing skills must be appreciated. Cicero for his wit and the way he handles the situation is commendable. He has shown that an orator need not give boring speeches all the time. He has shown that sometimes a sense of sarcasm mixed with humour can grab attention at its best.

The strange relationships highlighted in the book, a reader can look out for are:

Cicero- Tiro, a relationship beyond a master and a slave.

Terentia – Cicero, a relationship of Husband and Wife with love filled with dominance.

Tullis- Cicero, A beautiful bond of Father and a daughter.

Pompey- Cicero, a relationship which looks like a friendship, but is built out of disdain and necessity.

Quintus-Cicero-Lucius, a relationship which celebrates brotherhood and a strong bond with three different characters.

The book has engrossed an idea of the Roman Republic. It also shows the dwindling of Roman Republic to the hands of Despotism. Thus the Roman Empire begins.

Robert Harris, a British Novelist, has captured the Roman republic at its best, including its Political system, Judiciary system, the need of power and its relevance in Today’s world. It’s a must read for all the Historical Fiction admirers. Imperium is also the first book of the trilogy which surrounds the life of Cicero. The sequel book is Lustrum.

SAPIENS BY YUVAL NOAH HARRIS- BOOK REVIEW

Image resultAn awardee of the annual Polonsky Prize for Creativity and Originality in the Humanities Development, Yuval Noah Harari has encapsulated the idea of Evolution of Humankind in his book SAPIENS: A Brief History of Humankind.

Harari, writes in the preface, “I encourage all of us, whatever our beliefs, to question the basic narratives of our world, to connect past developments with present concerns, and not to be afraid of controversial issues.” He tells that we need to question whether justice prevailed during ancient history.

The title of the book SAPIENS enshrines that Homo sapiens were not the only sapiens that existed. There was other kind of Sapiens which coexisted with HOMO – SAPIENS. He talks about 6 different species and how Homo-sapiens dominated them.The book spans around the origin of the Species and a transformation of human from an irrational person to a radical person. It widens your horizon about the history of humankind.

The interesting factor about the book is how Harari has managed to divide the Evolution process into Cognitive Evolution, Agricultural Revolution and Scientific Revolution . The main themes of all the Revolutions speak about how one species started gaining prominence than the other. The trajectory processes involved are captivated in these evolutions.

The narrative used by Harari is very contentious. The chapter encloses a positive aspect of each evolution and then brings in the gloomy side of the evolution. This provocative nature of Harari’s writing invokes the readers mind to think about the history once again. The insights of the author are represented through his vivid language.  The book not only speaks about the historic nature of human evolution, but also enclosures biological aspect in creating human species.

The part which fascinated me was that of AGRICULTURE REVOLTUION and subsequent unit – UNIFICATION OF HUMAN MANKIND. The provocative writing in this chapter made me think about the history of Agricultural Revolution. It made me question whether it was a boon to the humankind or bane or an opening to a new era of chaotic society. The farming and the permanent settlement of people resulted in domestication of animals and plants. These abandoned the culture of hunter gatherers. He also speaks about the victims of Agricultural Revolution as the animals who became submissive to Homo sapiens. It created a conundrum in me, when Harari said, “We did not domesticate wheat, but the wheat domesticated us.”

The Agriculture Revolution was an advantage to the humankind rather than the human itself. It benefited the evolution process by increasing the DNA of human species, but the individuals suffered as they had to adapt to a new lifestyle. The shift into Agricultural Revolution created a sense of attachment to my house and separation from the neighbours which had an impact on the psychological ingrain of human.

The concept of the imagined order and everything is just an imagination provokes one’s thought. The idea of co-operation was due to imagined order. “The human imagination” as Harari has pointed out “was building astounding networks of mass cooperation unlike any other ever seen on Earth”.   He explains how the Code of Hammurabi and the Declaration of American Independence has served an example for the idea of co-operation. The concepts of myths, religion and empires are all embedded into the imagined order.

The book further conceptualises about different tools devised by Humans to work in the realm of co-operation. How language, trust, transforming their memory into a form of writing, culture were the artificial instincts to operate in co-operation. The gender issues prevailed in those days, where women were considered to produce baby and look after the household chores whereas men worked in the field to substantiate his family.

Money, religion and empire played as great unifiers as well as divisors. Money, for example, brought together many people to trade objects but it ultimately discriminated with people who couldn’t afford those things. Religion led to co-operation of people, but different sets of communities started to follow other religion which became divisive.

Hence, the discrepancy between the evolution success and the individual suffering is an important lesson to draw from the Agricultural Revolution. He ends the book by saying that the Era of Homo sapiens will end and new sapiens will be created.

The main flaw in this book according to me was that he implicitly said that Agricultural Revolution was the reason to the chaos or distortions which is established in today’s world. But it makes us think if there was no Agriculture wouldn’t we be in a state of foragers or hunter gathers without any development? This question of ambiguity of what would have happened is not answered by Harari. The main positive aspect of the book is that Harari has managed to contemplate all the aspects of evolution in one single book. The writing is very persuasive, provocative and thought invoking whether everything including you is imaginary.

Well, It is a must read to all those who are keen in researching and dwelling deep into the aspects of the evolution of Mankind. And At the end of the book, you will gain a thought and it leads you to question things which have happened in the history.

Book Review: 10 Judgements that Changed India.

Zia Mody’s Book on Ten judgments that changed India, talks about 10 pivotal judgements that were responsible for a change in Indian judicial system. It describes how the 10 judgements were made, taking into the account of their historical background and socio-cultural circumstances. It is an authoritative writing yet it can be understood even by a lay person. It is a persuasive read for anyone who is interested to know about our legal system and its history.

Zia Mody who is an Indian legal consultant has succeeded in showing us that there is no supreme authority than the Supreme Court itself and they are the final interpreters of the law. No other institution can overrule them on their ultimate decision. Zia Mody has done a mammoth task of choosing such important judgement’s which have played an important role in one’s life.

All the judgements have explored vital themes like custodial deaths, right to life, reservation policies, environments jurisprudence, religious laws and soon and so forth. All the chapters have constitutional concepts explained in a modest way. It shows a journey of the evolution of Constitution post independence era of democracy and talks about the ultimate protector of constitution as Supreme Court.

The book starts off with the Keshavananda Bharti Case. This case was responsible in establishing the basic doctrine structure of India. This case also removed Right to Property from the crux of Fundamental Right. The basic structure doctrine propagated as a safeguard against the usurpation of Constitution. It has also explained that Parliament vote cannot undermine the fundamental rights granted by Constitution.

The Second case is about the expanding the meaning of right to life and personal liberty. The Olga Tellis case in the book brought in a new perspective of whether a person who has a right to live has a right to livelihood also.  It explains how the judiciary has evolved by directing the state to provide proactive policies for the needy people or destitute. It also showed the impact on an international forum.

One of the cases like Union Carbide Corporation case, the court has dealt with the issue seeking outside court’s help. It exposed the Achilles Heel of Indian Policies in those days. But the judgement brought about a change regarding the safety measures a company is compelled to undergo and any disaster which occurs must be compensated by them. But the question in this case arises when how the value of a human life is judged and compensated. It also brought an awareness regarding the environmental aspect, which was ignored till that time.

The most impressive part of this book is that it doesn’t directly give the resultant of the case, but explains the history of its precedents and how they were responsible in bringing about a change in the judgment. It describes the judgements happened in the past and how it helped the judges to amend them and give landmark judgments according to the present situation.

The case of Aruna Shanbaug dealt with whether the court should consider euthanasia as legal or not. Euthanasia is causing death of incurable or terminally ill patients. They reviewed the Section 309 and Section 306 which tells that attempt and abet to suicide is illegal. The precedents of this case started with Maruti Dubal case where the court agreed that there was nothing unnatural about the desire to die. It concluded that a person who commits suicide need treatment more than imprisonment.

In P.Rathinam case a question was raised regarding the constitutionality of penalising suicide. The court in this case, struck down Section 309 as being void and ineffectual.  This lasted till a case on Gian Kaur came to the forefront. The court amended its decision on Section 309 stating that constitutional right to life did not include right to die and henceforth Section 309 is constitutionally valid and effective. It highlighted the difference between the desirability of law and constitutionality of law. Due to Aruna Shanbaug case, passive euthanasia was declared as legal and only with the consent of family members and doctor’s report with certain guidelines.

The book also talks about how in the absence of Uniform Civil Code system, Law or the judiciary protected the rights of Muslim women. This was the case of Shah Bano, who was divorced from her husband and filed a petition for alimony from her husband. The Supreme Court made landmark judgement without hurting the religious sentiment of the people and guaranteed Rights to Muslim Women to claim their alimony under Code of Criminal Procedure or the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act. The author also emphasis on the Supreme Court becoming the protector of human rights as well.

Women were also the reason for some of the landmark decisions made by the Supreme Court. The cases which dealt with women issues were Maneka Gandhi vs. Union of India case (1978); Vishaka vs. State of Rajasthan Case (1997); Shah Bano vs. Mohammed Ahmed Khan (1985) Case and Aruna Ramachandra Shanbaug vs. Union of India Case. Women acted as central figures in moulding the judgements of India.

The myth that judiciary is powerless in front of the Parliament has been broken down through these judgements. The cases and the judgements are presented in such a manner that a layperson who is not aware of our legal structure can easily comprehend by reading it. The rights which we enjoy today are resultant of some of these judgments. It has a profound impact on the democracy of India. It recognises the independence and importance of judiciary in a democratic nation. Each case has its own Constitutional angle. It is a must read book for anyone who desires to know about the evolution of Indian legal system, history of the laws prevailing in present day and the implication and importance of the Supreme Court as the Ultimate Interpreter of the Indian Constitution.