Reading Lists

Anvar Alikhan, doyen of advertising and contributor, dies at the age of 66

Remembering the prolific writer with some of his pieces for

In a Facebook post on December 19, veteran advertising professional and writer Anvar Alikhan, a frequent contributor, looked back on a life well-lived.


Half a lifetime ago, this 19-year old, straight out of college, packed his suitcase and went to Bombay to look for a career in advertising.

It has been a long, serendipitous journey since then, and he seems to have found himself in the right places, at the right times, with the right people.

There were good times, and there were bad times. But the good times turned out to be just dead-ends, and what shine out most richly through the years are the bad times, and the struggles they put him through.

But that old journey now ends. And a new journey begins. Here’s to serendipity, again!

A week to the day, he passed away on Tuesday night aged 66. His friends say he had been suffering from a lung ailment. He is survived by his wife, Indrani Das Alikhan.

Alikhan was the Senior Vice President and Strategic Consultant at JWT Mindset, a part of the marketing communications giant, J Walter Thompson. Alongside a long and illustrious career in advertising, Alikhan also wrote for numerous publications on an array of topics.

His contributions to spanned areas as varied as literature, music, cinema, history and culture. A selection of his works:

The Mont Blanc pen and other tales from Salman Rushdie’s life as a Bombay schoolboy

Rushdie was my senior at Cathedral School, and I still remember how, at the annual prize giving, his name would be called out again and again, to come to the stage to receive his various prizes. As a result, we little kids were rather in awe of him.

Read more here.

Was Roger Moore the best James Bond ever? Or the worst?

Sean Connery, who is arguably still the best Bond of all time, was once asked to comment on Roger Moore’s version. He diplomatically responded, “Ummm… his is a sort of parody of the character, so you would go for the laughs, at the cost of credibility or reality. [Moore] took a different direction from mine – and he acquired an entirely different audience.”

Read more here.

The little-known history of how Zoroastrian merchants helped create the old Silk Route

The Zoroastrian-Chinese connection is at least 1,200 years older than we think. Probably even more. 

Read the full story here.

The mysterious man who owns one solitary share in the unlisted Tata Sons

When the corporate battle at Tata Sons was being fought out a few months ago, a strange mystery came to light.

In the list of Tata Sons shareholders made public, the Tata Trusts owned 266,610 shares, the Shapoorji Pallonji family owned 74,352 shares, various Tata companies owned 49,365 shares, and members of the Tata family owned a total of 8,235 shares. But among these large chunks of shareholdings, there was one single, solitary share that was owned by somebody named Virendra Singh Chauhan of Chota Udaipur.

The question was, who was this unknown princeling, and how did he get to own this one share in Tata Sons? 

Read more here.

‘Freddie Mercury was a prodigy’: Rock star’s Panchgani school bandmates remember ‘Bucky’

On the Queen frontman’s 70th birth anniversary, members of the Hectics recount their early steps in music. 

Read more here.

Rare photos raise the question: Was Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose a fascist?

Going through my grand-uncle’s personal papers recently, the family discovered a cache of old photographs taken in Germany in 1941, when Netaji was working on setting up the Azad Hind Fauj, a unit of Indian troops who would fight alongside the German army. These old black-and-white photographs, taken on my grand-uncle’s Rolleiflex camera have never been seen before – and looking at them today raises the uncomfortable question: Was Netaji a fascist?

The answer is “No.”

But then it could also perhaps be “Yes”.

It all depends on how you choose to look at the question. 

Read more here.

How Netaji’s aide coined the slogan Jai Hind in a German POW camp

Abid Hasan’s grandnephew recounts the story behind creation of a salutation to replace religion-based greetings for Indian soldiers. 

Read more here.

The truths, half-truths (and untruths) about ‘India’s greatest Olympic hero’

Who exactly was Norman Pritchard, winner of two silver medals at the 1900 Paris Olympics? 

Read more here.

Why there has never been a military dictatorship in India

The question why the Indian army never attempted to seize power has sometimes been attributed to the fact that it is a disciplined, highly professional army, steeped in proud 250-year old traditions inherited from the British. But this theory doesn’t work, because the Pakistani army was born out of the same traditions and that didn’t seem to stop it from assuming power.

Indeed, one could argue that it was precisely because the Pakistan army was such a highly professional force that there came a time when it felt it could no longer stand by and watch the country slide into chaos, and felt it was its duty to step in.

So clearly this is a question one needs to look at more closely. Which is what political scientist Steven Wilkinson has done with his excellent new book, Army and Nation.

Read more here.

Why Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew stopped admiring India

...Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew, who died on Monday at the age of 91, had mixed feelings about India. He started out, being a serious admirer of India and Nehru, he said, and believed that India had a great role to play in the Asian region. But that admiration began to wane soon after Singapore became independent.

Lee wrote in his memoirs that his first priority in nation building was the creation of a potent army, and that he had written to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri to seek the Indian army’s the help in this endeavour. But, to his great disappointment, he never even got a reply to his letter. That was when, he wrote, he began a global search to find a suitable military training partner for Singapore, and finally decided on the as- yet untested Israel. Two years later, when Israel won its spectacular victory in the Seven-Day War against Egypt, Syria and Jordan, people realised how prescient his choice had been. 

Read more here.

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