Count Down — Amitav Ghosh

This work of non fiction accounts the events that led to and followed the nuclear tests conducted by India at Pokaran on 11th May 1998 and Pakistan, 17 days later in retaliation. The 84 page long book is structured in the form of interviews with persons he met on his visit to Pokaran three months after the test, then to Kashmir along with the then Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes and later to Pakistan. It’s not surprising to see that many of the facts and situations stated in the book published in 1999, holds good even today. While many who supports the India’s nuclear programmes advocates it as a status driven policy to establish herself as a super power in the 21st century, the same has provoked our neighbouring state to do the same in retaliation which was threat driven. The Pokaran tests has not just increased the friction between the two states, it has indeed brought the entire Indian sub continent under the threat of a nuclear war, which is one of the ways for apocalypse as predicted by Stephen Hawking.

It’s not very common to see brilliant metaphors in a work of non fiction. I really liked the way Ghosh used the metaphor of a parched lake to describe the state of political anarchy in Pakistan. The work also digs deep to bring to light the circumstances that made a former trade union leader and anti nuclearist, Mr. George Fernandes become the Defence Minister in the BJP led NDA government and approve the nuclear tests. With all due respect to all the brilliant brains at organisations of the likes of ISRO and BARC, I personally feel the quantum of efforts and money that goes into programs like space exploration, nuclearization can be utilized on basic amenities like hunger and education, thereby making planet Earth a better place to live.