Things Fall Apart

19 08 2008

Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things Fall Apart ; the center cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

—W. B. Yeats, “The Second Coming”

“Things Fall Apart” novel is a widely acclaimed African novel in English, and often considered as a magnum opus in Chinua Achube’s literary history. Having throughly enjoyed ‘Things Fall Apart’, I could see the why. It acted as an eye opener for me, and made me discover the African cultural fabric in a much more wholesome way.

This book protagonist Okonkwo, is a self made warrior, driven by the fear of failure and the zeal to overcome weakness. In his passion to succeed against all odds, Okonkwo led his life and family with a iron hand, never giving away his affection or emotion. From rags, Okonkwo raises to fame as one of the reputed warriors in Umuofia by sheer hard work. Under the pretense of strength, he even survives the sacrifice of his adopted son’s sacrifice and endures severe hardships to earn his way as one of the most powerful men in the clan. Yet, inadvertently he commits a mistake and had to leave the clan for a period of seven years.

Here is the novel takes an interesting turn where we are introduced to the silently creeping change in the Igbo culture due to introduction of Christianity, missionaries and modern education. Rooted in the ancestral beliefs, Okonkwo finds it difficult to accept the shifting norms of the village under the colonial rule that altered many deep seated cultural customs of the village. With a dignified grace, Achebe narrates the cultural change that happened in the history to highlight how certain things would be so difficult to mend once broken. Things fall apart. Agreed and that could be a powerful perspective to explore the sweeping change in a cultural or a historical context. I loved the way Achube brought forth the complex norms of the African culture and dispelled the stereotypical imagery of the primitive Africa.

Here are some of the quotes from the book that moved me immensely.

“Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offense he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities.

Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, ‘My father, they have killed me!’ as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his matchet and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.”





What I Am Reading Now – Tag

17 06 2008

There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn’t, but if he was sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn’t have to; but if he didn’t want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.”
“That’s some catch, that catch-22,” he observed.
“It’s the best there is,” Doc Daneeka agreed.

I just loved this book and there is no exaggeration here.

Raji has tagged me with “what I am reading now” tag sometime back, and since then I have been caught between work and home and those moments with Books and Blog have become rare. Now that am back from the hiatus, I got a reason to get this posted. 🙂

The rules to be followed for this tag are:

1) Pick up the nearest book
2) Open to page 123
3) Find the fifth sentence
4) Post the next three sentences
5) Tag five people, and acknowledge the person who tagged you.

Page 123 in Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 talks about Captain Black, one of my favorite sections in this book that evokes a wicked grin in an instant. The six to eight sentences in that page are posted below.

“When other officers had followed his urging and introduced loyalty oaths of their own, he went them one better by making every son of a bitch who came to his intelligence tent sign two loyalty oaths, then three, then four; then he introduced the pledge of allegiance, and after that ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ one chorus, two choruses, three choruses, four choruses. Each time Captain Black forged ahead of his competitors, he swung upon them scornfully for their failure to follow his example. Each time they followed his example, he retreated with concern and racked his brain for some new stratagem that would enable him to turn upon them scornfully again.”

Now for the people to tag, (its kind of easy to spot fellow bookworms 🙂 )

1) Lasya

2) Reema

3) Sai

4) Hrish

5) Salz

Go ahead and take this up. I hope it would wake many of you from that cozy slumber in blogosphere. 🙂





Never Let Me Go..

6 06 2008

What would you do if you find out that you are brought into this world for a special purpose? A purpose of brightening somebody’s life at the expense of yourself. What if you are made to live in an artificial world with sole purpose to unzip your organs when needed?What would you feel if someone walks up to you one day to announce that, “You were brought into this world for a purpose, and your futures, all of them, have been decided.”

A thought so chilling to even to think about, finds life and voice in ‘Never Let Me Go’.

This novel is set in a school by name ‘Hailsham’ where cloned children are reared in an artificial establishment to be the donors of future. A world completely devoid of moral implications and incredibly insensitive to the sensitivity of human emotions. A world of three kids: Kathy, Ruth and Tommy, filled with what seems like a benign bliss of childhood unravels into a great sham of artificiality, where simple words like ‘donations’, ‘complete’ assume grotesque ramifications.

Kathy’s observation about Madame’s revulsion: “Madame was afraid of us. But she was afraid of us in the same way someone might be afraid of spiders. We hadn’t been ready for that. It had never occurred to us to wonder how we would feel, being seen like that, being the spiders.”

Or the silent acceptance of donations reflected thus: “All the same, some of it must go in somewhere. It must go in, because by the time a moment like that comes along, there’s a part of you that’s been waiting. Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.” So you’re waiting, even if you don’t quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you–of how you were brought into this world and why–and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs. The first time you glimpse yourself through the eyes of a person like that, it’s a cold moment. It’s like walking past a mirror you’ve walked past every day of your life, and suddenly it shows you something else, something troubling and strange.”

Subtly dark and infinitely sad, this book casts a fatalistic note on human lives that are led in a cloak of artificiality. Probably, thats why my heart didn’t ache for the characters, though it bled for the sheer helplessness of the situation. A deep seated loathness for a place from which there is no escape, rather than to await the dead end that is reserved by the time one is born. This book sets itself not to explore the technicalities of cloning or the perils of being a clone, but rather captures the fine nuances of humanity in minute detail and makes one wonder about the core definition of it. The context of the book feels artificial, the tone has a note of fatality, yet the people feel awfully natural. Albeit, cast in a cloud of cold desolateness. This book is not for those who are on look out for heroes. For all the characters are patient victims in waiting for their end, leading a life as if its on loan, with an air of detachment around them which they flaunt mercilessly, accepting in silence the grim fatality of the life that they are leading.

How glad I was that this story is still a piece of fiction and not a disgusting manifestation of the modern day genetic experiments that intend to deliver greater good to greater lot at the cost of assured unhappiness for some.





The Bridge Of San Luis Rey

2 06 2008

In early 18th century in Peru, a famous suspension footbridge over a deep gorge broke and took the lives of five people into the gulf below. After this unfortunate accident, Brother Juniper is haunted by the question: “Why did this happen to those five?” As quoted in the book: If there were any plan in the universe at all, if there were any pattern in a human life, surely it could be discovered mysteriously latent in those lives so suddenly cut off. Either we live by accident and die by accident, or we live by plan and die by plan. Pondering over the cosmic order, Brother Juniper investigates the secret lives of those five people in rich detail in an attempt to discover the reason behind their demise.

Here is when Thornton Wilder excels in introducing us to the intimate details of those five people who seem to be united only in their longing for acceptance, and love. There is a rich, aristocratic and elderly Marquesa suffering from unrequited maternal love and pangs of loneliness, spends her time composing brilliant and elaborate letters to her cold hearted daughter Clara in Spain. Accompanying her is little Pepita, an bewildered and distressed teenage orphan girl trying to live up to the high expectations of an Abbesses who is grooming her as a successor. There is Esteban, the poor twin who is left alone and bereft in an uncomprehending world after his twin brother dies. Uncle Pio is a wise wanderer, a man of exceptional talent who has devoted the best part of his life for the flourishing career of actress Camila Perichole. He becomes disappointed when actress Camila Perichole renounces her stage career for becoming a Lady and shuns herself from the world when she contracts small pox. Uncle Pio requests Camila Perichole to send her youngest sickly son Jamie with him to Lima so that he could educate the boy into a gentleman. Little Jaime joins his Uncle Pio only to loose his life on the fated bridge.

The relationship between the identical twin brothers Manuel and Esteban, when Manuel falls in love with actress Camila Perichole is beautifully highlighted here. “Now he discovered that secret from which one never quite recovers, that even in the most perfect love one person loves less profoundly than the other. There may be two equally good, equally gifted, equally beautiful, but there may never be two that love one another equally well.”

The beauty of this book lies in the description of these five characters. Thornton puts to use all the finery of the English language to delicately highlight the nuances of these five central characters. Sample these observations on Marquesa’s Son-in-Law. “the Conde delighted in her letters, but he thought that when he had enjoyed the style he had extracted all their richness and intention, missing (as most readers do) the whole purport of literature, which is the notation of the heart.”

Though we still are not sure whether the loss of these five people is by accident or by divine intention, this final words from Abbess sums up the meaning of love in life: “But soon we shall die and all memory of those five will have left earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”





The Making Of A Superstar..

28 05 2008

I can almost feel a few raised eyebrows now! I came across this book in the most unlikely fashion, during a short trip to Blossoms over weekend with a pal. He is the one who introduced me to ‘Almost Single’ and now to ‘The Making Of A Superstar’ by Susmita Dasgupta. I was expecting a prosaic tome filled with anecdotes and Bollywood gossip which I could skim through, and what I got was a well researched book on the evolution of Amitabh Bachchan‘s public persona with a keen insight into the Hindi Cinema.

Susmita presents a careful analysis of Amitabh’s roles in some of his epochal movies and tries to track the sociology of Hindi Cinema from the perspective of Indian Audience by tracing the evolution of Amitabh’s image from the angry young man of “Zanjeer”, the tragic antihero of “Deewar” and the entertainer of “Amar Akbar Anthony” to his more conservative turns in “Mohabbatein” and “Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham”. She traces the evolution of Indian Heroes from the times when they martyred for social causes to the modern era when they became more focussed on personal pursuits.

I believe that the movies that are produced in any age are a mirror of the community thought process and the set of values they endorse. Popular film stars often represent the aspirations and dreams of the masses. Why do we watch some movies just because of star cast? It is because Stars have an image that extends across all the movies or ads that he is cast in. I remember those days of anxiety for Cadbury and Pepsi. when they went through quality issues, and Amitabh’s voice of authority restored them from their fallen grace.

Why is that some impressions last forever in the mind space? Why is that some movies go to attain ‘The Larger Than Life’ status? Why do we idolize some actors and share their emotions and trails? Not all feelings can be explained, neither can everyone explain the social significance of a movie. Amitabh’s cinematography is indeed engaging. What comes to your mind when you think of Amitabh today? A fighter against of all odds, a conventionalist or the angry young man of yesteryears. I think he is an exemplary example of a personal brand and the way he reinvented himself to a national icon over the passage of time is simply amazing.

I was amused by Laawaris (remember Mere Angane Mein?), shed tears over Sholey, enraged at Amitabh role in BOOM, chuckled at ‘Cheeni Kam’ and clapped instinctively for the divine justice that happens in the climax of ‘Aakhree Rasta’ (I was probably 12 then). Amitabh could don the role of a conservative disciplinarian, or play the dignified patriarch, or be the martyr for the underclasses, he remains close to my heart, and that must have been the secret motivation behind my reading this well presented academic research on sociology of Indian Cinema that traces the journey of Amitabh’s golden era with gusto.





A Handful Of Dust

27 05 2008

… I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.
THE WASTELAND

‘A Handful Of Dust’ from Evelyn Waugh is one of the first and finest satirical fiction that I read since a long time. With an intriguing title lifted from ‘The Wasteland’, Waugh indeed paints a satirical stylish picture of the society through the breakup of the marriage of Brenda and Tony Last. Laced with wry wit, sarcastic humor and subtle irony, Waugh elegantly draws out the superficiality of the upper class.

The novel begins with one of the friend’s of Tony quoting, “I often think Tony Last’s one of the happiest men I know. He’s got just enough money, loves the place, one son he’s crazy about, devoted wife, not a worry in the world.”

Tony is happily married to Brenda and to his Victorian Gothic country home. In love with the happenings around London and bored by the country lifestyle, Brenda fancies herself in love with an opportunistic and worthless social climber Mr. Beaver. When Tony’s Son is killed in an accident, Brenda reveals her affair to Tony and requests for a hefty divorce settlement that forces Tony to sell his home. Betrayed by his wife, Tony embarks on a harebrained expedition to discover a lost city deep in jungles, only to find himself as a prisoner to a Mr.Todd. The novel signs itself with Tony resigning himself to read Charles Dickens’s works to Mr.Todd in jungles for eternity, and Brenda marrying one of the obliging Tony’s friends as her lover Mr. Beaver leaves her for New York, whilst the house went to Tony’s distant relatives.

The novel is filled with impersonal and often cruel satire. Sample this musing of Tony towards the end: “He had always rather enjoyed reading aloud and in the first year of marriage had shared several books in this way with Brenda, until one day, in a moment of frankness, she remarked that it was torture to her.”

The casual tone in which Brenda’s betrayal of Tony is handled and the social sanction it received makes one wonder at the moral corruption of the society. Being Amusing, melodramatic, tragic and cold, Waugh brings out the phoniness of the aristocratic society in a subtle sarcastic fashion that’s beautifully supported by a vividly descriptive style. A great example of dark humor that presents a scathing commentary on the society and the phony relationships.






the CATCHER in the RYE

24 05 2008

“You know that song. ‘If a body catch a body coming’ through the rye? I’d like —“

“It’s ‘If a body meet a body coming through the rye!” old Phoebe said. “It’s a poem. By Robert Burns.”

“I know it is a poem by Robert Burns.”

“She was right though. It is “If a body meet a body coming through the rye.” I didn’t know it then, though.

“I thought it was ‘If a body catch a body,'” I said. “Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be. I know it’s crazy.”

I was in half love with this ‘Holden Caulfield’ by the time I am through. I really am. For his age of Sixteen, I didn’t know anyone who is more clear thinking and muddle headed than he was. A bundle of teenage rebellion, that he indeed was, with little regard to play by the rules. He has these itsy bitsy darn complaints about the phoniness in the world that makes you dig into the childhood memories and offer a sigh at those days of carefree innocence. The disconnect that he feels from the world, the perils of growing up, the burden of responsibilities, the alienation from the society, the loss of his brother Allie, his pursuit for independent identity, and his naive frustrations – didn’t we all go through some of them in our adolescence?

Just like the Lagoon in Central Park which is “partly frozen and partly not frozen”, Holden comes across as an embodiment of teenager who is caught between the dilemma of growing up to a responsible adulthood from carefree mirth of childhood innocence. Holden narrates his two days of his life after getting an ax from Pencey Prep School for his poor academic performance. We share the deeply private fantasy world of Holden, through his candid confessions which fill the book and occupy your mindspace. Often endearing and often shallow, refreshingly, Holden remains the same simple ‘heart on my sleeve’ kid even as he ends his narration by celebrating Phoebe’s cheerful mood on a park ride. What is unique about this novel apart from Holden’s red hunting hat, is the flow of Holden’s experiences in first person which run as a simple commentary on life. Cynical, bitter, nostalgic and intimately introspective, one can’t help but appreciate the colorful innocent world that Holden inhabits.

Some Voice of Reason that Holden encounters in the novel:

“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know. Many, many men have been just as troubled morally and spiritually as you are right now. Happily, some of them kept records of their troubles. You’ll learn from them – if you want to. Just as someday, if you have something to offer, someone will learn something from you. It’s a beautiful reciprocal arrangement. And it isn’t education. It’s history. It’s poetry.”





The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe..

23 05 2008

The TIME’s list has offered me a perfect excuse to read this fantasy novel, which I have been stalling since an year. I think this is the first time when I have read a book after watching its digital recreation.

And that indeed makes a huge difference. Every book unfolds a mystical world for me, and as I live through the magical fantasy it creates, my mind acts on flashes of inspiration to shape the actors based on the characterization and the flow. The movie already supplied the mental images of persona in vivid detail and my experience is that of an explorer venturing on a well-heeled ground. It did put me on an evaluative mode than on an experiential mode. I couldn’t help wishing for a first person narrative ( I have a huge complaint with the narration style), and a detailed characterization of Aslan though I think it would be answered by the rest of the books in the series. Overall, an entertaining book, and in retrospection, I admit that I enjoyed the movie better.

*****************************************

My favorite piece of conversation from the book:

“That is more than I know,” said the Professor, “and a charge of lying against someone whom you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.”
“We were afraid it mightn’t even be lying,” said Susan; “we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.”
“Madness, you mean?” said the Professor quite coolly. “Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.”
“Logic!” said the Professor half to himself. “Why don’t they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn’t tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth.”

“Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time.”
“Are they?” said the Professor; and Peter did’nt know quite what to say.

*****************************************





Almost Single..

19 05 2008

What would you do if a book introduces itself like this?

My name is Aisha Bhatia, I am twenty-nine years old and single. I work as a Guest Relations Manager at the Grand Orchid Hotel. I dine at luxury hotels and stay in five-stars during my travels; I can name old and new world wines with great élan, and can tell my cheeses apart.I tolerate my job, hate my boss, and bond big-time with my friends, while routinely suffering from umbilical cord whiplash. I don’t really care for my vital stats at the moment, and I don’t have a cute/funny nickname either. Hence this introduction: it stinks, but it sticks. In fact, sometimes I think there should be support groups like the AA out there for people like me…’

I picked it up and finished it at one go! 🙂

Wickedly funny and ironically realistic, Advaita Kala shares a piece of the Carefree and the New Era Single Women with surprising clarity and wit. Aisha Bhatia, the protagonist in the book took me through fits of laughter, as she unwinds the amusing experiences of the stereotypical Cosmopolitan and Independent Women and their relationships. The simple aspects of the modern day match fixing like ladies night outs, breakups, blind dates, matrimonial sites, trade offs, wardrobe hunts, gay friends and the new age parents that are represented in realistic candor would definitely ensure that one has a fun ride.

I loved this book for it depicts the changing trends in relationships in a frothy cheerful manner. It has a fresh writing style with ample insight into the Modern Women lifestyle that elegantly captures the beauty of simple English. A throughly recommended tome for late evening fun read!





Close To the Wind..

5 05 2008

There is an advantage when one subscribes to a library. One buys a chance to discover new authors and antiquated books that tell myriad stories. I was so glad that I chanced upon this book titled “Close To The Wind” written by John Harris, which I picked up as an afterthought, lured by the title. Must say I am really enticed by this beautifully penned tome.

Its a story about a debt ridden Italian Couple Joe and Rosa who prefer the capricious Pacific to surrendering their mortgaged houseboat. Aided by their daughter Frankie, a school atlas, a nonfunctional ship engine, penniless condition and derelict instruments they sail to the unknown, hoping to discover an island where they can hide their only means of livelihood, the boat Tina S to safety. Pressed by the need for money, they take an unknown stranger Willie with questionable past for passenger on this sea adventure.

What follows then, is a story of grit, emotion, belief, and love as the passengers discover themselves over the challenging voyage. Little did the older couple know that their antique old boat is no match for the journey that they set themselves ahead. To reach America and have a chance at creating life for Frankie and Willie who fall in love with each other over the wild voyage.

To make the issues worse, the old couple is haunted by the media who thought that their impossible sea adventure makes good headline story, and the police for Willie who committed a murder and is postponing the inevitable capture by discovering himself over the Pacific. Life over the sea becomes a roller coaster ride for these four members who discover love, bonding, temptation, struggle, hurricane, and loss while they struggle for survival with little food and meager money, from the vagaries of the Pacific.

The characters feel so natural that you may wonder if they are conjured from your daily life experiences. Captain Mama is a tower of strength in handling the crisis and her devil may care attitude, positivity and enthusiasm tugs a chord at heart while the evolution of Willie from a wayward ruffian to a responsible person does manage to cheer up your spirits. The ways of God are ironic they say, for Willie sacrifices himself on the face of death to save the family, just a few days after he discovers contentment, lady love and purpose of life.





The Kite Runner…

28 04 2008

“Now there is a way to be good again…

For you, a thousand times over.. “

And so those words sang in my head when I spent my time with Amir, Hassan, Baba and Sohrab. It been some time after ‘Gone With The Wind’ since a book has deeply stirred my emotions and swirled tears in my eyes.

‘The Kite Runner’ is in a way, a celebration of human spirit and life in all its totality. Filled with human vices and touching emotions like love, sacrifice, selfishness, envy, rivalry, guilt, loyalty, betrayal, cowardice, love-hate relationships, lies and redemption, this little work of fiction feels so much human in its element that it strikes a chord and leaves lasting impressions.

This book is about two brothers Amir and Hassan, who share a unbreakable binding vine of kinship and love despite their ethnic, social and religious differences, being reared by a father who loved them differently. Though the story is narrated by Amir in first person, its that idealistic sacrificial and loyal love that Hassan showers over Amir that tenderly tugged my heart. While wadding through Amir’s guilt and his escapist choices, somehow my bitterness and hatred towards Amir effaced into thin air towards the end of book, as he tries to live up to Hassan’s love and atones for his sins. I was enraged at Amir for his betrayal of Hassan, yet I couldn’t stop myself from forgiving him when he redeems himself from his fallacies by running for Sohrab’s kite. Made me wonder, if deeply moving love can make one raise up to its worth. Is that cosmic justice, or is it the flow of life? Aptly titled, this inherently beautiful tome left me aching for more and I am sure I would treasure this forever in my private collection.

Here are some Phrases/Quotes from the book that I enjoyed…

““… I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering it things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

“She said, ‘I’m so afraid.’ And I said, ‘why?,’ and she said, ‘Because I’m so profoundly happy, Dr. Rasul. Happiness like this is frightening.’ I asked her why and she said, ‘They only let you be this happy if they’re preparing to take something from you,’ and I said, ‘Hush up, now. Enough of this silliness.'”

“Because when spring comes it melts the snow one flake at a time, and maybe I just witnessed the first flake melting”

“”He knew I’d betrayed him and yet he was rescuing me once again, maybe for the last time. I loved him in that moment, loved him more than I’d ever loved anyone…”

“”I actually aspired to cowardice, because the alternative, the real reason I was running, was that Assef was right: Nothing was free in this world. Maybe Hassan was the price I had to pay, the lamb I had to slay, to win Baba. Was it a fair price? The answer floated to my conscious mind before I could thwart: He was just a Hazara, wasn’t he?”

There is only one sin, only one. And that is theft. Every other sin is a variation of theft… When you kill a man, you steal a life. You steal his wife’s right to a husband, rob his children of a father. When you tell a lie, you steal someone’s right to the truth. When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness. ”

“I thought about Hassan’s dream, the one about us swimming in the lake. There is no monster, he’d said, just water. Except he’d been wrong about that. There was a monster in the lake. It had grabbed Hassan by the ankles, dragged him to the murky bottom. I was that monster.”

“A boy who won’t stand up for himself becomes a man who can’t stand up to anything.”

“I throw my makeshift jai-namaz, my prayer rug, on the floor and I get on my knees, lower my forehead to the ground, my tears soaking through the sheet. I bow to the west. Then I remember I haven’t prayed for over fifteen years. I have long forgotten the words. But it doesn’t matter, I will utter those few words I still remember: La illaha il Allah, Muhammad u rasul ullah. There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger. I see now that Baba was wrong, there is a God, there always had been. I see Him here, in the eyes of the people in this corridor of desperation. This is the real house of God, this is where those who have lost God will find Him, not the white masjid with its bright diamond lights and towering minarets. There is a God, there has to be, and now I will pray, I will pray that He forgive that I have neglected Him all of these years, forgive that I have betrayed, lied, and sinned with impunity only to turn to Him now in my hour of need, I pray that He is as merciful, benevolent, and gracious as His book says He is. I bow to the west and kiss the ground and promise that I will do zakat, I will do namaz, I will fast during Ramadan and when Ramadan has passed I will go on fasting, I will commit to memory every last word of His holy book, and I will set on a pilgrimage to that sweltering city in the desert and bow before the Ka’bah too. I will do all of this and I will think of Him every day from this day on if He only grants me this one wish: My hands are stained with Hassan’s blood; I pray God doesn’t let them get stained with the blood of his boy too.”





Up And Down In The Dales..

16 04 2008

A cheerful book always comes like a pleasant sunrise. Must say, I am extremely delighted at this chance discovery of this beautiful tome that breezily narrates the life of a school inspector and those amusing anecdotes of school kids in a joyful manner. I read this book, just before the crack of dawn today, and it did make my morning more inviting. 🙂

Gervase Phinn takes us through a roller coaster ride of humor, happiness, joy and concerns that’s filled in the regular life of a school inspector Mr. Phinn, which is peppered by ample dose of engaging teachers with their weirdo beliefs, inquisitive kids with their endearing innocence, and interesting colleagues armed with their share of rants. He is an expert raconteur when it comes to popping us back to our school days through the happenings in the novel, for I must say, this little work of fiction strangely seems so close to reality. In an easy going breezy fashion, Gervase Phinn transports us to the simplistic life in Yorkshire Dales, and I must admit that I enjoyed this delightful travel.





‘My Feudal Lord’ By Tehmina Durrani

14 04 2008

I picked this book intrigued by the title and the Author’s note that read like this.

“There is a fantasy of a feudal lord as an exotic, tall, dark and handsome man, with flashing eyes and traces of quick-tempered gypsy blood. Images of him parrying thrusts with the fiercest of swordsmen and riding off into the sunset on his black steed set the pubescent heart aflutter. He is seen as a passionate ladies man and something of a rough diamond, the archetypal male chauvinist who forces a woman to love him despite his treatment of her.

But the fantasy is far from reality, and my country of Pakistan must face up to reality of it is ever to grow and prosper. “

And so Tehmina Durrani goes carefully unwinding the details of her private life in a male dominated chauvinistic society, to give voice to the abuse she suffered while being married to a despotic and brutish husband Mustafa Khar as a Sixth Wife. After being suffered in silence for 13 years often trading her self-esteem and individuality for a marriage that rocked with physical abuse and emotional blackmail, Tehmina Durrani stands up for what she truly is. I am glad that Tehmina broke free from the convention and took up the choice of raising her voice against her conniving, manipulative, and spineless Feudal Lordship, risking her life and character assassination in public for her conscience.

Being a part of a society and family which accepted me for what I am, it is indeed difficult for me to acknowledge the world of ‘Tehmina Durrani’ which is plagued by physical abuse, marital rape, hypocrisy, public scrutiny, betrayal, and where women are treated as mere possessions and objects of desire, and the basic human rights to women are still a dream. Set in the political context of the Pakistan in 80’s, this book examines the personal and political life of a famous political figure in Pakistan called ‘Mustafa Khar’, who for me remains as Ms. Durrani’s ex-husband.

Going through a reflection of this autobiographical account of her life, my heart indeed said a small prayer for this beautiful woman and her unfailing courage. This book indeed stands as a living testament to the unsurmountable human spirit and its longing for freedom of self expression.





Inscrutable Americans

26 03 2008

“Dear brother,

greetings to respectful parents. I am hoping all is well with health and wealth. I am fine at my end. Hoping your end is fine too. With God’s grace and parents’ blessings I am arriving safely in America and finding good apartment near University. Kindly assure mother that I am strictly consuming vegetarian food only in restaurants though I am not knowing if cooks are Brahmins. I hope parents’ prayers are residing with me.

Younger brother, I am having so many things to tell you that I am not knowing where to start. Most surprising thing about America is it is full of Americans. Everywhere Americans, Americans, big and white, it is little frightening. The flight from New Delhi to New York is arriving safely thanks to God’s grace and Parents’ prayers and mine too. I am not able to go to bathroom whole time because I am sitting in corner seat as per revered grandmother’s wish. Father is rightly scolding that airplane is flying too high to have good view. Still please tell her I have done needful.

But, brother, in next two seats are sitting two old gentle ladies and if I am getting up then they are put in lot of botheration so I am not getting up for except when plane is stopping for one hour in London. Many foods are being served in carts but I am only eating cashew nuts and bread because I am not knowing what is food and what is meat. I am having a good time drinking 37 glasses of Coca-Cola.

They are rolling down a screen and showing a film but I am not listening because air hostess ladies are selling head phones for 2 dollars which is Rs.60 and in our beloved Jajau town we can sit in balcony seats in Regal Talkies for only Rs.3. I am asking lady if they are giving student discount but she is too busy. I am also asking her for more Coca-Cola but she is looking like she is weeping and walking away. I think perhaps she is not understanding proper English.

Next I go to place marked ” Baggage” as Father has advised and suddenly place I am sitting starts to move throwing me. It is like python we once saw in forest, only rattling and with luggage bouncing on its back and sometimes leaping to attack passengers. I am also throwing myself on bag before it is escaping. I think if I am not wrestling it down it would revert to plane and back home to India. I am only joking of course.

At Customs, brother, I am getting big shock. One fat man is grunting at me and looking cleverly from small eyes. “First visit?” he is asking, “Yes,” I am agreeing “Move on,” he is saying making chalk marks on bags. As I am picking up bags he is looking directly at me and saying “Watch your ass.” Now, brother, this is wonderful. How he is knowing we are purchasing donkey? I think they are knowing everything about everybody who is coming to America.

But, brother, now I am worrying. Supposing this is CIA keeping watch or else how they can know about our donkey? Anyway please do not tell Mother and Father or they are worrying, but lock all doors and windows. If CIA wants to recruit me to be spy in Jajau, I will gladly take poison before betraying our Motherland. Then I am going out and cousins are waiting and receiving me warmly. I will write soon after settling down.

Your brother”

Guess the above excerpt from the book says it all. This book is truly hilarious! I can still remember the quizzical looks that I garnered in the train by laughing my heart out while reading this book. It seriously made me think, why did I took so much time to discover this book! 🙂 Anurag Mathur beautifully highlights the cultural differences between the East and West through the experiments of Gopal who goes to America for study purposes from a small town in India. Guess every Indian can identify with the innocence of the country bumpkin that Gopal effortlessly carries. With a dash of humor and a pepper of satire, Anurag Mathur really tickles your heart and thought. I must say that its a must read! If this doesn’t make you laugh in splits, I don’t know what would ever will manage!





The Doors of Perception…

18 12 2007

Guess through sheer luck I came across this book called ‘The Doors Of Perception’ by Aldous Huxley. I am amazed by the depth of insights it houses. Sample these..

“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern. “

I can actually relate to what it says. There was this session where we are asked to jump over a six feet wall without a bit of support. I went, I saw and then said, there is no way I can do it. And I actually saw people with 5 feet or less height jumping over it with relative ease, after some mental training and exploring their fears and perceptions. Guess we are limited by our beliefs and perceptions which we cultivate and develop since birth. Constant challenges are needed to unsettle that Phoenix locked inside the Jean ( a visualization that I cant seem to resist from the X-Men3, the last stand fame) to be aware of our limitations and potential of what we can be.

On a closing note, let me share this beautifully stated quote from this book again.

“We live together, we act on, and react to, one another; but always and in all circumstances we are by ourselves. The martyrs go hand in hand into the arena; they are crucified alone. Embraced, the lovers desperately try to fuse their insulated ecstasies into a single self-transcendence; in vain. By its very nature every embodied spirit is doomed to suffer and enjoy in solitude. Sensations, feelings, insights, fancies — all these are private and, except through symbols and at second hand, incommunicable. We can pool information about experiences, but never experiences themselves. From family to nation, every human group is a society of island universes.”





Nurturing Inner Talent..

7 10 2007

This is the first completed book of mine after coming to Bangalore. And I realized that the credit goes to the author duo than to my wish when I gaze over the five other books that I am struggling to complete.

Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton who are associated with Gallup International Research and Education Centre came up with this Strengthfinder model which helps one to identify and appreciate their natural talents and nurture them to their strengths. Most often than not, organizations focus on Area of Improvement zones for enhancing productivity of the employees instead of goading them to capitalize on their strengths. I am sold on the concept of capturing the natural talent of a person and building upon it rather than straightening out the weakness areas.

In this book, Don and Marcus talk about 34 themes which kind of capture the universe of talent in some level. After interviewing about two million people , they have devised a Strengthfinder test which throws up related statements and counts on the intuitiveness of the individual to select the choices to grade him under the top five related themes. The beauty of these themes is that they are quite diverse. They include quality of individuals (e.g. analytical) , behavior parameters (e.g. Discipline, Empathy) and personality traits (e.g. Achiever, Arranger). Though some themes are a little different from the common language usage (e.g. Input, Relator, Woo) they are bang on in identifying resonant patterns of behavior of the individual. I found it quite insightful to wade through the different themes as I could connect different people to the related talents. And the beauty of this work lies in presenting scientific analysis in simple and sensible language so that many can identify with it. I read this while waiting in queue at a seamstress place. 🙂 I would definitely recommend to take a look.





Business As Unusual..

4 10 2007

‘Business As Unusual’ charts The Journey of the Anita Roddick And The Body Shop.. I read this book and written a review about it two years back and thinking about it still gives me goosebumps. Never has I ever been exposed to such a radical business leader. Though she has passed away from this world, the fire she has ignited would stay alive forever. Telegraph got it right when it called her ‘a great heart in a tiny frame’. One of her interviews during her last days can be found here.

‘Business As Unusual’ is written by the founder of The Body Shop, Anita Roddick. The book is quite different and unique in its own way be it the way of presentation of the print or the power of expression of the words. The book describes Anita’s joy of the journey in the business world, where she wants to nurture “A Revolution in Kindness”. She describes how she has managed to keep an intimate part of herself alive in a business gone global. Despite the constraints of a Global Company, she always tried to to reinvent herself, tried to find new ways to push the limits of the business, to change its language, to make it a force for positive change. That’s why the title- Business as Unusual.

She describes her experiences of being an entrepreneur and how she is guided by passion and instinct to run the global business. Being a nomadic soul, how she has capitalized on the opportunities and how she is passionate about her ideas. She says that entrepreneurs are basically crazy. They see and feel things which others don’t. She talks about vision, creativity, energy, pathological optimism and the ability to put ideas into action as her core strengths, of course with a touch of craziness.

Born into an Italian immigrant family which is settled England, Anita has a hands on experience in working in a cafe which is run by her parents. Her work at United Nations for two years and her experience of community life at Kibbutz, Israel arouse her interest in community life. Being Married to Gordon Roddick and after running a hotel and restaurant for three years, Anita thought of settling down. She wanted to start a shop selling skincare products because she was irritated by the cosmetics industry and their pandering to unfulfilled desires. She says that irritation is a great source of energy and creativity.

Her endorsement of Ruby Campaign, her community work, her views about community as company where people work for common good and her call for responsibility revolution is truly commendable. She also stresses on communication as the key for any global business and her efforts in keeping the channels of communication open in The Body Shop. She also stresses on her community work, her campaigning for the Ogoni cause, her deals with the indigenous communities.

Reading the book, I didn’t feel that The Body Shop is a separate entity from Anita. It runs in her blood and she considers it as her child and passion, that’s how she maintained her integrity and passion in the soulless business world by holding to the indigenous way, listening to her heart and guided by passion. Its about empowering employees and continuous experimentation.. More than that, its about a burning pathological need for recreating herself in the corporate world. Anita Roddick comes out as a Maverick, Fighter Spirit and a Maniac who stands for what she believes!





The Diary Of A Young Girl By Anne Frank

16 07 2007

I picked this up as I fell in love with the innocent smile that graced the cover. As I leafed through those pages, I could feel the musings of a little girl tucked in a small attic, struggling her best to be an adult in those nerve wracking times of holocaust. This book is a touching commentary on eight lives entangled in enforced intimacy apart from being a sensitive documentary of a young woman on her struggles of growing up.

In her own words: “Who would ever think that so much can go on in the soul of a young girl?”. I am amazed by the amazing clarity and the brutal frankness with which Anne brings out her personal feelings, misunderstandings and frustrations, her longing for love, tensions of girlhood, complexities of relationships, battle with loneliness and her need for companionship. As Anne shares her little wishes and zest for life while living in confined quarters for about two years, her unusal insight into human nature at the young age of fourteen made me spellbound.

As she embarks on building her relationship with Kitty (the name she has given to her diary), you could feel her emotions pulsating through those pages as she chooses to discuss anything under the sun. Be it about her hatred towards Adolf Hitler or descriptions of Mouschie, her love for dad or her longing for mumsie, her frustrations with Mrs Van Daan or her generosity with Peter, her uncharacteristic optimism for freedom and her fear for fellow Jews going through concentration camps. As you live though her diary, what shines bright is her genuine belief in human goodness, and her yearning for love, unconditional acceptance and freedom.

I marveled the wisdom behind these verses of hers. Enjoy them as I did!

“Would anyone, either Jew or non-Jew, understand this about me, that I am simply a young girl badly in need of some rollicking fun?”

“Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!”

“We all live with the objective of being happy; our lives are all different and yet the same.”

“Anyhow, I’ve learned one thing now. You only really get to know people when you’ve had a jolly good row with them. Then and only then can you judge their true characters!”

“I want to go on living even after my death! And therefore I am grateful to God for giving me this gift, this possibility of developing myself and of writing, of expressing all that is in me. I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn.”

“When I looked outside right into the depth of Nature and God, then I was happy, really happy. And Peter, so long as I have that happiness here, the joy in nature, health and a lot more besides, all the while one has that, one can always recapture happiness.”

“The war goes on just the same, whether or not we choose to quarrel, or long for freedom and fresh air, and so we should try to make the best of our stay here. Now I’m preaching, but I also believe that if I stay here for very long I shall grow into a dried-up old beanstalk. And I did so want to grow into a real young woman!”

“If I just think of how we live here, I usually come to the conclusion that it is a paradise compared with how other Jews who are not in hiding must be living”

“This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”





Shantaram By David Gregory Roberts

28 05 2007

“I was a revolutionary who lost his ideals in heroin, a philosopher who lost his integrity in crime, and a poet who lost his soul in a maximum security prison.”

When a book starts like that, you can’t help being intrigued. Shantaram of David Gregory Roberts piqued my interest the moment I held it between my hands and kept me engrossed till I turned the last page. This is one book that I never wanted to end.. To me, Shantaram serves as a deeply enriching and engaging testament to the indestructible nature of human spirit.

It describes the experiences of an Australian prisoner, who makes his lucky escape to India, and has his share of queer experiences like living in Slums, in Arthur Road Prison, Afghanisthan. Shantaram brings out the humane side of the Lin who couldn’t help but fall in love with innocence of people and led his life in abandon savoring each and every tide of life in his own stride. As his life entwined with engaging characters like Prabhakar, Karla, Didler, Abdullah, Khaderbhai, Qasim Ali, his journey delectably brings out the perseverance of human character against all odds, and his pathological optimism in humanity.

“That’s how we keep this crazy place together – with the heart…. India is the heart. It’s the heart that keeps us together. There’s no place with people, like my people, Lin. There’s no heart like the INDIAN HEART.”

Lin’s insight into the culture of India is quite perceptive and close to home. It made me reflect on Indian Values and how much essence we place on instinct, trust and the judgment of heart.

Here I don’t want to start a discussion on what part of that book is fiction and what part is autobiography, because even our life is a mixture of the experiences that we have and our perceptions of how they can be. This is one book that makes you cheerful and reflective at the same time. This racy, scintillating and engaging story is worth reading even if it’s a figment of fiction as those touching insights can’t be written if they are not felt in heart. How I wished Karla is real! Throughout the book, I was captivated by her meaningful and poignant observations on life.

Savor some of her quotes here…

“Loves are like that. You heart starts to feel like an overcrowded lifeboat. You throw your pride out to keep it afloat, and your self-respect and independence. After a while, you started throwing people out – your friends and everyone you used to know. And it’s still not enough. The lifeboat is still sinking, and you know it’s going to take down with it. I’ve seen that happen to a lot of girls. That’s why I’m sick of Love.”

“The world and I are not on the speaking terms. The world tries to win me back, but it doesn’t work. I guess I’m just not the forgiving type.”

“Men reveal what they think when they look away, and what they feel when they hesitate. With women, it’s the other way round.”

“You said it’s important to have freedom to say no, but I think it’s more important to have freedom to say yes.”

“Sometimes I think that’s what heaven is- a place where everybody’s happy because nobody loves anybody else, ever.”

“People always hurt us with their trust. The surest way to hurt someone you like, is to put all your trust in him.”

“I don’t know what frightens me more, the power that crushes us or our endless ability to endure it.”

“Mistakes are like bad loves, the more you learn from them, the more you wish they’d never happened.”

“The truth is a bully we all pretend to like.”

“I could never respect a man who didn’t have the good sense to be at least a little afraid of me.”

“Sometimes you have to surrender before you win.”

“Wisdom is just cleverness, with all the guts kicked out of it.”

I’d only give you advice if I didn’t care what happens to you.”

“If fate doesn’t make you laugh, then you just don’t get the joke.”

“I take everything personally- that’s what being a person is all about.”

“It isn’t a secret, unless keeping it hurts.”

“Depression only happens to people who don’t know how to be sad.”

“Luck is what happens to you when fate gets tired of waiting”

Shantaram emerges as a shimmering tribute to the indomitable human character entangled in all its glories, and fallacies. Though his life takes him through nefarious lanes, he comes out decent, vital, enduring and oddly human!

There are so many insightful excerpts that I wish to share, yet I could collect only some of them. Do Enjoy!

Some Of My Favorite Quotes from Shantaram By David Gregory Roberts…

“Fate gives all of us three teachers, three friends, three enemies, and three great loves in our lives. But these twelve are always disguised, and we can never know which one is which until we’ve loved them, left them, or fought them.”

“Sometimes we love with nothing more than hope. Sometimes we cry with everything except tears. In the end that’s all there is: love and its duty, sorrow and its truth. In the end that’s all we have – to hold on tight until the dawn”

“Some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again. Some truths are so painful that only shame can help you live with them. Some things are so sad that only your soul can do the crying for them.”

“A dream is a place where a wish and a fear meet. When the wish and fear are exactly the same, we call the dream a nightmare.”

“Fear dries a man’s mouth, and hate strangles him. That’s why hate has no great literature: real fear and real hate have no words.”

“You are not a man until you give your love, truly and freely to a child. And you are not a good man until you earn the love, truly and freely, of a child in return.”

“Be true to love where ever you find it, and be true to yourself and everything that you really are.”

Hope you are sold! 🙂 Rush to pick it up and be assured of an enticing and unusual insight into the adventure called life!





Siddhartha

21 05 2007

“Wondrous indeed was my life, so he thought, wondrous detours it has taken. As I boy, I had only to do with gods and offerings. As a youth, I had only to do with asceticism, with thinking and meditation, was searching for Brahman, worshiped the eternal in the Atman. But as a young man, I followed the penitents, lived in the forest, suffered of heat and frost, learned to hunger, taught my body to become dead. Wonderfully, soon afterwards, insight came towards me in the form of the great Buddha’s teachings, I felt the knowledge of the oneness of the world circling in me like my own blood. I went and learned the art of love with Kamala, learned trading with Kamaswami, piled up money, wasted money, learned to love my stomach, learned to please my senses. I had to spend many years losing my spirit, to unlearn thinking again, to forget the oneness. Isn’t it just as if I had turned slowly and on a long detour from a man into a child, from a thinker into a childlike person? But what a path has this been! But it was right so, my heart says “Yes” to it, my eyes smile to it. I’ve had to experience despair, I’ve had to sink down to the most foolish one of all thoughts, to the thought of suicide, in order to be able to experience divine grace, to hear Om again, to be able to sleep properly and awake properly again. I had to become a fool, to find Atman in me again. I had to sin, to be able to live again. Where else might my path lead me to? It is foolish, this path, it moves in loops, perhaps it is going around in a circle. Let it go as it likes, I want to to take it.”

Siddhartha is an philosophical novel written by Hermann Hesse. Set in ancient India in times of Buddha, this novel delineates with the spiritual quest of the Siddhartha, a handsome Brahmin boy. This novel explores the journey of Siddhartha, his search for enlightenment, desire for self-knowledge, experiences of materialistic conquests, practice of self denial, understanding of the timeless unity and finally the discovery of enlightenment with a Buddhist perspective.

With a strong narrative and a compelling evolution of thought, Hermann Hesse explores the life’s journey of Siddhartha in all totality to offer some food for soul. One may wonder the relevance of the ‘state of being’ for the current day fast track generation, yet this book gives a joyous ride to the old age values of contemplation, wisdom of indirection, introspection, learnings from life, role play of love and the concept of Om.





Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

17 05 2007

“If you saw Atlas, the giant who holds the world on his shoulders, if you saw that he stood, blood running down his chest, his knees buckling, his arms trembling but still trying to hold the world aloft with the rest of his strength, and the greater his effort the heavier the world bore down upon his shoulders–what would you tell him to do?”

“I…don’t know. What…could he do? What would you tell him?”

“To shrug.”

Hmm.. That almost sums up this 1000 odd page tome! Ayn Rand books are never a light read. She is a great thinker, apart from being a sensational novelist. Even if you vouch by her philosophy of objectivism or not, you will for sure appreciate the complexity of the ideals that the characters represented and the intensity of the life they had. Atlas Shrugged is the story of the heroes who make a difference to the world and are seldom regarded as such. Ayn Rand questions the future of the earth by creating a world where the thinkers have gone for strike protesting the oppression of intellect and forced moral code of self sacrifice which puts them under the obligation to work for the betterment of others.

Don’t hunt for normal characters whom you encounter in normal circumstances in this novel. You will be disappointed. Most of the people that you encounter in this novel are unbelievable, untouchable and almost impossible in their pursuit of reason, purpose, sense of action and ideals.

Atlas Shrugged is Ayn Rand’s imaginary world, her creation which talks about the world and the men as they should be. It deals with complex issues like the perils of collectivism, the pursuit of happiness, the colossal value of intellect, and the integrity of the mind. Pick this book with an open mind and you will surely introspect your belief system as the pages roll on by themselves!





Free E-Books!

29 03 2006

I am doing quite a lot of research on free E-Books these days. Here are a couple of links that I have discovered. Hope this would be of some use!

http://www.gutenberg.org/about/
(Project Gutenberg is the first and largest single collection of free electronic books, or eBooks. Michael Hart, founder of Project Gutenberg, invented eBooks in 1971 and continues to inspire the creation of eBooks and related technologies today. )

http://www.esnips.com
(Lots of English fiction and nonfiction books are loaded here)

http://www.esnips.com/web/pgwodehouse (For PG WoodHouse)
http://www.esnips.com/web/calvinnhobbes (For Calvin Comics)
http://www.planetpdf.com/free_pdf_ebooks.asp?CurrentPage=1 (For Classic English Fiction)

http://fictionbook.ru/en/search?search=english
(Albeit a Russian Website, it contains lots of English Fiction Works)

http://www.masalatalk.com/masalaboard/showthread.php?t=208649

Kudos to innumerable people who shared their collection over Internet!
Happy Reading for All!





Portrait in Sepia

15 01 2006

Author: Isabel Allende

This is a book of its own kind. Truly exquisite and rich in detail, this story of an young woman Aurora del Valle leaves one with rich emotional feeling. Portrait in Sepia, as a story talks about Aurora’s quest for her roots and describes in detail about a family history and the intimate secrets woven from memory.

Aurora del Valle suffers a brutal incident, i.e., the death of her grand father which makes an indelible impression on her character. Raised by her ambitious grandmother, Paulina del Valle, she grows up in a privileged environment, yet she could never find an answer to the tormenting nightmares which never left her since her childhood. She develops an eye and observation for reality, being an exceptional photographer herself. Betrayed by her husband, she decides to explore the mystery of her past and eventually discovers her roots and destiny.

Coming to the characters, One can’t miss the mention of the powerful women in Aurora’s life: her two grandmothers Paulina del Valle and Eliza, Nivea, her tutor Senorita Pineta, her mother-in-law Dona Elvira. These characters share the strength of will, zest of life, disdain for conformity and desire for independence. Aurora is equally surrounded by impressive men: her grandfather, Tao Ch’ien, her uncle Severo; Williams, her grandmother’s second husband; and Ivan Redovic, the man who becomes her lifelong companion. The importance of love gets emphasized in this novel interlaced with self-discovery.

What makes this book truly unique is the rich colorful detail, the complex interlacing of the emotions, intimate observations on the human character and strong family ties. Set towards the end of nineteenth century in Chile, this novel explores the complex culture of that times at different regions like China Town, San Francisco and Chile. Intriguing and engaging, this book made a perfect read over a weekend for me!





Loosing My Virginity By Richard Branson

11 12 2005

I guess that title is quite controversial in itself and pretty cachy too. Personally, I always had a great respect for the Virgin Group, and Virgin as a brand. I had always wanted to read more about this person, and this book has only whetted my curiosity. All I could say in the end of the book is “Oh! What a Life!”.

This book gives an insight into the life of a self-made man and his tryst with life. Branson reveals a lot about himself in this 600 page book and it can make a good weekend read! The phases of his life, including the Start of Student Magazine, Virgin Music, Virgin Atlantic and a lot more Virgin Group companies are worth tracing. I am amazed by his adventurous spirit in his personal life. His Boat rides across Atlantic and ballooning over the Globe, What a risk appetite this guy has!

Why the name, Virgin? As Branson put it in his book, it was decided by his group of girls & boys in their lighter moments. ‘And there aren’t many virgins left around here,’ laughed a girl, ‘It would be nice to have one here in name if none of us’. ‘Great’, He said, ‘It’s Virgin’.

This Book gives an in depth insight into the making of the Virgin Music and the challenges inherent in it. It casts light on the Corporate and Bank relationships and the troubles faced by Branson with his Banks. Also, This book devotes quite a lot of part to Virgin Group’s struggle with British Airways, casting them in a negative shade. It’s worth thinking how a monopoly and government favoritism affects the customers’ interests as a whole.

The book recounts the snapshots of Richard’s real life and recounts it in chronological order. Its complemented by quite a lot of pictures which gel with the narrative perfectly. The book ends, not with a message (thankfully!), yet leaves you with admiration for this adventurous spirit who led life by intuition, courage and creativity. He stands out as a true maverick, with his zeal to breakaway from conformity and tradition.

All in all, this book is an interesting read, with a good deal of fun involved just the way Branson has lived his life up to 43. I wonder what he is up to now.. As the saying goes, ” Life starts after 40..”





Radical Leap..

21 10 2005

The Radical Leap
A Personal Lesson in Extreme Leadership

Author: Steve Farber

This was a book suggested by my boss and he asked me to read it twice! The first thing I enquired was the number of pages of the book! I just wondered how thick would that be..

Coming to the actual reading experience, the book is fabulous. This is a book written by Steve Farber which talks about Extreme Leadership. What exactly is an extreme leader? He defines him in one simple sentence, as a person who L.E.A.P.s forward; One who cultivates Love, generates Energy, inspires Audacity, and provides Proof.

The story begins at a beach where Steve, a leadership consultant meets a mysterious and wise character called EdG who defines leadership as an extreme sport. The book is about how Steve discovers the extreme leadership and how he helps to sort out his friend Janice’s problem at her workplace XinoniX. I loved the way the story unfolds and the style of writing of the Steve Farber. You can find the summary of the concept here.

One particular point which caught my eye is Why do I come to work today? Do I love what I do? Yes.. Truly, this must be the most important question of everyone’s life. Life is too small to be fretted away on things which we don’t enjoy doing. We need to find our passion and work our way to get it. That’s what I call self-expression. A feeling of pure joy..

We may not remember the top leaders of the Century or the Miss Universes’ of the World.. But we will surely remember the people who have touched our life. That’s the most interesting part of Leadership. Its about the ability to influence and make a difference to other people’s life; its about the desire to love and help others find their dreams too. This book is a great read which should not be missed. (Not because my boss told so!)





Lasting Leadership!

10 10 2005

I am just going through a book by name “Lasting Leadership” which contains of the profiles of the 25 Business Leaders. Its nice to see a snapshot profile of the some of the most successful leaders and read about what they have to say. I am planning to include a few points which caught my attention. Guess its going to be a long post.

The book is organized in chapters like

Andy Grove’s Leadership at Intel
-His management style, for embarking the famous Intel Inside campaign, for surviving the Pentium crisis and for the ability to stand for his convictions. He defines that a leader is one whom people would follow. Simple, isn’t it?

Leadership and Corporate Culture

Herb Kelleher(Southwest Airlines)
-For building a great culture, for persistence, for building team spirit and flexibility into the organization.
Mary Kay Ash(Mary Kay)
-For praising people to success, for building a family kind of structure in the organization, for the famous pink cadillacs!
James Burke(Johnson & Johnson)
-For leading J&J through the Tylenol crisis, for championing innovation across the company, for encouraging a risk taking culture and for emphasizing on the importance of Trust across the organization.

Truth Tellers

Jack Welch(GE)
-Known as the Neutron Jack for his restructuring plans.
William George (Medtronic)
-He says that “Leadership is about getting people to follow even if they have their own doubts. Authentic leaders are those who are committed to purpose or mission;people who live by values and lead by heart.”
Peter F. Drucker
-Defines management as an art which has the potential to transform “a mob into an organization, and human effort into performance. Known for coining terms like privatization, knowledge workers and placing emphasis on managing relationships.

Identifying an underserved market

Charles Schwab (Charles Schwab Corp.)
-For making his discount brokerage firm a huge success and establishing technology paradigm in the investment industry. Forbes calls him, “King of Online Brokers”.
John Bogle (The Vanguard Group)
-For inventing Index funds and by pioneering the Vanguard as the low cost leader.
Mohammed Yunus (Grameen Bank)
-For pioneering micro credit through Grameen Bank and making a difference to a lot of people across the world. With a vision to build a poverty free world, he is perhaps the only one who wishes that his target market eventually disappears.

Seeing the invisible

Steve Jobs (Apple and Pixar)
– For using creativity and innovation to gain on the face of a giant competitor
George Soros(Soros Fund Management)
-Believes in the principles of open society. Known for his ability to spot the trends, for self-discipline and risk appetite.
Ted Turner (Turner Broadcasting)
-This founder of CNN and TNT is known for acting on gut feelings and venturing into the unexplored terrains.

Using Price to gain competitive advantage

Michael Dell(Dell Inc.)
-For his strong sense of market and for cutting the middlemen.
Jeff Bezos(Amazon)
-For revolutionizing retailing with the power of the emerging networking technology and for building a brand through customer experience.
Sam Walton(Wal-Mart)
-For getting the cost-price equation right. Can anyone believe that he wore a grass skirt and danced the hula in 1984 on the steps of the Merill Lynch’s Wall Street offices after losing over the bet that Walmart couldn’t possibly hit a pre-tax profit of 8%

Managing the Brand

Richard Branson (Virgin)
-For his risk-apetite, persistence and fun loving attitude. He has successfully built the world most stretched brand Virgin based on his credibility and capability.
Oprah Winfrey(Harpo, Inc.)
-She claims that “Owning myself is a way to be myself”. With a constant focus on being better, she has built an amazing personal brand marked with genuine and disarming attitude.
Lee Iacocca (Chrysler)
-for his strong sense of personal credibility, for turning around the troubled Chrysler and for his charismatic leadership.

Fast Learners

Frederick Smith (FedEx)
-Known for revolutionizing the world of logistics pioneering the overnight delivery and tracking process.
Bill Gates (Microsoft)
-Known for his agility and ability to gauge the market. Famous for Microsoft’s ” Buy it or Bury it” sort of competitor’s policies.
Lou Gerstner(IBM & RJR Nabisco)
-For leading IBM successfully through troubled times. He says that a leader’s 90% of success depends on his ability to select, motivate, and encourage the team working under him.

Managing Risk

Warren Buffet (Berkshire Hathaway)
-Known as the most successful investor of our times. Is a strong believer in Value Investing.
Alan Greenspan
-For efficiently dealing with uncertainty as Federal Reserve chairman.
Peter Lynch (Fidelity Investments)
-Known for picking the winner stocks. He says, “The stock market is counter-intuitive When the headlines are terrible, that’s really when you ought to start buying. The person who turns over the most rocks will win the game.”

Some excerpts from the book:

“In June 2000, John Bogle, founder and former CEO of The Vanguard Group, spoke about leadership at Wharton. As an avid group of executives listened to the man who popularized the principle of indexing – and in the process built the Vanguard Group into a firm managing more than $550 billion in assets – Bogle ended his speech quoting James Norris, a Vanguard manager, who wrote: “While it is revealing to consider what constitutes a leader, your search for understanding, for some kind of leadership formula, is apt to end in frustration. It is like studying Michelangelo or Shakespeare: You can imitate, emulate, and simulate, but there is simply no connect-the-dots formula to Michelangelo’s David or Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I suppose, when all is said and done, it really comes down to this: People are leaders because they choose to lead.

The heart of leadership is as simple as that: It is a matter of choice and determination. If this is true, then people who choose and are determined to become influential business leaders can benefit from observing other leaders and using their observations to nurture their own leadership style.”





It’s Not Luck

19 09 2005

It’s Not Luck

Author: Eliyahu M. Goldratt

The story line in the book runs something like this. Being an executive president of three faltering companies in a highly diversified conglomerate UniCo, Alex faces a near impossible task of turning around the companies as the company is facing bad times. Alex and his team are put under tremendous pressure to make the group companies I-Cosmetics, Pressure Steam and Printing Press a success. The key problem area identified in these organizations is that Managers are forced to achieve local optima instead of working for the whole of the organization. The issues addressed include developing products which provide value to the buyers, packaging products differently based on market segments and creating successful competitive advantage for the business so that the competitors won’t be able to replicate.

The book talks about the need for logical and structured thinking processes in times of need. The author highlights the importance of Jonah’s thinking processes in crisis. Also, the idea of Market, business and the concept of value are explained in a very simple manner. The best thing about Glodratt’s books is that they are very simple to read and understand. The book talks about common sense and deals with conflict resolution techniques in personal and professional life. The book gives a new perspective, yet if you are looking to learn new methods, this is not the right one to pick. It is not going to make you a master of the thinking processes. Yet, it will keep you engaged with an interesting story and a glimpse of logical thinking processes being applied at various commonplace situations.





Necessary But Not Sufficient…

13 09 2005

Necessary But Not Sufficient

Author: Eliyahu M. Goldratt

This is the first time that I have read a Goldratt’s novel. Trust me, I regretted that I didn’t read it earlier. I was not much of a fan of business novels earlier as I had a feeling that they don’t do justice either as a novel or as a business guide. But I was wrong. This novel was completely engaging and I found myself completing the novel fast, even while investing the rare free time that I get.

The Novel focuses on the journey of a large ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software vendor, a fictional company called BGSoft and its implementation partner KPI Solutions. The company’s CEO Scott and the head of Development Lenny are confronted with the approaching market saturation in their target segment of Fortune 1000 clients, and hence their near-future 40 yoy growth becomes questionable. To retain the current pace of growth, the organization has to look for mid size companies. But then, it takes the same efforts and margins would be less. Added to that, the company has to deal with the ever increasing complexity of their Software and has to justify the bottom-line value of their ERP package for their most important client Pierco.

BGSoft now sees a paradigm shift – they need to sell value and not just technology. Technology is necessary but not sufficient is the theme of the book. The book later focuses on selling value and bringing value for money for the BGSoft clients. For that they opt for Theory of Constraints- Drum-Buffer Rope method and Buffer management. This increases the capacity of production, but then they have another problem in hands- The Inventory.

Any ERP system introduced into an organization improves the data flow across the departments and increases the visibility of the operations. Strangely when a new change is implemented, new rules has to be incorporated. If people play the game with the old rules, the impact would be lost. Pierco’s operations show excess inventory, production bottlenecks and fights among various departments who are expected to work towards common goals. Performance measures continue to aim at locally optimal solutions ignoring the final impact on customer service.

As a solution, TOC concept is then extended to distribution and soon across the entire operations of Pierco. Inventory is kept close to the plant and shipments to warehouses are based on replenishment of actual sales. The entire process shifts from “Push” to “Pull” and the results are dramatic. They also buy an Advanced Planning System to target the Mid size companies and to sell value for them. The entire ERP solution is extended to the Pierco’s clients and suppliers, through out the entire value chain with BGSoft as a revenue sharing partner. It creates a win-win situation for all, as Pierco doesn’t have to worry with the software, bugs, upgrades and hassles where as BGSoft gets entry into the mid size market through client referrals.

The book is great if you want to get an insider view of operations involved in a manufacturing industry. It clearly sets goals of CEO’s and discusses the problems inherent in implementing ERP packages. Most of the issues dealt in the book can be observed in real business situations in the current market. I find the book to be a great read!





Maverick by Ricardo Semler

30 08 2005

I came across this book in a library and am tempted enough to pick it up. I got strong recommendations from my friends who have read this book. As I read it, I am absolutely fascinated by the industrial transformation that has took place in Semco.Semco is a Brazil based traditional pump manufacturing company under the leadership of Ricardo Semler. And, what a leader! Ricardo Semler fired 60% of the top management the day he took charge of the organization in 1980. He like to call himself as a Catalyst and I could see how he has done that effectively. He treated his company workers as adults, instilled in them a sense of pride and let them lead their life and in fact the company too. Moreover, he installed a culture that inspires freedom and let it evolve on its own. He is not one of those types who lead from front but then he is always there when the organization has steered away from the path by being a guiding hand.

By letting the workers decide on the things which influence their life, he paved a way for loyalty, experimentation and innovation. Free from the rules and dogma, workers were encouraged to experiment. At Semco, everyone became an entrepreneur on their own merit. There are flexible work hours, satellite programs, circular organizational structure, factory committees and so on. It paves way for self-regulation and self-responsibility and all that springs from trust. Its truly an inspiring book which talks about a new ideology and brings out a radical perspective about the industrial production.





Fast Food Nation..

17 03 2005

Fast Food Nation
The Dark Side Of The All American Meal

Author: Eric Schlosser

A great piece of investigative journalism, Fast Food Nation written by Eric Schlosser explores the fast food culture and the industry behind it with great detail to unearth many disturbing facts for all of us to see. Reading the book, I am reminded of a saying, ´Every beautiful face has an hideous skull behind it”, and this book tries it best to bring out this hideous aspect of the cheerful and the progressive fast food industry which became an icon of the American way.

The book traces the history of the fast food culture with case studies of McDonalds, Subways, Burger King’s and Wendy’s that has brought America efficiently prepared meals at low prices and has transformed the eating patterns and the lifestyles. Schlosser delves into the structure of the industry and explores the participants of the Industry, employees, meat industry, flavor Industry, packaging industry, potato farmers, the franchisees, the frozen foods industry, the agri-business aspects.

The fast food culture exerts a direct influence on large parts of the population, Schlosser cites an estimate that “one out of every eight workers in the United States has at some point been employed by McDonald’s” alone. The fast food industry seems to provide cheap, convenient, and fast food, and provide employment to a large number of people — but the food is arguably not particularly healthy. The effects of the consolidation of the agribusiness, the demand of the unskilled, cheap labor by the fast food chains is disturbing.

To promote mass production and profits, the industry must keep labor and material costs low. Hence the bringing of the American concept of assembly-line production into the food industry to exercise control, deskill the job done, maintain consistency. Teenagers and recent immigrants make up much of the fast food workforce, often working under poor conditions. Companies profit from huge turnover. Schlosser recounts how McDonald’s and its ilk have fought against unions, sometimes closing stores to prevent workers from unionizing.

MNC’s have little regard to the economic fortunes of individual farmers or local communities. Poultry owners doesn’t even own the birds and the potato farmers have nothing in their control due to the corporate ownership of the agri-business units. The chapter on Why the Fries Taste Good offers a bleak look at the future of food through Flavor Industry, where any taste can be given to any product.

Regarding dangers to consumers Schlosser focuses on E. coli and salmonella infection. Workers in meatpacking plants routinely suffer from repetitive strain injuries, and many have lost fingers and worse as the pace of killing and cutting up animals has increased to create higher profits. The faster the line moves, the less attention is paid to food safety. Parasites and bacteria are another price paid for the meatpacking industry’s profit margin.

Schlosser ends the book saying that “you can still have it your way”, highlighting the choice the consumer has to say no to the fast food.