Keep Up The Spark

29 07 2008

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Inaugural Speech by Chetan Bhagat for the new batch at the Symbiosis BBA program 2008

Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated. The first day in college is one of them. When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

Where do these sparks start? I think we are born with them. My 3-year old twin boys have a million sparks. A little Spiderman toy can make them jump on the bed. They get thrills from creaky swings in the park. A story from daddy gets them excited. They do a daily countdown for birthday party – several months in advance – just for the day they will cut their own birthday cake.

I see students like you, and I still see some sparks. But when I see older people, the spark is difficult to find. That means as we age, the spark fades. People whose spark has faded too much are dull, dejected, aimless and bitter. Remember Kareena in the first half of Jab We Met vs the second half? That is what happens when the spark is lost. So how to save the spark?

Imagine the spark to be a lamp’s flame. The first aspect is nurturing – to give your spark the fuel, continuously. The second is to guard against storms.

To nurture, always have goals. It is human nature to strive, improve and achieve full potential. In fact, that is success. It is what is possible for you. It isn’t any external measure – a certain cost to company pay package, a particular car or house.

Most of us are from middle class families. To us, having material landmarks is success and rightly so. When you have grown up where money constraints force everyday choices, financial freedom is a big achievement.

But it isn’t the purpose of life. If that was the case, Mr Ambani would not show up for work. Shah Rukh Khan would stay at home and not dance anymore. Steve Jobs won’t be working hard to make a better iPhone, as he sold Pixar for billions of dollars already. Why do they do it? What makes them come to work everyday?

They do it because it makes them happy. They do it because it makes them feel alive. Just getting better from current levels feels good. If you study hard, you can improve your rank. If you make an effort to interact with people, you will do better in interviews. If you practice, your cricket will get better. You may also know that you cannot become Tendulkar, yet. But you can get to the next level. Striving for that next level is important.

Nature designed with a random set of genes and circumstances in which we were born. To be happy, we have to accept it and make the most of nature’s design. Are you? Goals will help you do that.

I must add, don’t just have career or academic goals. Set goals to give you a balanced, successful life. I use the word balanced before successful. Balanced means ensuring your health, relationships, mental peace are all in good order.

There is no point of getting a promotion on the day of your breakup. There is no fun in driving a car if your back hurts. Shopping is not enjoyable if your mind is full of tensions.

You must have read some quotes – Life is a tough race, it is a marathon or whatever. No, from what I have seen so far, life is one of those races in nursery school. Where you have to run with a marble in a spoon kept in your mouth. If the marble falls, there is no point coming first. Same with life, where health and relationships are the marble. Your striving is only worth it if there is harmony in your life. Else, you may achieve the success, but this spark, this feeling of being excited and alive, will start to die.

One last thing about nurturing the spark – don’t take life seriously. One of my yoga teachers used to make students laugh during classes. One student asked him if these jokes would take away something from the yoga practice. The teacher said – don’t be serious, be sincere. This quote has defined my work ever since. Whether its my writing, my job, my relationships or any of my goals. I get thousands of opinions on my writing everyday. There is heaps of praise, there is intense criticism. If I take it all seriously, how will I write? Or rather, how will I live? Life is not to be taken seriously, as we are really temporary here. We are like a pre-paid card with limited validity. If we are lucky, we may last another 50 years. And 50 years is just 2,500 weekends. Do we really need to get so worked up? It’s ok, bunk a few classes, goof up a few interviews, fall in love. We are people, not programmed devices.

I’ve told you three things – reasonable goals, balance and not taking it too seriously that will nurture the spark. However, there are four storms in life that will threaten to completely put out the flame. These must be guarded against. These are disappointment, frustration, unfairness and loneliness of purpose.

Disappointment will come when your effort does not give you the expected return. If things don’t go as planned or if you face failure. Failure is extremely difficult to handle, but those that do come out stronger. What did this failure teach me? is the question you will need to ask. You will feel miserable. You will want to quit, like I wanted to when nine publishers rejected my first book. Some IITians kill themselves over low grades – how silly is that? But that is how much failure can hurt you.

But it’s life. If challenges could always be overcome, they would cease to be a challenge. And remember – if you are failing at something, that means you are at your limit or potential. And that’s where you want to be.

Disappointment’s cousin is frustration, the second storm. Have you ever been frustrated? It happens when things are stuck. This is especially relevant in India. >From traffic jams to getting that job you deserve, sometimes things take so long that you don’t know if you chose the right goal. After books, I set the goal of writing for Bollywood, as I thought they needed writers. I am called extremely lucky, but it took me five years to get close to a release.

Frustration saps excitement, and turns your initial energy into something negative, making you a bitter person. How did I deal with it? A realistic assessment of the time involved – movies take a long time to make even though they are watched quickly, seeking a certain enjoyment in the process rather than the end result – at least I was learning how to write scripts , having a side plan – I had my third book to write and even something as simple as pleasurable distractions in your life – friends, food, travel can help you overcome it. Remember, nothing is to be taken seriously. Frustration is a sign somewhere, you took it too seriously.

Unfairness – this is hardest to deal with, but unfortunately that is how our country works. People with connections, rich dads, beautiful faces, pedigree find it easier to make it – not just in Bollywood, but everywhere. And sometimes it is just plain luck. There are so few opportunities in India, so many stars need to be aligned for you to make it happen. Merit and hard work is not always linked to achievement in the short term, but the long term correlation is high, and ultimately things do work out. But realize, there will be some people luckier than you.

In fact, to have an opportunity to go to college and understand this speech in English means you are pretty darn lucky by Indian standards. Let’s be grateful for what we have and get the strength to accept what we don’t. I have so much love from my readers that other writers cannot even imagine it. However, I don’t get literary praise. It’s ok. I don’t look like Aishwarya Rai, but I have two boys who I think are more beautiful than her. It’s ok. Don’t let unfairness kill your spark.

Finally, the last point that can kill your spark is isolation. As you grow older you will realize you are unique. When you are little, all kids want Ice cream and Spiderman. As you grow older to college, you still are a lot like your friends. But ten years later and you realize you are unique. What you want, what you believe in, what makes you feel, may be different from even the people closest to you. This can create conflict as your goals may not match with others. . And you may drop some of them. Basketball captains in college invariably stop playing basketball by the time they have their second child. They give up something that meant so much to them. They do it for their family. But in doing that, the spark dies. Never, ever make that compromise. Love yourself first, and then others.

There you go. I’ve told you the four thunderstorms – disappointment, frustration, unfairness and isolation. You cannot avoid them, as like the monsoon they will come into your life at regular intervals. You just need to keep the raincoat handy to not let the spark die.

I welcome you again to the most wonderful years of your life. If someone gave me the choice to go back in time, I will surely choose college. But I also hope that ten years later as well, you eyes will shine the same way as they do today. That you will Keep the Spark alive, not only through college, but through the next 2,500 weekends. And I hope not just you, but my whole country will keep that spark alive, as we really need it now more than any moment in history. And there is something cool about saying – I come from the land of a billion sparks.

Thank You.

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Teach India..

7 07 2008

Teach India. A great Initiative that made me really happy today.

Some interesting statistics to note: 300 Million in India still doesn’t know how to write their name. 9 out of 10 kids in Class I, never make it till Class 10th. (These are stats that I picked up from this Sunday newspaper.) They just establish the dire necessity of basic education for all.

This initiative gives most of us a chance to shrug the inertia and put that coffee time over weekends to good use. The minimum commitment that one needs to make is a couple of hours every week, which I think wouldn’t be that difficult for us provided we agree with the cause. It’s just taking that first step, that’s difficult. Visit this Website and please do your bit.

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Quoting from the Website:

“Teach India is a nation-building initiative (or social initiative) from the Times of India that brings together children in need of education and people who can contribute a little time towards teaching them. It is based on one simple principle: If you have the desire to teach, we will put you in touch with underprivileged children who are willing to learn. With over sixty of India’s committed NGOs, corporates, schools and social organizations already supporting our cause, we now look for selfless individuals to come forward and help change the future of a child forever, by giving just a few hours a week to Teach India

How do I apply?

As part of the Teach India movement, The Times of India has established partnerships with several NGOs in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Kolkata . Anyone interested in participating can visit the Teach India website at www.teach.timesofindia.com and join us. Alternatively you can also fill out the Volunteer Registration form submit it to The Times of India office in your city. To receive the form on email, SMS TEACH to 58888.

How does Teach India work?

As soon as your completed form reaches us, you will receive a confirmation message. You will then be mapped to one of our NGOs based on your area preference and time commitment, and asked to contact a NGO coordinator assigned to you and meet him/her. Once selected, you will be placed in one of the programmes, and after a basic orientation, your teaching sessions will begin. ”

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Some Reason to Smile…

19 06 2008

Some Joke that I read today! It did leave me with gales of laughter though!

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These four classified ads appeared in a newspaper on four consecutive days. The last three hopelessly trying to correct the first day’s mistake…

MONDAY: For sale – Vishanth has a sewing machine for sale. Phone 9840716581 after 7PM and ask for Mrs Mani who lives with him cheap.

TUESDAY: Notice: We regret having erred in Vishanth’s ad yesterday. It should have read, ‘One sewing machine for sale cheap. Phone 9840716581 and ask for Mrs Mani, who lives with him after 7PM.’

WEDNESDAY: Notice: Vishanth has informed us that he has received several annoying telephone calls because of the error we made in the classified ad yesterday. The ad stands correct as follows:
‘For sale – Vishanth has a sewing machine for sale; Cheap. Phone 9840716581 after 7PM and ask for Mrs. Mani who loves with him.

THURSDAY: Notice: I, Vishanth, have no sewing machine for sale. I smashed it. Don’t call 98407 16581 as I have had the phone disconnected. I have not been carrying on with Mrs. Mani. Until yesterday, she was my housekeeper but she quit!

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Biggest Drawing In The World..

27 05 2008

Something that caught my eye today. With the help of a GPS device equipped suitcase and DHL, Eric Nordenankar attempts a self protrait by recreating the paths the suitcase traveled. There are really no boundaries to human imagination or potential!





My Ebook Collection…

22 05 2008

As I have promised, here is the list of the ebooks from the TIME top 100 Novels list that I have in my personal collection. If you are interested in having any of these,just click on the name for the rapidshare link, or  just drop me a comment with your email ID, and I would be able to email the book for you. 🙂

A disclaimer here: I am encouraging the usage of Ebooks indeed, though I would prefer the silent rapture of being immersed in a physical book any day. Yet, if we look at the availability and access to these modern classics, most of these are rare treasures that are hard to come my way over a breezy shopping fest. And I don’t believe that these 100 Novels are the best of the literature ever produced, for some of my most cherished books like Life Of Pi, Alchemist, Kite Runner, The Stranger, Fountain Head, Alice In Wonderland are still treasured even if they are not hailed in any literary short lists. However, I still see this as an opportunity to discover new worlds that are ensconced in these books.

I am hoping to update this list, as and when I acquire more books. If you come across any of the books that are not listed here and are part of the TIME collection, please do share. 🙂

For the lucky ones for whom this link works, all the below books can be downloaded as a single file. 🙂

  1. The Adventures of Augie March By Saul Bellow
  2. American Pastoral By Philip Roth
  3. An American Tragedy By Theodore Dreiser
  4. Animal Farm By George Orwell
  5. Appointment in Samarra By John O’Hara
  6. At Swim-Two-Birds By Flann O’Brien
  7. Atonement By Ian McEwan
  8. Beloved By Toni Morrison
  9. The Big Sleep By Raymond Chandler
  10. The Blind Assassin By Margaret Atwood
  11. Blood Meridian By Cormac McCarthy
  12. Brideshead Revisited By Evelyn Waugh
  13. The Bridge of San Luis Rey By Thornton Wilder
  14. Catch-22 By Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye By J.D. Salinger
  16. A Clockwork Orange By Anthony Burgess
  17. The Crying of Lot 49 By Thomas Pynchon
  18. Death Comes for the Archbishop By Willa Cather
  19. A Death in the Family By James Agee
  20. Gone With the Wind By Margaret Mitchell
  21. Gravity’s Rainbow By Thomas Pynchon
  22. The Great Gatsby By F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust By Evelyn Waugh
  24. A House for Mr. Biswas By V.S. Naipaul
  25. I, Claudius By Robert Graves
  26. Infinite Jest By David Foster Wallace
  27. Invisible Man By Ralph Ellison
  28. Light in August By William Faulkner
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe By C.S. Lewis
  30. Lolita By Vladimir Nabokov
  31. Lord of the Flies By William Golding
  32. The Lord of the Rings By J.R.R. Tolkien
  33. Midnight’s Children By Salman Rushdie
  34. Money By Martin Amis
  35. Mrs. Dalloway By Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch By William Burroughs
  37. Neuromancer By William Gibson
  38. 1984 By George Orwell
  39. On the Road By Jack Kerouac
  40. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest By Ken Kesey
  41. Pale Fire By Vladimir Nabokov
  42. A Passage to India By E.M. Forster
  43. Portnoy’s Complaint By Philip Roth
  44. The Power and the Glory By Graham Greene
  45. Slaughterhouse-Five By Kurt Vonnegut
  46. The Sound and the Fury By William Faulkner
  47. The Sun Also Rises By Ernest Hemingway
  48. Things Fall Apart By Chinua Achebe
  49. To Kill a Mockingbird By Harper Lee
  50. Tropic of Cancer By Henry Miller
  51. Watchmen By Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
  52. White Noise By Don DeLillo
  53. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
  54. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry
  55. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson
  56. Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett
  57. The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
  58. Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis
  59. Play it as it Lays by Joan Didion
  60. The Moviegoer by Walker Percy
  61. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
  62. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

P.S. For those who are list hungry, Susheel shared 1001 books list, which can also be found here. Worth checking out. 🙂





On Lame Excuses….

14 05 2008

“Never Offer Lame Excuses”..

That was some advice that’s offered by my teacher during my school days that stood the test of the time. This article that I received today in email made me think for some time on the excuses that we mouth at the simplest opportunity.

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Excuses, Excuses
by Marshall Goldsmith, Ph.D.

When Bill Clinton published his best-selling memoir in 2004, he knew he would have to deal with the Monica Lewinsky scandal during his second term. He did so by explaining it as a personal failure, a yielding to private demons.

“Once people reach the age of accountability, no matter what people do to them, that is not an excuse for any mistakes they make. I was involved in two great struggles at the same time: a great public struggle over the future of America with the Republican Congress and a private struggle with my old demons. I won the public one and lost the private one,” Clinton said.

“I don`t think it`s much more complicated than that. That`s not an excuse. But it is an explanation, and that`s the best I can do.”

Clinton understood the distinction – and not just because his behavior was inexcusable. There is simply no excuse for making excuses.

When you`re late to an appointment and you hear yourself saying, “I`m sorry I`m late but the traffic was murder,” stop at the word “sorry.” Blaming traffic doesn`t excuse the fact that you kept people waiting. You should have started earlier. You certainly won`t have to apologize for: “I`m sorry I`m early, but I left too soon and the traffic was moving along just fine.”

If the world worked like that, there would be no excuses.

I like to divide excuses into two categories: blunt and subtle. The blunt, “dog ate my homework” excuse sounds something like this: “I`m very sorry I missed our lunch date. My assistant had it marked down for the wrong day on my calendar.”

Translation: “You see, it`s not that I forgot the lunch date. It`s not that I don`t regard you as so important that lunch with you is the unchangeable, non-negotiable highlight of my day. It`s just that my assistant is inept. Blame my assistant, not me.”

The problem with this type of excuse is that we rarely get away with it – and it`s hardly an effective leadership strategy. After reviewing thousands of 360-degree feedback summaries, I have a feel for what qualities direct reports respect and don`t respect in their leaders. I have never seen feedback that said, “I think you are a great leader because I love the quality of your excuses,” or, “I thought you screwed up, but you really changed my mind after you made that excuse.”

The more subtle excuses appear when we attribute our failings to some genetic characteristic that`s apparently lodged in our brains. We talk about ourselves as if we have permanent genetic flaws that can never be altered.

You`ve surely heard these excuses. Maybe you`ve even used a few of them: “I`m impatient.” “I always put things off until the last minute.” “I`ve always had a quick temper.”

Habitually, these expositional statements are followed by saying, “I`m sorry, but that`s just the way I am.”

It`s amazing how often I hear otherwise brilliant, successful people make willfully self-deprecating comments about themselves. It`s a subtle art because, in effect, they`re stereotyping themselves and using that to excuse otherwise inexcusable behavior.

Our personal stereotyping frequently comes from stories or preconceived notions about ourselves that have been preserved and repeated for years, sometimes going back as far as childhood. These stories may have little or no basis in fact. But they imprint themselves in our minds and establish low expectations that become self-fulfilling prophecies.

The next time you hear yourself saying, “I`m just no good at …,” ask yourself, “Why not?”

This doesn`t just refer to our aptitudes at mathematics or mechanics. It also applies to our behavior. We excuse our tardiness because we`ve been running late all our lives, and our family, friends and colleagues let us get away with it. These aren`t genetic flaws. We weren`t born this way, and we don`t have to be this way.

If we can stop excusing ourselves, we can get better at almost anything we choose.

[About the Author: Dr. Marshall Goldsmith is a world authority in helping successful leaders achieve positive, lasting change in behavior. He is the author or co-editor of 22 books, including The Wall Street Journal No. 1 business best-seller What Got You Here Won`t Get You There.]

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Shift Happens..

7 05 2008

How many of us devote a thought to the exponential changes that happen around the world? Originally originated in 2006, this is one of those striking presentations that stays alive in my memories.

This is created from the original video made by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod, makes us think about the rapid transformation happening around us.

Muse On!