Bill Bryson travels to the United Kingdom/ Great Britain/ England after a long break of more than a decade and decides to wander around and perhaps collect material for this book. he travels from Dover to Exeter, Oxford, Bradford, Ludlow, Porthmadog, Liverpool, Durham, Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Halkirk, John O'Groats, Inverness, Glasgow, Carlisle and hops off the island. The details are thanks to a useful map he provided right up front.
I enjoyed reading Bill Bryson again - I was a bit put of when he wrote the Short history. I realised he had this sneaky sense of humour that you miss when you don't pay attention. He will be bumbling about and suddenly there's this very funny line that you will miss if you don't pay attention but which you will suddenly catch out of the blue. He hates to part with his money, wants cheap travel and cheap hotels, does not want to pay for those brochures or stuff like that. He bumps into several specimens of the country, not all of them hospitable - the first landlady was unforgettable, as is the one he shouts at when locked out on a rainy night. But just as I was wondering if he had run out of laugh-out-loud stories he came up with this conversation he has in Glasgow with some Scotsmen in a bar and those two pages are stuff I want to photograph and read everyday for my dose of daily laughter.
Bill is immensely pleased with the British manners, their orderliness, their way of apologising even when they have been hurt, their refined sense of humour. He is unhappy with the disappearing telephone boxes, their incongruous new age architecture, all the entry fees, lack of transportation facilities etc.
All in all a very enjoyable read and I am back to being a Bill Bryson fan again and am all set to read the next book I have of his - A Walk in the Woods or something like that. I think I saw the movie made on that with Robert Redford and a brilliant Nick Nolte.
The House Journal Society, 94 FC at the MCRHRDI, invited me to their Reading Club Session 2.0 to speak about Cricket, Creativity and Writing. My old pal and writing buddy Vinod Ekbote was the one who mooted the idea and I readily agreed. The audience was composed of IPS, IRS officers of a trainee batch.
It was a free flowing talk as I shared my experiences on the process of writing, why I write, why everyone should write, the process of writing, the benefits of writing, my books, my influences, my learnings etc. At the end of the talk they asked me several questions and gave me suggestions.
How important is honesty in writing (very), I have an idea but am not sure if it is publishworthy, what to do (write it first), how to write book reviews (be kind, look at pros and cons, be original, look at it like a creative work that someone has invested in), how can I motivate myself to write everyday (be true to your why, your priorities) etc.
After the talk the President of the club Shreya gifted me a journal and a small gift - a lovely little book for me to write.
Thanks Vinod, the members of the House Journal Society and MCRHRDI.
My friend Sunil Jyoti asked me to look in and see if there were any books from his father's impressive collection that I may want after J.R. Jyoti saab passed away. Though he was Sunil Jyoti's father, Jyoti saab became my friend too, interested as he was in the writing process, and more some, humour. He had the entire collection of Wodehouse and I cannot forget the sight of a full steel almirah filled with Wodehouses. He was very encouraging of my writing forays and when he heard that I was attempting to write a novel back in 1997-98, he invited me to a creative writing class he was part of at IGNOU. In that class at the IGNOU centre in Srinagar colony, I met Vinod Ekbote, who became a thick pal, and BS Murthy, Major Kiran and of course Anil Ekbote who was teaching the course. Jyoti saab wrote funny pieces and made a collection of the same and published them as 'Day Becomes Night and Other Stories'.
In the hundreds of books lying there at Sunil's house, I found a whole bunch of books on the writing process - plot, characters, dialogue, short story, novel etc and took those. One Sunil was very generous and called me knowing my interest in writing. One of those books is this one on building believable characters.
Instead of writing about the subject himself, the author picked the minds of several other writers.
Some of their thoughts are given here.
You can project a little of yourself into every character, but not too far.
Keep character notebooks.
Get a good handle on the majors with background etc. You don't need to give your readers all the information you know about your characters.
Cut out pictures from magazines to better visualise my characters.
You have to know your characters somewhat better than you know yourself.
Write family trees. Then file it away. Put your characters in conflict with the manuscript and see what they are made of.
If I am foggy about the character he will be foggy to the reader as well.
Characters are composites of friends, relatives, people I know.
Names are very important. The name either sounds right or doesn't.
Give physical traits to characters to reveal them. Find physical elements that convey interior attitudes.
Feed in key details only.
Whenever possible combine a physical description with some form of action.
Always show. Reveal personality traits in action.
A character with vulnerability is a character who has to show character to survive, to triumph to overcome.
Characters should not be perfect or predictable. They must be true to their own past and their beliefs.
Characters must move the plot, not the other way.
Show description through a character's eyes.
Use catchwords, phrases, certain pauses, emotional responses.
People don't talk in complete sentences.
Suspect any paragraph of dialogue over three lines long.
I prefer to let the actual dialogue stand on its own.
This has details like name, age, height, weight, body type, physical condition, eye color, hair color and style, distinguishing features, physical imperfections that she would like to change, characteristic gestures, race, ethnic group, religion, family background, lineage, years of schooling, degrees, skills, abilities, expertise, occupation, goals, personality type, quirks, temperament, admirable traits, habits, prejudices, important political and social issues, opinion on abortion, crime, sense of humour, fears, manias, illnesses, hobbies, interests, sports, TV shows, movies, travel, drink, books, diet, clothing, trauma sexual turn on/off, philosophy of life, best friend, home, car, neighbourhood, major problems, solutions etc.
And some more.
There is a character thesaurus after this for all kinds of words to describe 1) Face and Body - Complexions and skin types, eye type and shape, eye colors, noses, hair, facial hair, body type, body parts 2) Personality/identity - Personality traits inventory, Bad habits/vices, Psychological problems, Selected diseases, disorders, hobbies and sports, societies and associations, college degrees, occupations 3) Facial expressions, body and vocal language - Anger, anxiety, tension fear and panic, shock, pain surprise, suspicion, guilt, arrogance, disgust and nausea, happiness, sadness, love, affection, lust, Laughs 4) Dress - Dresses, skirts, pants and shorts, undergarments, shoes and boots, caps and hats, glasses and sunglasses 5) Dialects and foreign speech 6) Given names and surnames 7) Character homes - Tudor, shanty, penthouse etc etc.
It's incredibly detailed and exhaustive and covers all you need to know about your character. Fantastic book to read and refer. The advice, questionnaire and thesaurus are a treasure.
Your external world as a predictor for happiness is only 10% (what you are, where you are, job, money, status etc). The key is your lens, your inner formula for happiness. It's not - Work hard, be successful and be happy. Delink happiness and success. Focus on the positive.
Dopamine serves two purposes he says - makes you happy, but also opens all the learning centres of the brain. Staying positive has its benefits. To get positive do this minute exercise for 21 days - write 3 gratitudes, journal, exercise, meditation, do random acts of kindness. As little as two minutes.
Vinod gifted this book to me a long time ago and I made several attempts to read and imbibe this. But I could not make much progress. I would go some distance and then I would get completely confused. As I realised later, the first part is too abstract and completely messes up the plot. It is a 600 page tome.
It is broadly divided into four ACTS. The prologue deals with the Art of Life's work, ACT 1 with the Quest for Life's work, ACT II with the Game of Life's work, ACT III with the Battle for Life's Work and ACT IV with the School of Life's Work. They are as vague and boring as they sound, espeically the first few chapters. As a saving grace, Boldt, embellished the book with proverbs and suggests we could just read it for the quotes It could well be the best part of the book. Before getting rid of it, I added it to a list of books that I decided to give a day's read, however big and formidable they may be, and no more. And this is what I learned.
Up from in the way of the artist he says that the way of the artist is through Trust, Psyche, Society and Nature as opposed to the way of the Little King which is just the opposite. He talks of the ISEE way - Integrity (who am I), Service (how can I live in integrity, how can I make the world better), Enjoyment (What do I love to do) and Excellence (what can I dedicate enough to pursue excellence). He says we must use these principles and craft the story of our life.
In the Quest for our Life's Work he says we must ask vision questions - what;'s the vision for the world, nation, community. Then we must clarify our top 5 values and crat a mission statement. Be clear about how many you want to reach and how deeply - how do you want to serve, whom, how many people. What's the purpose of your work, He asks us to target talents and defines talents as those that we enjoy doing. Create an exhaustive talent list and identify the top 10 talents. Then integrate talents and your purpose. Next, make mission objectives - transform visions into goals. Don't fear failure, rejection, reality, losing, pain, commitment and not being in control he says. By the end of ACT 1 we have a mission, work purpose, top 10 talents and we must integrate them,
In the Game of Life's work, he says make sure the choice is your own. Get out of the approval trap. Screen test yourself in your chosen career and see whether you fit or not. Test it out - a day in the life of that career. Meet people, intern and get a better idea. If you like it, check for skills needed and acquire them.
In the Battle for Life's work he says find a way, keep at it. Fight it out. Rather simple.
It is after so much vague stuff put even more vaguely that he comes to the crux of the matter. Choose your marketing strategy he says - Product, Package, Price, Promotion. That could well be you as well.
If you choose entrepreneurship, he says make a business outline, check out the competition, do a SWOT analysis, know your market, assemble a team, choose a legal structure, raise money, monitor and concentrate your energy and resources. He gives a format for making a business plan.
If you are looking for a job, he says first ask yourself what do you want from the job, what is your criteria for employees, research organisations, select and approach. If you don't like them, create a job and get a foot in the door. If you want to be streetsmart he says network, use publicity, get better at proposal writing an at negotiation. Develop contacts with mentors, peers, superiors, subs and others. Create a team mastermind. He also says one must be sharp, prompt, trustworthy, honesty, responsible, prepared. To learn admit your ignorance.
In the school of life's work, he says create a life image - old image versus the new image. Enlist support and do what you love doing.
He says it is never late to change your career and gives a list of people who trained to be something else and became good and something else. There are transition strategies. Towards the end he talks of the Psychology of scarcity and of plenty.
Overall, it's too much time spent on this book for me though it does make a person think. It's all over the place and could have been 300 pages shorter. That said it has a lot of value for young students out to set out on careers.
Some of the quotes I liked
When one happens on a book of this kind, he is well advised to throw it away - Shuan
(This I should have followed)
Change and growth take place when a person has risked himself and dares to become involved with experimenting with his own life. - Herbert Otto
Too many people spend money they haven't earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like. - Will Rogers
Come out of the circle of time, and into the circle of love. - Rumi
It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents us from living freely and nobly. Bertrand Russell
This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it. - Emerson
Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. - T.S. Eliot
Know the masculine, keep the feminine. - Lao Tzu
Nothing divides one so much as thought. - Reginald Blyth
Artists in each of the arts seek after and care for nothing but love. - Marsilio Fincio
Art if the proper task of life - Friedrich Nietzche
The purpose of the whole (work) is to remove those who are living in this life from a state of wretchedness and lead them to the state of blessedness. - Dante
When nations grow old, the Arts grow cold, And commerce settles on every tree. - William Blake
I think the person who takes a job in order to live - that is to say, just for money - has turned himself into a slave. - Joseph Campbell
Art always has something of the unconscious about it. - D.T. Suzuki
To know oneself, one should assert oneself. - Albert Camus
The Tao's principle is spontaneity - Lao Tzu
The work will teach you how to do it. - Estonian proverb
Love is love's reward - John Dryden
To have great poets there must be great audiences - Walt Whitman
They seem very serious about their exams and studies. Anjali has some schedules that she made for herself and diligently follows. She comes home from school and immerses herself in study. I find that completely unnerving. Shobha keeps telling her to break rules, to take off, to fail...but no. Anyway that's her choice and it's not a bad one. It's just that the focus and sticking to schedules is something I am not used to.
Anyway she showed me a poem she wrote, on her exams. Satirical. I asked her if I could publish it and she was ok.
Sridhar makes great book suggestions (just like Rajesh Janwadkar does and so does Suresh Reddy). He advised me to read 'The Inner Game of Tennis' and I loved it. So when he asked me to read 'Decisive' I got it quickly.
Chip and Dan Heath establish how we make our decisions and give us a process to help us make better decisions. The book has wonderful cases studies and stories that we can relate to and understand the process better. Deciding between two jobs, deciding on getting into a long term relationship, buying two stereos, taking a life-threatening medical procedure, deciding whether to shift focus from one business line to another..it has great examples.
The book begins with an anecdote where a person asks Benjamin Franklin for advise when he is caught in a dilemma. Franklin asks him to fold a paper in two, write the pros on one side and the cons on another, strike off pros and cons that seem to match, and decide on what's left. Of course the authors don't ask us to follow Franklin's process but it's better than not having a process at all.
The four villains that come in the way of good decision making are
1) narrow framing (which is about taking a yes' or a 'no' decision without considering other options) also called the 'spotlight' problem because you don't see other options around it
2) Confirmation bias (which is self-serving as you use new evidence to prove what you already think or believe is right)
3) Short term emotion (hijacks decision-making process)
We have all been guilty of all four. I certainly have.
To counter these four villains the authors give us a simple process 'WRAP'
1) Widen your options (to counter narrow framing)
2) Reality-test your assumptions (to get past confirmation bias)
3) Attain distance before deciding (and counter short term emotion)
4) Prepare to be wrong
I will list a few principles and tools written in the book that might help as a quick guide.
Widen Your Options
- Avoid narrow framing (Avoid Yes or No decisions)
(Consider more than one alternative before you decide. It improves your decision-making process tremendously. Ask questions like 'Is there a better way' or 'what else can we do'. Distrust 'Yes' or 'No' decisions.)
- Consider the opportunity costs. They give a clearer idea of options available.
- Use the vanishing Options Test
(what if you cannot choose any options that you are currently considering. What else can you do? When options disappear we move our spotlight.)
The advantages of multi-tracking, or using more options to solve the same problem, are beneficial even in business as it was found that executives who weigh more options make faster decisions and are less invested egoistically because there is more than one choice. Also, there is a fallback plan.
- Push for this AND that instead of this OR that. (Even when there are Prevention-focused and Promotion-focused dilemmas, try for both)
- Find someone who solved your problem
Sam Walton of Walmart traveled 12 hours to check on a checkout system by a competitor and famously said - most everything I've done I have copied
- Try to make a playlist of your past decisions
It will stop you from overlooking an option and prods you by saying- don't forget to shine your spotlight over there
- Look for analogies, look inside, find your bright spots - you may have dealt with similar stuff before
Reality-test Your Assumptions
- Spark constructive disagreement so you don't miss any options
- Learn to ask the right questions, disconfirming questions
There's this wonderful story of a patient who complains of being dizzy and no test finds out what is wrong with him until one doctor asks him to describe how he feels - he says he feels very sad ever since his wife died, very dizzy. In extreme disconfirming questions, you consider the opposite of your instincts (an example of for couples who are about to split up - they are asked to write marriage diaries chronicling things that the mate did which pleased them)
- When you need trustworthy information go find an expert, someone who is more experienced than you
(but stay in the present and past not the future...experts are lousy at predictions)
- Balance the inside view with the outside view.
A close up can add texture
Best information = Outside view + Close up
- Run small tests to test your theories - don't jump all in. We're bad at predicting, so try out first. The principle is why predict when you can know (Example, instead of interviewing candidates ask them to generate sample work)
Attain Distance Before Deciding
- 10/10/10 formula - ask yourself whether you will be ok with your decision ten minutes from now, ten months from now and ten years from now
- Ask yourself - what would I tell my best friend to do in this situation
- Look from an observer's perspective
- Agonising decisions are a sign of conflicts among your core priorities. Identify and enshrine your core priorities. To carve out space to pursue our core priorities, go on the offensive against lesser priorities
- Create a stop-doing list
Prepare To Be Wrong
- Bookend the future between dire scenario - rosy scenario.
For dire scenarios conduct a Premortem by asking a question as if the worst has already happened and what are the areas to watch out for. Similarly, get ready for the Prepade by foreseeing the rosiest scenario and preparing for it. This works in places where outcomes can be foreseen.
(An example is of a company that gives the employee the worst scenario on the job so the employee is prepared for what to expect). The future is a spectrum of possibilities and not a single possibility so conduct a premortem and prepare for the lower bookend
- Set up Tripwires to warn you.
Question past decisions. Create deadlines or partitions to help create a distance from the emotion. Tripwires create a safe space for risktaking by 1) capping your risk and 2) quieting your mind until the trigger is hit.
(A classic tripwire is the one set by rock band Van Halen which had elaborate set ups for their concerts and to make sure it was all in good hands they had a clause in their contract with the stage managers that there should not be a single brown M&M backstage - if they found one they knew that the contractors were not careful enough and they needed to be doubly careful). Powerful tripwires are triggered by patterns - emotions - like 'call if you find something worrying saved many lives in a children's hospital - not everything troublesome can be articulated.
There is a part in the final chapter about how group decisions are made and how they are influenced. There is one technique that someone shares - that he got people to agree with him by actually finding good stuff about their proposals and finding bad things about his own. This is a powerful technique that makes the other person feel secure and then it's easier to deal with them.
Overall the authors say that you are better off with a process, a few tools, and you may be right more often than wrong. So trust the process. They end with a nice note - that when asked their biggest regrets in life old people often said that they never regretted what they did, but they regretted the things they did not do.
So, there is a case for action bias when making decisions it looks like (as Wayne's rules state - 'Have a bias for action' and 'Be easy to do business with' are guidelines he gave his team). Decisive is a must-read. There are so many examples that make the reader understand exactly what they are trying to convey. Can be of great help to people of all kinds of ages.
Thanks Sridhar for recommending it to me. I recommend it too.
This will be an all-time favourite of mine and will remain a much cherished one in my writing career primarily because Ramnarayan is a first-class cricketer who played with some of the greats like Jaisimha and Pataudi etc but he is also a wonderful writer. To pass the test from one who understands both is such a pleasure. Thanks Clayton Murzello for carrying it!
This is an important book for these times mainly because, in a world that is slowly but steadily losing ground to all things cooperative, compassionate and unselfish, Subir has the courage to put himself out there and say that the difference between improving incrementally and exponentially is the 'caring mindset'. Subir clearly states that those who fail to adopt the caring mindset will fall behind in innovation, employee engagement and productivity.
The book's tag line is - when good isn't good enough. That got me started on all the things I was doing a 'good' job of. Subir explains through examples how when people stop caring - about their work, about others and about themselves, things start to go into a decline. A fine story - a senior executive calls him in a panic and talks about how their quality ratings reports were bad. He was more concerned to see toothpicks on the floor in the office. 'They just don't care any more,' he says and agonises over it. Subir, in his own way, speaks sense to the management about how they had stopped caring about themselves, their own employees, processes and landed themselves into this mess. The key was to bring back a caring mindset - starting with themselves. Subir reminds us to pick up the trash on the sidewalk, helped a friend through a difficult time etc. Practice the caring mindset he says - to grow exponentially. Subir knows what he is talking. How many toothpicks do you see in a day he asks?
The key to the caring mindset he says comes from developing the STAR culture - Straightforward, Thoughtful, Accountable and Resolve.
Subir says being Straightforward and open is the way forward as opposed to being dishonest and deceitful. he cites examples of a go-getter boss who suddenly discovers he has little time to live and wants to seek forgiveness from a former colleague for the way he had treated her - and he does. So much efficiency is lost in dishonesty adding that much more cost - all it takes is for the leaders to set an example by practicing being straightforward - being upfront, honest and accepting mistakes when they are made. Overall Subir feels that people (and organisations) are not straightforward because of fear, greed or pride.
Thoughtful is the next value or behavior to practice. He gives the example of how the flight attendant in a flight refuses to give water to an old man who is thirsty because the rules forbid her to serve the coach class before the flight takes off - and a young man flying first-class simply goes up and gives the old man a glass of water. Subir feels that being thoughtful is a two-step process - the first being able to listen to others and to put yourself in their shoes and second is being empathetic. Subir urges us to look for those who need a 'glass of water' and go out and help them. He asks us o look at the world through someone else's eyes, to truly listen to others to get over our differences.
Accountable is the next quality and the five factors the are involved are 1) being aware that something needs to be done 2) taking personal responsibility for it 3) making a decision to act 4) thinking deeply about the potential consequences of the action and 5) setting high expectations. Subir cites a lovely personal story where a teacher from his daughter's school writes a letter that is too harsh for the eleven-year-old. Subir held himself accountable to rectify the system - not by blaming the teacher but by taking purposeful action to correct the malaise. He met the development officer, asked about when the teachers were last trained on the school's core values, offered to pay for the cost of getting the leading instructor in the business of teaching core values and got the job done. That is true accountability - getting the best outcome. Another wonderful story is that of how a woman has a flat and is stuck on a Sunday evening. She finds a closed tire shop, calls the number on it, and soon enough a young man arrives, fixes everything and when she offers to pay, refuses saying 'he does not work on Sundays so he need not get paid'. She is thrilled to bits and when she tells her husband he decides to go and change all his tires at the car tire shop! (I did the same thing with this young man who took good care of my old glasses and repaired them for free instead of hustling me into buying a new one - and within a week I bought a pair of glasses from the same guy!) Another story Subir cites is that of the janitor who keeps the cleanest toilet in the airport and tells Subir that whichever toilet he works on, people can make out the difference. Subir asks, in what part of your life is it most important to take accountability now? Are you setting your sights high?
Resolve is the fourth quality and Subir's own story of how he flew to the US expecting an assistantship and how shattered he was at finding that it was not to be - but how he knocked on the doors of every single department until he got a fellowship. Subir points out that a key part of resolve is a willingness to change and adapt. Clearly, that's how 10x happens - you will not get exponential results if you do the same thing - you must adapt. Another great story highlighting the importance of resolve is how US Congressman Jim Barcia went to great lengths to ensure that Subir's parents got the US Visa so they could witness him receiving the Automotive Hall of Fame's Young Leadership and Excellence Award. It's simply the quality of not giving up until you achieve what you set out to (and he says - good enough isn't good enough) so reach for the stars!
I like the way he drives home the point through stories - about his childhood in Bangladesh, stories of his father, mother and grandfather, from the janitor, the car tire shop owner, the executive who lost touch with his daughters, the CEO who discovered he had little time left to live, the nurse who did her job diligently, the Congressman who did not give up on his promise, the bankrupt company that paid its dues before declaring bankruptcy, the doctor who sent a nurse out with a message to reassure the anxious husband - lovely stories.
I completely agree with everything Subir says and I believe it is the way forward for us as a race. To be more honest, thoughtful, accountable and resolute - to take the bull by the horns, to see it out to the best outcome possible, to be gentle while doing it but not giving up ever. In a world that's clamouring for blood, that's full of deceit and dishonesty, where leaders at the world level are lying through their teeth and are far away from being straightforward, thoughtful accountable and resolute about making positive change, this is a wonderful book that puts life into perspective. We do not need adrenaline pumping - we need a caring mindset. We need leaders who care about people - all people - not just one section. We need them to care about people as a whole and work to unite them, to create harmony, to be compassionate about the world. And in the hope that it will spawn leaders like that - I wish wholeheartedly that Subir's book reaches the far ends of the earth and change the way we think, the way the future generations think. Do read.
Subir is a bestselling author with 15 books (business - mostly themes around quality and productivity), is a sought after speaker and thought leader (is in the top 50 most influential thinkers list). He is a leading management consultant and one of the last words in quality. He is also the Chairman of ASI Consulting Group based in the USA, which deals with Strategic Initiatives, Quality Counseling, and Training.
Subir does a lot of philanthropic work –the Subir Chowdhury School of Quality and Reliability at IIT, Kharagpur, the Subir Chowdhury Fellowship on Quality and Economics at the London School of Economics, the Subir Chowdhury Fellowship on Quality and Economics at Harvard University, the Subir and Malini Chowdhury for Bangladesh Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, Global Quality Awareness, a non-profit initiative of the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Foundation (to improve the lives of individuals and communities) and the Frances Hesselbein Medal for Excellence in Leadership and Service by the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Foundation are some such initiatives. Among the many awards and recognitions he has received are the Outstanding American by Choice Award by the US Government and the Thinkers 50 nomination (many more awards, too many to list). Subir is also a heritage collector of rare Indian artworks by eminent Indian artists like Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose, Jamini Roy, Abanindranath Tagore as well as western artists like Monet, Rodin, Renoir.
Glancing through Subir’s list of books you realise how much he believes in greater efficiencies and in all the factors that go into individual and organisational productivity. His books include ‘Robust Engineering’, ‘Design for 6 Sigma’, ‘Management 21 C’, ‘Organisation 21 C’, ‘Power of Six Sigma’, ‘Taguchi’s Quality Engineering’, ‘New Generation Business’, ‘Talent Era’, ‘Ice Cream Maker’, ‘Power of LEO’, ‘Robust Optimisation’ and ‘The Difference’.
This looks international - and a completely unbiased one at that. Fair one I would say, perhaps even a kind one. Thank you Martin. I loved the words 'I would certainly encourage anyone interested to seek out a copy.'
Ramachandra Datta, the author of the book, was an older cousin of Swami Vivekananda, and was trained in western sciences but also the first to proclaim that Ramakrishna was an incarnation of god. Ramachandra took it upon himself to spread the master's message after he passed away in 1899.
Ramakrishna is addressed as Paramahamsadev in the book. Born to a pious couple in 1836 as Ramakrishna Gadadhar Chattopadhyay, Ramakrishna was the third son of Kshudiram Chattopadhyay and Chandramani Devi (the eldest being Ram Kumar, then Rameshwar). He moved to Calcutta as he grew older to study Sanskrit. In Calcutta he was liked by Rani Rasmoni Dasi, a rich lady, who founded the temples at Dakshineswar in the name of her guru, with a shrine for Kali and another for Krishna. She made Ram Kumar the priest of the temples.
Ramakrishna also joined his brother. He had a special connection with the Kali temple and was made priest of the Kali temple. He would go into raptures over his 'mother' goddess Kali, and would cry helplessly or go into trance - a state where he would not eat and even lose control of his bodily functions. So deeply was he immersed in his devotion. This period lasted for six months. Later Ramakrishna turned to sadhana. His ways were different and he was considered crazy by some, but none could doubt his ardour and devotion to 'mother'.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa practiced different religions for a while - Islam, Christianity. He would tell the others that he would converse with his 'mother'. He would never undertake any action without first informing and seeking permission from his 'mother'. Enough to say that such devotion was construed as 'mad'. He was influenced by tantra, Vaishnava and Advaita Vedanta - not to mention Kali. He was married to Sarada Devi but the marriage was never consummated. Sarada Devi took Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's work further in the years that she outlived him.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's most notable disciple was Swami Vivekananda who visited him when his Professor Dr. William Hastle urged him to meet Ramakrishna of Dakshineshwar to understand the meaning of a Wordsworth poem.
Ramakrishna Paramahamsa died of throat cancer in August 1886. Swami Vivekananda started the Ramkrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission to propagate Ramakrishna Paramahamsa's teachings. I bought this book at the Ramakrishna Math in Hyderabad. I am glad I visited Dakashineshwar and Kalighat and saw the room where Ramakrishna Paramhamsa stayed. It was a special experience.