Friday, March 31, 2017

Something Happened On The Way to Heaven - Sudha Murthy

The book contains 20 real life stories from across India and is edited by Sudha Murthy. In 'Acceptance' by Bhaswar Mukherjee we have a family dealing with the dilemma of hiring a eunuch as house help, their biases against them and how wrong they were proved. 'The Red Rose' is about love that goes beyond ages, faculties, health of a grandfather suffering from Alzheimers.
The 'Dhaka Girl' by Shrishti Dasgupta is about  a young girl who gives all she has with her to an old Muslim man before Eid and how the same man saves her family from riots. In 'Agni Pareeksha' by Supriya Unni Nair we meet Maneesha Ramakrishnan who survived the Bangalore Carlton fire (I remember the incident when many people in the building died because there was no fire evacuation mechanism, some jumping to their death) and how Maneesha recovered slowly, lost her voice, but not her zest for life, and after three years, performed a flash mob at the same building and put the story to rest.

A wonderful change in context that changes the narrative. Beautiful.

In 'Elixir' by Satyarth Nayak a young person finds out what true love is when she meets her old incontinent grandfather and grandmother. In 'The Right to Refuse' by Jimmy Mathew we meet love in different forms - the man who wanted his wife to have a surgical correction to experience her virginity and another who wanted surgical correction to hide an identity - and how both stories end up well for those who have the capacity to love. In 'Father's Reading Glasses' by Vibha Lohani we find a daughter and a father bonding over his perpetually missing reading glasses, a reassuring theme. In 'Aagneya' by Rajesh Pooppotte, a young girl fights back for her dignity and its heartwarming to see her spirit. In 'A New Beginning' by Swaha Bhattacharya, we meet her Didi who is just out of college and adopts a young child Diya against family opposition and meets a tragic end (I remember that incident also, at Hyderabad airport where she lost her life in a tragic aerobridge accident). But she (Amrita Roy) gives Diya a new beginning.

In 'The Mysterious Couple' by Rishi Vohra we find a young man making a new relationship with the mysterious old neighbours in their apartment, who he finds out have undergone a great tragedy and attempts to make peace for them in their loneliness. In 'How Jhannu Mankdia Made It Possible' we visit the girl who is the first post graduate from her community, how she escaped a child trafficking racket and turned her life around by educating herself. In 'Savita's Story' by Subhobrata we meet the maid who worked doubly hard to educate her only daughter only to lose her and how she finds new meaning by educating another young child from her locality. In 'Acid' by Pushkar Pande we meet a young girl who meets a boy friend online, someone who thinks nothing of splashing acid on her face when rejected, and whom many seem to support, something she rises way above. In 'Grandfather's Day' we meet a young widow who teaches a journalist who tries to take advantage a lesson for life and in a fitting end, meets him again through his grandson, her student, who introduces her as his favorite teacher.

In 'The Udayan Effect' Praveen P. Gopinath shows us how our mind gets clouded over by our biases and insecurities and how his friend Udayan taught him a valuable lesson on trust. In 'Time to Pack Up Or Not' Neha Garg gets a second life after she is pulled out of the local train compartment and left to die but finds that the world is helpful after all. In 'Train to Goonda vile' by Ila Gautam we once again encounter our friends - bias, insecurity and labels, and find that the ones who they thought were the goondas were actually protecting their daughter. In 'What Goes Around Comes Around' by Tulika Dubey we find a perfect example of how a good deed done years ago by the grandfather comes back to reward the grandson. In 'It Fell In a Storm' by Santanu Bhowmick we find a young girl and her two brothers picking mangoes to buy a gift for their mother, a creative act, an act of love. In 'An Encounter of a Special Kind' by Tapan Mukherjee, a young boy experiences the love of a mother langur and how gratitude and love transcend the human form.

Nice stories. The themes have a pattern - of our eagerness to label, to form biases, lack of trust, unconditional love, courage, about getting back what we give - so much so that we wonder when we will ever learn to be secure people at all. There are possibilities you know.   

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Anjali - We're All helping One Another, Without Even Knowing It

Out of the blue Anjali asked me last night.

'Nanna, did you ever fight with anyone?'
I thought of some filmy fights and recalled no such moment in my life. No Bruce Lee, Amitabh. No Jackie Chan moments.

'No,' I said. 'I never hit anyone.'
'No,' she said. 'Not like that. Did you fight with people.. like those who come on the wrong side of the road etc.'

Ah, this I do on a daily basis. At least I crib about it and Anjali has surely heard my cribbing many times.
'Yes,' I admitted. 'That I do often.'

Now, I was feeling uncomfortable already. Where was this leading? I know for sure that she does not approve of my holier-than-thou / I-am-right / How-can- they attitude when I drive and normally takes their side. So I geared up.

She suddenly changed track.

'You know Nanna. We are all helping someone or the other without them knowing it also. See you help people with your talks or workshops or a TED talk and someone sees it and finds something useful in it. The same person may not know you if he sees you in traffic. But you have helped right? Or Mamma helps so many people with their problems and they may help somebody else and they may not know Mamma. They may do something and help someone else. Even Mamma. Or me. Or Jyo maushi (her air hostess aunt) helps so many people by making them comfortable in the flight and Jyo maushi may not even know how she has helped them and how that has helped someone else. So you see, everyone is helping one another without even knowing how we are helping every one else.'

Whoa! That was a long a deep explanation of a thought I could not perceive so easily. 

A bit like that network Prashant Dhawan spoke about in his TEDx talk at VNR VJIET recently, about an underground network of roots that we cannot see which keeps the forest going on a cooperative basis, together, helping one another, while on the outside it may appear that the trees are competing with one another.

I never thought of the world like how Anjali described it. That everyone is helping everyone one way or another. It's stupendous. Never so deeply, not so all encompassingly. That someone could have helped me out there (and I may be finding fault with the same person on the road). That we are all helping out someone or the other with the very nature of our work, our life, our nature, with every breath we take. That we are all interconnected with the effect of our actions. That all life is so interconnected. Fantastic. It suddenly made me open up my mind to a huge possibility that exists before me.

Thanks Anjali for a lovely thought. We should talk about this some more. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Ipcress File - Movie Review

1965. Len Deighton's book of the same name with a young Michael Caine in the lead. He is described as being insubordinate. And he is part of the Secret Service. Bit of a bespectacled James Bond really with less fancy stuff - cars, girls, guns included.

Scientists are missing and not for all the right reasons. The service has two suspects and narrows down to one. That's quick. All Caine has to do is check some traffic records and catch him - and he does in a jiffy - because the man is still in that same place picking up traffic tickets (it's a public library which they need to help their scientists). The man is the right man and Caine orders a raid. It's futile. The bird (Bluejay in this case along with House Martin) has flown. Caine is then captured (after a couple of unnecessary deaths of complete lackeys) and tortured and brainwashed (Ipcress is some acronym of that process). But he escapes and finds out that one of his two bosses is the villain who set him up. But why?

Ipcress File was too full of holes for me. What were the American spies doing and why were they killed? Why was Jock killed? Why was Caine not killed? Why did the villain reveal Bluejay's name and thereby lead it on to himself? What was Bluejay trying to do if all he wants to do is trade in brains? Why did Courtney sleep with Caine?

Why? Why? And Why?

But British stuff is always fun even if its clumsy and this one is as clumsy as anything. I love clumsy. That said it got lots of awards. 

The Sentimental Spy - Krishna Shastri Devulapalli

This one is Mel Brooks meets Quick Gun Murugan, with ten times more punch. Trust Krishna to come up with something as zany as this. I am wondering what the publisher is doing hiding this novella in a e-book format that is neither easy to access nor easy to read (one of the reasons why I delayed reading it for so long - and now having read it, regret the delay which I entirely blame the unfriendly format for). In a limited world of humour writers in India, Krishna once again, lays claim to being one of the best, one of the few who can make you burst out in sudden, loud laughter much like Wodehouse does (as against bringing on an amused smile at best like most humor writers at best aspire to). Publisher, print this book and get it out there on the book shelves - you will be doing yourself a favour. It's a riot.
Juggernaut, 300 p, Rs. 30
The Sentimental Spy is Sonti Srinivasulu, progeny of Sonti Parameshwarulu and Kantham, avid film watchers from West Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh. Parameshwarulu dies while heroically trying to wrangle tickets for their superstar's movie on the first day, first show, from the local landlord Pedda Rayudu who buys 70 tickets in bulk and leaves the Sonti family, particularly a heavily pregnant Kantham ticketless, livid. She urges Parameshwarulu to attack Pedda Rayudu and avenge their loss but he slips and falls. A huge cut out of the hero falls on him and he dies leaving a sexually-at-peak Kantham widowed. Kantham makes her first son SS, then a mere boy that he would 1) kill Pedda Rayudu and avenge his father's death and until then he would maintain his celibacy 2) get his crippled younger brother and blind younger sister married and only then think of marriage and 3) many such sentimental bonds.

Twenty years on, SS grows up under the burden of his vows, falls in love with the luscious Chandrabhanu, is forced to seek other paths by Chandrabhanu's scientist father and joins the Indian Secret Service (with an extra S for numerological reasons). Thus the sentimental spy, SS 555, a.k.a. Family Bond is born.

SS is given the job of rescuing the world from this new villain called Chairman who wants to constipate the world with his dastardly Crap-O-Nil program that could end the world. All he needs in return is not money but three awards - The Nobel, the Bharata Ratna and the Oscar. Else, the world will end. The Secret Service negotiates with a Padmashree which is refused with a laugh. To accompany him on his mission, SS hires Jignesh Prem Babu, as aspiring novelist for his resilient, self promoting and thick skinned ways and is also given the services of the super sexy Ms. Nair, a Bharatanatyam dancer, MBA and Pepsi manager, to assist him.

Unknown to him, Sonti Kantham, who is still in her sexual peak after losing her husband twenty years ago, contacts the local guru, who is also called Ad Man. As gurus go he has his style - he is inspired by commercial ads and quotes freely from them and distributes gyan from ads (like 'Go For It' for example). Ad Man has a roving eye and his eyes fall upon the blind sister of SS, Sunetra, the sexiest blind sister I have ever come across in fiction yet. She does nothing but oozes sex, and her pallu dropping ways, her heaving bosom, in her blind world, makes her all the more alluring to Ad Man (I can imagine Mel Brooks playing this role right away). He quits his other jobs and makes Sunetra his only job. The gullible Kantham falls for it and brings him home hoping he will cure her blind daughter and lame son. The family members and Ad Man attach themselves to SS, Jignesh and Nair in the minivan in which they go abroad (across the seas, after having consumed some barotas and making short work of a Malayali film crew whom they warn against making any further art films).

Sizzling scenes in bath tubs with the luscious Nair are interrupted by room service and then Kantham herself who reminds her son of his vow. Nair laughs it off and tells SS that while he is holding on to his virginity, his sister had long since lost hers and is now pregnant. To complicate matters SS runs into Chandrabhanu and falls into a flashback of how he could not convince her father that he could handle her as a shuttle cock champion. His use of the wrong words cuts his aspirations short.

Chairman has now captured her and is making her father work on the Crap-O-Nil project. Ad Man now wants to marry Sunetra and wants an SUV as dowry and has already hacked into SS's bank account to take an advance. The end comes to a sizzling close as Chairman is revealed to be none other than Pedda Rayudu. Will SS survive his diabolical plans and can he save the world and his entire family, Chandrabhanu and her father and his future brother-in-law the Ad Man?

Packed with hilarious content and fabulous characters 'The Sentimental Spy' is easily one of the funniest spoofs on Indian cinema and even world cinema I have ever read. It is timeless - as one can relate to characters right from James Bond to Virat Kohli, Katlina Kapoor, Chetan Bhagat (who writes a book while judging the dance-to-death competition between SS and Chairman), T.M. Krishna, Sidhu and a host of others who make their way in and out of the book. Krishna spares no one. 'The Sentimental Spy' is a racy read and ties in everything beautifully in the end leaving the field open for a sequel. I laughed out loud in many places. This is Krishna (not T.M.) at his best, writing about his pet peeves - publishing, Indian writers, films, NRIs. What I like about his humour is that it's no holds barred, intelligent and superbly timed and thought of (and its getting better with each book). When the punch comes, it hits you directly and unexpectedly in the solar plexus and - it's sweet. Brilliant Krishna, get the hard copy out and get it on the shelves. No point hiding such a wonderful piece of work in some obscure e-shelf. And soon! You're well on the way to super stardom in Indian humour writing at this rate.  

Priced at Rs. 30 on Juggernaut's site (which is still opening for the past ten minutes) it's a steal. Buy it and read it. You'll enjoy it (if you have a sense of humour). If you're likely to get self-righteous about blind sisters who enjoy their sex lives with lecherous fake gurus, don't. Here's the link. Happy reading.

Jason and Medea - Apollonious of Rhodes

Athene and Here, goddesses, espy young Jason and his argonauts hiding in the rushes with a singular mission. To take away Aeetes golden fleece to Hellas. They are concerned for young Jason and wonder if they could ask Aphrodite a favour. Aeetes would not let go of his golden fleece easily and Jason might lose his life unless of course they could make Aeetes's daughter Medea fall in love with Jason. Medea could help Jason counter Aeetes with her knowledge of charms.

They ask Aphrodite to ask her son Eros (the Greek Manmadha) to shoot an arrow at Medea and make her fall in love. Eros does that, enticed with a small bribe by his mother, and Medea falls hopelessly in love with the handsome Jason. The young lad meanwhile tries to talk to Aeetes about his venture and hope that good sense prevails - in exchange for the fleece, he offers that he would fight for Aeetes. But Aeetes is simmering with anger (he would rather have them dead and makes plans to that effect) and he instead gives Jason a tough task of ploughing a field with two fiery bulls that breathe fire and then sowing the field with a serpents teeth which would then grow into warriors of incredible strength. The golden fleece itself was guarded by a fierce dragon. Jason would have to overcome the men and then, he could take away the fleece. The task was tough for someone like Jason and his team of argonauts.

Fair Medea, lovelorn and sad, seeks out Jason and gives him the way out. She tells him precisely what charm to use and when and how to get the strength to achieve his deed. To counter the bulls and their fire she gives him and ointment for strength and protection, for the warriors she gives him a ruse to make the fight among themselves and for the dragon she gives him a herb to put it to sleep. After the job is done says the fair maiden, and when you return to Hellas, will you think of me? Jason is also suitably impressed by the charming lady and says he will take her away as well. Then Jason sets about his impossible task and achieves it. And then he marries her of course.

Ah, a love story as good as any. "A heroic tale of love, anguish.." says the blurb. So it is.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Jawwad Patel - I Keep a Record of The Criticism I Get

22 year old Jawwad Patel is a serial innovator. He has not graduated yet, he is studying his final year engineering, but has some 2000 innovations and 2 patents (Dew Drop and Smart Helmet). He is also nominated to the 'Young Scientist Award' I hear. I met Jawwad at the recent TEDx event held at VNR VJIET.

His story is fascinating. As a young child who preferred to play with Barbie dolls (in pink) he found he was shunned by boys his age. In his loneliness he started talking to a screw driver which he named Tony. He named all the gadgets in his room something or the other - the fan, the phone, the light etc and started talking to them - he made friends with them. In his loneliness he shared many secrets with the gadgets and was one day struck by this thought. 'Maybe I should know their secrets too,' eh thought and used Tony the screwdriver to open them up.
A snazzy pic from his website
Inside the gadgets he found many secrets that led him to understand technology really well. He would find problems - like controlling the temperature of the output from geyser (not scalding hot, not too cold but just right from drop one), putting a toaster on or even the geyser on from his bed instead of going to the switch etc. His exploits also led to a healthy dose of mischief at school which earned him many yellow cards (they had a system of yellow cards like in soccer).

His father put him in a school in Aurangabad (away from his home in Mumbai) and Jawwad would eventually wind his way back to Mumbai through a circuitous route. One fine day, in Latur perhaps, he found a young kid selling samosas looking at his water bottle. When Jawwad dropped the water by mistake the boy started to cry. Jawwad asked him why he was crying and the boy said he was from Latur where there was a drought and there was severe shortage of water. Moved by the child's problem Jawwad decided to use his mind to do something really useful. He put together a gadget called 'Dewdrop' which can produce 1.86 litres of water in one hour out of thin air. The investment in his invention is Rs. 2000. Many such ideas of his have been based on serious problems and most concern human equality, dignity. He has an empathetic soul and really feels for the people.

One thing he told me while we chatted was that he has been at the receiving end of criticism and even threats at times. 'But I keep a record of all the criticism I get,' he confessed. 'If its over mail I take a screenshot and file it. I look at it every now and then.'

Wow! That must be some motivation. To see that criticism and to prove the critics right is probably as much motivation as one can get. I haven't seen too many people do this - we somehow prefer the nice parts but if you want to grow in a hurry there is no time to be soft. Go for it.

I love Jawwad's technique and I am seriously considering filing all the criticism and knock each one off. I do believe this is perhaps the best motivation if you have the stomach for it. Like Frank Bettgar who said in his book 'How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling' that he vowed to be the most enthusiastic player and the most enthusiastic salesman once he got feedback that he lacked, energy, ambition and enthusiasm. And voila, those went out of the window and he got loads of success thanks to that.

Jawwad is such an affable young man who bowled me over with his empathy to people (which drives his inventions), his lack of arrogance and his total lack of any defence mechanisms. 'Sir, can i say this?' he asked with complete child-like innocence. I told him - just go and tell your story, forget about how. We're all here to listen to that. And tell he did in such a fashion that he got a rousing applause.

But this post is for this one important insight - that we can seek criticism, look at it in the eye and knock it over instead of flinching or hiding from it. 

Anjali - But There's So Much To Write From Real Life

I am not sure why we came to the point where we were discussing what I could probably write about in my upcoming projects. Perhaps it started with the coming book on Anjali.
Poring over the Atlas
'You wrote The Men Within', 'If You Love Someone', '50 Not Out' and now 'This Way Is Easier Dad', said Anjali. She is naturally excited about the progress on 'This Way Is Easier Dad' which is entirely based on her.

I nodded.
'What will you write about next Nanna?' she asked.
'I will write more books I suppose,' I said unsurely. 'About something that interests me.'

She looked at me for a while as if wondering what I would write about, what I could write about since I already wrote about cricket, her, love.
Then it seemed to strike her.

'Oh you can write about real life,' she said with great relief. 'You will never run short of stories. You can write funny stories, adventure stories from real life. I mean if you had to think of magic or something like that it would be really hard because you will have to imagine all those things but if you observe real life you get so many stories. There is so much happening everyday in our life.'

Ah, how right you are. I will never run short of stories from such a vast source. I could never lose inspiration from this never ending pool of stories. All I have to do is tune into life, flip a page and I am hooked. What else do I need to find inspiration from?

I have no excuse now to write any less stories than I ought to.

That's pretty smart Anjali. Nothing is as dramatic or as romantic as real life, nor is it as funny to tell the truth as it is. You got it absolutely right.

Fabulous video - Never Give Up!

Lovely. That satisfaction in the end.
Never give up!

Thanks fb!

Monday, March 27, 2017

TEDx VNR VJIET - March 25, 2017

I missed all the fun of being at the TEDx VNR VJIET last year simply because I was one of the speakers and was busy worrying about my speech. But this year, the second edition of the event, I decided to attend all the events and have lots of fun. The baton passed from Abhinay (who was the licensee last year and who has passed out and joined TCS this year) to Meghana who is the current licensee. I was impressed with the quiet resolve and fierce resilience that Meghana brings to the job ever since I dealt with her last year (from the late night call about my transport last year - a sure sign of a diligent mind ticking things off)  and was sure she'd do as good a job, if not better, this year. The TEDx VNR VJIET Community was kind enough to assign me the mentor's role and it offered me a ring side view of all that was happening and that fitted into my plans perfectly. So I went early to the pre-event dinner on the 24th March at Jonathan's Kitchen with Suresh and then spent the entire day of the 25th at the event on Wednesday. Like my friend Ramaraju who was with me said - "it was a day well spent."
The college wore a festive look with posters and banners advertising 'Paradigm Shift' (the theme for the event) and I saw familiar, helpful faces right from the gate. From Vijay who offered to park my car to Vineeth who asked me if I had my breakfast and gallantly offered to get me some, there was that feeling of being fully taken care of. I was constantly asked about breakfast or if I was comfortable, or led to the lounge and offered coffee or tea (so hospitable were they that Ramaraju, who wanted some alone time on his laptop and phone kept fleeing to dark corners to escape their hospitality). And then there is all this talk about the millenials!

"There are no coincidences,' said Shreya at some point during the day. She compered the show brilliantly. She picked up a thread from what the speaker had just said, added her own words and segued into the next act. 'It has all been thought of and done deliberately,' she said. That's a powerful statement to make and I was left wondering how many times the schedules and the activities must have been gone through with a fine net so nothing slips. I met Sruthi, Nikhil, Vivek, Shreya (this time as the group 'Rooh' - and took a picture with them - we shared some anxious moments before our performances last year). And Sloka, Vandana, Samanvith, Kittu, Anusha, Yash among others. I visited the lounge and found the speakers - Sangeeta Ishwaran (dancer, performer, activist), Prashant Dhawan (biomimicry, citizen activist), Jawwad Patel (serial innovator), Anuradha Naik (architect, conservationist), Sagarika Melkote (Hyderabad Runners) and Carolyn Theresa (food blogger). Suresh (Chairman Lycos) and Mohana Krishna (film writer and director) were to arrive later. I could sense the focus of the speakers sharpening before their talks and I slipped out to meet Dr. D. N. Rao and Narayana Chakravarthula.
The brilliant backdrop designed by Kittu

The show got underway at 1015.
The first speaker was Anuradha Naik, Conservative Architect, and she started with a picture of the Indian football team that had reached the quarter finals of the 1952 Olympics. The team had six players from Hyderabad and a coach too. What she mentioned was interesting - they were all from Mallepally. How - she explained later - was through the City Improvement Board set up by the seventh Nizam after the floods of 1908 and the thoughtful planning by the eminent engineer Visweswariah who was assigned the job. Mallepally had grounds in front of its homes and that allowed the young lads to play and practice and become champions - the mere creation of facilities.

Carolyn Theresa Simon, Model and Food Blogger, spoke next of her experiences as a food blogger in Bangalore and how one can discover history and oneself by trying out local food  - she narrated an incident of how she and her family had gone to Delhi once and stayed with the safe MacDonalds instead of trying out Chandni Chowk's famed street food. When in Rome, eat Roman she emphasised and you'll be a better person for that. I agree.

Sangeeta Ishwaran, Bharatanatyam Dancer, performer and activist, spoke powerfully about fear - she strode the stage and delivered a mesmerising talk/performance starting with how fear stops us from talking about crimes and abuse (a  chilling story of a child who was abused who could only say 'They did it') and how of fear makes us commit crimes. She spoke with candour, intensity, humour, openness and soon transformed the stage into an open conversation between her and the audience. She danced, she sang, she dramatised - and drove her point of fear being the root cause of conflict and how by being a bit vulnerable, and loving, we could transcend fear. She was superb.

We broke for tea. We were led to a beautiful book expo of some classics (50 Not Out included). Mohan had his speech in this session so he arrived in time for a cup of tea and a small chat before we headed back.

Two young poets, Akhila Gopalakrishnan and Saima Afreen, both whom I know previously, and was pleasantly surprised to see here, shared poetry that they wrote and it was beautiful to see so many fine ideas being shared by the poets in their discussion cum recital.

Prashant Dhawan, cofounder of Bio Mimicry Labs, Bengaluru, spoke of how smart cities are not really smart and are in fact more of money making propositions and that we as citizens should have a voice in what really means smart. Smart, he said, ought to be life enhancing and that's pretty much the one reason we must look for. Beyond that he spoke of how nature provides so much inspiration and that though it may appear that there is a competition among trees in the forest to reach out for the skies, there is a network of roots below it that keeps it all going through a common sharing of resources. The competition we see outward is not the story, what goes underneath is the story really.

Sagarika Melkote (my junior form college days who is married to my senior from school Dr. M.V. Sridhar, General Manager, BCCI), now an avid runner represented the Hyderabad Runners, a small group of five people that has now transformed into a movement of  4500 people, local support groups for runners, a full fledged marathon for Hyderabad which is the toughest one in India. She spoke honestly of how she was far removed from the sports fields, how the maximum sporting activity was limited to clapping when her friends won awards at school. The Runners happened by chance and now she has run 20 odd half marathons and a few full marathons across the world in the past few years. Her sharing of her first full marathon amidst 16000 runners and how the group supports you (go on, you are doing a better job than our government). How marathons do not have any winners and everyone who finishes is a winner. She spoke of how its an accessible, healthy sport that brings out the best in a person.

Mohana Krishna Indraganti spoke of the connection between literature, culture and movies and how the link was being broken since the local languages were not spoken in schools and colleges nor encouraged. He says popular culture is not what is shown as culture and ought to flow from the real, rich heritage that the language has. He bemoaned the neglect of humanities and gradual erosion of culture in our literature and movies. It is his pet peeve and rightly so - he has been a staunch advocate of Telugu literature and urged those in the audience to read more Telugu literature, both contemporary and old.

Off for lunch. But not before writing out a blessing for someone out there on a post card which was in our bag of goodies. We met Suresh who joined us at lunch. Another lovely gesture was that we were asked to pick any one book on display at the Book Expo, read it and pass it on. This was one of the many thoughtful gestures that the team came up with. I picked up 'Around the World in Eighty Days' by Jules Verne which was recommended to me by a young man. Dr. Sudhir Naik picked up 50 Not Out and I was glad to sign it for him. In the lounge I chatted with the mercurial Jawwad Patel, a young man with exceptional humility and a brilliant mind.

The performance by Anandamide was exquisite and I was sad I could only catch a part of it. Here's a glimpse. Just the other day I was reading out Anandamide - the substance in the mind that can create its own ecstasy, the cannabis like feeling. Ananda, bliss.  I could have heard them for a much longer time. Thankfully they're on YouTube.

Jawwad Patel, all of 22 years old, an undergraduate and serial innovator in line to receive the Young Scientist Award) walked on to the stage and narrated how he had a lonely childhood (one part of that being that he liked Barbie dolls in pink). In his isolation and friendless world he made a friend of a screw driver that he named Tony and began an exciting journey into the world of science. He named all the gadgets in the room and then shared his secrets with them. Being an empathetic soul he also wanted to see the secrets they had in their stomach and used Tony to pry them open. He mastered science pretty fast and used this new found power to make a lot of mischief at school. One day he found a young kid crying when he dropped water (in drought prone Latur) and realised he could use his science to help others. His Dew Drop is patented and can produce 1.86 litres of water in an hour out of thin air. Jawwad has some 2000 innovations and a few patents to his name. Of course he has his Jawwad Patel Labs. What I loved about him was the complete lack of arrogance, a vulnerability and mostly a deep empathy. Don't look to find innovations he said with great maturity, seek problems and try to solve them.

Suresh, Executive Chairman of Lycos, was the last speaker and he spoke about the democratisation of technology. He began with  the idea of how Henry Ford democratised automobiles in 1908, then how Gutenberg democratised knowledge with the introduction of the printing press, availability of water and electricity and then wondered if the new frontier, the Internet, has done its job and reached its full potential yet. he recounted an incident when a cab driver and he were travelling in the same car and he could access the cabby's name through technology while the cabbie could not. Is it time for us to stop learning and now allow technology or the Internet to learn us? To be truly smart in a world where we are constantly harassed to prove ourselves and out honesty and our antecedents. Cannot technology give comfort, convenience and dignity to the human race? He urged the youngsters to press for democratisation of technology, to reach out to the other side through technology and not create artificial barriers.

For a brief moment the power went off but they handled it without skipping a beat. Shreya made us do a 'can we bring the rain into this room now' technique and it was so lovely. There was this fine performance by young flautist Lalith and once again I felt that it could have gone on for a longer time.

Meghana, the licensee for this event and indefatigable skipper of this ship, stepped up and spoke convincingly, passionately and with rare maturity and clarity. Fluently she thanked her team, the speakers, her mentor, her institution. So much so that Ram could not stop telling me - 'This girl will go places'. She invited all 40 of her team members on to the stage and then we could see the extent of effort that had gone in - the front end so beautifully handled by Shreya and the many who worked diligently behind the scenes, all with a smile, without leaving any stone unturned. Kittu gave away his trademark portraits of each of the speakers and the backdrop he created for the stage was fascinating.
Abhinay thanking Dr. D.N. Rao

I loved the way Dr. D.N. Rao created a moment of magic when he urged the audience to stand up and cheer the TEDx team of 40 tired but happy volunteers. He stayed through the entire program and supported the youngsters through it all it was fitting that a few moments later Abhinay hurried on to the stage and thanked Dr. Rao emotionally (happy tears, he said), as the one man without whom this entire TEDx journey that has impacted so many, would not have been possible. We all stood up again and applauded Dr. Rao whose love for the students shines through in his deeds and his thoughts and there was another genuinely emotional moment in the room. Abhinay mentored the entire program well and stood behind the team, guiding it along.

I loved the thoughtfulness. For me thoughtfulness is the best expression of love. The post cards. The pictures, The potted plants. The books. The individual care. The attitude of giving and of making this a memorable part of their lives. Well done Meghana and team, Abhinay and the entire team at VNR VJIET. I felt the entire show was tighter, speakers list stronger and overall more impactful than the last year perhaps. Certainly being part of an event like this will change everyone who has been part of it for the better and I am sure they will all be the better for it and certainly make the world a better place for it.

Anjali - How to Add Fun to Boring Things

It's exams time now. Every once in a while I am deputed the job of asking questions (long process), setting question papers (even longer) and rarely to explain (that somehow goes to Shobha). Today I was given the job of asking questions for the Hindi exam and Anjali was to give answers. It is obviously a boring and monotonous job for both. But it has to be done so we dutifully started the job.

Anjali somehow got a small ball into the room. After answering a couple of questions she told me a way to make the process interesting. "I will bounce this ball against the wall each time I give a correct answer,' she said and bounced it. I saw the small gap she was aiming at between the tube light and the clothes hanger, the whirring fan above and wondered if I should butt in with my possibilities of how everything could go wrong (tube light could break, could hit fan etc). Some sense prevailed (or I was too muddled) so I just shut up and asked questions. The answers were correct. The ball flew to the wall and back - sometimes dangerously close to the tube light. But I as ok. Obviously she was all charged up with this new challenging game she had invented to make a boring task interesting.

As the answers flew back quicker and sharper I could see her take a swing (like a baseball pitcher) and hit the wall faster and harder. Now if she misses, there was a big mess to clear. But I could also see her aim got better. After about 30 odd questions or more our session ended. She got them right. We were relieved and happy. For those thirty off minutes, we hung on an exciting roller coaster ride where all possibilities existed.

'I enjoyed answering questions Nanna,' she said. 'And I enjoyed bouncing the ball against the wall and catching it."

One can make the most boring tasks in the world interesting it appears. One can learn and have fun. One can infuse energy into a dull, sleepy afternoon. Now where is a ball? 

Inner Engineering - Sadhguru

In the book's introduction, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev talks of how a guru is a dispeller of darkness. He expresses unhappiness over the use of four theories that are currently being sold as techniques for better living. They include 'Being in the moment' (where else can you be), 'love' (puerile, existence is human-centric), 'Do only one thing at a time' (why should we when we can do so many things at once), 'positive thinking' (of limited use). He is also critical of self-help and says one should look to transform oneself or aim for self-transformation.

Sadhguru talks of how he experienced life and its mysteries experientially. The first chapter is autobiographical, his early days in Mysore, his trysts with nature and his life atop trees, his questions and beliefs, his playing truant from school and college and embarking on an intense self-learning process. His entrepreneurship, a successful real estate venture that paid rich dividends and finally the day when he experienced enlightenment atop Chamundi Hill. That was the day when Sadhguru felt the 'me' merging with what was 'out there' and everything became one, and alive.

He says that when one says 'I do not know' - the doorway to knowledge opens. By constant yoga practice, self-study and being life oriented, one can experience bliss. Life is the ultimate intelligence. It seeks freedom, continuous expansion. In many ways we desire a state of well being or pleasantness.

All human experience is self-created. He distinguishes between pain (as pain caused by injury in an accident) and suffering (the attached story we build to prolong it all). Sadhguru asks us not to confuse life with accessories to life. Our answers lie in our inner nature when we experience borderless unity. If we turn inward, life becomes an expression of joyfulness. The way out he says, is inward.

"We need to understand that unless we do the right things, the right things will not happen to us."

There is a way to be in full control of your life. You can design your destiny and gain mastery over your life. He uses the word "responsibility" as the magic key to do that. He explains responsibility as our 'ability to respond'. The response is compared to reaction (react versus choice). Reactivity is enslavement and responsibility is freedom. It is not a burden. It offers a choice of action. You can then move from limitation to liberation.

"My ability to respond is limitless, but my ability to act is limited. I am one hundred percent responsible for everything I am and everything I am not, for my capacities and my incapacities, for my joys and my miseries. I am the one who determines the nature of my experience in this life and beyond. I am the maker of my life."

"Responsibility is the simplest and easiest way to express your own divinity."

To gain success - organise the mind to think the way you want, as against your interests. By gaining control over our thoughts we can control our emotions and thereby the energy and thereby the body (and its deeds). He urges us to eliminate self-preservation and explore life. That there should be no self, no esteem. One should be constantly in a state of gratitude and bow down to the other, as many as we can.

We are energy. Our life energy longs to touch the infinite. Karma is our own creation. For any forward movement, break cyclical patterns of karma. Experience life breath with intensity, without thought and emotion. Kriya he says is internal action of mudras and hands. Karma is external action.

"The science of yoga is, quite simply, the science of being in perfect alignment, in absolute harmony, in complete sync with existence." Yoga aligns the body, mind, energy, knowledge. He says getting your body into different postures will elevate your consciousness. You can download the cosmos into your body with practice. "In yoga, we transform the physical body from a series of compulsions of flesh, blood and hormones into a conscious process, a powerful instrument of perception and knowing."

The Body - the very source of creation is working within you. We are morsels of the earth. We can ask our own body what it wants to eat. We can develop greater strength by giving up one meal, or giving when we are most hungry. He tells the story of how his grandmother would feed ants, the smallest creatures. Giving food away strengthens you.

As far as the mind is concerned he says, create a distance between you and the mind. Experience borderless unity. Awareness is aliveness. One should be in a state of knowing without thinking. Believe without self.

He gives the example of how he got seriously injured in an accident and went into a quick surgery without anaesthesia. The doctor asked how he was able to bear the pain and he said he wa sin great pain but he did not want to extend his suffering by talking about it.

Energy - "Life can be tasted and transcended only when there is a distinction between the psychological and the existential." 

Sadhana - exercises

  • At the next meal, be actively conscious to the food you eat, the air you breathe, the water you drink, respond to everything "my responsibility is limitless, I can respond to everything" - the last thing at night and the first thing in the morning
  • Listen to life, sit with your spine erect, Be aware of breath, heartbeat.. for 11 minutes, 3 times a day
  • Breathe in the rhythm of plants, of nature, connect with the plant
  • Sit still, spine erect, still your attention, slow your breath, 7 minutes
  • Establish contact with the earth

  • Eat nuts soaked for six hours, eat a spoonful of ghee before every meal - helps digestion
  • Maintain a no food day once a month
  • Below thirty years of age eat three meals a day, after thirty two meals, body and brain work best when the stomach is empty
  • Approach food with reverence, see if you can manage with 30% of what you normally eat, you will feel more energetic
  • Get to 50% raw and uncooked food (vegetables and fruits) and 50% cooked food
  • Put your hands together and feel the sense of the union
  • Bring awareness before sleeping
  • Pay attention to your thoughts for an hour - if the things that dominate your mind are about people or things, your identification is essentially with the body, if your thoughts are about what you would like to do in your world, your identification is essentially with the mind.
  • Become aware that thought is not intelligence, that all nature around you is intelligence
  • Observe that every forty minutes you go through a physiological cycle - an opportunity to become conscious

In a generation of comfort and convenience we find many are suffering their failure and many more from success. We cannot transform the universe without transforming the individual.
Sadhguru believes his life's work is to empower humans to take charge f their own destinies and bringing them to a state of joyful inclusiveness so that the possibility that we are does not pass us by as a generation. The way out is in.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

The Storytellers - Fine Initiative by Abhinay

"I am Abhinay, storyteller. I believe everyone has a story. I believe stories must be shared. The stories that we hear make the stories of today and those that we share make the stories of tomorrow. Stories make the world we live in. I urge you all to share your stories to the person next to you. We must do this.'

So began the Storytelling session, something that Abhinay had proposed as a monthly initiative, at the picturesque, accessible, airy space at Phoenix Arena, Madhapur (go up the street from Lemon Tree, and after you take the natural right it is to your left, can see HSBC ahead to your right). There were about 12 of us - I was roped in as a guest storyteller. It was a pleasure to see Shreya, Sloka, Vineeth, Amulya, Annie, Navya and others in attendance. Not many were sure of the agenda, and Abhinay had only told me that he and I would be sharing stories.

After setting the tone in that gentle, convincing manner of his, Abhinay shared stories - the first about how one person's belief in a story changed the course of an entire village (share a lousy story and you could well end up burning your village, share a happy one and the results could be different), one about identities that involved Jayalalitha, one about how a zen master tells a person seeking knowledge to fetch water and explains how water can only be contained in a container and similarly knowledge is contained in stories. I shared my favorite stories - one about keeping a shark in your life so you are fully alive (Bonsai Manager), one about the guy who made a difference to the world by throwing in one fish at a time among the millions of fish lying around (Chicken Soup for the Soul), one about the pastor who wanted to cheat two rustic brother of their antique furniture (Roald Dahl), one about the lady who dies of a heart condition, but for the wrong reason and certainly the jack story of how we mess up our lives with our own assumptions. This is a story that Abhinay loves and keeps asking me to tell - I have to refine it because I am sure he will make me tell it to many more.

Others shared stories - one a tragic romance. There was banter and discussion, good intelligent conversation. The hour flew by and it was time to break up and head for the picture. Good initiative Abhinay and good luck. May the tribe of storytellers increase and may your vision of having everyone tell stories to the person next to you grow into a global movement. It has all the makings of a simple idea that can change the world - primarily because it will change the person who tells the story and the one who listens.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Lawrence of Arabia - Movie Review

1962. A classic. Grand in scale and execution. One of those movies that makes you long to view it on the big screen. It's rivetingly beautiful.

Peter O'Toole plays the screen version of  the famed real T.E. Lawrence upon whose life the movie is based. An archeologist who joins the British army during the Arab rising and leads Arab tribes to war against the Turkish Ottoman empire, Lawrence is known for his crazy doggedness, his love for the desert, his ease at mixing with the locals so much so that he sees himself as much as an Arab as any other. Fabulous character bought fully to life by Peter O' Toole. The heavy star cast includes Alec Guinness, Omar Sharif, Anthony Quinn among others.

If great stories must be told, they must be told like this. With love, care and attention. Beautiful.

A music score that haunts you. Listen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Old Man at the Fish Shop

Waiting in the car I noticed an old man walk up to the fish fry bandi. He was returning after a hard day's labour. He had a spade on his shoulder, the tired look of someone who spent the day out at work. Just enough energy to drag himself home.

He forced a smile - one that gave away his secret hope.
'How much?" he asked.
"Thirty rupees," said the owner of the fish fry stall.
There was that silence. The smile turned into a slow grimace as reality met hope. The dream was fading away.
"Can you give it to me for Rs. 10?" he asked.
"For twenty I can give you a small piece," said the fish stall owner.

The smile had fully faded by now. A sigh surely escaped that lean, tired frame. He looked around at any other possibility. In measured steps that frame, spade on the shoulder walked slowly into the darkness. So symbolically. Every movement of that body screamed of that infinite patience it has been granted. Will there ever be deliverance? Will that look, that walk ever see hope beyond a few minutes?

I wondered what he would do after he went home. His wife, children. His own illusions about his life, what he grew up as, what he dreamed of, what he supported, what he cherished and what he had come to. He would have led an honest life, even a pious life, a hardworking life.

But this life is not for the likes of him. He will have to live out this life and hope to do better in the next. This is life.

This is a countryman of mine.    

The Godfather II - Movie Review

Michael Corleone has to protect his turf. There are increasing demands that lead to an attempt on his life. Michael has enough enemies inside the family and outside. But that's the nature of the business he is in. It is a business where one cannot trust anyone.

Robert Deniro plays young Vito Corleone who grows up and sets up the Genco Oil business with his two pals Clemenza and Tessio. He returns briefly to Sicily and takes revenge on the killer of his father and brother.

At the end Michael is alone. It's a fate worse than death. Al Pacino plays the brooding, lonely Don with the uneasy crown on his head superbly. Ranked among the greatest American films ever made.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

An American in Paris - Movie Review

1951. Two American young men in Paris (both broke) trying to find their artistic sides - one a musician and another a painter. The painter finds an elderly woman who has a habit of patronising young artists and getting involved with them. The fourth angle, one older French friend, an established singer, is in love with his young protege and wants to marry her.

Now make the artist fall in love with the young protege and her in love with him. You have two young, broke souls who are in unwilling relationships with older people who are clinging on to them. For a while they are torn and then sanity prevails. I wish the older ones had got together too but they obviously want young blood. Gene Kelly is brilliant. Paris never looked more lovely in a movie. 1951 was a happy period. Song and dance (one 17 minute setting at the end that is the longest I have ever seen - big in scale too). What's not to like about it?

Monday, March 20, 2017

How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success In Selling - Frank Bettger

It's actually titled 'How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling'. Frank lived in the early 1900s and is a contemporary of Dale Carnegie who wrote the Foreword for this book. For once the Foreword got me hooked because Dale says that the first chapter "How One Idea Multiplied My Income and My Happiness" is one of the most inspiring. Frank's story - lost his father early, grew up with five siblings, tried to help mother by doing odd jobs often with not enough to eat, dabbled in professional baseball when young. That's when the story kicks off.

While playing professional football at 175 $ a week Frank is dropped one day by his coach who feels he has no energy and that he is lazy (something I have been accused of too so that made my ears perk up). Frank is appalled at the accusation and says he is plain nervous. The coach tells him that he is better off if he put some life and enthusiasm into his work. Frank is shattered at this turn of events and goes back home to join a league there for 25 USD a week. On the first day Frank decided to act enthusiastic, that no one would accuse him of not being enthusiastic, and since it is a whole new bunch of people he could do that. He decided he would be "the most enthusiastic player" that day. Frank went and acted like the most enthusiastic player and really caught everyone's eye. At the end of that experience he realised that he could 1) overcome his fear with his enthusiasm 2) that his enthusiasm seeped into others and 3) that he felt even better after putting in all that energy. What's better - he was called 'Pep' Bettger and was written about in the local news for his energy. His income also went up from 25 $ to 185$.

An unfortunate injury set back Frank's baseball ambitions. He then took up up selling life insurance and failed miserably. When he is resigned to go back to low paying manual jobs he signs up for a public speaking course by Dale Carnegie and hears those words again. 'Are you interested in what you are saying? Put some  life and enthusiasm into what you are saying.' Bettger sees Dale get so enthusiastic in his own talk that he throws a chair at the wall and breaks one of its legs. Bettger realises that his old problem that threatened his baseball career has surfaced again.

The next sales call Frank makes, he decides to be "the most enthusiastic salesman that the customer has ever met". He decides to act his most enthusiastic. During the discussion he feels that maybe he is over the top but the customer is listening and at one point sits erect to listen to Frank. The sale is made. He understands then the magic of being enthusiastic. He forces himself to be enthusiastic initially. To become enthusiastic, he says, act enthusiastic. Force yourself to be enthusiastic because enthusiasm is the highest paid quality on earth. It is rare and it is contagious. Dale says something even better "If your resolve to double the amount of enthusiasm in your work and your life, you will probably double your income and your happiness.'

A nice poem by Herbert Kauffman titled Victory that Frank urges us to read

- Herbert Kauffman

You are the man who used to boast
That you'd achieve the uttermost
Some day

You merely wished a show
To demonstrate how much you know
And prove the distance you can go

Another year we've just passed through
What new ideas came to you?
How many big things did you do?

Time...left twelve fresh months in your care
How many of them did you share
With opportunity and dare
Again where you so often missed?

We do not find you on the list of Makers Good
Explain the fact!
Ah no, twas not the chance you lacked!
As usual you failed to act!

In another instance Frank hears the Chairman of the company he works for speaking to his executives and these words stick to his mind.
"...selling is about one thing...seeing the people. Any man who can tell his story to 4-5 people, can't but help making good in his life.'

Inspired, Frank decided to keep a record of his calls to maintain the 4-5 average. As he analysed his records he figured he could make more calls. As he implemented his plan of seeing 4-5 people every day his sales went to $51000 in 10 weeks. One year later he analysed his records and found that he had made 1849 calls, conducted 828 interviews and closed 65 sales resulting in 4251 $ as commission. Further analysis revealed that he closed 70% sales on the first call, 32% on the second call and 7% on the third. But the best insight came when he realised he was spending 50% time on the 7%. He dropped the 7% and focused on the first two. The income per call went up from 2.80 to 4.27 $.
Sales is the easiest thing to do is you work hard at it he says. Frank set a target of 2000 calls per annum, 40 per week. To better organise himself he started a self -organisation day to plan ahead. Soon he was only working 4 days with his better planning. Analysis needs thinking, Organisation needs prioritising.

"Men do everything but to things...Think and do things in order of importance." - Henry L Doherty

Frank kept a weekly time table - morning, lunch, afternoon and evening. He kept index cards. He talks of how important the weekly work sheets were to IBM. He advises to set aside a day for self organisation day to properly plan the hours.

Other fine advise that Frank gives is that sales is about 'finding about what people want and helping them get it.' He urges salesmen to attend as many sales conventions as possible.

To get people to work he says "when you show a man what he wants, he will move heaven and earth to get it. There is only one way to get anybody to do anything - making them want to do it." 

Some quick tips - Help the customer recognise what he wants and help him decide how to get it. See things from the other person's point of view and talk in terms of his wants, needs and desires. Ask questions. Find out what is the basic need? What is the most important point of interest? Decide on the main point of the interview and stick to it. Frank says something that we all woke up to now - the important of the three letter word Why? He says its the most important word in selling. I suppose it helps the customer connect to his why. It's a question one must ask everywhere I guess. Frank also says that a man has two reasons - one that sounds good and the real one. Another important aspect of selling is the art of listening or rather creative listening. Its the magic element in selling he says.

Frank's checklist is - make appointments, be prepared, identify the key issues, ask questions, explode one big idea, arouse fear, create confidence, be an assistant to the buyer, give honest appreciation, assume a close, out THEM in the interview.

Deserve the confidence that the customer places in you. Know your business and keep learning. Praise your competitors. Look your best. Make understatements. Do you first believe what you are selling? Speak no ill of anyone. Let the customer demonstrate and make the sale. Never forget a customer and never let the customer forget you. If you take care of the customer the customer will take care of you. Love his property. New customers are the best source of new business. Follow up on a new lead within 6 minutes (asap). Report results of your follow up on the lead.

Before going into ton interview he says tell yourself - this is going to be the best interview I ever had.

A quick summary of his techniques.

  • Double your enthusiasm
  • Organise your effort
  • Ask questions
  • Identify key issues
  • Listen. Be silent.
  • Sincerity to deserve the confidence.
  • Knowledge of your business
  • Appreciate and praise
  • happy
  • Remember names and faces
  • Close the sale

To win a man convince him that you're his friend. Encourage young ones and help a man see how you can be a success in life. Ask people about their greatest ambitions. And if anyone has inspired you, tell them. Smile from deep down inside. If nervous admit you're scared. Let them help you.

I loved the chapter on enthusiasm. I will infuse that in my life.straight away. I also liked the organization bit and the record keeping bit. Just the same routines again and again will lead you to success. Everything he says is so relevant and encompasses so many areas of our life. Frank obviously is as relevant or more now as he was then.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sadguru's Bestowal - Ratnakar Nargundkar

This was an interesting book I found in the a pile of books. Written and published in the 1970s (it's priced at Rs. 5), it is an account of a common man's journey towards self realisation. Originally written in Marathi, it was translated into English by Dr. V.R. Nargundkar. My takeaway from it - to achieve the highest states one must be happy.

Ratnakar Nargundkar, while having ordinary moorings, certainly had a bent of mind for the spiritual. He would seek out holy men, seek the path to self-realisation and so on. A desire to find a sadguru true guru), to meet astrologers were inherent in him. This is the journey to self realisation achieved by Ratnakar with the guidance of his guru Param Sadguru Shree Gajanan Maharaj of Akkalkot.

Ratnakar refers to his guru as Shree, in a very affectionate manner. He finds his guru after meeting and following a few other gurus and their paths. Through Shree he finds eternal happiness or Brahmananda, a state achieved only through Nirvikalpa Samadhi state. In 1964 he is introduced to the method or sadhana which includes knowing the mantra, knowing the right facial expressions and visual concentration. Ratnakar's journey takes seven years from 1964 - 1971, a period during which he has visions, acquires supernatural powers and glimpses of the possibility. His gurus lead him along the way, through direct guidance and many times through appearances in his dreams. Ratnakar divides his time at Akkalot and at his place of residence Belgaum.

Shree tells him that he has set aside his karma and that he will achieve his goal of self realisation, He guides him along - telling him to prepare his body, his mental state and to focus on his sadhana. He also tells him that he should write his biography to tell others how to achieve self realisation.

The state of self realisation is one which he calls the ultimate state - one where he feels no hunger, thirst, desire, wishes, happiness, sorrow and other human functions. It keeps him eternally happy in the state of Brahmananda which is considered 100 times happier than Prajapati's pleasure. This state can only be experienced in Nirvikalpa Samadhi. For this he is guided with a mudra, concentration, meditation and a mantra. He is assured that he will be protected. That he should concentrate on the tip of his nose at all times, effortlessly.

One thing I liked was the advise that one must always be happy. To attain that state one must always be happy. A person who is always happy only can ask to be eternally happy. I propose to follow this advise.

He is told to keep the sadhana secret as it makes it more powerful. An interesting story is that Shree shows him that anyone can reach that state and he demonstrates it by keeping a live mouse in vajrasana for 36 hours - it loses its desire, hunger and thirst and sits in that state for  36 hours.

Ratnakar recounts incidents of how he was saved from accidents, illness and how he believed he was under the guru's grace all through. They purified his nadis, and led him through the 7 stages of knowledge to the avdhoot stage where one cannot slip back. He also advises others who wish to attain self-relaisation to read a book titled 'Grace Alone' which has more details.

It is a fascinating account of one man and his search for self realisation and how he attains it. I just got a few glimpses of the state. One take away - be happy. Very interesting indeed.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Lion - Movie Review

Based on the non fiction book 'A Long Way From Home' by Saroo Brierley, 'Lion' is the real life story of five year old Saroo who loses his way on a platform and boards a train to Kolkata, thousands of miles from his native village near Khandwa. The young Sunny Pawar is very cute as young street smart Saroo and survives attempts of child traffickers before being adopted by an Australian couple. Saroo goes to Hobart, Tasmania and grows up into Dev Patel.

Dev Patel does a fine job and we can sense his increasing discomfort and desire to see his family in India. He remembers his brother Guddu and his mother. Using Google Earth he finds his village Ganesh Talai and returns to find his mother and sister. Also to find that his name is Sheru and not Saroo as he had been pronouncing it. Nice story and well told. Dev Patel is perfect.

Hidden Figures - Movie Review

Nominated for the 2017 Academy Awards 'Hidden Figures' is about three African American mathematicians who worked for the NASA during the space race era of the 60s. It was also the era of racism. Colored bathrooms, colleagues who would not drink from the same coffee cups, a clear indication that they were lucky to just be working in the hallowed environment with whites despite the fact that they performed equally well or better than their white counterparts, not being allowed credit for their work (which went to the white colleagues finally).

The three ladies Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson however did pretty well for themselves in the end. Johnson was awarded the Presidential Award of Freedom. 

Thought for the Day - We Live In An Insecure World

It is an insecure world that tries to protect what does not belong to it. Like those who say 'I know, I know' when they do not, we also live in times when people claim what does not belong to them as their own. 'This is mine - they are taking it away - so kill them, exclude them, make them feel that they do not belong.'

The one who claims it all as his and fights for it against those weaker than him is insecure. The secure one is one who knows that it is all his - and it is that knowledge which enables him to share it freely with the weak.

To a world that is more secure. More efficient. Compassionate and kind.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Thank and Grow Rich - Pam Grout

Pam Grout's most popular book has been 'E-Squared' which I have not read (yet). But going by the title and the size of "Thank and Grow Rich" you know it will be a fun and tongue in cheek read with a couple of nice stories that help clarify her point.
It's a book that says thank everything and everyone and find ways to be shamelessly thankful to all that happens in your world world including the good and the bad and your life will change. Being thankful shifts your state from being fearful, which is where we operate from normally, to being thankful (which is certainly a better alternative) and thereby allows more good to come in. Perfect.

She writes in her semi-laughing tone about brazen gratitude, shameless gratitude which is about all the work you need to do. Life is easy she says - don't make a drama of making it tough. First find all that's good in your life and be grateful for it. Devote yourself to scouting for blessings.

Pam asks us to tune into the frequency of gratitude where we feel gratitude for all that's around us. Remember that everything we see is a construct of our brain and not what we assume to be reality - so its better to stop putting our notions into compartments. Instead, be open to the field of infinite possibilities (FP). Pam urges us to livestream with god and not try to figure everything thing out - life is easier if we let go and let god. She talks of Brother Lawrence, a priest who lived in the 1600s, who was so aglow with this life force that people would travel to see him peel potatoes.

If we are tuned into the wrong frequency, we cannot see what is right in front of us. So let go of all beliefs that we see as objective facts (from "A Course in Miracles"). Remember the brain can deceive - as in the invisible gorilla experiment.

Demolish all rules she says.

Pam urges us to remember that we are not separate from one another, to ignore the voices in our head, to let go of victim hood and to stop judging - for a better life. I like the statement - we change everything we observe. So there is good in the world as proved by a pay-it-forward experiment where one person in a car bought coffee for the one behind - the chain continued for four and a half hours. People are nice!

Real security is that feeling of being taken care of, and does not come from hoarding. Hoarding is a part of our reptilian brain that keeps us alert to danger by showing artificial lack. The universe she says is not indifferent, its a co-conspirator and there is no scarcity unless we believe in it. Money is not security - it breeds insecurity. Financial wealth is a side effect of real security as mentioned above.

To dive into her philosophy - identify the good things in your life, turn your life over to the big mystery, move towards what makes you more alive and excited, relax and have fun and share your good luck.

Pam talks of alchemic, spiritual, capital, creative, adventure and social capital. She talks of divine buzz. It helps to get a symbol that reminds you that all is well (a key chain,  a password?), look for magical blessings from the world, seek messages form the other side, know that your old belief is not true and please share. Pam gives a powerful example of the Tesla self driven car - and how difficult it is to let go of control. Let go and let god. "D(ivine) buzz" and "play" are two of her catch words. She calls her workshops play shops. No wonder there is that playful tone.

To up the ante  in the gratitude game - admit something amazingly awesome and believe in blessings and miracles. Get on the gratitude frequency and follow what shows up.

Pam gives 27 games.

First, have fun.
List all the beautiful things you have.
Allow. Be open.
Thank you.
Do only what you want to.
(I loved the story of the surf board instructor Jesus who tells them to keep eyes on the beach because the board will head to where you're looking. Or the story of the dancing nuns who win a prize to Paris.)
Be a luck magnet. Seek that vacation in Paris. Develop X ray vision and seek beyond what's apparent. Decide your day - light up your path.
Hug a tree.
Count your miracles.
Know we are all the same so don't fight or feel separate.
Decide what you want to feed yourself - 0.1 shit and 99.9 good stuff.
Write a new story for yourself.
Write blessings to fall in your lap.
Play the opposite game - if someone is nasty be nice to them like Gandhi was (he gifted his prison guard a set of new shoes).
Do the happy dance.
Use laughter to rid your fear.
Do one thing out of your comfort zone.
Be the wonder woman, FP.
Change your state in a moment. Life is fun NOW. Not tomorrow.
Scavenger hunt for 5 things.
We think 46.9% of the time about something else other than what we are doing. Be present.
Have a gratitude jar.
Be a 6 year old - make believe, whats the hurry, be like Mozart.
Thank your possessions - name them all.
Biz Stone of Twitter is the "No Worries Man" in his company. His mantra - Make impact, Love what you're doing and Create strong revenues.
Save a life today.
Make a moron smile. Treat him as your best friend. Like "I've been waiting to meet you all my life". Your reality reflects your mental map so watch that map.
Be in the moment, Love everything and don't judge.
Spread contagious laughter.
Write thank you notes to people.
Remember wonder and astonishment animates your life.

Nice and easy read. I am now more intense about my gratitude work. I need to sustain the intensity. Despite knowing - why do we not do it? Amazing. Nice book. Fine philosophy.

The Curious Case of 'No Cash' in ATMs

For the past three weeks I found that the ubiquitous ATMs were back to their No Cash days. It appears that they are on a diet or a strike. Some ATMs blinked helpfully but at the last minute, after much thought (you can hear it thinking) said that they were somehow against that one transaction. My bank certainly has all its ATMs out of cash and I wonder what happened to this bank of mine. Of course many people told me that there is no limit on withdrawals and I could go to the counter and draw. I agreed. But I am concerned about the ATMs which are being starved. You see I have developed a nice relationship with them and cannot see their pain. They look positively thin now and a pale reflection of their healthy days.

Today I saw those old lines that I saw in those days of demonetisation in a couple of places. Not as long but equally hungry people out to attack the poor ATM and withdraw whatever little it had.

I wonder why there is no mention of this. Why the ATMs are being treated in this inATM fashion? Where has the cash gone? Why is no one asking a question about it?

Until it comes back into the system I guess all I can do is send some love to my old friends the ATMs. Truth be told I fear for them and their existence.

The Unquiet Ones - Osman Samiuddin

It is described as "the definitive history of a cricket team the world loves to watch but is at a loss to explain" and as "a comprehensive portrait of a Pakistani sport". "The Unquiet Ones" is ambitious in scale but to me falls short. As he nears the end I felt Osman hurried through, lost interest even perhaps. The detail, care and deep insight of the earlier chapters is sacrificed for some reason. He obviously had the information, the knowledge and certainly the craft so I wonder why.

The books starts with the Oval triumph - carefully put together word by word, researched thoroughly - as Pakistan pulls off an improbable win under Abdul Hafeez Kardar whose presence haunts the book till the end.  Much like he describes the aloofness of Imran and the uneasy equation he shared with Miandad, the Kardar equation with Fazal Mahmood was cold. Both power centres - one the captain and one the match winner. I loved the part where Fazal Mahmood says he bowled twenty seven types of deliveries to Hutton before he got him out. Many bowlers cannot even imagine beyond ten, much less execute them. Fazal Mahmood, handsome, super confident of his abilities and certainly hero material, the Brylcreem man was a character one would like to know more of.

The formation of the BCCP, the school and college league, the camps led by Hafeez, the recognition as a test playing nation, the rivalry with India were all documented. The era of Hanif Mohammed and then inevitably the era of Imran Khan, of Javed Miandad, of Wasim Akram, Inzamam and then the stories of Amir, Butt and Asif. Sarfraz Nawaz comes in with his brand of swing bowling - and his expertise with the ball. An entire chapter is dedicated to fast bowling and fast bowlers in Pakistan and how the taped ball that they use in street cricket helps develop more fast bowlers because of the lesser weight which lends to faster arm rotation. The pace twins Waquar and Akram preferring the old ball to the new was interesting.

There is some focus on the match fixing drama and how Akram was constantly mentioned in the middle of that scandal along with Salim Malik and others. How the team played together with all this strife and conflict within and with the Board is amazing. The development of Imran Khan into a world class player, a fast bowler and his 'work like a dog' comment were interesting to read. There is some mention of the scuffed ball but not enough  - one where Martin Crowe points it out. There was a fleeting mention of the underworld and its connections and again not enough. The scandals associated with the team - from ball tampering to match fixing to connections with the underworld are left in the background. For instance no mention of Miandad's family marrying into Dawood Ibrahim's family is mentioned. Nor of the playboys - Imran at the helm - though Mudassar Nazar's father's incident is mentioned. Overall it plays safe - like most cricket books - though its far better researched and written than many.

However some incidents stand out. Like Imran's reaction when he is told that someone in the team had been bought over. He tells the team clearly that they will win no matter what and tells the manager to bet the entire earnings of the team on a Pakistan win. The World Cup campaign and Inzamam's self doubt that was quelled by Imran - in the match that Inzy did not want to play he scored a match winning 60 in 37 balls and put New Zealand out of the tournament. Or even by telling Akram not to worry about no balls and wides as long as he bowls fast. Or Aaquib Javed's soaring confidence after a pep talk by Imran. Imran Khan stands out clearly at the man who changed the face of the game in the country and abroad and as the one who brought home the World Cup.

That said, the book is like a two paced wicket. Leisurely and slow like a Sunday club game and suddenly going into the frenzy of a T20 game towards the end. Many stalwarts are not mentioned however - I thought some mention of the handicapped Azim Hafeez would be there. Saeed Anwar is almost entirely missing and little is told about Shahid Afridi, Saqlain Mushtaq, Quadir (that six he hit off Walsh on the last ball to win the game is as good a story as Miandad's last ball six but no mention). To me it's quite enlightening but not comprehensive. Bit of a fits and starts innings but for sheer doggedness and intent, a worthy effort. I loved the setting of the context, the political interludes (the character of Bhutto stands out), the growth of Pakistan alongside. The mention of Manto and Faiz, both cricket lovers, was interesting. Many such snippets but the cricket and cricketers got drowned a bit.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Who Says Elephants Can't Dance - Louis V. Gerstner, Jr

The one thing that stuck in my mind is a phrase that Gertsner repeats more than once. His principle that 'People do not respect what you expect but they respect what you inspect.' Gerstner should know - he was the man responsible for the historic turnaround of IBM in the \late 1990s. How the young kid from a modest background went to Harvard and then built a career in consulting before leading one of the most dramatic turnarounds is what this book written by Gerstener is about. I have heard much about the book and the man - Carol Dweck puts him in the list of great leaders who are those with a learning mindset, Jim Collins would surely put him in those Level 5 leaders.

Gerstner takes the job at IBM despite his misgivings - but he confirms later on that it was not just the challenge but also the pride and care that he was dealing with a national treasure. Lovely words. In those days it was said that IBM would fold up in 7 years and its revenue was down from 13 bn to 7 bn. Gerstner takes the job and discovers a culture that was inward facing, bureaucratic, rule-driven and split into so many decentralised parts that they were at war with one another. In his first address to the management team he says that he aspires that they would turn out to be best in class, would benchmark costs, be less bureaucratic and right sized. He tells them to focus on their unique strengths, to stop feeling sorry for themselves and that they should now focus on solutions and action. One phrase I loved was that he wanted them to seek short term victories and long term excitement.

He set a 30-day deadline with some major pointers - it would be driven by principles and not process, it would be driven by what the market place needs, it was better they make mistakes and fast, they would rely on teamwork, they would now focus on what has to be done. Gerstner writes about the sea of AAs or Administrative Assistants who pretty much ran the show from behind, of senior executives who would preside and not do any real work and layers of red tapism that had been built in.

Among the early strategic decisions Lou took was to lower mainframe prices. He told his senior team to go into this Operation Bearhug - they had to visit 50 customers in 90 days. The archaic and bureaucratic Management Committees were disbanded,.He met industry experts. In order of priority he decided to stop the bleeding, keep the company together, sell unproductive assets and reduce expenses. He also changed a rule that said that no alcohol would be served on company jets. While doing this he also had to hold the vision of turning profitable, be customer focused, be aggressive in the market place, and be a full-service provider. Gerstner was very clear that it was all about execution and not just talk. Now Jim Collins talks of the Stockdale Paradox and this seems like it.

Gerstner next focused on creating the leadership team. He made changes to the Board and began employee communications in the right earnest. He started the idea of a global Enterprise and not a geographical one which including breaking up well-entrenched fiefdoms. They started the campaign of Solutions for a Small Planet and the concept of e-business. He started the idea of pay for performance in terms of corporate compensation - the senior management team got bonuses only if the company did well. Stock options were offered too selectively.

IBM was started in the early 1990s as a business equipment enterprise and grew to encompass all business equipment and automation. An anti trust audit by the government put their growth and confidence into slowdown. He says that all companies are the shadow of one man - for IBM it was Sam Walton Sr. In his strategy Gerstner quickly looked at Services (which was a big gamble but paid off big time) and net worked models. the key was to integrate. He also gave a sharp focus to software which he felt was a diamond on the rough. He pretty much unstacked the stack portfolio and unbundled it offering each one as a service with value. This he built around the net.

On culture, Gerstner says that it is the only game because all businesses are about people. Most stuff that culture holds is stuff that's not written anywhere. 'Successful institutions almost always develop strong cultures that reinforce those elements that make it great.' Gerstner quickly understood that the basic beliefs and principles that guided the organisation were either being misinterpreted conveniently. Some of the cultural issues he disliked were - they did not invest in customers, customers came second, focused on internal politics, too bureaucratic, had a culture of saying NO, developed a complex IBM lingo that only understood. Gerstner asked them to focus on the market place, know that they were a tech company, they would be measured by customer satisfaction and shareholder value, they would work with urgency, teamwork would be rewarded. The required behavioral changes were clearly mentioned - customer focus, real service, manage to succeed, performance-driven which was measured, diversity was encouraged, attack process, accountability, principle driven.

Gerstner built a culture where leaders were doers and not presiders. Leaders came from all cadres. They were trained in leadership competencies. They were told how they were viewed by their colleagues and were clearly evaluated for progress.

IBM Leadership competencies were mapped thus:
Focus to win - Customer insights, Breakthrough thinking and Drive to achieve
Mobilise to Execute - Team leadership, Straight talk, Team work, Decisiveness
Sustain momentum - Building Organisation Capability, Coaching, Personal dedication
The Core - passion for business

The mantra was - win, execute and team. The moonshot was e-business.

Gerstner feels that the key to transformation was focus, being superb at execution and personal leadership. In focus he says - know and love your business, have steely eyed strategies. He says its intelligence that wins wars and that good strategy lies in detail. World class process, strategy, clarity, high performance culture were important. I like the way Gerstner says that leadership is personal. That passion is for everyone. Integrity is a must. Clearly he says elephants can dance with a bit of these. You must walk the talk.

I told my friend that I'd read this book. He told me that perhaps it's not relevant now. It's not as relevant as the Mahabharatha perhaps - I cannot see why we cannot learn from one great story. You may not follow the exact prescription but you will gain the broad principles. There is too much of that good stuff in Louis Gerstner's book and surely it must be a blueprint for those who wish to make elephants dance. Not for anyone who can think any less. Well worth the time if you ask me. Thanks Suresh for lending it to me. Now for the next one on your book shelf.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Silence - Movie Review

Martin Scorcese's film is about two young students of a Catholic missionary who goes missing in Japan in the seventeenth century. The local samurai have tortured and threatened converted Japanese Christians and the missionaries and reconverted whom they could into Buddhism. What is left of the Christians is a group of scattered Hidden Christians. An alcoholic fisherman guides the young priests, a man with loose faith and low morals, a weak soul they think because he frequently walks over a figure of Christ when challenged by the samurai and thereby commits apostasy. Many of the faithful however die for their faith and do not commit this sacrilege.

One young priest dies trying to rescue locals who are being drowned by the samurai (they have many interesting ways to kill people slowly and painfully). The other priest is also caught by the samurai and kept in captivity. They want him to convert to Buddhism like his old guru, the missionary, who has converted to Buddhism and taken a Buddhist wife. The young man feels betrayed.

The disillusioned young priest walks on the figure of Christ and turns Buddhist too. But in the end we find that all those who have seemingly betrayed their faith under duress including the older missionary, the younger one and the alcoholic, have found ways to keep the faith in their heart as they die.

People can be tortured to show that they love or do not love, that they have rejected a faith, but it is always an act of survival and resentment. Perhaps it make their faith stronger. Happens in all relationships too perhaps - you cannot force someone either way.  Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield stand out as does the samurai and the alcoholic fisherman. Tortuously slow and hauntingly silent.