Tuesday, June 30, 2020

A Conversation About Books - Sridhar Neelam's Book Shelf

It began with Sridhar, my scholarly friend from the Osmania University College of Engineering and then the Osmania MBA (where we shared a common passion for cricket), sharing a list of books he had suggested to someone else. Sridhar has always been a reader and has given me great book suggestions - 'The Inner Game of Tennis' was the first and it had a huge impact on me, 'Decisive' was another, 'Still Power' another, and so many more.

When I launched my first book 'The Men Within', in 2007, Sridhar, who had joined the Indian Revenue Service by then, came to the launch along with all our other friends and was very supportive of my literary endeavour. Later on, Anjan, our Literary Secretary from our Engineering College days and by then an IPS officer,  read the book and invited me and Sridhar for lunch at his office and we all discussed books and my career as a writer.
Vijay and Sridhar at the launch of 'The Men Within'.
(Vivek Jaisimha and my brother Ram in the background)
(Pic courtesy - Sunnie)
Ever since Sridhar and I discuss books every time we meet and he gives me great book suggestions. I detect in him the same urge that I have, to improve myself as a person, to hold on to every thought and strand that makes sense. We read non-fiction, mostly around peak performance states, happiness and the zone, and so on. It helps that we played cricket together for our college team, so we use a bit of cricketing metaphor to understand things. Currently, Sridhar is Commissioner GST, Medchal

When I saw Sridhar's list (I read 13 of the 25) I got an idea to interview him regarding books and his reading habits. I might start a series - maybe interviews of people and their book-reading habits, books that changed their lives etc.

Sridhar's Top 25 Books
Here's Sridhar's list first - in order of books that impacted him. The interview follows.

"Books that changed me

1) The Seven habits of highly effective people by Stephen R Covey
2) The power of full engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
3) Man’s search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
4) The autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
5) Mindset by Carol S. Dweck
6) 7 kinds of smart by Thomas Armstrong
7) Getting to yes by Roger Fisher, William Uruguay and Bruce Patton
8) The power of your subconscious mind by Joseph Murphy
9) The inner game of tennis by Tim Galloway
10) Born to Win by Muriel James and Dorothy Jongeward
11) How to win friends and influence people by Dale Carnegie
12) Your erroneous zones by Wayne W Dyer
13) Self-fulfilling Prophecy by Robert T Tauber
14) Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
15) The Prince by Machiavelli
16) The Road less travelled by Scott M Peck
17) Candide by Voltaire
18) The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
19) Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald
20) Learned Optimism by Martin Seligman
21) Flow by Mihaly Czikhsentmihaly
22) Good to Great by Jim Collins
23) A telltale brain by V S Ramachandran
24) Peak by Eric Ericsson
25) Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel T Gilbert.

My Interview with Sridhar

H. So, how did you pick up the reading habit?

S. I used to stay in Hyderguda where our ancestral house was and studied at St. Paul's High School which was close to my house. Though the school has a library, I would frequent 'Moghul's Library' which was on the Himayath Nagar main road, along with my friend Satish. People at home say I picked up letters and alphabets early on in life, so I guess I carried it to books on my own because there weren't many books at home nor readers.

Satish and I would borrow books at 10 paise per book, read them quickly, and exchange them by noon so we could read the other book. That way, we actually read two books for 10 paise. Our reading was mostly confined to Famous Fives, Secret Seven, Alistair Maclean, Tintin comics. I used to read whatever I could lay my hands on then. In fact, I would help the library uncle so he would give me new books as and when they arrived.
Sridhar and his bookshelf

H. So you developed the habit on your own?
S. Yes, because my father was not much of a reader. He hardly had time to read the newspaper because during his early days at the RBI, he was actively involved in Union work. He used to move around with people and that left him hardly any time to read. By the time he became an officer, I think it was perhaps too late to start the habit.

H. Who were the major influences for you to develop the reading habit?
S. My friends Venugopal and Satish were the main ones. Venu used to be ahead of us - he would be reading Desmond Bagley, Maclean etc when we were still reading in Famous Fives etc. So he kind of paved the way for us. After school, while studying in the Intermediate I didn't read much.

When I was around 16-17 years of age I began going to the Ramakrishna Mission where Swami Ranganathananda would give his Sunday lectures between 6 and 7 pm. His talks would connect physics with religion and spirituality and I was drawn into reading books like the Tao of Physics and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in that period.

When I joined Engineering college in 1984, Anjan was a huge source of information about authors and books. He would have so much trivia about all things literary, and when he mentioned some book or author, I'd get that book. Also my younger brother's friend, Arvind Desai had a big collection of books at his house. I'd borrow from him.

Once,  on my birthday, Anjan and a few friends of mine from the Engineering College gifted me a copy of Vikram Seth's 'Golden Gate' I began writing poems after that, expressing my feeling in verse and continue to do that even now. Whenever i am moved by anything, I write poetry.

After those college years, my reading habit waned a bit when I joined service. But it got a big boost after I returned to Hyderabad and became a member of the Secunderabad club which has a wonderful library.

H. How many books do you read in a year?
S. These days I average two books a week. I can safely say I average between 70-80 books a year. I mainly read non-fiction. I stopped reading fiction for a while now, I read magazines like Esquire, Economist, Time, New Yorker, Frontline - their well-researched articles.

H. What themes interest you these days?
S. I enjoy reading books that deal with the mind and how it works, our perception, and how it guides our behaviour. I try to find parallels in religion and at work. Books like VS Ramachandran's 'Telltale Brain', Gilbert's 'Stumbling on Happiness', Gallwey's 'Inner Game of Tennis are the kind of books I enjoy reading. There's a book called 'Incognito' by David Eagleman which deals with neuroscience that interests me.

I formed my own ideas after reading these books. It appears that humans are the only beings that think of tomorrow. The cerebral cortex which deals with reasoning is constantly worried about tomorrow. This is what causes anxiety in humans.

H. How have books changed you?
S. I feel we all start with the idea of wanting to be like someone. I think non-fiction books gave me a template towards achieving my potential, which I did not have. The '7 habits of highly successful people', is my bible.

At work, I audit myself and my behaviour with others. I check whether I am conforming to the behaviours I hold myself to. I feel I have changed, I feel I used to be arrogant earlier, but now I am aware and feel I am more grounded. I have also been able to reduce the communication barrier considerably and am more approachable. I am quite pleased to hear my old mates from Engineering College say that I have changed considerably. Ii is thanks to these books and their evolved ideas, that I have evolved as well.

H. If you have to pick important behaviors/facets to work on, what would they be?
S. I picked three things to work on based on my reading - Communication, Motivation and Perception. I try to model these behaviours at work. My guiding principle is that if I take care of my people, they will take care of their work. So I try to facilitate an atmosphere where it is easy and comfortable to work. I have an immediate testing ground for my theories and behaviours at my work place where my colleagues provide instant feedback.

H. If you had to pick books that changed you considerably, what would that be?
S. The best book I ever read is the '7 Habits of Highly Effective People which I use as my bible. I keep checking myself on that scale. It is one book that I'd love my children to read, imbibe and practice. 'The Power of Full Engagement' is another book that impacted me deeply. The idea that the Greeks believed in dovetailing virtues was fascinating. For example, honesty without compassion would lead to cruelty. Virtue in its purest form will not work. This one point gave me a lot of comfort in my work. Other books like 'Self Fulfilling Prophecy', 'Nudge' have all impacted me.

H. How big is your collection of books?
S. Not a very big collection actually. Maybe 70-80 books, mostly non-fiction. I don't read books for the sake of reading. I try to implement the core ideas in my life. Apart from reading books, I watch lot of movies - 2-3 movies a week.

H. What are you reading now?
S. I am re-reading the 'Inner game of tennis' and 'Stubmbling on happiness'. I also read the Hindu and do the Crosword diligently.

H. What's next on the list?
S. People versus Democracy by Yascha Mounk .

On that note, we ended the interview. Thanks Sridhar for your time and a wonderful interview. I have a lot of books to catch up on from your list. Until the next book discussion then.


Abhinay Renny said...

Beautiful initiative sir. Will get a chance to check out others' reading list.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Abhinay. I plan to do a series. We should do one of yours too.

Shridhar Pulei said...

Beautiful narrative enjoyed the conversation thanks Hari bhai and Sridhar Sir for posting this wonderful blog. Iam sharing the same with my friends circle

Harimohan said...

Thanks Shri. That's a powerful list of books that Sridhar has suggested. I am planning to read them all.