Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Book Shelf Series 2 - Amar Chegu

Amar and I met quite fortuitously sometime in 2007, after my first book 'The Men Within' was published. Those days I was writing content for our mutual friend Suresh's company's website and Amar happened to see the content I wrote and was interested in hiring my services for his own website. I met him, saw his website, and realised Amar had written it far better than I could write and told him so. It had his own signature style which I would never be able to replicate. It was one of those rare instances where we hit it off in our first meeting itself.
Amar with his friends - I posted this upfront because I can see 50 Not Out on this shelf!
When he heard about 'The Men Within', Amar bought a copy (though he is not much of a cricket buff), read it and gave me a wonderful review. He really believed in the book, more than anyone I know and that includes me, and was instrumental into making the book open up opportunities I never thought of. First, he made me address a learned audience at the Hyderabad Management Association of which he was the President then for a two-hour lecture on 'Leadership and Team Building' (my first speech that long). Later, he helped me make a beginning as a workshop facilitator with the Centre for Organisational Development which, under Dr. Madhavi's leadership was looking to reorient itself. Both these areas and starts would not have been possible without Amar's prodding and they led to hundreds of workshops, lectures, teaching, consulting and coaching assignments in later years. Not just that - Amar has bought and gifted hundred copies of both 'The Men Within' and '50 Not Out' - a fact that humbles me.

I always knew Amar had an eclectic taste in books - his bookshelf was always full of interesting books - the kind of a bookshelf that holds your gaze for long. Amar consults in the area of Organisational Development and has developed a delightful facility called 'Amar's Pensieve' thirty kms from Hyderabad in a green, open to sky environment, where he conducts and lets out space for workshops. Amar also has an enviable collection of music and it has been our desire to spend an evening out at the Pensieve, listening to our music under the stars. Sometime soon.

Amar's Pensieve - Sylvan, peaceful, away from the madness

Here then, is Amar's interview with his recommended list of books.

HM. How did your reading habit start?

AC. I was a late starter. A slow student. While I was at pre-school, I remember some ACK comics being left at home by somebody – Valmiki, Savitri, Harish Chandra, Rana Sanga, that I did not understand but leafed through constantly.

I guess my first novel was a Secret Seven (don’t remember which one), which I found very difficult to relate to – this was in first class.

In my second class, I fell sick and somebody had lent me Five Find Outers and Dog – ‘The Mystery of the Burnt Cottage’, I had nothing else to do and struggled through it over three days.

Later on, I was introduced to the colourful, large page, comics of Goscinny and Uderzo and Walt Disney’s comics, which launched me on my reading odyssey. It hasn’t stopped, since.

HM: Who influenced you early on to read?

AC: I used to see my paternal grandfather reading in his study, every day. Further, my mother who was very busy supervising the home and cooking in the kitchen for the joint family from 5.30 am to 9.30 pm, used to pick up a novel or a magazine to read, in the brief hiatus after lunch. I guess this was my introduction to books being a welcome respite and to look forward to reading.

Access to libraries – Moghul, Bina, The Fateh Maidan Club, HPS – all beckoned me to try different genres of books and I plunged and explored to my heart’s content.
Another view of Amar's Pensieve

HM: What were the books that impacted you most? How?

AC: At different stages in my life, there have been books that have impacted me.

In primary school, it was Enid Blyton’s “Five run away together”, that captured my imagination – the idea that one can escape oppression by travelling to a safe place and live an independent life, was very appealing – don’t know why, because I lived secure in love and affection of my family at home.

In middle school, it was Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” (unabridged version) that horrified and amazed me, with the protagonist’s implacable journey in wreaking vengeance against those that had unforgivably wronged him and his family and gaining a measure of solace in the love of his protégé who chooses to remain with him.

A little later, I read Henri Charrière’s books “Papillon” and “Banco” – they traumatized me with his illegal arrest, journey to and incarceration in French Guiana and subsequent attempts to escape, his final success and endeavours thereafter. I was transfixed by the last chapter of “Banco” where he visits the site where he is arrested as a young man and understands what he must have been like and shows compassion to those who wrongly made him suffer.

Around this time, I read “This Perfect Day” by Ira Levin, a science fiction piece that details a world where all are drugged to ensure perfect health and all aspects of their life are controlled. The protagonist discovers a richer, more sensuous life when he avoids being drugged periodically and finds that there are several people like him. The rest of the book details how he works with others to reach the central computer that controls all this and meet the people behind it. I admired the resolve, intelligence, risk-taking ability and choices made by the hero. BTW I never ventured to read “Rosemary’s Baby” by the same author or any other books of his.

During this time, I also read, “The Prodigal Daughter” (the sequel to “Kane & Abel”) by Jeffrey Archer before I read “Kane and Abel”, after my tenth class board exams. The introduction to new words that were precise, a raconteur who told a story that scaled height after height, the weaving together strands of stories of its various protagonists providing rich insights into their perceptions and motivations, is what has made this book an unforgettable one for me. I have read most of Jeffrey Archer’s books thereafter, not all though.

Further, “The Razor’s Edge” by Somerset Maugham has left an indelible impression on me. Larry Darrel and his journey from US to Europe and back in search of life’s meaning through the eyes of Somerset Maugham (who enriches the story with his perspective) struck an appreciative chord in me. I too yearned to explore the world in search of myself – I admired Larry for his quiet sense of purpose and empathized with his challenges.

I have had many other books that have impacted me and continue to do so – I am in love with books.
The 25

HM: Could you share the list of your top 25 books?

AC: That was tough choice to make – but for the moment, these are the books that come to mind. Mind you, at another time, another list may emerge. However, it is safe to say that these books and their siblings have meant a lot to me.

1) A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Mark Twain

2) Asterix the Gladiator, Goscinny and Uderzo

3) Boy, Roald Dahl

4) Cheaper by the Dozen, Gilbreth and Carey

5) Destination Moon, Hergé

6) Gentle Ben, Walt Morey

7) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling

8) Leave it to Psmith, PG Wodehouse

9) Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

10) My American Journey, Colin Powell

11) My Experiments with Truth, MK Gandhi (translated by Mahadev Desai)

12) Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen

13) Reilly's Luck, Louis L'Amour

14) Star Trek - Time for Yesterday, AC Crispin

15) The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

16) The Book of Five Rings, Miyamoto Musashi (translated by Brown, Kashiwagi, Barrett, Sasagawa)

17) The Case of the Backward Mule, Erle Stanley Gardner

18) The Golden Rendezvous, Alistair McLean

19) The Men Within, Harimohan Paruvu

20) The Naked Ape, Desmond Morris

21) The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway

22) Those Folk of Bulboro, Edgar Wallace

23) Uncommon Wisdom, Fritof Capra

24) Yes Minister, Jonathan Lynn and Anthony Jay

25) Zen in the Martial Arts, Joe Hyams

I have purposely left out business, professional and vocational books out of the list.

HM: Who are your favourite authors - top 5?

AC:  In fiction, the top 5 serial authors that I have enjoyed reading are:

Enid Blyton

Louis L ’Amour

Erle Stanley Gardner

PG Wodehouse

Goscinny & Uderzo

HM: How many books do you read on an average per year these days?

AC: Around a dozen or so. My latest is “Afterthought” by Aabhishek Patwari.

HM: How many books do you own?

AC: Around a thousand or so, I guess.

HM: What are the books you are reading currently?

AC: “Tao Te Ching”, Lao Tzu (several translators)

“Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” (translated by Saugata Bhaduri)

“The Science of Meditation”, Daniel Goleman and Richard J. Davidson

“The Bhagvad Gita”, Eknath Easwaran

“What I know for Sure”, Oprah Winfrey

“What the Buddha Taught”, Rahula

I tend to read many books simultaneously, a little bit here, a little bit there. There are times that I leave books unread for several years – chewing and contemplating on what I had read thus far.
Drone workshop going on at Amar's Pensieve
HM: What's next on your list?

AC: Really don’t know. I stand in front of the bookshelf and ask myself what I would like to read. I pick up a book on a whim and open it up. If the pages engage me, I hurtle along.

A few more of Alexander McCall Smith’s books on the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency would be nice. I wouldn’t mind some more science fiction from the Star Trek stable.

HM: What are the books you have been meaning to read but have kept pending?

AC: I am open to suggestions. Currently, I have a list of books to read on the professional front. No list in fiction.

HM: What's the one book you value the most - that's been gifted to you? 

AC: I have received many books as gifts, over the years. Off the lot, so far, “Piccadilly Jim” by PG Wodehouse that was presented by an Aunt on my birthday has been valued by me the most.

A transformation of a bon vivant into an ardent wooer, against the backdrop of London, steamer travel and New York with striking characters populating the story, has been a delight, to dip into time and again, over the years.

HM: What's the one book you regret losing?

AC: I used to own a few dozen of Reader’s Digest of 1950s vintage as a teenager – their pages aged and started crumbling a few years ago – they were such a bundle of information, introducing me to many concepts, ideas, points of view and a whole new world. I really regret losing them.

HM: What's the favourite book that you gift people?

AC:  ‘’The Men Within” – a few hundred of them
“50 Not Out” – at least a hundred
“The Alchemist” – a few of them
Amar at his other bookshelf - The Pensieve now hosts most of his collection
HM: Your favourite experience around books, if any?

AC: I used to travel to my mother’s hometown (where my grandparents lived as a joint family in an imposing edifice ensconced in a 1-acre plot on the outskirts), Solapur, while in middle school for the summer holidays. There used to be a few weeks gap between my arrival-departure and that off my cousins. I used to read and re-read the one-two books that I had carried and skulk around the entire home and garden.

One afternoon, my eldest Grand Uncle was free from the cares of their business. He called and asked me whether I had read Reader’s Digest, Sherlock Holmes, Agatha Christie and it surprised me that he knew such books (talk of my audacious innocence). He was scandalized that I had never ready any of what he had mentioned.

To remedy this shortcoming, he made me explore a closed space in the cupboard in their spacious all-purpose hall, where sat several aging books and Reader’s Digests, all belonging to my Grandmother who had collected them over the years and shared with those family members who were interested.

Happily, summers no longer had boring moments in Solapur.

HM: Any other thoughts around books?

AC: I am concerned by the lack of documentation of events as they happen, in India, and wish more books were written about important events in our history. Another thought of mine regarding books is that classics are those that change you… not necessarily the ones that everyone thinks are important.

My advice to the reader is to pick up what interests you. Also as we grow, some books take on new meaning, when re-read, so re-read. And finally, even one sentence from a book that is useful justifies its price so go get them.
Lovely aerial view of Amar's Pensieve
Thanks Amar. My heart skipped a beat when I found 'The Men Within' in your list because I did not expect it. But I know that you gifted over a hundred copies of the book just as you gifted a hundred copies of '50 Not Out'. I know how much it means to me as an author, when someone gifts one copy even - that you gifted hundreds of copies overwhelms me. Thank you so much for your wholehearted appreciation and support.

There are several books on your list that I have not read and I propose to pick a few and get started. I counted and got 11 of the 25. 

Thanks Amar for sharing your bookshelf and your thoughts. It's been an absolute pleasure to have you on the Book Shelf series.


Ravikumar J said...

Really great to read about amar . He is so grounded and humane to the core.

His smile is something very fresh and new like a rose .

I really wonder how such a personality does not allow even by mistake some grey rays playing on his face for a change . Till now im not getting an answer .

He has his share of worries but what makes him different from us is covering up such negativities by a beaming smile

Long live amar and his untarnishing smile


Unknown said...

Nice interview. Thoughts well expressed. I too can relate to this dialogue.

aagaman said...

Interesting conversation with an avid reader

Arijit said...

Nice interview and great to see the recommendations for reading. Thanks Amar and Hari

Narayana Pillai said...

Expressed very well
keep writing

Satish gudipati said...

Wow Hari, cool good insights from your interview with Amar. I really got to k more of both of you. I know amar since 1986 and he has been a voracious reader. The 50 notout he had gifted to my son. Your two books and the movie golconda high school hv been awesome. Am an ardent music lover apart fm selective book reader n with you me n Amar a session of music at amar's pensive will be great :)

Harimohan said...

Fully agree with you about Amar and his smile Ravi. (The smile is on display in the pics.) So glad you shared your thoughts.

Harimohan said...

Dear Unknown, thanks. So glad that you could relate to the dialogue. Appreciate your effort to write in.

Harimohan said...

Dear Aagaman, thank you for sharing. :)

Harimohan said...

Dear Arijit, Thanks. Very interesting book recommendations indeed - looks like I might have to do a separate one for business and non-fiction books with Amar because I know he has a huge collection of those too.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Narayana Pillai.

Harimohan said...

Hi Satish, thanks so much for your kind words about my books and the film. I hope your son enjoyed reading 50 Not Out. Yes, we definitely should get together for a musical evening at the Pensieve. Looking forward to it.

Mehernosh Bazun Dittia said...

A lovely insight into Amar the reader,the kind who given a chance will eat books and not food and enjoy his life there on.Amar and I go back to school days and reconnected after a gap of 25 years perhaps.Since we both belong to the same domain of people development and training I had the first had experience of seeing the plethora of knowledge that my dear friend has. A walking talking library if I may say so...wish him all the very best and look forward to see his own book someday. warm regards Mehernosh Bazun Dittia

Dipanjan said...

Nice book list. Thanks Amar.

Govind said...

I had the pleasure of interacting with Amar sir and Hari sir during my previous stint at an organisation.The workshops they conducted were practical and helped us understand the importance of teamwork, communication, project management etc.

This interview throws light on the impact books can have in developing one's personality,character and we are fortunate to have these two on the same platform exchanging their valuable thoughts.

Azfar said...

Thanks Hari for an excellent interview with Amar. He's always been a very well read person, and though I've know him for a while, I was still surprised by the variety of genres represented in his top 25 list of books. I guess it reflects his open minded approach to most things in life. The interview has also inspired me to read your books, which Amar has always spoken off very highly.

Harimohan said...

Thanks Mehernosh. I think so too. :)

Harimohan said...

I agree Dipanjan. Thanks for writing in. :)

Harimohan said...

Thanks Govind. We really enjoyed those sessions and I am glad they helped. :)

Harimohan said...

Thanks for your kind words Azfar. Amar's bookshelf was always a treat to just watch whenever I visited him. Hope you enjoy reading my books. :)

Challa Kodandaram said...

excellent interview and blog dipicting Amar making him'AMAR'. Amar is very affable, erudite and down to earthh. Never regretted knowing him and interacting. I wish you all the best.