Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Expectations hurt!!

The Casual Novel

I usually refrain from writing reviews for my unfinished reads. But here is an exception, an unfortunate exception to my behavior. I do not intend to give my review for this book as a sign of respect to literature. A full fledged review which provides justice (as well as reveals the suspense) can be found here. Instead, I express here the disappointment of a fan and the frustration of a reader. 

I believe comparison is always an insult to a writer and with deep remorse I compare J.K.Rowling's writing with that of other adult fiction writers and her imagination with that of her own in Harry Potter series. This work is Rowling first contribution to adult fiction and what a waste of hype and talent. Rowling has insulted reader's sensibility by translating 'adult' fiction into mere erotic work of cheap taste. The book lacks intelligence of characters and brilliance of narration (which is almost always excruciatingly slow). The reader is thrown into a clumsy amalgamation of stereotypical characters, cliched behaviors and predictable dialogues and responses. The attention to details which HP books demanded is no more relevant in muggle world. So, Rowling did not have to explain removing gloves for a full paragraph! 

Just because the chosen genre is 'adult fiction' the teenagers as well as adults in the novel have vocabularies full of cuss words. Regardless of age, families and situations obscenity rolls of the characters' tongues. Any moment of intimacy seems vulgar and no teenager is free of smut. Drugs, abuse, sex, emotional trauma- these form the central idea of the novel. I have read and appreciated few of Sydney Sheldon's works which revolve around sex and violence for their purpose and maturity. But Rowling's version of adult comedy disgusted me in it's childish handling of serious matters such as rape, drugs and child mental health. Reader is grossed out with descriptions such as the hairy navel of an overweight husband, rounded belly blocking the penis from view, the "crusty" anus of a toddler and so on.

This novel is a pure disappointment for all the razzmatazz surrounding Rowling's adult fiction entry. The novel is Rowling's desperate attempt to establish her credibility as a writer outside her comfort zone. What repelled me more than the careless vulgarism was the lack of depth in bringing out emotions. They always had to find an obscene way to come out or not come altogether. Not able to take in more of this skewed narration I gave up reading the book midway. Perhaps out of sheer nostalgia of a great storyteller I might force myself to sit through the rest of the book but the day is still far ahead. Does Rowling's magic end with Albus Severus Potter bidding us bye or will her storytelling magic unfold before us many more marvels? As is the weakness of any fan, I too will wait for Rowling's next magic for I feel her journey as a writer is here to stretch. 

Buy The Casual Vacancy from

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Educate, Organize, Agitate

Dr. B R Ambedkar
All Indians were made to read lessons on Ambedkar in their school curriculum. But hardly anybody thought of including his ideals in social studies.
I happened to read a testament to his intelligence and critical thinking; a paper read by Ambedkar at an anthropological seminar in New York on 9 May 1916.
The paper "Castes in India: Their mechanism, Genesis and Development" can be found here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Book review: Steve Jobs

I resisted my best friend's proddings to read this book for over an year since it's release. My reasons???
"There are thousands of techno wizards in 20th century and why should I bother to read Steve Jobs? I don't read biographies of every Tom, Dick and Harry, what is so special about him!! This book is hyped around Steve Jobs' death. Let that poor soul find some peace. Stop bugging me to read."

No prize for guessing I was WRONG. I reluctantly picked up this book after I could no longer find an unread book in my bookshelf. Before long into the book I realized it is not a mere biography but a goddamn spiritual book. Steve Jobs-Apple and spirituality??? Strange right. I was amazed too, seeing how the writer saw Jobs. Steve had no control over the content of his biography and he had waived his rights to read the book before publication. Steve as I found out was more than just a CEO. You might be tired of the adjectives used to describe him: visionary, revolutionary, thinker, change bearer etc. I have two words for him "Freaking Awesome". 

The influence of a genius over others is not by his words but by his life! The conventions of society dictate that every human subject himself to the rules of conformity and Steve grew up defying every instance of authority and conformity. Steve represented an era where the cultural norm of repressing our feelings was over. At 12 when most of us grow up taking orders from the supposedly intelligent elders, Steve led his own journey of exploration. He had the confidence and guts to blow up crackers in school and audacity to call up HP CEO for a chip unavailable elsewhere. While a contemporary legend Bill Gates quit Harvard to start a company, Jobs dropped out of college to travel to India and find peace. Steve was enthralled by dropping acid, learning calligraphy, practicing meditation and leading a minimalist Zen life in his younger days. Such a wayward kid would then exert his intelligence to build the most valued company in the world.

Jobs was always unconventional, unyielding and lived a life of dichotomy. Everything was either shithead or brilliant for him and he never compromised on a mediocre philosophy. Steve Jobs makes you realize the power of dreaming and the strength of desire through his exertion of influence on all people and decisions surrounding him. Jobs never ever took a decision in his life to accumulate wealth rather his deeds spoke volumes about his passion and commitment to achieve the impossible. Jobs was not a technical geek per se but he knew exactly what to expect out of one. He combined technology and art (yes! Steve Jobs was more of an artist than a businessman) in harmony. His uncanny ability to strike tough deals had an impregnable focus on future.

Even after his death, Steve Jobs arouses a sleeping achiever inside you through this book. Steve makes you to think, to evaluate yourself, to question the norms of society, to work for your dream fulfillment, to roar beyond the limitations of yourself and your surroundings. Here is what Steve's story does to you:

  • You learn to say no to dickheads
  • You surround yourself with A players
  • You give BS to people who say you CAN'T do
  • You believe in simplicity of ideas
  • You trust in purity of heart and not in the pretense of bozos
  • You brave the circumstances to hold your ground
  • You understand there is nothing called impossibility 
  • You live for dreams and not for money
  • You accept sensitivity
  • You stop wearing a mask to please others
  • You come to know that failure is not a taboo 
  • You realize the power of DOING
Steve's strength of character comes from his self-training of Buddhism and practice of Zen habits. He placed profound respect in living intuitively, a quality he picked up from his observation of Indian village life. Jobs practiced eastern philosophies of minimalism and vegetarianism throughout his life even at the end of his grueling cancer treatment. He exposed himself to read greatest spiritual works of eastern world such as Autobiography of a Yogi and Cutting through spiritual materialism with the first being his lifelong companion (he read it many times in his younger days and once every year for his entire life). In spite of strong philosophies Jobs was a man of intense emotions of rage, anger, frustration, bad mannerisms and inability to honor perspectives different from that of his own. His uncouth, brutal managerial skills won him the destiny to build a great company such as Apple. His love for the marriage of art and technology (through Pixar Animation Studios and The Walt Disney Company collaboration) led to greatest motion pictures of our times: Toy story, Monsters, Cars et al. 

The author Walter Isaacson, famous for his brilliant biographies on Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein has presented a commendable work on Steve's life. This book is a product of more than 40 interviews conducted over 2 years with Jobs and many other interviews with 100-150 family members, colleagues, competitors, adversaries and mentors. The author has given a brilliant account of how Steve built the greatest company in the world and also the revolutionary products. This book is a validation for Steve's passion, brilliance and influence which made a dent in the universe. 

Who would enjoy reading this piece of human capability wonder of 630 pages?
  • Those who want to know the tale of a man whose dream and passion changed the world for better
  • Those who want a peek into the life of the toughest CEO on earth
  • Those who have a deep interest in the technological development of second half of 20th century
  • Those who love Apple products
  • Those who want to understand why Jobs is called a phenomenon when there are thousand other visionaries of same caliber
  • Those who want to know what is important for peace in life
  • Those who dare to dream
I took almost a week (with lots of essay writing for my college applications I couldn't totally immerse in the book) to savor the reading and exploring of Steve's dreams. You too can share the excitement by buying yourself a copy:

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Book Review: The 7 habits of highly effective people

The 7 habits of highly effective
I introduce......
Often in life we come across motivation from unexpected means. My motivation to start a blog came from a rather disappointing exam! And how thankful I am that I did not succeed in the exam for I could never have jumped into the knowledgeable world of blogging. 2.5 months of blogging, reading and a tad more blogging, I came across a guy who defied normal conventions of job security and set out to find a better world on his own- Anil Bhandary. I also happen to realize that the world is indeed small and Anil happened to be my college senior and we have many common friends. To let you all enjoy his powerful yet laid back writing, here is a guest post by him. Enjoy madi!

Anil talks...
'Self-help': The first thing that comes to my mind as I read the title of the book. I dislike the word. Why? Because it has come to represent something fake. Don't get me wrong, I love improving myself and I believe in the concept of self-improvement, but this word has come to represent duplicity: smile more and make more friends, think positive and your problems would be solved, if you can think it you can achieve it - kind of bullshit. Well, if those were to really happen I would have, by now, been leading a billion dollar MNC and would have been partying in some beach in Hawaii islands. I'm not.

And thank god, this book isn't one of those kind of self help book.

What this book isn't? It isn't a band-aid, the quick fix kind of self help book.  

What this book is? This is an inside out book. This book, I think, if read and implemented will make you effective. Two reasons why I think so. One: The 7 habits that the author introduces are not new. It focuses on making you aware of what is innate, it tries to show you what you are chiefly made of in the core. Two: The author tells you stories from his own life and experiences which you can relate to.

In my 6th class, I used to go to a store nearby to school to buy the Center Fresh chewing gum. Once in my hand, I would open it. Chewing gum looked normal. I would, then, use both my hands to break it apart. As I did that, the blue gel from heaven would ooze out. I would place it in my mouth which would take me to a higher level of blissfulness. When I returned back, I would take the other half and repeat. What a experience! :)

This book is like that center fresh chewing gum. From outside it is like just another bubble gum, just another self help book. But on the inside, the insights will make you feel fresh and equipped.  

What you will find inside? Author starts with your world, your paradigm to give an astounding practical example of how you and other person need not agree and yet, both be right. With that revelation you will be able to open up to (obvious) self-discoveries that he shares further. Contents - He divides the book into 3 parts
  1. Private victory (3 habits) : Your way to Independence 
    • Habit 1 - Be Proactive : He tells being proactive is more than just taking initiatives. It means as human beings we are responsible for our own lives. Responsibility is the ability to respond.
    • Habit 2 - Begin with the End in Mind: Though this seems obvious, he shares interesting stories of why we tend to ignore this point. 
    • Habit 3 - Put first things first: Stories of we confusing important things with urgent. And why we should start focusing on the important.
  2. Public victory (3 habits) : Your way from Independence to Interdependence
    • Habit 4 - Think Win/Win : Author talks of our urge to focus more on the winning which is not always good and leads us into understanding Win/Win.
    • Habit 5 - Seek first to understand, and then to be understood: Introduces us to the 5 kinds of listening and tells us why it is also important to seek to be understood. Probably the most toughest habit to practice.
    • Habit 6 - Synergize: Sum is greater than its parts. Author explains of the creative energies that comes when we synergize.
  3. Sharpen the Saw (the 7th habit) and grow Inside Out: This is about preserving and enhancing the greatest asset you have - you. 
The habits sound obvious, but the way he introduces them is interesting. He stretches some stuff, but I would trade it for what I can learn. This book teaches you achieve things in the hard way, the way that is in alignment with your principles, your values. Your true way.
My verdict: Must read
Who is this book for? Not for everyone. This is for people who dare to look inside themselves, who can take responsibility for their situation and who believe that you can grow inside out.

Now the ball is in your court.

Anil concludes...

I resume.....
About the author: Anil quit his job recently to live his dreams. He tells stories of exploring and living at his blog. Apart from writing, he likes doing anything that creates connections and makes him feel alive. Often he shares some cool stuff at the blog's facebook page and tweets also.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hi five to policeman!

My niece who is 4 year old is intimidated by policemen and I guess the feeling is universal for most of the kids are scared of policemen. Do you ever stop and consider why? Because policemen represent sheer power and exude an undisputed authority over commoners. Hence the free innocent minds fear them. My sister wrote to me how my niece overcame her fear. My bhaava (brother-in-law) found a very friendly policeman to give his daughter an energetic hi-five. And you guessed it right. By this vis-à-vis with fear, my niece doesn't get uncomfortable facing the cops anymore.

On reading this anecdote, I got to thinking. All of us have our own fear of policemen per se and how often do we reach out to give a hi five to those fears? Those fears always in the background of our thoughts cripple us from growing. We feel trapped in our own amplified fears and get overwhelmed by boundary less glorification of fears. When we face the perceived danger our body gives in to

  • Precipitation
  • High adrenaline rush and the tendency to flee the scene
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heart rate
The physical ramifications of fear are so acute that we actually believe our fears can cause us harm. But how do we tackle the emotional fear? The task is as simple as giving hi five to the scary policeman but the one which requires a dash of patience and a lot of strength to endure. Three simple ways to overcome our policeman fears are:
  • Flooding 
    In case of people suffering from grave phobias the best treatment is believed to be the flooding or exposure technique. In this form of treatment, a patient is exposed to her object of phobia for an extended period of time under aid and supervision. The same can be implemented for our petty fears. That is to face them as often as possible. 
  • Never take it personal
    The fear of an adult is more complicated than a child's as it involves the complex psychological and social factors. Adults tend to glorify their fears and take the social reaction to them a tad too personal. As the 
    cliché goes, the world doesn't give a shit to what you do; you do because you enjoy doing it. Do not think how you face a fear and what others think about you.
  • Don't miss a chance to give hi five
    The fear lingers in our hearts because most of the times we do not get the opportunity to face it. Whenever the luck favors us, we should brave the fear and face it head on to give a hi five. Failing is only the second worst thing that can happen to you and needless to say, the first worst thing is never trying. 
Is it guaranteed that we will overcome fear once we sincerely start following the above three mantras? Definitely no. I have been into oratory activities such as debates and extempore talks all through my life and feel comfortable on stage. But I am plagued and trolled by singing on stage in spite of being a trained singer for 10 years!! I do try the flooding technique often and face public humiliation which I also happen to take very personally. I often chicken out at the last moment of singing and miss an opportunity to give hi five. But, every time I successfully or unsuccessfully finish the process of giving hi five, I come out better. This time if I blank out on lyrics, the next time I won't. Once I sang a complete note without going off the shruti and yet another time I sang for an audience of 80-100 people. It is the spirit of trying that boosts my confidence and makes me tough. Hence I recommend this mantra of 3 practices to overcome fears. 

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear. 

-Nelson Mandela

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Reading for 10 minutes!

Have you ever felt lost while trying to get a quick read? One usually feels there should be ample of minutes left in your schedule to pick up something to read. But is that hesitation really justified? I believe any small gap of joblessness is a good excuse to read. Still don't trust the philosophy of a quick read? Here is a list of readings one can do for a 10 minute break.

1. Read quotes on your favorite topic in mind. It can be any word under the sun.
2. Read about the pioneer of a field. Thinking about rest? Read how a pillow is manufactured.
3. Read stuff on 'how to' website. You definitely wouldn't be knowing about every way.
4. Read 5 pages of your holy book. If you are atheist just read to know what the big fuss is all about.
5. Read article on a topic unknown to you. Go surprise yourself.
6. Read about the phone in your hand.
7. Read about the operating system of your laptop/desktop/phone.
8. Read about the song you just heard in the morning. Browse for it's singer, music composer or the muse.
9. Read the headlines in your newspaper.
10. Read cartoon episodes such as Calvin and Hobbes, Garfield, SpiderMan etc. You are never too old for comics.
11. Read about the brands you wear. Levis, Gucci, Fendi, Khadi, GlobalDesi ... You never know completely about these brands, do you?
12. Read few pages of fiction. The only overdose which is beneficiary for brain is imagination.
13. Read about science. We have no excuse to not know basic science in this era of science and technology.
14. Read about the historical site in your town. Know thy city.
15. Read about festivities in your country and others.
16. Read about the names of vegetables and pulses you eat in your mother tongue and/or English.
17. Read about the current event in your city/country/world.
18. Read entirely about a disease you have faced in the past or the one troubling any of your family/friends. Awareness about diseases and their prevention is imperative.
19. Read about a famous game be it an online game, or a board game or a team game.
20. Read an informative non-fiction book, 10 pages at a time.
21. Read about a well known art work (painting, sculpture, natural formations).
22. Read about life history of famous warriors. 
23. Read about a legal policy which is the central topic of a latest scandal.
24. Read how to tie a tie. It has always been an underrated skill.
25. Read a serious essay/article about your area of work. When a seemingly daunting job is done in bits, the endurance becomes bearable.
26. Read how to overcome an annoying personal habit that has been bothering you for long. Knowing more about a habit of annoyance is the first step in overcoming it.
27. Read about a place you have been to in the past or that you plan to go in the future. Having knowledge about the culture, mannerisms and history of a place enriches the experience of tourism.
28. Read a grammar rule you always seemed to have trouble with.
29. Read about a profession.
30. Read about a national or international level exam.
31. Read a word and it's etymology.
32. Read about an NGO in your area. Awareness of social service organisations can somebody trigger a better person out of you.
33. Read about latest releases in the market for gadgets, books, clothes, accessories, jewellery and automobile.
34. Read about a famous educator in your area of expertise.
35. Read famous marketing strategies. 
36. Read a blog. Blogging world can open for you never seen before arenas.
37. Read everything about a pet you own. 
38. Read about wacky things supplemented with a lot of pictures. Go on. Stimulate your senses.
39. Read about wars. Wars and treaties are the elements which gave us a world that we live in today.
40. Read about mavericks, people who defied the usual norm and achieved far greater things. This instills a sense of awe in you.
41. Read a parody, a joke or a goofy story. You are happi in life as long as your funny bone is roaring alive.
42. See a lot of pictures on your favorite topic. Pictures are a great read (no kidding)
43. Read boards and banners on the road for 10 minutes. You will be amazed by how much your sense of local shops and locations increases.
44. Read about national/international leaders of your choice.
45. Read about another profession.
46. Read about another religion. I believe a great person becomes so by imbibing different perspectives of all religions and schools of philosophy.
47. Read about glamour/fashion/acting.
48. Read articles on flora and fauna
49. Read about tricks on the search engines and softwares you work on.
50. Read poetry. 

Monday, November 26, 2012

Book review: The Twentieth Wife

Since five days a princess, no a seductress, no an empress has absorbed my thoughts. Images of her alluring the emperor of Hindustan have constantly run through my mind. I am rejoicing my new found love for Urdu. I am speculating the riches of a bygone era, of a great ruler Hindustan ever witnessed and of the customs pervasive throughout the medieval ages of our Hindustan. Flashes of imperial gardens, traditions and royal mannerisms are distracting me ceaselessly. I want to know more, imagine more and be lost terribly in the world of imagination I swayed through for five days now. The book The Twentieth Wife by Indu Sundaresan has been more like a motion picture for me.

The novel begins with the depiction of a famished and penniless Persian family in a caravan, when the lady of the family gives birth to her fourth child Mehrunnisa, meaning the 'sun among women'. Birth of Mehrunnisa brings uncanny twist to the fate of her father Mirza Ghias Beg who is blessed with good fortune of being a nobleman in auspicious court of the Mughal emperor Akbar. Mehrunnisa is brought up in the affluence of court blessings and at the age of eight she witnesses prince Salim's wedding and eyeing his charm and beauty for the first time then, Mehrunnisa decides that she would one day become a wife of Salim and thereafter the empress of Hindustan. Akbar's principal wife, Padshah Ruqayya Begum takes special interest in this inquisitive child and lets Mehrunnisa attend to her in the zenana or the royal harem (living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a Muslim household). The Persian beauty Mehrunnisa grows into a young lady in the atmosphere of imperial harem absorbing the culture, gossips, politics and practices of the powerful women behind the veil. Mehrunnisa grows old to be still obsessed with marrying prince Salim.

In tandem, stories of Mughal politics are woven into the story with much convenience of an adept storyteller. Indu Sundaresan has mingled historical facts of power play into the backdrop. Much detailing is given to the bloodshed conspiracy of prince Salim trying to snatch away the throne from his father. Cruelty, politics and statesmanship find improved standards of description in the novel. Indu takes the readers through milieus of political turmoil during the last decade of Great Akbar's life. When Mehrunissa's love interest Salim is busy with conspiring against his father, Mehrunissa is able to make Salim notice her and long for her companionship. Much to her dismay, emperor Akbar unaware of the budding romance commands Mehrunissa's hand in marriage to a brave soldier of his kingdom, Ali Quli. Mehrunissa enters into a matrimony devoid of love and respect, for this learned lady doesn't find a capable partner in a mere soldier. A period of childless marriage and a decade long separation from Salim bring in a lot of changes in Mehrunissa's life and also in the rule of Hindustan. Akbar dies away giving the throne to his rightful heir, Prince Salim who then transforms into Nuruddin Muhammad Jahangir Padshah Ghazi.

Several obstacles face Mehrunissa and emperor Jahangir's union. A girl child from Ali Quli, Jahangir's son Khusrau's rebellion for throne, politics of emperor's cohorts and his empress Jagat Gosini, Mehrunissa's Islamic duty as a wife to her husband all come in the way of Mehrunissa achieving the marital status with Jahangir. How Jahangir thwarts his son's attempt at dethroning him, how the emperor as well as Mehrunissa remember each other, how the emperor's new rule thrives in Hindustan, how Ali Quli gets out of the scene for Mehrunissa to unite with the emperor, does Mehrunissa's desire to become an empress get fulfilled- all these questions make reasons for a thrilling read. How Mehrunissa turns into Nur Jahan to rule the vast Indian empire is a story worth reading. The delicate weaving of history into fiction is spellbinding.

Though her debut novel, the author Indu Sundaresan has achieved the veteran talent of picturing landscapes through her words. The blossoming spring and the scorching summer get new freshness in Indu's descriptions. The colours and odours of the imperial harem all get new charm through the author's narration. It is a treat for the brain to get flown into the world of Mughals which Indu paints before us. There is never a scene which is described dully and provided lesser importance. Be it the erotic sensual acts in the harem or the bravado in battlefield, every emotion is worth involving with. Through the end of the novel I found myself holding onto my breath to know whether Mehrunissa accepts emperor's woes and what happens to the throne that is always feeble under successors' plots.

I strongly recommend this book to those who have an interest in knowing history, in getting a peek into Mughal durbars and harems. This book written with a non-Islamic perspective shows what the mannerisms of Agra court meant to an outsider. If you are wondering what influence veiled Muslim ladies had on their emperors, this is the right book for you. Do cultures of a bygone era, another religion and another outlook excite you? Then indulge in this fictional read of 375 pages. If you want to enjoy the delicacy of Urdu words thrown in casually into the story then this is the fiction for you.

I parted with the book with a comfortable feeling that I stay in times where women either Hindu or Muslim do not have to solely depend on their men to provide food and dignity in society.

This book is a part of the Taj Trilogy. The other two books are ‘The Feast of Roses’ and ‘Shadow Princess’. It is the first in the series. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Being scared

I am scared
to go out in the night; lest I be molested

I am scared
to wear clothes I like; lest I be judged

I am scared
to talk to boys; lest rape be inspired

I am scared
to put on jewellery; lest I be robbed

I am scared
to walk alone on streets; lest I be eve teased

I am scared
to voice my opinion; lest my father/brother/husband be damned

I am scared
to deny dowry; lest I be burned

I am scared
to compete; lest I be suppressed

I am scared
to give my opinion; lest I be jailed

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Book review: Happier At Home

Happier at home
Till now I have restrained myself from writing reviews on two of my favorite books: Harry Potter series by J.K.Rowling and Happiness Project from Gretchen Rubin. I don't wish to mar the experience of learning from them by writing a meager review. But here I am,ready to review the much anticipated second book by Gretchen Rubin, Happier At Home.

With both of Gretchen's books the involvement I have shown while reading is special. I do not merely read the books but I engage with each and every idea presented in the book. I have read the lines, marked the words, wrote down the quotes, experimented the ideas in my routine, prodded every book enthusiast to give it a try (success rate 60%) and realized that I am similar to Gretchen on many levels. I did not need a book to tell me how to live a happi life but when I picked up Gretchen's first book I felt words were given to my thoughts and actions. I was already having my own happiness project. I was enthralled to read that many of my thoughts and actions could be described in scientific lingo and that they were result proven experiments by many researchers. The book proved to be a treasure chest as I read quotes from great thinkers on the lines of my thinking. Gretchen gave the objective certainty to many of my trial and errors!

Not even an year had passed by since I read Happiness Project and Gretchen released her second book. I was excited like a child to lay my hands on it but couldn't, for the exorbitant price of the book and for the lack of Indian priced sales of the book. Finally I got a very happi deal from flipkart and got the book for myself. I read it straight for half a day with only interruption of a night sleep in between. Though I had read and reread the free promotional chapters online several times, I was still all smiles when I opened the first page. I was up for a plethora of ideas.

Though Gretchen had done a pretty much exhaustive work on happiness in her first book, I wasn't skeptical about the content of her second book yet again centered around happiness. I was sure she would bring in a lot more fresh perspective and experiments to her book and I am happy that she didn't disappoint me. Happier At Home is Gretchen's project of boosting happiness in her home at the expense of her own efforts and not by nagging her family members to jump into the bandwagon. With the beginning of September, a new school year Gretchen decides to start a happiness project until May. Gretchen covers nine themes for the nine month period of her experiment such as possessions, marriage, parenthood, interior design (more of inner self design), time, body, family, neighborhood and now. With a lot of introspection and research on human psychology Gretchen tries, fails and retries to boost her already happy life.

This book is definitely not a self help book but as Gretchen herself claims, it is a self helpful book. You can read this book as an account of a person's life or as a behavioral essay. Its far from being branded a self help book. The writing style is very crisp and given the background of her lawyer days, Gretchen presents her cases with ample quotes, anecdotes and supporting research results. The scholarly tint to the book is always subtle and never done conspicuously. As Gretchen speaks of her family, friends and life its difficult to not get that 'feel good' mood.

A book is not good if it only gives facts and awe while the reading lasts; instead, a book becomes a good book if it inspires it's readers to stretch themselves to learn better and do more. In this league, Happier At Home is definitely a very good book. I can't recommend this book enough to everyone. If you want to know what living in the moment means, what testing one's capabilities means, what stretching your limits means then this is the book for you. I end my recommendation with a quote:
"Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place,
not for another hour, but this hour"
-Walt Whitman

Friday, November 16, 2012

How to stay clever!

Everybody's main aim is to live happi (intentional spelling error) by making our lives easier. And how we do that? By trying out different easy ways to achieve things (innovation), to create materials/situations that would boost our happiness(imagination). When we come to think of it innovation and imagination are nothing but cleverness. How much time do we all consciously invest in enhancing or even maintaining our cleverness/intelligence? 2 hours in a day or 2 hours in a week?

I have seen people trying desperately to look stupid which they called coolness. I feel intelligence is sexy, its beautiful and enchanting. Lacking passion in life and giving up learning for life is the most tragic thing that can happen to a person. Very few prodigies are born who can flaunt their talent without much effort but the rest of us have to work it out. 

I stumbled upon the following site which lists remarkable 120 ways of keeping up our brain power: I was happi when I realized that I daily follow 46 of the given 120 ways though there is a long way to go for instilling all the habits. I try to do few other things occasionally if not daily. With due credits to the original writer I share those 120 ideas here:

  1. Solve puzzles and brainteasers.
  2. Cultivate ambidexterity. Use your non-dominant hand to brush your teeth, comb your hair or use the mouse. Write with both hands simultaneously. Switch hands for knife and fork.
  3. Embrace ambiguity. Learn to enjoy things like paradoxes and optical illusions.
  4. Learn mind mapping.
  5. Block one or more senses. Eat blindfolded, wear earplugs, shower with your eyes closed.
  6. Develop comparative tasting. Learn to properly taste winechocolatebeer,cheese or anything else.
  7. Find intersections between seemingly unrelated topics.
  8. Learn to use different keyboard layouts. Try Colemak or Dvorak for a full mind twist!
  9. Find novel uses for common objects. How many different uses can you find for a nail? 10? 100?
  10. Reverse your assumptions.
  11. Learn creativity techniques.
  12. Go beyond the first, ‘right’ answer.
  13. Transpose reality. Ask “What if?” questions.
  14. SCAMPER!
  15. Turn pictures or the desktop wallpaper upside down.
  16. Become a critical thinker. Learn to spot common fallacies.
  17. Learn logic. Solve logic puzzles.
  18. Get familiar with the scientific method.
  19. Draw. Doodle. You don’t need to be an artist.
  20. Think positive.
  21. Engage in arts — sculpt, paint, play music — or any other artistic endeavor.
  22. Learn to juggle.
  23. Eat ‘brain foods’.
  24. Be slightly hungry.
  25. Exercise!
  26. Sit up straight.
  27. Drink lots of water.
  28. Deep-breathe.
  29. Laugh!
  30. Vary activities. Get a hobby.
  31. Sleep well.
  32. Power nap.
  33. Listen to music.
  34. Conquer procrastination.
  35. Go technology-less.
  36. Look for brain resources in the web.
  37. Change clothes. Go barefoot.
  38. Master self-talk.
  39. Simplify!
  40. Play chess or other board games. Play via Internet (particularly interesting is toplay an ongoing game by e-mail).
  41. Play ‘brain’ games. Sudoku, crossword puzzles or countless others.
  42. Be childish!
  43. Play video games.
  44. Be humorous! Write or create a joke.
  45. Create a List of 100.
  46. Have an Idea Quota.
  47. Capture every idea. Keep an idea bank.
  48. Incubate ideas. Let ideas percolate. Return to them at regular intervals.
  49. Engage in ‘theme observation’. Try to spot the color red as many times as possible in a day. Find cars of a particular make. Invent a theme and focus on it.
  50. Keep a journal.
  51. Learn a foreign language.
  52. Eat at different restaurants – ethnic restaurants specially.
  53. Learn how to program a computer.
  54. Spell long words backwards. !gnignellahC
  55. Change your environment. Change the placement of objects or furniture — or go somewhere else.
  56. Write! Write a story, poetry, start a blog.
  57. Learn sign language.
  58. Learn a musical instrument.
  59. Visit a museum.
  60. Study how the brain works.
  61. Learn to speed-read.
  62. Find out your learning style.
  63. Dump the calendar!
  64. Try to mentally estimate the passage of time.
  65. “Guesstimate”. Are there more leaves in the Amazon rainforest or neuron connections in your brain? (answer).
  66. Make friends with math. Fight ‘innumeracy’.
  67. Build a Memory Palace.
  68. Learn a peg system for memory.
  69. Have sex! (sorry, no links for this one! :) )
  70. Memorize people’s names.
  71. Meditate. Cultivate mindfulness and an empty mind.
  72. Watch movies from different genres.
  73. Turn off the TV.
  74. Improve your concentration.
  75. Get in touch with nature.
  76. Do mental math.
  77. Have a half-speed day.
  78. Change the speed of certain activities. Go either super-slow or super-fast deliberately.
  79. Do one thing at a time.
  80. Be aware of cognitive biases.
  81. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. How would different people think or solve your problems? How would a fool tackle it?
  82. Adopt an attitude of contemplation.
  83. Take time for solitude and relaxation.
  84. Commit yourself to lifelong learning.
  85. Travel abroad. Learn about different lifestyles.
  86. Adopt a genius. (Leonardo is excellent company!)
  87. Have a network of supportive friends.
  88. Get competitive.
  89. Don’t stick with only like-minded people. Have people around that disagree with you.
  90. Brainstorm!
  91. Change your perspective. Short/long-term, individual/collective.
  92. Go to the root of the problems.
  93. Collect quotes.
  94. Change the media you’re working on. Use paper instead of the computer; voice recording instead of writing.
  95. Read the classics.
  96. Develop your reading skill. Reading effectively is a skill. Master it.
  97. Summarize books.
  98. Develop self-awareness.
  99. Say your problems out loud.
  100. Describe one experience in painstaking detail.
  101. Learn Braille. You can start learning the floor numbers while going up or down the elevator.
  102. Buy a piece of art that disturbs you. Stimulate your senses in thought-provoking ways.
  103. Try different perfumes and scents.
  104. Mix your senses. How much does the color pink weigh? How does lavender scent sound?
  105. Debate! Defend an argument. Try taking the opposite side, too.
  106. Use time boxing.
  107. Allocate time for brain development.
  108. Have your own mental sanctuary.
  109. Be curious!
  110. Challenge yourself.
  111. Develop your visualization skills. Use it at least 5 minutes a day.
  112. Take notes of your dreams. Keep a notebook by your bedside and record your dreams first thing in the morning or as you wake up from them.
  113. Learn to lucid dream.
  114. Keep a lexicon of interesting words. Invent your own words.
  115. Find metaphors. Connect abstract and specific concepts.
  116. Manage stress.
  117. Get random input. Write about a random word in a magazine. Read random sites using StumbleUpon or Wikipedia.
  118. Take different routes each day. Change the streets you follow to work, jog or go back home.
  119. Install a different operating system on your computer.
  120. Improve your vocabulary.
  121. Deliver more than what’s expected.

The responsibility lies on our shoulders to keep the cleverness intact and to grow incessantly. For the folks who are already taking steps to keep those grey cells forever young- congrats and for the rest wish you a happi start! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book review: The Scientific Edge

The scientific edge
Caught in the frenzy of reading books on Indian history and development I stumbled upon 'The scientific Edge' by Jayant V Narlikar and was up for a very demanding read; demanding in that it wasn't a light read and every idea presented in the book took my time and thoughts. I had to pause every now and then to ponder over the facts and opinions mentioned in the book.

The book 'The Scientific Edge' as is apparent from the title is a science non-fiction work. The author has elaborated on the development of science in India during the last millennium throwing in generous comparisons with the western scientific development. This 200 page book covers topics such as Indian scientific temper in the start of previous millennium, works of prominent contributors such as Aryabhatta and Brahmagupta, astronomical development in India and elsewhere, major scientific achievements during the reign of few renowned rulers, importance of scientific culture in India, science journalism and the future of Indian science.

Being the scientist that he is, Jayant has adopted a crisp factual way of writing true to his profession. The book is laden with numerous facts and statistics to support all the ideas author likes to convey. The language is simple and unpretentious albeit one requires a general scientific temperament to develop a liking towards the book. I constantly took the help of internet to comprehend the jargon of astronomical community and hence the resultant 30+ days of reading, although I left out reading a chunk of the book at the end.

When I picked up the book I had high hopes of knowing Indian scientific history better. But it is not meant to be. The author being a cosmologist has provided justice only to the topics of astronomy and astrophysics and superficially dealt with remaining sciences. There is hardly any substantial matter on fields such as metallurgy, architectural measurements, Ayurveda and the likes in which Indians had achieved remarkable sophistication. The author is critical of the lack of innovation and perseverance in Indian scientific community which is just. An unnecessary amount of discussion is wasted on the universities of ancient India. Though I agree any debate over Indian science is incomplete without the mention of universities such as Nalanda, Kashi, Takshashila, the author shouldn't have given as much hype as he has given to universities and their role in scientific development.

The book might have been a tiring read, nevertheless I am a well informed person now than I was a month before. I suggest this book to anyone who is making an effort to stretch oneself beyond the comfort zone, into another field of knowledge. I believe such an off beat read works up your grey cells and opens up few new channels in brain.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Book review: The Bankster

The Bankster

Many a times there are plots you are too skeptical about but anyways pick up to read and be bowled over by them. 'The Bankster' by Ravi Subramanian was one of such pleasant surprises for me. This suspense thriller literally made me skip my sleep and bath over it ( although I didn't compromise on the food!). The gripping story was a breezy read and one that you couldn't part with half-read.

As is expected out of a veteran from financial service industry, Ravi has his story centered around a bank,Greater Boston Global Bank (GB2) the money laundering (converting black money into white which has 3 steps: placement (entry), layering(moving away from source of black money) and integration (using black money as white money for funds)). The story is woven around the bank officials and is slowly grown to encompass matters of global significance such as arms dealing, blood-diamond smuggling, money laundering and protests against the opening of a nuclear power plant. Many covert agents working undercover are responsible for a few bank officials' murders and for the clandestine transactions of hundreds of crores of money. On one such murder of his bank friend Raymond, Karan Punjabi an ex-employee of GB2 turned journalist senses something fishy and delves into solving the mystery. He does that from a boardroom (if we accept hollywood and bollywood-ish unconvincing stints and alien intelligence of heroes, this farfetched novel hero is very close to reality).

Ravi has included a good number of cities in the plot and convincingly justified their roles and descriptions. The writing style is typical to any thriller, alternating between various scenarios and people. The suspense is well kept and the story has a grip over readers in that it reveals every secret in bits and pieces throughout the narration and fully only at the end of the novel. Neither of the twists are predictable and the hype for the end revelation is just nail biting. One feature of the book that got hooked me to it was the Indianised English used for narration interspersed with casual Hindi lines and words. Apart from a few minor grammatical mistakes (which I feel Indian publishing houses should pay more attention to) this book is a good package. The 358 page book has done enough justice to the plot and I feel if it were stretched beyond this, the intrigue would be diluted somewhere.

The drawback of the book is detailed description of office politics. When the author has touched upon as serious an issue as diamond and arms smuggling, there should be more intelligent narration of incidents centered about the mafia responsible for it. While there are many important characters to be described in the plot, other minor characters and stories sometimes win an unfair elaborate description. Another minor fault is that no character is central to the plot. The importance often keeps shifting preferences. Once it is on the social worker and then on three bank managers who play the lead role. A sensual junior worker who occupies much space and imagination of the novel is at the end a small link in a big chain.

More about the author and his other works: here.

Thank you blogadda for the free signed copy.

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at . Participate now to get free books!

Friday, November 2, 2012

The last page!

The Last Page

My most dreadful weakness is turning into the last page of a book for not being able to contain the anticipation, suspense or in many cases exasperation. I reveal the climax of a story to myself by either turning to the last few pages or googling out the plot!

I subjected myself to the unfortunate last page spoilers for these books:
  • The Secret of the Nagas by Amish Tripathi (for anticipation)
  • Casual Vacancy by J.K.Rowling (for exasperation)
  • The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (for suspense)
  • Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince by J.K.Rowling (for madness and incessant obsession with HP)
  • Chanakya's Chant by Ashwin Sanghi (for sheer curiosity) 
As with any other addiction, I love getting a sneak peak into the last page though the very next moment I start despising having done that. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

My 'happi'ness

My Happiness

Is when I see his face
Is when I touch his lips
Is when I look into his eyes
Is when every breath is his

Is what I lack
Is what I seek

Is where lies my heart

I fear not death
For I have seen death
When I have no love left
For I have seen death
When I am smug with what I learnt
For I have seen death
When I rot with lack of art

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good riddance!

I will take a short break from ranting about the books I read. Instead, here I write about those books (some great actually) I could not finish reading. Here is a list (of course I will list for I know nothing better) of those abruptly ending reads:

1. Adventure Capitalist by Jim Rogers

On reading this wonderful work, I was despondent over world status at the turn of millenium. This book is about Jim Rogers' trip around the world with his girlfriend turned wife during the trip. I repeat, the book is a fantastic read but I just ended it after he finished roaming some 100th country (out of 116 countries he visited). 

Me and Rogers just fell apart. May be I was tired of all the information overload.

I look forward to definitely go back to the book from where I left it.

2. The Story of my Experiments with Truth by M.K.Gandhi

I bought this book (I vaguely remember it being a gift by my mom) owing to my childhood fascination with Gandhian principles. More on this here. Our father of the nation gives an account of his life and truth experiments in this autobiography.

By the time I reached midway of the book I started exhibiting symptoms of hypersomnia just so to avoid holding the book for a longer time. I had outgrown my childish fascination for Gandhiji and also did not find any relevance of his stories to my present life.

Definitely not reading in this lifetime. Perhaps I might return to this work for my research (you see the wide chances!)

3. The Power Of Your Subconscious Mind by Joseph Murphy

This book was given to me by my best friend (perhaps he guessed it right! I needed to harness my will power at that time). I hardly read 50 pages and this book entirely put an end to negative self talk in me. Till this day I consciously avoid slipping into the detrimental negative self talk mode. 

I felt fifty pages is all I could take of this super stuffed psychological book. Since I got the jist of whatever Murphy had to convey, I was at peace with giving up this read.

I might flip through the book to say if there is anything else that could capture my attention.

4. Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence by Jaswant Singh

I bought this controversial book spending a lot, I tell you a lot of money as a student. It took my 5 month savings to get hold of this voluminous book. Irony is and as you know I didn't do justice for my pocket money. I secretly stuffed it under a lot of other books to collect dust.

The writing was not captivating and a lot of political and historical information failed to hold my interest for long. The 700 page book was painfully slow and I read less than 70 pages.

I wish to be brave enough to sit through the entire volume and have the satisfaction of reading this carefully documented book by a senior politician.

5. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Who could have resisted the temptation of laying hands on one of Dan Brown's books? Blown by the brilliance of The Angels and Demons and The Da VInci Code I was eager to read his next big release 'The Lost Symbol'. 50-70 and the book lost my interest!

When 'different' becomes the definition of your writing style and plots its difficult to stay in readers' goodwill unless you keep producing different works repeatedly. This book had the repetition of same style, similar twists, more and more "getting down a mile of stairs to uncover secret" scenes.

I will never return to this book. I am satisfied with having read 3 works of Dan Brown.

6. The Secret of The Veda by Sri Aurobindo

I overestimated my skills of assimilation and bought this book to finish reading in about a week. But it was not destined to be such an easy read. The book high on philosophy and spirituality shouldn't be taken in overdose. 

I am yet to mature spiritually and to understand vedic interpretation of a scholar I need more patience and determination.

My 2013 resolution will be to finish reading this book of immense spiritual content.

7. Word Power Made Easy by Norman Lewis

This is a book every graduate studies in hope to improve his/her vocabulary, to prepare for a competitive exam or to be more knowledgeable about the semantics of English language. 

I have into read and reread this book almost 6 times each time failing to go beyond 200 pages. I was not preparing for any competitive exam and the rote learning of words occasionally tired me out. I took to improving my language through reading books, newspapers and magazines which proved to be a better learning method for me.

I will continue to have this book in my shelf always in hope of learning more words.

8. Lord of the Rings by J.R.R.Tolkien

I became a full fledged reader only in my graduate days. I took up books which I missed reading as a child and Lord of The Rings was one such masterpiece.

The mistake I made was starting with 'The Hobbit' and getting forever struck at the page where Bilbo Baggins' feet hair is explained for a good length. While it is undisputedly a classic, Lord of the Rings is not a breezy read.

I do not think I can bare the very long descriptions of mundane things such as length and hair of people involved. I might venture into watching the films though! Afterall 'The Hobbit' movie is going to be released soon.

9. Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer 

I was evading the many suggestions by my friends to read 'Twilight" series. I was trying to pose as a vampire-series-hater for many years. One fortunate day I decided to give up to the (secret) temptation to delve into vampire series and laid my hands on the third book in the "Twilight" series.

I was a naivete in vampire world and jumping directly onto the third book left me with a lot of questions and finally complete loss of interest in the series. Smugly I gave up on touching the book for another couple of years.

I chanced to watch all the movies in the series and absolutely loved "Breaking Dawn", both as a movie and a book. I read selected chapters in 'Eclipse' thrice. I developed appreciation for many quotes on love and longing in the book.

I declare myself a 'Twilight' series fan.

10. Mr.Sampath, The Printer of Malgudi by R.K.Narayan

After loving classic works by R.K.Narayan such as Guide, Swami and His Friends and Malgudi Days I bought one more of his works "Mr.Sampath" speaking of a printer in Malgudi.

I had outgrown stories and writing style of R.K.Narayan. The language was of a lesser standard laiden with grammatical and spelling errors and the narration was a weakling. I was excited neither by the story nor the style.

R.K.Narayan will always be the author of my first read 'The Guide' and the composer of my all time favourite 'Malgudi Days'. I am never going to mar his impression on my mind by reading 'Mr.Sampath'.

P.S: Share the works which you haven't been able to complete reading and yet remain in your heart.