Thursday, January 24, 2013

Book review: Poor Little Rich Slum

Poverty is nothing but a state of mind.

A couple of years ago I chanced to read 'Connect the dots' by Rashmi Bansal and it still adorns my book shelf amongst my favourite books column. Reading the book sparked a fire to achieve my full potential and that is still burning strong in me. But when I turned to read her first published work 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' I sighed "what a drag! why would such a talented writer waste her money and energy on writing about the same concept again and again? I get it. She loves to write on entrepreneurs but isn't she losing out on a wide audience?" My thoughts were that she should write on other fast-selling topics and make lots of money. In retrospect I am guilty of such a low thinking. She is a person who writes for a reason and not for money. She is contributing to the world by addressing the exacting task of lauding entrepreneurs. In yet another effort to bring into light the spirit of achievers, Rashmi Bansal in association with Deepak Gandhi has brought out the book "Poor Little Rich Slum" which celebrates the small but important success stories of Dharavi slum dwellers.

When atmosphere is ripe with discussions on redevelopment plans for one of the largest slums of the world Dharavi, Rashmi takes us through a tour of the slum to bring those proud heads to the foreground. There are entrepreneurs in those very areas of population explosion, filth, disease and poverty. While Jameel Shah is making a fortune out of making dancing shoes for the stars, Rani Nadar is happy supporting her daughters' education through a stitching shop. Rashmi has shown examples fro the slum to illustrate the fact that it is a multi-million  enterprise with no founder and neither a CEO. The businesses within the confines of stench and poverty are so developed that Dharavi with it's population of close to a million can form a special economic zone (SEZ). There are idli making lakhpatis, leather goods selling family fortunes, struggling women establishing social order within the violent slum and many local/national organizations striving to make lives better at Dharavi. The book celebrates human spirit in it's right form-embracing life with all it's faults. When slum dwellers can achieve so much in life, the author feels middle class men and women alike should take their own fate in hands and do something worthwhile with their lives too.

The tone of the book is not at all preachy but a small handbook of 189 pages and lots of pictures. The design of the book by ABD studio is one more appalling attraction of the book. Who wouldn't love to grab a book with ample illustrations, pictures and colors? The style of narration is conversational (characteristic of an engaging long essay) in that there is hardly any paragraph longer than 3 sentences. The book is generously  laden with Hindi language to give it an authentic aura. It can be ignored that the author hasn't used Marathi or Tamil, the two languages spoken by a majority of the population in Dharavi. I believe the purpose of any book or write up is to convey the author's message. When the obvious mistakes in the book  do not interfere with the purpose, those mistakes can well be overlooked and forgiven which is exactly what I choose to do with Poor Little Rich Slum.

The book raises questions on the effectiveness of the mega redevelopment project proposed by government. What's required by the residents of Dharavi is an inclusive plan that provides them residential as well as commercial opportunities to sustain their lives. The sloth which is evident in all governmental executions has entered this plan too but amidst all this dilly-dally of the government decisions, the life at Dharavi continues to throng with full enthusiasm. As Rashmi calls it, Dharavi is a city within a city with a village soul. People here do not grow exclusive of each other and as a result the development of various petty and big business owes an allegiance to the whole living spirit of Dharavi.

Life is too precious to sulk over failures and lost relationships. When a 10*10 room can inspire so many enterprises why can't the fortunate ones look beyond their discomforts and truly realize the marvels that a human mind can achieve? Dare to dream and brave the hardships to help others. Exercise the greatest human quality of compassion. Enjoy a worthy life!

The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Be yourself. Because everyone else is already taken. 
-Oscar Wilde
The loner
      My recent joy of creation
      Inspiration: Milind Mulick

Monday, January 21, 2013

Book review: The Feast of Roses

The Feast of Roses
I wrote about an enticing narration of Mughal story here, about the book 'The Twentieth Wife'. The tale goes on with the sequel as 'The Feast of roses' by Indu Sundaresan. While 'The Twentieth Wife' captures journey of Mehrunnisa into emperor Jahangir's heart and eventually into his harem (living quarters reserved for wives and concubines and female relatives in a muslim household), Indu's second book is Mehrunnisa's rule over Hindustan as Padshah Begum (the supreme empress) second only to the emperor himself. 

Mehrunnisa is conferred upon the title of 'Nur Jahan- Light of the world' by Jahangir after their wedding, a well deserved one for she was the most beautiful woman in Mughal empire at that time and by the virtue of her marriage and her husband's love, the most powerful Mughal woman of her time. The ambitious woman is not contended with a mere title but wishes for true power over the harem and also in the Mughal court. Although she was Jahangir's twentieth wife, Mehrunnisa was the most beloved of all and she establishes this fact by snatching away the position of 'Padshah Begum' from Jahangir's other wife - Jagat Gosini, mother of prince Khurram (later ruled as Shah Jahan). Mehrunnisa had to face the wrath of important amirs (nobels) at the court and women at the harem for she was the emperor's sole partner in ruling the kingdom and others had very less left to participate in. 

Mehrunnisa forms a junta involving her father Ghias Beg, her brother Abul Hasan and prince Khurram to assist her in taking important decisions for state. From being a mere twentieth wife, Mehrunnisa enamors the emperor to such an extent that he crossed many royal etiquettes of Muslim world to accommodate the desires of his beloved wife and lover. Jahangir lets a royal woman's presence at the court (even when veiled, imperial women were forbidden to appear before other men), prints coins in name of 'Nur Jahan', consults her in all matters of statesmanship and breathes every breath in her presence. Prince Khurram is married to Mehrunnisa's niece Arjumand Banu (known to the world as Mumtaj Mahal) and Mehrunnisa's futile efforts to marry her own daughter Ladli to Khurram crushes her daughter's dreams miserably and becomes one of the reasons to cause a rift between the prince and the empress. Mehrunnisa then marries her daughter to Prince Shahryar and plots to place this weakling on the throne of Hindustan. What follows is a bloody rebellion from Khurram and the causal ouster of him and his wife from the empire. This woman who rules the empire for 16 long years is finally sent to Lahore in official exile on Jahangir's death when Shah Jahan becomes the emperor after slaughtering all his brothers and cousins who were contenders for the throne. 

Indu has painted the politics of Mughal court in lush words and emotions befitting a veteran writer. Indu's books provide a sensory treat of the historical events. The pure love between the emperor and Mehrunnisa is a wonder to know about. Jahangir keeps going back to Mehrunnisa in spite of his access to any woman in the world which speaks volumes about their love. His love is unflinching even when Mehrunnisa slaps him and they both fight like commoners in front of slaves and eunuchs. The power struggle between Mehrunissa and prince Khurram is worth every minute of reading. The affluence of Mughal empire brims through every page of narration and there is also description of the flight of an English ambassador to the Mughal court, Thomas Roe. The grandeur of a bygone era is there to relish all over the pages of this book. 

Reading this book has made me well versed with the history of the most powerful dynasty to rule over India. I will never forget the lineage of Moghul rulers, their architecture, their way of life, socio-political values prevalent over the 16th and 17th century India and the magnitude of Indian soil richness. This book is dear to me for another reason - it's strong and mesmerizing prose. Many a times I have forgotten whether I am reading a prose or a poem. The lull of a bedchamber, the tenderness of a girl's waiting for the lover, the manhood of a prince in the battlefield, the madness of love for a wife, the imperial power of a monarch, the arrogance of affluence, the subjugation of a kingdom's subjects - all these find new life in Indu's words. If this book is of any value apart from the history it depicts, then it is the bewitching use of words in prose. 

In comparison to the first book of any trilogy, the second one is always considered a drag but sparing a few repetitions of facts much needed for a strong narration, 'The Feast of Roses' is a historical and imaginative delight for the reader. I recommend this book to whoever is interested in knowing about
  • the history of Moghul India in the disguise of a story
  • the love story of one of the most powerful couples in the pages of Indian history
  • the rise of a mere woman to the level of a Muslim monarch
Enjoy the beautiful prose by buying yourself a copy:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Book review: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother

Battle hymn of the tiger
The sprout sings tale of adult tree grandeur
-Kannada proverb

During a time in India when the demarcating line between western and Indian culture is slowly fading, I came across a book which was much criticized by westerners. Amy Chua is a Chinese mother who presents a memoir of her strict parenting in this book which faced ridicule from many people. Being an Indian I wasn't much shocked at any of her methods.

Amy was a strict parent who allowed her kids to do nothing apart from their studies and music. Her daughters were not allowed most of the fun things which other American kids take for granted. But I didn't feel it's abnormal to not allow your kids sleepovers, play dates or silly tree/rock roles in school plays. My mother never allowed me to stay at a friend's place for longer than 8:30 p.m until my graduation days. I could hang out (attend sleepovers) with only 3 of my best friends whom my mom most trusted. We Indians accept it as a way of life for the reasons of safety ans status. The author Amy was a task master who put her daughters Sophia and Louisa (Lulu) through rigorous regular practice of Piano and Violin respectively in their childhood. Although the girls missed a few jabber at sleepovers they were groomed to be the best pianist and violinist. Amy's children became the child prodigies in their respective music fields achieving so much which even grown ups are left dreaming about.

Amy's methods are strict often bordering near tyranny, nevertheless this book is written in a sardonic tone with Amy indirectly mocking at her own methods and blowing most of the situations out of normalcy. When one finishes reading this book, a feeling of motivation lingers in mind. I couldn't help but accept capable of achieving anything I set my mind on. I got to think about few situations where I have out-rightly rebelled against my mom's suggestions and totally screwed up my chance at being awesome. This is a book not limited to just parenting but stretches to question unplanned living versus well planned one. It is shown that any big success comes by not taking an easy road but the one which demands time and energy.

This is a breezy read for anyone looking forward to indulge in a controversial book. The book has a major chunk of piano and violin lingo which puts off non-musical readers. For Indian crowd akin to watching strict parents guiding most of their children's life decisions, this book is not in the slightest bit controversial. This will prove to be yet another strict parent glorifying her children's lives.

I agree with the author's methods of parenting which give children all the necessary education in hard work, dedication, importance of winning and of course setting high expectations and meeting them.

My takeaway from the book:
Complement passion with hard work and get myself the best of my own capabilities.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Ode of abstract!!

He handed me the headphones. The sound was high-pitched, like the soundtrack of a movie in which random scenes had been strung together, or cut up and played backwards, or deliberately placed out of order. Bottles clinked and a door creaked open. A shot rang out. A child whispered, Is he here? Where is he? A women wept and said, Nahi, nahi. There was the sound of water falling from a great height. A door creaked shut and a bottle smashed on a tiled floor. A woman's high voice fell deeply through the octaves and a shot rang out. A man panted like a dog. A child wept and water lapped against the side of a boat or a body. A bottle of champagne popped and a doorbell rang. James Bond guitars played against cowboy string orchestration. The child said, Here he is. Where is here? The woman's voice, soaked in reverb and whisky, executed another perfect fall and I experienced a sudden drop in my head like a vertigo rush. I heard the sound of water and heard a man shout, Monica, my darling, and I felt so dizzy that I had to close my eyes. Then a woman said, Is he here? and a child whispered, Nahi, and a shot rang out and everything went silent.

- Jeet Thayil 

The aforementioned paragraph is the most abstract description I have read of a song till now. The writer challenges my thinking with every line. How I am enjoying reading his book Narcopolis a Man Booker Prize nomination!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Uncopyrighted achievers!!

The way is not in the sky
The way is in the heart
- Lord Buddha

If you believe you are lacking major resources to change your life and take action on the things you love, stop and think again. Aren't you fortunate enough and already in the best position of life to start being awesome? Nobody has the perfect partner, perfect parents, perfect friends and definitely not the perfect financial condition. I am fortunate enough to have found two such people who are creating wonderful lives for themselves and for others by doing things they love: Leo Babauta and Chris Guillebeau

Being an ardent follower of both of these men's lives, I read their influential e-books and could only claim to have been energized by doing so. 
  • The Effortless Life by Leo Babauta
    This handy e-book of no more than 79 pages is an amalgamation of all the simplicity and Zen ideas, Leo proposes in his blog. This book celebrates the simplicity and purity of everyday life. The target audience for this book is all people who want a proof of richness in simplicity.
  • 279 Days To Overnight Success by Chris Guillebeau
    Chris, who has traveled more than 125 countries (he is not even 35!!!!!) chalked down this short e-book to describe the hard work and marketing strategies that propelled him to self sustenance in just 279 days through a life of travelling and writing. 
These two books can be freely downloaded (mind you they are uncopyrighted) here:
These two books can form 7 blocks of your reading for 10 minutes!! 
Happi reading

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book review: The $100 startup

The $100 Startup
There is no rehab program for being addicted to freedom. Once you've seen what it's like on the other side, good luck trying to follow someone else's rules ever again.
Chris Guilleabeau

One quality I can't adore enough in people is "no-nonsense talking" and Chris scores high on this scale. I reaffirm that reading is the best thing to learn and grow. As my friend puts it "reading is people providing their best learnt lessons on a silver platter covered with a silk veil." If it were not for Chris I wouldn't have had the chance to take a candid look into many entre(solo)preneurs' success stories. Chris himself is one of those lucky guys who get to earn their living by doing things they absolutely love. A guy who makes money by roaming all over the world is definitely a worthy candidate for anyone's attention.

The book is a consolidated result of interviewing over 1500 entrepreneurs in as diverse fields as possible and making a sense of their success pattern. The lucky stories which got into Chris' narration have a median investment of $125 and average annual income of $100,000. And if you are thinking these are the hand picked successful businessmen then you are wrong. All of them hail from a very normal lifestyle but distinguished only by their craziness to do something which would ensure freedom to them and value to others. There are people from all walks of life - school dropouts, artists, web designers, techno geeks, parents, fashion designers, value investors, online marketers, consultants, writers, teachers, musicians, home makers, successful corporate executives, salesmen, teenagers, school goers, culinary coaches, adventure enthusiasts, food and beverage folks, public relation experts and retired men; all making a successful livelihood out of their passion.

What would take me perhaps a lot of excruciating learning through research, courses and experiences took me only one book to gulp it all. For a person with a slight technical aversion such as me the exposure to tools of internet marketing and e-commerce proved invaluable. The simple presentation of often complicated ideas such as fund raising, work force expansion, printing and outsourcing is compelling. Chris' claim that a successful business can strive entirely on value creation and passion is proven by real life examples. One cannot help but be madly motivated to follow dreams after reading this rather easy and sleazy way to success. All the case studies portray high business ethics and insatiable hunger for freedom+value.

While the cases presented are mostly of businesses successful in the first world countries it kindled an apprehension of the book's authenticity in a country like mine, a country still deemed "developing nation". But the story of how a man running tuk-tuk made himself more profitable than others in his field reinforced my belief that anything is possible if you have the fire in your belly. Rashmi Bansal's such books as Connect The Dots are there to remind us of this conviction. Moreover, Chris' book is a general guide to any budding entrepreneur who wants proof that simple ideas and high passion can succeed in big ways. The book is not a fast read since one has to take aid of Google to browse the fascinating stories of it's subjects. Chris being the blogger that he is, slowed down my reading in the initial few pages but the subjects later managed to sky rocket my curiosity.

The book gave me valuable insight into lives of spirited souls. Browsing through the successful people's websites, blogs and books has enriched my thought process like never before. I recommend this book to teenagers, college students, early life enthusiasts and transition facing professionals. This book is an assurance that everything will fall into place after the first step. So if you are apprehensive about your capabilities in taking that first step go grab this book.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Indira - The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi

INDIRA -The life of Indira Nehru Gandhi

Often it is reckoned that a particular hobby runs in the family. Though I doubt the generality of this statement, I am happy to announce that my family falls under the bracket. My sister too has a liking for reading/writing and here is a guest post by her.

Author: Divya Rao
“India is Indira and Indira India” – This was how the Indian National Congress branded Indira Gandhi. Indira Nehru-Gandhi is the daughter of India’s freedom fighter and the first prime minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, but to the world she was known for much more than just being the daughter of a famous personality. Indira Gandhi led India, the world’s largest democracy, for nearly two decades. She was voted the Woman of Millennium. In  1983 commonwealth meeting, Indira Gandhi looked the most regal and powerful of the three women present. The other two were the Queen of England and Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister of UK.

The book INDIRA – The Life of Indira Nehru Gandhi is a biography written by Katherine Frank. It is an exhaustive, well-researched and revealing biography of Indira Gandhi. It is a 500 page thick book of extremely small print. Katherine has to her credit three other biographies and Indira’s biography is her fourth. This former experience provides author the confidence and thoroughness in her work.

The book starts with Indira’s father Jawaharlal Nehru ‘s family details, his education and his marriage to Kamala. The book explains in great detail the turbulent and disturbed childhood of Indira amidst her father’s freedom movement and his arrests, her mother’s illness and the world war. The only real education she received was from her father through his letters and by travelling around the world. Indira’s passionate relationship with Feroze Gandhi is also given some focus.  Around the time of India’s Independence she returns back to India with Feroze on tow. After India’s Independence Indira’s life is all consumed by politics, first as her father’s hostess and then as the prime minister of India. The role of Sanjay Gandhi and later Rajiv Gandhi in Indira’s term, as prime minister, forms the remainder of the book. The events leading up to her assassination is very interesting and well handled.

The initial days of Indira Gandhi where she was mostly traveling with her sick mother and she herself in bouts of depression was hardly interesting. This part of book feels almost like a history academic textbook with facts and figures and nothing else. Author couldn’t have made justice here because during Indira’s initial days she was completely overshadowed by her father and she herself showed no personality. Nehru intimidated her and she merely followed him everywhere he went. The book picks pace only after Indira returns to India, around the time of Indian Independence and gets involved in politics. The drama begins and story unfolds only after she becomes the prime minister of India – around 300th page of the book. This is when her life becomes ‘Not a Normal, Banal, Boring Life’.

The author does a brilliant job in portraying how Indira metamorphoses from a docile, dumb doll into the Great Dictator describing her insecurities, her fears and her struggles throughout. This makes the book very convincing. However, as all biographies, the book is partial to the subject and her views. All other’s view gets a mere mention or passed off as baseless rumours. Some of the well-known rumours of Indira’s life are not mentioned at all. The author has also restrained from expressing her own interpretations and judgment on Indira’s life.

I recommend this book as a good read for those who want to know the history of India, about what transpired after India’s freedom, how politics and corruption became synonyms of power at the Centre. Pre-requisites of this book include knowing about India’s freedom struggles and partition of India.

After reading this book I am mighty impressed by Indira Gandhi. She was great in foreign relations, thanks to all her travels and influence because of her family background, getting the attention and aid that India needed. Her beliefs were leftist and she sought order over democracy. The public’s experience of emergency was that daily life seemed less erratic and stressful, prices fell, peace and order restored. Off-course, she had her weaknesses, Sanjay Gandhi being the biggest threat. I am convinced of what Indira believed – only she could take care of India, without her India would fall apart.

About the author:
Divya is a busy working mother and a total prankster at heart (though she pretends to be otherwise). You can find the result of her recent writo-mania here.