Saturday, April 20, 2013

Old read with a new perspective

The Alchemist
"The Alchemist is a beautiful book about magic, dreams and the treasures we seek elsewhere and then end on our doorstep"

The above line captures the entire analysis of this book, "The Alchemist" in a simple sentence and I admit that I have nothing more to add to the review. Instead I am going to share with you my reading experience of Alchemist for the second time.

I read this book about 6 years ago when I just wanted to be done with reading a famous book in the must-read book list. Although I was impressed by the book, it was a mere story for me. I had failed to assimilate the philosophy into my life. But in the past 6 years I have matured enough to understand as well as adapt Paulo Coelho's philosophy. This book is by a man who struggled hard to practice non-conformity (one of my current favorite human capabilities) throughout his life. This unassuming 156 page book is a profound philosophy in the form of a treasure hunt story. The boy Santiago breaks all chains of social conventions and leads a life he wanted to lead-a life of travelling and learning. Believing a dream to be a prophecy to be fulfilled, Santiago sets out to find a hidden treasure in the pyramids of Egypt. The journey exposes him to theft, fear, war, love and ultimate realization of human capacity.

I reread this book at a stage when I am at the crossroads in life under an obligation to either choose my dream or to stick to social conventions and expectations. Anyone who reads this book is humbled to listen to one's own heart, choose the dreams which are the most important to oneself and search for love that only expects you to achieve your best. The book upholds the simple human truth that when you run behind your dream, every piece fits into the puzzle naturally and the whole world begins to make better sense. The simple facts of life highlighted in the book:

  • dreams are wonders not to be ignored
  • there is no reason why one shouldn't follow one's dream
  • learn to recognize the pattern of how every act of yours renders you closer to the dream
  • to avoid working towards a dream fulfillment provides only ephemeral peace while it is in realizing a dream that one truly find happiness
Read this book 
if you have a spark in your soul that's waiting to burn
if you need to know how great things are done
if you wanna sweat for success in return

Choose a life that will make you happy. 
As with all matters of life, you will know when you find it.
-Steve Jobs

Sunday, April 7, 2013

How Draupadi wasted precious 2 days of my life!

One tale that India doesn't get tired of retelling is Mahabharatha. Story tellers across all genres, regions, languages and religions have adopted the main Vyasa story into their narration and rendered the epic in various flavours for the common men to relish. The themes of family fights, wars, politics, miracles and morals in Mahabharatha have found multicolored illustrations in stories. The palace of illusions is yet another feeble attempt at narrating the Mahabharatha epic from a different perspective. Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni has chosen Draupadi as the narrator and it is through her eyes that we see the Mahabharatha unfold.

The novel begins with a rather dull rant from Draupadi about how she sprang into life from the fire along with her brother Drushtadyumna and on she goes to grumble about her inconsequential existence amidst the palace walls. She desperately waits for her turn to fulfill the prophecy of her life-the prophecy which she states would alter the history of Bharat land. Draupadi as is shown in the book is a stupid and trivial selfish person who cribs for half of the book. A new angle seen in the book is that Draupadi has a longing to marry the tragic hero of Mahabharatha-Karna.

* To recount a story I heard from an elder at home I take a small break from my review. Draupadi in her past life was a sage's wife who suffered from tuberculosis. Being the pativrate that she was (all women in our epics are victims of domestic subjugation), she was in the habit of eating out of her husband's leftover plate. Once while doing so, she sees a rotten finger of her TB suffering husband. Alas! she eats the entire meal along with the finger without complaining. After his death some time later, she goes into Shiva Tapasya. Pleased by her Tapasya, Lord Shiva appears before her to grant a wish. On seeing the Lord, the ecstatic Draupadi prays him to grant a better husband in the next life by chanting "Patim dehi" for five times and when she is about to say it for the sixth time and utters "Pati" the Lord stops her and gladly grants the wish. So in the next life Draupadi gets 5 husbands (for chanting Patim dehi 5 times) and also comes too close to marrying another one (for the half "Pati" chant) Karna. *

The other half of the book goes in the obnoxious queen Draupadi detailing various events and their bad outcomes tarnishing her reputation, mood and happiness. Our miss annoying queen dedicates sufficient part of the narration to picture her friendship with Krishna and how her tiny pea sized brain fails to decipher such a great person's character. The only part which holds a reader's interest is the Kurukshetra war description and no surprise in that because the events that unfolded in 18 day epic war are worth anybody's attention no matter who tells the story.

This pesky book would have been a bit more bearable if only it had some profound thought worthy philosophy in it. I agree that Mahabharatha has been rarely told from a woman's perspective but the hype ends at just that fact. You part with the book with a dismal feeling that Draupadi was a waste of space on earth!! A beautiful moral story of Mahabharatha is reduced to sluggish jabber of a silly female.

People who should stay away from this book are those:

  • who think that a character like that of Draupadi cannot be lame.
  • who have heard wonderful Mahabharatha stories from grandparents, mothers et al.
  • who have relished reading thoughtful versions of Mahabharatha.
  • who know the difference between a cribbing selfish girl and a woman of substance.
People who should read this book are those:
  • who wish to have a good laugh about a wretched version of a great epic.
  • who want to warn their friends what books not to read.
If you really want to read a wonderful retelling of Mahabharatha from human point of view then get yourself a copy of "Parva" from S.L.Bhyrappa. 

Quirky facts about Dr.Albert Einstein

All right! Going by the title of the post you might have come here looking for stupendous-man (refer to my dear Calvin's stupendous definitions here) like traits of the greatest intellect of 21st century Einstein.  I am not going to tell things like "Einstein was super human that he never farted in company" and neither that "Einstein ran a secret brotherhood to preserve the mysteries of Jesus Christ", instead I am going to share little somethings from his ordinary life that I picked up from reading this book from Walter Issacson.

  • Einstein was ever forgetful. We all know the tale where he called up Princeton University office to note down his own home address. He would forget keys, leave behind his precious things and often travel to places far away only to realize he doesn't have any clothes with him.
  • Einstein's brain was stolen post his autopsy and evaded from being caught for almost 3 decades after his death. There is also a movie "Relics" dedicated to this story line.
  • Einstein was not mean to his wife. He treated only one of his wife badly :P In order to persuade her to divorce him he lured her with his Nobel prize money.

    An excerpt from Einstein's letter to his second wife (when they were still not married yet):
    "I treat my wife as an employee I can't fire"
  • Einstein ran away from Germany and never returned in fear and disgust for the Nazi rule. (Einstein was a Jew by birth and he was never in terms with his religion as a young man. In the later part of his life he strongly associated his kinship with the troubled Jews and fought for their pride and honor).
  • Einstein was offered the presidency of the newly formed state Israel in 1952 which he rejected promptly for he himself knew very well that he would make a lousy politician.
  • Einstein never got convinced of the path breaking Heisenberg theories which revolutionized Quantum physics. Neither was he convinced of the uncertainty principle nor did he appreciate or approve of the scientific leaps in particle physics. Einstein died a death of non-quantum physics believer.
  • Einstein was a seasoned violinist and connected deeply with music. He often played on his violin in place of giving a speech. I often wonder that music is the language of universe and it seems to attract every human!!Poor, rich, dumb, bright - music has a spell on everyone.

I revelled in reading this piece by Issacson and convinced beyond doubts that he is a wonderful story teller. I recommend this book to anyone who is
  • interested in knowing all the dimensions of Einstein's life
  • eager to know the path breaking scientific discoveries of early 21st century
We often think that success, knowledge and social life can't go hand in hand but when we delve deep into celebrities' lives we realize how mistaken we are and how limited our thinking is. Science and art can revolutionize how we live our lives. A thought insignificant at first can sweep the entire mood of the society. Einstein's scientific contributions did not just create a new chapter of modern physics but his theory of relativity based on non-conformist ideals brought forth an era of new art opposing all norms of conventional thinking. His attitude made many an old league of classical physicists to look in awe and inspired a cadre of youngsters to cross the limit of his capabilities. Einstein lived during a time rather created a time where the field of theoretical physics donned an attire of freshness and creative geniuses of that time sprung to life. Knowing Einstein's life is synonymous to getting a sneak peak into the movement of theoretical physics renewal.