Sunday, 31 January 2016

Book Review : Monkeys, Motorcycles and Misadventures

Some books are meant to be read {your average fiction stuff}; some others are meant to be studied and analysed, learnt from {my upcoming review : Untold Stories of 20 Brands}; yet others are informative {India, Uninc, as an example}; and then are those which leave a deep impression, and provoke thought and discussion {Reforming Institutions, for example}... rare is the book that combines one or more of all of the above. The current book is one such.

This is a book which frankly defies description and categorisation. I cant call it Fiction, since the auther states it an non-fiction, and concerns a real event in the life of the author. I cant call it a travelogue, for it is far more than a travelogue. I cant call it just thought provoking, for it is full of rib-tickling ROFL anecdotes; what I can and will call it is : a complete entertainer from the first page, right from the very first page.


Image result for monkeys motorcycles and misadventures reviewThe book is ostensibly about three friends who decide, once upon a sweet sweet time, to follow the path of Lord Hanuman to Lanka. These same three geniuses decide to – hold your breath – walk. Yes, walk. A small matter of 1200 Kilometers. Saw it on a map, it isn’t much really. It was 6 centimeters on that map, so it is a rather simple affair, really. I mean, it isn’t like you have to walk to the Railway Station, is it? Just a small matter of a – {shudder} – walk to Sri Lanka. Right next door on the map. Look it up on any map if you think I am joking.

Anyways, these three – aah – geniuses – then proceed to actually execute the thought or decision. {I mean, seriously, how many of us actually, truly, really execute all of our decisions and plans? Unreal! Fiction Book, I would have thought : sad they took photographs as proof!}. To top it all, they actually do complete the plan, you know. And we, the smart people, are still at our home / office {hope you are at home reading this, you shouldn’t read personal stuff in the office} [PS : It is a Sunday and I am very much at home]. How they do it forms the rest of the book.


The book is written by someone only identifiable as “Harsha” {I wonder why? Why not give precise details?}, a person who is a freelance writer and the author of ‘Monkeys, Motorcycles, and Misadventures’. After graduating with a Master’s in Business Administration, he worked with a large IT company for a few years, before taking a sabbatical to trek the Hanuman route. In 2013, he moved to a beach town, where he spent a year beach bumming, mooching off family, and writing the current book. The others are Sri {whom I kind of liked} and the one and only Sam – two friends with whom the author has done some trekking before...


The author has the choice of making it like a recipe book, or a visitor’s travelogue by giving precise details and routes visited; full marks for avoiding that temptation and taking recourse to a free-wheeling style of writing, which is in keeping with the plot and the book. While they do have a broad plan, they decide to take it as it comes; this is the way the author has written the book as well. A free-wheeling, rambunctious style which makes for absorbing reading.

The book is freely littered with anecdotes, observations, fights {sorry guys, I found your fights entertaining at times. Sach hai, dunia hansti hai jab khud rote ho} that have you laughing at the situation, or the ready wit of the author, or of the comments and the observations of the three amigos, as the author likes to call himself and his friends. {Harsh : you did, too. All of once in the book. So there!}. That adds spice to this highly interesting book, making it a riveting read.

The icing on the cake is the thought provoking and deep insights, observations, experiences that occur to our three amigos along their path. These are found throughout the book, and leave you in quiet contemplation, stunned at times, just thoughtful at others, at the penetrating observation or the essential truth they contain. These span the most trivial to the most profound. Sample this little beauty when a kid walked up with Prasad :

I wanted to scream at the little girl, tell her the world wasn’t a safe place; .. but I didn’t... after receiving her kindness, who was I to destroy her innocence, her unquestioning belief in goodness? Was I a guardian, and of what? If anything, I had to guard that, the part of humanity’s divinity that I had just experienced... I wanted to see than innocence for longer, that faith in humanity; It made me forget my problems and my fears; It was something that I had lost a long time back, and the loss had left me jaded...”

These little gems are what elevate this book from the mundane to the level of a collector’s item, a book to be savoured as special, a book to be kept aside and read again and again when you have free time...

The writing is fluid, effortless and entertaining; the freewheeling style makes it a rapid and fast read, This is an ideal book for a journey for casual readers who have begun to experiment with other genres and styles, as it is a fast read and can be easily tackled in the free time you have; that is critical as the book literally flows from start to finish, and it is better if you read it through the first time.  For passionate bookaholics of the serious genre, people who have progressed beyond fiction – this is a must read title. All in all, I rate it 4 stars out of 5. 

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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Book Review : Ramayan - Stolen Hope



{Book 3, after The Rise Of The Sun Prince and Shattered Dreams}

Shubh Vilas is a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, with a degree in Engineering and Law, specialised in Patent Law. Prominent among his teachers are H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedant Swami Srila Prabhuda {Founder Hare Krshna Movement} and H.H. Radhanath Swami


Image result for the ramayan stolen hopeThis is a book that is completely different from the previous book/s in narrative, content and flow; those of us who are aware of the story of the life of the Lord Ram will find this in keeping with the story of his life. In the previous book, we studied {I cannot use the word “read” for the story of our Lord} his life till the Vanvaas period starting; far too obviously, the story takes a turn from that point.

The current book traces the life of Lord Ram from the beginning of the Vanvaas going right till the sad episode of Sita Haran by Ravan, and the start of the hunt till the meeting of Lord Rama with Shabari. Along the way, we are treated to a series of episodes from the Vanvaas Period which make for enthralling reading for those of us {like self} who were unaware of the full details of the complete Ramayan. To me, The Ramayan moves from Vanvaas straight till Sita Haran; this book has enabled me to get a hand on the full story of our Lord.

Here you will find a multitude of episodes with enchantingly exhausting details which enrich your understanding of The Ramayan – from the full story of Rishi Agastya who tamed the Vindhya Mountain Range, to the story of Jatayu, to the story of Dandakaranya and many other interesting parts, like the story of Khara & Dushan; the palace of Ravan, the story of Mandodari and many others that make this a highly engaging read!


But far more than the story itself, for me personally the biggest takeaway from this part of His life is the description of the lifestyle, environment, their daily activities, their simplicity, their surrender to their current situation and the way they conduct themselves. That left me spellbound, as I was able to visualise how tough it must have been for a Prince, a man who was brought up for kingship to go through these rigours.

The other part of this part of the book is the continuing delicate interplay between The Lord and Sita Ma; this is truly the stuff of legend. The author has reproduced their relationship in such a sublime fashion, with their conversations, episodes and communications leaving a deep impression on your mind. Add to this the absolutely wondrous devotion of Lord  Lakshman, and you have a retelling of The Ramayan that is beyond description almost

In Lakshman one sees devotion to one’s loved ones; sacrifice for the sake of the elders; total obedience – and yet an ability to respectfully convey one’s disagreement with the elder; complete surrender to one’s duties and responsibilities; this is a sacrifice that is unparalleled in my experience at least. This is one of the biggest plus points of this series, the way Lakshman’s role has been given due attention and portrayed properly.

Such is the style of the presentation & so powerful the connect of The Ramayan with us that you smile with delight with each smile of Devi Sita, and get tears in your eyes on more than one occasion in the scenes of The Lord and The Devi, in the devotion of Lakshman, in the tragic Sita Haran. The author has done full justice to The Ramayan, and has made it far more than a mere book or a retelling...

Best of all is the Lord Ram and the way his full character is brought out in front of our eyes; one can see the loving husband, the caring brother, the compassionate man, as well as the tough warrior and hard punisher all in one complete package, enabling you to understand why he is the ideal man : Maryada Purushottam! The transformation of the Lord from loving man to determined warrior, from compassionate human to crusading punisher has been flawlessly achieved, and enriches your understanding of The Lord.


Where this series makes its most powerful mark is the series of short annotations, text boxes and comments that drive home powerfully the lessons of The Ramayan; and its contemporary relevance. This places the current retelling in  a league of its own, and makes for a deeply engaging, immensely enriching and deeply thought-provoking study. That is also another reason why I refer to this series not as a reading material – but a study to be undertaken and a path to be followed.

The way the material has been presented, it ceases to be just a Holy Book, or a retelling of the known story of The Lord Ram and Devi Sita; it transposes into a potentially life-changing or life-enriching experience as you are taken deep into human psychology, human reactions & life lessons. This is not done  through long lectures or allegories but rather through short end-notes of a few words each, leaving deep learnings. This is series to be read again and again until the message sinks in and changes you for the better.

Furthermore, another fantastic part of this series is the text boxes which contain analyses of some episodes and the reasons why each person behaved as he or she did in that scenario; this enables a deeper understanding of the story, as well as a deeper connect with these historical characters. These text boxes are also used to drive home lessons from key episodes of The Ramayan; making this book far more than just a mere retelling!


This is a labour of love, of a learned man’s deep passion for The Ramayan; it is not just a mere book series or a retelling. It can be best described as the effort of a Guru; you become a pupil in his class of life, as the Guru takes you through the story, with the attendant hard-hitting, or thought-provoking comments which I now like to call Guides to Life. This is a guide to the reader, an aid even to a brutal self-examination with potentially far reaching effects and learnings, if studied with attention.

{Have I, who am writing these tall words, studied it with the requisite attention? I didn’t the first book; that was just a deeply engaging book. But the second one got through to me, and it has now  become a potential study. How much I will succeed is anyone’s guess. Time will tell! If I can succeed in my effort to treat this as a study, a life-changing experience – I will be the richer for the experience}

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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Absence Of A National Dialogue

The Absence Of A National Dialogue

The title will surprise many, but that is precisely my contention; that we lack a national dialogue; a consistent, strong and clear discussion on the matters that really matter to us as a people. We are very quick to discuss on Social Media issues relating to Religion, BJP Government, AAP {particularly denouncing it}, Rahul Gandhi / Congress, Arvind Kejriwal, Indians Abroad... but are almost totally silent on any number of issues that are far more relevant, important and critical to us


You will not find many posts, mentions on agrarian distress, drought conditions in several districts, condition of Small and Marginal Farmers, lack of farm profitability, abysmally low farm-gate prices, lack of facilities in the agrarian belts, the problems faced by the farming community etc. And yet, even the smallest step taken for the emancipation of the above problems gets highlighted excessively.

That the positives are highlighted is welcome – but this happens without an attendant and equally vocal attention to the problems being faced by farmers. Therein lies the problem; you cannot have a complete picture of the ground reality without a full picture. What we see is an abundance of noise and adulation on steps taken for farmers – but almost zero attention to the reality of the farming scene in India...


Similar is the case with the Economy; let me take just one small example to make my point. The structure of the Indian Economy is skewed heavily towards the Small and Medium Enterprise; as previously pointed out on my blog, the contribution of the unorganised sector to the Indian Economy is in excess of 40%, in the range of 45% - 60% {Refer the review of the book India, Uninc by Prof Vaidyanathan for full details}

And yet, a glance at the Pink Papers, Media, Social Media would completely belie the above in its totality. Rare is the article that goes deep into this aspect of our economy, which employs more people, contributes more to the GDP as well as to savings, and is the engine of India’s growth as well as consumption and savings juggernaut. Anything to do with Corporate Business gets immediate attention; is analysed threadbare – but not on this most vital of sectors of our Economy.

Its needs, wants, bottlenecks and requirements never reach the educated classes, So much so – it took me, an MBA with a regular reading of News and Books well over 14 years work experience to get introduced to the scale & scope of the Unorganised Sector and its contribution – and even that took a book that I spotted in a mall {mentioned above}


This stands as the most neglected sector of all, with near-zero attention; in my opinion – even more neglected than Agriculture. The fact is that we spend very little {as a % of GDP allocation in Budget} on Education & Health gets a mention – but few people question this. Conversely, politicization of education – by any party – gets headline news for weeks – but the lack of attention to both these factors nationally hardly merits a few erudite articles and analyses in some select serious media outlets!

We rarely stop to think how can we improve the lot of the people among the not-so-lucky; how can they partake in the improved opportunities that growth brings without good health and education! Is it due to the blind spot we have – being educated, living in Urban Agglomerations, with good jobs {mostly} – leading us to forget that there are others who don’t have the advantages we have had due to our lucky parentage, which is strictly speaking an accident of birth?


Each of the points above ideally needs a dedicated article unto itself to do it justice; furthermore, there are other relevant issues that can be included in the list that get ignored. The list above is neither representative, nor is it exhaustive. Sadly, basis what we have seen and read till date on Media and Social Media both – you have to hunt for updates and information relating to these vital aspects of our nation.

How is Religion, Pro- or Anti-BJP, Pro- or anti-AAP etc going to influence the direction of policies in any way? Regardless of how much social media noise is generated, regardless of how much attention and coverage these generate, how is it going to help in any practical and definable way? In fact, in some cases it stokes arguments and verbal duels as can be seen in comments on facebook updates {as an example}

If we can focus so much attention on these frankly irrelevant and unimportant matters, post updates on them in Social Media, attempt to influence your readers, friends etc, or inform them – then why cant we also show due interest to real matters, matters of far greater relevance? We can update a deluge of updates praising one Government or the other, and yet maintain complete silence on real matters – Education, Agrarian Distress, Rural-Urban Gap, Health, Indian Armed Forces, Economy?

Similarly in the Media, one can read threadbare and in painstaking detail {or watch to be fair} news relating to so-called “current events”, in minute-by-minute breaking news and updates – but almost nothing by relative comparison on these real issues. How difficult could it be, just increasing space and/or time for analytical articles and snippets on these real issues, factors that will determine the pace of our growth?

What is happening is that as a result, there is a complete of a national dialogue around the real issues that matter to us as a people, as a nation. The lack of awareness of the people at large {basis personal experience of my own self} leads to a total silence on these matters, compared to a deluge of information on the other matters, which are relatively minor – and some might even be called debatable as being “matters” of relevance.

If the belief in the people is that by sharing updates on Religion and related matters, Historical wrongs, Pro- or anti- Government, Personality-specificity etc – one can influence public opinion, then the same holds true for the real issues. And if you don’t believe in the power of Media, then why share on your social pages, and why write or create on your Media?

And, if this medium does hold power – both Media as well as Social Media – then what does our silence on the real issues say about us as a people? Why are we sharing and reading avidly on Religion, Political Parties – but ignoring the really important issues, issues that are vitally important to the nation? What does this behaviour say about us? 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Life, And Death... The Unending Circle

Life, And Death... The Unending Circle

Another year... Another Month... and Another Day... Yet another tragedy strikes close to me and my family, leaving us behind...leaving my mind in a turmoil, with questions and observations crashing through my mind as I attempt to come to terms with the larger questions relating to the purpose of life, and the smaller questions of my response both to the path of life as well as my response to such seminally tragic events...

As of now, as before, when tragedy has struck and me & my family are in mourning, the one thought that literally flashes through my mind, crashes into my consciousness is the same thought I had on my Dad’s funeral pyre 9 years ago... at the end, the only thing that remains is a person’s thoughts, nature, words, and relationships with people...

Nothing matters; the worldly possessions we run after so mindlessly will pass on to some other owner, nothing remains that you or your memory can call yours. The house will be transferred to some other name; the shirts, pants will be donated to some needy; the TV will be seen by someone else; the car will have a new driver behind the wheel; the bank balance and investments will be bequeathed to someone else... and so on and so forth...

The world will cry a little or a lot – or not at all, depending on how close people were to you {that is critical}; those who cry will do so for 2 days, maybe three – or maybe longer. The only person who will retain your memory lifelong is your spouse – and if you are exceptionally lucky {and good}... your children. That is it. Life stops for not a moment after you pass away; not one moment. Mouths will need to be fed; children need to go to school; and so on and so forth. Nothing stops – not even your closest family, and that is a hard fact.


The one realisation that has come to me is that what remains after you is only the good deeds you have done; the happiness that you have spread; the pleasure you have given; your words & your memories, which people cherish in those rare special moments when the past comes back to mind; nothing else matters. The only other thing that matters is your Children : if you manage to give them a good education and upbringing – they will carry this and thank you their entire life.

And yet, paradoxically, we spend our entire adult lives pursuing worldly items  and possessions to the exclusion of the only things that will actually remain ours; the only things we will carry with us to the heavenly abode. I myself, who am penning these rather grandiose terms, am not too different in this regard.


It can be argued that each individual has desires and ambitions, and culling and curbing your desires and ambitions is not exactly the right thing to do; that it is my right to do as I please, as I am on this earth to live. Granted. But does the  pursuit of our individual goals and desires mean we forget the items listed above? Cant we try and do both?

Nothing on this planet is free of charge : you will need money to live, to feed yourself and your family. And it is further granted that food alone is not enough; you will need money for giving your family a good life, you owe them that. That is beyond argument; I am not advocating becoming a hermit, or proposing / recommending simple living – high thinking philosophy. And, truth be told, less than 1% of people will take freebies; it feels great to achieve something – and this sense of achievement rubs off on your loved ones and your family as well.

Thus, the daily grind of life really does need to be gone through-  frankly, you yourself wouldn’t have it any other way. But the question remains : if after I am gone – my worldly possessions wont remain mine; that only my deeds, my words, my emotions, my memories will remain truly mine : then what is the purpose of it all? And furthermore, this question leads to what I regard to tbe the keystone question, the vital question : what is really important – or what is the relative importance of each aspect of your life?


I found, during my 9-year journey on these questions which first assaulted me on my Dad’s funeral pyre, that you cannot answer these questions without answering who am I? For, when you attempt to settle and answer the questions above, all rationalisations of the real world fall by the wayside – and you are left naked, confronted with yourself : and your real priorities, devoid of anxieties, worries, desires and ambitions. What would you want to be known for and remembered as? The answer to that questions is a reflection of your true self, in my opinion...

The past 9 years have also revealed something else – these questions and their answers remain carved into stone; independent of the real world around you, and the challenges and tasks it demands of you. It matters nought if you are on a high note in your life – or if you are in a struggling phase. The questions, and their answers, remain as they were. They are resolute & unchanging...

Through good times and bad, the tiny voice inside you remains, always telling you wher e you are going wrong, or what your real priorities are. The difficulty, as I have experienced as well as am experiencing, is in isolating that tiny voice, that original voice from the other voices that emanate not from you, but from your desires & ambitions, experiences, successes and failures. I have not yet succeeded in overcoming the pull of these stronger pressures, and learning to listen to the real me that resides somewhere deep inside me, the me that is telling my mind and body what is right and what I should be doing...

The key seems to be isolating the desires and ambitions driven voices that originate from the passions, and my life goals and experiences – from that small invisible me. I am not my desires; my desires emanate from my real world needs and experiences, and are strictly external to me as an individual. My life goals – even they are not me, for the perfectly simple reason that these- all of them – have external dependencies, so they cannot be the real me.

Who, then, am I? Answer : as of now, I don’t know. While the real world desires and ambitions are important, for I am a constituent of my society, and need to fulfil my role; they are not me. That much I am sure of. I do know that my body cannot be me : for it will one day return to its real owner – the earth. My body cannot be me for after people die – they do live on in memories, and their good deeds. My body cannot be me, for the simple reason that through pain and joy, a part of me remains untouched, and above all.

Who, then, am I? My hunt continues...