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Archive for September, 2018

Siddhartha – Book 25 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 23, 2018

The book “Siddhartha” has got quite a cult status among the literature aficionados.  And rightfully so. This book makes sense on so many levels. Though not all answers are given and perhaps you are meant to find your own direction but it does give you a sneak view of what Hindu dharma philosophizes. For an Indian and a Hindu, there might be nothing new in stages leading up to Siddhartha’s quest for self-actualization but for a western reader, it is a great introduction to the concept of Hinduism. I remember reading “Autobiography of a Yogi” for the first time back in college and I was most taken in by the early chapters – the parts where the title character is running away from home and seeking Truth with a bunch of crazy half-starved monks. College kid inside me was obsessed with esoteric. There was this unquenchable thirst for meaning of life, who am I, what am I, what am I destined to etc etc though the answers of these still evade me. But unlike the teen years, I have made my peace with not knowing answers of great many questions. They just reveal themselves when they have to.

Herman Hesse’s mysterious novelette about Eastern religion rings true to the unsolved mystery of desire and calling. When you read a spiritual book in your mid-thirties, your broken ideals and consolidated cynicism either gets a boost or you try to see things in a totally new perspective. So many of us can somewhere identify with middle aged Siddhartha making his way in the outside world, finding a woman and attaining a measure of material success and the same time, a hidden part of us remains tethered to the spiritual musings. Don’t we all get an occasional urge of throwing away all our worldly goods and become a hermit meditating in some caves in Himalayas or turn into a ferryman on some remote river like Siddhartha did? But then a cliché of family, kids, world, responsibility and what not prevents us from going to the same extremes or ever approach a state of Nirvana, but the basic arch of a human life is there for each of us to follow. Somewhere Herman Hesse’s treatise will resonate with you. The pattern of our childhood when every word uttered by our parents is a holy hymn, in our youth we break away looking for independence and self-understanding then process of settling down in adulthood, trying to make a living while fulfilling our responsibilities and finally if we are lucky, our last couple of decades on earth will give us enough spare time to once again reflect on life’s eternal questions.

Siddhartha-Hermann-HesseHermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. Siddhartha is his masterpiece, a “continually rising trajectory of an idea, the fundamentally religious idea of how to ‘live more abundantly’. His basic question pertains to ‘what should we do with our lives?’ As Siddhartha says- I have always thirsted for knowledge, I have always been full of questions. As you dig deeper into the book you will get acquainted with philosophical understanding and spiritual insight dripping effortlessly from each of its pages. It makes you desire a more natural and direct engagement with life. The book possess no adorned style and though there is linguistic and conceptual density but with an almost fable like air. Simpler a thing, greater the sense it imparts. As the author says, ““Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”

Have you ever heard of a saying that “if you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” now don’t take it literally. It simply exhorts you to value your own experiential understanding prioritizing it above formerly conceived philosophies or institutions of organised religion when it comes to the search for spiritual liberation and enlightenment. This is the central tenet of Buddhism and was exemplified by the Buddha himself from initial renunciation of his princely life and his subsequent experimentation with, and ultimate rejection of, all the doctrines popular in India at the time. He developed his own understanding and subsequently knew himself to have attained Nirvana. However, Siddhartha is not about the Buddha himself though everything inside it will suggest you otherwise. It is primarily a fictional representation of Siddhartha Gautama, the historical founder of Buddhism. There are many parallels between the Buddha and Siddhartha our protagonist in the book and at best, it can be termed as a metaphor of what all you need to think and realize in order to attain self-fulfilment.

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.” Path of true enlightenment is paved with quiet determination and rigorous personal honesty. There is no shortcut. The path is always lonesome but such is the method that enlightenment can only be achieved by an individual’s own understanding and that this personal road is littered with the bodies of the many Buddhas it is necessary to “kill”. Written in the third person perspective, Siddhartha has a meditative and poetic style. Compressed in 120 odd pages, the book packs a heavy punch. It sings to you provided you are willing to listen to it. Like Siddhartha, we can search wherever we want but ultimately we need to remain our own pupil.  While the questions will keep coming to me, I will continue listening with an open mind to the rants of any Shaman. Do read it.

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.

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A Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India – Book 24 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 17, 2018

A mud hut. Melancholic inside and Backdrop of Mumbai’s skyscrapers merging into smog. That’s how A Feast of Vultures pulls you in with its cover photo. In a way, it perfectly sets the tone and your expectations from the book. Written by Josy Joseph, it’s a hard hitting book revealing layers of corruption in most basic units of Indian society to the drawing rooms of high and mighty. Drawing upon his two decades of investigating journalism career, the author ruffles several feathers here. If you are interested about the shadowy men who run the nation’s politics, business rivalries that threaten the economic well being of country, of corporate honchos practically owning the country etc then this is the book for you.

How often have you heard or read, “India is the fastest growing economy”? If that was the case, what feastwould explain the dreadful poverty that plagues the nation? I mean, the entire purpose of economic growth leads to better standards of living for citizens, doesn’t it? At the same time, wherever I have resided, whichever business I have tried; I have always ended up realizing something is deeply wrong with this country. Corruption is a part of our DNA. In fact, coming across an honest officer feels like 9th wonder of the world. This book is everything that won’t give you one reason to feel proud of your country, its leaders and bureaucrats. In a way, Josy Joseph portrays a bleak and sinister picture of the Indian system. It’s a miracle that despite the prevalent chaos, we are still standing as a nation. Not because of them but despite them.

Josy Joseph is an award-winning investigative journalist based in New Delhi. He has worked with The Hindu, The Times of India, DNA, Rediff.com, the Asian Age, Delhi Mid Day, and the Blitz among others. He has also been awarded several times including ‘Journalist of the Year’ in print media by the Ramnath Goenka Foundation run by the Indian Express group. This book is a culmination of his breakthrough reportage covering all the hierarchies of Indian society. A Feast of Vultures opens in an ordinary village and winds up outside the palatial residence of one of the richest Indians. In the pages in between, he introduces us to flourishing phenomenon of middlemen in modern India who facilitate access to decision makers, and manipulate government decisions. These middlemen are the ones that sustain the stunning level of corruption in everyday life in India. They are ubiquitous, all pervasive from the grams panchayats to 7, Racecourse road and Raisina Hill, these middlemen are instrumental in deciding the destiny of our great(!) nation.

A Feast of Vultures is an old and sordid tale written crisply, maintaining a taut narration as the author reveals stories of infamous politician-businessman nexus. The early chapters touch on RK Dhawan, who started as Indira Gandhi’s typist and miraculously became one of the most powerful men in the land. Same with Vincent George. These men, who possessed no other virtue except loyalty, decided our fates. A trustworthy aid can soon turn into a confidant and then into a co-conspirator, as trust is the most important thing when there is something to hide. As the author writes,

“The youth-turned aviation entrepreneur, the old man who lives in a mansion and the typist with many properties are all mere glimpses of the influence wielded by the fortunate aides in the Indian system. If you want the Indian system to work for you, it is critical that you understand the power of the personal assistant. Even in this touch-screen era.”

They were instrumental in methodical deconstruction of Indian Institutions and systems. The most entertaining chapter of the book covers the story of ‘Taki’ – East West’s late Thakiyuddin Wahid. I wonder how many of us know this name? He comes across a visionary who started India’s first private airline in many decades, but who was finally gunned down in the 90’s because he grew too big too fast. Mr. Joseph hints about politician-underworld nexus in this case. After reading the text, you will also have a fair idea about the role played by Naresh Goyal (founder of Jet Airways) in this gruesome saga.

Joseph details the effects of these entrenched systems of influence and corruption on the corporate sector. The story of Jet Airways is a textbook example of how literally anyone with enough political connections can start from nothing and become a billionaire. There are open revelations of nexus between politicians-businessmen with terrorists like Dawood Ibrahim and Chhota Rajan which only emphasizes how deep the rot is. The narrative is unflinching and unfolds sometimes with the pace of a whodunit, but always retains a faithful journalistic eye. It names names and touches the highest echelons of power.

Then there is this disturbing story that paints the former Governor of Punjab (2005-10), Gen. S F Rodrigueoes in less-than-favourable light. That certainly is a bit of a shock. Army persons were always considered sacrosanct but then don’t be misguided with such lofty ideals and hopes.  Mr. Jospeh also hits hard at the likes of Jindal, Mallya and Ambanis who have bent rules as per their will. Naveen Jindal destroyed the environment of Chattisgarh using all the foul means. Ambani raged an orphanage to build his matchbox residence. Mallya did whatever he wanted to and now leads a luxurious life in London. To hell with warrants, notices and extradition treaties. Then the likes of BJP’s Arun Jaitley and the Congress’s Abhishek Manu Singhvi who play both ways. Happy to appear in court for corporate interests in the day and castigate the governments of the day for selling out to corporate interests that same night as spokesmen of their parties. Even the likes of CBI and Judiciary are full of moles. Top leaders get bail and hearing as per their convenience. Law only applies to common citizens. CBI, the agency created to nab the corrupts is toothless. A former director, Ranjit Sinha had compromised the telecom investigation using all the means available to him and what happened to him? Oh nothing! He must be residing somewhere luxuriously sipping Chivas with the crooked he was supposed to prosecute.

Weaving together the daily struggles of its poorest with the shenanigans of its rich, A Feast of Vultures clinically examines and irrefutably documents the crisis gripping the world’s largest democracy. For anyone interested in understanding modern India, this is a must read. I would recommend this book to anyone with even a passing interest in understanding how our nation functions [or doesn’t].

Happy Reading folk. Cheers.

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The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life- Book 23 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 10, 2018

There is an old anecdote about Pablo Picasso in which he sits in a café sipping coffee and doodling on a napkin. When he rises to leave, the woman at the next table offers to buy the napkin and asks if he will sell it.

“’Sure,’ Picasso replied. ‘Twenty thousand dollars.’

“The woman’s head jolted back as if he had just flung a brick at her. ‘What? It took you like two minutes to draw that.’

“’No, ma’am,’ Picasso said. ‘It took me over sixty years to draw this.’ He stuffed the napkin in his pocket and walked out of the café.”

There are quite a few anecdotes like that in this interesting book. At first glance, the title of the book looked like a desperate attempt to garner eyeballs. Being different by appearing different instead of actually being one. Mark Manson, Author of “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck,” has involved lots of swearing in this book but then you don’t really give much f*uck about it, do you?! One endearing part about this book is Mark doesn’t play around the bush but tells you the harsh truth, ( Disappointing Panda, he calls it). Not much sugarcoating, just an attempt to cut through all the bullshi*s and concentrate on the important things in your life. “Not giving a f**k does not mean been indifferent; it means being comfortable with being different”, Manson writes.

subtleThe Subtle Art Of Not Giving A F*ck goes away from the positive psychology craze and rather provides you with a Stoic, no bullshit approach to living a life. A life that’s more about being meaningful and less about trying to be happy and successful all the time. Mark Manson emphasizes that it’s actually liberating when life doesn’t have to ooze happy vibes all the time. There is something weird about positive psychology and what’s that? Sometimes it just doesn’t work. Days and weeks pass by leaving you wondering what the hell did all the toiling and grinding result into? Ideally, you should have felt satisfied and happy but then you are far from ecstatic moods that your perceived success is supposed to bring to you. And what does Mark have to say about such questions; well, don’t give a fu*k about it.

To demonstrate what exactly his book The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck: A Counter-intuitive Approach to Living a Good Life is all about, Mark Manson starts with an anecdote about the eccentric poet and novelist Charles Bukowski.

“Charles Bukowski was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a chronic gambler, a lout, a cheapskate, a deadbeat, and on his worst days, a poet. He’s probably the last person on earth you would ever look to for life advice or expect to see in any sort of self-help book.

“Which is why he’s the perfect place to start.

“Bukowski wanted to be a writer. But for decades his work was rejected by almost every magazine, newspaper, journal, agent, and publisher he submitted to. His work was horrible, they said. Crude. Disgusting. Depraved. And as the stacks of rejection slips piled up, the weight of his failures pushed him deep into an alcohol-fueled depression that would follow him for most of his life.

“Bukowski had a day job as a letter-filer at a post office. He got paid shit money and spent most of it on booze. He gambled away the rest at the racetrack. At night, he would drink alone and sometimes hammer out poetry on his beat-up old typewriter. Often, he’d wake up on the floor, having passed out the night before.

“Then, when Bukowski was fifty, after a lifetime of failure and self-loathing, an editor at a small independent publishing house took a strange interest in him. The editor couldn’t offer Bukowski much money or much promise of sales. But he had a weird affection for the drunk loser, so he decided to take a chance on him.

“Upon signing the contract, Bukowski wrote his first novel in three weeks. It was called simply Post Office. In the dedication, he wrote, ‘Dedicated to nobody.’ Bukowski would make it as a novelist and poet. He would go on and publish six novels and hundreds of poems, selling over two million copies of his books .

“Stories like Bukowski’s are the bread and butter of our cultural narrative. Bukowski’s life embodies the American Dream: a man fights for what he want, never gives up, and eventually achieves his wildest dreams. It’s practically a movie waiting to happen. We all look at stories like Bukowski’s and say, ‘See? He never gave up. He never stopped trying. He always believed in himself. He persisted against all the odds and made something of himself.’

“It is then strange that on Bukowski’s tombstone, the epitaph reads: ‘Don’t try.’”

About Bukowski, our author continues: “The genius in Bukowski’s work was not in overcoming unbelievable odds or developing himself into a shining literary light. It was the opposite. It was his simple ability to be completely, unflinchingly honest with himself—especially the worst parts of himself—and to share his failings without hesitation or doubt.

“This is the real story of Bukowski’s success: his comfort with himself as a failure. Bukowski didn’t give a fuck about success.” Thus the reason for emulation: Bukowski’s almost Buddhist ability to want nothing by way of having not a single fuck to give about the thing in life about which most of us have entirely too many fu*ks to give.

According to the author, “The problem is that giving too many fu*ks is bad for your mental health. It causes you to become overly attached to the superficial and fake, to dedicate your life to chasing a mirage of happiness and satisfaction. The key to a good life is not giving a f*ck about more; it’s giving a fu*k about less, giving a fu*k about only what is true and immediate and important.”

The real deal about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fu*k is that the book makes a surprising amount of sense. It’s a swift read presented in an easy manner. In a way, it’s just another self-help book but with slight twist and with loads of relevant examples dressed in millennial mumbo-jumbo. It’s entertaining though. He does talk about usual stuffs like accepting self, overcoming adversity, releasing fear, finding values et al, but all of them in a more stoicism oriented approach. What he has succeeded in is reinventing ancient Greek concepts in a new way using some pretty creative examples. He talks about authenticity, failure, rewards of not accomplishing your goals and mostly, uncertainty.

I loved this quote about uncertainty- “Uncertainty is the root of all progress and all growth. As an old adage goes, the man who believes he knows everything learns nothing. We cannot learn anything without first not knowing something. The more we admit we do not know, the more opportunities we gain to learn.”

Mark stresses on certain points like; Values you can’t control are bad values to follow. As author is a known stoic and common idea in stoicism is to focus only on the things you can control. For instance, popularity is totally out of your control. Sure, you can be nice and friendly to everyone, but you can’t control other peoples’ opinions. Some will always hate you, no matter what you do. So stop giving a fu*k about what others think of you or trying to be popular. Similarly, don’t believe you know anything with certainty, for it keeps you from improving. If you allow yourself to have a little doubt, you can then disprove this limiting belief you hold about yourself. One more important thing was trying to leave a legacy might ruin your life. Find ways to bring yourself, your loved ones and the people you meet joy in the now and let the legacy part take care of itself.

The trick of not giving a fu*k about most things is that you’ll be able to give one about what really matters to you. Let’s see how we can get a bit closer to that!

Author finishes off with this quote by Bukowski- “We’re all going to die, all of us. What a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by life’s trivialities; we are eaten up by nothing.” Think. Ponder.

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

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Into the Wild-Book 22 Review

Posted by Mrityunjay on September 6, 2018

Two years he walks the earth. No gadgets, no cards, no cigarettes, no known association with family. All he craved was Ultimate freedom. Thou shalt not return, ‘cause ‘The West Is The Best’. An extremist to the core. Home was the road. An aesthetic voyager. Two years gone. Flash in the pan. But something is still left. The final and greatest adventure. Culmination of spiritual pilgrimage. The climatic battle to kill the false being within. Abound the freight trains. Hitchhiking to the great white north. Unwilling to be poisoned by civilization. Fly and flee… to become lost in the wild all in the styles of his heroes, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy and Jack London.

It was April 1992 when a young man named Christopher Johnson McCandless from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. He had abandoned his beloved car, donated $25,000 in savings to charity, left behind all of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself in search of a radical re-engagement with nature, unsullied by rat race or money. Not more than four months later, a moose hunter found the decomposed body of the vagabond. Into the Wild is the unforgettable story of how this bright, charming young man came to die.

Into the Wild, is a heart-wrenching, appealing, nonfiction book about adventure and survival. Authored by wildJon Krakauer, this story of Chris McCandless first appeared as an article in for Outside magazine in 1993 which eventually turned into this book. Jon Krakauer is also famous for Into Thin Air and Under the Banner of Heave, and a biography titled Where Men Win Glory.

Into the wild is a richly, spaciously rendered account of landscape and moodscape. As you go through the pages you can visualize the shades of rich browns, ochres and sunset yellows through the journey of McCandless. The book was reconstructed from his journals with an almost obsessive detailing. The protagonist always comes across as intelligent and candid young fellow whose anger at the world has been allowed to uncoil now that he has finally left home and hit the road, leaving behind bewildered, grieving parents with whom McCandless stayed out of contact until the very end. He encounters several hippies who shower him with lift, meals, and love and all of them seem to almost understand him, but not quite before he fatefully disappears upcountry.

The story of Chris McCandless generated extreme reactions from American public when it first came into light. He comes across as an idealist and a romantic, but he is also stubborn, driven and selfish. His need to immerse himself in nature, to throw material possessions overboard, stems at least partly from a need to punish his parents for the lies and cruelties he remembers being inflicted on him and his sister as a child. There is something regressive and dysfunctional in McCandless, a fear of human interaction. His unaffected charm entrances the people he meets on the highway but he breaks their hearts too, by insisting on an enigmatic leave-taking. As he says, “You’re wrong if you think the joy of life comes from human relationships,” to one of his acquaintances on the road.

All credit to Jon_Krakauer for the way he takes the reader deep into the psyche of Chris McCandless through his diary entries, letters to friends and highlighted passages in the books he carried, mainly from authors such as Henry David Thoreau>, Boris Pasternak and Jack London, all of whom create an idealistic vision of the wilderness as a place of beauty and truth where one can escape reality, which it would seem MacCandless naively embraced as fact. Author sporadically uses personal writings of McCandless to provide the skeletal frame for this book, the flesh and blood being created through a mixture of Krakauer’s own interpretation of what happened to Chris, based on his intensive research, police reports and an admitted personal connection to the tale of McCandless. The words are so emphatic and readers just can’t run away from the infectious writing. It almost feels poetic the way Krakauer includes his own similar yet unique Alaskan struggle along with few other “lost-in-nature” obsession of famous adventurers. The only difference was some of them got away and Chris didn’t. Perhaps it was just a tale of youthful self-discovery, determination, naivety and romanticism with no happy ending. There was this nagging sense that Chris was beginning to grow up towards the end of his Alaskan adventure and he was getting ready to come back to society but the tragedy struck and he couldn’t get out of the wild.

Some of you might find McCandless an arrogant, pompous prick who was un-prepared with a lack of knowledge of his surroundings and insufficient equipment. It tantamounts to disrespecting the wilderness when you don’t even have a map or a compass while planning to roam through Alaska. Add to that no contact with his grieving parents for two years and it indeed seems callous. But perhaps he was just trying to prove something to himself as well as his parents. His anger and discontentment arising out of his troubled relationship with his parents led him to wanting to live a harsh and isolating life in the wilderness. Perhaps it was his way of punishing his parents and to assert his control over his own life. But then it’s all a matter of conjecture. Towards the end of the book readers will find interviews with members of Chris’s immediately family, telling how they experienced the ordeal and loss for themselves. Some of it feels haunting. Though the book is light on facts and heavy on speculation so that makes it hard to classify but it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the story. Into the Wild constantly engages you with its gripping narration and contrasting tones of romantic writings interspersed with cold, matter of fact tone.

Personally, I loved what he did. Is he right? I don’t know. It might appear selfish but then he just wanted to be away from trappings of the straight world of materialism. Like some people would die for the love for extreme sports and extreme danger, McCandless was obsessed with extreme nature. That explains his refusal to have any hiking equipment and training. He wanted to re-enact the early men heading out into the wild with almost literally nothing on his back. Imagine a person making a bonfire of his few remaining 10-dollar bills! That was his contempt for the materialistic world he did not want to be a part of.

Our society doesn’t really appreciate the true nature of a solitary character. Someone, who can often be perceived as a loser, a loner, a creep or a serial killer. But may be its just as simple as a desire to be alone. Solitude is the peace. Detachment is the nirvana. McCandless was by no means a suicidal character. If I try to oversimplify then perhaps this is a book that just talks about what it is to be human, and what happens when we admire nature more than humanity: does it make us less than human, or do we fulfil and even transcend our humanity?

Happy Reading, folks. Cheers.

 

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