Books and Me: The Valmiki Syndrome

Book Title: The Valmiki Syndrome

Author: Ashok K BankerThe Valmiki Syndrome Book Cover

I picked the book up because of its title. I have been interested in knowing how sages like Valmiki transformed themselves into who they became. If you know the transformative story of ‘Bandit Ratnakaran’ becoming ‘Sage Valmiki’ and you want to know how this transformation happened, you will also pick the book up just like how I did. But to be true this story is only a fourth of the book. The book has three other stories that run in parallel – that of Suhasini, Sara and Ravi. No, they are not stories from the Puranas like that of Valmiki, but from today’s world and based on lives like ours (possibly).

While there are number of books written on the mythological and Puranic stories by the author Ashok Banker and so many others, writing a non-fiction book based on them is truly a challenge. The author has made a great attempt to present some solutions to living life more peacefully and happily. The stories (that of Suhasini, Sara and Ravi) provide us with enough variations of what most of us go through in life. Hence it is likely that you will relate to or extrapolate from these stories some situations that you have been through in life. This provides a connect to the reader and creates the hope that he or she will receive some answers as well. But somehow towards the end of the book, I felt let down. I am not sure if it has any reflection of the author’s ability because one must acknowledge the fact that writing non-fiction based on our historic literature is everybody’s dream – but difficult as well. Valmiki’s story in my humble understanding has nothing to do with balancing personal and professional priorities in life. While the other stories do bring out the importance of building work-life balance they stand starkly different from Valmiki’s story.

While there is a lot I learned about Valmiki through this book, it was not in line with my expectations. I kind of tried to speed through the remaining stories as they seemed to reflect more about balancing various aspects of life rather than finding what one needs to do in life. In my opinion Valmiki’s life and that of so many others from the Puranas has to do with how they found their principal vocation in life. How did they make that happen? What did they do that led them to their identification of their vocation? How did finding this lead them to self realization? All of these need deeper thinking and personal reflection. I am also beginning to realize that these are not to be sought in books and as tips from others – somehow that is not the way it seems to have been gained by others in history.

While there are brilliant works in our ancient historic literature that can point the way and serve as guideposts, it is up to each one of us to figure it out ourselves. So it is a long and tough journey which only the fearless and single pointed can take. Keep searching for you may land yourself on that path as well.

One thing that this book has also inspired me to do is put ‘Reading the Ramayana’ in detail on my reading list (or should I say study list?). If possible in Sanskrit with transliteration because many quotes and references in the book to the Ramayana gave me a glimpse of the breadth of the knowledge embedded in that story.

Thanks to Ashok Banker for providing a book that inspires us to bring balance to life’s priorities while also showing us the direction to the Ramayana – a treasure trove of wisdom from the realized sage Valmiki.

Books and Me: The Laptop Millionaire

Book Title: The Laptop Millionaire

Author: Mark AnastasiThe Laptop Millionaire Book Cover

I love reading about entrepreneurs. Since entrepreneurs constantly find new ways to create value for their potential audience and for themselves, I learn so much from their activities. I picked this book up as part of my reading especially to know more about entrepreneurs who make a living in the virtual world. While my idea of a laptop entrepreneur was someone who sits at a cafe and builds a cloud based product or service, Mark, the author of this book proposes a totally different model. While it seems like plausible, I would also like to lean more on the school of micro entrepreneurs who create enterprises without too many resources. Why am I then writing about this book? For more than one reason – read on!

I am not too sure if I belong to the school of thought proposed in this book. But, I must accept the fact that I was bowled over by the writing style of the author. His storytelling ability keeps you gripped to the book. The better part of the writing is the strong push it gives the reader to get off the chair or cot and try something online. A well written book needs to be read and especially one that drives you into action. While I don’t intend to apply a lot of the principles in the book as they are suggested, I did learn more about how the online world works. I am sure some entrepreneurial minds who see the world as a global village will find some business ideas.

The tone of the writing and the numerous examples provided make the book an interesting read as well. The author provides short cases of people who have used his methods and made considerable sums of money. In fact more than once while reading the book, I thought I should go down the suggested route, but the principles of my school of thought remain too strong to allow me to use them. But nevertheless I am sure it would work for some who believe in them. So the best way to know about them is to read the book.

The other reason I liked the book is because the author bares all the tools he has used to make money online. He not only provides the secret sauce of how it has worked for him, but also the tools that he has used along the way. In fact he applies some of the suggestions as he writes the book because he asks you to subscribe / buy some of the tools for better results. I am sure he or his affiliates will make some money out of it. But isn’t that you also want when you trade your products and services – that people pay for the value that they receive! After all don’t we all know that there is no free lunch in the world?

I also learned a lot about the number of tools, services and approaches that people have used online to generate wealth for themselves. I was simply amazed at the way simple and freely available tools such as Facebook and YouTube can be leveraged for wealth generation. But behind all of these tools and techniques was the constant reiteration to find and solve a problem or challenge that someone in the world faces. Additionally the author also strives to focus on making profits through collaborations.

“Collaborating to create value for others is the way to make value for oneself.” This is my strong message from the book. I still will continue to work along my way based on the principles of my school of thinking. But the book will remain an interesting read and will also encourage some of its readers to make money as well.

Happy Reading!

Books and Me: Dhandha

Book Title: Dhandha – How Gujaratis do Business

Author: Shobha Bondre (Translated by Shalaka Walimbe)Dhandha Book Cover

‘Dhandha’ is another inspiring read for entrepreneurial minds. It is a given that Gujaratis are born business people. Gujaratis are referred to as a benchmark for reference when it comes to business sense. But most of what people speak about Gujarati businessmen (women included) is hearsay. There is very little that is written about of the Gujarati way of doing business, at least in English. Hence a lot of the business students and aspiring entrepreneurs outside of regional literature like Gujarati and Marathi have not had privy to this knowledge. Shobha Bondre’s works in Marathi seemed to have had a wide readership. But the non Marathi speaking population will now have access to her works – thanks to Shalaka Walimbe’s interesting translation.

The book describes the journey of five Gujarati business persons (one woman as well). Each of their stories are truly entrepreneurial. They are typical of how many of the Gujarati business persons have grown and built their own communities. The book is first and foremost, very inspiring. Every story traces the growth of an entrepreneur from rags (almost in some cases) to riches. The stories also highlight the fact that they were ordinary people like all of us. One can easily relate to these people since the stories are so intertwined with their personal lives. This makes the reading very human and realistic. It is not that they have not had problems or that they did not have set backs, but every story is about determination to be in business, to be successful and to be fair to their lives. They have taken tremendous risks as well. The success and the ongoing challenges of some of their lives are useful lessons for teaching entrepreneurship.

Every class that I teach on entrepreneurship rarely goes without a remark about Gujarati business acumen. But instead of accepting their natural inclination towards business and speaking at the macro level, we can now bring at least five real stories to class: Bhimjibhai Patel (Diamonds are forever), Mohanbhai Patel (The Circle of Life), Dalpatbhai Patel (Motelier becomes Mayor), Jaydev Patel (Life of a Salesman) and Hasu & Hersha Shah (Not Only Potels).

The book is an easy read for anyone. One of the highlights of the book is the absence of smart statements and prophetic advices. The suggestions are all about being honest to the profession, thinking long term, working hard, building strong relationships, etc – all of which are so simple, that it may be exciting. But it is this simple advice that has created generation after generation of Gujarati businessmen and women. A lot of learning for entrepreneurs lies subtly embedded in the stories and that is what makes story telling interesting. Lessons can be milked out by the reader based on their level of extraction. Overall a good read which goes beyond inspiration. With a foreword by the chief minister of Gujarat (Narendra Modi) and an introduction by the state’s brand ambassador (Amitabh Bachchan) – the book has received a generous introduction.

Books and Me: Bird by Bird

Book Title: Bird by Bird – Some instructions on writing and life

Author: Anne LamottBird by Bird Book Cover

As one who is keen on keeping my writing spirits high, I love to read books that speak about the art and craft of writing. Though I have begun to see redundancy in the inputs provided by the self-help variety even in this segment, I still enjoy reading them. Amongst this genre I truly enjoy books that strike a chord at the philosophical level. Since most of the ‘to-do’ aspects of this genre is repetitive and becomes an excuse from actual practice, the philosophical intent needs tremendous reiteration to develop and retain the right attitude.

Anne Lamott’s beautifully titled book speaks about the only way to making big projects happen, including big writing projects. In fact it is the only way to make any project happen. How does one finish a 800 page text book project – in Anne Lamott’s language: ‘bird by bird’. This little piece of advice is all that one needs to imbibe before getting down to work. If one learns to look at all the writing tips provided in the book from this overarching idea, it seems simple. But the biggest challenges for a writer trying to put the ‘bird by bird’ philosophy to work are:

  • Being disciplined and committed to the art called writing
  • Understanding the vocation called writing in spirit

As a thinker and writer I loved the philosophical underpinnings of the author. I am sure many other readers could have found the book a little preachy and spiritual. Many readers could have been disappointed from the book as it provides very less inputs on what to do to improve the writing. There are many other books for that – but something that every artist needs to understand and internalize is that writing itself is the reward for writing. Every artist needs to internalize this subtle piece of knowledge and remain immersed in it as we produce, rather attempt to produce one more piece of creative work.

The book contains some interesting anecdotes, personal experiences of the author, number of beautiful and deeply influential quotes, and further references for reading. At some portions of my reading I found the author bordering on strong philosophical concepts. As a student of Vedanta, I found this an interesting extension of philosophy in practice. Overall I enjoyed the book and convinced myself that I must continue to write for writing’s sake. The book also has induced in me a strong thought to re-look at my priorities with respect to writing and everything else I do in life. At many points in the book one is bound to stop, put down the book and delve into contemplation. This deep reflection and thinking is essential to all creative pursuits and many times even to live life at large. The book is a strong trigger of passive passion and I am sure it will make you ponder on the innermost purpose of life. While most of the discussions in the book are from a writer’s perspective, it will not be too difficult to extend the learning to other spheres of activities as well.

Happy Reading and hopefully happy writing as well!

Books and Me: Become a Key Person of Influence

Book Title: Become a Key Person of Influencebook

Author: Daniel Priestley

The book begins by stating that ‘Your best thinking from five years ago is your baggage today’! So true, isn’t it? Citing numerous examples the author provokes us to re-think and re-imagine our work today. How can we do what we are born to do? How can we engage in actions where we remain ‘in the zone’ most of the time? How can we fall into that small group who remain the greatest influencers of all time? How can we become a key person of influence in our trade or domain?

Any book that speaks about thought leadership is an immediate must read for me. I normally don’t miss a chance to see what I can learn from the author’s experience and research. This book shared a lot of tips and initiatives that I could take away and apply. As a thinker and writer myself in the area of entrepreneurship, I am always seeking fresh ways to experiment.

Two specific subjects that the author speaks about will make complete sense for every entrepreneur. The identification of micro-niches and approach one can take to reach these through thought leadership. This is a topic that has been on my research agenda for over two years now. I find this reference (though a small one) of immense support to my findings on the field.

The approaches to making pitches and what are the critical things needed to be a key person of influence, are solid and implementable takeaways from the book. Six P’s for pitching was interesting and practical. They are Position, Problem, Projection, Proposal, Proof, Project. The author clearly makes the case for everyone to become a small entrepreneur in today’s world. He also cites examples of how enterprises have built highly valuable and high growth enterprises by giving away their primary services free. They way the thoughts are shared get you thinking about your own ideas and dreams that everyone of us keep secretly within ourselves.

I am sure the world is ripe for big revolutions in entrepreneurship. Every emerging economy is striving hard to use entrepreneurship as the tool for socio-economic development. The author’s ideas and examples in the book make a clear case for people who are on the sidelines with an interest, but are still scared to jump into the game.

Read the book! Become an entrepreneur around an area that is close to your heart! Become a key person of influence in your domain! Change the World! Leave it a better place than what it was when you landed on it!

You may also want to read more from the author at:

Books and Me: Tiya – A Parrot’s Journey Home

Book Title: Tiya – A Parrot’s Journey Home

Author: SamarpanTiya Book Cover

‘Tiya’ is not just a story book. It is not just another novel. It is not a fable with prescriptive lessons at the end of every chapter. It is a very differently done book with a subtle message weaved beautifully inside a well structured fable. The story is about a parrot named ‘Tiya’. Her journey out into the world and how she finds her way back home.

Losing our way in the world is not a new thing – after all we all do it every day. The beauty is more in the way the author describes the experiences we face. I think the very first instance of the parrot listening to his inner voice and moving away from the banyan (his comfort zone) is in itself not a common happening in many of our lives. We rarely listen to the voice within, and even if we do we give in to the worldly necessities, peer pressures, attachments, and routines. This does not let us move out of our comfort zones at all. I stopped reading this book at this point and fell into deep reflection. How can we listen to the voice (a Swan’s in Tiya’s case) within and make that courageous step to let go and move ahead. If you are one who has faced this situation and has made that great decision, you will be happily surprised that you are an exception.

The various worlds that ‘Tiya’ passes through are simply fascinating. Every world is made up of imaginary creatures, who share a lot of the characteristics with various types of people we meet in the process of our journey. The world is actually made up of many worlds! Many times during the reading, I also felt that many of these worlds are what every one of us passes through.  Few of us fall in love with the sight, its beauty and stay stuck, only to realize that what we see is not the complete picture. A few of the worlds described by the author are nothing but the attitudinal types that we interact with every day. Some may even be the behaviors that resemble how we behave in different spheres of our life.

The beauty in describing the various types of worlds that a person will go through if they decide to start this journey is amazing. On deeper reflection, they also resemble worlds that we may encounter if we attempt a journey back to our source. If I get a chance to meet up with the author, then one thing I would ask him is if these worlds are inner worlds or outer worlds? Apart from the descriptions of the characters and the world’s they live in (actually they create), the beauty with which we fall prey to their illusory attractions is another amazing feature that makes the book interesting. Tiya and her various traps, some where she almost gets caught, but manages to escape to continue the journey is what makes the book interesting.

At every point of exasperation, there are two choices in front of ‘Tiya’ – one to get back to the Banyan tree (or the earlier worlds) from where she started or passed through or see the little ray of hope in venturing further. While the past always provides firmer views to hang on to, it is in keeping the curiosity of the search alive that makes one move ahead (Tiya in this case). Tiya’s plight during those moments of decision making brings out the challenges and the immense courage to wage that inner battle to move ahead. It is a tough journey to evolve in life. No wonder every philosopher cites courage as the basic requirement or spiritual evolution. Towards the end of the book, Tiya’s experiences get confusing as she begins to see highly developed but not evolved beings. The last stage before she finds her way back to the question that initially made her leave the place seems the hardest. But the beauty is that after all this struggle ‘Tiya’ returns to her good old banyan tree (looked on as eternal by the entire population of the tree). What made her take this arduous journey? What question or statement pushed her out of where she was so comfortable and seemingly happy? I will leave it to you (the reader) to find out. After all if there is no suspense in life, then what fun?

I came away feeling eternally grateful to the author for a strong and intense reminder of one of the most important questions that we refrain from asking ourselves in life. As I am myself in the early stages of my search, this book came as a soothing reminder of its importance as well as the pleasure of going through all the struggle and pain. Answering the most important question in life is why we are here?

It will make our life just like how ‘Tiya’ feels when she was back on the Banyan after all her travels.  This journey begins only when one doubts the life we are living to be unreal and the possibility that reality is something beyond what we see today. Even spiritual evolution starts with a doubt – isn’t it?

Before I close the review, let me also complement Harper Element to have made such a lovely sized, light weight, well printed and well bound book. It made carrying it and reading it so easy. Hope to read more in this imprint and also more from the author.

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

Books and Me: The War of Art

Book Title: The War of Art – Break Through the Block and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Author: Steven PressfieldThe War of Art Book Cover

Steven Pressfield and his work, the War of Art has been a recurring reference across many of my readings in recent times. I gave myself enough reasons to delay its purchase. Something in me kept resisting to pick this book up. So here I am eventually writing a note of me overcoming the resistance to read this book which incidentally is on resistance.

Every individual who engages in any form of art recognizes the importance of acknowledging and overcoming resistance. Many times we don’t even recognize that the force which is not allowing us to create is sitting right within us. Pressfield’s book aptly titled the War of Art bears it all. Inside every artist (veterans included) this battle ensues daily. This battle is actually between the life we are living and the unlived life within us. The first part of the book clearly defines this enemy called resistance in every form possible.  As we go through the various definitions of resistance and its manifestations, one is bound to acknowledge experiencing its presence. If we have any doubts after this, a section titled symptoms of resistance quickly makes us sure of it presence.

Resistance is universal. It cannot be done away with. But it can be beaten. It requires a conscious move from being an amateur to becoming a professional. The way Pressfield defines who a professional is seems interesting and demanding. As we move through the book beyond this point, the text slowly but surely leads to some fundamental truths about life and giving. These pages are an extract of the wisdom of the world’s greatest teachers. There are references to Indian scriptures as well as western ones. The importance of owning the right to action and not the results thereof is beautifully captured from a variety of perspectives. There are references to scriptures of the east and west as well as poems and movies that showcase these truths. The author also attempts to differentiate between the ego (philosophically, the little self) and the self. These require not just plain reading but extensive reflection. The author’s detailing of the importance for an artist to find their territory and his description of what a territory means is simply fascinating. Some of the questions in this section are simple and straight, difficult to handle for people without courage. One of the last sentences I made note of before completing the book was this, “Don’t cheat us of your contribution, give us what you’ve got”. Isn’t that a clarion call to live the life we are meant to live?

I read the e-book version and kept wondering how such an interesting book albeit a small one would have been made in print. Sometime in the future when I decide to reread this book, I may prefer to pick a hard copy. While it should be compulsory reading for all who consider themselves artists, it definitely makes good reading for everyone.

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

Books and Me: My Journey

Book Title: My Journey – Transforming Dreams into ActionsMy Journey

Author: A P J Abdul Kalam

Most of the books written by our former President, Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam are inspiring. They are simple, easy to read and give us a feeling of listening to the author directly. Though many of the books have repetitions of his experiences, one never feels tired or bored of any of his books

I picked this book up as soon as it made its appearance in my local bookstore. I devoured it the same day. The book speaks a lot from the childhood days of the author. It is widely accepted that every person is shaped and influenced during their formative years; the wonderful and at times challenging experiences of Dr. Kalam seems to be no exception. Be it the inter-faith harmony in his home town or the sacrifices made by his mother and sister or the uncontrollable reality of nature’s fury or the positive friendships of his school days, they all seem to have shaped his beliefs and personality.  Three specific things stand out as learning for me personally:

  1. Mentors: Finding, having and allowing mentors to shape us is an important aspect for every one of us. Dr. Kalam’s reflection on his mentors, be it Ahmed Jalalludin or Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, highlights this important role. Their importance in his making is strongly emphasized. It is in our own interest that we constantly seek, find and allow mentors to shape us.
  2. Spirituality: Dr. Kalam’s life is filled with experiences and interactions from multiple faiths. Irrespective of the religion, his interest to seek true knowledge and advice has helped him overcome early setbacks. They have strengthened him and enabled him to achieve the much needed balance in life. It is also a reason for his sustained contribution till date.
  3. Reading: As Dr. Kalam rightly states, the importance of reading and books can never be emphasized enough. Right from his early years, Dr. Kalam has been a voracious reader and this love for reading and books seems to continue to this very day. Now that he is also writing many of them, they can be added to our reading list. Dr. Kalam also provides a list of books that influenced him the most.

I must confess that after reading the pre-release excerpt from this book in the Outlook magazine, I was eager to buy a copy specifically to know about Dr. Kalam’s interest in books and reading. As a voracious reader, a bibliophile and a writer, my love for the written word knows no bounds. Since Dr. Kalam has been an inspiring personality that I keep looking up to, I really wanted to know which books he loved the most. That one chapter provided me more value than the price I paid for the entire book. Thanks Dr. Kalam for providing one more inspiring read for the youth of this country.

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

Books and Me: Bookless in Baghdad

Book Title: Bookless in Baghdad – And other Writings about Reading

Author: Shashi TharoorBookless in Baghdad Book Cover

I picked the book up simply because it said it contained essays by a writer on ‘reading’. I love to read and I was quite inquisitive to know what the author meant by calling the book – ‘Bookless in Baghdad’. I must say I enjoyed the book thoroughly for number of reasons. While the essays are all standalone pieces, curated from the author’s earlier writings for various periodicals / newspapers and edited for the volume. This facet of the collection is visible from the number of repetitions of references / experiences across essays. But repetition is a useful aspect of writing, especially when conveying some firmly held beliefs and important points that a reader must definitely receive. I did not find the repetitions too distracting; in fact I read them all happily!

The book is divided into five parts, each containing a selected number of essays. I found the author’s reading of literature quite interesting. Developing reading habits early seems to be a good indicator of potential writing later in life. Shashi Tharoor is not the first writer speaking about voracious reading early in life. The author’s interest in books, reading and writing from early years shows up early in the book. The part titled ‘inspirations’ truly is inspiring. It is inspiring to see what reading can do to a person. It is inspiring to see how we select and fall in love with certain writers, eventually becoming fans and evangelists for their works. The joy of reading, especially the works of authors we love, brings fascination, excitement and imagination. The author’s excessive indulgence and love for Woodehouse and the activities he engages in to spread the love are both interesting and engaging.

Many essays are on books, authors and poets – some popular and some we may not have heard, but whose works have left an indelible impression in the world of literature. The section titled ‘Literary Life’ shares numerous situations that create authors, brings forth their love for writing, and how they sustain their craft. Insights into handling critics and criticisms, what writing can do to you, and how to handle repercussions of writing the truth are beautifully weaved into the writing in a subtle manner. The section titled ‘Appropriations’ was humorous and entertaining. The essay that gave the book its title is another interesting read. The description and detailing creates a sad visual of the people who have always been great readers, now denied access to the world of literature. The street of Al Mutanabi, the books being sold there, the bargains that only a foreigner acknowledges, and the limited availability of textbooks for students (due to lack of major trade) in Baghdad, are both sad and disheartening. ‘Teaching fishing’ instead of ‘providing fish’ has to happen, and for this – books are a great medium. Some of the quotations of the poet whose name adorns the street where the booksellers line up are amazing and give a glimpse of reality. The author’s love for literature, his exposure to international developmental organizations, and his experiences from being in the UN provide a distinct style to the essays. Through his eyes we get to see some places, events, people, authors and books.

Overall it provides an insight into the world of books, literary festivals, book clubs, reading and writing. The book is well made and for light consumption. Anyone, who enjoys the company of books, will come away with numerous insights, discover authors, books and thought triggers.

NOTE: 14th to 20th November is celebrated annually in India as the ‘National Book Week’. As part of the celebration I am posting ‘book reviews’ daily. Happy Reading!

Books and Me: Poke the Box

Book Title: Poke the box

Author: Seth GodinPoke the Box

It is now an open secret that I am a fan of Seth Godin. I read his works for more than the subject under consideration. They provide thought triggers, provocative ideas, inspiring questions and beyond all, provoke me to start doing what I ought to do, but distract myself from. So when I heard about a full book by Seth on provoking one to act, I picked it up instantaneously and devoured it in one sitting.

The book is really short but packed with questions, quotations, imperatives and ‘pokes’. The book makes a clear case to drop all excuses (including reading this book) and get started on our dream project. In typical Seth fashion he raises tough questions which make us stare at the truth head-on. Our responsibility is to give life to our dreams, imaginations and aspirations. The only way we can do justice to them, is to engage in action without falling prey to the inner resistance that distracts us and limits us from even starting.

If you act, results are inevitable. Irrespective of the nature of the results, it is in the spirit and attitude of initiating and sustaining action that makes a life fully lived. What can be more successful than a fully lived life? As it is neatly summarized in a quote from Siddhartha, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: (a) not going all the way or (b) not starting.”

Read the book! Poke yourself! Kick-start your project! Overcome resistance! Enjoy and ship your creation!