Monday, January 30, 2012

Of Steinbeck and Stereotypes

This letter came to me as a mail forward last week and I haven’t been able to get it off my mind ever since. It was written by the Nobel prize winning writer John Steinbeck to his young son in the year 1958. I found this to be so beautiful that I went ahead and ordered John Steinbeck: A Life In Letters after reading this. 900 odd pages of letters written by this man. Should be good reading for when one craves to read a letter.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



Source: Letters of Note 

Anyway, so when I got this letter, I sent it to some of my girl friends but not to even one guy. Please note that this letter was written by a man to a boy. And I still didn’t send to guys. It is not like I don’t know any guys who have fallen in love. But still.

Because I didn’t think they would understand. I could almost anticipate this coming back to me with the typical banter that guys throw at girls when they think we are getting too girly. I could almost see them finding it mushy beyond tolerance. I imagined them rubbishing the whole thing. Because it in today’s world, it is girly to talk about love in general. Writers/artists are allowed a little leeway, but very little. I think over the years the stereotypes have hardened and not dissolved and unfortunately men are expected to conform to them (as are women). And in the entire process, tenderness has made an exit from real life and been kept alive by silver screens, if at all.

I remember this one incident so clearly that it surprises me. I was sitting with a group of bikers a few years ago on a lazy afternoon and after exhausting stories about bikes, someone brought up the topic of one of the guy’s engagement. This guy, apparently, had first asked a woman biker in the group for some help with picking a platinum ring so he could propose marriage to his girlfriend and then he had memorized+rehearsed a Johnny Cash song to sing when he proposed. He had gone down on his knees, sung that song and asked the girl to marry him.

If I had been in that girl’s place, I would have cried. The whole thing was so beautiful (notice I am saying beautiful and not cute). Clearly the guy was going out of his comfort zone but he was doing it willingly so he could make that one moment special for the woman he loved. But the bikers made a big joke out of this. They called him pansy and said they couldn’t come to understand how he could have done all this. The topic changed, eventually. I, however, have still not forgotten about it…it left me that appalled. What kind of friends deny someone his feelings! What kind of a world are we living in where a man cannot tell someone that he loves him/her without being called pansy! 

The more surprising part is that most bikers in that group married the people they had fallen in love with. So it is not like they did not understand love or feel it. But expressing it was another matter altogether. It was heart-breaking, the whole episode.

I read Kim by Rudyard Kipling recently and one of the most striking things about the book is how openly men expressed their love even for other men, young and old, back then. It was so pure, that expression. Unadulterated by modern day terminologies and judgments. People – men and women – telling each other how they really felt and not trying to mask their feelings to protect themselves from getting hurt. Where have all those real people gone and whose value systems are we living by these days?

If only we understood that being in touch with your innermost feelings is a sign of a complete human being, whether it is for a man or a woman and no person should have to mask that for the fear of being ridiculed by people who don’t seem to understand the first thing about feelings. Unfortunately, only Raymonds seems to understand that in the present day and only their model seems to be allowed to express his feelings openly without a group of guys jeering at him.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A Boat Ride To Remember

Exactly a month ago I was on one of the best vacations in my life, by the waters of the Arabian Sea. There were many things special about it and one of those things was a boat ride to see dolphins. We went far enough to lose sight of the shore and then all that there was, was the vastness of the ocean around us. In a rickety motor-boat we sailed towards where the dolphins were playing. It is something that will stay with me for a long time, watching pairs of dolphins glistening in the morning sun as they swam around in the open waters. 

What will also stay with me for a long time is how excited our boatmen and their children got upon seeing the dolphins. I had thought that what was going to be a novel experience for us must be commonplace for them, since they practically went out to sea every day. But they were as excited as us, if not more, upon spotting the dolphins. One of them remarked excitedly about how intelligent those creatures are. It was infectious, childlike enthusiasm that amazed me. Was it their simple lives that allowed them to maintain simplicity in their selves? Had we made our lives too complicated with awe-inspiring technology and advancement? These people were happy and it showed. And I wondered what it took to be that happy.

We visited an island after watching the dolphins and our boatmen’s enthusiasm never fazed as they showed us sea creatures and explained their peculiarities. It was such a good feeling to be around these people who were in touch with the child inside them, who were genuine and who meant it when they smiled. On our way back we were surrounded by that vast body of water again for a while and I suddenly felt small and insignificant. How much I let the trivial thoughts in my head worry me on some days when there were bigger and more beautiful things out there that could instantly reduce you to a speck in a blue sheet. The whole experience was so overwhelming that a spontaneous tears rolled down my cheek. And only one line from the song ‘I Hope You Dance’ kept coming back to me:

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean.

I did. And I was glad for it. And I hope I will always feel that way.

This song is dedicated to those boatmen, that beautiful experience, the memory and to many more such vacations...I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack.

I Hope You Dance by Lee Ann Womack on Grooveshark

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger
May you never take one single breath for granted
God forbid love ever leave you empty handed

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance 
I hope you dance

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin' might mean takin' chances, but they're worth takin'
Lovin' might be a mistake, but it's worth makin'

Don't let some Hellbent heart leave you bitter
When you come close to sellin' out, reconsider
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along)
(Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder, where those years have gone?)

Writers: Tia Sillers, Mark D. Sanders

20 Questions With Amrita Suresh

This edition of 20 Questions brings you insights from Amrita Suresh, author of 'When A Lawyer Falls In Love', a witty well-paced and funny love story that is receiving favourable reviews from all over. Read on to find out more about the creator of this work herself.

When did you take to writing?
As a twelve year old, I had already made up my mind that I wanted to be a novelist and I’ve been working towards this dream, since then.

Where do you usually write? What is your favourite setting to write in?
I’ve come to believe that writing ought to be like meditation, you should be able to practice it anywhere. Hence, I’m not too particular about any setting.

Do you have any rituals/superstitions as a writer? Something you like to do before you start writing? A favourite pen?
I read somewhere that Chetan Bhagat likes to read 20 books before he starts writing his next novel. Personally, I’m not superstitious about anything that concerns my writing. 

Typing or writing on paper? What do you prefer and why?
Jeffery Archer says that he is most comfortable writing rather than typing and the same goes for me.

What was your first piece of work ever? Do you still have it?
I used to write these poems as a ten year old and some of those poems are still with me. They make me feel nostalgic…

Who are your inspirations as far as writing is concerned? Any writers you would highly recommend to readers?
Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard based professor has written this book ‘Stumbling on Happiness’. It is both informative and hilarious. Basically, I am partial to humour writers and so I like Dave Barry, Bill Cosby, Martha Beck and Eric Weiner. Among Indian writers, Chitra Divakurni Banerjee and Advaita Kala are pretty good.

What inspired ‘When a Lawyer Falls in Love’?
Being in college, I remember thinking that I ought to pen down the magic there is during an inter collegiate festival. So attending college festivals like Saarang and Mood Indigo of IIT Madras and Mumbai respectively, made me sure that I wanted to write this book.

We all know that while the author is solely responsible for an idea, the execution of the idea is impossible without the support of people who believe in the idea and the author. So who are the people behind ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’, other than yourself?
I would like to specifically thank three people. Firstly Archana Suresh, my sister and the true force behind getting this book on to the national platform.  Shobit Arya, my publisher from Offshoots, (an imprint of Wisdom Tree) for making this miracle happen and my husband Raj Konduru for being the wind beneath my wings.

Did the story of ‘When a Lawyer falls in Love’ come to you easily or did you find yourself stuck with writer’s block sometimes?
I’ve come to believe that writing a novel is like a tight rope walk from one tall building to another. As long as you are looking ahead and walking that’s good, but the moment you look at the ground below, you are petrified. I think it’s very important not to take long breaks of weeks and months while writing a novel, the flow gets lost. That worked for me. Fortunately, I didn’t go through any phases of writer’s block.

What is your personal most effective way of getting over writer’s block, if it ever strikes you?
If writer’s block ever strikes me, I usually read something that I am interested in. Taking a break and then getting started on one’s writing has worked for me. The important thing is to keep those creative juices flowing.

Do you agree that there are always autobiographical portions in any writing? Are there any in ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’?
I don’t necessarily agree with that although I have read works of many authors who base their writing on that premise. Having studied in a convent school and college all my life, the co-education kind of life described in the book is purely a figment of my imagination. 

Can you describe the journey of ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’ in short? How do you feel now when you look back on the entire creative process?
When I wrote the book, I went with the flow. I think that when there’s a certain innocence in the writing, it strikes a chord with the reader. That and the humour in the book are the book’s biggest USPs. The creative process was enjoyable more because the writing came from the heart! 

How easy or difficult was it to get the book published?
Let’s just say that the team at Offshoots (an imprint of Wisdom Tree), has been God sent. There is no denying that it is difficult for a first time writer to come onto the national platform and I hope that this book serves as an inspiration to many young writers out there to come forward with their work.

Do you agree that any author also has to be a good marketer? Or are there mechanisms that can take care of the marketing bit, allowing the author to concentrate solely on content?
It is absolutely imperative to market one’s book. I am fortunate to have an elder sister and husband who are taking care of that aspect. Courtesy them, I have the liberty of just concentrating on my craft. In this day and age of social media and news at the click of a button, it is very important that different channels of the media be targeted to let the world know of one’s work.

What is your advice to writers out there who might be looking at getting published? Any helpful pointers?
In my experience there are no short-cuts. Young writers need to do their research on publishers out there – be it by joining their groups on Facebook or just reaching out to their editorial teams through mails. I remember sending the first few chapters of the book to potential publishers to give them a preview of my work. The effort boils down to two words- discipline and perseverance. I’d advise writers to keep polishing their craft and hang in there. They must not give up!

What is your message to anyone who is considering picking up the book for a read? What can he/she expect?
If you are in the mood for a few laughs and want to refresh memories of your college life again, this book is for you. It is definitely an easy read and one or more characters in this book will remind you of people you’ve met in your life.

Who is ‘When a Lawyer falls in love’ dedicated to?
This book is dedicated to my mother, Mrs. Renu Merani Suresh, my sister, Archana Suresh and AR Rahman. My mom and sis have put up with my writer mood swings for many years now (laughs) and Rahman’s soulful music played a big role in driving away the blues when I was looking out for a publisher : )

Do you have more stories to tell us already that we can expect in the form of books soon? Are you working on something?
I have some ideas that I am working on. As and when they crystallize, you will hear from me again in the form of a book : )

Apart from writing, what else keeps you busy? What are your passions/interests?
I have been an ardent dog lover for as long as I can remember. As an active member of Blue Cross, I try and take time out to pitch in with any help for stray. I was so glad when Mrs. Amala Akkineni, founder, Blue Cross Hyderabad agreed to launch my book in October 2011. Apart from that, I love reading, cooking and indulging my little niece.

What is the one thought you would like to leave people with when they think of Amrita Suresh, the writer?
I would like to be remembered as a writer who was entertaining at the same time who created characters that lingered on in one’s mind, long after the book was read. 


So that was Amrita Suresh and her book  'When A Lawyer Falls In Love' can be ordered here.

I hope you enjoyed getting to know Amrita as much as I did. Until the next edition of 20 Questions, keep reading...

Friday, January 27, 2012

In My Own Defence...

…I believe in magic. And angels. And butterflies and bigger pictures. Universal plans. Maybe I do it just to keep myself occupied, happy and sane. Otherwise God knows this world can drive anyone crazy.

And it is because I see all these things around me that I believe in them. From the very beginning we have been instructed over and over again in our classrooms to believe in things we cannot even see…atoms, neutrons, protons, electrons…just ideas. I spent four years studying engineering and solving problems based on our imagination of an electromagnetic wave, of vectors. In fact, just this morning I was in class again trying to imagine infinite dimensions and acting like it was the most natural thing to do. I based my understanding of this world on mere concepts. We studied pattern recognition in artificial intelligence…I am sure Nobel Prizes are being given out for that kind of thing. But patterns in real life were not meant to be recognized. Isn’t that unfair?

Today, I am fondly remembering an angel who came up to me on an afternoon when I was down in the dumps, wondering why an insignificant person’s remark about my abilities had left me so deeply affected that I couldn’t get myself to so much as pick up my camera again. It was after more than two months that I had picked up my camera and I still felt dead with that machine in my hand. But I was forcing myself to click that day. And a pair of bicycles on St. Marks Road had caught my fancy. 

It was while I was shooting these cycles that a man walked up to me and started asking me questions about my photography. And I thought, could he not have chosen a worse time? Of all days he picks the exact day when I am feeling the worst about my ability to capture anything decently well. But I made polite conversation and he left me with his email id so I could forward my Flickr “portfolio” to him. And I did, for whatever reason.

But his reply said very little about my photography and a lot about life. He did call my pictures visceral and I remembered why I had taken to photography in the first place. It was something I did for myself. I don’t even know why he was telling me all these things. He had read my blog and he said, “I remember you writing about coincidences...and I truly believe in them...sometimes it happens to me too...and I wonder how everything connects…only if we could SEE...right...and you do.” He closed it with the following words:

And remember there is always happiness and it is a beautiful world..and beautiful ppl..who will remind you all is well..till then aurevoir..

And I cried. Sobbed. Why had this man even come up to me to talk? And why was he saying all these things without an iota of an idea about what I was going through that day? Why did he pick coincidences among all other things I had written about on my blog? Why exactly had he turned up that day when I was inches away from packing away my camera just because somebody I cared nothing about had been so horribly insensitive? I am sure it was mere coincidence but it saved me that day. A part of me would have surely died had this person not said what he said. Because the world IS beautiful…and magical…and so are people, except for a few. And there is always happiness. And I had forgotten that.

He never wrote to me again. Ever. In the last two and a half years I have read his mail every time I have felt low because there is something magical about a stranger sharing such a beautiful thought with you for absolutely no apparent reason. I don’t even know why I connect with that mail so much but I cry every time I read it, no exceptions. It reminds me to always look at beautiful things in life and wait for happiness, because it is around. And to believe in people and their goodness. 

I opened his mail again today because I needed someone to tell me that all was going to be well…that in fact all was well. And the words of a man whose face I hardly remember were all I had, but it worked…it always does. Because there was no past to our encounter and no future. In a few moments of two human beings interacting with each other, he chose to tell me the purest thought there was and that is why I know that it’s true.

In a world where fanatics are out to slit each other’s throats and humans are systematically destroying all means of sustaining life on this planet in the future, if it is people who believe in finding magic in everyday life who are labelled as crazy, then yes, I am crazy and proudly so! 

But I know that there was a reason that man was standing on that pavement that day. He was sent. And he committed an act of kindness that fills me with gratitude every time I think of it.

And that is exactly why I believe in magic. And angels. And butterflies and bigger pictures.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Ride...Of Life

Not very long ago the road to my workplace was a smooth one. People in Bangalore used to ride/drive better too. And riding was not as big a pain. In fact I used to be able to glance at a lake for a few moments or watch Brahminy Kites swoop down without worrying about the vehicle ahead jamming its brakes and me ramming into it. I used to actually enjoy the 17 Km ride

But then somebody decided that better infrastructure meant a higher number of stupidly designed flyovers all over Outer Ring Road (not a single two-lane flyover but two separate ones, one for each way...genius!). Today, almost three years later, the road to work is still dug up and seems to get worse by the day instead of getting better. It is rife with potholes and gravel for most part of the stretch. To add to that, people seem to continuously lose sense of how to drive on the roads and make the situation worse. One does not reach work in an hour now and the journey is difficult. It is exhausting. But one gets there. Slowly. Eventually.

Life isn't any different. Some have the privilege of having a smooth way paved for them and reaching their destinations soon and well. But then sometimes the road deteriorates. New speed breakers crop up overnight and big potholes appear out of nowhere. There are stretches of gravel and one rattles on. The ride is dusty and slow. But one gets there. Slowly. Eventually.

And thats what matters.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Doubts And Dead Fish

The Moray eel was hiding in its cave when we arrived with dead fish. We went about playing with the sea urchin and making crabs scamper and then got down to trying to coax the eel out of its cave. And we kept throwing dead fish at it. The crabs got the free food and the eel stayed in hiding. And then we put fish on the line and put it in the cave, in the eel’s face. And it disappeared inside to never reappear. If only we had waited a while…we could have seen that beautiful creature.

The voices of our heart hide in their cave, deep inside. It is possible to hear them if only we would wait. But they throw dead fish at them and try and coax them out. Hypotheses, conjectures, doubts. We let them be strung onto a line and stuffed right in the face of those voices. And they disappear. You can keep your ear out for them but it is not until the waters have calmed and the ripples have disappeared that they will reappear.

If only we had waited…we could have heard them tell the truth.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Book Review 2011

In 2010, I had managed to read 20 books and at the end of the year, I had made a reading list for 2011 that had 26 books on it. The course of life changed somewhere in the middle and that list went for a toss. Nevertheless, here are my thoughts on all that I managed to read in 2011 (a measly 12 books that is).

2011 had me reading:

  1. Consolations of Philosophy - Alain de Botton
  2. Tough Choices - Carly Fiorina
  3. All And Nothing - Raksha Bharadia
  4. The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
  5. The Zoya Factor - Anuja Chauhan
  6. Train To Pakistan - Khushwant Singh
  7. In Other Rooms, Other Wonders - Daniyal Mueenuddin
  8. Unaccustomed Earth - Jhumpa Lahiri
  9. The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison - Mike Wilson
  10. Snapshots From Hell - Peter Robinson
  11. Super Freakonomics - Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner
  12. Paths Of Glory - Jeffrey Archer

And here is what I thought of each of these:

Consolations of Philosophy
Alain de Botton

I got introduced to de Botton through The Art Of Travel (highly recommended, btw) and chancing upon CoP at Landmark had picked it up on impulse. For someone who is not initiated into the works of classical (or even modern) philosophers, CoP was a good introduction. In retrospect and after a discussion that took place on the beaches of the Indian west coast, I realize that my primary take-away from this book was to get to know the schools that philosophers like Epicurus, Nietzsche, Seneca among others belonged to, the essence of their work and perspectives on options to deal with situations in life. I may have missed the point of the book completely but I was still very happy to read it and learn from it primarily because it was all so new and any information was better than no information. I am now hoping to read more of philosophy-related works and understand it all better but I still enjoyed the first read of last year well.

Tough Choices
Carly Fiorina

An autobiography of Carly Fiorina going all the way until she was fired from the HP and apart from being a very good story by itself, this book is filled with business lessons, especially for women. Fiorina tells it fearlessly so we may all learn and there are valuable pointers in the book about how businesses work and how one may negotiate the dynamics of it all. I am, in fact, hoping to read this one a second time someday and would highly recommend it to you all.

The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society
Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

A warm book with a beautiful story inside! A wonderful epistolatory work set in the post World War II London. The book contains letters exchanged between an author and the members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society on the Guernsey Island and give an insight on the effect that war can have on the lives of people. Even with that backdrop, the book remains light and warm but catches you unawares at some points. For instance, I remember this section in a letter from this one guy to the author where he expounds on his favourite book and why he loves it so much and then brings it to a quick wrap by saying he must go and feed the animals lest they stay hungry for long. It was instances like these that made me break into a sudden sob by their beauty…by how literature can affect lives, their lives…how they found something larger to connect through or disagree with in books and for a small time they were not ordinary village-folk but connoisseurs of literature. The simplicity of those folks and how genuinely they shared their lives with this lady is heart-warming. And unlike 84, Charing Cross Road, here the author actually meets the Guernsey folks and the story ends on a rather happy note. Beautiful story that mixes emotion and history well.

The Zoya Factor
Anuja Chauhan

Straight out chick-lit that I loved! And I am not even a cricket fan! But this story is adorable and filmy and fun and I had good fun reading this one. Way better than the chick-lit stock available in the market otherwise. I am not revealing any bits of what the story is about but really good read if you are in the mood for something light and nice.

Train To Pakistan
Khushwant Singh

This one had been pending since long and I am so glad I finally read it (I say that pretty much all the time after reading famous books that I hadn’t read!). I own a copy that has pictures taken by Margaret Bourke-White interspersed with the story at relevant points and that heightened the sense of the story being closer to fact than fiction. The story tells us of the time when India was divided into Indian and Pakistan and how it changed lives. The horror of partition stays subtle in the story but doesn’t fail to make its presence felt through the emotions of the characters. It is good education about the Partition and what it meant for a border village that had never known animosity. And the way the story ends, it broke my heart and proved how humanity always wins. So beautiful!

I loved Khushwant Singh’s style of writing this book. I haven’t read anything else by him to be able to comment or compare but this book dwells on the details – of scene, of emotion, of characters. It has its own pace and doesn’t get very racy even to the end, letting you absorb the scenes before moving on. 

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin

I had always wanted to read a book by a Pakistani author and this book was a start somewhere. Mueenuddin had drawn a lot of critical acclaim for this book and it was good to be able to read it, thanks to my friend LK. He has a writing style that flows well and scores on the details. In addition, he seems to be a good observer and his narration of the life in small villages comes through equally well as that of life in the higher echelons of the Pakistani society. At no point did I feel that he didn’t do justice to the characters and he treated them all equally fairly. The stories give one a glimpse of life in Pakistan and various aspects of it through the extended support system of one central character. So there are stories spanning the lives of his servants and their dreams/desires and then those of his family members and their lives. While the stories have a fundamental human appeal that anyone can relate to, not having a common thread, even in the form of a single character, would have made them look like dispersed fragments. But his current arrangement makes it all happen in one household or his farmhouse or to someone who has worked for him and makes the flow of the book nicer.

I did think that the theme of promiscuity made its appearance more than others and more than necessary so much so that towards the end I was very close to creating a stereotype in my head. I realize the same stories could have been set in India with no change and it would have still made sense but to what extent one aspect should be highlighted is a personal discretion I guess. Maybe the author was trying to bring out the fact that people can be promiscuous irrespective of which stratum of the society they come from but for wholly different reasons. But I still feel there are many other aspects of life that could have been given equal position in the stories. Nevertheless, made a start on writing from Pakistan and I’m happy about that.

Unaccustomed Earth
Jhumpa Lahiri

Again a collection of stories that I borrowed from LK too and in this case, fragmented. All stories in this book deal with identity somewhere and focus on lives of Bengalis in the USA. Towards the end, this theme got to me and the stories started becoming routine in some sense since I already had an inkling about the possible setting. And then at some point I was just looking at finishing the book. It wasn’t boring but the setting became monotonous. Yet, until that feeling came, the book was a good read primarily because one doesn’t have to be a Bengali in the USA to identify with what’s being talked about. Members of communities in India who live outside their native states are likely to feel similarly, although not to the same degree. And hence, that basic idea running through every story made it possible to relate to them. And I definitely liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s style of writing…not as detailed as Khushwant Singh or Daniyal Mueenuddin but she highlights key points of a scene or a character and makes it possible to pin imagination onto those points. A minimalist style of description, if I may. 

The Difference Between God And Larry Ellison
Mike Wilson

Got my hands on this finally, thanks to a friend again. A very detailed biography of Larry Ellison and Oracle written in an easy, flowing fashion. Wilson made the book enjoyable with his writing and the book is a good look into the life of a man who isn’t very different from the company he founded…an Oracle. Ellison’s ability to see many years into the future constantly helped Oracle stay in the game and the book narrates the story of the man and his company together well without getting dry at any point. A rather enjoyable and recommended business biography.

Snapshots From Hell
Peter Robinson

Thoroughly enjoyed this book gifted by a friend. I read this just before starting MBA and it helped have a perspective on a few things before starting out. The book is autobiographical and Robinson recounts instances from the first year he spent in business school at Stanford. Not only does he recount incidents, but also actually describes some cases and conclusions, which make it additionally enjoyable. This book is a good way to look at life inside Stanford and get inspired or change your mind, as the case may be. I found it to be a very good pre-MBA read but even without that condition, it would make for an equally good read I think.

Super Freakonomics
Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

I’ll keep this brief. Not as mind-boggling as Freakonomics, maybe because somewhere we all know what to expect. Still very interesting and looks at some more social phenomena from a Microeconomic perspective, in that how one single thing made a difference to female foeticide in India, the economics of prostitution, whether baby car seats are really better than seat belts and the like. Recommended.

Paths Of Glory
Jeffrey Archer

This is a biographical work about George Mallory’s Everest expedition and a very good read. Very different from other works of Jeffrey Archer and filled with charm since it is set in the English society of back then. Also, there are letters, exchanged between George Mallory and his wife Ruth when he would be on an expedition or serving in the army. Those bring in more charm to the book. So there is adventure and till the end you keep hoping it ends in triumph, there is a love story that has old world charm to it and it’s a story of passion and pursuing dreams. Highly recommended.

So that was that for 2011. The 2012 stock is likely to be more practical keeping in mind my time constraints and factoring in all the course books I am reading. But I am hoping to keep it up somehow and stay the course of non-academic reading to balance it all out.

Wishing you all a year of good reading ahead. May you find new insights and experiences through the eyes of another who penned it down for us all!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

How I Met 2011…and 2012!

Sometimes you meet some people and you like them instantly, you don’t even know why. And then we try and capture that feeling into phrases like ‘good vibe’, ‘positive aura’ etc. But deep down we don’t know why we feel that way. And in time, those people end up living up to that image we have of them.

That’s how I met 2011. I will never be able to explain why it exhilarated me so much to step into 2011. And I will try and justify it by saying things like ‘I had a good feeling about 2011 from the start’. But I did. I just loved 2011 when it started. I knew it would be a good year. And the year lived up to my feeling about it…and more.

And it’s surprising why I felt so positive about it because I started the year with a not so great CAT score to apply to the PGSEM course with. But somewhere I had a feeling I would definitely start the course this year. And so I gave myself in completely to preparing seriously for the PGSEM test. It was like being back in school when I used to study for the sake of it and not with a goal in mind; that’s what works best for me usually. I really enjoyed those few weeks of preparing for the PGSEM test and did fairly well in the test too. 

The year also started with an awesome trip to Sri Lanka in January with my best friends. It is amazing that we have known each other for so long but never really travelled together and Sri Lanka was a great vacation as a first trip with them! One of those trips where my heart broke while leaving the place...just so good!

The March interview call for PGSEM and the subsequent turn of events only conformed to the goodness that 2011 was supposed to bring. It was April before I knew it and by the time the admission process closed. The realization that travel would become a luxury in the coming months sent me on the April Get Off trip to Sholur. It was great like the other Get Off trips I’ve been on and gave me some time to enjoy the place at which I was in life before embarking on newer journeys and moving on. Met a great set of people on the slopes of the Nilgiris and had a peaceful mountain holiday before joining the MBA fray.

May saw me participating in the residential Orientation on the IIMB campus and also simultaneously making a mad dash to try and read up a little outside of an MBA curriculum. And then it was back to college life with our freshers event thrown at us even before classes began. Since then, life has been a series of discoveries, learning and enlightenment from some of the best in the field. It is a privilege that I hope I never take for granted but it’s been great, with a long standing dream realized.

In September, 2011 brought along an opportunity to realize another dream – writing for a magazine – and I started writing for the Chennai-based RITZ. It has been such a Godsend, the amount of creative freedom being a freelance writer allows me; I suggest my own story briefs and then get to work on them, meeting new people in the process and listening to beautiful stories every time. It lets me write the stories I want to tell and in the manner that I want to tell them. It lets me discover the world around and look for nooks and crannies where a story might be hidden. And it lets me live a dream I’ve had for the longest time. It fills me with gratitude to think how this even came about and has become such a great part of my journey as a writer!

2011 was also the year my biological clock did a flip and became friendlier towards early mornings. My birthday was a milestone last year in terms of how I suddenly found the early morning life possible, even easy…something that had never happened in all these years. I started running a little bit in an effort to keep fit and have been running barefoot since November. It really is such a positive change and feeling and I am glad it has finally come by! 

I got back to writing letters again in 2011, something I had missed and been irregular with for a few years. And am I glad I did! It has been the best part of the year that passed, finding envelopes bearing my name in the letterbox and reading stories from faraway lands. And it’s been special for more reasons than one.

What has also been special is the way the year ended. The holiday season of 2011 was one of the best vacations I have ever had in life, and that is not even a hyperbole. It leaves me with a warm feeling how I was surrounded by only the most special people in my life this vacation, be it family, friends or more. Some of these people I have known for more than 12 years now, if not for life, and it is a strange sense of contentment and comfort to have them back and around in such special ways. It was a joy to see ONM get married to the love of his life and to be a part of the occasion, even if in a small way. It was great that my best friend of all these years moved to Bangalore and now is staying with us for a month before she gets married; she has been family for long anyway and I could not have asked for a more wonderful time to spend with one of the sweetest people in my life. My kid brother came down for a vacation too and I hope he found a friend in his elder sister after nearly twenty years of playing our defined roles; special time with our most loved kid in the house. And then life came a full circle on a gorgeous West Coast vacation that brought together many dreams and put them together in the grand scheme of things. I don’t think I have ever been this happy although I am generally a happy person by disposition. It must be obvious by now that I am at a loss for words to describe how great the last two weeks were!

So it’s been a year of many dreams fulfilled and I end it on a high contented note. Those were a good 365 days spent laughing, learning, living and loving. 2012 came on a quiet note for me and I met it like one would an old friend that one hasn’t spoken to in a while but is very comfortable to be around. It hasn’t opened its bags yet but I am certain there are gifts and souvenirs in there for me. More than that, I am looking to have a nice long meaningful conversation with 2012 and for the year to regale me with new stories and a new life. Welcome home old friend…

And wish you all a happy new year!