Thursday, 3 May 2018

The Life-changing Magic of Tidying by Marie Kondo

               The Life-changing magic of tidying by Marie Kondo is an international bestseller  book about  tidying  , its methods and impacts.
                Tidying involves  two tasks- discarding  and   where to keep  the things  not discarded. First complete the discarding .Then start the next task. You should be choosing what you  want to keep, not what you  want to get rid of. Take each  thing  in your hand  and ask: “ Does this spark joy?” You will be surprised  at how many things  that you   possess  have already fulfilled  their role. By acknowledging their  contribution  and letting them go    with gratitude , you will be able to truly put the things  you own , and your life in order. The best sequence of tidying  is this: clothes first , then books , papers, miscellaneous items  and   lastly,  sentimental items and keepsakes.
Marie Kondo strongly recommends  folding (and not hanging) as  the main storage method. But  first reduce your wardrobe to only  those clothes that you really love. Infrequently used papers  like insurance policies, leases  should be put into a single  plastic   folder  without worrying about further categorisation .Other non-contractual  documents  should be put into another folder. Papers which need attention should be in a third folder.
It is not worth keeping materials or handouts   from past seminars or courses. Discard all your credit card statements. Keep all warranties in one file. Discard all used cheque books. Sort out stationery and writing materials and keep these in a separate drawer or place. Throw away all the gifts   and keepsakes except those from very dear persons (which also give you joy). Throw away all  old calendars .Sort all photos and put them in an album. Do not leave this task   for when you grow old.
When you honestly  confront the things you own ,  you  get positive emotions  which  give you  the energy for living. Store all the items of the same kind  in the same place . Don’t scatter the storage space. Use small boxes  that come with mobile phones  and such things , for   storing  pens, pencils and other writing tools.
Putting your  house to order  is a great way  to discover  what things you really like. You have only those books which really captivate you . This way you know  the subject to which  these books relate , and you discover that you really like that subject. Tidying is a way of showing us what we really like.
  Tidying increases your confidence in your decision making capacity. It helps you to hone your decision making skills.  It is important to understand your ownership pattern   because it is an expression of the values   that guide your life. It is only when you  face the things you  own one by one   and experience the emotions they evoke   that you  can truly  appreciate your relationship with them. Through the process of tidying , people come to know contentment. Once they kept only those things  that they really loved , they felt that they had everything  they needed. There is no greater happiness in life than to be surrounded  only by the things you love .
           But tidying is not the purpose of life. Tidying is a tool to make the world a better place. Putting your house in order  will help you find the mission  that speaks to your heart.
                 It is a very simple book but  creates a powerful impact on our life.I recommend you to read it  and implement  some of the recommendations which look deceptively simple , yet capable of changing your life for the better. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo

  First published in 2012,Behind the Beautiful  Forevers is an  outstanding    non-fiction book  about  contemporary India  .Though non-fiction , it  reads like a thrilling novel.  Its  254 pages  reveal , in an authentic way ,about  society , government  and political system in a slum in Mumbai. Katherine Boo  spent   more than  three years  in India( November 2007—March 2011) , studying a slum named Annawadi  from inside . As the sub title says, it is  a book about life , death and hope in  a Mumbai under city. I agree with Boo that  there is a shortage of India- based non-fiction . This book has certainly filled that  gap  somewhat.
            The book  is about   frustration , poverty , jealousy , false complaints, corruption in the Indian  social  system , police and government. Annawadi is about 200 yards off the Sahar Airport Road, an encroachment  on the land of airport . Beautiful Forevers are  the sunshine yellow ads  for the  ceramic  tiles, that are painted  on the wall , behind which Annawadi slum exists.
                Corruption at cutting edge level is very high.   Any certificate about birth or caste or other identity indicators  can be purchased with bribe.”Abdul was 17 years old if he paid two thousand rupees , and twenty years old if he did not”. The book  reveals how police investigations  result one way or the other depending on whether bribery is paid or not , how  the trial drags on and on , how Sarva Shisha Abhiyan  funds are diverted by a nexus between government officials and NGO’s, how there is a disenfranchisement of migrants and hijras. The book   seems  to say that  poverty  makes  criminals of everyone in Mumbai. The law is enforced  merely as a means to  extort money. Police detainees are obliged to   forsake their savings  to have a false criminal charge dropped. Boo  exaggerates at times: “ The Indian  criminal justice system was a market like garbage .Innocence and guilt  could be bought  and sold like a kilo of polyurethane bag” .
The book also  indicates that poor people in slums in India  just want to get ahead of other  people around them. It is a major reason  why India does not  erupt in well organized rebellion from the bottom . “ What appears to be indifference to other people’s suffering has a great deal to do with conditions  that can sabotage innate capacities for moral action. . . . In slums , it is blisteringly hard too be good. The astonishment is that some people are good” . Boo keeps herself  entirely out of the narrative  until the last chapter.  Though not well versed in Indian languages , and taking the help of translators throughout , Boo   has been able  to  enter and express the thoughts and emotions of the slum- dwellers  quite intimately and accurately.
     I recommend you to read this  short, classic  non-fiction  book about contemporary India.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Published in 2015, this 720 pages long novel  was long listed for the Man Booker award. Though dark and disturbing ,  this book will most likely  change  some perceptions of  your life .It will leave you   with  more positive  and compassionate attitude towards persons who  have been  subjected to  physical and emotional abuse  and trauma as a child. And   you feel   with some depth  that a victim of child abuse has to live with   scar and pain for the rest of his or her life.  “Hyenas”  in the shape of memories  of those traumatic incidents  torment him or her  frequently.
               Though  , at the initial stages , the book gives an impression as if it were the story of four friends, it slowly emerges out to be mainly  the story of  an emotionally and physically damaged man , Jude St. Francis. The novel is an exploration of  the depths of his pain and shame. As an infant,he was deposited in a bag near a monastery and was raised by monks. Over the years,he  was subjected to  repeated   abuse by a number of  sadists. He has scars on his back  , and his legs are badly damaged.
                 Yes, it is also a book about Jude’s  three friends and their friendship and support  to him and to each other. His friend ,  Willem , gives  him  support and loving kindness. But there is a limit of what friends can do when  you have the memory and shame of an abused childhood.
                 Jude  excels in his profession as a corporate litigator. He has an excellent character , and his suffering  is the foundation of his strong character.
    Where does that leave Jude?  He inflicts harm on himself by  cutting his  flesh  with razor  blade  whenever   the  mental  pain and shame become unbearable. And that seems to give him a temporary relief.
     The novel is dark , sad and disturbing  , but once you start reading it , you get hooked on to it , and you end the book by feeling the  beauty of a little life that Jude  represents.
      I recommend you to read this  book.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

An Era of Darkness (The British Empire in India) by Shashi Tharoor

An Era of Darkness by Shashi Tharoor  , published in 2016   by Aleph Book company , is an eye-opener for all those who think that the British Empire in India was a mixture of good and the bad. Shashi Tharoor has done  remarkable  research and very convincingly tells us in 333 pages  that  nearly  two centuries of British rule in India  was out and out a period of oppression and loot  of  India .
 Tharoor rolls out relevant data to prove the above .When East India Company  took control of India , India’s share of the world GDP was 23 per cent. When the British left India in 1947, it wasjust above 3 per cent. The British left  India as  a society  with 16 per cent literacy , a life expectancy of 27, practically no  domestic industry and over 90 per cent living below  what today we would call below poverty line. They  systematically destroyed Indian textile , steel-making and  shipping industry .They substituted  Indian textiles by British ones manufactured in England. This deindustrialization of India was a deliberate British policy and not an accident.
            In 1922, 64 per cent of the total revenue of  the Government of India  was devoted to paying for British Indian troops dispatched abroad. As many as 74,187 Indian soldiers died during  world war one.
          The racialism and exploitative attitude of the British rulers  was reflected time and again in unforgivable massacre of Indians in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919, in the writings of Rudyard Kipling and  in the statements of Curchill. Churchill suggested in 1942 that Mahatma Gandhi should be “bound hand and foot  at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant  and trample(the Mahatma) into the dirt”. Rudyard Kipling hailed General Dyer as “The Man Who Saved India”. And Macaulay said:”A single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia”.
                The British policy of divide and rule reached its culmination in the horrors of Partition  that eventually  accompanied the collapse of British  authority in 1947.Over a million people died and about 17 million were displaced during Partition.
              Tharoor says that there were only three benefits to India  due to the British rule:
1. English Language.
2. Tea.
3.  Cricket.
 An Era of Darkness is an outstanding book on the history of  British Empire  in India. Every Indian  , and  every student of India  and  the UK, must read this book.  Shashi  Tharoor has  an excellent control over English language . I  strongly recommend  this book  .

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky wrote The Idiot in Florence between 1868 and 1869.It is the story of the prince Myshkin. He had suffered from epilepsy since childhood. He had  a naive directness and honesty which prompts others to call him idiot. The prince never thinks of changing himself , though he knows that others call him or think  him  as an idiot. But by the end of the book , we find his naive directness changed into an  anguished silence. Ippolit is a young rebel who , instead of meekly accepting his fate  believes in weeping , protesting and revolting .To him , the prince advises to” pass  us  by and forgive us our happiness.”

           The two other central characters in the novel are Rogozhin and Natasya Filippovna.  The prince  also loves  Natasya  , who in turn falls in love with him. Rogozhin loves Natasya  with passion .Agalaya , the youngest daughter of General Epanchin , also loves this idiot prince .The whole book revolves around these relationships in an unpredictable way. Despite its  615 pages, I liked the hardbound edition of Everyman’s Library. It is a profound book , recommended for those who like serious literature.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Home going by Yaa Gyasi

Home going (published in 2016) is a debut novel by Yaa  Gyasi. It  is about slaves , slave traders and their life  over many generations , spread across  Ghana and Gold Coast in Africa , Birmingham in Britain and Albama, Mississippi , Harlem , New York and Stanford in the USA. It is both ambitious and courageous in scope , and by the time you reach the end of its 300 pages  , you are spell bound .

                It traces the history of slavery  in a style that evokes compassion and courage. Some of the incidents  described are  bordering on horror  but the  author  keeps them close to the possibility of humanity. The book tells us how and why the world changes slowly and painfully through generations  , and why it is the way it is.In the process , it  gives voice to the suppressed and inspires us to make this world a better place.It makes us understand the  world better. It is one book which demonstrates  how a work of fiction can teach us better than any other  way. Though a debut , this novel has the potential to become a classic.I highly  recommend it .

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

This  is  my first novel by Wallace Stegner , and certainly not the last .What does  crossing to safety mean? We have life- long friendships and relationships  which  keep changing over  time .Then a  stage  comes  when we get reconciled and achieve our safety  in those friendships and relationships , accepting  and loving our friends , spouses as also accepting ourselves. This stage one has to cross  into  through much soul searching .This novel , published in 1987 ,was written by Wallace Stegner when he was 78 year old. He has  also described  in it the insecurities of old age , increasing fragility of body  as also the enduring  love in marriage. “We all  hoped in whatever way our capacities permitted  . .. . . to leave a mark on the world..Instead , the world  has left  marks on us. We got older.Life chastened us  so that  now we lie  waiting to die”. But Stegner  makes survival a grace , rather than a necessity.
Stegner  emphasises the role of luck in life: ’’Talent lies around us  like kindling waiting for a match, but some people , just as gifted as others , are less lucky. Fate never drops a match on them”. And the role of plans in our life: ’’You can plan all you want to .You can lie in your morning bed  and fill  whole note books with schemes and intentions .But within a single afternoon,  within hours or minutes, every thing you plan  and everything you fought to make yourself, can be  undone as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him. And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam, you can still believe you are doing fine”. So, you need not set specific goals in life.
                       The novel has four characters -Larry , his wife Sally , Sid and his wife Charity. The story is narrated by Larry Morgan .Charity starts the friendship  between families , which  grows into life long relationship among the two couples. The couples meet during the Depression years in Madison , Wisconsin.They have differences in their upbringing , social and financial condition  but their friendship survives all these differences.Over the time , Larry becomes successful writer. Sally   gets afflicted by Polio. Sid Lang  is fired from the post  at Madison , with the result that he and Charity  are forced to stay , along with children at their family’s estate at Vermount.
        Charity  has a nature of controlling her husband Sid as also every one around her. At times , this takes  a dangerous and darkening aspect. She often bullies Sid aggressively. Charity  is novel’s fulcrum and creates strain in the friendship also. She knows that she is dying of cancer , but still , she tries to controls the condition of her death.

     Cossing to Safety seeps into you slowly , as you keep reading .The  language is superb  and the  book is full of insights. Long after you have read the  novel , its story reverberates in your mind.I recommend  you to read this book.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Identity by Milan Kundera

This slim novel (166 pages) by Milan  Kundera was published originally in French in 1996  and was translated into English  by Linda Asher in 1997.
      It is the story of a  woman called Chantal  and her lover Jean – Marc. Chantal  has divorced her husband  , after the death of  their  five  year old child. The book tries to explore the meaning of identity and the role played by friends  , lovers  and strangers in shaping that identity.
For Chantal , her identity is defined by  the perception of strangers. One day she tells her lover that “Men don’t  turn to look at me  anymore.”.He becomes jealous and also concerned that perhaps due to  getting older , she is insecure.  And  he decides to   write  anonymous but affirming letters to her  , to make her feel better. But when he finds her happier after receiving anonymous letters , he becomes  more jealous. He spies on her to locate where she keeps her letters and becomes  still more jealous when he finds that she has  hidden them under her braziers. On the other hand , when she discovers that it is  he who  has written these anonymous letters and he has spied on her , she  becomes furious . She thinks that Jean Marc has contrived the whole thing to  trap her. The two become estranged  from each other , and lose their identities as lovers. Thus for lovers , their perception of each other  keeps changing from day to day and the identity of each  to the other is quite slippery. Their relationship fails because  each has twisted the identity of the other , in their insecurity ,  anxiety and loneliness. When we conceal our identity from others, we lose our own identity.
This is a short but  engaging novel which prompts  the reader  to think about  his or her own  identity. While discussing friendship , the   book says:”  Friendship is indispensable to man  for the proper function  of his memory. Remembering our past , carrying it around with us  always , may be  the necessary requirement  for maintaining , as they say ,  the wholeness of the self. To ensure that the self does not shrink , to see that it holds  on its volume , memories have to be watered like plotted flowers , and  the watering calls  for regular contact with  the witnesses of the past , that is to say ,  with friends. They are our mirror; our  memory; we ask nothing of them  but that they polish  the mirror from time  to time  so we can look at ourselves  in it.”. It further goes on to say that we view  friendship “ as an alliance  against adversity .But may be  there is no longer  a vital need for  such an alliance.”
                       But  the novel  lacks a certain vitality when it mixes the  real and the fantasy .for example , they both board the same train from Paris to London , only to find that it was a dream .When did their real life change into a fantasy, with contradictions between  the projected identity and the reality, is not very clear.

A good food for thought in the form a novel which  traverses the border between the reality and dreams, while exploring the concept of identity. Worth a read .

Thursday, 28 September 2017

The Honest Always Stand Alone by C. G. Somiah

The title of this book  made me curious to read this book of memoirs  by a former IAS officer , CG Somiah , who later on became CAG(Comptroller and Auditor General) of India. Though the book does indicate that Somiah was an honest civil servant , yet  his  continuous rise in  career to the top  in civil service despite his honesty ,   does not  really  prove the title of the book right; on the contrary , you begin to  get curious .
                             Somiah was  no doubt honest , hardworking civil servant who believed in shouldering  responsibility. He  joined the IAS in 1953 (Orissa cadre)  and was Home Secretary of India  during the years when Rajiv Gandhi  was the Prime Minister of India.He  wrote this book  after reaching the age of seventy five  , out of his memory as he “never kept any notes”. He dedicated this book to “the dwindling band of honest officers who are battling  heavy odds to maintain  their integrity and dignity  to extend  corruption-free good governance to the people of India. They need all our support.”Unfortunately , the book was published in  July , 2010 and Somaiah died at the age of seventy nine  on September13,2010 .
As Secretary , Forests and Cooperatives , Orissa , he was asked by the Chief Minister , and Forest  Minister to give a proposal  for giving remission  and relief  in the lease rent  in the final year of three years lease to the kendu leaf contractors. He refused to do this  as it  was a move to make money by the CM  by sacrificing the revenue of the State. Within   fifteen days, he was transferred to  Cuttack  as Excise Commissioner. Even as Excise Commissioner , to break  the  cartel of excise contractors , he put certain units to retendering .He was asked to cancel the retendering which he refused. He was transferred abruptly to Delhi as Director , Budget  in the Finance Division of the Ministry of Defence. The CM  also recorded scathing adverse remarks in the character roll of Somiah.As a result , Somiah was not included in the panel  for  Joint Secretaries for two years. This resulted in a loss of promotion for two years.
 He was Joint Secretary  Home during emergency .After this, he returned to the state and  became  Chairman of Forest Corporation and then   Home Secretary of Orissa. In  November , 1980 , he became Additional Secretary , Finance  in Government of India. Then he became Secretary , Department of Company Affairs. He was shifted to Secretary , Planning Commission, where he got in close touch with Rajiv Gandhi, the  Prime Minister of India. He joined  as Home Secretary , Government of  India in  June , 1986.He found that both his telephones  in his office were bugged  on the orders of the Director , IB.
                He chose KPS Gill , an IPS officer of Assam cadre  to serve as a deputy to Julius Ribeiro  to help him fight the growing menace of terrorism in Punjab. Later , Gill succeeded Ribeiro as DGP of Punjab and had phenomenal success in eliminating terrorism in Punjab . Somiah played a critical role in the success of  operation Black Thunder  in Golden Temple , Amritsar when   terrorists surrendered and were taken into custody.
  In solving the issue of Gorkhaland , Somiah played a crucial role and was instrumental  in creating an autonomous  Darjeeling hill council  for the hill areas of Daejeeling , Kurseong ,Kalimpong and part of Siliguri.This came to be known as Darjeeling Accord and solved the issues  of   of  Gorkhaland.
However , Somiah did not like Rajiv Gandhi’s decision to circumvent  the Supreme Court judgment in Shah  Bano’s case by getting enacted in Parliament in  May ,1986  the Muslim Women (Protection of rights on divorce) Act.”I was getting sick of my work and the long hours I used to keep in office and I felt I needed a change”. And the change came .Somiah got permission to visit Egypt and Greece  for three weeks  .
Regarding Salman Rushdie’s Satanic verses , Somiah writes:”I read Satanic Verses and came to the conclusion that the book needs to be banned  in the interest of maintaining law and order in the country”.After taking legal opinion , the book was banned in India.
Somiah believed in astrology , though he  wrote that had no desire to know his future. He recalls how TN Seshan was an astrologer. How Peri shastri , the then chief Election Commissioner was offered  governorship if he acceded to the Prime Minister’S(Rajiv Gandhi’s) request  to postpone  the Presidential election  after Zail Singh completed his term. Peri shastri firmly refused the inducement  and quietly slipped into retirement.
After demitting the office as Home Secretary , Somiah took charge as the Central Vigilance Commissioner. His successor Kalyanakrishnan  was sacked from his job when he missed out reading  just two lines of the Intelligence report where  there was a hint that an attempt would be made to kidnap the daughter of Syed Mufti Mohammad, the Home Minister. The kidnapping did take place but home department had not taken any preventive action .
      Somiah was sworn in as the Comptroller and Auditor general of India by the President on 15 March , 1990.On 22 May , 1991, Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. On 11 March ,1996,  when he turned sixty five, Somiah handed over charge to  his successor , Vijay Shungloo. CG Somiah died on 13 September, 2010 at the age of 79 years. One cannot fail to be impressed by Somiah’s  humility, integrity and professionalism .
There can be two interpretations to Somiah”s story in this book. One  is that despite wide spread corruption in India’s Political –administrative system , it is possible for a civil servant  to stay honest and still reach the top. The other is that  you can be honest in  your own limited way  way and if luck favours you , you can reach the top. I for one , subscribe to the second interpretation .

Saturday, 2 September 2017

A State of Freedom by Neel Mukherjee

Human urge is to strive for something better than the existing situation .Do we have the freedom to move into a better state? Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? Through five stories, the novel attempts to answer this question.   
   I kept wondering long after  I had read the book: Can we really transform the possibilities we are born into? What do the  characters and stories suggest as an answer? The  answer seems to hover between Yes and No , and each reader has to decide it for himself or herself.
     When a poor man  Lakshman finds a baby bear , he decides to earn better by training  the baby  bear into a dancing bear. He  names  this bear Raju. In the process of training it to dance  , he subjects the poor animal through  excruciating and painful cruelties. The bear loses his freedom and the man   also  does not  have  a good life.
 A  poor girl Renu  goes to Mumbai  to earn money by working as a cook in many houses. This she does to  send money to educate her nephew in the USA in Physics. She waits for the day when the nephew  would return  to India  after doing his Ph.D.and she will have better days.
Another poor girl Milly   from Jhar Khand  is sent by her parents to work as a domestic cook with a view to earn money and  send a part of money so earned to her parents back home. But  her employer in Mumbai  treats her like a bonded labourer and does  not permit  her to move out of the house . Milly then marries a perfect stranger who  rescues her from her employer’s custody .
 Another story is of Soni (Milly’s friend) and her elder sister and her mother .The mother dies of Cancer. Soni and her sister join  extremist( Naxalite)  group to escape into a state of freedom from poverty.
 The book opens with the  story of an academic  from India , settled  in USA , who takes his son to  Fatehpur Sikri  , after their lunchtime tour of the Taj Mahal.Due to various odd experiences including  facing  a bear on its hind legs  with its muzzle pressed to the glass of the car, the  boy gets unwell and dies.
The book is full of many unforgettable scenes and characters. The characters , despite their poverty and unequal social system , manage to preserve their dignity. The author  narrates the stories with compassion  and grace.He has a complete control over language and pace of the stories.
             The story of Raju bear was the longest and reminded me of Kartick Satyanarayan’s Wildlife SOS India  in Agra ,  India(whom I met while serving  as Secretary , Forests and Wildlife , U.P. , India).No wonder , I found  their name in the list  of acknowledgements given at the end of the book.

           A State of Freedom is an outstanding   and beautiful work of literature .