Thursday, 19 July 2018

To Thine Own Self be True by Lewis M. Andrews Ph.D.

I picked up this book, “To Thine Own Self be True”  by  Lewis M. Andrews , Ph.D. , (1989 edition;222 pages) to search the answer to these questions: What does it mean to be true to oneself? Is it possible to be   unethical  and still  claim that one is true to oneself? Why should we be true to ourselves? I am happy that this book has been able to provide the answer. The book quotes somewhere near the end:
·                “This above all: to thine own self be true,
·                  And it must follow, as the night the day,
·                 Thou canst not then be false to any man.” . . . . . .              Shakespeare       (Hamlet  Act 1, Scene 3).
    There is a connection between  spiritual values and emotional health. Emotional problems/ bad mental health    include  negative emotions  like    depression , guilt , feelings  of worthlessness, indecision , boredom , fear , frustration , loneliness and anxiety. There is a connection between  the most common negative emotions  and particular unethical behaviours  which cause them.  Spiritual values are  the elevating ethical beliefs  what Alduous Huxley called “the highest common denominator”. Deliberating reforming our characters  is the essence of  effective self-help.  Basic truths we have always known  are in our hearts.  Listen to these and be true to your deepest selves. In other words , if you are not true to your self , you are likely to have a poor emotional health. You cannot and should not reject inner values and  manipulate the overt behaviour of self and others.
        The approach of Dale Carnegie in  his book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” is manipulative. It advocates using a technique  on your friends. It is a real trap where  social success is  existential failure. Habitual role-playing (going through the motions)  is also a kind of sickness. Appearing to be a kind of person   we think others expect –more amusing , more attractive, more competent- is role playing. There is an emotional cost of hiding your true self. Avoid needless role –playing. Be responsive to your innermost  self. Express consciously who you are. Reveal your true personality. Only then you have  any chance of achieving  genuine intimacy with another person.   What is called for is a conscious effort to change the ethical quality of our every day interactions. If you are a writer, write out your thoughts  without catering to  some rigid standards fixed by a professor .The awareness that being true to one’s self liberates qualities which  by their spontaneous nature, are far easier to sustain  over the long run , becomes a powerful force for conscious and unconscious change.
To be able to be true to oneself,  one has to be free from grudges, resentment and hostility against  others. To carry a grudge  is a very crippling mental condition. Cleanse yourself of all malicious thoughts. Never allow  yourselves  to entertain malicious thoughts , under any circumstances  no matter what the provocation. By carrying a grudge , you  are hurting  yourself .It is better to forgive people deliberately. It is in our own interest.  Passing some malicious gossip is also an act of resentment. Resentment is the process of being stepped  on , allowing some one else to push us around. It does not matter that you are doing exactly the  opposite of  what a person wants. If you were really free ,you won’t do that . Resentment leads to  despair and depression. Let no one live in your head rent free.
Never ignore guilt through arbitrary self acceptance. It is better to face guilt and repent and atone  .
Each time you attempt to mislead others  or to rationalize a decision  you don’t really believe in , an actual breakdown of consciousness occurs .Don’t  be evasive to small threats. Face them.  Speak truthfully so that people can depend on your word. Even in the tough world of  labour and management conflict resolution , don’t play a negotiating game. Forsake manipulation. Manipulators attract only counter-manipulators. Betraying confidences  is an excellent indicator  that our intention is  manipulative.
To overcome your hyper-anxiety , share your disturbing thoughts  with another person.”Writing  about   your anxieties for brief periods  appears to have the same  healthful effect  as confiding the thought to  a real person”. Alcoholism and other addictions  are primarily a response  to unfulfilled  spiritual potential.
           This book , written by a qualified psychologist,  clarifies many  ethical  issues which we face in our lives. It  can change your life and make your emotional health better. I recommend you to read it.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

The science of Positivity by Loretta Graziano Breuning , Ph.D.

The science of Positivity is a book (2017 edition ;224 pages; Adams Media)  which tells us about how negative thought patterns are formed  and how we can rewire ourselves  and  replace our negative thought habits with positive ones. 
             Dr. Breuning is a Neuro Chemical expert   and explains  through examples , stories , analogies  how brain chemicals  ( neurotransmitters) Dopamine, Serotonin , Oxytocin , Endorphin  and Cortisol  play a major role in our thought habits. Our neural pathways were paved by our early neuro chemical ups and downs. Our negativity and cynicism  are habits formed in an early stage of our life to  cope up with  chance events related to survival threats, breaches of trust , being dominated  socially by bullies or, being left behind in a competition or race. Negativity is good at  stimulating happy chemicals. Because it feels good , we do’nt want to come out of negativity. The electricity in our brain flows  into these  old pathways or circuits  whenever  stressful situation due to survival threats  comes up. As a result , we remain negative or cynic. If we want to have positivity in life , we have to build new  neural pathways or circuits. The book tries to answer how it can be done .
  Why should we have positivity?  As  the author explains:” Cynicism  helps relieve a sense of threat  but it comes at a price .it makes you powerless  because you focus on things you cannot control  instead of things you can control.”
   In Chapter 6 of the book  (title: PARE Habit), the author gives a very practical way  to build a positive life , called PARE which means Personal Agency and Realistic Expectations. She says that three times a day , stop and think of something good. Spend one minute each time scanning  for the positive aspects of situation  that are currently on your mind. Do this for six weeks and your brain  will be trained to look for the  good of the world.  She also says that we should maintain a positivity  minutes(journal)  to keep daily the minutes  of this exercise.     Just keep finding and recording three good things a day for six weeks  , and your new expectations will affect your neuro chemistry  and build your new  neural pathways. This metamorphosis or alchemy  from negative  wiring to positive wiring in six weeks sounds too good to be true but Dr. Breuning  insists that  it is true. And I trust her academic and intellectual integrity.
          There are  many interesting  examples of  positivity at work . For example , if your bank makes an error, you get upset but you do’nt notice the bank’s billions of correct transactions .She seems to be advocating a more tolerant view of people at work , rather than a Zero Defect mindset. But she is on weak wicket when  she asks us to do something for climate crisis  with a positive feeling and have no negative feelings .When you are choking  with polluted air , it is difficult to  have only  positive feelings .
            But still,  it is a highly convincing book  about getting from cynicism to positivity. Dr. Breuning’s style is  clear , direct, accessible  and  captivating , and  very enjoyable . There is some inner logic , drive and force  in this book  which makes it different from other books on positivity that I have read. I   strongly recommend you to read this wonderful short book. It has the potential to change your life.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre

I have read this  classic novel   ( Nausea : 253 pages: Penguin Modern Classics)by Jean-Paul Sartre   three times. Each reading gave me more meaning and more joy. Written in 1938 , it  has had a powerful impact on literature as well as philosophy. It belongs to existential genre of literature.
        It is the story of Antoine Roquentin , a French writer  completing his historical research  on the Marquis de Rollebon. The book is in the form of a diary. Antoine  is a  critical  thinker and  a lonely person , who struggles to come to terms with his life .In his solitude , he   tries to discover the meaning of life but  when he does not succeed ,  he becomes  overwhelmed with an  intolerable awareness of his  purposeless existence , which he calls nausea. He has no dearth of money and stays in a hotel  in Marseille in France to do his research .
               One character  called Autodidact   ( also called Ogier P-), who was a bailiif’s clerk and whose acquaintance  Roquentin had made  at the Bouville library , is frequently mentioned in the book .Autodidact is The Self Taught Man (STM) and  frequently discusses  life and its meaning with Roquentin. Autodidact does not agree that there is no meaning in life .Rather he confronts his despair  by turning into a Humanist. Before that , he   reads  all the books in the library , one by one  but the way he reads ( books   selected  with authors’  names   alphabetically, irrespective of the subject) . Such a knowledge does not give  him  any satisfaction  . As a humanist , he wants to go to help  and  serve other human beings. Autodidact is the symbol of everything  that has gone wrong with our education and our society. He keeps working towards a goal . Once one goal is reached, he needs to create a new one  for himself. The again and again .This approach looks at life as a series of goals .To Antoine , it feels  as  though  such an unexamined  life  is all quite pointless. Most of us approach life  in a way similar to  Autodidact’s  approach. It is a life  which is not examined because of endless pursuit of trivial knowledge and   material goals. This is the   question which   this book  Nausea    forces us to confront.
           In its final pages,  Nausea is not a book without solution .Sartre says that  our happiness is in our hands only. Only we can   justify ,create and give meaning to our lives. But such a meaning  cannot come out of writing a history book.(“history talks about  what has existed –an existent can never justify  the existence of another existent” ).It has to be some thing   which was above existence , which could make people  ashamed of their existence. It could help him  in accepting himself.
              Sartre speaks right to our soul. His style is intimate and beautiful. This is the kind of book  we could  and should read again and again, discovering some new meaning or detail every time . It is serious work of literature and some people may   find it a heavy read . So , if you  like serious literature and   wish to be  different from Ogier P-, I strongly recommend this book for you.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Complete Guide to Fasting by Jason Fung , MD with Jimmy Moore

Fasts and feasts are rhythms of life. Fasts follow feasts , and feasts follow fasts. Very few people  believe  that fasting   can be  a tool to  improve our health and take it to the next level. The Complete Guide to fasting by  Jason Fung , MD and Jimmy Moore   convinces   us  that fasting is an extremely powerful tool  to enable us to make a jump in our health to the next level and for the better. First published in  2016 by Victory  Belt publishing Inc. ,  it has 304 pages.
               Fasting has a long history. Most of the religions  prescribe  fasting either on a weekly basis or annually or  at some other frequency. This book has  shown  ,on the basis of scientific evidence , that fasting  helps us with weight loss,  can cure type2  diabetes , prevent cancer  and  slow  down  aging.
                No single protocol of fasting suits every   one . It is for each of us to choose what protocol suits us the best. Some prefer alternate-day  fasting , some prefer extended fasts lasting several days , some prefer  twice per week 24 hour fasts.
        One major worry about fasting  is hunger. The book says that hunger starts in the mind. It is a conditioning of mind which can be defeated. Hunger comes in waves and each wave can be controlled  by drinking green tea or coffee9 without sugar or sweetner). Children, pregnant women and   unwell persons on medication  should not  fast.
    All  foods raise  insulin to some degree. Therefore  the most effective method of reducing insulin is to avoid food altogether. When we fast , insulin falls and  glycogen is used up  and the body begins to  switch over  to burning stored fats in it  for energy. Fasting is different from living on  a permanent low-calorie diet. When we diet , body may respond to  less eating by slowing the metabolism. Fasting on the other hand produces harmones  that tell the body  it is time to tap reserves. Thus , during fasting , body is getting energy from  burning its reserves of fat. Body fats provide energy in the form of fatty acids, ketones and some amount of glucose as well.  In fasting , increase in adrenaline   stimulates the metabolism  , and this does not let metabolism to slow down , (while metabolism slows down during low calorie dieting). 
                This is a very scientific , well written and beautifully printed  book about fasting and   succeeds in convincing us about the merits of fasting. You may like to give it a chance .It could change your life in more ways than one.

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 .