Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Jeffrey Archer's As the Crow Flies: Story of an Inspiring Retailer

It has become like a custom from last one year, every couple of months I pick up a novel by Jeffrey Archer to read. The thicker the book is, the better. It all started when I happened to read this book called First among equals and got hooked to a story telling style that is very fluid and captivating. He is definitely one of the best entertaining story tellers of our time. What amazed me is his capacity to write novels that spans decades, mostly the whole life of the protagonists, and still manage to keep the reader's interest level up through out, page by page and sentence by sentence. As The Crow Flies is also not different. 

I feel this novel is all the more apt for the moment as India is planning to open its door to FDI in retail. The novel tell the inspiring rags to riches story of a man who started as a vegetable vendor to become the owner of the biggest retail showroom in the country. Charlie Trumper used to sell vegetables with his Grand Father on a barrow. Inspired by his grand father, he dreams of owning the biggest barrow in the world. The story follows up his life as he struggles to realize his dream. Every element that makes a page turner is deployed here- romance, suspense, love, emotion, action, adventure, scheming villains, twists and turns, coincidences... everything in the right amount, at the right moment. Story is told in the perspectives of multiple characters, which makes it all the more interesting. It also helps much in character building and readers find them more identifiable by knowing about their fears and motives that causes several of their actions. 

But after reading the whole book one thing that gets etched in the reader's mind is Charlie's diligent pursuit. His passion for attaining his goal, his willingness to observe and study from his mistakes, his readiness to stand tall adhering to his principles in any adversity. That is what makes him endearing to readers. But Archer does not make him super human. He has several short falls that he overcomes thanks to his virtues and the company of faithful and caring persons who surround him. 

I would heavily recommend this gem of a novel to any one interested to get entertained and inspired.  

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Dam(n) politics

This post is the revival of an old series "All are mathematics" written sometime back as a fictional satirical political commentary. Read the whole series here.

"We are all going to dogs. No body care for us. Not the state government or central government..." Abu cried.

"Well, these politicians does not have any interest to save the lives of people. They are interested only in swelling their vote banks and Swiss bank accounts. Corrupt lot." Divakaran complained.

Rajagopal Master, as usual, was on a walk to the tea shop of Raman Pilla for his daily dose of political gossip, when Abu and Divakar joined him near the library. Abu, an old student of Master, (you have met him before) has come back from Middle East, after his short but successful stint in business and is planning to establish his own business empire in his village, a hair transplanting clinic, which he is confident to be a huge success owing to the increasing cases of baldness, thanks to global warming, global recession and global pollution. Divakar, also an ex-student, was a student union leader in his early days. Later as he inherited a patch of land and a good running family business after the demise of his father, he severed his ties with politics and is now a vocal critic of the dirty pits it has fallen into. Rajagopal Master, in his mind, thinks that it as a classic case of sour grapes as many of his colleagues from earlier times are walking the power corridors, milling great fortunes.   

"It seems the death toll will be anywhere near 4 million if the disaster strikes. Kerala will be torn into two halves and the commercial town Cochin will be below water. We are doomed for an eternity." Abu said. 

"Well, it seems the MPs from Kerala has met the PM and got assurance of some kind." Master told, remembering some snippet of news that he overheard the last day on TV, while channels were being changed faster than the pop up ads appearing with a 3G connection, during the eternal struggle between his son and wife to see channels of their choice. 

"No use Sir, Tamil Nadu politicians have strong hold in center, our guys won't be able to do much against them." Divakar replied in a rage of fury. 

By this time they had reached the tea shop and there also the discussion was on the impending disaster that may be caused by the rupture of the hundred year old dam. Appukkuttan, the librarian of the village library and one of the few computer literate members of the older generation was working overtime to spread the awareness among locals. He used to come up with at least five multicolored posters and slogans daily to upload on Facebook and other social networking sites and it will be a lie to claim that he does not get a perverted kind of pride and pleasure, when he gets likes and comments on them and when the best ones goes viral.

"Everyone has to dedicate their time for the cause, irrespective of  caste, class and religion. This is for the common good." Appukkuttan declared to general public. 

"Hm.. This is precisely the reason I told all of you during the last election time, to vote us into power. Then no one heeded. Now all of you will suffer for it. Historically only Left governments has stood against central government with a spine that is not bend. No use of complaining now." Sudhakaran the local Leftist leader commented in an uninterested tone.           

"Man, this is not the time for getting divided. We have to take this cause above politics. Yesterday also the CM of other state has declared that dam is safe and sound. Why should they care for the dam..? If it breaks they won't have anything to lose." Appukkuttan was furious. 

"Anna, don't forget that my village and hundreds of others like it gets water from that dam. If it is ruptures, there is going to be a severe drought that the world has never seen." That was the dissenting voice of Selvan, who had come there one decade ago as a laborer and got assimilated himself into the society in so much depth that it was the first time most of even thought of him as an outsider. 

"Master, what do you think of all this?" Raman Pilla asked  Rajagopalan Master, while keeping a hot glass of tea on his table. Now all heads turned towards Master, as he was known as a man of good judgement. Normally his arguments were never biased. 

"Hm..." Master sipped some tea, took his time to devour it and to frame his thoughts. Divakar was remembering that moment when he asked a particularly difficult doubt in mathematics class years before.

"I think you all remember the case of Laaly that happened some time back. She found herself in serious trouble when found herself pregnant without getting married. Well, the whole village knew she was into some funny business with that truck driver Ramanan. But when confronted he told outright that there is no chance that it is his, as he had taken all necessary precautions while they were, hm.. getting cozy. There were lot of mudslinging between them, which passed on to their families and in no time our entire community was divided in two. One group told that there is nothing wrong with Laaly and she is just making the whole story up for money. The other group blamed Ramanan for ditching the poor girl after committing to marry her. When things took a nasty turn all the elders gathered and decision was taken to get her examined medically and take a decision based on the result of that examination."

"But what is the connection between this long forgotten episode and the issue of dam?" Abu asked the doubt that lingered on every one's mind while hearing the monologue. 

"Well, this issue is also not different. Kerala claims that the dam is severely damaged and even a mild tremor can cause the rupture resulting in loss of lives. They want to built a new dam and decommission the old one.  Tamil Nadu asserts that there is no need to panic and the dam is strong still. They absolutely deny any claim by Kerala that there is a safety issue involved. Both the parties puts forward diametrically opposed statements as facts. The only sane way to end this argument is to make either parties agree for examining the dam by an impartial agency, the report of which will be agreed by both parties involved and take necessary steps to prevent any disaster before anything nasty happens, just like how we did in Laaly's case."  

Silence reigned. Master finished the tea, kept the cup on the table and rose to leave. All were pondering on the words that they just heard. 

"Master, finally what happened to Laaly..?" Abu whispered in Master's ears, thinking of all that interesting things he missed out while he was abroad...     

Saturday, November 26, 2011

V S Naipaul Travels Among The Believers

V S Naipaul, the famous Nobel lauraete and the one of the best English writer of our times (arguably), is a man who dwells in controversies thanks to his egotistical behavior and guts to call a spade as a spade. Decades before the militant stream of Islam became number one enemy of west, he had embarked on a seven month journey through four Asian Islamic nations. The time was when huge socio political changes were taking place in these countries. Naipaul chronicles them as he saw it in his book Among the Believers.

He starts his journey from Iran, just after Khomeini ousted the Shah through an Islamic Revolution. Though the outer world (read the west) felt that it is a release from the oppression, he senses it as the beginning of a new regime of religious oppression. This is evident from the suppressing of Communists who aided the removal of Shah from power.

Naipaul identifies the effort by fundamentalists to take back the country to conditions similar to the desert cities that gave birth to Islam- a kind of time travel using faith as its vehicle. It may be his colonial upbringing, Naipaul sees only the physical decay all over and is exasperated by the depleting influence of West in the lifestyle of Iran. Another of his complaint is that the rapid return to religious roots is taken with the help of technology, that he feels is Western world's monopoly. Naipaul seems is paradoxical that the struggle to become a desert tribe is made with the help of weapons, communication devices and vehicles that are, as per his view made and supplied by West. An anti western war using western technology!

What Naipaul does in his travels to other countries like Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia is to identify the movements that try to radicalize Islam and make it more unique and identifiable with the religion at its state of origin by imitating the Islamic Revolution in Iran. And he finds such movements in abundance. Naipaul shows some compassion to these movements unlike the disbelief with which he viewed the transitions in Iran under the rule of Khomeinis. He is pained by the efforts to eradicate or eliminate the effect of diverse cultures that contributed to the growth of Islam in its beginning stage in these countries. Like destructing the ancient Hindu linkage to Islam in Indonesia by disregarding the customs with Hindu roots in that region. He is more critical to Pakistan in this regards. 

The book succeeds in making the contemporary reader ponder about how it all might have started- 9/11 and the American war on terror. And that I believe is a significant achievement. Whatever you deduce about the ideological inclinations of the book Among the Believers, it is truly a very good travelogue. Naipaul's chronicling of environments and people inhabiting them in different countries is nothing short of magical. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review: The Habit of Winning

There was a time when I used to read a lot of self help literature. Almost for a couple of years they acquired a major part of my reading list. That was the time of self doubt, fear about future and the time to built up that much required confidence among chaos. And they served the purpose. At least some of them did. But then I grew tired of them, they all sound the same. Most of them lay out a program to create the path to success. Lot of theoretical statements, step by step procedures, complicated exercises, personality development techniques to built up an artificial surge of confidence... Once I had a discussion with a good friend about the use of such books and finally we arrived at the conclusion that, though we never tried to follow any of those success formulas they offered, we still had imbibed some of their positive advises which has helped us tremendously.

All these thoughts were running in my mind while I received the mail to review Prakash Iyer’s book The Habit of Winning for Blogadda’s book review program. Also to speak frankly, the terms Habit and Winning on the title was a big turnoff. There are scores of books with similar titles, many of which I had started and discarded even before completing a dozen pages. But then what captured my attention was the tagline “stories to inspire, motivate and unleash the winner within”. The word stories became the deciding factor and I put down my name also for consideration.

Now, after reading the book, in less than a day, with just two sittings, 150 pages yesterday and another 100 today, I feel I did the right thing. The book is much different from hundreds of similar self help titles inhabiting the shelves of book stores and libraries. It reminded me of the first self help book that I read- Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People. What made him different from other motivational writers is his emphasis on the principles. His argument was that unless we have a character built on strong principles there is no everlasting success. Prakash Iyer also gives emphasis on making the foundation right through building up of solid principles to make the way forward.    

Another strong point of this book is that unlike other titles, instead of making a course program with one step following another, the author tries to make the readers themselves to chart their journey to be a winner. I feel this is much effective than providing an instant formula for success, because here the reader will be able to think for themselves and individually apply different thoughts presented in the book to their lives using their own reason. Another benefit is that the commitment of reader will be for themselves. It will not get faltered as the reader himself try to find the way using the principles outlined as told by Mr R Gopalakrishnan in the foreword.

The book consists of eleven sections consisting of small chapters, nothing more than 5 pages. Each section deals with different steps that are required to live a healthy and successful life in harmony with surroundings. Chapters consist of stories and tidbits of wisdom that drives home the point to the reader. The stories, some of them taken from real life with real heroes in them and some from old parables are much effective in illustrating the point writer is trying to make. Prakash Iyer uses his experience of decades in sales to charter a motivating and enlightening journey for the reader.    

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at BlogAdda.com. Participate now to get free books!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Small Minds, Big Mouths...

Today I had a visitor in factory, Mr RR. Actually, he appears at least 2 times weekly. He is our machining vendor. Whenever there are any machining jobs that we cannot do in house, we delegate it to his company. Best thing is that he has most of the machines required by us and it saves lot of my following up time and he comes at least 50% cheap compared to other vendors. Today he had come to deliver some material. When he arrived, I was coming out of canteen having just finished my lunch. The moment I saw him, I asked him whether he had his lunch. I told him to immediately go to canteen and have it when he answered negatively.

Later he came, we discussed the things and I told him to wait in reception area as some paper work had to be finished. I took leave of him and was just moving to my work area, when the Security Supervisor came hurriedly towards me.

"Sir, from now on wards lunch won't be provided to visitors.." He told in a serious tone.

I was aghast. "But why?"

pic courtesy: zazzle.com
"Sir, there are lot of troubles when we provide lunch to them. Many times our boys are missing lunch. So this was a decision taken by HR and Finance managers. Today you should not have let RR have lunch."

"But I don't have any information on this sudden change of policy. And it is cheap to deny visitors their lunch."

"But I have noticed many times that Mr RR comes exactly at lunch time- between 1 to 2, and straight goes to canteen. This is happening from some time and we cannot allow this."

"Is this your observation?"

"Yes, and I have told the Finance Manager about this."

My blood boiled. "I will speak with the Manager. You can carry on."

RR was standing some 10 feet behind me. I was afraid that he might have overheard the conversation. The Security Supervisor had a sound similar to a locomotive engine. It will be a disgrace if he had heard it. I could not even look back due to shame.

I went straight to Finance Manager's chamber. Asked for some time of his and explained him what has happened.

"Sir, that guy RR is a vendor of ours. He has a factory of his own. He provides occupation for at least 8 workers there. He makes at least ten times more than what I get every month. He behaves to all of us, including the Security personnel, in a humble manner, with utmost respect because we are his customers. That does not give us any right to insult him like that. He arrives here in his own vehicle spending petrol worth at least Rs 500. According to that great watch man, it is for eating this free lunch worth Rs 20..."

FM, being a pacifier calmed me down with sweet words, promised necessary warning will be given to Supervisor and put all the blame on HR manager, as it usually happens.

Some people never see the big picture...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Why Shouldn't I Read Chetan Bhagat?

Recently I am finding much discussion and many articles on Chetan Bhagat and the kind of novels that he write. On one side there are his fan boys (and girls) who swear by him and would recommend him for the next Nobel prize if they had any say in the matter! On other side there are hard core literary enthusiasts who will never accept any one who writes in a language comprehensible to others as some one worth mentioning. And both sides are on an endless debate on the merits of CB, as the writer is affectionately called.

If you have been following Conscientious Reflections from some time, definitely you will be knowing I am no big fan of CB. And in many posts I have never missed a chance to take a dig on his populist writing style. In fact the only one novel of his that I read is The Three Mistakes of my Life, and I was of the opinion that it is nothing better than an average Bollywood movie story. My friends were of the opinion that I should try some of his better works, like Two States or Five Point Someone. The reason I never ventured above Three Mistakes is mentioned in one of the posts before. If I read a writer's book for the first time and I feel it was not worth the time spent on it, I will not try any of his other works. Not because I hate the writer, but when there are so many better books out there that cannot be read even in a lifetime, why to risk valuable time? (After reading his long and boring novel Insomnia, I never tried another one of Stephen King.)

No one can argue with the fact that CB is a phenomenal seller of books. His books, all paperback and priced competitively beats the competition by adopting a story telling style that is simple and pleasing to the mind. Most of his readership comprises of young, urban readers who has just become financially independent and just started the reading habit. (I know there are exceptions.) They relate to the plots in these novels, which are mostly everyday situations. So eventually what matters is Chetan Bhagat caters the need of a certain category of readers. I think no one can blame him for doing that. What is wrong if his books make a few thousands of people start a reading habit? At least a handful of them may graduate to a higher level of reading experience. If someone is not liking the kind of stuff he writes, they can always stop reading them. But no one can dictate that he should change his style just to cater their reading requirement. We all had read Enid Blyton or Chandamama during our childhood days. Now just because we have grown up, can we stop others from reading them? Won't it be absurd if instead of a humorous picture story, an article on stock trading appears on latest Archie comic?

To hard core CB fans, I have only this much to say, don't heed to any detractors. Enjoy reading what you feel like. But please keep in mind that there are many other delicious offerings out side the circle. Once in a while put on an adventure hat and go exploring. Check out Aravind Adiga on his White Tiger or Kiran Desai lamenting on the inheritance of loss. Spend some time exploring the life of Pi or of the midnight's children. Believe me, you will be delighted.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The other side of history...

The Other Side of History is a play directed by Prakash Belawadi, based on the play Hindi play Baaki Ithihaas by Badal Sircar staged at Rangashankara, Bangalore. 

It is a striking examination of middle class mentality. The main characters are a middle class husband and wife Sharad and Vasanti, both academics waiting for the big break. One day they read in newspaper about the suicidal death of a college professor, who was their acquaintance some time back. Vasanti, an aspiring writer, starts writing a story imagining  the reasons of  the professor. Sharad, after hearing her version of the story, does not feel it is right. He thinks of another story. Finally the dead man's ghost appears and narrates the real reason of his death. Sharad seems to identify himself with the plight of the dead man. 

The play make the spectator think about the plight of a common man, leading a common life, when lot of uncommon things happen around him. Violence, war and blood shed and all the unjust world, though seemingly not affecting him, causes ripples in the consciousness. A meaningful, well acted attempt, though not as gripping as it should have been.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Aldous Huxley's Brave new world: Classic Dystopia

Dystopia is the opposite of utopia. While latter is a world where everything is perfect, in a dystopian world oppression and control of individual freedom is the norm. Aldous Huxley's novel Brave New World is a fine example of a novel set in a dystopian world. The novel is set in future London where scientific progress has reached such a level that several important factors of human existence like religion, war, violence, disease and even reproduction has become obsolete. An outsider enters this paradise and feels it is a brave new world, just like Miranda who was raised in a lonely island in Shakespeare's The Tempest sees drunken antics of sailors and exclaims it is a brave new world. But a close examination makes him find the hollowness of the place.

In the World State all are happy. Everyone has jobs, there is no disease, no troubles, no need of a commitment to anyone, all are beautiful. Here kids are produced in factories. The classes in which they should belong is predetermined by chemically altering the brain development and they are raised that way, by employing several subtle suggestion methods. They don't even know about the possibility of moving to a higher caste in the hierarchy. Consumption of resources is encouraged to sustain the system. Momentary bouts of depression or unhappiness is cured by Soma, a mind altering drug without any side effects. Sex is recreational, solitude is a vice and love is unheard of. Marriage, relations and pregnancy is considered vulgar words. Outside of this world, in reserved forests are a tribe of people who still follows rituals from past, like marriage and family, following an amalgamation of religions. John the savage enters from this world into the State, which at first glance looks like paradise. But when he finds the facade behind the free life led by the people in this new world, he cannot adjust with it, causing havoc in his life and those around him. 

The last novel of Huxley that I read was Point Counterpoint. It was a large novel and tough to read because of the multitude of bizarre but relatable characters inhabiting it. But the characterization made the reading of it a pleasure. But Brave New World, though short and readable, gives no such pleasure. The people are more like cardboard cut-outs here. The long discussion sequences in Point Counterpoint makes one vary initially, but once you get the gist of the novel it becomes interesting. Brave New World also has some such moments, but discussions are more animated and dry. 

When a dystopian novel of such proportion is discussed, the other classic cannot be ignored- George Orwell's 1984. Orwell's dystopia causes pain to its people and thrives, but Huxley's makes them embrace pleasure and sustains itself by making them slaves of that unlimited pleasure. The system makes them slaves by creating a sense of wild freedom in them. The former can be toppled by a revolution, but to win over latter is next to impossible.    

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Delhi Noir: Dark Delhi Under Belly...

Noir in French means black. Noir is a movement that started in movies when the darker sides of human psyche was explored. The movement was in its prime in early 40's and characterized by melancholic characters succumbing to crime and violence in urban settings. Later versions of Noir movies came to be known as neo noir. Noir can take up any genre of movie making- crime, mystery, suspense, horror, sci-fi and even comedy with dark undertones. (One fine example of neo-noir that I watched is Billy bob Thornton movie The Man Who Wasn't There.) Later, noir became a genre in fiction and in comics. 

Delhi Noir is an anthology of short stories with noirish characters featuring Delhi as the backdrop and edited by Hirsh Sawhney. It is part of a Noir series of books published by Akashic Books with other titles including Seattle Noir, Istanbul Noir, Chicago Noir etc. The book contain 14 stories written by established and not- so- established writers, taking place in various places in and around the capital city. The book will be more appealing to those who are familiar with the city because each story happens in a well known area. The same time it may be appalling to the same people because it does not present a rosy picture of the capital. Those who felt Slumdog Millionaire was selling Mumbai's poverty may feel that Delhi Noir does that by portraying sleaze, crime and violence. Personally I feel a little introspection will do no harm. And if the shock provided by Delhi Noir helps in achieving it, then it serves the purpose. Another factor to keep in mind is that these stories are not trying to give a message, or trying to give a remedy to any social evil. They are just exploring the evil minds creating havoc in situations that we face in our every day life.     

As to the literary value of the stories, I would just tell that all fourteen of them are well readable and some of them, if not all, are spell binding. Most of them has a cheesy, on the face and crude approach of story telling characteristic to the genre. Violence, sleaze and gore are added in generous doses and at the same time at least some stories makes an effort to pry into the minds of protagonists, though it is not a necessity. Shock value, as I had mentioned before, plays a great role in the appeal of crime noirs, and most of the stories in this collection succeeds in catering to this need. Violence against women is an oft repeated theme in this collection. But I feel the title of Delhi as the rape capital fairly justifies it.  

This one is a good read for people who are fans of the genre and for Delhiites who would like to rediscover the darker sides of the city with which they are familiar.If you are put off by lack of any poetic justice in plot, or by excess of gore, crime, violence, sex and absence of a moral sense, better keep off.