Monday, March 12, 2018

BookMarks #37: The Audacity of Hope

Title: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Author: Barack Obama
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Politics
Published: 2006

“The Audacity of Hope” was written by Barack Obama when he was a Senator in USA. 

The book is partly autobiographical and partly a political manifesto. We learn about Obama’s family, his childhood, his education, his political beliefs, his election battles, the society around him as he grew up. But they are not presented in a chronological manner. What we get instead is a discourse about Obama’s beliefs and ideas. And interspersed in these sections are glimpses of the future president’s past. 

The book does read like an election manifesto. And why not, just three months after the publication, he announced his candidacy for US President which he went on to win. The book gives us a glimpse of Obama’s philosophy and outlook towards America and the rest of the world. 

A Quote I liked - “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”. Something the perpetrators of fake news and convoluted history forwards should keep in mind.

Let’s say it was a welcome change to read about somebody talking about bringing a change to the world in a positive way. Especially after having recently read Fire & Fury – about another American President.

Previously on BookMarks: Innovate or Evaporate 

Monday, March 05, 2018

BookMarks #36: Innovate or Evaporate

Title: Innovate or Evaporate 
Author: Sunil Gupta 
Genre: Non-fiction, Self-Help, Management 
Published: 2008 

“Innovate or Evaporate” is an example of the “self-help” books which generally end up being “shelf-help” type! However, it is a light read and I managed to finish the volume in a couple of sessions. The way little nuggets of knowledge have been interspersed throughout the book make it a fun read. 

Following are my takeaways from reading this book are: 
  • “Sin is geographical”. A simple statement, yet carrying a lot of weight. The world is not homogeneous, acceptability varies with situation and location. Something to always keep in mind. That’s why the old adage, “When in Rome...”. 
  • Expanding onto the same point, we do not see the world as it is but we see it as we are, as a reflection of our own selves. That is why perspective matters. 
  • Having a scientific temper is the key to acquiring knowledge. As the author says, Knowledge is created by the learner, not given by the teacher. It goes onto quote Kipling, “I keep six honest serving men. They taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When and How and Where and Who.” Having a temperament to question everything – an essential necessity in this age of of WhatsApp forwards. 
On the subject of Creative Thinking and Ideation 
  • Ideas can come from anywhere. We do need to keep an open mind to all types of possibilities. As the wise Rafiki said “look beyond what you see”. Great examples of keeping a mind open to ideas – the shape of the benzene molecule coming from Friedrich Kekule having a dream of a serpent eating its own tail. 
  • Any thought which has been “thunk” needs to be noted down and then modified and expanded into a proper shape. Breaking down thoughts without losing focus of the bigger picture is the key to getting a proper idea. Asking the right questions and correctly framing the problem statement is the first step. After all, as saying goes, Well begun is half done! 
  • But always keep your mind open to options. As the author says nothing is more dangerous than an idea when it is the only one we have. 
  • And most importantly to mature an idea follow the Nike principle – Just DO IT - Define Open Identify Transform! (Me had to end with the acronym, given how they are in vogue in the nation’s political speeches). 
Previously on BookMarks – Predictions 2018

Saturday, March 03, 2018

BookMarks #35: Predictions 2018

Title: Predictions 2018: Froth and Frustration 
Published By: Thomson Reuters
Genre: Current Affairs
Published: 2018

Making predictions about world affairs in these increasingly crazy and uncertain times is not easy. We are living in world of rapid Global Warming while parts of Europe are freezing! But its human nature to attempt to predict and anticipate the future - reason why every newspaper has the astrology section!

Predictions 2018 is a compilation made by Thomson Reuters on likely scenarios affecting the world in this year. However they are more generic in nature and just give likelihood of events which could shape the world. But in my humble opinion, the events which can be predicted have only a minor effect, it is the Black Swan events which really alter our world.

The predictions covered are more economic and technology focused rather than the political ones. Which is a more accurate reflection of the current times and an increasingly inter-connected world. After all technology boosts changes faster aided by the right economics while politics mostly tries to maintain status quo! The predictions cover a variety of subjects - Cryptocurrencies, commodity prices, economic policies of Trump & Xi, the next steps for the tech giants, trade wars and potential impacts and potential regime changes. However, the book only describes potential scenarios but doesn't detail out their possible impacts. Actually a smart move!

Its a short and succinct read on the subjects which could shape our future.

Previously on BookMarks: Fire and Fury

P.S. 2017 edition of Predictions.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

BookMarks #34: Fire And Fury

Title: Fire And Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Author: Michael Wolff
Genre: Non-Fiction, Politics, Contemporary History
Setting: White House, Washington D.C, USA in the year 2017

Presenting the “inside” story of the events at the White House post the election of Donald Trump as the President of United States.

The byline of the book is misleading as the book is less about Trump and more about his ex-Chief Strategist Steve Bannon. The narration is from Bannon’s perspective, from his taking control of the Trump campaign, his rivals in the President’s inner circle and ultimately his departure/firing. The book ends with what seems like an announcement for Steve Bannon’s own presidential campaign for 2020.

Lots of gossip is presented about the inner circle of the White House and the many comings and goings in the President's staff. It also portrays quite an unflattering picture of Trump and his family. Well, that's to be expected, given that it is based on interviews conducted with a fired employee.

If the book is to be believed, Trump and his team did not expect to win the election and thus had no preparation for its aftermath! And now they are bumbling along while as Trump tries to become “presidential” while those around him try to figure what is going on in his head and how to make him focus on the important work!

“It is going to be as wild as shit” – an apt closing line of the book which is presented as a mix of gossip and facts. Or what president Trump would call “Fake News”.

Previously on BookMarks – Nikola Tesla 

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Republic Day Parade

26th January - Republic Day. Celebrated across India as the day when the Constitution of India came to force. The highlight of the day is the Republic Day Parade broadcast live from Rajpath, New Delhi. And it is also something which I make it a point to watch. This year decided to capture some notes and thoughts while watching the nearly three hour long telecast of the Parade.

Republic Day is probably one of the very few occasions when the TRPs of DD-National reach the sky, even in the homes with cable TV. And with good reason too, as the parade, a showcase of India's military might and cultural heritage, is also a visual treat. Or as the Doordarshan anchors keep on refraining - a विहंगम दृश्य। A phrase which has been going on from time immemorial!

The telecast has patriotic music running in the background throughout. One of the more popular songs is the AR Rahman version of Vande Mataram, nowadays played more frequently than Bankim Chandra's version, our National Song! "Saare Jahaan se Accha Hindustan Hamara" is played almost throughout the telecast, either as background or by many of the marching bands. Don't think there has been a greater irony than the fact that its author Iqbal is also the man who conceptualized Pakistan! Opinions do change with time! Or the fact that the song was originally composed in Urdu - a language which many extremists would deem anti-national these days!

Before the Parade, the dignitaries pay tributes at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at the India Gate. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was added in 1971 as a tribute to the unknown soldier who died fighting for the country. While the India Gate was built by the British to commemorate the soldiers who died during the First World War. And has names of those soldiers inscribed on it. The British may have left, but many of their symbols remain, including the sense of pomp and ceremony. 

The President's Bodyguards - India's most elite force is still a cavalry regiment, in this day and time! After all, somethings never change! Also the Presidential Chair has Ashok Chakra embossed (noticed it for the first time today). And coming to the Chief Guests - why call ten Heads of State at one go? And if you are calling them, do they all become Chief Guests or Guests of Honour (Important Question)?

The most sombre part of the ceremony is the gallantry awards being given posthumously to the family members. Pride and sadness all mixed together.

And now for the actual parade, a set of important questions and observations:
  • Are the missiles and other equipment on display the real thing or just models? And if it is the real thing, wouldn't they be better utilized for bolstering our defenses?
  • The marching contingents and their bands, all moving in unison, present a splendid sight, a truly विहंगम दृश्य.
  • We have a camel mounted regiment, which also has its own camel mounted band. Wonder which regiment would want to march just behind them given that the camels would hog all the limelight as well as dirty the roads!
  • And then come the tableaus depicting our cultural heritage. I liked the Madhya Pradesh tableau, which had a kid taking a selfie in front of Sanchi Stupa - a true blend of the ancient and the modern.
  • Also, quite a few tableaus depicted Buddhist imagery. Probably a nod to the ASEAN countries who were the Chief Guests for today's Parade. Also Buddhism is Indian tourism's biggest selling point.
  • The Bravery Award winners come riding in open-top jeeps. I liked it more when they were brought on elephants!
  • And finally the highlight of the show, the daredevil motorcycle riders! And this year this was an all-women contingent of bikers !
In all, a great show. But also a reminder of what India can truly become if we try to make it as the one promised in our Civics text-books!

P.S. The Twitter thread of my live-tweeting!

Monday, January 15, 2018

BookMarks #33: Nikola Tesla

Title: Nikola Tesla
Author: Sean Patrick
Genre: Biography
Setting: Late 19th & early 20th Century USA
Published: 2013

A short biography of Nikola Tesla.

The book’s byline says: “Imagination and the Man that invented the 20th Century”. And true to this premise this is a book in two parts - a biography inside another book. It tries to define what is a genius, how imagination plays a role in shaping a genius and then uses the life of Nikola Tesla as an example of a genius.

My key takeaways – Tesla lead an interesting but lonely life, wherein his genius was not fully appreciated by those around. His genius also led him to big battles with another contemporary great Edison, in whose firm he worked. “Battle of the Currents” seems an interesting subject to explore further. 

JP Morgan’s acts in the book seem to be the very caricature of a ruthless banker!

Also, the World’s Columbian Exposition of Chicago in 1893 seems to have been quite a remarkable event. And not just for the speech by Swami Vivekananda! 

And finally, its high time that all textbooks remove Marconi as the inventor of radio. There are too many claimants. As per this book, Tesla was one. And as every Indian believes so was J C Bose. Inventions, discoveries and patents are a complicated mix!

Overall, a short good book which makes one question the conventional knowledge and makes one explore further.

Previously on BookMarks – The Shoemaker and the Elves 

Monday, January 08, 2018

BookMarks #32: The Shoemaker and the Elves

Title: The Shoemaker and the Elves
Author: Jacob Grimm & Wilhelm Grimm 
Genre: Fiction, Fairytale, Children
Setting: Germany
Published: 1812

A shoemaker lands in troubled times when a cheap shoe seller sets up shop. His fortunes change as he receives help from the elves.

A very simplistic tale of how good can overcome evil but can have deeper interpretations also. It also has lessons in free market dynamics, issue of quality and price, and finally captive labour and slavery. But it is best enjoyed just as a simple fairy tale!

On further reading found that there are many versions of this faorytale (not unlike our great myths!), with each version following the broad guidelines as above.

Previously on BookMarks: The Bestseller 

Friday, January 05, 2018

BookMarks #31: The Bestseller

Title: The Bestseller
Author: Ajitabha Bose
Genre: Fiction, Romance, Pocket Book
Setting: India, Contemporary
Published: 2017

Boy gets a job, meets a girl, they fall in love, get married, and then tragedy strikes their blissful life. Boy fulfills girl's dreams.

The byline says - India's Smallest Love Story. The book, or rather a mini-novel, is really small and very pacy. It is a potpourri of emotions packed in a small helping. Each chapter moves fast and yet is also detailed. And we reach the end. Hardly takes 15 minutes to finish it. Perfect for your commute. 

Also, provided a welcome change from the meandering style of George RR Martin!

Previously on BookMarks - A Dance With Dragons

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Goodbye Twenty17

Its time when calendars are changed. As we begin another year, its time to take a step back and look at the year gone by, before the madcap pace of life catches up.

The Year MMXVII A.D. was quite an eventful one. The signs were there at the very beginning. At the stroke of the midnight hour, as the world celebrated and cheered the arrival of a new year, me ran helter-skelter hunting for the Uber which would take me home from the airport. A home which during the course of the year had a change of address as well. Guess, those early moments set up the tone for the year, which was filled with lots of commuting! Flights, Taxis, Buses, Trains - long and short and many!

The commuting time increased. To pass it, cultivated new hobbies, like catching Pokemon on the roads. But after some time, the attraction wore off and it was just a drain on the battery. Then discovered the Raj Comics App for reliving those childhood memories. And finally moved on YouTube lectures – benefits of a 4G connection and a longer commute.

The travel map expanded quite a bit and was also filled with loads of history lessons. There was the first ever European trip into Italy – the land of pizza, football, gelato and Christianity! Also travels to Ajanta, Ellora and Rajasthan. Every trip adding more items into the “bucket list” than the ones being checked off. Also, the more I learnt, the more I realized that like Jon Snow, I know nothing about the world! 

Had decided to post one picture on Instagram everyday. It was only in early June when the streak broke. Maybe this year. All this travel has ensured that there is no dearth of pictures to be posted!

Reading is something which I would want to do more, but somehow seem unable to! Reading speeds have drastically reduced! Although did manage to complete the entire series of A Song of Ice and Fire. Best book that I read this year, would be Sapiens. Certainly a book which makes you think of your own position as a human being in this world.

New Experiences – trying different food items, catching the setting Sun over the sea, spending a day selling pottery at an Arts festival, exploring different cities on foot, walking the high-rope, somehow surviving a major wardrobe malfunction with least embarrassment, a long rain-drenched return from work as the city got flooded, tea at a tapri in the cold morning, and closing out the year with a bonfire.

So onward to 2018, which has already had a crazy start. Looking forward to learning more and staying happy and healthy!

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

2017: The Year Gone By

How do you remember the year gone by? Especially a year like 2017 which was an amalgamation of events with “fake news” and “alternate facts”! So as we step into 2018, why not take a look back at some of the happenings & non-happenings to remember the year gone by

1. News Grabber-in-Chief of the Year 
The one and only Donald Trump who declared war on basically everyone (except his trusted friend Vladimir Putin). He was always in headlines, as befits his position as POTUS, but almost always for the wrong reasons – began by quoting Bane in his inaugural speech, calling Meryl Streep (an 18 time Oscar nominee) an over-rated actor, fighting with the news broadcasters, having skirmishes with nearly all government agencies, engaging in Twitter battles, and a war of words with Kim Jong Un (where barbs included “madman”, “dotage”, responding with “fire & fury” etc.). There was no way, you could keep him out of the news.

2. New Arrival of the Year
Zealandia - the 8th Continent: We always thought New Zealand was a bit different, with more sheep than humans. Also probably why Peter Jackson, chose that country as the setting for Middle Earth. Now we got confirmation that it is indeed a separate continent altogether. Well, schoolkids will now have to remember one more name in their geography classes.

3. The Comeback Kids
Both maybe on the wrong side of 30 and recovering from multiple aches and pains but Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal shared all the 4 Grand Slams in the year, while their rivals lost their way. No one seemed a bit unhappy about it though (maybe except the male singles Tennis players). And if the average fan was happy seeing them together on the court facing each other, Imagine the happiness when they played doubles together! (video). May they take the rivalry to new heights in 2018 as well. And just for fun, a video of them reciting Kipling’s If.

4. Word of the Year 
We have two contenders: Covfefe - an accident by Trump and Farrago – a rant from an irate Shashi Tharoor. Both trended and generated lots of memes. Personally I prefer farrago as it is a very good example of a rodomontade. 

5. Self-goal of the Year
There was an epic secrecy exercise carried by HBO to prevent spoilers and leakages of its “piece de resistance” – Game of Thrones. But hackers still managed to get some access and threatened to leak scripts and scenes of unreleased episodes. Till.... HBO accidentally leaked one of the episodes prior to telecast! 

6. The Indestructible
To the list of indestructible items we have a new addition - Salvador Dali’s moustache. The artist’s body was exhumed for a DNA test and after 28 years of being buried, the famous Dali moustache was still intact!

7. A New Citizenship Category
Saudi Arabia now has a robot citizen – by the name Sophia. It was a year in which Saudis were in the news for unusual reasons – the Vision 2030 document, women being allowed to drive, permitted to enter stadiums, reopening of theaters etc. But giving citizenship to a robot certainly takes the cake.

8. Whats in a Name?
Ask the World Taekwondo Federation who changed their name to World Taekwondo. Reason to ensure that there are no negative connotations with its initials which matched with one of the most popular slang expressions of modern times!

9. Battle of the Year
Soldiers of two most populous countries of the world locked in a standoff in a cold terrain, both countries loaded with nuclear weapons. And the soldiers engage in a fistfight and throwing stones at each other! We might be in the 21st century A.D., but thankfully the armies brawled like they were in 21st century B.C.!

10.Viral Song of the Year
Despacito – which took over as the most played video on YouTube. Have no clue of the lyrics (remember Gangnam Style), but the music is fun

So that was 2017. Wishing all readers a very Happy 2018!