Friday, July 21, 2017

Two Saints by Arun Shourie

Speculations Around and About Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharishi 

The life of Ramakrishna Paramahamsa ‘enables us to see God face to face’, Gandhiji wrote. 
Similarly, when someone in his circle was distraught, the Mahatma sent him to spend time at the Ashram of Ramana Maharshi. 
Such was their stature and influence.

The Paramahamsa and the Maharshi have been among the greatest spiritual figures of our country. 

They have transformed the lives of and have been a solace to millions. Moreover, in our tradition, words of such mystics are regarded as conclusive.
They have evidentiary status: if they say there is a soul, there is; if they say there is life-after-death or reincarnation, there is. 
Their peak, mystic experience is what we yearn to have, even just once.

But what if several of the experiences they had - the feeling that someone higher is present next to them, the feeling that they are floating above their body, looking down at it; the ‘near-death experience’; the ecstasy; the visions - occur in other circumstances also? 

Should we think again about their experiences when these occur as points in the brain are stimulated with an electrode during surgery? 
What if they can be recreated in a laboratory non-invasively? When they occur to ordinary persons placed in extraordinary circumstances?

Did the experiences occur from some ailment? 

As was alleged in the case of Sri Ramakrishna? 
From some ‘madness’, which he feared he had? 
From the fits that Sri Ramana said he used to have?

What of the experiences of devotees? 

Seeing the Master where he wasn’t? 
Seeing the Master, feeling his presence, after he had passed away? 
Are these hallucinations?
Or do they testify to the Master’s divinity? 
How would conclusions about their experiences affect their teaching? 
That the world and everything in it is ‘unreal’?

In the light of their pristine example, how should we view and what should we do about the godmen and gurus who control vast financial and real estate empires today, to whom lakhs flock? 

Are they the saints they set themselves up to be or just marketers?

With the diligence and painstaking research that mark all his work, Arun Shourie probes these questions in the light of the recent breath-taking advances in neuroscience, as well as psychology and sociology. 

The result is a book of remarkable rigour: an examination - and ultimately reconciliation - of science and faith as also of seemingly antagonistic, irreconcilable worldviews.

[Book Description Source: ]

Goodreads Rating - 3.8 out of 5 ( 10 Ratings , 1 Review  - As on July 20 2017)
My Rating  3 out of 5
My Comments:A rather convincing scientific explanation of the mystic experiences of the two saints - Sri Ramakrishna and Sri Ramana Maharshi -  without doubting their sincerity and the solace they brought to their countless devotees. 
The explanation is supported by very scholarly and dry details of the neurological studies conducted on the mind by various scientists.
 Unless read with an open mind, this book may hurt the sentiments of some hard-core devotees of these saints.
I would have rated this book higher if only the narration was more interesting and understandable. 
I found it rather boring and abstruse in many sections. 
Inspite of this shortcoming, I would recommend this book to everyone who are curious to know why mystical experiences happen in some people.

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Thursday, July 20, 2017

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth

Vikram Seth's novel is, at its core, a love story: the tale of Lata's--and her mother, Mrs. Rupa Mehra's--attempts to find a suitable boy for Lata, through love or through exacting maternal appraisal. 
Set in the early 1950s in an India newly independent and struggling through a time of crisis, A Suitable Boy takes us into the richly imagined world of four large extended families and spins a compulsively readable tale of their lives and loves. 
A sweeping panoramic portrait of a complex, multiethnic society in flux, A Suitable Boy remains the story of ordinary people caught up in a web of love and ambition, humor and sadness, prejudice and reconciliation, the most delicate social etiquette and the most appalling violence.

[Book Description Source: ]

 The book covers an engaging story that is set in the post-independence India. 
The story unfolds through four middle class families—Mehras, Kapoors, Khans and Chatterjis. 
It also describes India's caste system that has four main classes, which are further based originally on personality, profession and birth.
However, the main plot of the novel revolves around Lata Mehra, a university student, who is under pressure of her mother Rupa and brother Arun for getting married. 
Her family is looking for a ‘suitable boy’ who could meet the standards set by her family.
The novel highlights how marriage in India becomes a family affair, where all members of a family play considerable parts.
It also focuses on typical problems that were faced by India soon after independence. 
Some of the major issues mentioned in the book are tensions between Hindus and Muslims, empowerment of women and the zamindari system.
Divided into 19 parts, each chapter in the book is about different characters which keep inter-relating the stories and, at last reach, to one conclusion. 
The author has beautifully explained and intertwined the lives of all the characters in an extraordinary manner.
Regarded as one of the classic examples of Indian Literature in English, A Suitable Boy, at around 1500 pages, remains to be one of the lengthiest novels ever published in English language in a single volume.
 [Book Description]

Goodreads Rating - 3.97 out of 5 ( 35,300 Ratings , 1702 Reviews  - As on July 20 2017)
My Rating  4 out of 5
My Comments:Most probably the longest book I have ever read in my life (almost 1500 pages). Yet it kept me hooked throughout. Not a single boring moment.
An excellent portrayal of the characters from educated middle-class families, set in the times of newly independent India.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Made to Stick - Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Why Some Ideas Take Hold and Others Come Unstuck 
What is that makes urban myths so persistent but many everyday truths so eminently forgettable? 
How do newspapers set about ensuring that their headlines make you want to read on? 
And why do we remember complicated stories but not complicated facts?
In the course of over ten years of study, Chip and Dan Heath have established what it is that determines whether particular ideas or stories stick in our minds or not, and "Made to Stick" is the fascinating outcome of their painstaking research.
Packed full of case histories and thought-provoking anecdotes, it shows, among other things, how one Australian scientist convinced the world he'd discovered the cause of stomach ulcers by drinking a glass filled with bacteria, how a gifted sports reporter got people to watch a football match by showing them the outside of the stadium, and how high-concept pitches such as 'Jaws on a spaceship' ("Alien") and 'Die Hard on a bus' ("Speed") convince movie executives to invest vast sums of money in a project on the basis of almost no information. 
Entertaining and informative by turns, this is a fascinating and multi-faceted account of a key area of human behavior. 
At the same time, by showing how we can all use such cleverly devised strategies as the 'Velcro Theory of Memory' and 'curiosity gaps', it offers superbly practical insights, setting out principles we all can adopt to make sure that we get our ideas across effectively.

[Book Description Source: ]

Goodreads Rating - 3.97 out of 5 ( 47,747 Ratings , 1954 Reviews  - As on July 18 2017)
My Rating  3 out of 5
My Comments:Interesting content and narrative that bring awareness regarding what to do to make our ideas and messages stick. But it  falls short of describing how to make them stick through Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional Stories. The book has more of anecdotal content than specific techniques. However it provides a fairly decent launchpad to develop sticky communications.

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Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Art of Social Media - Guy Kawasaki & Peg Fitzpatrick

Power Tips for Power Users
By now it's clear that whether you're promoting a business, a product, or yourself, social media is near the top of what determines your success or failure.
And there are countless pundits, authors, and consultants eager to advise you. B
ut there’s no one quite like Guy Kawasaki, the legendary former chief evangelist for Apple and one of the pioneers of business blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Tumbling, and much, much more. 

Now Guy has teamed up with Peg Fitzpatrick, who he says is the best social-media person he’s ever met, to offer The Art of Social Media—the one essential guide you need to get the most bang for your time, effort, and money.

With over one hundred practical tips, tricks, and insights, Guy and Peg present a bottom-up strategy to produce a focused, thorough, and compelling presence on the most popular social-media platforms. 
They guide you through steps to build your foundation, amass your digital assets, optimize your profile, attract more followers, and effectively integrate social media and blogging.

For beginners overwhelmed by too many choices as well as seasoned professionals eager to improve their game, The Art of Social Media is full of tactics that have been proven to work in the real world. Or as Guy puts it, “great stuff, no fluff.”
[Book Description Source: ]

Goodreads Rating - 3.7 out of 5 ( 1,559 Ratings , 274 Reviews  - As on July 16 2017)
My Rating  2 out of 5
My Comments:  Considering the fact that Guy Kawasaki is one of the authors, I had expected more from this book. I was rather disappointed. 
Though there are a few good tips here and there on the whole the book was just not up to the mark. 
An OK sort of book which can quickly become outdated in the fast changing social media world.

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Friday, July 7, 2017

A Guide to Fort St. George by Sriram V.

The oldest Anglican church east of the Suez, the first British inscription in India, the tallest flagstaff in the country and the only surviving national flag among those hoisted all over India on August 15, 1947,
These are but some of the treasures that Fort St. George, Chennai, holds within its precincts.
This is a guide that tells the visitor what to look for in this citadel, and where.
[Description Source: Back cover of the book]

Goodreads Rating - 3 out of 5 ( 1 Ratings , 0 Reviews  - As on July 7 2017)
My Rating 3 out of 5
My Comments: Quite interesting. A handy book to take along when you visit Fort St. George ,Chennai.

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