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Posts tagged ‘Books’

The Tempest – Singapore Act

Kudos to Sam Mendes & the traveling cast of The Bridge Project.

Singapore is one of the 7 cities to be stricken by The Tempest. If you are or were ever into Shakespeare, watch it! Watch it for creative, insightful direction by Sam Mendes (of the American Beauty fame). Watch it for a mind-blowing performance by Ron Cephas Jones as Caliban. Watch it for Prospero’s ardor, Miranda’s innocence, Ariel’s fragility, Trinculo’s humor, Gonzalo’s frailness. Watch it for the love of theatre.

In exploring the Shakespearean themes of betrayal, love, power, wisdom, sacrifice, forgiveness & magic, The Bridge Project team did every bit of justice (and more) to the written version of the play. The actors breathe life into the characters with oodles of imagination & emotions, backed by stunning sets, and an apt selection of sounds & music.

“These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air,
And, like the baseless fabric of vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with sleep.”

Read a complete review of The Tempest. To see or not to see is not a question :)

Many Lives, Many Masters

Whether or not you believe in science, this is one book that’s bound to give you food for thought.

manylivesmanymasters

Penned by a psychiatrist, Dr Brian Weiss, Many masters, many lives is what he claims to be the true story of one of his patients. Catherine, a young girl troubled by inexplicable phobias, seeks his help, and when typical psychiatric treatments don’t bare results, he resorts to the rarely used practice of hypnosis. What follows is plain bizarre. In her hypnotic state, Catherine appears to visit her past lives, reincarnations of herself in varied geographical locations and time periods. Often, Catherine reaches an in-between stage, where she’s dead but not reincarnated yet, and she communicates to the doctor the messages of highly evolved spirits (called the Masters), including personal details from his own life.

I know it sounds like the plot of some psychological thriller, and as I re-read it, even the highly predictable story-line of a horror Hindi movie. But that’s the beauty of it – what you believe is completely your choice. At one point, I passed it off as a self-help book in disguise, one that will make you feel more aware about life and why it throws what it throws at us.

What makes me think though, is why there are barely any conspiracy theories about what might have happened in Dr Weiss’ office. The book was first published in 1995. There are tapes which recorded the hypnosis sessions, there are psychiatrists who have reviewed the treatment, and if anything, Dr Weiss has abandoned his practice to teach fellow psychiatrists the art and benefits of hypnosis. It sure makes me wonder; if we are to buy that life and death are really the way the book defines them, it will undoubtedly put into perspective everything else we have believed thus far. It’s a matter of faith, yes, but the ideas the book puts forth have an uncanny similarity to Hindu ideologies. For instance, it affirms the entire cycle of life, karma, death and rebirth. I must confess that the book tempted me to abandon my recently acquired nihilistic stance, at least briefly.

If you have ever questioned life and the after-life, pick up a copy and read it. There can be no firm evidence for or against the book, because as google says of the topic, all evidence is anecdotal. It sure however, is an enticing case to brood upon.

Of this & that

This is not a comeback post.

Pledge: I have decided to stop blaming my work-life imbalance, fleeting weekends, social obligations, and deadened-by-work-thought flow for my persistent inactivity in the blogosphere. I hereby pledge to revive my blogging life.

061229_will_blog_for_food

Awards: This one is long due. Thanks to Aadil for awarding me The Lemonade Blog award, and to Valerine & Varun for the International Bloggers Community award. I hereby pass these awards to ThethoughtfultrainManchitra & Jayesh for their comforting presence in the blogosphere.

lemonade-blog-award1ibc award

Corporate  woes: I dedicate this to all my fellow-mates in the corporate jungle. Cheers to survival!

Mini book review: Tin Fish, a book about an adolescent’s boarding school life, post the emergency period in India. It’s a walk down memory lane, a back-to-the-basics lesson in friendship, and a breezy read to momentarily transport you from the complexities of adulthood. (Author – Sudeep Chakravarty)

Advice: I have been aching to learn something new, something radically different. Any advice, besides a language, an instrument & a sport? Lately, I have also been fantasizing about freelance writing. Any tips?

Poetry at its finest

While reading The Motorycle Diaries, I came across this hauntingly beautiful poem written by Otero Silva, a Venezuelan poet and novelist born in 1908:

I heard splashing on the boat
her bare feet
And sensed in our faces
the hungry dusk
My heart swaying between her
and the street, the road
I don’t know where I found the strength
to free myself from her eyes
to slip from her arms
She stayed, crying through rain and glass
clouded with grief and tears
She stayed, unable to cry
Wait! I will come
walking with you.

Keep Off The grass

I finally found, read and loved a book that hasn’t been extensively reviewed (yet) on the blogosphere! If you aren’t already enticed by the title, get a load of this: an Indian investment banker on Wall Street, born and brought up in the US, decides to quit his million dollar job to go to India to find his roots. He enrolls himself at IIM (Indian Institute of Management) Bangalore, and what ensues is a hillarious chase of answers, grades and weed. 

Keep off the grass - Karan Bajaj

Keep off the grass - Karan Bajaj

Obviously, the IIM turns out to be completely different from typical B-schools in the US and elsewhere. Samrat Ratan, the protagonist, once a Yale valedictorian and a big-shot banker, is pitted against the super-brained IITians from the country, only to discover that mediocrity has its own virtues. His constant struggle between his American upbringing and Indian roots initially finds no solace in the rat-race of grades and jobs, until he realizes that relationships are what really matter. 

In his quest for happiness, Samrat meets Sarkar and Vinod, the former an incredibly smart guy with not a care in the world, the latter an army officer who lived through the Kargil war. Sarkar’s is a very enticing, twisted character, never without marijuana, alcohol and smokes, and with a simple, life philosophy on wasting away:

I think suffering is the fate of the human soul, and in its acceptance is happiness. Really, why wouldn’t there be suffering when death is the only real certainty in life? It’s like trying to enjoy a movie when you already know the climax, and a sad one at that. I guess this inevitablility of doom is the reason why there is an unknown vacuum in all of us, a vague sense of dissatisfaction. [...] Somewhere in IIT, I think I figured out that I would embrace the doom, in a slow, deliberate destruction. Kind of like a moth slowly flirting with the flame instead of being surprised when it is thrust into it by an unknown force.”

The IIM adventure is complete with a prison-stay, a stint in the hinterlands of India, a freaky experience with hermits in Benaras and a meditation course in the Himalayas.  Of course, each adventure is tripled by getting stoned on endless joints, and in his defence, Sarkar has a rather valid argument:

“I smoke it in protest man – Marijuana exists naturally as a plant . Who is the government to ban God’s creation? It’s like me wanting to make potatoes illegal because I don’t like their taste.”

Karan Bajaj, the author, a BCG management consultant and an ex-P&G brand manager, did a fantastic job of bringing to life the atmosphere of B-school in India. I must admit that I got so absorbed into the book, I forgot for sometime that it was only well-crafted fiction. There is no dirth of wit, humor, sarcasm and irony on any page.

If you’ve forgotten what it’s like to be a student, or if you’re looking for something to make you laugh out loud, this is the book for you! Get your copy and tell me how you like it.

Teacher Man

Frank McCourt has given a new dimension to teaching in this non-fictional account. He writes about teaching and learning and teaching to learn and learning to teach.

McCourt’s journey is rooted in Ireland, from where he seeks to rise in the minds and hearts of the students in New York’s public schools, through his unconventional, inspiring approach to teaching. As he explores his own identity, he accepts that teachers don’t have all the answers, and that is only human. His creative writing class reads and sings cooking recipes, his English class discusses Little Bo Peep!

Even when we don’t relate to the Irish life or the NY adolescents, we end up becoming a part of the Teacher Man phenomenon. The racy, decryptable writing makes you belong in McCourt’s classes. His humble, inquisitive approach to teaching makes you want to learn, as though it comes from choice and not force.

Great teaching, great writing and very inspirational. If you’re a student, it will give you a new perspective on learning. If you’re a teacher, you’ll want to follow in McCourt’s footsteps. If you’re neither, you’ll want to become either one. Go read it, while I try to get my hands on Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis.

RIP Frank McCourt aka Teacher Man [20th July, 09].

The 3 best graduation speeches

Words can be ‘weapons’ of mass inspiration, especially when the right ones are found at the right moments, moments which tend to define the rest of our lives. The following three graduation speeches inspire me most as I prepare to undertake the journey that lies ahead.

One. Steve Jobs, the creator of Apple, to the Class of 2005 at Stanford.

Two. Chetan Bhagat, an IIT grad and the author of Five Point Someone, at Symbiosis (India) Convocation 2008.

Good Morning everyone and thank you for giving me this chance to speak to you. This day is about you. You, who have come to this college, leaving the comfort of your homes (or in some cases discomfort), to become something in your life. I am sure you are excited. There are few days in human life when one is truly elated. The first day in college is one of them. When you were getting ready today, you felt a tingling in your stomach. What would the auditorium be like, what would the teachers be like, who are my new classmates – there is so much to be curious about. I call this excitement, the spark within you that makes you feel truly alive today. Today I am going to talk about keeping the spark shining. Or to put it another way, how to be happy most, if not all the time.

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Is college education over-rated?

As a graduating student, I’m starting to question the purpose of a college education. Is a ‘degree’ really worth all the money, time and effort? Do we really learn what they think we do, does it really prepare us for the big, bad world? 

I doubt it. After 3 years in college and counting, I have started to doubt that I learnt anything ‘real’ at all in college. I’ve learnt so much more outside of classes and outside of college, and that is probably complimentary to growing older. So when I consider college in isolation, I’m not convinced it’s a value-add.

I found the following video on youtube. It’s so brilliantly made and clearly illustrates the point that I’m struggling to make.

Maybe it’s just me, but spending close to 3.5 years in such a grade-centric environment has almost killed my belief in education, staggered my creativity and made me reconsider any ambition for further education. It never occurred to me that in college, everyone will be running a politically correct race for grades, with all else shut out and sealed in a box. 

In fact, the closest I have come to being inspired in college is when my Advertising professor flashed a slide in his first class, with the following message:

“Good day. I rarely give A-pluses, and I rarely give Fs. However, if you work hard enough, either is possible. I, however, wouldn’t recommend you work that hard to get that A+. It really isn’t that important. Please, focus on the things that are really important. Spend energy on your other courses. Do your extra-curricular activities. Drink. Get your hangovers. Skip classes to squeeze in that Bangkok trip. Come late after breaks so that you don’t waste that cigarette. Do what you are supposed to do – enjoy your life as an undergraduate. And if I ever catch you attending my every class and giving that much effort such that I just have to give you an A+, son, you won the battle but you lost the fricking war.”

Apparently, my prof found the above on one of his ex-student’s blog, who praying that some day, some professor would start some class with such a brilliant message. I can’t exactly say that the rest of the course adhered to the words, but well, it was quite a start!

The pseudo-economist in me doesn’t like to sit still. Actually, the Signaling Model clearly supports my anti-college approach. It is well acknowledged that the returns to college education are definitely higher than those received by a high school graduate. However, economists are still testing if the differences arise due to a difference in productivity at the two levels or merely because of the signal that a college graduate has higher potential (even though his productivity might be equivalent to that of a high school grad). A signaling-styled college education can be proven by studying the returns to education (in a pure monetary sense) during the years spent in earning a college degree. For instance, if you are paid substantially higher for every year that you stay in college, chances are that a college stint is believed to be a productivity enhancer in a profession. Similarly, if a person who drops out of college midway is paid the same amount as a high school grad, it implies that college education is only a signal. 

The graph above demonstrates the ‘Sheep-Skin Effect.’ It is the bump in earnings which results from finishing college, or in this case, finishing e* years of education. This graph also shows that education is only a signal, and does not enhance productivity. A person who finishes college (e*) receives higher returns, than someone who maybe drops out at the beginning of his third year (just before e*). 

As of now, economists believe the productivity : signaling ratio of education to be 66 : 33. Personally, I believe it’s more skewed toward the latter.

So yeah, since big bucks were never my focus, I’m not so proud of becoming a college graduate soon, after all.

The Last Lecture

I suppose we all have our notion of how we’ll confront death, when the time comes. Carnegie Mellon (CMU) created a platform for its professors to imagine such a confrontation and gave us the invaluable gift of Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. CMU’s tradition asks professors to imagine the end of their lives and address graduating students, sharing with them their philosophy of life and what they might have done differently if they could do it again. For CMU’s computer science professor, Randy Pausch, things were a little more real. He was diagnosed with cancer and given a few months to live. His Last Lecture was indeed his last. 

Randy’s lecture was a keepsake. It did the rounds online and became one of the most inspiring, most viewed videos on youtube [The Last Lecture, view here].

 “Under the rouse of giving an academic lecture, I was trying to put myself in a bottle that would one day wash up on the beach for my children. If I were a painter,  I would have painted for them. If I were a musician, I would have composed music. But I am a lecturer. So I lectured.” – Randy Pausch.

It convinced Randy to write a book too, entitled The Last Lecture.

The Last Lecture takes you through a swift journey of Randy’s life. It inspires you to dream big, mend relationships and live happy. It makes you smile, wonder and believe. Saying your goodbyes, leaving behind three little kids and your life partner, dying, cannot be easy. But Randy is enthused with optimism, more than can be expected of someone in his situation. Instead of wallowing in self pity, instead of blaming and cursing creation, Randy is happy he lived a fulfilling life, found love, and was fortunate enough to get an advance notice on the end of his life. The book leaves you a part of Randy’s life and his family, a part of you that dies with him. If there ever is a true story of bravery and courage, ordinary yet very special, this is it. A book that can move you to tears and gratitude. An evaluation of your own life. 

Whether you’re a student, a parent or a professor, or very simply, an adult, The Last Lecture will give you a whole new perspective on life. I promise.

Thanks Randy. I hope you have found your peace.

Into The Wild

Have you ever let fear deter rebellion, possibilities confine dreams or conformity define life? If yes, Christopher McCandless is probably the greatest inspiration you can find; he is the epitome of courage and bravery, an incredible example of a person who can dare to live exactly the way he wants, unaffected by all things human.

In 1990, McCandless, 22, graduated from Emory University, donated his Harvard college fund to charity, and set out to explore the wilderness of the American West, harboring a dream of an “Alaskan odyssey”. A follower of Tolstoy and Thoreau, he chose of a life of isolation and asceticism. In the book, Jon Krakauer follows McCandless’ journey into the wild, and lends this true account his own expertise as an avid mountain climber. Often contrasting McCandless to other adventurers, Jon Krakauer glorifies, objectively, the boy, his life, his dreams and his conquests. During his travels before his self-imposed solitude in Fairbanks, Alaska, McCandless befriended strangers time and again and left an indelible mark on their lives. Again, through his heart-wrenching story, McCandless will touch so many, many more.

Unlike the movie, the book does not detail McCandless’ story chronologically. It digresses often, to draw instances from the lives of other Alaskan wanderers and the author’s own, include snippets of conversations with the people who knew / met McCandless, and quote often from McCandless’ own personal library, the passages he highlighted in his books. It is a personal, touching, inspiring, amazing, impressionable account that will live in your mind for a long time to come.

Rest In Peace, Christopher McCandless alias Alexander Supertramp.

Quotes from Into The Wild:

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future…The joy of our life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” – In a letter from McCandless to a guy he befriended before he set out for Alaska.

“If the day and night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragnance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal, – that is your success.” – From a passage highlighted in Thoraeu’s writings with McCandless.

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