June 27, 2014


What is here is found elsewhere,
What is not here is nowhere.
- Mahabharata I.56. 34-35
In 2013, I got an opportunity to read the following four books on Mahabharata along with countless online posts and articles.

  • Jaya : An illustrated Retelling of the Mahabharata by Devdutt Pattnaik
  • The Difficulty of Being Good - On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das
  • Yuganta - The End of an Epoch by Iravati Karve
  • Ajaya by Anand Neelakantan 

Mahabharata is an extremely complex treatise on humans and relationships. Rules when reinforced in one chapter are broken in the very next one. Tolerance being espoused in one context is totally frowned upon in the other. By the end of it, you are pretty much confused, for the subject does not clearly lay down rules for the common man to follow. Unlike in Ramayana, where Ram clearly follows the 'rules'(dharma), Mahabharata is scattered with characters who are imperfect in their own and also in the larger moral ecosystem. A quick jab on Ramayana here is that Ram who is supposed to be 'mariyada-purushottam' is frowned upon when he leaves Sita in the forest. The context has to be understood. That, Ram leaves Sita in the forest for he does not want his wife to live with a tainted tag with him. Though he can live with Sita as-is, his love for Sita is visible when he states that he cannot see his 'praja' question him on this subject. 

Lord Krishna in one context wherein he advises Arjuna on the righteous path of dharma and truthfullness, also directs Bhima to attack Duryodhana under the belt. Many of these sacrosanct beliefs have been hushed under the carpet of Dharma. The common man does not understand the concept of Dharma with so much vagary as in the context of Mahabharata. The confusion is only built up more when you read different perspectives by different authors. But this confusion with different perspectives should be actually understood and appreciated and reflected upon more.

Dharma in its simplest definition is :
"One should never do to another what one regards as injurious to oneself. This, in brief is the law of Dharma" - Mahabharata XVIII.113.8

As Gurcharan Das states,
The political ideology of Mahabharata rejects both the amorality of Duryodhana as well as the idealistic position of the earlier Yudhisthira in exile.  
The epics tentative world of moral haziness is closer to our experience as ordinary human beings in contrast to the certainty of the fundamentalist. Its dizzyingly plural perspectives are a nice antidote to the narrow and rigid positions that surround us amidst the hypertrophied rhetoric of the early 21st century.
It is not dharma or right conduct that the Mahabharata seems to teach, but the 'subtle' nature of dharma - its infinite subtlety, its incalculable calculus of consequences , its endless delicacy
In the present world, wherein there is a fad to label themselves as a 'rebel' and give up everything and go to the Himalayas, Mahabharata defines "Nishkama Karma" and states that life is not about going to the Himalayas, but about living self-effacingly in the world like Bhishma.

Ajaya by Anand Neelakantan is an extremely potent book for I have not heard of many other books who treat the subject from Kaurava's view point. The author lays a very strong foundation and the questions asked by Suyodhana and his moral rigmarole make a very interesting talking point. Highlighting Suyodhana as a lover of romance is something that no other author has tried so far. Ajaya is not a book if you are new to Mahabharata for it can lead to a very wrong impression of the treatise - DO NOT read it if you do not know the story of Mahabharata.

Claiming that I have become wiser by reading these books would be a joke as I have just started my path towards 'Understanding' the values implied in each of these treatises. One needs experience coupled with theoretical knowledge to gain higher echelons. And I am happy that I just started scratching the surface with these readings. The question is not if I am going to reach my destination , but the path itself is challenging to me.

To quote GD again, Mahabharata is a continuing repository of crisis in the public discourse of classical India.

June 19, 2014

Book Review : Dalit Millionaires

Dalit Millionaires by Milind Khandekar

(Book Review was published in the Business World Magazine Dated 30-June-2014)

Success is not served in a platter. One has to work hard and stumble on numerous hurdles and overcome them, before one sees the light of the day. Though this is ‘global-gyaan’ in almost all the management and self-help books on entrepreneurship,  the problems are exacerbated if one belongs to an under privileged class in a country like India with a diverse community set. Bring together the life stories of successpreneurs from such an underprivileged class and what you get is similar to Milind Khandekar's 'Dalit Millionaires' - a collage of 15 Dalit entrepreneurs who have carved their own niche in the society by becoming millionaires and leading their own business empires.

Probably the best symbolism of the success can be seen in the very first chapter on Ashok Khade who owns two pens - one which he bought 30 years back for Rs.3.50 and the Montblanc pen that he owns now for Rs.80,000. The protagonists in each of the chapters recount their own struggles with the 'system' and how they have sometimes benefited and how most of the times their resolve has been their biggest asset which has led them to bigger glories during their journey of life. Be it the 'Food King' Sarath Babu who had to lie to hide his poverty or Devjibhai Makwana who couldn’t buy a plot of land due to the discrimination that he had to face in the society or Savitaben Parmar, who sold half-burnt coals from cloth mills to support her family but is now known as Savitaben Koylawallah to whole of Gujarat, ‘hard work’ is an ingredient that each of our Dalit Heroes keep referring to when asked about their ‘success mantra’.

The story of Kalpana Saroj is probably the most captivating as she sprouts back to life from a suicide attempt after being married off at 12 and harassed by her in-laws, and then almost trampled over in the busy Bombay, was on the cross-hairs of the gangsters, but now owns Kamani Tubes Ltd. Women in The ability of the phoenix to come back to life from its own ashes is a repeating theme in all these stories.

The author is careful enough to point out that, of the 15, only 3 or 4 have benefited from the reservation in place during admissions into the academic institutions or getting a job. And follows it up by saying that almost all the heroes benefited only post-1991, that is the era of liberalization when our economy was opened up for the world market. Though the latter observation is interesting, but is questionable and is probably out-of-place.

The author has interviewed all the heroes at the end of the chapters with the same set of 10 generic questions. The book is an easy read for all those who are thinking of starting something of their own. The author has a small recipe at the end of the book which will help you ponder on your abilities and also some of the processes that needs to be adhered to.

Overall, the book is a quick and easy read and it’s best to read one chapter at a time and relive the lives of the protagonists in each of the chapters. The world of business and entrepreneurship truly honors these heroes.

The book has been translated by Dr.Vandana.R.Singh and Reenu Talwar from Hindi book by the same author titled 'Dalit Karodpati'.

June 01, 2014

Top-5 Videos Watched in May-2014

(In no specific ranking order)

1. Admiral Bill McRaven's Commencement Speech at University of Texas at Austin 

U.S. Navy Admiral and University of Texas at Austin alumnus Bill McRaven returned to his alma mater last week to give seniors 10 lessons from basic SEAL training when he spoke at the school's commencement. McRaven - the commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command and organized the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

Do not mistake this as just another 'commencement talk'; if India respected our soldiers and had the notion of 'commencement speeches' in our colleges, then am sure we would be hearing some of the best experiences from our borders, but till then, lets resort to the most developed nation doing the honors.

2. Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) at IBM Connect 2014 
On the topic of success, based on his new book: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big.

Cartoonists are the new self-help gurus/motivational speakers with no sugar-coating and full of sense.

3. Simon Sinek: Why Leaders Eat Last

Why are leaders so so awsum? And why you should know the difference between 'leadership' and 'leader' and 'authority'.

4. 'What-If' by Randall Munroe (of xkcd)

Web cartoonist Randall Munroe answers simple what-if questions ("what if you hit a baseball moving at the speed of light?") using math, physics, logic and deadpan humor. In this charming talk, a reader's question about Google's data warehouse leads Munroe down a circuitous path to a hilariously over-detailed answer.

Something that many of us lack : Curiosity, Power of imagination and rational thought-processes.

5. Mike Monteiro - How Designers Destroyed the World

Profanity that makes so much sense! A must-watch for all 'makers', 'creators', 'innovators', 'designers' etc.

Bonus video:
Alberto Cairo(author of 'The Functional Art') , at Tapestry-2014, hits hard at the present day world of journalism and data-visualization.