Friday, June 26, 2009

Lift ke side effects

Anyone who's ever worked at Nariman Point knows that the elevators suck. It can easily take you 15-20 minutes to get from the ground floor to the desired point.

Well, the head of a company who has an office in one such building made an interesting observation today. He said and I quote:

"Ever since smoking was banned in public places you can't hang out just outside the office, or in the stairwell, and grab a smoke. You have to walk down and smoke outside the building."

(Not sure if even *that* is allowed but I guess there are fewer chances of getting into trouble)

"Well, the long and short of it is that with the lift situation being what it is, junta is forced to use the stairs. In the process, most smoking types have either lost a helluva lotta weight. Or simply cut down on smoking."

From half a pack a day they're down to 2-3 suttas - at least during working hours.

So in case you're wondering, the ban on smoking in public IS having an impact...

And the next time you cool your heels at Express Towers remember - the humble elevator is also playing its part!

Michael Jackson R.I.P.

Michael Jackson is dead. As far as I am concerned, the Michael Jackson I loved died a long time ago. What went on 25th June was just the pale shadow.

What was Michael's problem, you might wonder. He had talent, he had money, he had fame, he had fans. he had 'everything' most of us can only dream about.

The trouble was none of it mattered. Deep down inside, Michael hated himself.

That's why he underwent a zillion surgeries.
That's why he went wacko in many different ways.
That's why he was taking painkillers, on which it is believed he OD'ed.

The kind of pain he had though, could not be killed with any drug. Except love.

Self love.

As another singer who's also gone somewhat cuckoo in recent times once crooned, "Learning to love yourself... is the greatest love of all"!

Remember that! Stand in front of the mirror, look yourself in the eye and say it to yourself:"No matter what - I love you, as you are."

And say a prayer for Michael and the little boy inside him who spent a lifetime looking, for the 'King of Pop', to say those very words.

P.S. You might want to pick up a book called 'You can Heal your Life' by Louise Hay. It will help you look into that mirror... and believe what you're saying!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Stay Hungry crosses the 100,000 mark

I'm happy to share with you all a significant moment: my book 'Stay Hungry Stay Foolish' has crossed sales of 1 lakh copies!

To celebrate this occassion, the publishers - CIIE, IIM Ahmedabad - have organised an event in Bangalore on 2nd July. And you, dear readers, are cordially invited!

Date: Thursday, 2nd July 2009

The Venue: Spring Hall, Hotel Royal Orchid
1, Golf Avenue Adjoining KGA Golf Course
Off HAL Airport Road, Bengaluru 560 008

Time: 5- 7 pm

* Release of 100,000th copy of Stay Hungry Stay Foolish as well as the Kannada edition of the book

* Launch of the first CIIE Mentorship network in Bangalore city, spearheaded by IIMA alumni

* Opportunity to interact and network with alumni, business leaders and entrepreneurs.

IIM Bangalore director Pankaj Chandra and IIM Ahmedabad dean B H Jajoo will be present on the occasion. We're also expecting several of the entrepreneurs featured in the book, to be in attendance.

It is a weekday and early evening but I hope you are able to join us!
Pls do send me an RSVP at the earliest as we have limited seats :)

As always, drop me a line at rashmi_b at

P.S. I will be in Bangalore from Tue-Thu next week. Would be nice to meet some of you! Any students of IIM B? I will be @ yr campus on Jun 30.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Book review: 'Stranger to History'

'Who am I', is a question most of us ask at some point as we grow up. But after examining the evidence and experimenting with the 'other' we settle into the comfort of our cocoons. The family, community, religion of our birth.

A few, very few, have the unique position and privilege of belonging, and yet standing apart. And their quest for identity throws up questions that increase our understanding of the whole.

If you've read Barack Obama's 'Dreams from my father' - you know exactly what I mean. Aatish Taseer's 'Stranger to History' reminded me so much of that book - different locations, but similar circumstances!

Obama was born of an African father and white mother, and grew up with his grandparents in Hawaii.

Aatish was born of an Indian mother and Pakistani father, and grew up with his Sikh grandparents in Delhi.

Both fathers abandoned their sons at a very early age and were absent from their lives as they grew up.

Ultimately, each of them embarked on a journey to find out who they were; and in the process examined what it means to be black (Obama) and to be a Muslim (Taseer).

'Stranger to History' is sub-titled 'A Son's Journey through Islamic Lands' and that's exactly what it is. The story alternates between the 'son' discovering himself and Islam in its many forms.

The first 'big principle' Aatish discovers is that wherever he went, "there was some current of macho comradeship and familiarity" Never mind that he did not feel particularly Muslim, or even know the right way to pray. His name, and parentage were reason enough to be accepted by the faithful.

That belonging, or 'extra national' Islamic identity is a thread that runs through most of the book.

In fact, this project came about after an article Aatish wrote about second generation Pakistani radicals - born in Britain - who bombed London buses and trains in 2005. When he sent the article to his father, Taseer senior responded by saying that Aatish was doing his family name disservice by spreading 'anti-Muslim propaganda'.

"To me, the most interesting aspect of the letter: my father, whi drank Scotch every evening, never fasted or prayed, even ate pork... was offended as a Muslim by what I had written."

Doubtless, that sentence alone would have caused further embarassment to Salman Taseer, a prominent figure in Pakistan who is now serving as Governor General of the Punjab province!

But the question that journalist in Aatish is asking is this:"Am I Muslim because of my outward appearance and adherence to certain rules laid down in 6th century Arabia?" He seeks answers across lands and cultures...

The journey begins in Turkey, a country where Kemal Ataturk banished the fez, the veil, changed the script to Roman and ended the office of caliph in the early twentieth century.

But he finds that even in this Turkey there are now outposts where people have adopted Arabic dress and radical Islam. And young men like Abdullah who sincerely believe that "Muslims have to be at the top.. we have to determine all the things in the world, otherwise we won't be free ourselves."

From Istanbul Aatish goes to Syria, where there is no free press or intellectual life and under the watch of a fierce secret police,the mosque became the only place for people to congregate and discuss politics. He observes that important issues are raised from the mosque and then 'smothered in prayer'.

The Grand Mufti at Abu Nour seeks "to restore believers to a pure historical and political world order, free of incursions from the modern world". It's the same desire that prompts young radicals to bomb those London trains.

Aatish describes the sermons as "a long narrative of former greatness and defeat, reversible not through education, new ideas or progress but through closer attention to the letter of the Book". An example which would have been funny had it not been so... mindblowing is a man asking a priest if his wife is permitted to wear nailpolish.

"Expecting the answer to be no, he is surprised when the priest says that of course she can; why shouldn't she look beautiful? However, it is written that when she washes for prayer, the water must touch every part of her body, including her nails... So yes, she can wear nailpolish as long as she removes it every time she is at prayer: five times a day!"

Aatish then proceeds to Mecca where he completes the Haj, feeling like a 'fraud' and is 'found out' in a sense when at the House of God he is ticked off for wearing strings from various Sufi shrines in India. Islam, as defined by the Wahabbis, does not approve of that...

The most interesting part of the book is the time Aatish spends in Teheran. And especially in the context of the current unrest in that country, there are many insights.

In Iran, Aatish meets Muhammad Rahimi, an ITT Delhi graduate who enthusiastically participated in overthrowing the Shah of Iran. He was one of those who stormed the Iranian embassy in New Delhi and took the Ambassador hostage. But the whole night, people were drinking and partying - and the next day the same men were standing in a formal ceremony and reading from the Koran.

What kind of Islamic revolution was this? Muhammad was deeply disillusioned and decided to quit the idea of politics altogether.

"And you know what's worst? They burnt our libraries and books. They tried to kill Farsi!.. Textbooks are shortening the country's pre-Islamic history.. The youth of today are strangers to their history!"

It seems like Islam may have led a revlution but it could not win the hearts and minds of its people. "Have you seen the mosques?" says a young man called Amir."They're empty but for a few people and Basiji (militia of young Iranian men whom the regime uses to enforce religious morality)."

"If you look into their eyes, they seem like a different species. We call them Homo Islamicos."

Aatish observes that 'trifles' had become the instrument with which regimes sought to control their population. How you can dress, or eat, or whether or not you can party... And what's more the regime is completely corrupt so ultimately you can 'buy your lashes'!

Phew. From the Danish cartoons which set the Muslim world on fire, to the assasination of Benazir Bhutto, Aatish manages to experience it all. And transmit to the reader some thoughts, some ideas that linger.

"The world is richer in its hybrids', he concludes. If only religion-driven men and women of all faiths and hues realised that!

However the book is not an easy read... I think it's been heavily edited so as to not get the author in trouble because he prefers to quote others speaking, much of the time. Unlike Obama's memoir which was so much more personal, and touched me so deeply!

I also wish Aatish had desisted from showing off from time to time, by using very GRE word list type words! "Conflation', mala maayat nahi!

But I still recommend 'Stranger to History' for its braveness and its boldness. Writing about religion is a delicate and hazardous task; I think Aatish has managed it skilfully.

Lastly and quite irrelevantly, in a ruffian-sort-of-way, the guy is very good-looking. Half Pakistani-half Sikh is an explosive combination :)

Rs 495, Pan Macmillan (hope the paperback version is cheaper!)

P.S. There are multiple covers of this book. The pic featured with this review is not the one selling in India. Shall scan the Indian version and upload tomorrow!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Career query of the week

An offbeat one!

Hi Rashmi,

There seems to be a bit of a lack on information on the scope and employment opportunities after completing International Relations. Also, JNU and Jamia are the only known universities offering the course.

I have decided to prepare for its entrances for this year with no agenda whatsoever. I just like the subject. It would be great of you to throw some light on this field, possible career avenues as well as the best universities India and abroad. So far I can only see my option in foreign affairs journalism.


I can think of IFS/ IAS and a career as a professor, as possible outcomes. One could also work for a thinktank and/or a United Nations kind of post (but there must be some route to achieve that - an IR degree is just basic groundwork).

If you have any info which can shed some light on JSB's question, do share the same in the comments!

Quick Gun Tiffin Mum

For the last 5 years, I've led a life of luxury. No I don't own Cartier jewellery, yachts or a penthouse. I've had a live-in maid who has managed every single aspect of my domestic life.

Well, salad days are coming to an end as Lata ab hamare yahaan kuch hi mahinon ke mehmaan hai. Yup, she will soon leave to get married and start a new life. And a new life it will be for me as well.

Of course we will manage with part time help, a cook and so on and so forth. But one thing that I know I need to manage personally is my daughter's school lunch. Short break and long break - and you know what, I've decided to take it up as a challenge.

I have never been a 'traditional' mother. The kind the Apeejay school textbook in KG class described as 'looks after all of us while father goes to work'. (I kid you not, such a textbook exists and I have preserved it, for the record!)

The closest compliment I have received on cooking from my family is Nivedita writing an essay on 'Meri maa' where she remarks in sentence 5: "My mother makes very good salad". (Note - I do, actually, the kind which you see spread out in salad bars. But you see it's more of imaginative cutting and chopping, mixing and matching, than anything else :)

Actually I can cook but have never needed to or wanted to... but I think inside every woman there is a little voice which yearns to be known as the mom who makes the bestest cupcakes (can still remember the ones made by Geeta and Girija's mother in our colony!).

Refer the opening pages of Allison Pearson's 'I don't know how she does it' for further confirmation on that point.

So. I have decided to take up the Challenge of the Indian School Tiffin Box. This tiffin must be:

a) Tasty: And by this I mean the box should come home wiped clean.

b) Healthy: Fried and bazaar bought stuff won't make the grade.

c) Speedy: I will not spend more than 15 minutes preparing it. Which mom has more time than that?

Ideally, the lunch must look good as well :)

Now you might say we in India already have quite a bit of variety - from parathas to pulao to uttapam, idlis and poha. But here's the problem: Vast number of kids don't find it exciting enough. Remember the ad for Kissan jam where the mom runs after the child with a spoon - a lot of Indian homes see scenes like that!

My theory is that Indians go through a cyclical eating pattern:

a) V early childhood: Daal-chawal-roti-sabzi

b) Early childhood: First discovery of pizzas, burgers and emotional blackmail. Gradual descent into nutritional hell

c) Late childhood and adolescence: Discovery of more forbidden food (and drink), rejection of 'tiffin'.

d) Late teens/ 20s: Hostel and bachelor pad phase. New found respect for simple ghar ka khana.

e) Thirty +: Reverse snobbery, WILL stride into office with 5 storey tiffin box.Eat your hearts out - everyone. Mujhe to bhai aur koi khana suit hi nahin karta.

Anyhow, the long and short of it is that I have decided to put some energy into making exciting school lunches and 'short breaks'. Nawt everyday - but once in a week.

Don't worry, dear readers. I shall create a separate blog to showcase my culinary experiments... And record with honesty how they were received by Nivedita & friends.

Suggestions/ recipes from tiffin-makers (or eaters) welcome. Anyone who can help me figure out the calorie and nutrient value of my experiments - pls get in touch as well! As always, the id is rashmi_b at

May a thousand Buddhas smile upon my cooking :)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book review: Eat pray love

My brother sent me a copy of 'Eat Pray Love' on my birthday and I was like "No.......! I read that more than a year ago." But how would he know? Well, agar maine blog par uska review likh diya hota to... khabar yoon hi pahunch jaati.

So, for all those of you who may be thinking of buying me a book :) or well, looking for a good book to read, here are some of my favourites reads over the past one year.

Each book probably deserves a dedicated blogpost but I shall be less ambitious and give you mini-reviews instead.

1) Eat Pray Love: I fell in love with the cover of this book and ten minutes into it, with the book itself. The writer - Elizabeth Gilbert - is obviously very 'pahunchi hui' - both in the way she writes and the way she's lived her life.

In a nutshell: Elizabeth is a thirty something woman with an almost perfect life. But on a cold November morning she finds herself sobbing on her bathroom floor and hearing a voice in her head:"I don't want to be married anymore. I don't want to live in this big house. I don't want to have a baby."

And so she walks out on the husband and the apartment in Manhattan with 8 phone lines, the friends and the picinics and the parties.

"I had actively participated in every moment of the creation of this life - so why did I feel like none of it resembled me?"... The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying; the only thing more impossible than staying was leaving...

But then, God spoke to Liz. And it was not an Old Testament Hollywood Charlton Heston voice but her own voice, speaking from within. A voice she had never heard before.

"This was what my voice would sound like if I'd only ever experienced love and certainty in my life". The voice said:"Go back to bed, Liz"... Go back to bed so that, when the tempest comes you'll be strong enough to deal with it. And the tempest is coming very soon. But not tonight.

The author describes this as the beginning of a religious conversation:

"The first words of an open and exploratory dialogue that would, ultimately, bring me very close to God, indeed."

Three years after this conversation, having been through a messy divorce and failed love affair, Liz sets off on her 'search for everything' across Italy, India and Indonesia.

It's important to quote the 'religious conversation' bit, because although the book follows Elizabeth's journey across three countries it's not a travelogue. This is essentially a journey within.

The Italy portion is about the pursuit of pleasure - good food, good wine, good company. Because the body needs as much nourishment as the soul.

The India portion is about the pursuit of devotion - self mastery, enlightenment, all those very Himalayan things.

And Indonesia is about the pursuit of Balance. It's also the most "geewhiz, can this really be true" part of the book where Liz finds the love of her life. (Incidentally, the two are now 'happily married').

Okay. You either absolutely and completely connect with this book, or you put it down after 5 minutes. Women, those on a spiritual trip and anyone who admires ease of expression will find 'Eat Pray Love' unputdownable.

And despite that 'God' element rest assured it is not in the least bit heavy. This is a very simply and beautifully written book with extremely tiny chapters (108 of them). The logic being that 108 is the number of beads in the traditional japa mala. Concept, isn't it?

The author also endows the book with a sharp sense of humour, pithy cultural observations and loads of colourful characters. Starting from the Italian twins Giovanni and Dario to 'Richard from Texas' and Ketut Liyer - the Balinese healer.

And yet, the string running through it all is scathing self introspection and constant 'notes to myself'. A chick-lit version of 'My experiments with truth'!

One final selling point - reading the innermost thoughts and reflections of another human being is always comforting. Because you realise - "I am not alone".

Whether we will find 'Felipe' in this lifetime or not - is another story.

Coming soon: more reviews of books I've read recently and loved. Mini review likhte likhte full blog hi ho gaya... Must do justice after all :)

Related reads: Eat Pray Love fan blog

Elizabeth Gilbert's official website

An interesting bit if trivia:
Elizabeth Gilbert's GQ memoir about her bartending years became the movie Coyote Ugly. And Eat Pray Love is also being made into a major motion picture - with Julia Roberts in the lead role!

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Note to myself

It takes 12 years on an average to develop a new drug. We started in 2000 and nine years later, I still do not know if we will succeed. So mine could be a wasted life, completely. But what an amazing challenge to try and understand this mystery called the human body.

- Dr Swati Piramal, director of Piramal Healthcare speaking to Nadine Kresiberger in the Indian Express today.

Words which ring so true but alas most of us can't - or don't wish to - get the message. Decode Swati's soundbyte and the general formula goes thus:

Find something you love and then pursue it.
Don't constantly hanker for results - they will come.
But meanwhile, enjoy the journey.
Because that's all you have, in this moment!

Besides, once you reach that goal, there's another one waiting to be achieved. Which makes 'happiness' an illusion ever out of reach. Like Waiting for Godot.

But hey, TV par philosophy kaise jhaadoon? People make wrong choices in life and then want practical solutions on how to leap from one career into another with no pain, no risk, no sweat at all.

So this week on my show 'Stay Hungry', I had a 29 year old MNC employee who thinks his salvation lies in supply chain management. (Why - just!)

A young engineer who went into journalism and one year later is preparing to attack CAT with a view to joining MICA. (But why, journalism mein kya kami hai, I say!)

And most interestingly, a professor of Persian from Aligarh who now wants to get into "professional line". (As if teaching is menial!)

Then, being admissions season this is that time of year when folks write to me with Qs like:

Can you suggest which of the following course is better at Symbosis, Pune
C) BSc- Economics: started recently.

I say 'better' or 'worse' by what yardstick? If I hate IT then options a) and b) will suck for me - no matter what. Why, oh why, is that not obvious?

As an expert I can at best shine a light down a pathway or two but the real power lies when you navigate the jungle of life. Using the compass that lies within each of us.

It's really that simple.

And here's a tip for all those who wail but "I don't know, I don't know what I like". Hell, you don't.

But you do know what you DON'T like. List that down and make sure you are not entering that field of study. Believe me, no degree is as valuable as the application of mind and heart that you bring to the table.

To sum up the 'note to myself' for this season of admissions and decisions: Trust your instincts.

If your mind is confused and unsettled, listen to your body. If your hands go cold, your head feels heavy or your stomach wobbles - it means NO WAY JOSE.

Now go out there and conquer the world!

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