Saturday, December 28, 2013

Do you have a Bloody Good Book in you?

An invitation to first time authors

Many of you write to me, asking for advice on how to get published. Often you say, “I have a manuscript but I don’t know who to send it to.” Or, “I have sent my manuscript to 5 publishers but there is no response.”

At these times, I remember how lucky I have been to get a break in this industry. And I truly and deeply feel that I must help budding authors out there do the same.

But how? I have thought about it for a long time and have finally decided that the only way to do it is to create a new platform. A platform whose purpose is to select, publish and promote the most promising new authors.

The author whose work makes you exclaim: “It’s a ‘bloody good book!”

‘Bloody Good Book’ (BGB) is a new concept in publishing. Traditional publishers employ a small group of high-minded editors, who sit at a desk or in a conference room and decide which book makes the cut. This method may be traditional, but more often than not it doesn’t work well.

For instance, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was famously rejected by 12 publishers, and the 13th only picked it up because his 8-year-old daughter insisted, “Dad, this is so much better than anything else!”

And that’s the chance we are giving all of you. A chance to read manuscripts with a fresh and enthusiastic eye, and spot real talent.

Here’s how it will work:

1. Authors upload their manuscripts on (exclusively, for a period of 6 months).
2. The first 3 chapters of these manuscripts will be displayed on the site for readers to rate and comment on.
3. We will review the top 10 books of the month and aim to select 1 book every month to publish in the electronic format.
4. BGB will undertake the editing, proof-reading, cover design and all other such aspects of the selected book in order to give it the ‘professional’ touch.
5. BGB will also represent these books on the author’s behalf to print publishers.

Advantages to the author:
1. BGB will publish a minimum of 6 and a maximum of 12 books in a year. If your book is selected, it means it’s ‘bloody good’.
2. Your manuscript will attract a better deal from a print publisher if it can demonstrate popularity with potential readers.
3. Print publishers do not understand the eBook world. EBooks is BGB’s whole and sole focus; we will move heaven and earth to excel in it.
4. Even if your manuscript is not in the top 10, or selected for publication, you will receive honest and valuable feedback on how to improve your work.
5. ‘Bloody Good Book’ is an idea by an author, for the benefit of authors. We will never shortchange you; the author’s best interest will always come first.

Advantages to readers:
1. You get a say in what gets published—it’s more democratic and fair.
2. You could be the one who spots the Next Big Talent.
3. There will frequently be some goodies like author-signed books and chats with well-known authors for you.
4. You will be part of a like-minded community, which loves books and spreads the reading bug.
3. At the end of it all, you just might get inspired to start writing a book of your own!
So what do you have to do? Send me your manuscript. I am looking for the first 100 manuscripts which will launch

The manuscript must be in doc or pdf form and be a complete manuscript (although we will display only the first 3 chapters).
My team and I will lightly screen the manuscripts (making sure they are original, for instance) and suggest some minor improvements, if necessary.

Email your manuscripts/ comments / suggestions to
The website will launch in February 2014.

From next week, I will be sharing advice on writing, publishing and promoting your book in this space. So keep coming back! And keep the faith in your writing project.

Our FB page:

Our blog:

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Shudh Desi Filmmaking - 3.5 stars

Last night I went to watch ‘Shudh Desi Romance’ for only one reason: writer Jaideep Sahni.

And I wasn’t disappointed. This is not your average Bollywood film.

‘Shudh Desi Romance’ (SDR) is fresh and different and not just at a superficial level. It’s a portrayal of a new India where young people change boyfriends and girlfriends the way they change their mobile phones.

Look around and you can see this India all around you. Yet, our movies and serials continue to portray the India we want to perpetuate. The India of chachis, fufis, shaadis and baaraatis. As if you can be carefree and crazy for just the pre-marital phase of life and then happily ‘settle down’.

Yeh poore India ko bas ‘settlement’ ki padi hai”, grumble Sushant Singh Rajput in the opening sequence of the film. You betcha.

Marriage is an industry, it’s a business opportunity, it’s the only legitimate entertainment India has. Khao, peeo, naacho, paise udaao – something to plan for, something to live for. And yeah, one hapless boy and girl get Fevicol-ed in public. Courts will ensure haishaa kar ke bhi todna mushkil hai.

Leave aside the few who marry out of deep desire to spend their lives with another human being and raise a family. The majority are entering marriage without thought, without clarity. Ladki achchi dikhti hai, chalo kar lo. Ladke ki family achchi hai, okay! Baad mein kya hoga? Adjust ho jayenge.

After all, har ek adjust ho jaata hai. How difficult can it be?

Believe me, it’s getting more and more difficult. I know of two cases in my extended family where the marriage has crumbled after less than two years. An arranged marriage, with all taam-jhaam, no expense spared. The reason, I believe, is simple. Girls are getting educated, they are working, they aren’t willing to take shit from their in-laws and husbands. And of course, threshold of tolerance on both sides is extremely low.

Coming back to SDR. Imagine a film where the characters keep attending weddings but no one actually gets married. There is a love triangle but no hero fighting to win the girl’s hand (instead there are two girls and one hero, and they don’t fight either). Women actually make choices.

Gayatri (Parineeti Chopra) lives alone, far from her family. She is a working girl who experiments with love and life.

Tara (Vaani Kapoor) is an orphan but not a bechari. She is also cool as a cucumber in any situation (which is unreal at times but okay – maybe effect of Art of Living or something!)

Raghuram (Sushant Singh Rajput) is a good-for-nothing. Yet he has not one but two hot girls chasing him. I think this is the point that most people in the audience could not digest.

But hello, there are guys like this – girls fall for them all the time, especially in school. Later in life, I suppose such boys are rejected as they are not ‘marriage material’. But once girls are independent, earning, capable of supporting themselves – do they need to marry only for practical reasons?

You can get attracted to a good for nothing, have a fling and move on. Or, even marry him – if you really want to. Because after all, it’s your life.

You will not 'settle' and lead the life Ekta Kapoor has planned for you.

Things that worked in this film: the acting of both girls & Rishi Kapoor, the dialogues (listen carefully), the setting (Jaipur city works very well for the story!). Lot of attention to detail. Toilet joke without toilet humour.

What could have been better: The songs (just okay). A bit too idealistic (all 3 characters have no pressure from parents or relatives – makes it much too simple). Chemistry between the characters (could have been better).

The first half is fast-paced and interesting, the second half drags. But I absolutely agree with the ending. Overall, I give the film 3.5 stars.

I think this movie is too radical for some to accept. But I hope enough people see it so that more such films get made. Or, we will get ‘Kochi Express’, ‘London Express’ – old stories in shiny new wrappers. Is that what we want or is that what we deserve?

I know we aren’t easy to please but Shudh Desi Filmmakers, please lagey raho.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Celebrating the Teacher-Entrepreneur

In response to my post The Teacher's New Clothes several readers wrote in to share how extraordinary teachers impacted their lives. Today being Teacher's Day it's appropriate for me to share their recollections of those who worked within the many limitations of our education system, yet somehow rose about it.

I have retained the original testimony, although in some cases lengthy. Because it gives a glimpse into the qualities that a good teacher can imbibe, in order to become 'great'.

1. Akash Arora writes about Dr. Rajesh Kumar (Principal of - District Institute of Education & Training - Pitampura DIET during session 2009-11)

Khasiyat- His personality and way of speaking is so unique and effective – his words really affected my mind. One thing which I really liked about him is that he always connects education with spirituality.

I remember a few lines he said to us: “Whatever knowledge you will inculcate in your students - God will give you reward for that. Spiritually this thing is called Karma which comes back to us. On the other hand, if we don't teach them effectively and they (students) adopt any bad habits or attitude then surely you will earn negative karma for that.”

Dr Kumar is now teaching at DIET Daryaganj, Delhi and can be contacted at

2. Devang Nanavati writes about Dr. Jagdish V Dave, , Former Head and Professor, Dept. of English, Bhavnagar University & North Gujarat University, Gujarat (1994-1996

Khasiyat: In-depth knowledge of the subject, always prepared to solve queries with detailed explanation. Always positive about receiving questions. Total involvement while teaching and full of enthusiasm.

Always insistent about original text-based learning,class notes and healthy discussion on various topics chosen from the syllabus.

Enjoyed total freedom from the time frames of the formal time-table system. Sometimes talked for 2 hrs, sometimes 3 hrs- depending upon his mood and that days' tuning with the class. Offering inspirational content knowingly/unknowingly by sharing personal experiences some times.

Honesty about his own short comings.

Also interacted with students outside the classroom - may drop in at my home and accept my invitation for dinner very easily. He would communicate with my family members with a deep concern for my future. encourage me in presence of my parents. I used to drop in at his place practically at any time and he would receive us with fatherly love and offer us self made tea.

Never talked with anyone around him in a superior tone. never insulted a student for any damn reason.

Fought for justice against any top authorities of the university /other bureaucratic set ups.

Note: Since 2000, our education system has adopted many changes- so far as teaching methods, content, class room situations, responsibilities/ expectations/ stress level of the teachers and students/exam and evaluation systems/ criteria of the assessment of teachers- are concerned. In this context, producing such a teacher is also a challenge for the new system. Yet, how to come out of any situation and become an ideal teacher remains a personal challenge for any individual.

3) Dilip Barad also writes about Prof. Jagdishchandra V. Dave.

“I recall Dr Dave’s spirited talks, full of enthusiasm which did not allow us to budge (physically as well as mentally) from our seats for hours and hours. His wide reading, understanding, knowledge . His gentleness as human beings made us humble & caring for fellow classmates and students .

Dr Dave is now retired and not on facebook etc. But his students are still in touch via phone.

4) Abhas Disawal writes about Dr. Kalyana Sundaram (Head, Department of Self Development and Department of Ideas ,Vishwakarma Institute of technology, Pune )

I have been fortunate enough to experience a handful of teachers in new clothes throughout my academics. Today at the brink of graduation , when I recollect the people who have actually helped to bring out an engineer in me , Dr. K Sundaram is the first one. I worked under him for 1 academic year ( Aug '11 to May '12).

He founded ‘Department of Ideas’. To reveal him, one needs to enter the premises of Department of Ideas. He undertakes at least a dozen new projects every year ,have a look at some:
-Apple shelf life detector.
-Micro leakage measurement for tooth.(Made by my group)
-Automated bhajji (Potato wada) making machine.
-Foldable Helmet
- Telescopic tower
-Coconut water content detector
-Watermelon sweetness detector
- Artificially ripened mango detector....and the list continues.

The best part is to work under him. He has enormous power to convince and motivate. He doesn't give solutions, rather he motivates the students to find their own. Though the projects he takes up sound weird, at the same time students realize the significance of innovation.
His project ideas can be compared to a new business venture. You don't know whether it'll work, how to reach there, capital needed, what you just know is the concept. He leaves you with this small idea just to make you realize that you yourself are at stake. This helps one use his mind and ideas start coming up. He is there to be consulted always-everywhere, on cell, sms, email, in his cabin (even till 10 pm), in class or in the college lawns as you see. :)

Dr. Sundaram is still in service at VIT, Pune. Students can contact him at
(The attachment is a pic when he taught us on college lawns when no classroom was available.)

5. Paras Shah talks about Dr Rohit Trivedi who taught Marketing management, Research, Entrepreneurship during my MBA at V.M.Patel Institute of Management., Ganpat University, Kherva, Gujarat India (2007-2009)

In his very very first lecture he addressed the class with the message: “There are two ways to study. We discuss theories which are already available in books, and explain to you basic things, you write them in exam and get good marks. There is another way, where I will share with you various case studies. You read them, analyse them, find out solutions on your own and let us all discuss the case and various solutions given to all students. I am more interested in dealing with future managers than marks -eeking students. It’s upto you. Tell me.... “

And everyone said, “We will go for the 2nd option”.

He was very active man and liked active students. His cabins and gtalk id were available to everyone, people can go and meet him and discuss anything be it academic or literature or any general news. He was harsh towards passive students and felt proud about student who were not just marks-oriented. It is he who motivated me to take initiative to organise inter bschool culfest in our college. He supported me and the whole team at every level and today the PROTSAHAN culfest has become a very successful property of my college. I was about to leave MBA in between but this Protsahan thing and people like Rohit sir were the reason I continued.

Dr Trivedi is current with MICA :

6. Mansij Majumder writes about E M Rao, XLRI, Jamshedpur, Prof. of Labor Laws (2006-08)

Depth of knowledge, connect with students, tailoring his course to suite the needs of first term learner
Width of knowledge - in depth knowledge on academic affairs as well as on Carnatic music, movies, you name it
Was one of the most influential professors, who got an entire generation hooked on to try and becoming IR managers

No longer with XLRI, with XIMB:

7. Anudeep Rao writes about Sukesh sir at ICFAI Bangalore (2009-11)

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.Sukesh Sir is one of those great teachers. He taught us B2B Marketing at ICFAI Business School Bangalore for 2009-11 Batch.

Though I was inclined to take up a career in the field of Finance, I opted for a equal number of Marketing and Finance. His classes were very interesting. He was the only Professor who was not a slave to Powerpoint. In fact he never used slides at all. He would write down important points, rest was extempore. He taught 3 sections, close to 140 people with enthusiasm. Though he was a very senior faculty, he always gave us an opportunity to speak and guided us the right path. To be very frank this is the only subject is scored A :D

I entered Masters without any experience, he laid a great foundation for my thought process. He has a very large fan base. I am very proud that I was one of his students. He is still teaching at ICFAI Business School Bangalore.

Sukesh Sir's facebook page link:

8. Debarshi Saha writes about Suvro Chatterjee, his teacher at St Xavier’s School. Durgapur (2002-2004)

Teachers are the 'potters' who can mould a mis-shapen lump of clay into a beautiful work of art. I trust that this venture will do its needful in this regard. I write in to you with the details of such a person today.

My Sir's name is Mr Suvro Chatterjee. He used to teach the senior sections at St Xavier's School, Durgapur. Possessed with an extraordinary capacity for teaching and 'feeling' English literature, he was our 'English' teacher- but furthermore, he could deliberate at length on most topics outside the purview of English language. It was with him that we first learnt about tales of History (never found in our often dreary text books!), explored far-away vistas with him in Geography (a la Mr. Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay in 'The Mountain of the Moon' and other breathtaking novels!), and learnt the twists of Economics and how all its conundrums and theories worked out in real-life situations. Honestly, we have always been spellbound at the range and depth of his knowledge, and his insistence upon the necessity of a holistic school education.

I studied with him during the years 2002-2004. I attended his tuition classes at his residence, since he had resigned from his erstwhile workplace (and alma-mater too!), St Xavier's School. My Sir has always stood steadfast by his moral principles, been guided by a moral compass consisting of knowledge culled from wide and varied sources- and has only believed that the one true religion is the best expression of our humanity, of adhering to moral codes of conduct. It was partly due to this, a conflict of principles, that he left the school- and has been trailblazing a way in the wide world, with the Lord as his only master.

With Sir, 'unique' was a word we regularly got to feel. He could make us gallop behind the horses ('The Charge of the Light Brigade'), or make us feel Life flowing on like a great river and so forth. His eyes twinkled when he spoke of poets, of authors and narrated their tales so as to make us comprehend their state of mind when they penned some particular work. That was never all, though- We would be watching fantastic movies, be exposed to great thoughts, sublime literature and soulful music- Sir made us understood the poems as though we might have composed them ourselves! He was the conductor with a baton- and we were but the choir, the actors acting out their roles to perfection, be it Shakespeare's dramas, or the novellas we had to read. There was never a dull, or listless moment in his class- when we read English and History, and Economics with him- we were the theories, we assumed the roles that made our comprehension flawless, and we remember his classes with unbridled pleasure even today.

A man deeply committed to helping others- he has influenced more people than most teachers in our industrial town can claim. A personal counsellor, a journalist once, he is the first one to rush to the help of others when in need. All his students still count upon him as the man who 'can give us advice without sounding preachy!', and a man who has influenced many persons who have not been his students! One of the prime examples is of the doctoral scholar in Sociology, who has even penned a doctoral thesis on him-

This has been published at Purdue University, USA- and is one of the countless examples in which Sir has influenced others too. He reaches out regularly to a great number of readers at his blog-

Sir is not in active service now- he takes tuition classes at his own residence, in addition to personal counselling services. He can be reached at

PS: I am an electrical engineer by profession, and the 'sense of wonder' that he imparted to me remains his greatest gift among all others.

9. Gautam Ghosh writes about Dr Madhukar Shukla, XLRI (during1997-99)

- High empathy, humor and use of different teaching methodologies.
- Always a guide and mentor, he and his wife (Geeta Saxena who passed away in 1998) were the people students went to for guidance on personal as well as professional issues.
- Madhukar is always looking out for the next big idea, and doing my dissertation with him opened my eyes to so many things. Even in my first job when I had option between two roles he asked me to go for the new one, triggering in me a process of always trying the new and unexpected
- Attaching a picture of him with his "student wards" - I wasn't one, but always invited myself into the group :)

Yes he is in service at XLRI still: / (so that more past students can be in touch).

May the tribe of such wonderful and dedicated teachers increase :)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Staying Hungry & Foolish - 5 years on

Aug 29, 2008 : The first bill of sale for ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ is raised

Aug 29, 2013: Over 400,000 copies sold, 9 language editions, hundreds of emails from grateful readers

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine such an outcome when I took up this project in Sept 2007. The idea of this book came from Prof Rakesh Basant of CIIE (Centre for Innovation, Incubation & Entrepreneurship at IIM Ahmedabad), the National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) and Sanjeev Bikhchandani.

At first they only sought my advice on how to do it with the help of two RAs (Research Assistants). Instead, I offered to do it myself.

I did it for a lark, to meet some interesting people and to learn something from them. Maybe because of that purity of thought and purpose, it all came together as it did.

The time given to me was just 3 months, later extended to 6 months. It finally got done ‘just in time’ for the IIMA Entrepreneurs Conference on 30th June 2008. 1000 copies had been printed to be distributed free of cost to the delegates, as well as students on campus.

Yes, we did plan to make the book available to the public. But the slow channels of the book trade had decreed a release in Jan 2009 – six months later. That’s when Sunil Handa and Sanjeev Bhikchandani came together and said, “Let’s publish it ourselves.” The book was ready, IIM Ahmedabad and Eklavya Foundation could together do the job.

The plan was to print 5000 copies – half of it on ‘order’ basis. The entrepreneurs featured in the book paid money upfront for 100, 200, 500 personal-use copies. The rest was to be put into bookshops. With great difficulty Eklavya managed to rope in a Mumbai-based distributor – Shree. The deal was struck by offering 5% more margin than other publishers. We had no option, as I was not a ‘known’ author.

Originally, we wanted the price of the book to be Rs 95, at par with popular fiction titles. But our book had 330 pages, it was not economically viable. The price was fixed at Rs 125.

The book made its debut at Crossword Ahmedabad, a franchise store owned by friend and wellwisher Mr Gaurav Shah. Within a week, Gauravbhai called to say the book is in the ‘bestseller’ list. Can we send more copies? Not only Ahmedabad, but Crossword stores across the country were the first to pick up ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ in large quantities and give it prominent display. I will always be grateful to them for this support!

I sent the book to numerous editors, hoping for reviews. The result was scanty and mostly bad. One particularly mean review came from T R Vivek writing for Since the original article is hidden behind a paywall, I share what I wrote on my blog at the time.

Oh and later, I also made it to the ’10 silliest books of the decade’ list along with Paolo Coelho and Rhonda Byrne.

However, the feedback from readers themselves was astonishingly and overwhelmingly positive.

“I read my book and quit my job to start my own company.”

“This year I am distributing your book instead of sweets on Diwali.”

“I keep this book next to my bed and every night I read the ‘advice’ section.”

Everywhere I go, I meet people whose lives have been touched, whose hopes have been ignited. This is what motivated to write 4 more books about inspiring real-life Indian entrepreneurs (not from IIMA). Why I have made the writing of inspirational books my whole and sole career.

It’s been 5 fantastic years.

I take this opportunity to thank everyone who believed in me – my alma mater, which set me on this path and in particular Prof Rakesh Basant (he had some reservations about my ‘style of writing’ but ultimately didn’t make me change a word :).

My first publishers IIM Ahmedabad & Eklavya Foundation and in particular Sunil Handa (he brought an entrepreneurial touch to what could have been ‘just another book’. We did every small thing with childlike zeal, enthusiasm).

In fact I realise it can be *lucky* to not have a large publisher initially. I suspect hey would have over-edited and mangled my manuscript to death.

And finally, I want to thank all my readers, everywhere. It is because of you that ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ is still on bestseller lists. (And I hope you continue to pick up my other books :)

I hope my writings continue to serve as a window into the mind of self-made men and women. The brave and the bold, building a new India, one company at a time.

If you have any story/ incident to share about how ‘Stay Hungry Stay Foolish’ spurred you to action or affected your attitude, please send it to me. The id is mail AT

Over the next one month, I will share these hungry & foolish stories. For the reading pleasure of all.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ode to India

Geeli mitti ki bheeni sugandh
Lo ho gaya phir Bharat bandh

Padosi ke pressure cooker ki seeti
Second a/c from Howrah to VT

Arnab ke cheekhne ki awaaz
Chhole bhature with sirkewala pyaaz

Office mein boss ke lafde hain
‘Bhaiyya aaj ke dus kapde hain’

Dopahar ki gully cricket
Chai ke saath do glucose biscuit

Do rupaye ka dhaniya patta
Fabindia ka overprice dupatta

Kaamwali ke gold ke jhumke
Rickshe ki ‘top ten’ sunke

Mere bua ke saale ke devar ki shaadi
Aaj phir badhi desh ki aabaadi

Laughter club ke buddhon ki khee khee
Vada pav ki hari mirch teekhi

Picture mein Vicco Vajradanti ka ad
Durga Shakti Nagpal very sad

McDonalds ka aloo tikki burger
Reliance & Reliance ka merger

Bin bulaye mehman aa gaye
Zimbabwe India ko rula gaye

Border par ho gayi firing
Suna hai Infosys is hiring?

Eid ke chand ka intezaar
Chandrayan ke launch ka samaachar

Bharat desh hai ajeebogareeb
Lekin hai mere dil ke kareeb

Ek apnepan ka ehsaas hai
Isme kuch to khaas hai

Happy 66th Independence Day
Jana Gana Mana Adhinayak Jaya He

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Art of Healing - II

After years of self-flagellation and self-examination I have reached one important conclusion: My battle for internal peace and stability is with no one but myself.

This knowledge arrived in many bits and pieces. From books, from teachers, from spiritual practice. A line from here, a phrase from there – expanding my mind bit by bit. From the Art of Living program I understood the importance of breathing correctly. From Isha’s Inner Engineering program, the fact that you have ‘only this moment’, so live in this moment instead of the past or the future.

Books which contained eureka moments for me:

1) The Secret (Rhonda Byrne): The idea that thoughts create your reality is very powerful. If you change your thinking, your reality will change.
2) You Can Heal Your Life (Louise Hays): We are all carrying within us wounds from the past. But we can heal ourselves.
3) Many Lives, Many Masters (Brian Weiss): We are born again and again and we keep coming back to learn more ‘lessons’. Our greatest tormentors are our greatest teachers.
4) Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield): All human relationships are about exchange of energy. Unconsciously, we seek energy from the other and create conflicts.
5) Srimad Bhagavad Gita: The soul is eternal and can never be destroyed.

So far so good. But intellectual knowledge is one thing, accepting these principles and living by them is another. There is a deep resistance within me. Especially to the idea that I am the sole creator of everything that I experience. It is so much easier to blame the world.

He made me angry.
She let me down.
Usne aisa kyun kaha.

The Bhagvad Gita says: “The nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception,and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.”

Why is it almost impossible to do that?

When I attended the Bhav Spandana program at the Isha Ashram I experienced the fact that ‘joy is our true nature’ . That love is an energy that radiates from within us. I want this experience to be my only reality. Yet a month later, it slips away from my grasp. I continue to experience that state of bliss from time to time but I yearn for it to last longer.

Knowledge of impermanence is great but desire for permanence remains.
The quest continues, more lessons are learnt.

There is a person in my life who irritates me intensely. I used to blame this person for my irritation. I now realise it is my choice to get irritated by another’s actions or words. It doesn’t feel like a choice, it is almost automatic. Because that is my ‘sanskar’.

A sanskar is a habit or belief which is deeply ingrained in us. The reason for that is it is a carry-forward from many lifetimes. I have a tendency to lose my temper. I have done this so many many many times that it is what comes to me most easily. To respond in a different manner would require conscious effort. And a deep desire to change myself.

This point was driven home to me while watching the series ‘Healer Within’ with Brahmakumari Sister Shivani. It is available on Youtube and watching one episode a day is something I look forward to. Episode no 17 held a crucial revelation.

There are 3 ways in which we exchange energy. One is that we ‘reflect’ it. Someone is good to me, I am good to him. Another is mean to me, I am mean to him. The way you treat me is the way I treat you. This is the basest and most common way in which we lead our lives.

The second way is to ‘absorb’ another’s energy. Someone shouts at me, I stay silent. That person could be my parent, or boss or husband. I need my job, I don’t want to create a scene. So I do not attack. However, I am creating pain within me. Over time, this negativity I am absorbing will show its effect. I may experience a physical illness or a mental breakdown. So, this path is also not a desirable one.

The third way of living is to transform energy. I am dealing with a negative person, still I neither reflect nor absorb their energy. I tell myself ‘that is his sanskaar’ but my sanskaar is peace. My power and my peace is my protective shield. I withdraw myself from the influence of their sanskars, instead radiating pure wishes and blessings to them. In doing so, I have transformed that energy.

Wow. I realise that all my life I have been a reflector or absorber. I never considered this third way of living. The most powerful way of living.

In the video Suresh Oberoi asks Sister Shivani, “But how long can I be good to someone who is not good to me? And why should I be good?”

This is the resistance within us, which prevents the experience of internal peace. Main kyun karoon, woh to saala kuch karta nahin.

Life has thus become a competition in making each other miserable. Or waiting for someone to come along and make us happy.

I come back to that important conclusion: My battle for internal peace and stability is with no one but myself.

I must step onto this battlefield, face my demons. Or live in uneasy truce, with them.

Also read: The Art of Healing I

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Who am I?

I have always thought, “I am middle class.” And growing up, I probably was.

Middle class meant the kind of family which was not deprived but you could not just have anything you wanted.

You went out for dinner on an extra-special day like your parents’ anniversary - to Delhi Darbar or Kailash Parbat. A movie in the theatre was a rare treat, as was ‘choco-bar’ and Simba wafers in the interval. ‘New clothes’ included the kind my mom stitched on an Usha sewing machine with a foot pedal. Her special forte was increasing the length of old dresses by adding a jhaalar (extra lace).

Today, we eat out just because we’re in the mall and ‘feel like it’, even though dinner is waiting at home. I can watch 3 films back to back, if I want to and spend more on popcorn than the ticket price. I can buy as many new clothes as I desire, whether ‘on sale’ or ‘fresh stock’.

So am I not ‘middle class’ anymore?

My uncles were not middle class, they were ‘business class’. They had a lot more money than my father, who was a government servant. Yet, I never thought of them as rich.

Our 12 member family lived in 3 rooms and a kitchen. Everyone slept on the floor, when guests came they slept on the verandah. The toilets had no water, let alone a flush. They had cash tucked away somewhere, I don’t know where. But they hardly cared about spending it.

Business class was different from middle class.

My parents drilled it into our brains early: “You have to study hard and make something of yourself.” In the scientists’ colony I grew up in, marks and ranks were discussed among aunties. Every year we exported a batch to IIT Bombay and another to America on full scholarship. We never thought of this as an ‘achievement’, it was just a normal.

Meanwhile my cousins joined BCom and joined the family business – often side by side. They married early, to girls with BA, and started a family within a year. They earned a lot of money and now their children want to do engineering and MBA. Move to a big city and take up a job.

Business class wants to be ‘middle class’ – hurray.

I had a friend in college who I thought of as ‘rich’. She had a car and driver, went swimming and holidayed abroad. Today, I can have all those things – and more.

If I am not ‘middle class’ – then who am I?

Because if thrift and hard work no longer defines me, that’s what I pass on to my daughter. Can I get her another new t-shirt (though she does not need it?). Should I prod her to study hard when I know that marks don’t really matter. Is an international school necessary, or was a regular school good enough?

Where do I set the boundaries, when in my heart I want her to have everything my money can buy?

And yet, I want her to ‘make something of herself’ – not stand on my shoulders. To be defined by who she is, not the handbag she carries. I want her to have lots of money and use it wisely. But also, to value all the things money can never buy.

I am ‘mix n match’ – a grand collage of values and ways of life.

I am the New Middle Class.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Bhaag Milkha Bhaag' - 4.5 stars

To make a film about a champion who narrowly lost the biggest race of his life is a monumental challenge. Nobody wants to watch a man put in his very best and yet fail, on a giant multiplex screen.

That is the genius of director Rakeysh Mehra and scriptwriter Prasoon Joshi. The film starts with the Rome Olympics – a race we know Milkha Singh lost. A fact we cannot change. Yet, ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ moves you, entertains and elevates you. You emerge from the theatre feeling good, feeling that winning is really really important but it’s not everything.

Rakeysh Mehra decided to make this film not just because Milkha Singh was an outstanding athelete. But because of his undying spirit.

“This boy, who came from a village and was an orphan at 11, actually witnessed the massacre of his family members, including his brothers and sisters. He picked a knife to survive at 11. He spent time in (Delhi’s) Tihar Jail before he joined the army. He wanted respect and to be a human being against all odds. That’s what a wonderful human being he is, and that’s what got me into the movie, not the records he made.”

And that’s what makes ‘Bhaag Milka Bhaag’ special. It’s the story of a man, not Superman. He is vulnerable and he is flawed, like us all. He did not have a ‘vision’ for himself – at the very start. He didn’t even know what he was capable of.

Why does a man run, anyway? When trials were being held, Jawan Milkha Singh ran for an extra glass of milk. When he went for the Brigade Games, he ran to earn a navy-blue ‘India’ blazer. After failing at the Melbourne Olympics, he ran to regain self-respect.

At the Rome Olympics, he ran carrying the hopes of all of India, on his slim shoulders. Perhaps that burden was too heavy. The film doesn’t go deep into this aspect except to allude to personal demons from the time of Partition.

A man can run into the future, or he can run from his past. ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ – just three words but two different meanings, depending which track or which field you are standing on.

In the film Milkha’s coach says to him, “A sportsman’s life is about discipline and tapasya.” That’s equally true of the efforts put in by Farhan Akhtar in this film. He plays Milkha Singh to perfection, right down to running stance. To get that athletic body language, the actor trained with sprint coach Melwin Crasto and physical trainer Samir Jaura on the racetracks at St Stanislaus High School in Bandra for 13 months.

“When I decided I would do this role, I promised him that I would do whatever it takes for this role.”

It’s a whole bunch of people working in this spirit, that make the film what it is. I must mention the child actor Jabtej Singh who is outstanding as the young Milkha Singh. And the rousing ‘Zinda hai toh’ sung by Siddharth Mahadevan, which is completely in sync with the spirit of the film.

Critics are saying the movie is too long, has unnecessary songs and too many cinematic liberties. But I don’t agree. A work of art is not meant to be ‘perfect’. If it’s powerful, it carries you beyond the logical mind into a parallel universe. And lingers on afterward.

‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ gets 4.5 star from me, for doing just that.

The bonus is that it will inspire a few kids out there to dream big and run the race of life with more vigour and confidence.

Monday, July 08, 2013

Leaning in at the IIMs

This column was originally published in Businessworld, dt Jul 1-15, 2013

It's Time for Women to Dream Big

The Economic Times reports: Data from the five IIMs at Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Lucknow and Indore shows that the institutes are set to welcome a record number of women in the 2013-15 batch. With the exception of IIM Ahmedabad, which has acceptances from 80 women, the other four will all have more than a hundred women each on their rolls.

The question is - what happens next? Will these women make a significant impact on corporate India - at top management and in leadership roles?

My somewhat cynical answer is: 'unlikely'. Unless we address this issue as a whole.

To create female leaders you need to address the supply side, which is what the IIMs are doing. But that is just step one. To keep the supply moving through the corporate pipeline is the bigger challenge. We can't ignore that and expect women to simply 'figure it out' on their own.

I belong to the class of 1993 at IIM Ahmedabad, which had a record number of women. We were 30 girls in a class of 180 ( double the previous year). Twenty years later just about 50% of us are in full-time jobs.

The issue is not lack of competence but the choices we made.

When I interviewed Sangeeta Patni for my book 'Follow Every Rainbow', she summed it up beautifully.

"A woman is a womb plus a man. There's no difference in terms of ability, or what she can achieve. But a woman needs to know how to take care of her need to nurture and raise a baby. This is the place many women falter in their careers."

You are expected to navigate this issue 'naturally'.

Natural is to feel exhausted and guilty and give up.

What we need is to sensitise female students about the road ahead, and the turns it is known to take. So that they can navigate the twisting path of career + family. Instead of getting knocked off the road itself.

You can have your kids early and jump back into a career, make a success of it. I have friends who have done that.

You can have your kids late, when you have 'brand value' in an organisation.
That works too.

You can take a break, or not take a break.
Rely on your mother. Or your mother-in-law.
Find a good maid. Or a great creche.
There are many many many ways to do it.

The most important thing is you must believe it's possible. And that it's important. And work towards 'keeping my career' with the same intensity as you had when 'getting into IIM'.

Three concrete suggestions to IIMs:
1) Hold a series of talks by women (preferably own alumni) who are in leadership roles today. Let them candidly share 'how I did it'. Some of them will even take on the role of a mentor.

When a young woman has just had a baby and is almost quitting/feeling hopeless, the moral and practical support of someone who's 'been there, done that' can make all the difference.

2) Also sensitise the male students. Many of them will marry their own batchmates or other qualified women. But then they slip back into 'caveman' mode and focus on their own careers.

The most progressive, educated couples never actually sit down and talk about this issue. Or think of out of the box solutions. It is understood that if children are to be raised, women will occupy the backseat in the family car.

3) Make 'Lean In' by Sheryl Sandberg compulsory reading for both men and women. And all professors too. All the above points are raised and tackled beautifully in the book.

Women must be more confident, more assertive and dream big dreams.
This has to start right from bschool and never stop.

As Sheryl Sandberg says in the book: "A truly equal world would be one where women ran half our countries and companies and men ran half our homes."

That should be the outcome of more women in IIMs, in IITs, in IAS, in primary schools and colleges, in every walk of life.

To see this happen in my own lifetime, is a cherished dream. And fond hope.

Also read my previous blog on this subject: Lipstick Jungle

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Just another 'carrer query'

'Career queries' like this one really bug me.

"... I am expecting an admission in IIT for computer science or mathematics.At the same time I am also getting an admission in IISc for BS. In future I want to do MBA from a good university. I want to work as a investment banker. I am very confused which option would be better for my carrer.

While reading your books and articles I realised you are the only person who can solve this problem with your valuable guidance... Expecting your reply soon.Thanking you in anticipation."

I don't think this is what the founding fathers of IIT had in mind when they set up these institutes! Young men who are completely focused on the idea of an MBA even before they enter a BTech.

It's clear that this dude wants only one thing in life. A good life.

Therefore, the query is a no-brainer. An IIT-IIM combination is most likely to lead him to an investment bank.

Whereas IISc would be a good option if he actually had some interest in science and was open to a career in academics or research.

Call me an idealist but I always imagined that the brightest and best minds would want to work on solving the problems of humanity. The mysteries of the universe. The purpose of life itself.

These goals are often unattainable but desirable. If people did not strive for such goals the frontiers of human life would be very limited. The comforts we enjoy would not exist.

And even at a very mortal, individual level, we are limiting ourselves. This boy - all of 16 or 17 - has no idea who he is. What he is. Does he have the capacity to work towards an idea without external incentives? Or is he merely a slave without visible chains.

I see the potential of IITs grossly unfulfilled, unutilised.

Last year, I had the privilege of visiting MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). My daughter and I took the 'campus tour'. At the end of it - we were both bowled over. Not just by the buildings but the idea of an institution that nurtures and stimulates geeks. That celebrates technical genius.

MIT graduates earn respect for creating new technology.

For discovering new particles.

For writing formulae and inventing and building.

I wish there were more IIT graduates who would wear these kind of badges and return to their institutes. To enlighten young minds about other possibilities in life.

You can aspire for more than a job on Wall Street.

You can set your sights on a Nobel Prize

Friday, May 10, 2013

Visiting West Africa

I am visiting Ghana and Ivory Coast between May 27-Jun 6. On the way back I will be in Dubai for 3 days.

If any of you know of interesting people - especially entrepreneurs - pls get in touch! I am keen to meet both Africans and those of Indian origin.

Also need some help in arranging a book signing event in both Accra and Dubai at a city bookshop. Or at a local university/ for a local club/ interest group.

Even though West Africa is not the most popular destination for Indians I am sure someone out there has more knowledge abt this part of the world than me. Drop me a line at rashmi_b at if you have any information or advice to share.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Teacher’s New Clothes

Everyone agrees that there is something wrong with India’s education system. But sometimes, it takes an outside view to understand just how low we have fallen.

In 2007, Brown University student Thane Richards came to India as an exchange student. Thane spent 7 months at St Stephen’s College, one of India’s crown jewels in education. While he had rich and varied experiences outside the classroom, the value addition inside the classroom was close to nothing.

In Thane’s own words:

In one economic history class the professor would enter the room, take attendance, open his notebook, and begin reading. He would read his notes word for word while we, his students, copied these notes word for word until the bell sounded… If it were not for the fact that attendance counted towards my marks, I would have never showed up at all.

This was not an isolated incident but typical of the teaching pattern. Another pattern was classes being cancelled because teachers failed to show up. The students worked out a system to inform each other about which professor is bunking today, via sms.

Similar stories can be heard from students across colleges and universities in India. Everyone clamours to get into the ‘best’ institutions but it’s got nothing to do with the quality of education. It’s for the right branding and the company of highly driven, intelligent and interesting peers.

Occasionally, individual professors rise above the system. Driven by passion, motivated by some deep internal reservoir, they stimulate, challenge and nurture young minds. They give knowledge and they give of themselves.

Every one of us has had teachers like this. Just one or two of them but they have made all the difference.

Maybe they are born with the right temperament and attitude. The question is – can we create more?

First of all – and let me be blunt about it – a teacher must be a psychologically sound person. Far too many teachers I have seen and experienced have terrible issues related to self-esteem, anger management and deep insecurity. No doubt such issues are common and therefore would be seen in any industry.

However I single out teaching because, teachers are in supreme position, a position of power. A teacher rules over his or her class of 30, 60 or 100 students. There is no question (in the Indian system) of who must listen to whom. And that’s where the problem starts.

You are not happy within yourself – what do you do? Take it out in class. The children cannot protest. They cannot ‘quit’. All they can do is switch off. And let out their frustration by giggling and making jokes behind your back.

The lower you rank in students’ eyes as a human being, the worse you are as a teacher – no matter how proficient you may be in your subject.

This, I think, applies more strongly in school, when children are young and more impressionable. But it stands good at university level as well. Apart from sound academic knowledge, a professor must have a desire to share that knowledge. With young bodies warming the benches - even if they are looking sullen, sleepy and bored.

The professor with low self esteem will see such faces and see a giant problem. He will say to himself, “These useless young people today – they are not interested. Why should I put in efforts!”

This professor will do the bare minimum and justify this as the ‘right approach’.

But a professor with high self esteem will see the class as a challenge and an opportunity. He will think, “I know these are all bright young minds. If I put in my best effort and teach them well, they will get interested in my subject.”

Right intention achieves right results. The proactive professor’s classes are always full, and full of energy. These are the ‘living legends’ on every campus.

The professors who go the distance in the classroom are also - invariably - the ones available to students, outside the classroom. A student can walk up to such a teacher with a personal issue or an academic issue and get a patient hearing. And some sound advice.

I do not know how and when the entire education system will get fixed. But if we can create more procative and self-motivated teachers, it will start getting fixed - from within.

I would go so far as to call such teachers as ‘entrepreneurs’ because with the same limited resources and raw material to work with, they are able to ‘solve’ a problem. Which is, how to transfer both knowledge and wisdom to young people.

The least we can do is to celebrate such teacher-entrepreneurs. If you have experienced such a teacher, who has altered your mind and spirit, do write in with the details as follows:
- name of teacher/ professor & school/ college
- period you were taught
- what was different or unique about him/ her in the classroom
- what impact he/ she made outside the classroom
- any specific personal experience or encounter which impacted you for life
- a picture of this teacher if possible (either alone or with you or with entire class)
- is he/ she still in service
- contact email id/ facebook page of the teacher (so that more past students can be in touch).

You can email the information to rashmi_b at and I promise to feature them in this space over the next few days.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Amar Management Katha

Business Sutra – a Very Indian Approach to Management
(this review first appeared in The Asian Age on 21st April 2013)

After 3 weeks with Devdutt Pattanaik ‘Business Sutra’ as my reading companion, I have reached page 185 (the book is 400 plus). And yet I venture to write this review because i) I am way past my deadline and ii) that is the nature of this book.

‘Business Sutra’ is simply brilliant. So different from any other book on business or management that you cannot digest it all at once. Each morsel has to be broken off, chewed and savoured. Often, I find myself going back to an earlier section to reabsorb what is being said.

At the crux of this book lies this argument: “Despite the veneer of objectivity and logic, management science is itself firmly rooted in a cultural truth, the subjective truth of the West, indicated by its obsession with goals.” The author attributes this to the fact that the purveyors of management science are mostly engineers, bankers and soldiers from twentieth century North America, which is deeply entrenched in the ‘Protestant work ethic’ – a unique blend of Greek and Biblical beliefs.

Devdutt’s contention is that “as is belief, so is behavior, so is business.” And that India’s belief system is very different from the West. A simple example is that India celebrates both the rule-following Ram and the rule-breaking Krishna. Indian thought yearns for accommodation and inclusion – there is room for multiple beliefs.

All this is well and good (and known to us) but hey – what’s the application to business? Devdutt’s real skill lies in linking up philosophy and abstract ideas to concrete day-to-day management issues. For example, he explains the difference between a karta (a proactive decisionmaker) and a karyakarta (one who simply follows decisions taken by others). To do this, he uses a mythological story which goes like this:

One day, the sage Narad asked Vishnu, “Why do you insist that the image of Garud be placed before you in your temples? Why not me? Am I not your greatest devotee?”

Just then, a crash is heard outside the main gate of Vaikuntha. Vishnu asks Narad to investigate. Narad reports that a milkmaid has tripped and fallen.

“What is her name?” asks Vishnu.

Narad runs out again to ask.

“Where was she going?” asks the Lord.

Each time Vishnu wants some further detail and Narad dutifully goes to find out. Then, Garud walks in and when he is questioned, he already has the complete details. In fact, he has even anticipated that Vishnu would want to buy the remaining pot of milk and knows the price the milkmaid is expecting.

Garud always anticipates situations and takes calls accordingly without checking with his boss – this makes him a ‘karta’. Narad has the same freedom but does not make use of it, making him a follower or karyakarta. Finally Vishnu – who allows Garud to be a karta is a ‘yajaman’.

This entire mythic sequence is followed by a six-eight line modern business ‘case’ – this one involves Arindam (Vishnu), Meena (Garud) and Ralph (Narad). Almost every page has beautiful line drawing (by the author himself) which depicts the idea in visual form and also breaks the monotony of text.

And yet, let me reiterate – it’s not an easy read. Terms like yagna, yajaman, tathastu and svaha in the context of business take some getting used to. But they are necessary, as the English word ‘leader’ does not bring out the subtle difference between a yajaman and a karta (both leaders in their own way). A glossary is provided at the end of the book with the conventional context and business context of every non-English word.

Devdutt has astounding depth and breadth of knowledge as well as clarity of thought. He does not have any formal qualification either in management science or Indian mythology and that’s probably a good thing. He did grow up listening to stories of sales and marketing from his father, who did his MBA from New York University in 1960. The passion for mythology was something Devdutt discovered when he was studying at Grant Medical College.

As a qualified doctor, he chose the unusual path, joining the pharmaceutical industry rather than clinical practice. This was in order to give himself the time and the funds to pursue his study of mythology. Having worked with big pharma, a dotcom, a cultural organization and Ernst & Young, Devdutt finally came into his own as ‘Chief Belief Officer’ at Kishore Biyani’s Future Group. A role and designation which helped him flesh out the ideas that resulted in this book.

What I take away from ‘Business Sutra’ is that there is no objective reality or ‘truth’. Every individual sees the world according to his or her own imagination. The most important quality a human being can develop is the ‘gaze’ or ability to ‘see’ others as they see themselves. ‘Growth’ happen when we include those whom we once excluded and stop seeing people as villains.

The duty of every yajaman is to create more yajamans within the organization. Yes – talent management, but when you look at it the business sutra way, you understand that by helping others grow, we grow ourselves. Whether or not you believe in physical rebirth, you cannot argue with the idea of mental rebirth which is most possible and desirable for us all.

The last line of the book states: “When the mind expands, Lakshmi follows.” Expand your mind by reading the book and see what happens. You owe it to yourself.

The book will also look great on your bookshelf - it has excellent design and printing quality. The only issue is the size and weight (not the kind of book you carry to read on a flight). I hope an abridged and simplified paperback edition is released soon to solve that issue and also, to help these ideas reach a much larger audience.

Business Sutra - published by Aleph
Rs 695

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Anandwan Experience

Dr Avinash Saoji completed his MBBS from Government Medical College, Nagpur. Being the college topper he could easily have done a PG but decided then and there that he would not study further. The purpose of his life was not to establish a flourishing medical practice but to be of service to society.

I understood the impact of his work when I arrived at Anandwan on the 22nd of February for the annual Sevankur Youth Motivation camp. For the past couple of years Dr Saoji had been inviting me to attend his camps – in Wardha, in Amravati and so on. Each time due to some or the other commitment, I would politely decline.

To tell you the truth I wasn’t very excited about visiting these somewhat remote parts of Maharashtra.

But Dr Saoji’s gentle persistence paid off. A week before the annual camp I decided to make time and effort – to go and see what Sevankur was all about. I was also keen to visit Anandwan, as I knew of Baba Amte’s pioneering work with leprosy patients. Kuch acchha kaam dekhne ko milega, I thought.

I had no idea though, how amazing – and uplifting - this trip would turn out.

Warora is two hour drive from Nagpur, on a silky-smooth highway. A small signboard points you in the direction of Anandwan. ( Nothing had prepared me for the scale of the ashram. (It’s actually more of a ‘township’ spread over 200 hectares where a few hundred people live and work!)

At the ‘Mahamantri hall’ – a giant shed-like structure - I was greeted by Dr Saoji. He was dressed in his trademark white banian and white cotton half-pants (Baba Amte also preferred such clothing – it is ideally suited for the local weather).

Over 300 students from 30 districts of Maharashtra had gathered by early afternoon. As they introduced themselves one by one it was clear that a majority (around 70%) were from the engineering stream. Medical was the next distinct group (10%) followed by Agriculture, Arts, Science and Commerce.

However they were united by one common objective: to know what is ‘social service’ all about.

The camp was basically organized around a series of ‘sharing’ sessions. The first such session was with Adhik Kadam of ‘Borderless World Foundation'. Adhik is originally from Pune but has spent the last 16 years of his life in Kashmir, where he has set up 4 homes for orphan girls.

He described his journey from ‘fear to fearlessness.’ It started with the curiosity to know what is Kashmir, why does it enjoy special status under the Constitution.

“I went for 2 weeks after my 12th standard exams and stayed on for 3 months.”

Kashmir brought Adhik face to face with the best and worst of humanity. A particular incident which impacted him hugely was watching a truck enter an army camp. He noted a young boy of 16 or 17 dressed in army fatigues mismatched with sports shoes. Seconds later there was a blast.

A piece of human flesh came crashing down on the windscreen of Adhik’s car. The boy was a fidayeen (human bomb).

The incident shook Adhik to the core.

A journalist friend simply said, “Welcome to Kashmir.”

Being a Hindu Adhik was looked at with suspicion. Some maulvis issued a fatwaagainst him. But he persisted in his humanitarian work.

A day came when an AK 47 rifle was pressed against his head. When it might well have been ‘the end’.

But he conversed with the terrorist who held the AK 47. And at the end of 15 minutes the man let him go with these words,“Aap khuda ka kaam kar rahe hain… Aapko jo marega woh sachcha Musalmaan nahi hai.”

Adhik summed up his life as a ‘spiritual journey’ in which apna astitva maine kho diya hai.

Service is about dissolution of the ego state, of being one with the entire world.

The second session by Yajuvendra Mahajan of Deepsthamb foundation which works with rural and semi-urban youth in and around Jalgaon. Teacher training, career counseling, and coaching for competitive examsare its main activities (over 500 candidates have successfully cleared class 1 and class 2 officer jobs in MPSC through Deepsthamb’s efforts).

Yajuvendra is a gifted speaker who exactly knows how to catch the pulse of the audience. He made them laugh, but at the same time made them think. About their own dreams and about the limits they have acceptd to those dreams, by following what the society wants.

Hamara samaaj ek nautanki samaaj hai,” was his tongue in cheek observation. “The moment I say mee gram sevak the girl’s father will say “wah wah” but my daughter just got engaged.”

Yajuvendra left the students charged up to think beyond a steady job, movies on weekends, house, car and whatnot.

At the end of the session I realised I have been listening to Marathi continuously for 4-5 hours and was enjoying the flow of the language. I am not fluent in speaking but could easily follow most of what was being said.

Dinner, like lunch, was simple dal-chawal-roti-sabzi but satisfying. A cool breeze started blowing as I dropped off to sleep in the dormitory-style guesthouse.

The next morning I woke up early and took a walk around the campus. At 630 am, the place was alive and humming. Men and women were busy sweeping away fallen leaves on the pathways. Children were already dressed and ready for school.

I walked past signs like ‘More Crop per Drop’, down ‘Bharat Jodo’ path to Shraddhawan – the Samadhi spot of Baba Amte and his wife Sadhanatai. It is a beautiful, peaceful spot covered with fresh flowers, standing under this quotation by William Blake:

“I sought my soul, But my soul I could not see.
I sought my God, But my God eluded me.
I sought my brother, And I found all three.”

Baba Amte passed away in 2008, at age 93. Over 57 years, he built Anandwan – an oasis of cure and compassion for those ostracised not only by society but their own families. Leprosy was not a disease, it was considered to be a punishment for sins committed in a previous life.

As I watched the sun rising from between the trees, I felt completely at peace. With the leaves. The bushes. The chirping of birds.

As I ambled back I passed the deaf-mute and blind school, where children were neatly assembled for the morning prayer. It was just 7.15 am.

Over breakfast I met Rakhi Patil, a sarpanch of Khadkesim village near Jalgaon. A college lecturer by profession and wife of a Congress party worker she was quite matter of fact that she got this opportunity because of mahila aarakshan.

Lekin main kisi party ki karyakarta nahin hoon… main sirf logon ka kaam karti hoon,” she clarified.

Rakhiji talked enthusiastically of the many changes she is trying to bring about. The main problem being illiteracy and andhvishwaas. The main problem, she says, is that people want government to give them handouts, instead of doing anything for themselves. Even for the Aadhaar card, people have to be coaxed and convinced and helped with the actual process.

As she spoke about various programs – like daarubandi and police intervention to prevent underage marriage - I felt for the first time that reservation for women is a good idea. This lady would never have got a chance without reservation. But given the opportunity she is doing a lot more than a man would.

“It took more than a year for people to accept me,” she says matter of factly. Equations of caste and gender are not easy to rewrite but sincerity and stubbornness ultimately pays.

That’s the story of Dr Sangram Patil and Dr Nupur Patil as well. Both highly qualified doctors from BJ Medical college with post-graduate degrees from London, the Patils returned to India 4 years ago and set up a practice at Erandwan near Jalgaon.

“Our son was born in UK, had we stayed one more year we would have got British citizenship but we took a decision to come back. We did not want to become British doctors working in India but remain Indian and work in India, where aamhi garaz aahe (where we are needed).

However the punchline of the Sangram-Nupur story was not professional but personal. The two met in medical college, where Sangram proposed to Nupur at the end of the first year but was flatly rejected. The reason being that they came from different castes.

Sangram persisted, Nupur resisted. But then, after a year of saying no, no and no, she melted. Now the problem came from Sangram’s family – prachand virodh. Nupur being not just from a different caste but a scheduled caste, and a practicing Buddhist.

Sangram and Nupur decided to have a (secret) registered marriage in the presence of friends. On the day that his sister got married, Sangram took his jijaji aside and explained the situation to him. All hell broke loose and the young couple – still studying for their degrees – was left to fend for themselves.

I often read in newspapers about such issues but hearing it from the horse’s mouth was different. To see this young couple bonded by love as well a greater common purpose was inspiring and gave me hope. That things can change.

My own session was also well-received. I spoke in Hindi, the audience was attentive and asked a lot of questions. All had heard of my books though only a few had read them.

In the afternoon, we had a short tour of Anandwan. Through the many workshops which keep residents busy – making cloth, leather shoes, foam bags and hand-cranked wheelchairs for the handicapped.

‘Shram hi Shriram hai’ was Baba Amte’s slogan. Whether you are handicapped or deaf or blind, you can contribute and earn your living – and self-respect. That was the message of the Anandwan Orchestra, a unique experiment started in 2002 by Dr Vikas Amte. Every member of this orchestra is ‘lacking’ in some sense but united by the language of music.

The one hour program they put up was exhilarating to the extreme. (The Anandwan orchestra tours around the country and I do wish that college festival organisers take note and invite them. You must experience the show once! Plus, the fee you pay funds several good causes.)

It was time to leave. I said goodbye to the many interesting characters I had met. From Santosh – the lad from Beed who has taken 44 orphans under his wing to Devendra – who is training the youth of Gondia to get jobs at CCD and McDonalds in Pune.

As I waited for the ST bus on the highway, there was thunder and lightning in the air. But the rain started only after I was safely in the vehicle. There was no seat vacant but the conductor was kind enough to offer his own.

I thought – these are the blessings of Baba. I was meant to come here not just to share and to contribute to these young people. But to understand what the ‘real India’ is all about.

Epilogue and Action Point

Baba Amte’s story is magnificent and many books have been written about him (esp. in Marathi). But our present-day English speaking urban population does not know about him or the work which is still continuing - at Anandwan, at Hemalkasa and Somnath.

I would like to help in spreading his life's work and his vichaardhaara in some small way.

At the same time, these young boys and girls I met - and thousands like them out there – need inspiration. Stories of sons and daughters of the soil, from vernacular schools and regional colleges but who dreamt big for themselves and for others.

I thought – I must look into writing such a book - in Marathi, for Marathi youth.

I cannot do it alone. I need the help of many of you out there:
1) To refer such stories, from all over the state.
2) A Marathi tutor and/or a Rapidex-style home-study course.
3) Transcription + translation of interviews in Marathi.

If you are interested in any of the above drop me a line at rashmi_b AT

Friday, February 08, 2013

Lincoln - what a man and what a movie!

My daughter does not like studying history. And I don’t blame her. The way history is taught, it’s just a collections of names, facts and dates. We rarely see the human beings behind the ‘heros’ and the ‘villains’, victory and defeat.

That’s why a movie like ‘Lincoln’ is so important.

That’s why it literally blew my mind.

Lincoln is revered today for being the President who abolished slavery in the United States. But who among us knew how it actually happened.

How members of his own party were against the idea.

How he had to woo Congressmen of the opposition party to get a 2/3rd majority in the House.

And within all this, his own problems in his own family, especially with his teenage son who was hellbent on joining the army, much against Mrs Lincoln’s wishes.

This is a wise and wonderful film, based on facts, but bringing alive how history was made. History was made because one man took a stand. Even though he could have taken the easy way out.

The Confederate army, after four years of fighting, was weary and ready to surrender. But Lincoln stalled peace talks.

He was convinced that if the war ended, slavery would continue.

But if Congress could be convinced that the only way to end the war was to first abolish slavery, a greater, more lasting victory would be the result.

To achieve this victory, Lincoln the statesman became Lincoln the politician. He authorized the trading of favours to get the required votes.

He employed personal charisma and quiet persuasion where favours did not work.

As we all know, ultimately the 13th Amendment to the American Constitution was passed and slavery was abolished. By two votes.

‘Lincoln’ is a film with a multitude of characters, but somehow you never get confused.

It’s a film where characters talk and talk, and yet it’s not dialoguebaazi.

The English they use is not what we use today – words like ‘cohere’ for example – but they suit the characters.

Screenplay writer Tony Kushner also took the liberty of creating some ‘Lincolnese’ - words that mean nothing but sound just right in the given context.

The film is partly based on the book ‘A Team of Rivals’ by historian Doris Goodwin but the writer has taken minor liberties with facts and invented dialogues, as any writer of historical drama must.

Lincoln's penchant for telling stories and the scenes where Congressmen trade gentlemanly insults are a treat to watch.

The film, however, belongs to Daniel Day Lewis.

He is Lincoln. Period. From his gait, to the gravelly voice, which he took months to create and perfect.

The man is sure to win his third Oscar for this performance.

I don’t think the movie will attract too many viewers in India because American history is an alien subject to us. But the film is worth watching for its relevance to our problems, our politics.

The biggest lesson of Lincoln is that to do good, you sometimes have to be crafty. Idealism is well and good but getting the desired result is what ultimately matters.

Thaddeus Stevens is an idealist, a Congressman who believes that all men are truly created equal. Declaring this, however, will ruin the chance of passing the 13th Amendment.

Lincoln says to him: “A compass, I learnt when I was surveying, it'll... it'll point you True North from where you're standing, but it's got no advice about the swamps and desert and chasm that you'll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp... What's the use of knowing True North?"

Stevens takes a more moderate stand and the amendment is passed. He later remarks: “The most liberating constitutional amendment in history, passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

The idealists in our country would do well to learn from that.

And our Prime Minister, who the country believes is not corrupt. But what point is purity unless you stand for some principle?

A principle for which you would do anything, risk anything.

And create a place in history, not just tomorrow’s headline.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoda namak shamak

Once in a way, you meet a person so passionate about their work that it is reflected in everything he says, everything he does.

Harpal Singh Sokhi is one such.

When he was first introduced to me, I had no idea who he was. Except that he is a chef who’s worked with Sanjeev Kapoor, now opening his own chain of restaurants.

Big deal.

It was only when the food started arriving on the table that I realised yahan kuch alag funda hai. First came the lassi in cutting chai style. Four different kinds.

Then, the starters. Kya gazab! Not the usual paneer tikkas and hariyali kebabs but some amazing variations. Like 'beetroot and amla'.

I looked at Sardarji more carefully and understood – yeh bhaisaab kuch khaas hain.

Harpal Singh Sokhi is a celebrity chef, but the nicest possible kind.
He is popularly known as the ‘namak shamak’ chef because that’s the trademark phrase on his cooking show ‘Turban Tadka’.

It’s something he chose – deliberately and intelligently. In a world where chefs talk in terms of teaspoons, he picks up a chutki (fingerful) of salt and sprinkles it on his cooking – just like your mother does.

Endearing him to aunties and beejis and didis of all varieties.

“I always look at what is the season, what are the vegetables available in that season. And I plan what to air on my show, accordingly.”

No exotic, hard-to-find ingredients. No Masterchef pretensions. Only an incredible love and understanding of food.

“I have an ayurvedic doctor who is my consultant, he has helped me to create a Punjabi food menu which is lighter on the stomach, easier to digest.”

Is such a thing possible?

Harpal elaborates,”See, if we cook in white butter (butter without salt), that is better for digestion. Adding black pepper also makes a difference.”

I loooooooove white butter. Jai ayurveda, jai Punjab.

Harpal has been in the hospitality business for over two decades. And he has a really sad but funny story to tell about what happened when he decided to take up cooking – as a career.

“I grew up in Kharagpur, where there is only one ambition of every parent – my child should join IIT.”

The second best option was to become an Air Force pilot.

The last (respectable) option – join the Indian Railways (Kharagpur’s only other claim to fame being its endlessly long platform).

Since Harpal showed very little interest in studies, all the above options were ruled out. His father thought a clerical option in a bank might be worth a shot.

“I was sent for typing classes in the middle of the afternoon,” he laughs. “Yes, I can type really really fast even today.”

One of Harpal’s seniors had joined a hotel management course and started working at Sinclair’s hotel in Darjeeling. When he came home for vacation – smartly dressed in suit and tie – Harpal was impressed.

And he too joined IHM Bhubaneshwar.

When he came for vacation his father wanted to know wahaan kya sikhate hain. Tu kya banega?

“(S)hef,” replied Harpal.

Yeh chuff kya hota hai.”

“If I tell you will get mad,” replied Harpal.

Nahin, batao to sahi,” urged papaji.

Chef matlab bawarchi.”

Papaji was mad and stayed that way for a long time. Over time, he accepted that this work is like any other work – pays well and worth doing. But it was seeing his son on television that really made him proud.

Parents are like that only.

In his 20 odd years as a ‘diplomewala bawarchi’ Harpal has seen it and done it all. Travelled and worked around the world, collected the oddest of experiences.

“People abroad are fascinated by my turban. There was one restaurant in Luxembourg where I worked. Guests would come into the kitchen to touch me and see if I am ‘real’.”

Well, I can tell you this guy is for real. His food is for real. Really really good.

The starters at ‘The Funjabi Tadka’ were so good we never got to the main course. We only had space for some home-style khichdi. And of course, dessert.

What I liked best were the chocolate-mango lassi, the Lahori aloo and the ‘Mirchi ka halwa’ (yes, you read that right and it’s amazing! (pictured alongside)

But the entire menu is full of such interesting things (familiar and yet different). What’s more they have a separate menu for vegetarians which I think is a wonderful insight into the mind of us shakaharis..

It was a pleasure to meet Harpal and share this meal. I can tell that this restaurant is going to be a huge success. Because it’s all about the food, the food and the food.

'The Funjabi Tadka’ (TFT) opened in Kolkata on Southern Avenue on 19th of Jan. Will open in Mumbai (Bandra) and very soon in other locations across India.

The meal I had was a preview, arranged for by my friend Aneeta Arora. Many thanks to Satyaki Mukherjee, business brain behind TFT. Coverage by The Telegraph newspaper on the 17th of January featured above.

Advice to wannabe 'chuffs'

Hotel management was not so well accepted as a career around 20 years ago, but that’s changed.

I see hotel management as the only course from where you can fit into any stream -it’s like one size fits all. You will see hotel management graduates heading retail chains as well as sitting in senior positions in sectors apart from their own domain.

Not to forget that if you graduate from a hotel school your entrepreneurship skills are at their best. Because the first thing in the mind of a person just about graduating is ‘I will have my own restaurant someday’.

The secret of success in any field is to work hard. Though many complete the course, later they change their profession as it involves long hours of work.

You need to fall in love with your profession to become successful.

In hotel management one has to reach out to people as it is service oriented. You need to make your presence felt in everything you do. You cannot sit behind and wait for things to happen.

As a chef, apart from cooking good food, I always reach out to the guests and talk to them, get to know them, their likes and dislikes. This helped me when I did my shows too. So I strongly advise everyone who intends taking up the course should be an extrovert – friendly and approachable.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

So you want to write a bestseller?

The Economic Times ran a story yesterday on ‘How Amish Tripathi’s success is prompting MBA grads to become novelists'.

The article – and many others like it – imply that MBAs have a higher chance of success in the writing profession than non-MBAs.

In support of this theory the article quotes this fact: Of the top 10 books in the shortlist for The Economist Crossword Book Award in October 2012, seven had been penned by MBAs, six of whom were IIM alumni.

I think the more important fact which readers will miss is the part where Amish mentions he comes from a ‘typical middle class family;’. The top-selling authors in India today would all use that phrase to describe themselves.

It’s typical middle class - writing for typical middle class - that’s selling.

The other qualities that I believe make for success are:
1) being pigheaded (believing in your story and way of writing when no one else will)
2) being ahead of your time (what you’ve written has not been seen before or done before)
3) being I-don’t-give-a-damn (I started doing this for fun, not to make serious money or a big career).

These are the qualities you should look for in yourself when you ask – can I make a career in writing. If you are any old boring MBA writing a book that sounds very much like Chetan or Amish or Ravinder or mine, it is not going to work.

If you are confident, crazy and committed to writing – you have a shot.

You will need to collect life-experiences and opinions and attitudes but it need not be at a bschool.

Most importantly, you need to train yourself to connect with a source higher than yourself. Because the best artists of all kinds freely acknowledge – they are but instruments through whom the words, the songs, the art and ideas flow.

Robert Louis Stevenson (‘Treasure Island’) conceived of entire novels through dreams.

Elizabeth Gilbert (‘Eat, Pray, Love’) gives a brilliant TED talk in which she argues that creativity is divinely inspired. I love the part about ‘genius’ being like Dobby, the house elf.

Amish Tripathi says that writing his books is like a ‘joyful ride’.

The book itself would just keep coming. The only thing I had to do was to listen to music, which (matched) the mood of the moment that I am writing in. So if I were writing a war scene I would listen to the music of Eklavya (starring Amitabh Bachchan, Saif Ali Khan and Vidya Balan). And somehow that used to help the flow. When I would write a love scene I'd listen to the music of Don (starring Shah Rukh Khan).

That's all I had to do: play music and somehow the story would just start flowing. And there wasn't any logic to it. Sometimes I would write chapter 25, the next day I would write chapter five. The next day something of book three would come. I learned not to question it and would write just what came to me. I first wrote summaries of the three books and then I started expanding them into the books.

I don’t mean to say that if you switch on your favourite music a bestseller will flow out of you. But at some point, it can.

The tension with being a creative professional is that you have to work very hard in order to hardly work at all.

If you can understand that, you can be a writer. And your books will sell.

What you need is not an MBA but to discover the true power – of your mind.

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