All posts for the month March, 2017

Book Review – The Difference: When Good Enough Isnt Enough

Published March 28, 2017 by vishalvkale

About The AuthorSubir Chowdhury is chairman and CEO of ASI Consulting Group, LLC, a global leader on strategic initiatives, quality consulting, and training… His client list includes global Fortune 100 corporations and industrial leaders such as American Axle, Berger Health Systems, Bosch, Caterpillar, Daewoo, Delphi, Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai Motor Company, ITT Industries, Xerox, and more.
Subir is recognized as one of the “50 Most Influential Management Thinkers in the World” by Thinkers 50 of London, UK. Hailed by the New York Times as a “leading quality expert” and by BusinessWeek as “The Quality Prophet,” Subir is the author of fifteen books

N. R. Narayan Murthy says “Thoughtfully written, and a compelling read” about this book – in what can only be the understatement of the century! When a book both triggers off a series of thoughts in your mind and contrives to identify your weak points, all the while tugging at your core values without overtly saying them, those words seem to be a classic understatement. To a book reviewer, such a book also poses challenges in terms of how do I review it, giving full justice to it at the same time? When every page is vital, it poses significant challenges in terms of reviewing as well as summarizing!
Ignore the blurb on the back of the book. I mean that – quite seriously. This is a book that is about how you can create a great organization, to be short and sweet. It is also a book that is exceptionally hard to actually implement – that is also true; but then – the best things in life aren’t easy… and if it is easy, it very probably isn’t worth doing in the first place. If you are looking for a classic theory, or a step by step methodology, don’t go in for it. But if you are looking for answers to questions that you will find in this review, and many others like these, this is the book for you!
This book takes a look at Quality and Performance in a entire new light; it actually breaks new ground, and attempts to create a clear unbroken link between basic values of life and corporate performance; it also attempts to link how the smallest of indicators, usually ignored by all, can be indicators of systemic malaise. And this it does not through theory – but real life examples. And, without going into excruciating detail: that is, the format is succinct and yet power-packed. And, it also goes on to try and establish a format one can follow… has it succeeded is what I attempt to answer in the analysis…
The book delivers a superb and hard-hitting learning in sticking to the fundamentals of your core trade; of sticking to basic human values; of how the smallest of errors – like a toothpick on the floor – can be indicators of big trouble. It teaches a lesson in STAR – being Straightforward, Thoughtful, Accountable and have Resolve. It also teaches a lesson in quality – of what constitutes quality, what can be its determinants, and how to go about it. But it doesn’t give a ready lesson – you have to apply it, translate it to your reality, your industry, your function and your level, as I look at in the analysis part.
Let me start with an example of my own, a real one. I once had my team send a few cases to the service center. One of these was a logistics issue – delivery damages; and the other was a customer issue. Repeated follow-ups from my side elicited no response. I had taken all requisite approvals; my boss was on my side on this – and yet, the result was zero. One of the reasons was – in both cases, the physical handset or the part had not been sent from one place to the other. These two places were close to each other. In absolute frustration, I myself picked up both and got them to the two correct locations.
I could go on, but let me stop here. Examine this above operation- why couldn’t anyone in the right team have taken the initiative to close the matter? Especially since that company had a reputation for bad service, and was now keen on improving? The answer, as the book makes clear in the first few pages itself – is ownership towards quality. The people were just doing what they perceived to be their tasks. I was called a fool for doing a service task, and that too a low level one, despite being a Regional Manager. My attempt to lead by example was a spectacular failure; while I solved the issue -the core problem remained. My immediate sales were benefited, but each service issue was a similar fight.
This is something I have encountered in my entire career-  it isn’t my job; it is low-level for me; why should I; just ignore. In a modern organization, this extends to most functions; the small “adjustments” made in various places, special approvals taken without due thought; short term tactics used without a care for the impact on the long term – on internal business culture, brand identity and perception; organizational culture; performance culture; compromise on your fundamentals etc. And, truth be told, a person who tries to correct these is called out as a misfit. Any number of brands in my knowledge have collapsed due to these above factors.
And therein lies the most significant challenge to this book; the hard fact that, most times, employees tend to pay a heavy price for being exactly what the book proposes to do. I know that hurts, but that is a true fact, as I myself have known it first-hand. Take the example above : how could I not make an impact? The reason was simple – the rest of the staff were getting orders that were the opposite of, or fundamentally different from, or with much lower priority than, what was being told me. This wasn’t deliberate; the thought was that this strategy would suffice. And that is the first problem in the book – it should have gone deeper, into functional and role aspects.
Of the STAR acronym, I  myself have practiced at least the first two fully, and the third to a very great degree. Yes – I learnt the fourth – Resolve, which I need to strengthen; thus it is a fact that the book gives deep learnings to employees at every level. But, this to be fully successful needs two interventions – the first is to translate this to your industry reality; and your level; and modulate a response to your exact situation. Trust me – the book will equip you if you go into the subject with full commitment.
But this strategy also requires two other items; as someone who has been consciously trying his level best to do all of the book almost – look at para above – this is what I can glean from my experience, combined with the brilliance of the author. He saw things I couldn’t; he could put it in a framework. To walk this path also requires “STARCH” = a C and an H. That is Courage & Clarity of thought, and Health. The reason is that once you try to change the small basics, you meet hard resistance – which will require courage and clarity to properly identify &  solve; and will increase your stress levels sky-high – which brings in the H!
The best part of the book as per me is the compartmentalization of the acronym into the attendant sub-genres; like Accountability has been broken up into  Being aware, Taking Responsibility, Making a Choice, Thinking Deeply, & Setting High expectations, These are great tools of self-analysis, provided you are paying close attention. That is why I suggest be slow; understand each word.I could have read this at one go – I took three days to fully absorb each word. Will in fact re-read so that implementation can start!
Let me conclude with a flurry of questions; we rarely think of how the unthinking comment will demoralize the team or the vendor; how one action of neglect is picked up by the whole team and emulated; how one action of ignoring or procrastination can set a culture of the same; how one action of giving up can lead a strategy astray. The personal example I gave ins mute testimony of how uncaring employees together spoiled the best coping strategy derived. Everything was in place; every eventuality catered to. Only problem – the team was not convinced, across levels and departments.., and a change team of 10 cannot change an organisations’ culture….
In conclusion, I can only state that is the easily the most practical, powerful, and implementable management book I have ever read in my life – and I have read quite a few, even if I do say so myself. And what is more, these are the very reasons that brands fail; the reason that teams fail. If you are operating on STAR{CH} mode, then the likelihood of you  receiving early warning signals goes up exponentially, giving you time to set a corrective course… 

Book Review – An Era Of Darkness {An Analytical Examination}

Published March 25, 2017 by vishalvkale


Each idea has its own time; and each movement requires an inflection point, the point from which the momentum changes rapidly. This book marks one such inflection point in our nation’s history; it is a watershed moment for us. Living in an era where the past was considered to be done with & forgotten; when its lessons in danger of being unlearnt; and when colonialism was all but forgotten – one could not have hoped for anything better than this book.
Image result for dr shashi tharoor

The Author is, first and foremost, a very famous Indian, a very famous international diplomat, an Indian Parliamentarian, and a very well known figure in Indian literary circles with more than several top-notch books to his credit in the realm of fiction as well as non-fiction. And when such a famous and erudite personality puts his knowledge forward through social media and books, it both makes a tremendous impact as well as acts as a force multiplier as public interest is kindled. 

This has reversed the trend of Indians forgetting The Raj, and indeed revealed to all that the majority Indians have, in fact, not forgotten anything – as can be judged from the response to this magnificent book from all corners of India, as the entire Nation rose as one in adulation for this work. For the first time, a book has taken centrestage, and is getting accolades cutting across all divides, becoming a MAJOR national talking point. Kudos, Dr Tharoor! 
This book is unique among the 40-odd I have read on The Indian Independence Struggle; I rate it as among the 3 best in this genre. The other two are the ones by Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, and the masterpiece, the best of them all – the one by Narendra Singh Sarila. There are many other top notch ones- you can find them on my blog, or I shall shortly be reviewing them; like Jaswant Singh, The Mahatma’s Autobiography, Pankaj Misra, Bipin Chandra, etc. But this one – An Era OF Darkness – is unique among all these.
The reason for that is the book isn’t a plain regurgitation of facts and the attendant analyses; it also analyses British opinion, reasons of their actions. It also looks at contemporary issues in the light of the history, like the Kohinoor {Which was, is and always will be Indian}, or the self-examination of the suggested Presidential System of Governance. It brings new facts to light, such as, in the early phase of Colonialism, there were several British voices who felt the evil they were doing.
But more than even this, this book is unique as it is the first one that attempts to collate the entire damage caused by Colonialism into one book {I am indicating a few readings in parenthesis to underscore the massive ground this book covers}; you will find everything here, and with proof. It looks at the extensive monetary damage {Mukherjee, RC Dutt, Irfan Habib, and others}. 

It looks at the creation of Agricultural Distress {Irfan Habib, Tope, and many more}, Industrial Destruction {Durant, Tope, Habib, RC Dutt}, Opium {Tope – extensively covered} , Famines {Dutt, Mukherjee} , creation & hardening of caste divisions in India {Misra} , creation & hardening of the communal issues in India {Azad, Sengupta, BC Pal, Nehru, and many others} , and much, much more. This is what elevates this book to among the top Three.

It also systematically takes on the proponents of the Colonialism-wasn’t-all-bad brigade, and destroys all their arguments with clinical, relentless and brutal precision. No quarter is asked for, none given to these people and their hopeless arguments-  and all in completely parliamentary language. Be it Democracy, or be it The Railways – each Colonial “benefit” has been ruthlessly delinked from the Colonial Enterprise. As a matter of fact, that is also counter-factual. One of the first known forms of Democracy {Oligarchy}, is known to be present in India long before Christ… “The Ganasangh {Early India – Romila Thapar}”. If we can do it once- we can certainly do it again.
That said, the book doesn’t mention this; it takes a more contemporary analyses, proving that if we are democratic, it has nothing to do with The British, and everything to do with us and our decision in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And India? Well, as others – Sanjeev Sanyal, Tope and others state – India is an Ancient Concept. And doubters would do well to note the rise of a major central power in the Marathas just before The Raj. {Sanjeev Sanyal, Tope, book on Shivaji}

It also brings to fore the continuous waxing and waning views on colonialism from a British viewpoint, as well as American viewpoints, with consistent references to criticism emanating from their own nations, as well as the mass public support Colonialism had. The total lack public condemnation of Colonial Atrocities by the citizens of The UK, and indeed the overt support for such atrocities {Gen Dyer, anyone?} makes you sick to the core of your heart. 

This brings a question to my mind – how can any civilization who held such sickening views claim to be civilized? I think it is we, The Indians, who Civilized The West. The book also suggests the same, though not in so many words. The author has to be commended for his incredible control.
There aren’t many, to be perfectly honest. The only errors, or rather ommissions I could notice were slight, not worth the mention. I would just like to highlight a couple of points that were missed, to set the record straight and introduce new reading suggestions to the public. The first is Sati, and Thuggee. As Pavan K Verma proves in this book, this was a victory won squarely by Indians, with the first law against it being by A Mughal Emperor. In fact, by the time of the British, Sati was a dead practice- as Mr Verma proves with British Facts and Figures. Thuggee, well, Mr Verma also has a lot  to say on it… it was never a major threat! {Becoming Indian – Pavan K Verma}
The second miss is, sadly, a major one. That said, some reference has been made towards this, as Dr Tharoor does discuss the loss of Self-Respect and a couple of other points. And that miss the aspect of & destruction of our languages and culture, as has been eloguently put forth in the book by Mr Verma referenced above. It is a fact that Indian local languages, arts and cultures were denigrated, and lost patronage. 

The latest Marathi movie – Katyaar Kaalzaat Ghusli – gives an idea of the kind of lavish patronage local arts and artists enjoyed. The loss of this patronage was so severe, that it is only now, 70 years after independence, that they are getting closer to there they used to be; so much so, that at long last, local languages & arts are getting contemporary support of the teens and twenty somethings, that the vernacular media is rising faster than the English Media.
One of the finest books ever penned on The Indian Colonial Experience, especially the damage it caused. If you are looking for one resource, and don’t have the inclination, unlike me {I have been researching this for 8 years now}, to read several volumes, this is the book for you. Having researched this subject, I am aware that the content is completely factual. The book leaves no doubt that there was nothing good that ever came out of the Colonial Experience. Best part is the last one or two chapters, which look at contemporary issues arising out of The Colonial Experience, squarely blaming the former colonial powers. 

For more details, you can read From The Ruins Of Empire from a Pan-Asian Perspective. As a matter of fact, much of the Business Rules are still reminiscent of Colonialism, as I analyse in my three articles on The Modern Post-Colonial World, which remains Colonial in nature…. 

War Memorial, Southern Command – Indian Army

Published March 24, 2017 by vishalvkale

This is, to me, as well as to any number of other Indians, a pilgrimage site; a visit to a War Memorial of the Indian Army. One of these is located at Pune, Southern Command. I ended up spending 3 hours almost over there, as well as taking home a superb Souvenir from the Souvenir Shop – a lovely Indian Army Coffee Mug, something I shall treasure for a very long time!
Words are superfluous here; please enjoy and feel the enclosed photographs, set in the superbly scenic well maintained greens… just this once, no prose. I have no words in my mind or my heart; it is just too full with emotion even now, two hours later. I cannot describe my feelings as I carefully went through the entire range of the displays, which are both open-air as well as in a Museum. Best of all, these contain original photographs from Armed Forces Missions and Wars… these photpgraphs and the displays speak for themselves… some pictures speak louder than words…

Book Review – Is It Maya?

Published March 22, 2017 by vishalvkale

The best books in the fiction genre are those that are born out of the local fare, the local news and the local trends – for the perfectly simple reason that the readers can easily connect with them. The current book under review may not be among the best, but is easily one of the better ones in Indian Fiction in the English Language. This book, and others such, make me sad – for want of sufficient space on book shelves, and a greater marketshare. For these books derserve far greater share than they get.
Image result for is it maya saikat bakshiThe book has been inspired by one of the most prominent cases to hit out Media in recent times, that of a solialite arrested for the murder of her daughter / sister. I am pretty sure this will ring bells in the minds of most Indian readers.  The story is that of Maya, a Media baroness, who gets arrested for the murder of Veena, her purported sister. Turns out that the sister is actually the daughter, a sordid tale unto itself. Also involved are a literal litany of her ex-lovers, for this Maya has quite a history, a rather purple-coloured history of an achiever who kept morals far away in her rise up the corporate ladder. But, the big question is : is she really the criminal?
The difficulty in writing a fiction book on current events is that reader comparison happens; cynicism also sets in, as there is the tendency to underplay the content and the imagination that goes into crafting a fictional story out of such events. Such books have to quickly set a tone of their own, kindle reader interest pretty fast; and keep the readers interested right through. Second, the plot should be sufficiently different, using the real event only as an inspiration, that is – the story should be individual, not a copy.

Image result for is it maya saikat bakshi
Is It Maya quite successfully negotiates most of these challenges. It takes off smoothly, and quickly engages the reader into its content and its pages. The plot has no twists and turns of a major nature; despite this, interest has been maintained through a combination of constant and consistent introduction of new characters into the story, and new facts. Each carries the story forward in some way, each introduces new elements into the story. This keeps interest going.
The pace is not frenetic; this is an easy-paced book. There is no violence of any sort; this is not a thriller by any stretch of imagination. This is more of a book around the human-interest anger, and a suspense genre book.  The continuous refusal of Maya to admit guilt, despite breaking down and confessing to the true relationship between her and Veena, is one point that increasingly creates questions in your mind. And yet, it keeps the reader interested right till the last page, which makes it an excellent fiction book!

The character development is adequate for the genre; there are only two strongly etched characters in this. Befitting the title – Is It Maya – the strongest and most developed character is of Maya. The only other character who is comparably well developed is Vivek, a childhood friend; and Maya’s latest husband, David. Everyone else is subdued, which all comes together in the end. The skillful method of holding back information has been excellently deployed, with the end being completely logical. All in all, this book is an excellent read on a journey, or on a tour,  as a good time-pass. Rated 3.5 Stars out of 5. 

Book Review – Tales From Shining And Sinking India

Published March 15, 2017 by vishalvkale

Image result for tales from shining and sinking india amaryllisTales from Shining and Sinking India is a series of deep fascinating and interesting stories covered by a journalist during the course of his career. The selection is stupendous, meaningful, and a great value add, besides being interesting and largely of current interest. The eclectic selection includes stories on the Naxal problem, massive floods in Bihar, the 26/11 attack and its Media coverage, Air Accidents – YSR Helicopter accident & Mangalore, Chandrayaan, Tibet, A visit to Pakistan as a Media professional, West Bengal and the fall of the Left, and the two best ones – Anna, and a lovely article on Festivals of India
Tales from Shining and Sinking India is a book by a Media Personality – Akash Banerjee; it has its many good points; but let me depart from my convention, and first point out what I felt were its negatives. I want the readers to leave with a positive impression of this excellent work, so for once let me get into the negatives of the book before I delve into the positives. There aren’t very many, to be honest.
Image result for tales from shining and sinking india amaryllis

First and foremost, this is an out and out defense of the Media, start to finish. That is the impression I got from it. Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing – the other side of the story does need to be told, especially in an atmosphere wherein the Media is often called up for its ways. The US example is present in front of all of us – and that is why, despite me calling this a negative point, this book needs to be read by all. Credit where credit it due. That said, the points raised in at least one article, maybe two or more, failed to impress me, especially the article on 26/11 Media Coverage. I didn’t buy the arguments put forward, sorry. But as this is a book review, I leave it at that. Read it yourself to form your own opinion. Suffice it to say that I remain singularly unimpressed by the defense stated.
Furthermore, the second negative – the point in the Epilogue on Paid Media, well – let me just say that I don’t buy it as an individual. The points raised by the author, while pertinent, do not tally with what I have experienced. I have read one-sided views on at least two scientific topics, with the brunt of the articles being on one side of the argument only. The other side – well covered in more than several researches – didn’t see the light as often as the other side. Now this may be due to opinion as well – not paid news; but unless these and such instances are analysed and explained, I just don’t buy the entire segment in the Epilogue, as it seems to me one-sided. I can also spot many other examples from memory, but science is fact-based, so I choose only science.
Moving on to the positives, let me start be saying that there are so many that it will be difficult to list in a small Blog Article. The subject matter this book contains is so pertinent and varied that listing all pluses is not feasible. So let me just focus on the main points I noted. First and foremost, the depth of coverage of each article, and the entire presentation is excellent. This makes for riveting reading. Since these are personal experiences, depth refers to the complete experience of the Author, and the attention to detail. That is remarkable.
Next, the choice of articles and the subject covered deserves a special mention. You get a view of the on-ground scenario in a variety of contemporary and vital aspects of public importance or interest, ranging from Pakistan,  Natural disasters, Accidents, Terror aspects, Media, Politics, Science – topped off with a delectable number on India’s Religious Festivals. It is this top-notch mix of articles that make for a fascinating, riveting read; giving the book a lovely flavor – this is a very highly balanced book indeed!
Third, the articles, or rather memories, are so well presented in the book, that you get a birds-eye view of the entire scenario as it plays out. The follies as well as the good points have been fairly narrated, with a full coverage; this tends to lend authenticity to the work. The coverage is fairly in-depth, and it gives us an idea of the entire scenario. The articles on the Tibet situation, India’s Festivals, Bihar Floods, Naxal Menace, Anna – and The West Bengal Left’s collapse are the best of the lot.
Fourth, and perhaps the most significant, it gives us, the audience, an inside look at the career of a Journalist in the modern high-pressure world of constant 24*7 news, the pressures they work under, and extent of the hard work, trouble and hardships they have to go through to get us that vital news-bite. This is, in my opinion, vital – as the 24*7 atmosphere is here to stay; and rather than blandly criticize the Media, or take it for granted, we should all be aware of what they go through. This book is a significant contribution in that realm. All in all, a class book truly worth reading for all bilbiophiles, indophiles, current affairs followers and Media persons… 

Punjab – AAP Debacle, Or Just The Start?

Published March 14, 2017 by vishalvkale

The recently concluded Elections in Punjab, in particular, returned a surprising result; few people had foreseen such a massive victory for the INC. While even the UP elections were rather of a surprise, the difference was that the UP results were not as suprising, given that on-ground reports from my friends in UP were very gung-ho about the BJPs prospects. But there was nothing in the air regarding Punjab that at least I read, with the result that I got a complete surprise.

In my opinion, after studying the entire results data constituency-wise, as well as the history of elections in terms of results, the question that comes to my mind is this : were we guilty of expecting too much? Historically, Punjab has always been a two-way fight between Congress and SAD; and the AAP was a rank newcomer to the scene. This reality has to be kept in the backdrop. Second, the win in New Delhi for AAP was in a different political and ground reality, and the realities in Punjab were slightly different. Third, as others writers have also noted, there were mistakes committed in the run-up. Fourth, there was also the scepter of internal issues in the AAP. All of these were known to us.
Expecting too much is not the same as accepting defeat after a loss. By expecting too much, you let your ambitions and desires soar; the resulting crash leads you to ignore the benefits that have accrued, as you go into the mode of post-mortem. And the reality is that a new party has exploded onto the scene in the state with a significant vote-share; never in the history of Punjab has any party apart from these two won 20 assembly seats. Only the Janta Party in 1977 won 25 seats; even the BJP got 18 and 19 seats twice. Thus, this is a very respectable opening for a new party. Note that 77 was a different pollical atmosphere and 97/07 BJP numbers were from an established party. The AAP is a rank newcomer.
Looking further into the numbers, the AAP garnered a vote-share of 23.7%. Dig deeper, and both issues, as well as areas to focus on, start becoming apparent. In the seats which AAP won, it got an average margin of 9.58% over the 2nd candidate; this number is 19.79% for the INC and 18.99% for the SAD-BJP combine. The AAPs margin of victory is far slimmer, meaning that the other parties are deeply entrenched into the local people. This also goes to prove the splendid job that the AAP did achieve, given the circumstances and all that happened in the campaign.
It is noteworthy that they managed inroads in a state which has had only two major players since independence. The slimmer victory margin underscores the strong support for the existing parties, as well as shows AAP the way forward – Consolidate on the gains acquired, and grow from here. The Janata Party in 77 could not consolidate, neither did the BJP having acquired a similar level of strength. But what is truly in AAPs favour is its newness to the political scene. Far from being a problem, this newness is actually a great big advantage in its favour-  provided they develop their policies and their core base properly. Another data point also supports this contention – the SAD-BJP, despite having only 18 seats, had a vote share of 30.9%, again showing deeply entrenched followership.
What is more, when you go deeper into the data, what transpires is even more heartening. Of the 10 seats where the INC had the slimmest margins {upto 5.25%} over the next best, 9 were AAP candidates, who lost by a few thousand votes only. This indicates that it is feasible that the AAP is eating into the INC vote share and support base {though this cannot be a definitive conclusion, need more data and facts}. Again, this gives the AAP a strong starting support base which it can develop into a core base, from which it can grow in the years to come.
There can be no doubt that the AAP did not do as well as expected; in our first past the post system, yes – the AAP lost. But it wasn’t a comprehensive loss by any definition of the word. There are enough indicators of the way forward present, and it is now upto the AAP to pick up steam and develop their core base from here onwards. Given their overall strategic approach, I for one have no doubts. The AAP while it has committed errors, has also shown the ability to learn fast. In 2014, it tried for 432 seats pan-India. Since that experience, they have now altered approach in favour of a steady growth state-wise. The ball is now firmly in AAPs court.
The last point that I make here- these elections have been very heartening indeed, in that in three cases, the results was a clear one. That is what we need – two or three main parties in contest, which ensures stability of policies and governance. It was heartening to see the BJP emerge as the single party in charge; as also the INC in Punjab. We also need to keep track of NOTA… in Punjab, NOTA managed a share of 0.69% overall, emerging as the 4th or the 5th choice in 60 of the 117 seats. This again proves the contention above-  the emergence of two or three strong choices. This bodes well for our Demoracy!

1) assembly elections 2017 results – HT  2) Punjab Assembly Election 2017 Results –    3) Raisina Series – AAP’s Punjab post-mortem…    4) Firstpost – Punjab Election Results 2017: Congress wins 77 seats; Amarinder Singh to be next CM

Book Review – Open-Eyed Meditations

Published March 12, 2017 by vishalvkale

Shubh Vilas is a spiritual seeker and a motivational speaker, with a degree in Engineering and Law, specialised in Patent Law. Prominent among his teachers are H.D.G. A.C. Bhaktivedant Swami Srila Prabhuda {Founder Hare Krshna Movement} and H.H. Radhanath Swami}
Image result for open eyed meditation

Open-Eyed Meditations is yet another book from the pen of Shubh Vilas, the author of the Ramayan Translation series “Ramayan – The Game Of Life”. And, as the Ramayan Series, this one is yet again another excellent work, but in a very different genre altogether. Furthermore, while the title may say Open-Eyed Meditations, this is actually a far more potent work, and deals with far more than just meditation. In fact, it has nothing to do with meditation as we understand it.
If you are beginning to question yourself and the world around you {whether in genuine interest / desire to know more of the world and yourself, or  in a tough phase of life}, this is the book for you. If you are in an introspective phase, this book can be your guide; or, if you are in just a  receptive mood for good practical and eminently workable minor modifications to enhance, if nothing else, your own mental stability, this is the book for you. And, if you are beginning to wonder about stress in life, then this is definitely the book for you. The icing on the cake : if you are one of those who realizes the value of conrollingyour sense organs, and thus directing your mind – but is not getting the desired level of success from the efforts, then this is the book for you.
Ordinary books are relatively easy to summarise; good books decidedly harder. But the best books, as well as the ones with deep philosophy or content, are the hardest to summarise; this is one such exceptional book, for reasons we shall look at in the analysis part.
But, to give a general idea of the content, this is a book about the mind and the senses; about the internal pressures and external stimuli and their interaction in the real world. This is a book on Relationships, about being selfless, about prioritizing as per your situation, about taking decisions and taking responsibility for decisions; about leadership, about handling provocations, about learning from mistakes, about being responsive. It is all this, and much, much more.
As the blurb on the back cover says, this is a collection of thoughts, all relating to practical everyday experiences. Each and every one of the chapters mentioned is relating to a real-world, everyday and practical situation most of us go through. This is a collection of thoughts around everyday topics – things that cause us joy, sorrow, stress and more. The unfair boss, the back-biting friend, the parasitic colleague or team member who takes credit for your work, they are all present. Also present are your anger, your responses, your ego, your mistakes, your relationships, your communication with various and sundry relations in real life. Not only that, you will also find lessons and thoughts on innovation, leadership, ego, decisions, Focus, self-introspection and Love…
This isn’t your everyday book, one that you can sit and read for hours, or pages. Do that, and you will be wasting both your time and money, as well as the author’s effort. As the author says on page 15 of the introduction, “Read this book the way a cow eats grass while ruminating, Chew on every word carefully…” Read it when you are in the mood – even if it is 3-4 pages at a time. Go through the pages that you find relevant; and re-read them. Keep this as a reference guide, a book to come back to a few pages at a time.
The language is simple and straightforward – but the learnings very deep. The content is so practical, so real and so close to everyday life, that you will readily relate to most of the content and the chapters. The explanation and the presentation is remarkably lucid, and opens your mind and your heart to thoughts which you didn’t know existed in your mind; this book comes to the aid by bringing them to the fore. In a way, Shubh Vilas acts as your guide and guru, highlighting new ways of thinking and positive thoughts.
The content is deeply moving, and acts as a massively positive motivator, in addition to giving you new ideas and methods of doing the same old tasks; it even gives you clues in your relationships, making you more aware, giving you the chance to change / improve your responses. And it isn’t rocket science or deep meditation, it is just simple thoughts, and simple tasks that suffice. So much so, that you end up feeling “I could have thought of this”! It is this simplicity of approach combined with the practical content, of everyday use, that together create a deep connect with the reader.
The best part is that you may be doing some things right : that you may be on the right path, and yet are getting stressed for no reason. The content will actually enable you to recognize not just where you are wrong, or where you are right – or indeed where you require to change, without being judgemental, or instructive. That way is an instruction manual! It enables you to understand where you just need to keep doing the things you are currently doing, and not give up, or be too self-critical – or where you need to change. The realization comes through your own thoughts – and that is what acts as the biggest motivator, as it gives a holistic picture, and a deep connect. All in all, this is one of the finest from this author! 

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Book Review- Blemishing The Odds

Published March 7, 2017 by vishalvkale


By Harish Penumarthi
Image result for blemishing the odds
This is a beautiful love story of teen love. End of review.
Wish I could stop writing and close this review here – writing anything more seems a sacrilege, almost – especially for such a lovely story, that tugs at your heart strings, that takes you on a roller-coaster ride, a story of two imperfect individuals, a story of, at first, one-sided love blossoming into something substantial. It is also a sublime story of struggle, of a wayward boy, of a repeat failure, of a bad son, and of crippling life problems.
This is the story of two people – Raghav & Trisha. That said, it is told from the perspective of Raghav, who is the opposite of Trisha in everything and everyway. Trisha is studious, while Raghav is, shall we say, 1/Studious, the reciprocal of studious. Frankly, Raghav is a boy with no redeeming qualities that I can relate to, as an individual. He is irritating, interested only in playing {not sports, just paying}, with no interests and a total lack  of direction in life. Fine, he is too young for such esoteric things like “direction”, but the total waywardness that he displays is sad. Enter Trisha.
No, don’t get your hopes up. He doesn’t improve due to Trisha. His school performance does improve – but that is not studying – he is still not interested in the least in anything remotely resembling books. If anything, things only get worse. Would you allow your daughter or your student to be anywhere near a wayward clown as Raghav? I don’t think so. Well, neither did the rest of the characters in the school. Thankfully, the author doesn’t dwell too much on this angle, concentrating on the school aspects. Life goes on for our pair, despite small hiccups.
What happens to turn this wayward misguided child into something else? Two things, or rather three. Trisha, Basketball… and a brutal shock.  And it is from the Basketball angle that the story picks up pace, acquiring a different life, picking up its pace remarkably, with remarkable development of Raghav becoming visible, teaching us readers a lesson as well; there is no such thing as no redeeming quality. This is a different Raghav we are seeing here. But studies – well, now lets not get too excited shall we?
The chappie is still not interested {state that in Bold Italicized Capitals} in studies, or anything remotely close to it. Well, that’s not such a good thing, is it now? Fine – don’t be a topper. But at least pass with decent enough marks, that is all.  All through this, the love story continues; no melodrama, no needless fights, disagreements. Trisha is the one good thing that is a constant in Mr Wayward’s life. You cant help but think, pichhle janm ke punya honge Raghav ke! So what happens to change Mr Wayward? Read the book for that – this is the best part of the book, as the swift turn in the story brings a tear to your eyes in more than one place, but not tears of sorrow; tears of emotion, and of feeling….
The book is a slow read to start with, with lots of detailing and background filling. This frankly isn’t a waste; it helped in building the main characters of the story. That said, Trisha required a lot more filling out; that would have both filled out the book,  as well as made it far more riveting. Raghav as a character is very well developed, with clear and consistent, bold lines and firm development. The character remains “within character” throughout; and the change, when it comes, is also in keeping with the overall character.  The only jarring tone is the use of swear-words, which seemed out of character. Docked half a star for the use of bad words.
The pace of the book is neither too slow, nor too fast. The language is easy, and the book is filled with loads of emotion, making a fun read that tugs at your heart strings in many, many ways. It takes you through their lives, and makes you smile, laugh and cry at various events, statements, twists and turns. The book has some strategically placed witty one-liners that keep your smile going throughout.  The turnaround, and the fighting spirit displayed by Raghav are sheer class, and will bring a tear to your eye. All in all, this is a good read for a journey or on travel; rated 3.5 stars out of 5; minus 0.5 star for bad words = 3 star rating!

{To the author – if you are reading this; for the follow-up second part, please be sure not to use swear words.  We writers have a responsibility toward society, and have to lead by example. I am not giving a 4-star rating only due to this}
Image Credits – Google Image Search

Book Review – India Wins Freedom {Maulana Azad / Humayun Kabir}

Published March 6, 2017 by vishalvkale

Maulana Azad / Humayun Kabir
Image result for india wins freedom 
This is the full version, which  was released to the publishers only in Sept 88, as per the events given in this paragraph. The issues arising out of these pages were heard by The Calcutta High Court, The Delhi High Court and The Supreme Court, before Justice B. N. Kirpal of The Delhi High Court directed on 29th Sept 1988 that a copy of each of the text deposited in the National Archives and The National Library be handed over to Orient Longman. The Court further directed that the material should be published without alteration, after comparing the copies to ensure they were identical.
This is an autobiography, though it has been penned by Humayun Kabir. The Preface to The 1959 Edition clearly gives the full sequence of events that lead to this book, readers are requested to read it. People don’t normally read Prefaces – I call on all readers to ensure they read every word. The Author sat with Maulana Azad over a period of two years, as per the preface. Maulana Azad edited some passages, comprising 30 pages, and that the complete text be deposited in the aforementioned libraries {Pg xii}
India wins freedom is a first person account by a person who should be much better known, respected and followed by us Modern Indians than he currently is – Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, whose patriotism, Indianness, and devotion to the national cause are clearly second to none. Further, this was a man whose situational reading of the events of Partition, specifically with relation to the new state of Pakistan, were stunningly accurate as history has proven, as also his passionate opposition to a divided India. He stands tall and resolute as one of the finest Freedom Fighters and Leaders to emerge out of this holy land.
This is an important contribution to the literature around Independence, and our Independence Struggle. In fact, it is my opinion that this book is one of the most significant contributions to the entire body of literature around the freedom struggle from the mid-1930s onwards. I cannot think of any other book that comes even close to this one in terms of the import it has on our understanding of the events that lead to independence, save one. That one book is the excellent treatise by Narendra Singh Sarila, titled – The Shadow Of The Great Game : The Untold Story of India’s Partition.
I will depart from my normal practice of highlighting important points of the books I review, and summarizing the learnings to be had; this is too important a book, its import far too significant to risk summarizing in a few hundred words. Suffice it to state that this book takes you head-on into the events leading to 15th August 1947, and gives you a seat at the table where everything was planned, negotiated, fought over, discussed threadbare, analysed, courses of action decided upon and acted on. This is an eye-witness account, and represents irrefutable evidence, as it is a memoir by one of the key players in the Independence struggle. I am not aware of any other eye-witness account from any of the key players involved, which gives this book a special place in our literature.
You may not like a few words, paragraphs, events – I know I didn’t; yet you have no choice but to accept them, as they are written by one of the key players, and are irrefutable evidence. You can question the opinions {where stated as such}, as opinions aren’t facts; these are easy to spot in the text. But you cannot question the facts and the events as stated – this is an eye-witness account. What is more, this represents the culture and society as it then existed, free from the bias of hindsight. All accounts of history suffer from the bias of hindsight – this book cannot be questioned on this score.
I highly recommend reading this book for everyone interested – those who blame The Mahatma and Nehruji, as well as those who don’t. The content will force you to question your many assumptions {on both sides, to be honest. I know I was forced to question some of my views}. And yet, you will have little choice but to accept, for the reasons I pointed out above. Despite having read and reviewed well over 30 books on Independence, some of the content came as a brutal punch in the gut. Sections of this book were deemed too sensitive to be initially published and an edited version was in print for the first 30-40 years; I wholeheartedly concur. In fact, these sections, available in this full version, are frankly way too uncomfortable to confront, more so for some people. I do not advise reading this book if you cant keep your biases, preconceived notions,  passions & idealism at bay.
This is not an easy book to read, regardless of which side of the debate you are on. If you blame The Mahatma / Nehruji, here you will find irrefutable evidence that places them in a very positive and high light indeed; here you will find the sequence of events as they then happened, here you will find the decisions that were taken, the reasons thereof. Here you will find the definitive proof that disproves the views of the passionate among the blamers; here you will find an account of the events as they happened, leaving no scope whatsoever for inaccuracy. This book will take you face to face with your biases, and in a most confident and clear manner, without passion and factual.
On the other hand, if, like me, you are one who close on worships The Mahatma as next to only God, who looks on Nehruji as a hero bar none – you will find evidence of his / their mistakes, the real ones- not the ones erroneously credited to him in popular imagination. It is this factual and impartial statement of events as they happened that tend to give authority and authenticity to the sequence of events as stated in the book, giving it a sheen of sheer class and reliability. It is balanced and unequivocal in its balance. No attempt has been made to take sides.
But more than anything else, it gives a real window into the inner workings of The Indian National Congress in those days, which comes across as a highly responsible, democratic and vibrant organization – as opposed to popular incorrect belief of one-sided decision making by one or two people. The events and meetings described leave no room for doubt, The INC was an excellent and very highly organized democratic body. The decisions, and the way they were taken, belie the popular belief of single decisions by either Nehruji, or anyone else. You go away with a deep respect for the INC that was.
And, above all else, this book contains a series of stunning disclosures, facts, relationship realities that are either totally unknown, or come as a shocking surprise, and a punch in the gut to you. The relationship between The Mahatma, Nehruji and Sardar comes as a distinct surprise, as are the facts in relation to them, and the sequence of events. I will not say more, this is for each one of you to read for yourself. But remember, it will not be, an easy read, regardless of which side of the debate you are on. Suffice it to state that I can fully appreciate why some pages were edited out and not deemed to be fit for publication.
Above all, this is the only book I have read that is an account of what happened by one of the key players and decision makers in the events of the 1930s and 1940s. 

Book Review – The Google Story

Published March 1, 2017 by vishalvkale

The Google Story is a business case study, a lesson for all managers. It is a book that ought to be required reading in Management Classes everywhere. This is the story of  an organisation’s growth from start-up status to world leadership. It is the story that tells the virtues of sticking to basic business principles and fundamentals, almost to the exclusion of all else. It is a story of how you can still have values, and yet do good business. And it is also the story of how, in crunch times, these same values can be stretched to the point of breaking.
Image result for the google story
This is a book that should be required reading not just for Business Managers – but also for politicians, especially those in the Commerce Education, and Finance Ministries; and for educationists in technical colleges. This book, taken in the right spirit, is a standing lesson, an exemplar, for something I have pointed out earlier as well – deeper college-industry linkages, which can eventually help unlock potential, and give a direction to young talent. It is the complete absence of such linkages in India on a comparable level & scale, that is a significant reason for talent not to reach its 
This book gives an idea of how excellent linkages between industry, think-tanks, investors, and colleges can act as tremendous incubators for talent; places where talent can grow by itself, and seek opportunities to create and co-create exemplars. The USA, built  almost exclusively on borrowed talent, can justifiably lay claim to having successfully provided the right conditions for the talent of the google founders to grow and prosper; even supporting them in the initial stages, setting the stage for the exponential stages of growth that followed. This is something we all can learn from.
Google grew out of Standford University, where the founders were PhD Students; it was here that the ideas that grew into Google were incubated and reached fruition. This was preceded by other companies supporting Standford, like Microsoft, which donated 6 Millon Dollars for a state of the art building for its School of Engineering. This is a relationship that has stood the test of time, as the new Company, Google, continues to engage with Stanford quite successfully. This is what India  requires – a deep, inter-related and inter-connected mesh between Universities and Organisations, which can unlock the true potential of the people – and help generate ideas as well as jobs internally
This book is also a lesson in values – the admirable way in which the founders established a set of  values, and managed to stick to it for the most part, is exemplary, and a standing lesson to all Business Managers. Throughout, the focus was on the core underlying values to the Google Brand; and nothing was allowed to compromise on that for the most part. This is a tremendous achievement, and one can learn a lesson from this. The point to be noted is that the values have to be framed clearly, articulated well, and should strengthen the overall business proposition, as well as provide a way forward. Not only that, the business mission statement should also arise from the value proposition
But beyond all that I have hitherto stated – this book scores for the lesson it provides in building a great product that is along the lines of what the customer demands. This is a book that gives this one lesson over and over again – sell what the customer wants & needs. This is a standing lesson in customer focus and customer centricity. Build your offering based solely on what the customer wants & needs; the fund flow will take care of itself with a little bit of innovative thought, attention to detail; and a razor-sharp focus on the customer experience will over time become not just a USP, but a strong barrier against competitive attacks and downcycles
There are two more lessons to be had from this top-notch case study : start-ups, and values. This book brings home in a positive manner the need for having a proper fund-flow plan in place; but at the same time, it shows how you can focus on your core product, and plan for funds by the side. You will never have enough funds – but that does not mean you don’t build the product. It highlights the need for connections, for practicality, for innovativeness and speed in thought. It teaches you how to scale up from a small garage based {almost} start-up to a big company, and the pains that accompany it.
Lastly, this book exposes how, under crunch times, values and principles can come under pressure; and can get stretched or broken or compromised. It is to Google’s credit that their values did not break, but they were stretched or compromised at one point in time, as told on page 269. In many, many ways, this book is not just a case study, but a textbook on how to build a successful company, and run  it with an equal amount of aplomb and panache.
It is written in a very entertaining manner, making for an unputdownable page-turner almost. The language is easy, the concepts easy to grasp, and the pace of the telling is nice and racy, making for a fun read. All in all, easily a must read book…