Sunday, December 18, 2011

Hot Tea across India



Dear Readers,
From being out-foxed (Can I use this term) by the wild-asses in the Raan of Kutch, to being politely asked by a protest group in Kerala whether he and his car could be torched, Rishad Saam Mehta regales you with tales of his travels on his bike (and on rare occassion a car), which include incidents of being caught doing potty and other incidents of slurping hot cups of tea. A good read for the couch traveler and for the traveler. I am glad I am winding up my reading for 2011 which this humorous book.
Wishing you all a joyous 2012 and HAPPY READING.
Best,
Lubna

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Children of a Better God


Children of a Better God
By Susmita Bagchi

I read this book several months ago, but am uploading the review today.

What is our first impulsive reaction when you see a child afflicted with cerebral palsy? Unless we are aware, we tend to think that the child would also be having a low IQ and would be unable to learn and find a place in society. Nothing can be farther than the truth. These children are perfectly normal mentally, even as they may be physically disabled.

The author, Susmita Bagchi, penned this book to make us more aware of the issues faced by children afflicted by cerebral palsy. She spent time volunteering at the Spastics Society of Karnataka and was touched by the grit, determination and courage of the students and their caretakers. While the characters and some events in this book have been fictionalized there is nothing fictional about the issues, the struggles, the disappointments and dreams of these children and those who take care of them.

The main character in this book is Anupurba who is forced to return to India from the USA, owing to her husband’s transfer. In the USA, she was an art teacher and is now finding time hanging heavily on her hands.. She runs into a university friend and is introduced to Asha Jyoti, a school for children afflicted with cerebral palsy. Overcoming her initial fears, she volunteers as an art teacher. While she teaches the children to mix paint and obtain various shades in their paintings, it is she who learns a valuable lesson of how never to quit in the face of adversity.

While the language of this book is simple, it packs a powerful punch. Some events even made me cry. However, in addition to dealing with how these children are bravely facing life, the book also covers personal issues which some of the teachers are dealing with. This could have been avoided as it detracts from the main theme.

A big bonus is that it contains photographs of the drawings of the children of the Spastics Society of Karnataka. These drawings are beautiful and detailed; I only wish they were depicted in colour. They radiate joy and happiness; you can see flowers, smiling faces, a man sailing up with a bunch of balloons. Courage, faith and optimism shines through every page of this book.

I would recommend reading this book. It teaches you: Gratitude and how to face life cheerfully, even when there are hurdles in your path.

You can learn more about the Spastics Society of Karnataka by visiting their website
http://www.spasticssocietyofkarnataka.org

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Z 2 A by Eva Dillner



Z 2 A, by Eva Dillner

It is quite rare to read a book that truly speaks to you. Well, ‘Z 2 A’ penned by Eva Dillner, Swedish- writer, artist, therapist and teacher specializing in helping people during the transformation stage did just that. It spoke to me.

She was one of the fifteen Swedish artists selected for the Tellus Art project in India in 2010 and this book, interposed with photographs of her paintings is a rich spiritual tapestry helping the reader in the entire process of transformation.
Caught up in the corporate rat race, we know how to set goals and achieve them, or rather goals are set for us and if we want to climb up the corporate ladder, the goals have to be achieved. Our life is measured by what we are, rather than who we are.

Yes, the two things are quite different. Recall the last networking dinner you attended. Let us illustrate: You went up to someone and said: I am ABC and I work as a corporate lawyer. You repeated this over and over again. Then, you found a momentary sense of achievement in obtaining the contact number of someone who could be your potential client.

When was the last time you told anyone who you are? That you are a dreamer? Or someone who finds happiness in feeling the sand beneath your toes as the sea breeze ruffles your hair? Or that you find immense joy in helping street dogs find a good home.

Or do you even have time to observe the clouds, or find joy in walking along the beach or feel happy when a dog wags its tail and jumps up to lick you?
We know how to get from A to Z. But what happens, when life as we know ends, or we deliberately break the pattern, before we see a new beginning, there is a creative void where all things are possible. This is what the book teaches us, living from 'Z 2 A'.

We all prepare plans, even if we don’t pen these down on paper or store it on our lap tops or other gizmos, at least we have plans in our mind. Yet, everything does not go as per plan, all the time, right? Eva says: “We live and learn. Might as well roll with the punches. Put another way, you can’t force your will on the universe.”
At this juncture, there is a need to do the ‘RE-words’, which are outlined below.

RE-evaluate: We need to re-evaluate on what has worked and what hasn’t. Yet at the same time, one must remember that life is a constant change. Just because something was the right thing to do last year, doesn’t mean it still fits. The ‘Z 2 A’ period offers the time to reflect, to pause, to let thoughts drift and meander.
RE-member: It is important to get a perspective of what we have done, where we have been. This may offer a glimmer of insight into what we may want to change for the future.
RE-think your options: There are many alternative ways to accomplish the same thing and with this, we move on to the next ‘RE’.
• RE-consider your options
: Look outside the box, look at the alternatives on the opposite side of where you are. For instance, a hard driving executive may wish to explore the softer side.

Sometimes things like an illness, an accident, a retrenchment do happen for a RE-ason. These are personal ‘earthquakes’ and give an opportunity for rebuilding.
As Eva states: “The abrupt or soft demise of what has been is a signal that the Z 2 A period has landed in your life. Take advantage of it. Stop, pause and reflect before charging ahead to rebuild what was. Perhaps, you may want to look at other alternatives for the future”.

What perhaps holds us back is fear. The status quo Is often more comfortable than embarking on a new treasure hunt. LIFE IS A TREASURE HUNT.

Look at all the explorers who went sailing off to find the new world, at a time when consensus had us believe that the earth was flat. They really didn’t know if there was an end of the world, that would have abruptly plunged them into nothingness. They went anyway. They did the ‘experience’ and trusted the universe, perhaps with a bit of prayer to help them along the way.

There is a job for everyone. And by job we mean not your work-job but what you are called upon to do. For some of us, a high flying career is our life purpose. For others, it isn’t so. If we are dragging ourselves to our corporate cubicle, just to stash away money for a nest egg, do we have any idea that there will be a tomorrow to enable us to enjoy this nest egg? Or for that matter, how are we to know that our passion, will not enable us to continue to earn?

Eva outlines another process that can help us in transformation. In the process of RE, the present-future exercise is a good way to help us get in touch with our inner dreams , to get direction and move towards the future that is calling us. Often what our conscious mind says to do is contrary to what our higher self has in mind for us. This exercise puts the higher self back in the driver’s seat. While doing this exercise we should keep three elements in mind, viz: mindfulness; gratitude; compassion especially for ourselves. This exercise may require you to move back and forth, to do a lot of homework, to tie up loose ends. Once the backlog is cleared there is a lot more clarity.

This book, which as the author admits weaves in and out, dealing with different aspects of life. But the last chapter is devoted to letting go and trusting the higher power.

In these days of economic turmoil when many of us are prompted to ask the question, what shall I do with my life, this book will act as a guide. It may or may not resonate with you as much as it did with me, but nonetheless it will offer ever reader some gems to take away.

Find this book on Amazon

Photographs:
The cover of Z2A and
One of the paintings by Eva Dillner signifying -- A Journey into Space we haven't been before

PS: I got this book as a give away on GoodReads and I am so glad that I did.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Nebador (Book 4) Flight Training

Dear Readers,


Each book in the Nebador series leaves me with a powerful statement, something that I can relate to and follow.

In this book - Nebador (book four) - Flight Training, as Ilika and his chosen crew set off for training sessions on board the magnificent ship Manessa Kwi, Ilika shares a lesson. "My teachers often told me," Ilika shared, "that half the job of learning anything is deciding to". Not only does everyone learn, but Kibi and Sata also learn to overcome their fears.

Crew members are permitted to choose their destinations for the training flights. Thus, Manessa Kwi is piloted to deserts, ice-lands and waterfalls. But Kibi's choice is different. It is a city, that she wanted to see. Sometimes it is difficult to understand whether a social norm is good or bad. In this city, everyone is kept alive as long as possible, even if they are in pain and begging to die. The impact of an overpopulation nation is not difficult to see, in terms of polluted rivers, starving people, lack of fertile soil.

Living in Mumbai, India, I see the sky line changing right before my very eyes. I know for a fact that water may soon be a scare commodity here. Yes, we live on the coast, but does saline water help? We still haven't learnt to distill it. Our population continues to increase. While Mumbai is an integral part of India and people will continue to throng Mumbai in search of jobs, it is essential to ensure that there is development across the nation and that cities, such as Mumbai do not get overburdened. This chapter, where Manessa Kwi zooms over the dead and decaying city provided me with much food for thought.

The space ship also had its first guests, one of whom, hijacked the pilot and the ship. But it ended well. I loved the last paragraph of this book: As he (Ilika) glanced around the bridge (at his crew), he knew that both physical and emotional weakness remained, but also the strength and determination to keep chiselling away at those weakness until the universe was theirs to explore.

I have seen people successfully overcome their own weakness, learn new skills, be more flexible at the workplace and succeed. Yet others, have withdrawn into their shells, not accepted new challenges, nor new realities of the workplace and are yet to find a solid footing.

We alone can decide what we need to learn and learn it, what our weakness are and overcome the same (with support from family/friends and even professional support). As always, this book was a great read and not a mere sci-fiction fantasy, but a book that teaches a lot, albeit in an interesting manner.

Best regards,
Lubna

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Edward De Bono's Thinking Course


Dear Readers,
This book is a great read. My review was published in the March, 2011, edition of the Journal brought out by the Bombay Chartered Accountants Society and is reproduced below. Happy Reading and thinking!
Best,
Lubna


I have read many books written by Edward De Bono, so when this revised edition was up for sale at a recent book fair, I grabbed it. Edward De Bono is regarded as the father of ‘lateral thinking’. He first invented this term ‘lateral thinking’ way back in 1967. Today this term finds a place in the Oxford English Dictionary.

What exactly is lateral thinking? On his official website the author states: “You cannot dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper”. This means that trying harder in the same direction may not be as useful as changing direction. Effort in the same direction (approach) will not necessarily succeed.
As we age, we become more rigid in our thinking process. We develop certain preconceived notions; we set our own boundaries when confronted with a problem or even with a situation.

Edward De Bono further explains: "Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perceptions". With logic you start out with certain ingredients, just as in playing chess you start out with given pieces. But what are those pieces? In most real life situations the pieces are not given, we just assume they are there. We assume certain perceptions, certain concepts and certain boundaries. Lateral thinking is concerned not with playing with the existing pieces but with seeking to change those very pieces. Lateral thinking is concerned with the perception part of thinking. This is where we organise the external world into the pieces we can then 'process'.
If I were to sum up, lateral thinking, I would call it: Breaking set patterns of thinking to arrive at an optimal solution or solutions.

In his book: “De Bono’s Thinking Course”, the author brings out the difference between ‘creativity’ which he states is a value judgement and ‘lateral thinking’. Lateral thinking is both an attitude of mind (willingness to try and look at things in different ways) and also encompasses a number of defined methods. Thinking (ie: Lateral Thinking), he says, is a skill that can be developed by everyone.

I thought I was a ‘thinker’ and there was no need to do anything more about it. But, after reading this book, I’ve realized that there was much more to learn about thinking. This book will definitely help me to break out of my existing though-pattern and think differently and more efficiently.

A sprinkling of various ‘thinking-tools’ are found in this book, which are all part of the CoRT thinking process. The basic tenets of this process are: Thinking is a skill and can be developed; Most practical thinking takes place in the perception stage; and lastly the tools-method is used to teach thinking.

Let me briefly touch upon a few thinking-tools, which I found very useful. My favourite thinking-tool, today is PMI. Of course, the thinking-tools which you will find useful may differ from those below. Further, different thinking-tools are suited for different problems, situations and scenarios.

Plus, Minus, Interesting (PMI): Everyone thinks they use PMI, but in reality they don’t. Think again, when confronted with a situation, what do you look at? Of course, the plus and the minus associated with a particular choice. Do you look at the ‘interesting’ aspects of it? At least, I didn’t, now going forward I will!

The book deals with a scenario: What if all cars were to be painted yellow. However, let us alter this slightly. Let us take a news-clipping about a suggestion for a new colour for Mumbai’s traditional black and yellow taxi-cabs. Let us assume these were to be painted ‘white and blue’. Now let us analyse this situation in the context of PMI.
Plus:

• A fresh coat of paint to all taxi-cabs, would lend vibrancy to the city roads
• Paint-manufacturers would do well – time to buy shares of listed paint companies
• White and blue are my favourite colours
• It is easier to notice white colour when the light is dim, there will be fewer accidents at night
Minus:
• Taxi strikes may be around the corner. The taxi owners would not want to spend on a fresh coat of paint and would resist the change
• Taxi-cab owners would want to offload the extra cost of a new coat of paint on to the commuters by hiking rates
• White would get dirty very easily. In the monsoons, all taxi-cabs would look particularly dirty
Interesting:
• Would this bill (let us assume it were a bill pending at the municipal level) pass? Who would support it? Would the political party supporting it/not supporting it get any mileage and from whom?
• Will we see more advertisements on taxi-cabs? After all, with a new white coat of paint, the time will be right for also painting advertisements. Would advertisements be allowed on taxi-cabs? Will this lead to better maintained taxi-cabs and more comfortable rides?
• Will banks give loans to taxi-cab owners? Will these loans be at a lower rate of interest? Will the community have to bear any additional cost if these loans are subsidized by the government?
The above PMI exercise can be adopted to suit any situation. I think it can be applied much beyond mere ideas to even routine decision making at the workplace. For example, it can be implemented in an interview process.
During an interview, jot down all the pluses of choosing a particular candidate, then jot down all the minus of choosing that candidate, then all the interesting aspects of choosing that candidate. Repeat this exercise for each candidate. Perhaps, jotting down the interesting aspects may help your organization hire a candidate for a role which was not envisaged before or even think of starting that service line which was on the back burner for want of relevant skill-sets.
It is essential in this methodology that you do these one at a time, concentrate on the plus factors and plus factors alone before moving on to other aspects. In other words concentrate on the ‘P’, ‘M’ and ‘I’ aspects in turn. Further, it is also essential to jot down as many ‘Ps’, ‘Ms’ and ‘Is’ that we can think of.
What is the advantage of the PMI methodology? As Edward De Bono states in his book: “Our prejudices have already decided for us, what we should feel about an idea…The PMI exercise ensures that instead of intelligence being used to support a particular prejudice it is now used to explore the subject matter. Emotions are now applied after the exploration instead of being applied before and hence preventing that exploration.”

Considering All Factors (CAF): In doing a CAF exercise the emphasis is on: What has been left out? What ought to be considered as well? For instance, when buying a new house in a distant suburb in a gated community, the long commute time to the workplace and its impact on one’s free time should also be considered and not just the cost of this house or the amenities available in this gated community.

Consequence and Sequel (C&S): Thinking is almost always short term, because we are concerned with what will be the immediate cause of our particular choice. The C&S thinking strategy is a tool to deliberately consider the consequences of a choice/decision over a period of time. Four time zones are suggested in this tool, which may vary depending on the situation at hand. It is essential to focus on each time zone in turns.
For instance, for a graduate the decision to pursue a CA course may have the following time zones and thought process:
• Immediate up to one year: I will be forced to be a student for a few more years. This will mean a loss of income and also loss of peer standing as peers would be gainfully employed
• Short-term from one to five years: The few extra years spent in studying will reap a good dividend in terms of a well paying job with high levels of job satisfaction. However, the CA course is difficult
• Medium term from five to twenty years: If I qualify as a CA a good job and great career opportunities are assured
• Long term over twenty years: I can retire comfortably on savings made during my career.

Agreement, Disagreement and Irrelevance (ADI): Having a difference in point of view at the workplace with your superior? Try the ADI tool. Here, each party to the disagreement maps out: areas of agreement, followed by areas of disagreement and lastly irrelevant issues.
The mapping exercise can be done jointly or independently followed by comparing the mapping done individually. In fact, if the other party doesn’t agree, even one party to the disagreement can conduct this exercise.
The author points out that it often turns out that the areas of disagreement may be quite small but appear much larger because neither party to the disagreement wishes to concede a point for fear that this will be used against them. At the end of an ADI exercise both parties would be able to precisely point out the area of disagreement and this can be used as a base for designing a way around the disagreement, negotiating on a stronger footing and finding a path of resolution.

Other People’s Views (OPV): There are two parts to this exercise. The first comprises of identifying the other people who are really part of the situation. The second part involves getting into the shoes of these people and seeing things from their point of view.
There are many more thinking-tools, each of which are beautifully illustrated in the book and can be applied in our daily lives.
Edward De Bono states: “The skilled thinker can do two things: He or she can think about the subject – i.e. perform the thinking task; and second: He or she can think about the thinking used to performing the thinking task.”
It is time to put on your thinking cap and read books on Lateral Thinking by Edward De Bono.