Sunday, December 10, 2017

This Year in Book Reviews

This post is on all the books I read this year.

The Palace of Illusions - Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

The palace of illusions was a fine novel. I was apprehensive about yet another take on our epics. But this book did not disappoint. The language was very simple but not amateurish. The narration kept me hooked and I was rifling through the pages a lot. It was very enjoyable to hear Mahabharata from the point of view of Draupadi.  While many retellings vilify her for laughing at Duryodhana's confusion, this version has an interesting take on it.

The Rise of Sivagami - Anand Neelakantan

Yet another book by an Indian author is on this list. Fueled by the Baahubali craze I purchased this book. I particularly enjoyed Kattappa's origin story. I'm extremely excited to know how the plot thickens. This is a prequel set in the immersive universe. Sivagami's character is definitely one of the most intriguing in the movies and the book does not disappoint.

Women at War - Vara Hildebrand

A non fiction book is next on my list. It described the all-female regiment that served in Subhash Chandra Bose INA. Though they never actually fought, this book describes their trials, tribulations and their mindsets quite eloquently. There is a wonderful authenticity through photographs and interviews that you picture yourself being led by Capt. Lakshmi.

The Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas

I revisited this particularly riveting tale in its original avatar. This is a story of the most romantic revenge. There is something in human nature that is immensely attracted to the age old tale of good defeats evil. Edmond Dantes, the highly successful sailor, poised to marry his sweetheart gets thrown into jail by jealous rivals in career and love. The prosecutor might have saved him but due to personal reasons, he keeps him in jail. Edmond, being a simple trusting person, believes he does not have enemies and languishes in prison. Withering away for fourteen long years, he strikes upon a magnificent treasure and rewards those who helped him and takes ruthless revenge on those who wronged him. He leaves the reader with the enigmatic statement for all the problems in the world - "Wait and Hope"! Do give this book a try.

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

This is a fast paced thriller by JK Rowling under a pseudonym. I enjoyed the style, a refreshing difference from the Harry Potter saga. Cormoran Strike, a private investigator, is sent a nasty mutilated leg in the mail. More disturbing is the fact that it was addressed to his secretary. It's a  fascinating tale of logic, drama and the society in its most real perspective. This is a thriller you would not want to miss. 

The Prince - Nicholas Machiavelli

One of the most translated Italian books, Machiavelli could be loosely seen as the Chanakya of medieval Italy. In a desperate bid to gain political favour, Machiavelli describes practical requirements of leadership sans all morality. Far ahead of its times, it describes why the global leaders acquire technologies, why good leaders have good reputation even if they have to do a task that is not palatable. This is a fascinating read for insights into human psychology.

Now there is a book store in my college and I have to go see if my list is to be edited later :)

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Necessary Evil of Validation

We are fundamentally social creatures. It is one of the reasons social media sites have exploded in the last decade. We love to air our opinions, have conversations, know what everyone is up to and what not.

Our education system, our friends, our jobs all revolve in a realm of competition where you are consciously or unconsciously compared. Our work, our actions, our very thoughts are deeply impacted by what others perceive us to be, whether those perceptions are voiced or not.

On another level, it is sad we have evolved thus. In ancient hunter gatherer days, isolation from society meant certain death. Hence, the lack of validation from peers instantiate the same fear mechanisms that we have for physical obstacles.

When I was younger, it was much easier to receive that validation. Thus, without my knowledge, I became addicted to that sense of smugness that validation brought. As I grew older, the sources of validation became scarcer. Naturally, like any addict, I sought it more aggressively. Then, the voices became feebler and slowly tapered down to nothing.

I had made validation a metric of my progress in life and that ruined me. Then something in my head clicked. It was like a tiny twinkling of a star on a new moon night. I did not like myself. To escape that feeling, I yearned to hear someone else say that they appreciate my existence. The root of my problem, was that I did not fulfill the expectations of myself, not anyone else's.

I need validation. Because, after food, clothing and shelter, I entered into another tier of needs. A sense of purpose. That purpose was partially fuelled by validation. I just changed the source where I went to seek for it. The only effective method to achieve peace from validation is self-validation. No one, not the ones closest to me, not the ones who've been the longest with me, know my vision, know my story. I do not have the luxury of hating myself, because I have just the one soul. So I resolved to work with what I have, and celebrate it. Because I found, it's not that bad after all :)

Sunday, October 1, 2017


When the demon Mahisha wreaked havoc on heaven and earth,
emboldened by a boon that he thought made him invincible,
when every being believed destroying him would be an enigma,
little did he imagine he would be vanquished by the majestic
Goddess Durga riding a lion into battle. I salute you, Ma.

Today's young woman swims through a society's judgements,
pursues her dreams in spite of all the manifest obstacles,
trudges on with her bravery through every dilemma,
stands up for herself and surprises the very earth from which
she sprung. A Goddess herself. I salute you, Ma.

The Devas and Asuras fought over you while churning
the ocean of milk, Goddess Lakshmi showed us how fleeting
material prosperity is and saw through the cosmic drama,
and travelled to the abode of the one person
who saw through the Maya, Vishnu. I salute you, Ma.

For a few centuries now, her work was not economic.
Respected if a Goddess operated within a line, she depended
on father, husband and son. Today, in a sweet moment of karma,
she embraced her hidden talents and can support
all three of them with her prosperity. I salute you, Ma.

The serene Goddess Saraswathi cannot be described by words,
as she is the bestower of words herself! The mother of learning,
art, the veena maestro, the one with the subtle charisma,
the envy of the world and the embodiment of everything
pristine, her blessings are most sought. I salute you, Ma.

While intelligence has always been an individual trait,
today's Goddess can participate in the highest echelons
of learning. She has realized the value of the dogma
of Ardhanareeshwara and is utilizing the yin and the yang
to make our society a better place. I salute you, Ma.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Horror that was 9/11

I was nearly 10 years old when I noticed the hushed tones of my parents and grandparents. They were glued to the televised news. A plane had crashed into one of the Twin Towers.

My grandmother was frantically calling my uncle to inquire whether he was fine. Relatives were telling that they were safe. One of them had a meeting scheduled for later, a meeting that never took place. The towering structures were no more by that time.

By some childish curiosity and horror, I was watching the news silently. When the second plane hit the other tower, I yelped in surprise. It was a dark, obsessive compulsion to keep watching. As the flames spread, there was something in me praying for a miracle. At that age, I didn't have a notion of countries or any division. They were people trapped in a collapsing fiery nightmare. And that unsettled me immensely. When the first tower crashed, I was hoping, praying, somehow that the other one would be miraculously saved.

News started pouring in, of innumerable brave stories, of near escapes and tragic encounters. The story of Flight 93 was so touching, so brave and so unfathomable. Just like the story of Neerja, so many real people sacrificed themselves to save others.It was the first time I had heard the word "terrorism". At that moment, it had succeeded. It filled the ten year old, hundreds of miles away, with fear. I devoured any information related to it.  One distinct memory I have is the haunting image of steel scraps bent beyond measure.

We live in a world which is under siege by many natural disasters - and we seem to be creating more devastating ones by our apathy to climate change. In spite of all this, human beings are deadly. Any form of hatred or violence stems from resentment. Resentment from inequality, resentment from mistreatment - both real and perceived. If we spent less time filling heads with facts and figures and more time in empathy, friendship, love, compassion, humility and the ability to differ and still respect people genuinely - perhaps we'd have better peers, parents, teachers, society and governance. The world is so rich that there should be no poverty and we have enough food that there ought not to be hunger. Yet, power and privilege rule today's capitalist society.

This was just a general comment. What can I personally do? Try and be a little more empathetic and add to the love in the world. All is not lost. There are countless compassionate souls working for the betterment of society. News, unfortunately, is associated with things that went wrong that we do not know the good deeds done by others. Yet we know the latest controversy, suicide, murder, attack and all other macabre things happening.

With Gandhiji's birthday coming up, I am reminded of what he said - the heart that can be taught to hate, can be taught to love much more readily. I've paraphrased it. If I Googled it, it would become yet another "statement of purpose" I helped write ;)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

All About Teachers

Today is 5th September - traditionally celebrated as Teacher's Day in India. We cut a cake in our lab and that pushed me off the precipice and plunged me into pleasant memories.

Our first teachers are our parents. It's from them we learn language, life skills and even learning. I'm blessed to have had parents who never tired of my curiosity nor did they snuff it out.

I was also extremely fortunate to have wonderful teachers throughout my school life. It would be a grave injustice to any of them if I started naming them, because there were so many. For me, marks were a consequence of my thirst for knowledge. It was much later that I realized the flaws of the education system and how much of rote learning existed. My style of learning is such that I take a very long time to understand a particular concept but once I do, I do not forget the basis of it. Every student has a particular bias towards learning - some are visual learners, some are auditory, some are kinaesthetic, some are a combination of all the three and the best teachers have something for everyone.

Flashes of few memories do beg for my attention. There was a teacher in my fifth grade who assigned me to take tuition for a boy. She would let me not pay attention in class and prepare notes and questions for him. When he got full marks, I was the happiest sun beam on this planet. My mother would applaud my will power when I wrote exams through asthma attacks. It taught me a certain amount of grit. A cheeky disproving of my parents' understanding of eclipses are caused by shadows also resurfaces. I loved every subject from history to physics. That was only possible because I studied under teachers who taught us as stories and not as things we had to remember. In some sense, the story teller emerged as an amalgam of my experiences with my teachers. A teacher helped me overcome my stage fear by pushing me on stage at every conceivable opportunity. Ironically, a teacher's insult of my English catapulted my language skills into another realm and I thank her from the bottom of my heart as well. A teacher really close to my heart dragged me from the depth of depression and made me achieve my dreams.

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a teacher. Initially it was because I knew only three careers - engineer, doctor, teacher. A doctor seemed too demanding. An engineer seemed too boring. A teacher seemed exciting. As I grew up, I became more convinced I wanted to be a teacher. For me, it began with clearing doubts. I have seen some glimpses of hope that I may be a good teacher - I won a 'be a prof' event in college, I have dabbled in a few YouTube videos, I have been a teaching assistant with so much of soul satisfaction. I come from a family of teachers on both my mother's and my father's side, so I hope there is some genetic help as well. At the outset I did not realise it, but a teacher's job is as responsibly and morally demanding as that of a doctor. A doctor may save your life but a teacher teaches you to live it.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Period Leave Debate

So as I start typing this blog, my mind is going -
Do you really want to type this out? What will "aunty" say?

Well I've disappointed many aunties in my life, so no harm done I say :D

The case: There have been many discussions going round on social media about a period leave policy which basically states that a woman can optionally take a day off on the first day of her period.

For: First of all, it's nice that nobody is sweeping discussions around menstruation under the carpet and talking openly. Secondly, for many women, the first day of the period is notoriously uncomfortable. It is nice to give them a dignified holiday, rather than forcing them to take a sick leave. This is because you are acknowledging that the woman is healthy and that it is her time of maintenance.

Against: Women have fought to fight in armies. They have come a long way in their fight to equality. Why should they need some frilly privileges about an obscure discomfort that happens so rarely? Doesn't it make a woman appear weaker in comparison to a man? It is already hard for a woman to get a job - she is judged whether she is married, pregnant, will have children, has small children. Why do we need to add a corporate HR approved reason?

I am for the leave policy. Even if I were to rationally put aside the fact that I would be a beneficiary, I find it to be a good idea. There are two categories of reasons why people oppose it - one is the fear of losing opportunities and the second is ignorance.

As mentioned, a woman gets into the workforce after a lot of preconceived notions that may be acted upon. So rest assured, that the woman who stays will be an ambitious one - an asset to the company. The leave will be optional - she would not leave a meeting for this. But on a lean day, she may prefer the rest. 12 days a year is 24 half days. For all you know, women might be using their sick days for this alone. Hence, as an astute company looking for pure talent will not lose out. In fact, by letting your ladies have the option of resting, they would be much more efficient the remaining days.

Ignorance is that many people do not know how debilitating it is for a large chunk of women. As it is considered shameful to talk about periods, talking about pain is a bigger taboo. It is supposed to be hidden, non-existent - so how will anyone - even other women - know what some healthy women suffer during their periods?

At the bare implementation level, I really don't care if this policy comes through or not. In terms of benefits, I might as well use my sick leave. I've met women who bring their baby to a meeting and everyone agrees because they are indispensable. I believe men and women are different but men and women are equal. Both of them perform tasks differently - there is no right or wrong way. There are countless number of women who have broken the glass ceiling. This policy is not going to make a difference. But it is encouraging to note that people are talking about this vocally.

I do not think this provision makes a woman appear weak. For the well trained mind - a day of rest during a period gives time for a woman to re-equip herself. Don't you think we ought to give her that choice considering it is but a small down time for a system that is responsible for significantly perpetuating the human race?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Price of Perfection

It's no big secret that I am a perfectionist. I'm driven by results and I'm stubborn until I get it. I get complimented many a times for being a dedicated and hard-working person.

But is perfectionism good?

To answer this question, I felt it is pertinent to analyse the reasons that watered this certain characteristic in me. I feel our education system has made me ruthlessly competitive. Over the years, the social approval that came associated with academic success fueled my desire to study hard. I enjoyed the process and everything was rosy and nice.

However this came with its drawbacks that I have been noticing only lately. This attitude came with subtle messages that I did not realize even existed. It has sowed tendrils of doubt and a deep fear of failure. I treated failure as an obstacle that is to be quickly crossed by redoubling effort. It had strongly bound my happiness to quantifiable success. If not quantifiable, at least by the approval of others.

There came a moment in my life where the Universe I carefully constructed with hard work came crashing down like a pack of cards. The societal approval disappeared, the results evaporated and all my efforts were in vain. I could feel the haunting fear in the pit of my tummy that failure was imminent. I increased my efforts so much that it bordered on desperation. I learned later that there is some wisdom in the phrase "haste makes waste".

Soon, in every facet of my life I was facing failure, be it personal or professional. As far as the eye could see, there was only darkness. Who am I, if not for my results? What do I believe in?

I was struck by an identity crisis so clear that I felt like a bleak helpless baby once again.

Thankfully, in the 21st century, every individual has a lot of tools to help themselves. I'm grateful to my friends, family and the Internet for pulling me through. I don't see the light yet but I feel I'm getting there.

Part of the healing comes with the acceptance. This blog post is my way of accepting my flaws and working with them.

Perfectionism is not bad as such. Without it, I would not be where I am today. However, when it developed low self-esteem and the craving for validation due to external mismatches of expectation, it became a monster that devoured me.

So next time I see failure approaching me, I will not bulldoze it with hard work. I will face it, bite the bullet and learn from it. My life is not a statistic. When life is firing cannon balls at me, it's better to build an armour of self love than let it batter my soul.

Dedicated to every lip biting perfectionist out there - you are enough :)