The Internet to the Inner-net

A New Year has dawned.
So has new hopes. It’s also time for new resolutions and new experiences. And this is my first post in 2017.

This New Year day saw me travelling from Kochi back to my workplace in Dubai. And when I am in airports, book shops are my cynosures. My racing thoughts and unbridled longing for books put me in a fix. What to buy and what not to buy? My quest was on. And my eyes hitched on an orange book. The title – The Internet to the Inner-net. Five ways to reset your connection and live a conscious life. And the writer? Gopi Kallayil. Now I was quite curious to read the biography of the author in inner back book flap. Hmm. Interesting. Google’s Chief Evangelist for Brand Marketing. The back cover had excerpts from reviews of the book by Chade-Meng Tan (whose book Search Inside Yourself I found both delightful as impactful) and Jack Kornfield, the famous Buddhist teacher, among others. I just opened the introduction and there was something more that held my attention. Gopi is from Chittilamchery – which is about 10 kilometres away from my hometown, Pallavur. I picked up the book.

Gopi Kallayil.jpg

In this interesting book, Gopi speaks of five ways to reset our connection to the Inner-net that will help us lead a conscious life. Using computer parlance, the titles are most apt and meaningful.

Part 1 Log in. How else will you establish the connection? Definitely not by checking in once in a way. For staying connected one has to ‘log in’.

Part 2 Clear out the inbox. I am reminded of the story of the wise Zen master and a student who came to learn from him. The student wanted his mind to be opened to enlightenment. However, from his conversation with the student, the Master realized the youth was quite opinionated. The Zen master invited the student to discuss matters over a cup of tea. When the tea was served the master poured his visitor a cup. He poured and he poured and the tea rose to the rim and began to spill over the table and finally onto the robes of the young man. Finally the visitor shouted, “Enough. You are spilling the tea all over. Can’t you see the cup is full?” The master stopped pouring and smiled at his guest. “You are like this tea cup, so full that nothing more can be added. Come back to me when the cup is empty. Come back to me with an empty mind.” Unless there is space, how can we add on information? So, clear your inbox.

Part 3 Optimize your system. Without system optimization, no ware – hard or soft – will ever function efficiently. What are the practices I can use as anchors to optimize my inner-net? Meditation? Vipassana? Mindfulness? Yoga?

Part 4 Just Google it. From a Google evangelist, this is just spontaneous. It speaks about trusting the Universe and ‘know the right resources will show up.’

Part 5 Thank you for Subscribing. The power of technology and our inter-connectivity is amazing provided we use it to harness peace – both inner and out peace. Out peace is just a manifestation of inner peace. This then is all about being grateful, embracing possibilities and signing up for life itself.

This book has given me a sense of direction regarding my chosen path. One of which is seeing His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. I hope I will be able to fulfill this yearning in me, come summer break.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. 5 stars for such a delightful read.

Everyone Loves a Good Drought

Everyone loves a good drought by P. Sainath is an eyeopener of a book. If there’s a book that has taken me through myriads of emotions, it is this collection of the author’s visits and reports from the poorest of the poor districts of India – specifically from eight districts – Ramnad and Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu, Godda and Palamau in Bihar, Malkangiri and Nuapada in Orissa and Surguja and Jhabua, in Madhya Pradesh. There are some reports from Koraput and Kalahandi (Orissa), totalling about sixty-eight stories.

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A deep sense of anguish is the underlying feeling as one reads about the poor, the dalits , the adivasis and the marginalized communities. They have to bear the brunt of everything from lack of facilities like sanitation, health and education, drinking water, roads and transport – well everything that would raise the quality of human development indices even after close to four decades of independence. Yet, one cannot but marvel at the resilience of these hardy people who bounce back and eke out their livelihoods in their own simple ways.

The stories showcase what ails our government projects – many of the cogs in the wheel plunder, loot and thrive on what they siphon out from such projects. A drought, for instance – a real one or even a rigged one – is  a much sought after phenomenon – akin to a harvest of riches. It is this ‘crop’ that gives the book its apt title – Everybody loves a Good Drought. Besides the lopsided focus on development has brought in its wake countless troubles – like loss of indigenous cattle (e.g. the Khariar bull), messy health care, physical displacement, and cultural alienation just to mention a few.

It is amazing to read about instances of self directed empowerment – the picture of thousands of neo-literate Pudukkottai women who have developed a penchant for cycling, thus bringing unto themselves much needed self-confidence and self-respect. Or to read about the literacy movement or the anti-liquor movement that gained momentum much to aid the lot of the women folk.

If you are not exposed to the complexities of what rural India is like, this is the book to read. Well researched and meticulously crafted, it draws a pen picture of the India that is its villages, in its marginalized and much exploited communities. Loved the powerful language of the writer.

Five stars for this book.

PINK – A Different Movie Experience

Usually am not a Hindi movie buff as I find most of them remotely connected to reality. However, watching PINK was a refreshing experience. It lays its finger on so many societal and cultural aspects of the country, that is normally either left untouched or swept under the carpet by cinema, though in reality movies must be slices of real life, mirroring life in all its starkness – good, bad and the ugly.

PINK really reflects the conventions in the modern Indian society. It throws light into the capriciousness of minds especially when it comes to matters targeting women. Patriarchy. Parochialism. Nepotism. Harassment. Threats. Abduction. Contortion in courtrooms. According to the Gender Inequality Index table of 2015, India ranks 127th in gender inequality (lower than some Middle East and even Sub-Sahara countries) and 114th in gender gap in the world. Despite the rise in female literacy, only just above 30% of women workforce. It is clear that the society refuses to hand in freedom to the working Indian woman.

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Poster credit:

http://www.comingtrailer.com/movies-posters/pink-movie-official-poster-wallpaper

The movie’s opening is riveting. As credits roll over, in the background you hear voices from a party in progress. Conversation. Fun. Laughter. And then when credits fade away, action begins. Flashes of what’s happening unfolds. Effective montages that alternate from one group to the other heightens the thrill of nail-biting action. From then action builds, on and on. Almost keeping you on the edge of the seat, till midway. Then the courtroom drama unfolds.

What struck me most is the scary turn of events. How a simple No can be manipulated and maneuvered to wreck the lives of three working girls in upscale part of Delhi. This is something that could happen anywhere in India. And it speaks volumes of how judgmental, and Janus-faced society is about women. It goes something in this vein:
If she wears jeans and tees, she must be ‘loose’.
If she accepts invitations to parties she ‘fast’.
If she takes a drink at a party, she’s ‘solicits’.

It shocks. Yet, it is true. And the society comprises you and me. At some point all of us have assumed and presumed. It’s time to say a big NO to that.

When Deepak Sehgal lists the ‘code of conduct’ for women, he hammers nails one after the other in the repressive and highly patriarchal Indian society’s coffin.

Some scenes are so powerful and remain etched in your mind. Actions do speak louder than words. In one shot Minal is taunted by a passerby as ‘one involved in the Surajkund case’,  she feels ashamed and covers her head with her hoodie – almost covering her face, and a very reticent Deepak pulls down her hoodie. It is like saying, don’t be ashamed of yourself for what happened, in just one simple action.

Falak’s breaking down in the court scene and the ensuing resigned compliance of something the threesome had not done is a pointer to what generally happens in such legal cases.  The rich and powerful trod mercilessly on the underdogs, making them into a squishy squashy pulps, from which you will never recover physically, mentally, emotionally and least of all financially.

Andrea’s deposition in the court scene that being from India’s North East she’s harassed more than the average Indian girl, is like a whiplash on our sensibilities.

The three men present the frightening picture of depraved souls with very regressive mindsets. Falak’s friend who invites them to the party comes across as gullible fall guy. And their lawyer makes you loathe him passionately for his no-holds-barred cross-examinations. Birds of the same feather, so will flock together.

Deepak (Amitabh Bachan) vocalizes some of the compelling takeaways from the film. He says that we need to educate our boys more than girls. It can’t be more true. Men, women – especially mothers, many knowingly and some unknowingly, play a significant part in perpetuating the patriarchal mindset. Deepak also says No is not just a word. It is a full sentence. It needs to be respected. A No is a No and not Yes. Here too parents’ responsibility is crucial. Train children to say yes and a vehement no when the situation warrants it. And that a NO for an answer must be respected.

While there were lots of claps while the punch dialogues were delivered, it was disconcerting that there were titters in the scene where the girls walk into a police station to file an FIR. The cop in a no-nonsense way says, you went for a party and there was ‘give’ and ‘take’- one cannot miss the innuendo. Ah, did I forget, patriarchal blood courses through our veins. In a cricket field men are cricketers and women? Cheer girls, of course!

I loved the movie. Especially if you are an Indian parent with teen aged children, this movie is a must see.

Tailpiece: Just read today about the Egalia Pre-School in Stockholm, Sweden, where the school does not use gender based pronouns to nurture an egalitarian community. The aim is to get students address each other either by first name or by the pronoun ‘they’ so that they grow up on equal terms, avoiding discrimination of all kinds including gender, age, religion, class, disability and sexual orientation. Kids,  thus, learn to judge each other on their actions, not stereotypes. No doubt we need to start something like this and other concerted efforts to blot out the vestiges of discrimination from our blood stream and psyche! 

 

When Breath Becomes Air

It is from Mohanlal’s blog, The Complete Actor¹, (which I follow regularly – he does write about some very thought-provoking matters) that I read first about Dr. Paul Kalanithi and his book When Breath Becomes Air. I had decided then to get the book and read it during summer holidays. Thanks to Amazon (I must say a ‘Jai ho’ to the e-commerce giant for their tempting offers for book aficionados like me.) I was able to get the hard bound Random House copy of this book priced at Rs. 669/- for Rs. 339/-! It’s an absolute pleasure to get the books that you want at discounted prices delivered at home. Ah, it’s bliss!!! 🙂

Imagine this: You are a brilliant neurosurgeon. You also are a post doctoral fellow in neuroscience. You dabbled in English Literature, Human Biology and Philosophy and then decided to go ahead doing medicine at the prestigious Yale. You have a flourishing career. You are a compassionate person, rooted in values with a deep calling for medicine. You have a young and equally brilliant wife. And when life and it’s dreams are aligned to fruition, you take ill. And the prognosis? Stage 4 lung metastases. How would you handle this cruel fate? That’s exactly the sum and substance of Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s deeply moving, intensely disconcerting memoir about his journey towards Death.

When Breath becomes Air

The last 22 months of his life was spent in writing the memoir and undergoing cancer treatment. The prologue of the book that went on to be a best seller for 75 weeks, begins: “I flipped through the CT scan images….” and goes on to give graphic details. But it is the last line in the first paragraph that is a stunner that takes one’s breath away: “But this scan was different: it was my own.” From then onwards, the book moves on in a gripping fashion, laid threadbare with flowing prose, with references to many gifted writers and their works and dealing with the existential question – how meaningful can we make our life to be in the face of certain and fast approaching death. There are pages that will leave you choked and with a lump in your throat. It is poignant that he stops with a message to his young daughter, who was born at a time when his life was fading, wasting away and yet he was facing it bravely and with integrity. The last days of his life are written by his wife, Dr. Lucy Kalanithi in the form of an epilogue. Dr. Paul Kalanithi passed away on 9th March 2015 at a very young age of 37 and after that the book was published by Dr. Lucy, fulfilling the word she had given to her husband.

It was painful reading the book for it was heartbreaking; yet, it was enriching and inspiring. Death is considered morose, morbid and macabre  – people shy away from talking about palliative care, physician assisted dying and death. The openness with which he deals with the “other side” – that of death – shocks the reader. When Dr. Paul Kalanithi sent his best friend an email in May 2013 revealing that he had terminal cancer, he wrote: “The good news is that I’ve already outlived two Brontës, Keats and Stephen Crane. The bad news is that I haven’t written anything.” An ardent lover of Literature, he couldn’t have put it across more succinctly. When his carbon dioxide levels rise precariously, and vestiges of hope diminish, he even says to his wife, “I am ready.” In the epilogue, Dr. Lucy enciphers it: “Ready, he meant, to remove the breathing support, to start morphine, to die.” The camaraderie that the family displays when the icy hands of death strikes their beloved  ‘Pubby’ is paradoxically heartwarming.

This book will change your life. Read it. It will leave you with a lot of thoughts. Of living and of dying. At the same time, let me also tell you – it is not a tragedy, though it can be tragic when a brilliant doctor is lost to Cancer – he would have done a lot more to the living and dying, had he been alive.

  1. http://www.thecompleteactor.com/articles2/2016/03/gods-letter-2/

Dying to be Me

Near Death Experiences (NDEs) have fascinated me ever since I started reading books of Raymond Moody and Brian Weiss. The latter’s Many Lives, Many Masters, Message from the Masters and Only Love is Real were read with great interest and curiosity. I would like to believe that there are so many things that we do not know about. NDEs are of that realm. Besides, some of the accounts have been experienced and narrated by respected physicians that it is not only hard to ignore but is also scientifically intriguing.

Dying to be Me is another book that deals with the near death experience of Anita Moorjani. When diagnosed with Lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system, Anita underwent everything that a normal human being undergoes: denial, distress and then a gnawing, overpowering fear. She tried everything possible other than chemotherapy – many of which were conflicting practices that worsened her cancer. In the book she documents her journey through cancer, her near death experience and her miraculous cure which she attributes to the shifts within her that accelerated her cure. I found the book quite an interesting read.

Dying to be Me

What are the takeaways for me from this book and its reading?

1) Acceptance. Whatever you are faced with accept it and go with the flow. Yes, it is a tall order, especially when one faces trials and tribulations but it is good to cultivate the feeling that everything that happens is for one’s highest good.

2) Self-love. It is essential to be kind, compassionate and have empathy for oneself. This is most therapeutic – for, if we can’t love ourselves how can we love others? It is essential that we love ourselves unconditionally. Never be judgmental – of us or of others. Realize that each one of us is truly magnificent and never nurture feelings of inadequacy. No one is better than or worse than me. We are equal and there is an underlying connection amongst all of us in this universe. Yes, we are all connected.

3) Remove fears. Remove all kinds of fears that cripple and paralyze us for most of our fears are quite unfounded. They are limiting in nature and stand in the way of expressing our magnificent selves. It is essential that we just pay attention to whatever feels right at the moment and act accordingly. For this we have to train ourselves to listen to our intuition.

4) Change: To change ourselves, we have to start with our belief systems. A belief is an energy and when we allow our true spirit to shine through, we can create transformative shifts within us. And that opens ourselves to infinite possibilities.

5) Be authentic. Being a people’s pleaser or seeking approval from others at the cost of one’s own interests can have a disastrous effect on our authenticity. So is saying ‘yes’ when we actually want to say ‘no’.

5 stars for this book. I hope you read the book. 😀

Our Iceberg is Melting

‘Our  Iceberg is Melting’ is an interesting fable of how a colony of penguins overcome a looming threat, and a perplexing problem – the iceberg on which they live is melting – and find an effective new solution to counter it. It aims at helping readers change and succeed under any conditions through the tale of the penguins. 

Fables have captivated human minds from times immemorial. Within its simple storyline that is easy to remember is embedded profound truths and wise lesson(s). ‘Our Iceberg is Melting’ is no different and conveys quite graphically the modern day essentials of problem solving and the resulting change management. And when the fable is co-written by John Kotter,  the leadership and change management guru at the Harvard School of Business, it makes a compelling read. 

The book made me think about whether I was living on a melting iceberg or one that could melt. The authors, John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber say,  “Melting icebergs come in dozens of forms: product lines that are aging, schools that are becoming irrelevant, services that are decreasing in quality, a business strategy that makes little sense, a new strategy whose implementation is sinking into the ocean.”

Key takeaways from my reading of the book is the eight fold path that Kotter has come up with – distilled from his research on successful change management. 

The Eight Step process of successful change

Set the Stage

1.Create a sense of urgency : This refers to helping others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2. Pulling together the Guiding Team: A powerful team needs to guide the change.  The team should have in them leadership skills, credibility, communication skills, authority, analytical skills and a sense of urgency. 

Decide what to do 

3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy: Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how it can make that future a reality. 

Make it Happen 

4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy in: Make sure that as many others as possible understand and accept the vision and the strategy. 

5. Empower others to Act: Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so. 

6. Produce Short-term Wins: Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible. 

7. Don’t let up: Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality. 

Make it Stick

8. Create a New Culture: Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old traditions. 

The Role of Thinking and Feeling 

Thinking differently is essential to help change behaviour and lead to better results. 

  • Collect data, analyse it. 
  • Present the information logically to change people’s thinking. 
  • Changed thinking can, in turn, change behaviour. 

Feeling differently can change behaviour more and lead to even better results. 

  • Creating surprising, compelling, and,  if possible, visual experiences. 
  • The experiences change how people feel about a situation. 
  • A change in feelings can lead to a significant change in behaviour. 

Analysing a problem / intended change in four columns using the eight steps is a powerful tool for reflection. 

More tools for making change happen is available at http://www.ouricebergismelting.com http://www.theheartofchange.com http://www.johnkotter.com

Amazing changes can happen when all stakeholders are convinced and are on the same page with respect to change. 

This book is a must read for all including professionals and students. So, what is your iceberg? Is it melting? What’s the way forward??  Read, think and reflect – and embark on your journey to confront your problem and come up with ways of doable and practical problem solving. 

🌟🌟🌟🌟 is my rating for this book. 

Freedom in Exile

Freedom in Exile is the autobiography of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I had read this book five years back but felt drawn to it again. The Dalai Lama has always captured my attention as a revered spiritual leader. A keen interest in Buddhism which was cemented by experiencing and practicing Vipassana (a meditation that has its roots in Buddhism)  has further fortified my deep regard for this amazing soul. Some books teach us new perspectives each time we read it. Well, to me this book was one of that kind.

True to all memoirs, Freedom in Exile chronicles the life of the Dalai Lama. And what makes it different is the remarkable frankness of the narrative along with glimpses of the Dalai Lama as a human being, yet, with values firm and steeped in the principles of Buddhism. Named Tenzin Gyatso, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama at the tender age of 2. He describes the very interesting process of how the reincarnations are found out through a traditional process of discovery which makes an interesting read. Thus at the age of 7 he went on to become the spiritual leader and at 15, the head of state.

Freedom in Exile

The story extraordinaire reveals the multifaceted personality of the Dalai Lama – his childhood days growing up to be the revered spiritual leader, youthful days which were spent with tutors, his love for repairing watches, the snapshots of Communist China and her encroachments into the sovereignty of Tibet, the rebel uprising, his exile and the travails of leading a government in exile, how he continued to inspire his countrymen even in the face of difficulties galore, his compassion and love for peace – the last being instrumental in receiving the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1989.

Reading the book made me feel so very good that India gave the Dalai Lama asylum. And to the Dalai Lama India is what he calls Tibet’s ‘Arya Bhumi’, or a land of inspiration. Today Dharamsala is where he lives when he is not travelling all over in India and abroad for talks on a variety of topics. Grateful for the warmth and friendliness of India, he is said to have described himself the ‘Son of India’ and has often been referred to as ‘a Tibetan in looks, but an Indian in spirituality’.

As an expatriate, I understand the innate longings one will have time and again for one’s motherland. Each time you go home, you come back refreshed, rejuvenated and inspired. Imagine then a life of being the spiritual leader and head of state of Tibet and not being able to go there at all – in fact, live elsewhere as a refugee! Yet, what captivated me most is that in the midst of all this, he stays positive. Tall order indeed.

So what is the significant takeaway for me from this book?  Be humanitarian. Serve the whole community. Practice the values of forgiveness, compassion and love to all sentient beings. True happiness comes from a sense of inner peace and contentment, cultivated through altruism and by eliminating anger, ill will and greed. “We need to cultivate a universal responsibility for one another and the planet we share, based on a good heart and awareness” (Page 298) says the Dalai Lama, and this is the only way to resolve the problems we humans have created for ourselves.

Needless to say I enjoyed re-reading the book. 5 stars for this one! If you lay your hands on this book, do read it.