“If you steal 1,000 rupees, the hawaldar will beat the shit out of you and lock you up in a dungeon with no bulb or ventilation. If you steal 55,000 crore rupees then you get to stay in a 40-foot cell which has four split units, internet, fax, mobile phones and a staff of ten to clean your shoes and cook your food ( in case it is not being delivered from Hyatt that particular day)-Incredible India! – Anca Verma (a high profile prisoner)
Prisons reflect the social realities of Indian society and it has been shown in one of the most insightful books on life behind prison walls, “Behind Bars: Prison Tales of India’s Most Famous” by Sunetra Choudhary. The book narrates the story of famous prisoners who were sent to jail for their misdeeds. Their influence allowed them to tell their stories without fear of consequences. It also tells the story of some innocent people who got entangled in this maze. The book humanizes the story of these prisoners and shows how even powerful people feel ashamed because they have to go to jail because they committed some crimes. The author not only tells the story of these prisoners but also the realities of living in these jails. What a challenge it is for poor people to survive in jails. How powerful and rich people misuse their wealth and power to live an entitled life even while serving a jail term. In this book, she writes about the following people:
Amar Singh: Everyone who follows Indian politics knows him. He was a power broker in Indian politics. He landed in jail because of his special quality of networking. He was sentenced under the ‘cash for vote scam’ which rocked the UPA government during the signing of the 123 agreement between India and the USA.
JP: He was the American Mallu whose life was turned upside down when he was arrested and sent to Tihar jail.
Sushil Sharma: He is the famous tandoor murderer who not only shot his wife point blank but also disposed of her body in a tandoor. He was with the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) at the time when this horrific incident happened.
Anca Verma: She was a high-profile prisoner with major political connections. She was arrested along with her husband Abhishek Verma.
Rehmana: She was sent to jail on her wedding day because she married Arif, a Pakistani from Abbottabad who is currently on death row for firing at Delhi’s Red Fort.
A Raja: He was the Telecom Minister and the face of the 2G scam which rocked the UPA II government and finally led to its defeat in the next General Elections.
YB: YB is a juvenile who was sent to jail for committing rape. He was later acquitted.
Peter Mukherjea: The former CEO of Star News was arrested for murdering his daughter Sheena Bora along with his wife and business partner Indrani Mukherjea.
Wahid Sheikh: He was an English teacher at the Maulana Anjuman-i-Islam Abdul Sattar Shoaib School. He was arrested by ATS for being a suspected SIMI (Students Islamic Movement of India) activist. He was tortured by decorated police officers.
Somnath Bharti: The infamous political leader from AAP who was sent to jail for domestic violence. According to his wife’s allegations, he used his pet dog Don to attack her when she was pregnant.
Khushi: She is a trans bar dancer who was gang-raped in police custody. What more to say when protectors themselves become the perpetrators.
Rajesh Ranjan (Pappu Yadav): His life in jail was full of surprises. He fought the election from jail, became a notorious gangster, and also fell in love and got married.
Kobad Ghandy: A 69-year-old man who is accused of being a member of the banned organisation, CPI(Maoist). He is the only person who spent substantial time with Afzal Guru before his hanging. He wrote a detailed letter to the author of this book describing the events leading to Afzal’s execution.
Anyone who is interested in the concept of state and violence must read this book. It shows how the rule of law is there to control poor and vulnerable people. Rich and powerful people can always get away with doing whatever they want to do in their lives.
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“The most common way people give their power is by thinking they don’t have any”
“A feminist is someone who believes in social, political and economic equality of the sexes”.
It was easier to understand how discrimination against women exists in society than to realize how we ourselves undermine our own capabilities. Dealing with this self-awareness was more challenging than discrimination in general. I remember when I got my first job, from the first day itself, I was feeling guilty about not having enough time at home and not being able to manage the house better. This feeling was recurring when I moved from one job to another. I remember this one moment when I forced myself to come home early so that I could spend more time taking care of the home which was absurd. I could have spent this time networking with new people at the office or doing something else rather than unnecessarily worrying about my so-called responsibilities to take care of the house. I also skipped many office get-togethers, feeling that it would be a waste of time.
It was quite relatable and engaging to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean In: Women, Work and The Will to Lead’. Sheryl Sandberg served as the chief operating officer (COO) of Facebook for more than a decade. She raised her voice against the discriminatory practices at the company. She also founded two organisations called Lean In and Option B to help women achieve their ambitions and help companies build inclusive workplaces where women of all identities are supported and empowered.
Reading this book made me realise that what I used to feel is a universal feeling experienced by all women of the world. Talking to so many women colleagues made me understand that workplace discrimination is pervasive. Almost all the women accepted that they undermine their capabilities and fail to advocate for themselves. I have read many books that show systemic discrimination and stereotypes against women, but not every book discusses solutions to these problems. A majority of books dealt with the external obstacles that created hurdles in the path of women’s careers. However this book focuses on the “internal barriers” faced by women in their journey of career progression. Sheryl adds that these internal barriers hold us, women, back from looking for opportunities and dreaming big.
That’s where the book shows the path through which women can take charge and grow in this discriminatory man dominated world. Many would not agree with it but it made sense to me. We need to come forward and take on the challenge of balancing work and home without feeling guilty about anything. According to the author, Lean Inis a way to address the problem of lack of representation and discrimination against women at the workplace. It is totally acceptable that many institutional, political and policy changes are required to deal with the discrimination problem at a larger level. But we need to take the smaller steps. The author feels that we need to break free from that unknown fear and move forward.
She shows how despite having to face so much discrimination in the internal and external environment, women have to go extra miles to prove their capability and seriousness. Some of them are highlighted in the book:
Women have to prove themselves to a far greater extent than men have to do.
Women hold themselves back. They lower their expectations of what they can achieve. They put themselves down before others can. They consistently underestimate themselves leading to this strong feeling of ‘imposter syndrome’.
Women internalise the message that it’s wrong being outspoken, aggressive and more powerful than men.
Women are discouraged to take risks and advocate for themselves.
Women are disliked for not displaying the so called ‘appropriate behaviour’
Women are judged for doing it all when no one knows what’s going on in their mind and how they are constantly struggling and hustling to do everything imperfectly.
Women suffer not only discrimination and sexual harassment but also everyday blatant & subtle sexism.
Women are also looked down upon for managing everything and also made to feel guilty for not doing it perfectly.
The biggest take away of this book is that it makes the case for leaning in, for being ambitious in any pursuit. Though women are discouraged and disliked for being ambitious and taking risks, the author adds that career growth is mostly dependent upon taking risks and advocating for oneself. Because opportunities are rarely offered, they are seized. Women suffer from ‘tiara syndrome’ where they expect that if they keep doing their job well someone will notice them and place a tiara on their head. However, it doesn’t happen like that in the real world. Women need to advocate for themselves when their efforts are not recognised. Sheryl adds that not only do we need to take risks, prioritise growth, challenge ourselves but also ask for promotions with a smile on our faces. According to her, there are no perfect opportunities, we need to learn the skill to make any opportunities fit for us. To have a successful career plan, she suggests adopting two concurrent goals: a long-term dream and an 18-month plan.
The most insightful fact about this book is the idea of ‘Don’t leave before you leave’. Women don’t leave the workforce making one big decision but they make many small decisions and leave the workforce. One of the best examples she gives is about pregnancy. Generally all women start worrying about pregnancy long before even trying to conceive which hampers their career prospects. Sheryl feels that women should utilise the time to grow and lean in till the moment their child is not out of their womb. It made perfect sense to me. It’s like whatever time you got, you give your best shot, you work hard and achieve whatever you can so that when you come back after your pregnancy break you have a base on which you can restart your professional journey.
No one can have it all and whoever is claiming to have it all, is lying, says the author. The thing is that life is full of imperfections and flaws. It might look perfect to other people but it is never perfect. Women need to embrace the mess and keep going. Having a supportive partner can help in dealing with these things in a better way. It is a must for any working woman if she wants to excel in her professional life. If the partner shares responsibilities at home, it becomes easier for a woman to manage work and home both.
Very rightly she shares this whole idea of ‘fit in’ at the workplace. I can say this from my personal experience that people are appreciated for ‘fitting in’ and not for delivering good work. People were promoted and liked just because they were fitting in and they were sucking up to their bosses. Workplace bias is a reality. People are evaluated based on personal preferences. At the same time, the author feels that one must not inject gender into every conversation which makes people uncomfortable as well as brings a feeling that one is asking for special treatment. Rightly so, she shows how some women are also perpetrators of sexism because of internalised patriarchy and misogyny.
The only thing the book lacks is the idea to bring reform at a larger level through which every woman gets to understand all the biases and barriers they face internally. How can we bring systemic change to it? Until and unless things are not changed at a larger level, it will take years and years of hard work and effort to achieve gender equality and empowerment.
I am grateful that a colleague of mine gifted me this book recently. It’s fascinating to read this book at this point in my life when I am trying to make my career bit by bit and understand it from the perspective of a woman who worked in a male-dominated workplace. It feels so warm when women support each other which is not the general norm. Though it is not their fault because they also come from the same patriarchal environment.
Sheryl Sandberg is a brave woman who not only took various initiatives to change the system for the better but also showed a path to the upcoming generation. Her honest ordeal in the book makes it a must-read for all women out there. It will empower women to sit at the table, understand the myth of doing it all and why we should not leave before we actually leave the workplace.
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A prince….must imitate the fox and the lion. For the lion cannot protect himself from traps and the fox can not defend himself from wolves. One must therefore be a fox to recognise traps, and a lion to frighten wolves.” –Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, circa 1513 AD
“If Jawaharlal Nehru discovered India, it can reasonably be said that P. V. Narasimha Rao reinvented it”.
It’s early morning in this sleepy village of UP. My hometown. Animals and human beings both are awake. Handpumps are surrounded by children and adults. Women of the house are hustling in the rasoi. Meals are being prepared. The smell of boiling rice has taken the whole house in her custody. Buffaloes and cows are waiting for their breakfast meal. The house is being cleaned and smeared with cow dung. One corner of the house is filled with this stoic silence. It is called ‘Dalan‘ where this old person is sitting on a cot wearing this bedag white kurta and dhoti. Black Ainak sitting on his nose like his old friend. Nothing can disturb him at this time. “Even pralaya can’t move you at this time”, a voice looms from the aangan. One kid fills the lota with water and runs towards the Dalan. She sees an old person holding Akhbar in his hand. A school headmaster whose day starts with reading newspapers.
And this old person was my Dadaji who influenced me to have a long-lasting relationship with newspapers. Newspaper reading and political discussion have always been part of Indian culture. Memorising the names of our political leaders and Bollywood actors mentioned in various newspapers was my favorite pastime. It is for this reason that I remember the name of P. V. Narasimha Rao. He was the first South Indian Prime Minister of India. We had a competition among our childhood friends to memorize the complete spelling of his name. I used to say his name out loud to my classmates and colony friends proudly. In those days, I had no idea he would change the course of Indian history.
Half Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India
Vinay Sitapath’s well-researched book, “Half Lion: How P.V. Narasimha Rao Transformed India,” tells the story of P.V. Narasimha Rao from a small village to New Delhi-the ultimate power center of India. The author narrates a balanced account of P. V. Narasimha Rao who was a tragic figure and one of the most misunderstood leaders of India despite his various achievements. The author humanises the story of Rao to showcase that he was after all a human being who was a creature of his circumstances.
The author Vinay Sitapati is a political scientist who has worked as a journalist with the Indian Express. He is a lawyer by education. Interestingly, the subject of this book was also a lawyer by education. The book traces the journey of P. V. Narasimha Rao from his humble background starting from Vangara village located in Karimnagar district of then the State of Andhra Pradesh to become one of the most decisive Prime Ministers of India. The book dealt with the background happenings of the politics of that time. It gives a glimpse into the lives of politicians. What kind of stress and tension do they have to endure? How difficult is it to take everyone along? How difficult is it to bring everyone on the same page with respect to any policy issues? How did the political constraints shape the political reforms? How do interest groups create hurdles in implementing big bang reforms in the country? How does political management play such an active role in implementing policies?
Reading this book was not only a pleasant experience but also an eye-opener. People generally don’t know about him because he was not a popular leader either among his party cadres or among the public. This is one Prime Minister of India, many people don’t even remember who had the political will and conviction to usher into the 1991 Economic Reforms that brought millions of Indians out of poverty.
The book answers many fundamental questions relevant to Indian politics with respect to the role of P. V. Narasimha Rao. What was Rao’s role in the liberalisation reforms? Have they transformed India for the better, or have they made the poor worse off? Why was he selected as prime minister? Did he secretly want the Babri mosque demolished? Why did Sonia Gandhi and Narasimha Rao fall out? How did he survive a hostile Parliament and party to last a full term in office? Are the corruption charges against him true? And is Narasimha Rao India’s most transformational leader since Jawaharlal Nehru? According to the author of this book, the central idea of this book is to understand how prime minister Narasimha Rao achieved so much despite having so little power.
This book made me not only respect and admire P. V. Narsimha Rao but also like him as a person. Even after being a politician, he was not at all pretentious.
Architect of Modern India
P. V. Narasimha Rao was a grassroots leader who rose to become the Prime Minister of India. He was instrumental in implementing the idea of economic liberalisation, reforming the Indian economy, opening India’s foreign policy, achieving nuclear deterrence, and most importantly running a minority government when he didn’t have the support of his party, lacked charisma and popular support as well.
When Rao became the Prime Minister, India as a country was standing at a crossroads. The Soviet Union collapsed. The country is reeling under a severe Balance of Payment crisis. Separatist violence against the States of Punjab, Kashmir, and Assam was threatening the integrity of India. He took it as a challenge and transformed India. Despite running a minority government, he not only completed a full five-year term but also successfully took India on a path of success. He was a true problem solver. Even during his stint as a Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, he proactively implemented a land reform policy.
His push for economic reforms leading to the opening of the Indian economy has borne fruit for the country. His legacy is seen in terms of increasing per capita income, mobile phones in every hand, and also India’s success in terms of pulling millions out of poverty by implementing welfare schemes. Today, if we are able to use mobile phones, we should thank Rao. He addressed the separatist movement in Punjab, Kashmir, and North East. Due to the successful implementation of economic reforms, he could push for policies that led to the realization of the ‘welfare state’ in the country.
This book not only shows the highs and the lows of his life and how he was like one of us. A normal human being who was affected by harsh criticism. The best thing about him was that he used to maintain a diary where he used to write everything whatever he felt. Fortunately, the writer of the book has had access to these writings which show what he was thinking? How things were affecting him? What was going through his mind when he was faced with difficult situations?
Transformation in his ideologies from being a staunch socialist to a leader who not only wholeheartedly accepted the idea of liberalisation but also implemented it at a national level itself shows his openness and forward-looking nature.
Sidelining of P V Narsimha Rao by the Indian National Congress
His own party i.e. Indian National Congress (INC) disowned him due to various reasons. He was blamed and victimised for many things that he publicly said he has not done. His achievements as a Congress leader and Prime Minister were erased. He was blamed for allowing Sikhs to be killed in Delhi during the Anti-Sikh Riots in 1984. He was criticized for letting Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson escape India after the Bhopal Gas leak. Finally, everyone thought that he played a secret role in the demolition of Babri Masjid. Left-wing parties, intellectuals, and Marxists blame him for pro-rich policies and bringing untold miseries to the people of India.
His actions or inactions during the 1984 Sikh riots and 1992 Babri-Masjid demolition were questionable. His personal notes and letters provide justifications for his inactions for both the tragic events of India’s history. He surrendered his authority to the Prime Minister’s Office during the Anti-Sikh riots which are unforgivable. He had too much confidence in his ability to negotiate with Hindutva leaders including the organisations like VHP and BJP. According to the author, it was his indecisiveness and poor judgment of Rao that paralysed him not dismissing the Kalyan Singh government and imposing the President’s rule in the State of UP. In fact, he was more focused on saving his own minority government rather than imposing President’s rule on UP.
He was a contested figure who displayed huge contradictions in his actions. However, his contributions as a leader who stood behind a team who implemented economic reforms is a commendable feat when he didn’t have any support from his party and the people. He was a Philosopher king, a lion, and a fox depending on the circumstances and demands of the time. In fact, “Rao was a tragic figure, remembered for so much that went wrong, but not for so much that went right”, adds Salman Khurshid, a veteran Congress leader.
P. V. Narasimha Rao: the best Congress Prime Minister of India?
Which is more important: institutions or individuals in deciding the trajectory of any India. Some theories give importance to institutions and some give it to individuals. Institutions play an important role in shaping the destiny of any country, argues Daron Acemoglu and James A Robinson in his book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty”. According to them, political and economic institutions are interlinked in a country and that leads to poverty and prosperity based on the nature of these institutions. But then the question comes: who set up and ran these institutions? Individuals right. And Ruchir Sharma, the author of “Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles” believes in that. According to him, ‘it’s not the type of the system that matters, it is the stability of the system and, even more important, whether the leaders running it understand the basics of economic reform’. And this theory fits really well with the role of P. V. Narasimha Rao who not only understood the idea of economic liberalisation but also stood like a rock behind his team who implemented the 1991 economic reforms. So Rao indeed was the architect of modern India.
However, ultimately he was a human being and had his fair share of shortcomings. The best thing about him is that he had the ability to introspect and think. It led him to become a better administrator when he took the role of Prime Minister. He learned from his mistakes during his chief ministership.
According to the author, he had the acumen to assess the situations and contradictions of India. He also could understand and assess his opponents and enemies. Accordingly, he knew when to act like a lion, fox, or mouse. That was his most important political skill. His brilliant ability to assess the political context not only in terms of role but also in terms of timing. And this quality helped him implement difficult policy decisions.
Arun Jaitley called him India’s best Congress Prime Minister and rightly so. He added that Rao showed it is possible to be a Congressman without being from the Family. Jairam Ramesh, a veteran Congress leader who worked as OSD to Rao added that he was a master tactician who knew which cards to play when.
Hindi and Urdu words used in the write-up:
Lota-A small container for water generally made up of brass or steel
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“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers”.- Charles W
Ever counted seconds, minutes, hours, days, or months? I have been doing that for the last few months. My to-do lists became my best friend and companion. There were even details about cleaning the house, eating food, taking a bath, doing office work, and even how much time I spent lying in bed. During this phase, books, plants, and friends filled my life with love, patience, and kindness. Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, the mole, the fox, and the horse is one of them. I felt almost as if the universe conspired to reach out to me through this book.
This beautiful art book was kept on my colleague’s desk. I wanted to see the book but he was not available at his desk. I couldn’t resist asking him to show me this book the following day. I began reading it. I somehow felt a connection to the book. Within a few minutes, I had reached the last page after flipping one page after another. I felt so peaceful reading it. The story touched my heart. It felt like a breath of fresh air. In a moment, it changed the way I was feeling for a few months. Thank you so much to the pure soul who gave this book to my colleague. I borrowed the book even after I finished it so I could keep it close to me for few more hours.
Through illustrations, the book tells the story of friendship, strength, and love. It’s the story of a lonely boy who meets other animals in the countryside. Their walk together is filled with heartfelt conversation about life, friendships, and universal truths.
The book is an example of simplicity and how gently the author has described life and its challenges. You’ll find nuggets of life, friendship, failure, success, love, and kindness in this book. It shows you how far you’ve come. It encourages you to be kind to yourself. It inspires you to keep moving forward, to believe in yourself, and to love yourself. Life is difficult, but you are loved no matter what. One of the most beautiful aspects of this book is that it allows one to scribble on it and write about their feelings.
Here are some of the most beautiful excerpts from these conversations:
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“It’s impossible to grow up as a woman in India without knowing what it is like to have to always seek permission to be yourself. Each of us, in our own way, often magnified by caste and class encounters resistance in finding self-acceptance, achievement, and affection.” (Excerpt from the Book)
The 90s were the time when Shah Rukh, Shaktiman, and cassettes ruled the world. My childhood was spent in the 90s and it was heavily influenced by Bollywood movies. Watching the Sunday matinee show on Doordarshan at 4 o’clock is one of my most fond memories. I was probably 5-6 years old along with my cousin. Both of us eagerly awaited 4 o’clock movies. We finished our homework before time so that we could watch movies in the evening. No matter what the weather was like outside, nothing could move us from our seats before the screen. The saddest part of our movie times were the power cuts which took place right before the movie’s climax.
Despite being scolded by our elders many times, we both ran for 1 kilometer to finish the movie’s climax. Doctor Saheb was an acquaintance of my grandmother, and he was quite wealthy for that area. He also owned a generator that would come on whenever there was a power failure. After the movie ended around 6:30 P.M., we both went home to enjoy a Sunday evening in a fantasy world away from reality. However, after we reached home, our Bua (Father’s sister) would beat and scold us. Occasionally, she would close the front door and not open it for at least two hours. We would wait for her to open it. The whole ordeal was repeated almost every Sunday. Wow, what memories!
I am sure you are wondering why I am telling you this story. The book I am about to discuss has the context of Bollywood films and how they have fascinated generations of Indians in their search for hope, freedom, and fantasy.
Shah Rukh Khan and Shrayana
“Desperately Seeking Shah Rukh: India’s lonely young women and the search for intimacy and independence” is written by Shrayana Bhattacharya. This book is the best example of the saying, “ don’t judge a book by its cover”. Like other people, initially, I ignored this book because of its title. However, after listening to the author Shrayana Bhattacharya on The Seen and the Unseen podcast, I immediately ordered this book and devoured it. It gave me perspective. I started observing all ladies around me and trying to piece their lives and how they are navigating and fighting with this world. The author is a young woman and economist at World Bank who also happens to be a zabra fan of the Bollywood super star-Mr. Shah Rukh Khan. She wrote this book motivated by her fandom for Shah Rukh and stories of ordinary women and her work as an economist to weave a fantastic story to understand what’s going on in the lives of ordinary Indian women and how they are dealing with the system of patriarchy.
I have found it to be one of the most insightful books I have read recently. I underlined almost every line. Each and every story of the woman in this book resonated with me. The frustration and relative deprivation of Vidya, the pains of The Accountant, the anxiety of Gold, the boredom of Manju, and most importantly, the author’s own story, all made sense to me. Whatever your educational and economic background, these stories show that women are discriminated against and made to feel inadequate and manipulated. It is all to serve the needs of the other half of humanity. The only difference was that the quality of this discrimination might have varied. Some of it was crude and visible, while others were refined and subtle. Then there is Mr. Shah Rukh Khan’s fan following. He helps these ordinary women bargain and survive the toxic patriarchy in their everyday lives through his movies and interviews. Shah Rukh’s fandom demonstrates their disappointment in society and its institutions which broke their hearts in different ways.
The lives of ordinary women
Reading this book made me more empathetic toward the lives of Indian women. It showed me how much struggle they are still going through irrespective of class, caste, or any other classification and how we women are also complicit in our own discrimination. Women are withdrawing from their jobs because not only do they have to face discrimination in their offices but also they are overburdened with the care and love which they need to provide for their families. Despite sacrificing their freedom to provide love and care to their family, women are feeling lonely and unloved. They are withdrawing from the workforce because of Sanskritisation effect where the increase in family’s income and status lead to more control of women’s body and their mobility to maintain the purity of their community and caste networks. Higher incomes allow family members to perform traditional upper-caste social rituals when women’s bodily honor is guarded strictly within the four walls of the home.
Women leaving the workforce
They leave the workforce because of an unfriendly and discouraging work environment where they are paid less as compared to their male counterparts plus they also have to deal with the male gaze. Marriage and child care act as a hurdle for women to take up jobs in India. In totality, family and society both make it so difficult for women to survive, take up a job, or stay single. We are taunted for whatever choices we make in our lives. In fact, they have a problem whenever we make any choices.
Feminism on Instagram
The author also highlights the discussions around feminism on Instagram. As per the author, real feminism is happening in the everyday lives of ordinary women and she does not have any radical story of resistance to share from the hinterlands of India. They are constantly navigating the patriarchy in their everyday lives which can never be seen on an elitist platform like Instagram. The story of Vidya from the book was so relatable that at one point I felt like vidya is speaking on my behalf. I have seen and worked with women who are very similar to Vidya’s that friend who finds faults in everything that Vidya does. They themselves are so rich and entitled but they judge women like us who have achieved something in their life coming from a normal background without any support and guidance.
In spite of not being able to relate to the heartbreak stories in the book because it has never happened to me, it was heartbreaking to know that women’s relationships, marriages, and love lives are bargained as commodities, and women are judged on the basis of their looks. Despite their different backgrounds, all of these women are fans of Mr. Khan. Seeing a superstar like this who respects and loves women provides them with a respite from oppressive patriarchal culture and discrimination. Many poor and working-class women display their fandom for Shah Rukh Khan or attend his movies in the theater to express themselves.
We need intimate revolutions
The beauty of this book lies in the fact that it also proposes ways to solve these problems for our country.
“Meaningful change in everyday life happens when we start to pratcise the views we profess. ….Only fools think we can rationalise, cancel, tweet, or march our way to a social revolution. Radical change needs oxygen from each one of us. We are required to practise what we retweet, to self-scrutinise, to incrementally partake in impossibly difficult conversations in our own everyday relationships. For people to move beyond people…………………real shifts in their private behaviour requires repeated and sustained intimate interpersonal dialogue in which discriminatory views are revealed and challenged.”
“Change will need good faith and generosity. Mindset is not enough, morality is embodied in how we demonstrate our liberal views in our daily encounters with people, places and our self. Without these intimate revolutions, the best laws and the strongest movements will fail. The realm of everyday intimacy is the true home of social change. It is where all our longing, self-loathing and biases are unveiled. This is the world of deeply private rebellions, within people & within relationships. No platform, no performance. It’s where the real battle is. And it’s got to be long and ugly.”
An answer to the most debated question on humanity can be found in this book. Exactly, what do women want? The answer will surprise you. Women want love, freedom, and respect in no particular order.
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“If this life is so transitory like a rose in bloom, why should one depend upon another? Everyone must not ride on another’s shoulders, but walk on his own feet” – Anandibai Joshi
Kavitha Rao’s book, “Lady Doctors: The Untold Stories of India’s First Women in Medicine,” tells the stories of six inspirational women who defied all the rules of society and built a career in medicine while also contributing to women’s emancipation. Although these women were from different parts of the country, they were united by their desire to achieve freedom and respect in their lives. They built institutions and advocated for women’s rights through protests and petitions.
Anandibai Joshi: the first Indian woman with a western medical degree. Tragically, she died before she could practice medicine.
Kadambini Ganguly: the first Indian woman to practice medicine; she was branded as a whore by a conservative paper at that time. She was one of the first women to speak at the conference of the Indian National Congress (INC). A mother of eight children, she died in the course of her duties as a doctor.
Rukmabai Raut: a fiery woman who left a child marriage, shattering all patriarchal rules. Following her service in dealing with the deadly plague in Surat, she received the Kaiser-i-Hind medal in 1898.
Haimabati Sen: a child widow. Defying all Hindu tradition, she remarried and became a doctor.
Muthulakshmi Reddy: First woman to be elected vice-president of a legislature. She was instrumental in realizing the goal of the universal franchise for women, raising the marriage age, and abolishing the devadasi system.
Mary Poonam Lukose: the first Indian woman to be appointed to a legislature. She was instrumental in building Kerala’s public health care system.
You must read this book to learn about the achievements of these inspiring women whose stories are nowhere seen in our history textbooks. Please let me know your thoughts about this book if you have already read it.
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It’s an unconventional book that tells us to change the way we work. This book is filled with timeless wisdom. In spite of the book being written in 2010, whatever is written therein is still relevant and will continue to be useful even in the future. It is written in a straightforward style. This book can be finished in one day or even in three hours if nothing interrupts your reading.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, founders of 37 signals, wrote this book. 37 Signals is a two-decade-old software company that is now known as Basecamp. The authors have shared practical insights in this book based on their own experiences of starting a company from scratch, operating on their own, hiring employees from all over the world, and handling crises as they arise.
In this book, you will find many inspirational lines that you can use in your life and work. These lines can be written on post-it notes and stuck to your desk, so you can get a little inspiration every day. Here are a few of the best:
Be a starter
Scratch your own itch
No time is no excuse
You need less than you think
Start a business, not a startup
You need a commitment strategy, not an exit strategy
Be a curator
Interruption is the enemy of productivity
Meetings are toxic
Good enough is fine
Long lists don’t get done
Make tiny decisions
Focus on ‘You’ instead of ‘They’
Say ‘No’ by default
Build an audience
Go behind the scenes
Show your flaws. Be vulnerable
Press releases are spam. Instead, call someone
Everything is marketing
Hire someone who can manage herself
Send people home at 5 PM
Sound like you
ASAP is poison
Please read this book and let me know what you think about it. If you have already read this book, please let me know your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
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Stories have always been told from the perspective of the powerful. Most Indian mythologies glorify male characters. It is rare to find a female protagonist whose story of valor, sacrifice, or complexity of character has been told in mainstream work.
This very beautiful book, ‘The Forest of Enchantments’ tells the story of ‘Ramayana’ through its women who were an integral part of the story. Despite the book’s focus on Sita, it also tells the story of other women who suffered just as much, if not more, in this war between good and evil.
Sita’s story shows the vulnerability of being a woman and how she had to struggle to get respect and recognition for her capabilities. Essentially, the book deals with all human emotions, including love, passion, courage, jealousy, anger, and shame, while showing how these characters behave as normal human beings.
My favorite women from this story are Mandodari, Urmila, Kaushalya, Sarama, and of course SITA. However, we rarely know what their contributions were. Everyone knows what Lakshman did for his brother. Although he and Rama were exiled for 14 years, we do not know what his wife Urmila did for him. She had slept for 14 years so Lakshman would not have to sleep for his entire exile period.
Vibheeshan helped Rama conquer Lanka, but his wife Sarama sacrificed his son and protected Sita when she was being held as a captive in Lanka.
I loved this book for two reasons- first, it highlighted the stories of women I had never heard about, and second, it used beautiful and music-filled words that made me feel as if I were reading poetry. My mind created an image from the details in this book – I could see the forests, the palaces, the animals, and all the people that lived in this story.
Do read this book if you haven’t read it yet. If you have read this already, do let me know your thoughts about this in the comment section.
The pursuit of happiness by each person is best achieved when the State creates conditions of stability and vanishes into the background.
It was a cold winter evening in Gurgaon. I was lying on my bed wrapped in a blanket, leisurely watching some YouTube videos. The video was interrupted by some Twitter notifications concerning Prime Minister’s address to the nation. I started watching Prime Minister’s All India televised address where he declared 1000 and 500 notes as demonetised. My first reaction was to check how much cash I had at home. Seeing only 1500 rupees cash at home, I felt relieved. Like other people on WhatsApp groups and Twitter, I also believed for a few days that this was a master stroke by the then government headed by Narendra Modi. This step is going to eliminate the black money available in the country. However, later on, like most other people, I had seen suffering, common people had to go through standing in the queue for long hours just to exchange their old currencies. My domestic help came the next day crying that she has no bank account here and she doesn’t know how she can replace her old notes. I also remember following the everyday newspaper headlines on this issue and how the government shifted the goalposts of this policy decision, saying that it will increase digitisation in the country.
Was demonetisation a good policy decision? Why did the BJP government take such a drastic decision without having a broad base consultation? Why there was no deliberation with the public before taking this decision? Did it make any impact on curbing black money in the country? What were the consequences of this decision? How it has impacted the common people in the country? This book will help you to make sense of these questions if not find the right answers.
I purchased this book-In Service of the Republic: The Art and Science of Economic Policy last year after many episodes on The Seen and Unseen podcast recommending it a must-read for all those who are interested in policymaking. Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah, former bureaucrats are the authors of this book. This book not only makes one understand why demonetisation was a disastrous public policy decision but also shows the nuts and bolts of policymaking, execution, and implementation. Insights mentioned in the book make it a manual for all public policy practitioners. Although the book has 40 chapters, it’s short, so it’s easy to read. What goals should the State pursue? What is the government’s mission? Every line in this book made me want to write it down.
India i.e. Bharat: A Union of States
“A State as a human community that claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory” – Max Weber, The Vocation Lectures, 1919
Why State is needed? What is the main responsibility of the State? What are things State is supposed to do or not do? How State’s different actions have far reaching consequences not only for the present generations but also for the future generations. The authors list various conditions when the State’s actions are legitimate and justified. The state should not do anything except address market failure. Market failure happens when the free market fails to deliver efficient economic outcomes. Market failures happen in four ways:
Externalities occur when some of the costs or benefits of a transaction fall on someone other than the producer or the consumer. Pollution is an example of negative externalities. IT companies in Bangalore led to more parents providing computer education to their kids so that they can get jobs, which is an example of positive externalities.
Asymmetric Information refers to a situation where one party has more or better information. For instance, when a customer is buying medicines at a shop, she has no way of knowing if the medicines are adulterated.
Market Power is established when a few firms achieve a dominant position in a market.
Public goods are goods that are available to anyone. They have two characteristics: non-excludable and non-rivalrous. Roads and clean air are public goods.
India a low capacity State
“Indian State works through panic, package, and neglect“- Harsh Vardhan (Financial Economist)
Many authors Indian and Western have shown that the Indian State lacks capacity. It can organise a humungous Kumbh Mela where crores of devotees come to take a dip in the holy Ganga. It can also successfully conduct elections for such a huge electorate spread across and length and breadth of this country. However, the Indian state has continuously failed to deliver basic health, education, and sanitation services even after seven decades of independence. Why do Indian Institutions lack capacity? Because building a high capacity State takes time and consistent effort by policymakers, politicians, and bureaucrats.
Building a high capacity State takes time
“Where we do not have high intellectualism, we get raw power play”
Building the republic takes time. It will take many decades of hard work by the policy community for India to rise to the ranks of the advanced nations of the world. Policy reform is slow, hard work, and not amenable to quick wins on social media. There will be no sharp impact, no human interest angle. There will be small changes spread all across the economy, which can add up to substantial impacts.
Independent judiciary is an essential foundation of the market economy because it helps in the contract enforcement between the government and private firms. Poor contract enforcement leads to market failure. Different types of private solutions (contracts, torts, class action lawsuits, and private enforcement) can flourish when and only when the courts are swift and competent.
The need of the hour is to have an institutionalised application of mind. It is a way of ensuring that the right questions are asked, and alternatives evaluated before a decision is made. This helps avoid impressionistic and casual approaches to policy formulation and reduces the extent to which sectarian considerations dominate. In India, we have some irrational decisions because one section/caste group/pressure group is lobbying for it. Sound policy decisions require a lot of background research work, consistent probing, and also a feedback loop.
The Rhine river was not cleaned in a day. Rhine Action Plan was drafted in the year 1987 and it took many years of implementation and actions which led to the cleaning of the river. The hardest problems in state capacity are the criminal justice system, the judiciary, the tax system, and financial regulation. The best way to make progress is to take small steps and listen to the statistical evidence.
Policymaking is a process of trial and error
“When getting hold of a larger object, don’t discard the smaller object. Don’t use a sword when a needle will suffice”.
Public Policy is a process of hypothesis testing, of forming a theory about the world and experimenting with interventions that are thought to help. This testing should go through a policy pipeline where the first data is gathered. Research is conducted which led to policy proposals, creating consensus among the public and policymakers. Finally, the government takes the decisions and implement the policies.
Why do public policies fail? There are various reasons behind it:
The information constraint: We don’t have enough data because the government itself does not collect the data with transparency and fairness. There are various other issues with data collection in the country. Policymakers just do not know what is going on. For instance-The data about people dying from COVID has so many discrepancies.
The knowledge constraint: We don’t understand the real problem because of a serious lack of social science research in India.
The resource constraint: The government spends more than we think and know. The marginal cost of public funds (MCPF) is much larger than Rs 1 in India.
The administrative constraint : Public administration is harder than human resource management in the private sector.
The voter rationality constraint: Voters have no incentive to know about issues of public policy.
Public Choice Theory: A Guide to Public Policy Making
……No matter how famous or well-reputed a person is, when she is hired as an official in the government agency, we are aware of the gap between her personal interest and the public interest. Public Choice Theory encourages us to engage in “politics without romance”. The objective is not to hire saints but to achieve a state which yields good outcomes when each actor is self-interested. Public Choice Theory predicts that public organizations will favor multiple objectives as this gives reduced accountability. Clarity of purpose is efficient for the principal and not the agent. A publicly stated and clear objective, on each policy initiative, improves the policy process. Public choice theory encourages us to think that all officials and all politicians are cut from the same cloth. We have to construct systems of checks and balances that will work through rational incentives of all parties and without assumptions that any one person is a saint. The puzzle of policy design is that of finding checks and balances.….
However, this theory also has its limitations. In reality, every individual in public life has a mixture of personal and altruistic elements. The State is not a benevolent actor, it is formed of self-centered persons. To create checks and balances, citizens, policymakers, and politicians can use these five pillars: data, media, intellectuals, legislature, and judiciary.
Strong Institutions are need of the hour
The policymakers should prioritise institution-building over just GDP growth. In the book named “Why Nations Fail”, the authors have given a ‘theory of institutions’ where they argue that institutions decide the destiny of the country. Institutions can be of two types: Political and Economic Institutions. The authors also add that poverty and prosperity of nations are the interplay of economic and political institutions. A complex modern economy only works when it is a self-organising system. It has to have the creative efforts of a larger number of individuals, all working in their own self-interest. There is no one measure of institutional quality but the authors have listed a few measures that can be used as a benchmark to understand the quality of Indian institutions:
Extent of perceived safety of women and functioning of the criminal justice system
Flight of millionaires
Flight of India-centric firms
Flight of India-centric trading
Flight of India-centric contract enforcement
Freedom of speech to comedians
Appreciation of ‘self-organising system’
The authors reiterate that State machinery should appreciate and facilitate the self-organising system. For instance- local problems should be solved by local people who are on the ground since they understand the problem better. The authors talk about Coasean Approach(Transaction Costs Perspective) to deal with market failures. The key concept of this perspective is that when property rights are clear, both sides are brought to the table to negotiate. However, this approach also requires the State to play a role in clearly defining property rights and judicial infrastructure that can help in enforcing contracts.
One of the best solutions mentioned in the book is an approach by political scientist Elinor Ostrom. She was the first woman to get a Nobel prize in economics. She discovered that many practical arrangements established by traditional communities over very long periods of time achieve good results. An example of this is declaring a moratorium on eating fish during the month of Shravan. Though this step seems religious, it leads to saving fish counts in the river.
Social engineering is inappropriate
Social systems are very complex and outcomes are generally greatly different from those that the planners may have desired. The values and imagination of the people should drive the changes in the world, rather than the values and objectives of a few central planners. Society can and should evolve gradually through the thoughts and actions of the people. The best framework of public policy is one in which the State impinges upon the lives of individuals as little as possible.
Policymakers need to be aware of the knowledge constraint, biases and implementation constraints. Most importantly they need to realise that every individual, official, and politician responds to incentives. We all remember how the sterilisation scheme launched during emergency miserably failed despite having a good intention of population control. Rather than State giving surprises, implementing stringent policy measures, policymakers should nudge the people through signaling or incentives towards social change. As the authors of the book added, “we should pursue revolutionary change for government structures but evolutionary change for the people”. The best thing I got from this book is that I should never see even policymakers as someone who knows everything. They are also working in unknown territories. Better policy making requires a lot of effort and commitment from all stakeholders including civil society organisations, NGOs, politicians, and the common people.
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“An Indian woman’s first challenge is surving her own home” -Sonia Faleiro
One more year has passed. New beginnings on a new year. However, things feel new on the surface but not in reality or we pretend that things are new just because a new year is around the corner. Nothing has changed for a girl/woman in India. Don’t know if it will change in the near future. Misogyny, patriarchy, and gender discrimination are everyday phenomena in our country. We all face it. Rape is trivialised. Recently, a legislator in the State Assembly of Karnataka made an insensitive remark about rape, and later he was ready to apologise if his comments hurt the sentiments of women.
We have a central government scheme named Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao to save the girl child. Do we need to save our daughter? Or do our daughters need to save themselves from this whole system? 80% of the money allocated to this scheme was spent on advertisement as per a parliamentary standing committee report. What more we can expect when girls’ parents give them bizarre names like Missed Call, Antima, and Phaltu to express their anger and disappointment because they never wanted to have these girls. I don’t even want to imagine the kind of shame and trauma these girls might be going through because they were made to feel that they were unwanted by their own parents. Being a woman, I have personally experienced this kind of discrimination. There was a time when I used to feel that I am going to fight for my rights. I will complain against these practices. However, different incidents and news reports dealing with discrimination and violence against women have broken my spirit. The most frustrating thing is that we, women, are manipulated into believing that we deserve this discrimination and violence.
A little overview of the Book and the Author:
The book, “The Good Girls” by Sonia Faleiro will make you uncomfortable. It will make you angry and ashamed of our country and society. This book is about the Budaun case where two girls were found hanging from a tree on 26th May 2014, just a day before when the NDA government’s first term started with the promise of “acche din”. The book uncovers the events and circumstances leading to Padma Lalli’s death against the backdrop of the political and socio-cultural life of the state of Uttar Pradesh, notorious for violence against women. All those little details and descriptions about the mundane activities of the households and the exploitation of women shown in the book were quite relatable to me. The author’s deep research about the patriarchal settings and how women are never allowed to tell their stories makes this book an important read.
The author is a journalist who lives in London. She returned back to India and did extensive research for six years to write this book. She visited the Katra village and conducted hundreds of interviews. This case created so much furor that it was ultimately transferred to CBI. In this book, the author also discusses the caste complexities, corruption in the police system, the deep patriarchal structure, and discrimination against women. The book reads like a suspense thriller and I never felt like putting it down. Almost all chapters consist of one or two pages which makes it very easy to read. The chapters’ titles are thoughtful. It intrigues you to know more about the incidents. Sonia has woven this unfortunate incident in the form of a story that not only gives you context but also provides a political, social, and cultural perspective about the lives of the people involved.
Story of Padma and Lalli:
Padma Shakya and Lalli Shakya (names changed since the case is sub-judice) are two ‘good girls’ living in the Katra Sadatganj village of Badaun district. Padma and Lalli were cousin sisters. Padma was sixteen years old and Lalli was fourteen years old. They were always together like two grains of rice. They did everything together. They both had an ordinary life but they were the new age girls. Padma was curious and wanted to explore things. Lalli wanted to study further and do something in life. However, these good girls were never good enough for the people around them because they never wanted to be bound by the rules of society.
Control, control, and more control:
In India, girls are not supposed to have choices. They are bound to do what they are told to do. They are not allowed to go outside. They can use mobile phones but they can’t own them. Even to use it, they need to take permission. Many khap panchayats, villages, and schools in India have banned mobile phones for women. If they go out, they will have to return before it is too dark. They are the honor of the family and they need to be saved. And if they don’t follow these dictates or unsaid rules, they are killed. The most ironic thing is that women are controlled not only by society but also by the State in the name of their safety and empowerment. The recent move of increasing the age of women for marriage can be seen in the same light. A girl who is 18 years old, has the right to vote and choose her representatives but she does not have the agency to choose her partner. This is a clear case of violating women’s choices who want to get married before the age of 21.There is evidence to prove that a large share of reported sexual assaults across India is consensual relationships that are criminalised by parents.
We can see the same kind of control in the Shakya family. Padma’s father bought her a phone which allowed him to record her conversations. He forced Padma to leave her studies so that she can get married to save her family’s honor. When these two girls insisted on going to the village fair, their mother (Siya Devi) scolded and said ‘Ladkiyan bahar Nahin ghoomti’ (Girls don’t wander about outside the house).
Sex, Sexuality, and Shame:
Sex is still a taboo in India. It is associated with something bad. No sex education is provided in our country. Especially pre-marital sex is something frowned upon in our society. I just don’t understand the logic. After marriage, you can have as many kids as you want, but you can’t explore your sexuality before marriage. Height of hypocrisy in our society. Padma Lalli and Pappu Yadav had a sexual relationship that was not acceptable to their respective families. Padma and Pappu were caught in an awkward moment the day the girls got disappeared in the fields. The next morning Padma Lalli were found hanging from the tree in the mango orchard.
Though their family members alleged that they were gang-raped and murdered by Pappu along with his uncle and a Yadav (caste is important here because initially this case was seen as a caste rivalry between Yadav and Shakya community) policeman, CBI inquiry did not find any evidence of it. CBI inquiry concluded that girls took their own lives. However, it is still not clear what has happened on that unfateful night when these two teenage girls disappeared. No one knows what was there in the phone recordings. Nazru, the cousin of Shakya brothers, who was spying on Padma Lalli on the day of their disappearance, still feels that he had seen those men who took these girls. Reading this book will help anyone uncover the shocking turn of events and why the death of these girls is called ‘ordinary killings’.
Saving the honor was more important for their family even when those girls were dead. Sohan Lal, Padma’s father destroyed the phone so that no one gets to know about the relations between Padma Lalli and Pappu. What kind of society we are living in? Why our own parents are like that? Why they can’t think about their family first than society? That’s why Sonia in one of her interviews added that we all are responsible for their death and not one person or institution. The whole system is broken.
Let me tell you the story of my grandmother! I spent my childhood with her. I have seen her saving one rupee each day which led to huge savings later in her life. She did unbelievable things. She has a lot of patience. She believes in moving mountains even if she is old and sick. She never loses hope. She believes in the idea of compounding. Certainly, she does not understand the economics behind compounding. I have seen her converting hundreds into lakhs bit by bit. You must be thinking why I am telling you this? Recently, I saw a post about a book called, “The Psychology of Money” on Linkedin. This title made me curious and I decided to read this book. While I was reading this book, I realised that these pearls of wisdom on wealth and happiness were always there in front of my eyes. It usually goes unnoticed. The author of this book, Morgan Housel tells you those simple and obvious things about building wealth as Sherlock Holmes once said, ‘The world is full of obvious things which nobody by any chance ever observes.‘ It’s possible that we see these snippets in our daily life, but we never understood their significance of them.
Luck and risk
The book is divided into 20 chapters that take the reader from one timeless lesson to another about building wealth. As per the author, past experiences impact one’s behavior towards money. He believes that financial outcomes are driven by luck, independent of intelligence and effort. Luck and risk both play an important role in someone’s life. Outcomes are not only guided by individuals’ efforts but also by actions outside of our control. One of the best things to be said by the author is this: “Not all success is due to hard work and not all poverty is due to laziness” Therefore, he suggests keeping this thing in mind before judging people. Housel suggests having the virtue of contentment and not to risk what you have. According to him, there are many things that you should never risk. For instance- reputation and freedom, family and friends and happiness are some invaluable things that no one should ever risk in their life.
Things are uncertain and many times not dependent on historical factors. You should always be ready to face surprises in the financial market because no one clearly knows what might happen next. You must always give space to the room for error and be always ready to deal with unknowns. You should be ready to take risks but don’t take a risk that can wipe you from the world. Pessimism is so seductive and believable because setbacks happen too quickly to ignore. In comparison, progress happens too slowly to notice. Improvement is driven by compounding that always takes time. On similar lines, you should be ready to face losses in the financial market. Housel adds that true financial optimism is to expect things to be bad and be surprised when they are not. Nothing is free in life. Market returns are also never free. You should always be ready to lose some money and be ready to face the consequences. It’s like give and take. If the market gives you some returns, it also takes some back.
Compounding is the key
The most important concept discussed in this book is “compounding”. Time is the most powerful force in investing. The duration of investment matters. It takes time to accumulate funds. It makes little things to grow big and big mistakes fade away. However, our minds are not built to comprehend the enormous power of compounding. As I told earlier, I have seen compounding working in my own life. Once my grandmother bought something worth ten lakh rupees when she was earning only 10 thousand rupees per month. It looked totally absurd to me and I tried to stop her from buying something so expensive when her income is so less. But she told she will slowly make this payment. Still, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe till the date she was able to complete the whole payment. So compounding works in a way that our mind is not ready to sense it.
“Staying wealthy is more important than getting wealthy”, says the author. Keeping your money safe and using it rationally is more important than getting more money. Nothing should be taken for granted. Investing requires taking risks, being optimistic, and putting yourself out there but keeping money requires humility, fear, and most importantly frugality. The ability to survive plays an important role in becoming wealthy and in creating happiness. The author adds that sticking around for a long time should be the cornerstone of anyone’s strategy in life. Growth takes time. Be it about money or in career. And growth requires surviving all the unpredictable ups and downs that everyone inevitably experiences over time. Applying a survival mindset means appreciating three things in life:
You need to have enough savings to survive any disruption, pandemic and chaos in your life.
Planning is important but the most important is to plan on the plan not going according to the plan.
You need to have sensible optimism.
Being in control of your life
The best wisdom shared in this book is about how money can give you the freedom to control your time. As the author adds that the highest form of wealth is the ability to wake up every morning and say, “I can do whatever I want today” The ability to do what you want, when you want, with who you want, for as long as you want is priceless. It is the highest dividend money pays. Being in control of your life makes you happy.
Savings are linked not to your income but your humility
Creating wealth has no direct relationship with the income you earn or the investment returns you get. It depends on the saving rate. Saving the money you have and exercising frugality are the ways to build wealth. I have seen this habit not only in my grandmother but also in other family members. They don’t throw old clothes, boxes, and many household stuff and re-use them many times. They don’t go out and spend money to experience things as the new generations want to do. They have their own justification. However, saving money is the only way to build wealth. Spending money is also linked with your ego. If you desire less, you can save more. Housel has something interesting to say about increasing your savings. If you want to increase your savings, raise your humility than your income.
Saving money is the gap between your ego and your income & your income and wealth is what you don’t see.
The creation of wealth is linked to the psychology and behavior of the person. Saving money is like developing a good habit as James Clear shows in his book Atomic Habits. You don’t need a specific reason to save. Savings without a specific goal give you leverage to deal with unpredictable situations. It gives you flexibility and control of your time. The author also adds that you need to focus on being reasonable than rational because ultimately you are a human being who has emotions and feelings. You need to cut down on your expense but it does not mean that you stop living.
People change so do their goals in life
People’s desires and goals change so it is difficult to make long-term plans. The surprising thing is that people themselves don’t realise that how much they have changed in the past and how much they are going to change in the future. The author suggests keeping two things in mind whenever you are making a long-term decision. Firstly, you should avoid extreme ends of financial planning because people adapt to circumstances and the thrill of chasing dollars or living a simple life diminishes after a point. Secondly, you need to accept that things change and be ready to move on. The most beautiful thing author has to say is that you must have humility when things are going right and forgiveness & compassion when they go wrong. Because we never know what will happen and always be grateful for things that we have.
The crux of building wealth is to be humble, practice frugality and make saving your daily habit. Be a Ronald Read and not Richard Fuscone!
“If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you will end up 37 times better by the time you are done”
First, let me tell you the story of this tiny plant. Last year during the lockdown, I was spending good time gardening, writing, and clicking pictures. I reused an old plastic bottle and filled it with some soil and planted a small stem of my favorite plant-pothos. I fastened it in my balcony grill. Every alternate day I was watering it. But after some days, I saw it drying. I got disappointed and stopped thinking about it. I also reduced the frequency of giving water. Days and months passed. One day on a weekend, I saw a tiny green stem inside the old plastic bottle. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like some extra grass grew. I went closer to the bottle and there was a sweet smile on my face. I finally knew that my plant survived. It survived: because of everyday’s care & nurture that got accumulated for days. On similar lines, your good habits are like these tiny changes you make every day that leads to a bigger change later in your lives. (Scroll it down to see the beautiful plant as of today)
Reading this book makes you believe that small habits can make a big difference. And what is a habit? A habit is a behaviour that has been repeated enough times to become automatic. James Clear believes in incremental change. He feels that success is the product of daily habits-not-once-in-a-lifetime transformations. The interesting thing about this book is that it not only tells you how to create good habits but also how to break bad habits. He also warns the readers to be careful about the future trajectory of their lives as it will be dependent on their daily habits.
To me, this book feels like the combination of popular books Sapiens (A Brief History of Humankind) and Nudge(Improving Decision about Health, Wealth and Happiness)Like Sapiens, this book tells us that we have the brains of our ancestors but temptations they never had to face. We still crave calorie-dense foods because our brain’s reward centers have not changed for approximately 50 thousand years. Like Nudge, James Clear argues that the environment matters more than motivation. As Richard H Thaler talks about the concept of “choice architecture” that shapes people’s behavior, James Clear believes that every habit is context-dependent. People often choose products not because of what they are, but because of where they are. Accordingly, we need to design our environment such that we pursue our good habits. For instance- if you want to hydrate yourself, you must keep the water bottlers near you. We have to create space for every habit. A stable environment where everything has a place and a purpose is an environment where habits can easily form.
Our daily habits(positive/negative) compound for us and lead to a bigger change. And the thing is that whenever we have breakthrough moments, we don’t realise the reason behind them. The author has talked about the concept of “plateau of latent potential”. This is that moment where we get breakthrough results, but the thing is that we human beings generally don’t have patience. We can’t wait. I can share from my own personal experience. When I started preparing for civil services, things seem insurmountable and I also felt for some time that I don’t know if I can do this. But I got results. I couldn’t even clear prelims in my first attempt. But in my subsequent attempts, I cleared prelims and mains both. And it does not mean that I didn’t work hard in my first year. My result was a cumulative effect of all years and not only of the current year when I cleared the examination.
The author challenges the norm of setting goals if anyone wants to succeed. He adds: “If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.”
There are three layers of behavior change:
Outcome-based habits: What you get
Process-based habits: What you do
Identity-based habits: What you believe
The ultimate form of intrinsic motivation is when a habit becomes part of your identity. The more pride you have in a particular aspect of your identity, the more motivated you will be to maintain the habits associated with it. True behavior change is identity change. It means that to make your habit permanent, you must make your habit part of your life and identity.
One of the best things Clear has to say is that you need to unlearn and continuously edit your belief systems to upgrade your identity. And this cannot happen overnight. For instance- doing exercise is a good habit but to build a healthy body, you have to get out of your bed every single day at the same time. Go for a walk. Repeat this every single day despite all odds.
As per Clear, there are four simple steps to build a better habit: Cue; Craving; Response & Reward The cue gives you an indication about reward, craving makes you feel like getting that reward, the response is the actual habit you perform and rewards are the end goal of every habit. This whole process is also called a feedback loop.
Developing good habits or changing habits first and foremost requires you to understand what you are actually doing. The author tells us to create a list of our daily habits so that we can observe our thoughts and actions. We need to ask this question after making our daily list, does this habit help me become the type of person I wish to become? Below are the laws that we need to apply to cultivate good habits and eradicate bad habits.
Even our family, friends, and people we follow play an important role in shaping our behaviours. We pick up the habits from the people around us. As the author adds that ‘ we don’t choose our earliest habits, we imitate them’. We imitate the people we admire. The best strategy to develop a good habit is to surround yourself with the people who have the habits you want to have yourself. Sticking with good habits requires you to create short-term rewards. As our brains are still tempted towards instant gratification, we need to create a habit tracker. The author adds that a habit tracker makes you believe that you are working towards becoming the type of person you wish to become.
In the end, the author talks about ‘the Goldilocks Rule’ that will help you to stay motivated in life and work. As per this rule, humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard, Not too easy, Just Right. Reaching the goldilocks zone makes you achieve the state of flow. Flow is something one achieves when they have immersed themselves in what they are doing. But doing the same thing or following the same habit can also bring some boredom. The biggest challenge for self-improvement is dealing with this boredom. “The only way to become excellent is to be endlessly fascinated by doing the same thing over & over. You have to fall in love with boredom”, adds the author. Mastery requires more practice than planning. Though habits are important, they are not enough. You need to have a combination of automatic habits and deliberate practice. And most importantly, you need to review and reflect on these habits to continuously fine-tune them as one thinker has rightly said” a genius is not born, but is educated and trained”.
“Jahan Koyi apna Dafn na hua ho woh jagah apni nhi hua karti” [A person does not belong to a place until someone beloved is buried there]
Gabriel Garcia Marquez- One Hundred Years of Solitude
Reading the book, “Bread, Butter, and Cement” by Annie Zaidi, felt like a trip down memory lane. It made me nostalgic. It made me think of my roots, my identity, and my belongingness. The book is beautifully written and expressed. It feels like a slow cold breeze passing below your feet while you read this book but also makes you worry about the things happening in our country as to how our heritage and culture are being devoid of diversity.
Like Zaidi, I always wanted to own a place that I can call mine. Do I belong to a place or Do I want a place of my own? The first one is of course where my dada, dadi, and my ma lived their whole life. It feels so right that where your ancestors have lived, that place belongs to you. If you see this in a larger sense, it’s so difficult to imagine the lives of the people who were uprooted from their homeland because of partition, communal strife, or poverty and have had to move to a different place. The second one is that place that I am going to build/buy that is my own.
The title of the book intrigued me because what story could link three unconnected words: bread, butter, and cactus. It comes from the author’s childhood when she was living in the J K Puram colony. It was a colony for workers of the cement factory of the same name. Her mother was working as a principal in the school run for kids living in the colony. They moved to this unknown place so that her mother could provide ‘bread’ to her children. The author also describes the circumstances and situation prevailing in that colony and how the author wanted to escape the everyday ‘sameness’ of the colony. The only life around was some cactus. There was nothing nearby and it almost felt like she was living on some island.
The book is neatly divided into nine chapters with unique and thoughtful names. Every chapter name has some hidden meaning. The most beautiful thing about this book is that as these chapters flow, the author narrates her personal story reflecting and interlinking the socio-political happenings of the country. For instance, I absolutely loved the chapter named ‘Gur, Imarati and Goons’ telling the story of Azamgarh in particular and eastern UP in general. ‘Listening to mother’ and ‘Place like Home’ are the two other beautiful chapters giving a beautiful perspective on how language is so important to feel the sense of belongingness and how creating your own home or having a home makes a lot of difference in your life. This line from this chapter is so beautifully written: ‘Home is where suffering is shared out, like a bread, and or a three-seat bench shared by four’. The chapter on language is insightful. It shows how much language diversity we have in our country and despite that, there is an imposition of one language on everyone. Hindi itself has around 49 variants.
Just finding out that the author’s hometown was Azamgarh which is also my hometown created a strong urge for me to read this book. Being a woman who belongs to the same district and also migrated to a different place and trying to create my own identity made me relate to the author’s feelings in this book. Just like the author of this book, ‘belonging had always been a fraught question for me’ because I also never lived at one place for long. Especially after my marriage, I moved to South India totally devoid of North Indian roots, culture, food, and the people. I am not sure where I belong.
I remember my first UPSC interview when they asked me about my hometown and I was trying to defend the reputation of my district as it has been stereotyped and demonised as a place linked to terrorism. I can say that even I was suffering from that bias otherwise there would be no need to defend. The author is also anguished about why a place of poetry, textile, and imarati has been stereotyped just because a section of minorities live there. It is sad. Even I agree with the author that this stereotyping isolates the minority community and also prevents the Hindu majority from taking pride in their regional identity. A couplet comes to mind:
“Sabhi ka khoon hai shaamil yahaan ki mitti Mein,Kisi ke baap ka Hindustan thodi hai” [Everybody’s blood is mixed into the earth here, Hindustan does not belong to anybody’s father]
Throughout the book, Zaidi shows concerns towards the marginalisation of minority communities with a special focus on Muslim communities. Being a Muslim and a woman, she has had to face a lot of questions and rejection. The socio-political climate of the country made her conscious of her identity. She was worried about what people will think or how they will behave if she wore a hijab/burqa.
This is the sad reality of this country. The recent findings of a three-year study on discrimination in housing, most cosmopolitan cities and neighborhoods continue to keep Muslims and Dalit out of their homes. Stereotyping and discrimination against Muslims and Dalits are rampant in our country. One of my close Muslim friends (I don’t want to disclose his identity), who is a writer and public policy expert tells me, ” I no more think India is my country and I want to move out from here as soon as I can”. Hearing this, I thought; where we have reached and what we have become as a nation.
“The ache for home lives in all of us.The safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned”
The theme of this book is about home, identity, belonging, and most importantly about mitti (soil) of one’s birthplace. How absolutely nothing can replace the feeling of your roots. How this mitti or zameen as we call it, has ‘dual connotations’ that mean land and also a certain psychological feeling. It makes me feel proud when I read in this book that the author traces her roots to eastern Uttar Pradesh. Generally, people from Uttar Pradesh who have relocated would rather not reveal their identity out of fear of being stereotyped.
Note: I created a draft of this blog last month but could not publish it because almost everyone in my family was sick. Finally, when I started feeling a bit better and things got stable at home, I completed this blog today.
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“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen our sense of life: they feed the soul”
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d has three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” – An Iconic passage that gives the book its title
During my childhood days, I was this kid who was always curious about reading things written at unusual places. Catchy sentences from books, inspiring quotes, weird shayaris written on the backside of the truck and things written on walls always amused me. I also had this habit of writing things in my diary or notebook. I never imagined that this is the thing I liked the most and this will give me utmost satisfaction in my life. When I started reading this fascinating book by the author Anne Lamott, I felt as if she is telling me to do the same. She wants writers to observe, appreciate and simply write about everything you see, hear, read, and think. She emphasises that writers should be afraid of not getting the writing done rather being tensed about how it will look and how people will see you.
And I would suggest people to read this book because it is not only about writings but also about life. The best thing about this book is that instructions on writing are intertwined with Lamott’s life that makes it easier to relate.
The book is neatly divided into five parts. The author has shared the instructions step by step in these five parts. The first part is about getting the writing started, the second part speaks about the writing frame of mind, the third part describes small habits that can help in your writing journey, fourth part talks about the ultimate goal of every writer; publication and other reasons you need to start writing and the final part is about the author’s last class on writing where she highlights the role of being a writer and how writers play an important role to show a mirror to the society.
The best advice the author has for the budding writers is the actual act of writing. It has its own rewards. It is one of the best parts of writing as it has so much to give and teach. The author has poured out her heart as a writer in this book. She honestly tells all the writers to start writing as all good writings begin with terrible first effort. We all have to write that shitty first drafts and edit it, again and again, to make it crisp and clear.
Stories are mostly the same but the difference comes when someone shares their own sensibility or especially their own version of the truth. And as the author agrees that the ‘truth’ is the bedrock of life. Whatever experience you had in your life, no one can share better than you in your own voice. Something very unique, I found in the book, as the author says ‘writing’ is like ‘giving’. A writer gives her soul and deepest part of her life into writing. Reading something gives us that feeling of connection, it enriches your soul. A writer soothes the reader’s soul by giving a company and reducing isolation.
The author gave some clear instructions that need to be followed if you want to improve your writing skills or want to continue being a writer:
Sit down to write at approximately same time every day. This is how you can train your unconscious to kick-in for you.
Write at least 300 words every day. Write about anything, about your dreams, aspirations, childhood memories, etc
Keep index cards with you all the time and scribble on it whenever you find something interesting
Observe/ Look around and write about these things
Call people and connect with them to know their perspective
Find someone reliable who can read your draft before you show it to the world
Be part of a writing group that will motivate you to write
Find your voice or write whatever your intuition says
Write about your childhood
Write as if you are dying
Forget about what people will think of your writing rather focus on just writing
I will end with some of the beautiful excerpts from the bookto inspire and motivate you to write without any hesitation because as Anne Lamott reiterates in the book, writing and reading decreases our sense of isolation. They deepen, widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul.
“Good writing is about telling the truth”
” We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are”
“Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious”
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better”
“Writing can be a pretty desperate endeavor, because it is about some of our deepest needs: our need to be visible, to be heard, our need to make sense of our lives, to wake up and grow and belong.”
“Process of writing is pretty much the same for almost everyone I know”
“Becoming a writer can also profoundly change your life as a reader. One reads with a deeper appreciation and concentration, knowing now how hard writing is, especially how hard it is to make it look effortless. You begin to read with a writer’s eyes”
“Writing is about learning to pay attention and to communicate what is going on”
“Very few writers really know what they are doing until they have done it”
“All the good stories are out there waiting to be told in a fresh, wild way.”
BOOKS -“What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave”
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us”