Book Review – I am Malala

I had heard about Malala Yousafzai few years back, even before she had won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2014. She was in news after the Taliban shot her and I knew her as the person whose diary had been published by the BBC in their website during the tough Taliban days.

Shortly after that, my sister very enthusiastically bought the book – I am Malala - and almost everyone in our family read the same. Infact, when my mother had come to Hyderabad in 2013, my daughter was just 3 years old. Ma was carrying the book and Sara even at 3 years could recognized Malala and remember her name. Ma had told Sara about Malala’s story . However, I somehow did not read the book.

During my vacation early this year, I had the chance to read the book.

The book, I feel is actually is written by Christine Lamb, though the cover mentions Malala as well. The book tells the story of Malala and more about her father in the backdrop of the Talibanization of Pakistan. Being a journo, Christine lamb has a very sharp way of writing which I liked very much. The way she has described the mountains, rivers, valleys and snow, it is mesmerizing. She has depicted the life of people of swat valley and impact of Taliban (how it all started, how it gradually increased and how it consumed everything) in their lives very vividly. Also, the nuances of the thinking of a young girl ( who is worried about marks, bickering with friends, thinking to grow tall or be fairer) has also come out pretty well.

The book gave me a good understanding of the history of Pakistan, especially that the Swat valley (KPK region) was autonomous during the independence in 1947 and was merged into Pakistan later. It also gave me a realization of how good life in India has been compared to the chaos and anarchy that is there in some parts of Pakistan. And it also drove home the fact that the general population in Pakistan did not like the fundamentalists, the people who kill and terrorize. This also gives its view of the geo political equations between Pakistan and the USA, especially why USA has been supporting the military rulers of Pakistan despite their shoddy past records.

I also felt though Malala is the central character in this book, the person responsible for her to rise to the stratospheric heights is her father. Without her father shaping and preparing her, and giving her such a launchpad, she would have been nothing. This is not to discount her achievement, but to give credit to Ziauddin Yousafzai. No doubt Malala has the charisma, eloquence and vision to rally the powers to be and with the platform that she has got now, she can change the world. She has mentioned sometimes in the book that she wants to be a politician and sometimes the Prime Minister of Pakistan . Now that is something which future will tell what she will grow up to be. May be Christine Lamb will script or rather write that part of her life 25-30 years down the line. It would be an interesting read, whether Malala becomes PM of Pakistan or not!

Overall, it was a very interesting read. I would recommend everyone interested to know about the growth of Taliban and its impact to read this book.

Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach - Book Review

Long back, almost 20 years ago, someone I do not remember now, told me that this book was a really good book. It was one of those long boring summer vacations when I found a copy of this book at my cousins place. Summer vacations, though now nostalgic, used to bring a sense of ennui and boredom back then. Since I had nothing better to do, I picked up the book to read and read a few pages. It was a story about a Seagull. Now, a seagull is an alien bird to an Indian bred in a landlocked city.  The funny thing was that the seagull was trying to learn different nuances of speed flying. I read a bit further but it didn't really appeal to me. It was a fable and birds were talking. I didn't read it further.

Over the years, I still heard about the book. Though one copy of it was lying at our house in Bhubaneswar, I never picked it up as somehow I thought that this book was overrated.

During my vacation early this year, I was in a reading spree. I found this book in a shelf at our house in Bhubaneswar and decided to give it a go. I had to read it completely once and then give my judgement.

And here is my summary and review.

Jonathan Livingston was a Seagull who was living with a flock of over 4000 birds on a sea shore. Seagulls have their primary aim of life pretty well defined. It is to eat. So they spend most of their waking time flying after fishing trawlers and fighting for a small fish or bread thrown by fishermen. But Jon was different. He was not interested in wasting his life running after food. He did not want to be part of the rat race. He wanted to perfect his flight. So, he spent all the time practicing and discovering new ways to fly.

But the other seagulls did not like his antics as he was not confirming to the expected behavior and norms for seagulls. So, they make him an outcast.  Thus, he goes away from the flock and lives alone on his own. There he continues his practice and becomes an expert. Due to his superb flying skills, he is able to catch different types of fish and insects and relish them.

Jonathan spends many years in solitude. He grows old. He looses some of his strength due to old age. Then one day, he falls in his flight. Though the author doesn't say that Jonathan dies, but the reader can understand it.

Then Jonathan reaches a different shore where there are 2 suns. He finds a few seagulls there. They are all experts in flying. They welcome him to his fold. He learns various other tricks there. He gets an elder Seagull who becomes his teacher. He teaches him various new things. He says you learnt travel in space. Can you learn to travel in time? Can you learn to travel at speed of thought? The elder Seagull teaches Jonathan the new ways. One day he declares that he has to go as he has to continue his own learning further. Asking Jonathan to focus on love, he vanishes.

Jonathan spends some more time in that space and slowly he longs to find other seagulls who are trying to learn superior flying skills. He goes back to the shore where he was born. A little away from the shore, he finds a few seagulls who are trying to fly fast. He tests their skills. He is satisfied that they have learnt many tricks. He becomes their mentor and teaches them many new skills.

Few more seagulls join. They all are outcast from the flock.

One day Jonathan decides to go to the flock. His students also follow. They display their skills. Most seagulls in the flock are appalled. A few follow them and become new students.

Jonathan tells his students that their bodies are nothing but thought. They are not able to understand it. One day, his first student, Fletcher dies. Jonathan meets Fletcher after his death. Fletcher understands the meaning of bodies being thought. Jonathan tells Fletcher that it is time for him to leave and further his own learning. Fletcher becomes the new teacher for those seagulls who are eager to learn more.

There are many lessons from this story. Now, I understand some of the deep meaning in this story.

1. Focus on perfection and a higher goal in life.
2. Complete dedication to goal ignoring nay sayers and obstacles will help achieve it.
3. All limitations are in mind. One can even transcend the all distances of space and time back and forth in time, move at speed of thought.
4. Love for all is the highest goal.

I think a single reading may not be enough to understand the book and extract all the lessons. It has to be reread.

When I read the book during the initial part, I was having an ambiguity in my mind on the book. My mind was scientifically questioning the contents of the book. The author said that the Seagull was flying at 90 miles per hour or say 214 miles per hour. I was asking, how did the bird know it? Later I realized that the author had taken some literary liberty and we as a reader need to ignore that and focus on the core message.

The author has used quite a lot of flying and acrobatic terms which may not be understood by the common reader. But they are not required to be understood as long as you get the message. Some of the messages are very philosophical and are difficult to decipher. In the book, there are many pictures of seagulls flying. I felt that those were not necessary part of the book as such. While reading the book, I was continuously thinking about an animated movie with this story. I wonder if anyone has made one on it.

Overall, I liked the book and it's idea. All the messages may not be accepted by a questioning mind. But, being a short book, it is worth a read.

Acres of Diamond - Book Review – Russell Conwell

This is a motivational speech that used to be delivered by Russell Conwell in various towns around USA in the early years of last century. Russell Conwell was a very good Speaker and he used to attract a large crowd. He had been in the army earlier and later in life he became a clergy man and established churches. He was a person who encouraged working people to study further. Hence, with his organizational capabilities, he mobilized resources to build the Temple University.

He used to go to various towns and give motivational speeches. Acres of Diamond is one of his most famous speech. In this speech, he talks about a story of a Persian farmer who lived not very far from river Indus. He had a farm land and was getting enough produce to live a happy life. He was thus a rich man because he was happy and contented. Then, one fine day, a Buddhist priest told him about diamonds, those precious stones with which he could buy anything he wanted. That night, he went to sleep as a poor man. He had not lost any of his wealth, yet he was no more happy, nor content as he kept thinking about getting diamonds. So, he sold his farm, and went off in search of diamonds. He went all over different places, lost all his money and died a pauper.

Years later the same Buddhist priest came to the farm again. He enquired about the farmer to the present owner and understood that he died a pauper in search of diamonds. But the new owner discovered diamond mines right in heart of the same farmland and became immensely wealthy. The diamond mines of Golconda were thus discovered.

The author says that by recognizing the potential that is available in your own town, own place, you can, with virtue of hard work, become successful and wealthy. That is the acres of diamond that is lying in front of you. It is the potential within each one of us that he wanted to highlight.

He gives the examples of various men and women who had succeeded in life by doing the above.

While this is a motivational classic, and the message it gives is timeless, I felt that because of the time lapse (more than 100 years), the stories and style is outdated. A motivational speaker today may not use these examples and techniques. But for that time and age, it was probably the best.

One thing to be noted is that Russell Conwell says in his speech that Golconda diamond mines were thus discovered. Actually, Golconda mines are near Hyderabad, India and it was not Persians who discovered it. Neither is it any close to the Indus river. So, this seems to be a big factual error. But since it is a story, a fictional Golconda could be anywhere. Though he has the literary liberty on that, I felt, Russell should have used some other name for the mine instead of Golconda.

Overall, I can say that one can read the book just once, as Russell is a big figure in American history and this is one of the most repeated speech that reached and inspired millions in those days. 

Volunteering at Club Run

The Hyderabad Runners Club Run was announced sometime in January 2016. The date was February 7th. Initially, I wanted to run it. But then, I went on a vacation and by the time I was back, the registrations were closed. 

Then a mail came around asking for volunteers. I had been part of several HR events in the past. I ran the Club run in 2012, Airtel HM in 2012, Airtel FM in 2013, Rockathon in 2015, Airtel HM in 2015 and Alankrita Run in 2016. I had also ran in a few of the Sunday long runs and had always wondered who were the folks who took the pain in providing the SAG support and other volunteering. So, this time, I decided to become a volunteer and help in the running event.

Promptly, I registered my name as a volunteer. The form was a simple one and asked your name, age, mobile number, email address, age and which days were you willing to volunteer.

A few days later, someone called me, introduced himself as Siva and asked if I was still willing to take up the volunteering. I replied in affirmative and he said that he will form a whatsapp group and to watch out for the same.

A whatsapp group was created. In the group, another person named Anil took up more active role. He told us that we will all be Route Marshalls. I did not know what a route marshall is expected to do. I did a little bit of google search and found that it is basically to be stationed somewhere on the route and direct the runners while managing traffic. Anil sent out a mail with details of the route marshalls who were supposed to man different locations. A group of 3-4 route marshalls were under a team leader. I was assigned to Tunnel1. I was bit surprised as there were no tunnels as far as I know on the route. Later I found that I was to be stationed near a underpass in the ORR. Hence it was the Tunnel1.

On 6th February, early morning there was a meetup of the volunteers. We planned to meet at Gachibowli stadium by 5:30AM. By the time I reached there, it was still dark. There were some folks milling around. I saw one tall person speaking to everyone. He was Anil. I introduced myself. Anil gave everyone instructions on what is to be done. He spent more time with people who were manning critical and busy junctions.

We were supposed to arrange the cones and stop traffic on the side of the road where the runners were to run. Some of the roads were blocked. Some of the busy junctions had to be controlled carefully.

Then we went on a route recce to see the entire distance. 

The next morning, I reported at 5:30AM at my station. It was 8 KM from the start point. By 5:45AM Srinivas, who was our team leader came to me and gave me a reflective jacket to wear. Since it was quite dark, the reflective jacket was a good protection. Anil in his white Honda City was going to and fro several times on the road. 

By 6:00AM the race started. I carried the cones and blocked the road. A few auto rickshaws and bike fellows were coming. But looking at the cones, most of them went back. Some of the fellows did not heed the cones or me and kept riding. But since it was early and no runner had come that far, I allowed them. I estimated that the first runners will take at least 35 minutes to reach my station.

By 6:20AM, the sun started rising. I kept waiting for the runners to come. It was almost 1 hour that I was waiting along.

By 6:37AM the first runner crossed me. Then there was a long gap. A group of 4 runners crossed me at 6:41AM. Then slowly, the rest of the pack came. By 6:50AM, it was a stream of runners. 

I was cheering the runners by clapping and saying encouraging words. Some of them responded by smiling or by thumbs up. But, few of them ran as if I did not exist! That felt really bad. So, lesson learnt, next time, when I run, I will smile or do thumbs up to acknowledge the effort of the volunteer.

Anil came in between and handed over a Volunteer T-shirt and the breakfast packet. I eat the breakfast. 

By 7:00AM, a college fellow on a bike came. He was leader of the college volunteers. He asked if I need any help. I said no. But still he insisted on sending 2 college volunteers. They arrived around 7:20AM. The three of us kept cheering the runners. By that time, the return stream has started. 

Around 8:00AM, only a few were trickling in. I started running with them for short distance to give company. I told the college folks to leave as most of the runners had gone. I stayed at the station till about 8:30AM when Anil came on his white Honda City. He thanked me and asked me to go to the stadium.

What did I learn from this?

1. Volunteering has its own rewards. You get the best place to see watch the runners, take pictures and see how they are running. You also get to meet new people, make friends and network.

2. Volunteering is a difficult job. Unless someone had intrinsic motivation, it is better not to go for it.

3. It takes a lot of energy and effort to coordinate the activities of the volunteers. Managing them is not easy.

4. Acknowledge the work of volunteers. That is the least one can do for them.

My Morning Routine

For more than a month now, I am waking up consistently at 5:00 AM or thereabouts every day. This is one of my goals for the year and  I have been following it successfully till now. Waking up early in the morning helps me to feel accomplished first thing in the morning. It gives me the courage as I have successfully completed my first goal of the day. It paves the way to gather more small successes in the day. 

After I wake, I follow a morning routine or ritual as some people say. The first 2 hours are 'My Time'. I do certain things that charge me for the day ahead and prepare me for the next week, month and the year. 

As soon as I wake up, I drink 2 glasses of water, freshen up and then spend the next 10 minutes in meditation. This helps me to feel connected to the higher power that directs all our lives. Then I spend 10 minutes writing and saying my affirmations, which is a way to provide the sub-conscious mind, the directions to my goals. The next 30 minutes I plan for my GOTD. GOTD is my own abbreviation for Goals of the day. It is my to do list which I maintain in a diary in the old fashioned way.  I check off the completed ones for the previous day and move the incomplete ones to this day. Then I spend some time reviewing my GOTY, i.e Goals of the year.  When I write down my goals and to do activities for each day in my diary I ensure that they are in line with my GOTY. I take 30 more minutes to read some inspirational or education blogs that I follow and finally, I spend 30-45 minutes running, which I have chosen as my preferred form of exercise. Running gives me time to contemplate and plan my day further in line with my GOTD. 

Thus, by 7 am, I have taken steps to recharge my spiritual, emotional and physical batteries that can propel me to face the day with aplomb.

Waking up early in the morning and following a morning routine thus gives one the required  time to sharpen your saw, i. e., your spirit, your mind and your body. This can help you achieve your long term goals, whatever it may be. 

Join the 5:00 am club. Wish you great success in this journey.