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Rajesh Talwar’s The Mantra and Meaning of Success Looks at Success From Multiple Perspectives

Over the last one week, I read Rajesh Talwar’s The Mantra and Meaning of Success. Currently working as Deputy Legal Adviser to the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, the author’s resume is a thing of envy. He has penned 31 books and regularly writes for some of the most popular publications in India and outside, viz. The Economic Times, The Guardian (UK), The Pioneer, The Times of India, The Patriot, Manushi, The Sunday Mail, and The New Indian Express. The book in my hand falls in the Self-Help category and has been published by Bridging Borders publishing house.

There are several reasons to like the book. I love the fact that Mr. Talwar keeps no pretence about the target audience of this book. The author sets a clear context while doing the Introduction and explains the need of such a book for the Indian readers set against an Indian backdrop. The author believes that most of the acclaimed and widely read books in the genre have been written with a western lens and targeted at the western reader. That’s true to a good extent and reading a book that probes the Indian pop-culture and well-known stories from India to cite examples adds to the relatability of the book. It’s not that the book doesn’t have cases from outside India. In fact, the book is heavily reliant on global icons like Bill Gates, Bob Dylan, Mario Puzo and others in order to explain success, failure and related themes. Even if you are a reader from outside India, it shouldn’t be very difficult to connect.

The book is also a far cry from other books in the genre that promise to give you a magic pill of success. More than telling how to become successful, this book tackles the question ‘What is Success?’. The author tries to look at success from multiple perspectives. Success can have diverse colours and so the book begins with those three things people generally relate success with – Fame, Money, and Power.

On a different note, the strength of this book also ends up becoming its disadvantage after a point. Too many simplistic conclusions are drawn from stories that seem to present multiple layers for inspection and rumination. The way these conclusions are drawn may leave readers looking for nuance a bit disappointed. A sense of rush to pack as many tales as possible in one book is palpable throughout and this creates a few problems. Firstly, many of these stories are in public domain and provided that the author doesn’t have an inside view of individuals mentioned in these stories, it’s hard to ascertain the accuracy or correctness of the inferences made. Secondly, page time for author’s own views and thoughts is considerably reduced. Even though we are reading a book about a concept that should draw a lot more from the respected author’s own life and struggles, by the end of the book, we don’t really get to know the author or his ideas well enough. I would have liked the book better if it had more focus and had dug deeper into the subject. Additionally, even though art is subjective, the book cover borders on bland and has scope for improvement to grab more eyeballs.

An individual like Mr. Rajesh Talwar surely knows what success looks like and it is only natural that the book is filled with anecdotes from Mr. Talwar’s surroundings. The book stresses on the importance of balancing between fame, money, power and suggests ways to do it, and narrates several examples to underline the correlation. If you are looking for a quick, crisp read with stories of success and failure that inspire without bothering to get into details, this is definitely a one-time read.

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Everything Is Figureoutable by Marie Forleo Has All the Sunshine You Need to Kickstart Your New-Year

At least in India, our entertainers still have some time to go before they can get rid of their obsession for pessimistic realism. From the millions of episodes of reality television shows to creating gloomy pieces of art and cinema, we are being served hopelessness and negativity every day in the name of realism. Add to the mix, the pandemic of news media, the common man is forced to feel vulnerable and powerless with every primetime broadcast. Not to forget, our own magnetic attraction to all things negative makes us the perfect guinea pig in the laboratory of so-called ‘realism’.

Naturally, it always takes much more force and motivation to stay positive and hopeful in today’s age. With business models created to make us lazier and more worthless every passing day, people have begun to lose control of their lives as early as their toddler phase. Contrast this to our parents and their parents, things were more complicated than they are now. They didn’t have access to google to look up for ‘how to make myself dumber’ every time they had to do something. However, they perhaps lived a more complete life than many of us are living now. They knew how to fix things. Even if they didn’t, they didn’t tap on a screen to get things done. They tried and learned. This is where Marie Forleo’s wonderful book ‘Everything is Figureoutable’ begins with a chapter on her mother who could figure out just about anything. Here’s how she begins – 

“My mother has the tenacity of a bulldog, looks like June Cleaver, and curses like a truck driver. She grew up the daughter of two alcoholic parents in the projects of Newark, New Jersey. She learned, by necessity, how to stretch a dollar bill around the block and is one of the most resourceful and industrious people you could ever meet. She once told me she rarely felt valued, loved, or beautiful, but she held tight to the promise she made to herself that, once she was old enough, she’d find a way to a better life.”

It makes sense. When I observe the lives of people who are now in their late 50s and beyond, each one appears to me as if they were books to be read cover to cover and as they pass away without telling their story, it feels like a library getting ransacked in a siege laid by time and the modern man’s self-obsession. Enter COVID-19, and the entire process gets fast-forwarded. It is indeed depressing to be an audience to this pandemonium.

With all the bad things happening around us, I was looking to read something that shines some sunlight towards the end of the year. This is when I found Marie Forleo’s ‘Everything is Figureoutable’ – a phrase she has loaned from her mother and inspirer-in-chief. Guess what, this book was exactly what I was looking for. Marie Forleo is a ‘multi-passionate’ entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist. She was named by Oprah Winfrey as the ‘thought-leader for the next generation’. The introduction will take up the whole page if I go on about her achievements and how she inspires millions around the world. Coming back to the book, Marie draws from her own life experience, her personal as well professional journey, her hits and misses to compose a transformative book for her readers.

There are chapters on the magic of belief, befriending fear, the suicidal road to perfectionism, the myth of ‘I’m not ready’ or waiting for the right time. These chapters are full of practical suggestions and instructions laced with homour and anecdotes to keep you engaged. As a result, you gain something from every page of this book. There is not a dull moment, thanks to Marie’s conversational style of writing. It feels more like a personal session with the author herself. One of my favourite sections of the book is about how the modern day products have turned ‘us’ from being consumers to becoming products. She underlines the damage social media and all the insta-gratification tools and apps are doing to us. That is only the first half though, she also comes up with exercises and activities to help the reader fix this problem. And these are very doable if you want to put your mind to self-improvement. I am writing this review more from the perspective of a beneficiary of Marie’s ability to stay positive and spread it around her than merely jotting down a plain-old book review. The book is also interspersed with testimonials (field-notes) from her readers who have benefitted from the book and are so powerful that a collection of those stories can make a great book in its own right.

2020 was a year of harsh realities for most of us. People died, plans stalled, and businesses shut shops. But was it all as dark and negative as we want to think it was? Well, many got a chance to reconnect with their family. Many people I know went on an online certification spree to upskill themselves. Some of us learned a new language. Many came out fitter physically, mentally, and spiritually out of these serial lockdowns. There are certainly a few positives to count, no matter how sparse they are. Marie’s life and her book tell us exactly that without the ‘preacher mode’ on. This definitely makes the book a recommended read to begin your year with some more light around you.

Shashank Kasliwal’s ‘Freedom From the I’ – A Jaico Book

 

When I was a child, my grandmother always told me about the guy who walked back from death with the help of a thread and woke up during his funeral procession. All these years, I have never been able to give a face to this guy from my grandmother’s story. But as I kept reading through the pages of ‘Freedom from the I’, I could finally paint a face to that character. This might sound like an exaggeration but the author of the book, Shashank Kasliwal, surely seem to have walked through hell and managed to have returned to life. Interestingly, this is a hell he designed on his own. However, as he walks you down the lanes of his own hell, most of you will realize that the sceneries are not too different from your own personal hell.
Continue reading “Shashank Kasliwal’s ‘Freedom From the I’ – A Jaico Book”

Jasmin-Waldmann-Change_Me

Jasmin Waldmann’s Change Me

One of the protagonists says that the idea of life coach is relatively new in India. It’s a point to ponder upon. A lot of formulations have been known in our country from the longest period of time man can remember through culture and literature.
However, through years of self deprecation and looking for joy in west-imitation, we have let those formulations rust away in the dingy corner of our forgetful mind. Should we seek support from outside in times of need? Can an external force drive us to help ourselves to become a better version of what we are? Or is the external force just a misnomer for someone who reminds us of our internal energy which in turn drives us to change ourselves? In the Mahabharata, Krishna himself didn’t fight. However, he did become that external force for Arjuna to remind him of his duty, responsibility, skills, and power. Krishna who himself is known as the Yogiraj (King of Yogins) taught Arjun lessons in JnanYoga, KarmaYoga, and BhaktiYoga. Arjun channelized his own energy and went on to win the war of both the external and the internal world. Bhagwad Gita was perhaps the first book written for the ‘Self-Help’ shelf.

As with the Bhagwad Gita, we tend to forget our own worth and dreams in the rat race of the world. Change Me enters a chaotic world with an objective to impart a sense of purpose to all the rats. Calmly but assertively, this book tells the rats to stop, breathe, enter their mind palaces, and observe their ratness. It maybe that they are not rats after all and are running a race of someone else. Natalie Kofman is arguably the Krishna of the book and Amit Malhotra is her Arjun.

The author Jasmin Waldmann, life coach and fitness expert, speaks to the readers through the character of Natalie. Amit Malhotra represents the set of readers who are willing to change themselves. Published by Jaico Publishing House, Change Me is life coaching made palatable through storytelling.
I have read quite a few books on self help. Most of the times, I have put them down after reading a few pages or even half of the book because of the monotonous preaching of the author in the books. So, the bait of storytelling in Change Me worked for me. The author lays out the focus areas of her chapters through the titles and goes phase by phase into Amit’s transformation. The journey from Recognize to Resurrect is a story many of us would relate to. On the way, Jasmin has packed up quite a few practical lessons on physical exercise, breathing techniques, and meditation which makes sure that the book is more than just a marketing material for the author and her coaching programs.
However, you must bear in mind that this is a self-help book and hence, you must not look for an epic story in these pages. The characters and their conversations are sometimes clichéd, the plot is often predictable, and the text is at times ordinary. It doesn’t help that there are a few typos as well. However, what the book loses in such shortcomings, it gains in the pace of storytelling and the practicality of lessons imparted through conversations between its protagonists.

My favourite part of the book would be the dialogue between Amit and other characters when Natalie takes Amit to his childhood to heal some wounds from the past. I would have liked a few more practical points or To Do things in the book but I believe that there is only one test for any self-help book. Did the book inspire enough to invest more time into my self-improvement? The answer for me is Yes. This is a good, earnestly written book and ends at a sweet length for you to read less and do more.