Favorite books list

Recently I was talking with my colleague about book reading habit, he was asking me to get a list of my favorite books. Few years back I created a list consisting of my favorite books using Google drive (it was called Google docs then). This list grew over the years when my friends started adding additional items into it. Recently I have updated the list; latest version can be downloaded from the link below:

Favorite books – Link to PDF document

Hope you find it useful.

BOOK REVIEW: My journey – Transforming dreams into action

Abdul Kalam
Transforming dreams into actions

Author: APJ Abdul Kalam

Price: 195 INR

For most Indians, reading about Abdul Kalam and his work is always an inspiring item. Post retirement, he started off his journey into writing by scripting his auto-biography titled ‘The wings of fire’, followed by some popular books like Ignited Minds, Envisioning an empowered nation, Turning points etc. Most of them talk about his early life in Rameshwaram followed by his experience with various defense and space research organizations. Another popular theme in these book is about “Vision 2020”, where Kalam is been articulating India becoming super power by 2012 by achieving excellence in technology, rural transformation, self reliance and self sustainability.

In this latest book ‘My journey – Transforming dreams into Action’, Kalam has followed pretty much the same canvas but gone into very small and specific stories. Unlike his previous books, he has chosen real life anecdotes and shared deeper learning from them. Growing up in town like Rameshwaram with very high aspirations and dreams is not very easy situation to handle. With lesser resources and exposure, Kalam need to go thru lot of struggle and build his career brick-by-brick. The most inspiring part is about him overcoming umpteen numbers of challenges and overcoming them with very strong vision and value.

For example, he explains how he became a working person at the age of 8 by supplying newspapers in Rameshwaram and struggle associated with it. Every day he would to get up at 4 AM followed by his morning tuition and prayers. In order to support his family Kalam takes a part time job of distributing newspapers to Rameshwaram household. Thanks to some policy change, Chennai-Dhanushkodi passenger train which carried daily newspaper bundle from Chennai removed Rameshwaram station from the list. This resulted in Kalam doing every day stunt by catching paper bundle thrown from a moving train at Rameshwaram station. Kalam will then go on distributing them after which his school day would start. In the evening he would finish his homework and complete settlement of newspaper daily account with his cousin who gave him this opportunity. It was quite obvious to see the amount of stress and pressure he might have gone thru as a 8 year old boy, but the way he put it across along with key learnings is simply amazing.

There are multiple similar stories related to his profession filled with struggle and failures.  Inspired by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Kalam and his team went on building Indian space story from the scratch.  He recalls how his professional career is similar to his early life in Rameshwaram – Lesser resources, Limited knowledge, larger challenges and a passion to win. Taking references from Bhagavat Gita to Thirukkural, Kalam mentions how he taken inspiration from these great ancient text to lift him up when things went wrong due to mistakes.  There were some repeated stories (ex: Church in Thumba becoming ISRO office, thanks to the local people), however they are always inspiring ones to hear again and again.

Unlike his previous books, Kalam kept this one very simple which can even read and understood by a high school kid. Definitely worth reading!

Useful Tamil websites

I have been an avid follower of Tamil Internet, which has grown into leaps and bounds over years. All dimensions content, technology and choice of contents is getting enriched day-by-day. Following are some of the useful sites which I follow:

Blogs:

Writers:

Web sites:

For buying Tamil books online:

BOOK REVIEW: You don’t need a godfather

Author: Elango R

Price: 250 INR

Success is one of the key items that each of us wants for sure. Be it personal or professional sphere, succeeding and winning given immense feeling of accomplishment to individuals or teams. In the corporate world success, especially in the long run depends not only on skills but also in other key aspects like situational leadership, moral authority, managing dynamics of the organization and building a brand for individuals. While there are many books that take deep dive in each of the items mentioned above, the book ‘You don’t need a godfather’ provides a very pragmatic blueprint creating success.

There are three unique things about this book. First the way it is written is very different from others. Author Elango takes his example conversations with his little son Agastya and maps them to corporate environment by taking some of the key learning’s from his son. As a father of three year old I can understand this viewpoint, mainly because we tend to learn so many things from our children provided we are having deeper listening to what they are saying. For example Agastya, while watching a cricket match between India Vs. Ireland makes a statement ‘Appa I hate Ireland’ mainly because the opposition take the wicket of Sachin Tendulkar, thereby calling the opposition bad. When things go wrong we seem to blame that problem is ‘out there’ whereas we as individuals might be root cause of the whole issue.

Second uniqueness of the book is its simplicity. Author conveys some of the key messages in a very simple manner. In my article about ‘Fill = 200 INR, Bill = 2000 INR’ I called out some examples on how professionals compromise on moral values in the name of making some silly money. In the similar lines author gives examples of people with very high academic qualifications losing their jobs mainly because their integrity related issues are found and asked to leave the organization. As professionals it is very critical not to compromise on such items which plants critical seeds for success.

Third uniqueness of the book is about real time case studies he used for explaining some of the key messages. Some of them include — How individuals should see constraints as opportunities, how individuals should build a brand for themselves by doing small things correctly and differently and how to learn from many of the mistakes we do in professional careers etc. I am also glad to see one of my college seniors story is mentioned as a case study, where many of his early constraints (Ex: Learning in regional medium school and difficulties faced to learn English, Missing out on initial set of opportunities faced for traveling abroad but still hanging on, Switching over to an internal sales job which was considered as inferior initially but later creating wonders in the job etc.). As I know this individual for the past 15 years, it’s really heartening to see his story getting mentioned in a book like this.

If you are looking for a light weight, yet powerful guide for navigating thru the corporate jungle, You Don’t need a Godfather is highly recommended. Backed up with real life case studies and drawing experience from his HR profession, author Elango provides great insights into creating success by you own. After all we don’t need a godfather to succeed in life.

BOOK REVIEW : I am Saravanan(Vidya)

BOOK REVIEW : I am Saravanan Vidya

Price: 100 INR

Author: Vidya (A transgender’s autobiography)

India is a strange country! In spite of (so called) globalization, many of our core societal issues still remain unsolved – transgender inclusion being one of them. Some time back I wrote a post about Hijras in India, highlighting the issue of them getting into prostitution by default due to lack of other options. Thankfully few Hijras has put up a fierce fight against the society and tried their level best to resume a mainstream life by creating an identity. Vidya, a transgender is one classic example who fought all the odds by making a career with NGO and writing. The book ‘I am Saravanan Vidya’ is the autobiography of Vidya, where she details the struggle gone thro for transforming herself from a male (Saravanan) to female (Vidya). Filled with real life experiences, challenges, frustrations this book has brought in dark pages of transgender life into public, thereby asking few critical questions to each one of us.

Born in a struggling lower middle class family, Saravanan’s parents had lot of expectations from (also because of him being the only son) him with dreams of eventually seeing him as the District Collector by clearing the prestigious IAS examinations. Being the only son, everybody in the family pampers him with all that they could afford, thereby ensuring necessary support for his studies. Expectations were so high that he just cannot afford to think about anything other than first rank in the class. Saravanan recalls the tension and fear ran thru him when he got second rank for the first time in his 6th standard. His father was extremely strict with studies, couldn’t take the fact of him getting second rank and beaten up Saravanan for the same.

This typical Indian lower middle class story takes an unexpected turn when Saravanan starts getting his early inclination towards being a female. Early experiments come in the form of wearing his sister’s dresses (half-saree) and dancing his heart out by listening to radio songs after latching the door. This interest intensifies gradually when he starts liking indoor games played by girls (ex: pallanguzhi), and starts spending more time with girls of his age then boys. After moving into high-school, his feeling becomes uncontrollable, wanting him to be more of a female than a male. He also goes thru initial insults from his class mates by calling ‘Ali’ and making fund of his ‘female-type’ behavior. Somehow he completes computer science bachelor degree, with declining academic records. From a 90%+ scorer (and the first ranker), he slowly drops into 60%s, somehow ensuring first class.  By this time, his father had lost all the hopes on him for making him as the District Collector without having any clue about what his teenage boy was going thru. There are multiple questions running in Saravanan’s mind now – Whom should he approach to seek solution for his problem? How can he live a life being physically male but feeling as a female? What answers he can give to his parents, who sacrificed everything for him with lots of dreams?

In search of finding a solution, Saravanan relocates to Chennai and lands up in a meager job with a drama troop. Thanks to some contacts in the drama community, he eventually moves to Pune for joining the Hijra community.  Life becomes all the more difficult for him to make a living (by begging) and getting used to the Hijra community by following their rituals. The very fact that the Hijra community is the only option, who will help him to convert his gender, keeps him going against all the odds. In subsequent chapters, Saravanan clearly explains the issues faced in the gender conversion which I explained in my previous article.

First an individual should consult a psychiatrist who can either help them to come out of the ‘feeling’ of becoming a female or mentally prepare them for a gender conversion operation. Followed by this they go thru a complex operation which will physically remove all male genitals. After the operation they need to go thru some more psychological counseling, thereby ensuring that they get used to the new gender. The third and most important aspect is to have a well defined legal system for converting their gender, after which they will be treated as a female in the society. They are legally entitled to apply for jobs (as females), get married (leaving the fact that they cannot reproduce) and enjoy all the societal benefits. In India, none of the above mentioned process/system exists.

After going thru the painful process of removing male genitals (by a self appointed doctor in Andhra Pradesh), Saravanan finally gets rid of his male identity and changing name as Vidya. After becoming Vidya, life becomes miserable. Even after somehow escaping from the Hijra community, getting a job or getting basic documents (like passport/driving license/ration card) or find a decent accommodation becomes almost impossible task. Thanks to his drama troop friends Chennai she lands up in a job with an NGO in Chennai and keeping her writing passion alive by starting a blog. Eventually she ends up writing this book by explaining the darker sides of being a Hijra.

This book was a real eye opener for me as it helped me to understand the darker side of Indian society. As Vidya had a formal education, she is at least able to make a basic living. What about millions of Hijras in the country who don’t even have basic education? Why there is no legal or social system for accepting them as a part of mainstream society? How can we boast ourselves of being ‘global citizens’ when educated elite don’t even acknowledge such issues?

BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

Price: 300 INR

Author: Pallavi Aiyar

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world’ referring about China. The very statement become a reality today, as the dragon country literally started shaking the world in all dimensions – be it economical, political or social. None of us can imagine to ignore ‘Made in China’ phrase, given the fact that we use Chinese goods day-in and day-out – ranging from shirt button to iPad. The topic of China becomes all the more interesting, looking from Indian perspective. Both countries have  long history and tradition, but poles apart the way they are operating today. In her book ‘Smoke and mirrors’ author Pallavi Aiyer has attempted to explore many unknown aspects of China from an Indian point of view. The beauty of the book lies in the way she represented China – based on her personal memoirs, travel experience and interaction with tons native chinese people.

The storytelling starts when Pallavi, relocates to China (Beijing) for taking up her teaching profession in Beijing Broadcasting institute. Her first surprise comes in form of her students who are programmed to think in a pre-defined way. It is way different from what she has seen among journalist students in India, where journalism starts with freedom of expression. India is a country where ‘Aishwarya Rai is on her family way’ hits the mainstream media in no-time and people start doing ‘page-3’ research on it would affect Bollywood. China is way different, where the freedom of expression is limited to a larger extent. Whatever comes out the media, everybody is forced to believe it as truth. In another words – truth is not in its real form, but how the Chinese government wants it to be. For example, during her interactions, Pallavi finds all her students saying ‘Mao was 70% correct and 30% wrong’ and she later understands that’s how they were thought during school days. Since there is no other source to validate this statement, students are forced to believe it as a truth. The main theme for this book emerges from the same topic – Is freedom of expression (in the name of democracy) is more important than financial development ? Is it worth having a vibrant media over poor infrastructure? Does economic growth mean happy people?

No doubt! China has emerged as the economic powerhouse of 21st century by threatening every other developed country in the world (read it as USA). This large scale, aggressive globalization with a strong communist government has definitely brought a whole lot of good by lifting its one third of the population out of poverty. Thanks to unmatched execution capability, China can literally make anything happen. For example, the Zhejiang province has emerged as the hub of manufacturing with every damn thing we can imagine takes it shape. For example in 2004 alone 3 billion pairs of socks where exported this province, which really talks about the scale and execution speed. China stunned the world by building 4300 KM Shanghai-Lhasa train route which is situated at 3600M above sea level, surrounded by snow mountains. Pallavi was one of the lucky passengers to travel in this ‘dream-train’ during its first journey. She vividly explains how China has built this marvel by taking care of smallest things (ex: installing cold water pumps near the rail track for nullifying the snow effect). Thanks to its robust infrastructure (mainly roads), the supply chain has become really world class. Goods can be moved from one and to other without any major hazzles, thereby aiding smooth exporting of its manufactured goods.

The above mentioned growth has come with its own cost. The never-transparent Chinese government always operates with a bunch controversies. When China stretched its muscles by hosting 2008 Beijing Olympics, countless number of ancient Chinese houses were demolished ruthlessly. Called as ‘hutong’ in Chinese, there ancient houses given a red mark called ‘chai’ (destruction) and vanished overnight to give urban makeover to the Beijing city. Not only buildings, people also do vanish, when they voice against Chinese government. Pallavi stayed in one of these hutongs and explains how the ancient Chinese way of living got affected in the name of urbanization. She also gives deeper social insights of China (ex: unbelievable change in the way sex is perceived among the youth, local passport system called hukou, aping the western way of living , copying anything and everything etc..) which is really interesting. In each case, Pallavi compares with India which makes it all the more fun to read.

Given the fact that even Google not able to crawl many sites in China, it is extremely difficult for a normal individual to understand China.In such scenario, Pallavi’s ‘Smoke and Mirror’ comes out as a relevant account, which gives realistic perspective about contemporary China. The style she has adapted in this book, would really interest both fiction and non-fiction readers.