Great things are not done by impulse, but by a series of small things brought together – Vincent Van Gogh

Posts tagged ‘Book Review’

Review of the Shiva Trilogy & Scion of Ikshvaku

So I’m just done reading the Shiva Trilogy, Immortals of Meluha, Secret of the Nagas and Oath of the Vayuputras, and also Scion of Ikshvaku – which is the first book of the Ram Chandra Series, by Amish Tripathi. Yes, yes, I can imagine you sniggering. The books were out ages ago, what took you so long, you’re thinking. Well the reviews I valued weren’t positive, and I consciously kept off. But then, I have not read anything on Indian mythology and soon hope to graduate to more serious stuff. What better way to prepare the ground than the books by Amish Tripathi.

Well you are right, bad choice, but then, experience is the word one gives for their mistakes, and so I’d say, it was quite an experience! I can’t remember the last time I gritted my teeth while reading a book.

The first two books, Immortals of Meluha and the Secret of the Nagas are terrible. Amish really learns to write and develops the patience to stay with the story only in the third book, Oath of the Vayuputras. But it seems this book didn’t do too well, and not as many copies were sold as the first two books. I’m not sure what that tells us, whether we have a crappy audience, or whether its advise to Amish, ‘don’t change.’

The first two books had tremendous potential as stories, and could have been really built upon. Amish should have got himself better editors who could have guided him in the right direction. He failed to bring out rich history, coax out nuances and paint sceneries, glossing over areas that needed clarification and where readers would have enjoyed description. This ‘glossing over’ speaks poorly for the authors research team.

There were parts of the books that developed into philosophy, and a perspective on life in the Indian way. Here, Amish really came out for the ‘newbie’ he was. An older, more mature author, with a larger span of reading, and pensive contemplation, would have brought in a solidity that only time and insight can introduce – say like Amitav Ghosh or Anita Desai.

But reading these books by AT definitely uncovers the huge potential that Indian mythology offers, to delve into creatively and explore perspectives and create narratives from various angles. Why writers, especially more talented, mature and experienced ones have held back thus far is something I wonder, or perhaps they wish to refrain from quoting controversy.

So the books have errors as well, AT fails to create a visually rich and historically accurate vision of 2500 BC and then blunders majorly by calling it all ‘India’ – unforgivable. The Scion of Ikshvaku describes a helicopter, the Oath of the Vayuputras describes ice blocks that preserved Sita’s body without explaining from where they came. It would have made better sense if he had written about embalming which was a highly developed practice even then, across the world.

However, what I did like and what most staunch Hindus find unpalatable was the humanization of Shiva. This is a common practice in Hinduism and makes legendary figures and even gods so accessible, possible to identify with and emulate. Shiva is sometimes portrayed as a reluctant leader, struggling to get into the large shoes of previous Vishnu’s but taking on the burden with great poise, fortitude and uncharacteristic egalitarianism. Leadership bears heavy on all our shoulders at some point of time in our life or the other. Here is something we could learn from. I also liked how he explains the Naga’s. While many hands humans, bird like humans and ape like humans are sometimes hard to digest, that they could be deformities is very plausible.

So I must say that errors and all, the four books really grew on me, and while I promise myself, I will not be reading any more of ATs future books, I feel more confident moving on to sturdier, more accurate Indian literature.

Steve Jobs – Black, White and Everything Between

Steve Jobs Biography

The biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson was launched soon after Jobs death. Simply titled Steve Jobs, the book fueled the  abiding fascination the worlds has for the bespectacled man in blue jeans and black turtleneck.

The hefty hardbound basks in the characteristic sheer white of Apple and with over 600 pages, is a  serious read. Folks lined up to buy it just like that have all Apple products and while it does make for an excellent Christmas gift, I hope it remains less a collector’s item and is widely read.

The book is simply named Steve Jobs. On the façade, the answer may seem obvious, Steve Jobs needs no introduction, yet reading through the book it becomes clearer through each passing page that Jobs is a man difficult to describe. One can adopt his love for binaries and label him black, however Isaacson has done a brilliant job of fleshing out a man in all his colourful hues and the reader is constantly oscillating, like the man himself, between appreciating his genius and weights the costs.

Being a biography, the book focuses completely on the man. It peels away the veneer, created by Apple around its CEO and the veneer created by Jobs himself and captures a range of interesting details that are insightful not only to a casual reader, but even one trying to understand the personality man and those attempting to glean nuggets on how he cut an arduous path to grow his businesses again and again. The book is an excellent chronicle of a man and his time and one cannot fail but see where so many smaller companies have picked and stolen ideas from (following in the path of Apple itself).

The book is full of quotes and if one were to make notes, the lovely white would be full of pencil grey. I myself resisted the urge to take up the pencil, convincing myself that this provides me with a reason to read the book a second time.

In a rather old fashioned way the book reiterates a few old principles. Prominent among them in the need to have an eye for detail – to take the time to dot ones I’s and cross ones t’s. To spend time, thought, care and healthy dollops of love, developing a product. ‘Perfection’ becomes a familiar word and for Jobs it was less an imposition and more a choice. One that few companies like or choose to take.

Marketing is a highly overrated aspect of business when the product itself is bad, and yet today, ‘competition’, ‘faster time to market’ etc are become catchwords that psych companies into launching half baked products. Consumers wait expectantly and are disappointed, but instead of focusing on improving the product, companies spend tons of money on marketing and coning consumers, thus eroding their goodwill. Apple chose to be different and its products continue to stand out for premium quality, robustness and ease of use.

Man Behind the Job

While for a long time people have been fascinated with the man, the book paints Jobs in rich and complex hues which range from genius to megalomania. More importantly, it also details out the larger number of people who shared his vision and worked with him tirelessly to bring his visions and theirs to life.

Looking deeper, I think, one of the reasons Jobs was able to do what he did for Apple and then Pixar is because he represented the aspirations of a generation. The sixties were a time of the great counterculture, people thought differently, yearned to be different, do things differently, challenged the old norms. Jobs was able to energize and synergize these earnings  and truly bring out something different. Many of these unsung hero’s working with Jobs, challenged him and did what they though was right so that products turned out the way they did. Much of Jobs credit goes to these heroes who once they had their catharsis, went back to being the many functionaries of the system, with their bruised egos and traumatized hearts.

For those looking for takeaways, Steve Jobs (the book), forces people to make a choice. There is good and bad in each of us, we need to decide what to promote and what to hold back. At his worst, Steve Jobs was a demon who ran roughshod over people who cared for him, manipulative,  arrogant, boastful and controlling. At his best, he gives strong lessons on the need to strive for perfection, display conviction in ones action and the need to be inspired about what we do. Too many people these days, put their own passions behind them to do what is socially desired of them, thus denying and killing a lot of talent. At yet another level Jobs was highly grounded in Buddhist principles of frugality, vegetarianism and minimalism. Even as one reaches the last pages of the book, the reader is left wondering who really is Jobs…. Should I love him or hate him.

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