Tea With a Drop of Honey – The Hive

Tea with a Drop of Honey eBook: Hive, The: Amazon.in: Kindle Store

This calming anthology titled “Tea With a Drop of Honey”, is exactly that! An enrapturing, flowing tapestry of life punctuated by tributaries of emotion that instill hope, induce smiles and infuses optimism. The collection of alleviating and ameliorating short stories acts as a much needed antidote to the unprecedented times battering a section of the population physically, and assailing the rest, mentally. A surge of optimism courses through the reader as she reads the stories, and at least for a fleeting duration, finicky time seems to stand still and serene. Whilst it would be doing a great deal of injustice to both the talented bunch of authors as well as an eager set of readers to dwell into each and every story that forms a sprightly bouquet, it would be remiss if I was not to bring to the attention of the reader a few of my favourites from the lot. This in no way, detracts from either the quality or the content of the ones not referred to here.

  1. To Sculpt a Dream – Srivalli Rekha

This is undoubtedly my personal favourite. Srivalli selects the oeuvre of historical fiction and ‘sculpts’ (no pun intended) her story with an adroitness that is downright exemplary. The exploits, enervation, and energy displayed by a budding sculptor Malayan, as he inspires to summit the apogee of his craft, is captured in a remarkable manner by the author. The plot is tight, narrative easy on the eye and the sequence gripping. Woven around the entrenched ‘Guru-Shishya’ tradition, “To Sculpt a Dream” is a glorious tribute to passion and perseverance. Malayan is a true Karma-yogi!

  • The Raipur Reading and Writing Club – Meha Sharma

This story oozes confidence, bristles with positivity, and cocks a snook at the ingrained dogma that age is a barrier for giving wings to one’s innate calling. The geriatric trio of Geena Tripathi, Binita Majumdar, and Vinod Hotta, go about ‘reclaiming’ their life, in a manner that warms the very cockles of the heart. Aiding and abetting them in their ambitious endeavour is the literary world of Shakespeare and Charles Dickens. Can a Book Club unshackle self-imposed fetters and a reluctant movement of pen on paper unearth latent talent? Meha addresses these questions with triumphant results.

  • My Big Fat Punjabi Divorce – Ell P  

When one starts writing keeping in mind her audience, the end dictates the means and the result is invariably a restrained effort. However, it is when one starts writing to herself, that all inhibitions are rend asunder. This is exactly what Ell P does in this racy, raucous story that simply poleaxes its reader with its climax. Chintu, is the eyesore of her family and every other human being who is within 100 miles of her vicinity on account of a sordid separation from her husband. When she is invited to her sibling’s wedding as an afterthought, she knows she is in for some extremely uncomfortable encounters. Insults galore-liberal admonitions-references to a steamy video tape- later, when Chintu’s ribald and risqué mother-in-law decides to take matters into her hands…. READ THIS!

  • The Pigeon Man Sings – Mark Blickley   

The death of his wife Anna transforms Wendell Mandanay into a broken man. Oblivious to happiness and impervious to hygiene, his life is a beer keg whose swallows and gulps define both the man and his personality. A weary walk to the liquor store acquaints him with a flock of pigeons gorging on garbage…. If you do not believe in Providence, you MUST start placing your trust in pigeons! This concise and lucid story is a standout in so far as its originality is concerned.

  • The Murphy Conundrum  – Pallavi Sawant Uttekar   

What if the father of “Murphy’s Law”, irked by an indiscriminate use and abuse of his tenets was to rouse himself up from his grave and engage in a bout of preaching? This is exactly the premise underlying the humorous and compelling story penned by Pallavi Sawant Uttekar. The unfortunate human being at the receiving end of the Murphy Sermons is none other than the man’s great-grand daughter. How Sir Edward Murphy changes the contours of his despairing granddaughter makes for both engaging and pleasurable reading.

  • The Heimlich Maneuver  – R Pavan Kumar    

One can never stop either laughing or smiling as she goes about reading this wonderfully crafted story. Simple yet stunning, sparse yet rich, “The Heimlich Manoeuvre” is a resounding testimony to its authors story telling abilities. Ajay gets the fright of his life when the Vermas (his parents) make an unexpected appearance at the front door of their house, cutting short their pilgrimage due to the COVID-19 lockdown. Ajay’s girlfriend sits, unbeknownst to his parents, in his bedroom. Can Ajay smuggle her out of the eyes without the prying eyes of his parents detecting her presence? Would his father and mother discover the girl and the does all hell break loose? You will keep coming back to this witty tale.

  • Much Ado About Nothing   – Sarves     

A wickedly humorous tale with wonderful word play as its bulwark, “Much Ado About Nothing” is a must read both for its plot and for its language. Flawlessly handled and fabulously constructed, Rodney’s singularly unique experience in a tavern with a writing tragic takes the reader on a literary as well as satirical twirl. Escaping the sharp tongue of his perpetual nag of a wife, Rodney, looking for a much needed respite heads to the tavern. What he finds instead is a talkative playwright….

  • The Adventures in the Quest for her Pot Bellied Seahorse – Namratha Varadharajan

The travails and tribulations of a woman forced to meet a never ending procession of suitors in encapsulated in a splendidly captivating manner by Namratha Varadharajan. The contours of her story is as unique as the title assigned by her to it. The obnoxious behaviour and ostentatious demands of the entourage accompanying the ‘groom’, the shenanigans of the groom himself at times, all combine together to make a veritable spectacle of the woman, getting whom married away, serves the singular purpose of her parents. A delightful story that hides within its explicit humour a subtle revelation.

  • Razon de Ser  – Priya Bajpai

Alessa and Alejandro represent a couple, incorrigibly in love. While he is an inveterate hiker and trekker, she is a grumbling and hesitant follower. When an unimaginable tragedy strikes, life itself comes to a standstill and the world seems to have come to an abrupt and apocalyptic end. How hope springs eternal forms the bedrock of Priya’s endearing and enduring story. A cathartic plot, a bleak setting and a stunning climax regales the reader.

  1. All Because of You – Supriya Bansal

Easily the most assuring, affirmative and empowering story in the book, “All Because of You” holds forth in a beautifully reverberating manner the story of Dwija Devi, a transgender. From the depths of despair to the pinnacle of achievement, the story of Dwija Devi is inspiring. Long after the covers have come down on the anthology, this story will linger in the minds of the reader.

Some other notable stories include “Table No.9” by Varadharajan Ramesh, where a table in a Coffee Joint narrates its experience, “Kingdom of Kitchen” by Arti Jain, the mere perusal of which will leave one salivating, and “Light and Darkness” by Sowrabha Karinje that dwells in a poignant manner on inter-faith relationships.

“Tea with a Drop of Honey” – an invigorating beverage for the soul!

Stoned Shamed Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India’s Teens – Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava

Buy Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive Account of the Secret Lives of India's  Teens Book Online at Low Prices in India | Stoned, Shamed, Depressed: An Explosive  Account of the Secret Lives

In June 2019, an app called DeepNude was withdrawn by its creator. His rationale was that the world was not yet ready to assimilate the app. The app, by the way was algorithm-based that employed Artificial Intelligence to ‘virtually’ ‘undress’ photos of fully clothed women. Just before its demise, it was downloaded so many times that an unprecedented traffic led to the app crashing. In the same year an infuriated 21 year-old beheaded his father for curbing the former’s uncontrollable addiction to PUBG, a multiplayer game. In October 2019, a twenty-four-year-old man allegedly jumped in front of a train after he was mocked for posting a video on TikTok in which he dressed as a woman.

If the above reads like a selected and sporadic litany of woes brace yourself. As journalist-cum-author Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava reveals in chilling detail, a contrivance of social media, gaming and drugs has enveloped the teens of India in a vice like grip that is tightening every passing day. The teens in “Stoned Shamed Depressed” are not the homeless, underprivileged kids who can be found snorting and sniffing over used and discarded bottles of glue and whiteners. On the contrary the subject matter of this book represents children of well heeled and privileged parents gravitating the higher echelons of society. This book is a garish nightmare as well as a wakeup call for every well intentioned parent. As Ms. Bhargava warns, it is time to shed the head in the sand ostrich mentality and to face reality, however harsh it might be.

Thirst Traps”; “Grooming”; “Sadfishing”; “date rape”; “Hot Box” and “slut shaming”. These are neither new age neologisms nor coinages depicting innocuous acts or events. They represent a dangerous leitmotif that have become uncompromising zeitgeists for the teens of our world. Whether is be an obsession towards social media or an addiction to drugs, many children between the ages of fifteen to nineteen are mired in vices and prone to inequities. Yet, society seems to be turning a blind eye to both their pernicious acts and, in most cases, pitiful plight. As Ms. Bhargava illustrates, schools are now becoming hotbeds of depravity. Reciprocally, and many a times, forcibly exchanging “nudes” on smart phones, ‘making out’ in empty classrooms and blackmailing to elicit sexual favours have all become not just a norm but badges of honour to be flaunted. “‘Snapchat has the biggest culture of sending nudes,’ says a girl in Class 12. ‘I would say over 90 per cent of the girls around me in school will send stuff. They will screenshot it on an android [videos on Snapchat have a limited shelf period] and no one will find out. There have been parties where friends have recorded and circulated in a group, I was at the mall the other day and some boys I know were standing together and laughing. They were watching a nude video of a girl in our class. There is complete insensitivity and lack of empathy.’ “

Drugs are fast becoming the handmaiden of sex in schools. As Ms. Bhargava elucidates in graphic detail, orgies on trips to Goa to let one’s hair down after taxing examinations such as the board exams makes the Woodstock era seem like a congregation of unruly toddlers. Sample this: “Waking up was at 2 p.m., we skipped breakfast and instead drank whatever was left over from the night before. Then we had JUUL in the room until people were okay and went for lunch where we make a “hot box plan”. We then rolled at someone’s place and smoked up till 6 p.m. after which we got ready for the night’s party. We did “whatever” there was and came back home around 2-3 a.m. and did it again the next day.” This is as narrated by a participant in one of the Bohemian events. For the uninitiated, “Hot Box” refers to a practice where numerous smokers closet themselves in a confined space and blow smoke from their respective joints. The primary purpose behind this madness, is ensuring that not a whiff of smoke exhaled by anyone goes to ‘waste.’ The most incredulous aspect of these kind of indulgences lies not in the activities per se, but in the attitude of parents who ‘choose’ to be blissfully oblivious to the doings of their ‘entitled children.’ Such blanket freedom was exactly what encouraged a 22 year old brat to dump his brand new BMW into the Western Yamuna Canal. The boy was besides himself with rage that he was not gifted with a Jaguar instead on his birthday.

Boys and girls addicted to games and smartphones go to the extent of physically attacking their parents when goaded to kick the habit. Games such as “Fortnite” and “Call of Duty” keep teens occupied for extended hours with nary a break for even drinking water and consuming food. Instead, they are consumed by a frenzy that borders on the maniacal. Service for Healthy Use of Technology (SHUT) Clinic in Bengaluru, widely recognized as the country’s first digital-detox clinic, tries to rehabilitate teens besotted with gaming addiction.

We all have been witnesses to the spectacle of very young boys and girls remaining riveted to the screen of ipads and tablets while their parents either try to feed them or have a meal of their own in relative calm and quiet. Behind the prismatic allure of the screen lurk dangers unseen and predators unbelievable. Popular games for kids such as Talking Tom and Peppa Pig have built in pop up voice messages that encourage self-harm and sexual proclivities. The playground for pedophiles is vast, unregulated and uncontrolled. Suicidal games such as Blue Whale that instructs kids to perform fifty self-harming ‘tasks’ in fifty days before directing the ultimate act of suicide on the fifty first day become gestures of obstinacy and one-upmanship. Its almost as if the kids are reveling in a display of comeuppance with a behaviour that transcends from the recalcitrant to the revengeful.

Body Shaming is yet another insidious practice that is taking innocent boys and girls to the verge of taking their lives. Ostracism because of shape and size has led to a surge in anorexia and bulimia. Gorging to purge or starving to death have become unfortunate tendencies that are precariously on the rise.

Ms. Bhargava’s book also offers hope. Concerted efforts of parents combined with the will power of the children have extricated many kids from the tentacles of social media obsession, drug and gaming addiction and other violent tendencies. An honest discussion, a shoulder to lean on a pair of sincere ears to hear out the roiling cauldron of emotions that rack the insides of hapless and helpless sufferers, more often than not, does the trick.

A kid beseeching help and screaming out for succour might not exactly be hollering. Silence at times, can be raucously deafening.

Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita: Volume 3 – Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

swamibhoomananda hashtag on Twitter

Volume 3 in the series dwells at length on the metaphorical cord that tethers the material with the metaphysical. Lest the reader be misled, the employ of the word material is more in alluding to the external and extrinsic elements and vicissitudes of the world that are perceived by the senses, than a reference to any physical possession or coveting of objects. As the Swamiji informs his readers with a conviction that is both practical and powerful, ‘karma yoga’ (path of unselfish action) is but a path in the journey whose ultimate and eternal destination is self-realization. Once the karma yogi becomes adroit in exemplarily treating the two ‘dvandvas’ (“opposites”) of agony and ecstasy as inextricable and indistinguishable, he automatically makes the ascent to reach the pinnacle of ‘Jnana Yoga’ (Yoga of Wisdom). Unless such a transition happens, abdication of responsibilities and renunciation of the world, serves no purpose other than symbolic gestures of unfortunate futility.

…”Krishna at times definitely detaches his thoughts from all religio-philosophical moorings, making them stand sovereign with a solely worldly and secular front.” The words, secular and secularism, are perhaps the most misinterpreted, misused and misapplied terms in the contemporaneous understanding of Hinduism and Hindutva. The words are convenient tropes for casting aspersions on a pluralistic, multi-dimensional, mutually respectful religion that is as old as civilization itself. In this compelling book, Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha rends asunder the notion that the precepts of Hinduism are archaic, draconian and antediluvian. The exhortations of Krishna to Arjuna to perform his duties as attached to his occupation and position in society not only demonstrates a comprehensive eliding of irrationality, but also bear monument to an astounding degree of practicality. The sequence of the ‘sadhana’ (methodical discipline to attain desired knowledge or goal) undertaken by the ‘sadhaka’ (a person who follows a particular sadhana, or goal-directed spiritual practice) in attaining ‘sanyasa’ (asceticism), as illustrated by the Swamiji is a beautiful, remarkable and totally scientific series of steps that distills a feature of level headedness to it. “The whole philosophy of Bhagavadgita is to treat renunciation or sanyasa as a goal, a virtue and an attainment. Any attainment follows the right effort to gain it. And Krishna specifies this effort as yoga. Yoga purifies and sublimates every action.” Can any philosophical, spiritual or religious concept be simpler yet primordial than this?

The second Verse in Chapter 5 that deals with ‘Karma-Sanyasa Yoga’ drives home the aforementioned tenet with incredible clarity and lucidity:

श्रीभगवानुवाच |
संन्यास: कर्मयोगश्च नि:श्रेयसकरावुभौ |
तयोस्तु कर्मसंन्यासात्कर्मयोगो विशिष्यते || 2||

śhrī bhagavān uvācha
sannyāsaḥ karma-yogaśh cha niḥśhreyasa-karāvubhau
tayos tu karma-sannyāsāt karma-yogo viśhiṣhyate

The Supreme Lord said: Both the path of karma sanyāsa (renunciation of actions) and karma yoga (working in devotion) lead to the supreme goal. But karma yoga is superior to karma sanyāsa.”

This incredible synthesis and syncretic relationship between Karma Sanyasa and Karma Yoga in turn leads to the Seeker achieving the objectives of equanimity. This feature of ‘samatva’ fosters and nurtures in the Seeker an uncompromising sense of equilibrium that enables him to treat pleasure and pain, good and evil, happiness and sorrows with no distinction, discrimination or delusion. Status and sacrilege, prosperity and penury, aristocracy and abject scarcity cease to constitute polar opposites and instead dissolve into an impartial whorl of unbiased coevality. As Verse 19 in Chapter 5 illustrates:

इहैव तैर्जित: सर्गो येषां साम्ये स्थितं मन: |
निर्दोषं हि समं ब्रह्म तस्माद् ब्रह्मणि ते स्थिता: || 19||

ihaiva tair jitaḥ sargo yeṣhāṁ sāmye sthitaṁ manaḥ
nirdoṣhaṁ hi samaṁ brahma tasmād brahmaṇi te sthitāḥ

(“Those whose minds are established in equality of vision conquer the cycle of birth and death in this very life. They possess the flawless qualities of God, and are therefore seated in the Absolute Truth.”)

As the Swamiji further clarifies, “when the mind is established in ‘Samya’, it becomes stable, poised, and unassailable. All agitations and torments, together with their causes, become extinct when the mind is enriched and sublimated by evenness.”

Some of the most interesting passages in the book surface in Chapters 2 & 3, titled, “Is Human Destiny a Providential Decree”, and “From Religious Dualities to the Freedom of Non-dual Knowledge”, respectively. These Chapters take on an almost myth busting hue as they attempt to dismantle the attitude of fatalism that attributes every catastrophe and calamity to the doings of Providence. While such a proposition works in exacerbating the notion of piety, Swami Bhoomananda emphasizes that Providence neither ordains a sense of doer ship nor various actions that are executed. Further going on to emphasise this point with a hypothetical situation of tyranny, the Swamiji asserts that, “the victims and their protagonists alone had to muster timely strength and organise the necessary resistance – in thought, word as well as deed – to bridle or thwart the trend of tyranny.”  This is the part of the book that has evoked conflicting and confusing feelings in me personally. Extrapolating the aforementioned example to the plight of the six million Jews who were mercilessly exterminated by the sadistic despot, Adolf Hitler and his band of inhuman Nazis, should the Jews have mounted a concerted ‘armed rebellion’ at the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Treblinka and Majdanek? I specifically mention ‘armed’ rebellion because an attempt to induce a transformation or instill feelings of humanitarian empathy in the Nazis using the medium of words would have come to naught. Consequently , does the fact that the hapless and helpless Jews did not take matters into their own hands make them responsible for the ultimate and horrendous fate that befell them? Or is there a deliberate and concerted ‘noninterference’ of the Divine in the free will of man as it works in consonance with the paradoxical laws and ways of Nature? Further reading and assimilation would be needed on my part to absorb this seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy.

Volume 3 also devotes a couple of Chapters on the art and technique of meditation that makes for some engrossing read. Immensely and intensely personal, meditation is a gateway that facilitates ones reach into the innermost echelons of the Self. While techniques abound in so far as the practice of meditation is concerned, as the Swamiji illustrates all that matters at the end is the awakening of Intelligence that towers over the senses and the mind.

Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita: Volume 3 – Makes for essential reading – and rereading.

Breathe You are Alive! The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – Thich Nhat Hanh

Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing | Plum Village

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Master of the Zen philosophy, is also a universally acclaimed global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist. Author of more than 100 books, Thich Nhat Hanh, after turning 94 on October 11, 2020, voluntarily ceased eating in preparation for the shedding of his mortal coil. Renowned for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace, Thich Nhat Hanh was hailed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence”. Founder of the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, La Boi publishing House, and an influential peace activist magazine, Thich Nhat Hanh also taught Comparative Religion at Princeton University and Buddhism at Columbia University. He was exiled from both North and South Vietnam for a period of 39 years.

In this powerful book, “Breathe You are Alive!”, the Buddhist philosopher educates his readers on what he terms, “The Full Awareness of Breathing.” Popularly known as the Anapanasati Sutta, the techniques and methods propounded in this book derive directly from the teachings of the Buddha. The primary essence underlying these techniques being transforming the negative emotions of fear, despair, anger and craving. Compartmentalizing the practice of breathing into seven different ‘ways’, Thich Nhat Hanh strives to usher in the realization that “The Buddha is not a person outside of us, but the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight in us…The Buddha is always there within you, and you can touch the Buddha anytime you like. One of the ways to reach the Buddha, anytime and anywhere, is through your breath.”

The seven sections referred to above are broadly:

  • Following the Breath in Daily Life
  • Awareness of the Body
  • Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind
  • Nourishing Ourselves with Joy and Happiness
  • Observing Our Feelings
  • Caring For and Liberating the Mind
  • Looking Deeply in Order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas

Each of these sections conflate the physical processes of inhalation and exhalation with the spiritual and conscious process of awareness and equanimity. There is advocated a series of silence exhortations and affirmations to aid and assist the triggering of mindfulness and to eliminate unwarranted, yet inevitable distractions that assail the meditator/practioner such in an irritable and unceasing manner. Writing in a practical manner, the learned author acknowledges that a predominant section of the world populace does not inhabit the serene settings of a monastery. Most of us are sucked into the eddies and currents that represent the hustle and bustle of everyday living. The author asserts that these practices may be accomplished and executed even as we go about out daily routine and without sacrificing our beholden duties and responsibilities. “For example, when we are carrying a pot of boiling water or doing electrical repairs, we can be aware of every movement of our hands, and we can nourish this awareness by means of our breath. ‘Breathing in, I am aware my hands are carrying a pot of boiling water.’ ‘Breathing out, I am aware that my right hand is holding an electrical wire. ‘Breathing in, I am aware, I am passing another car.’ ‘Breathing out, I know the situation is under control.’ We can practice like this.”

This has a resounding similarity to the philosophy of Karma-Yoga as taught by Lord Krishna to the valorous archer Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gita, just before the onset of the Mahabharata war on the righteous battlefield of Kurukshetra.

“Breathe, You are Alive!” is an indispensable book for anyone who is inclined to practice the art of Anapanasati

Unearthed: An Environmental History of Independent India – Meghaa Gupta

Unearthed: The Environmental History of Independent India - Penguin Random  House India

This is a book whose reading must be made mandatory in every high school across India. Meghaa Gupta, whose personal involvement with environmental studies has been sustained and storied, has written a compelling and concise book that engages the reader in a purposeful fashion, and succeeds admirably in inducing a sense of introspection and instilling a degree of responsibility for protecting and preserving the environment. As Ms. Gupta illustrates, both the management and mismanagement of the ecology in independent India has been a contrivance of circumstances, condition and capitalism. For example, circumstances that brought in an existential crisis in the form of hunger, forced India to transform from a ship-to-mouth (importing food grains) situation to a firm advocate of Green Revolution. Drawing on the tenets and philosophy of Norman Borlaugh, a Scientist referred to popularly as the Father of Green Revolution, India produced its own father of Green Revolution in the form of Dr. M.S.Swaminathan. Similarly, an alarming depletion of tiger population in the country, that almost brought this magisterial animal to the brink of extinction, spurred both the State Machinery and the National Government to institute a raft of legislation and measures such as the Project Tiger initiative and strengthening the Wildlife Protection Act, that remarkably stemmed the rot in the form of devious poaching. Capitalism on the other hand, has acted as a double edged sword. While liberalization and globalization has ensured that India has become one of the fastest growing economies in the global market, it has also ensured that the number of water bodies in the metropolitan city of Chennai had depleted from 600 to 30 by the year 2017. In fact, as Mr. Gupta illustrates, on the 19th of June 2019, Chennai ran out of most of its potable water. This “Day Zero” led to the declaration of an emergency.

Ms. Gupta covers issues of topical interest in a manner that is pleasing on the eye and easy to comprehend. Abhorring jargons and cold shouldering ‘treatise language’, she makes each topic engaging and enlightening. At the end of many a Chapter she also provides a well calculated and inspirational ‘nudge’ by setting out stellar examples of ordinary individuals whose feats elevated them to extraordinary pedestals, and urging youngsters to following the path carved out by them. For instance, while writing about the memorable “Chipko” or tree hugging movement that saw men and women hugging trees to prevent their commercial felling, Ms. Gupta brings to the attention of her young readers the exploits of the great Sunderlal Bahuguna. “He walked close to 5000 kilometres across Himalayan villages, spreading awareness about the movement and gathering supporters. Bahuguna’s long walk, similar to Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt March, made him famous as the ‘Mahatma of India’s forests’”. Consider the following description of the one man who arguably was the torch bearer of elephant conservation in India. “Raman Sukumar is often called India’s ‘elephant man’ and is one of the most definitive voices on the ecology of Asian elephants and human-wildlife conflict. In 1986, he helped set up India’s first biosphere reserve—a significant ecosystem with a large population of elephants—in the Western Ghats. It has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. More than a decade later, he established the Asian Nature Conservation Foundation that promotes field research and conservation efforts to protect Asian elephants.”

From the historical to the contemporaneous, Ms. Gupta’s entrancing book covers 73 years of India’s tryst with the environment. As Ms. Gupta optimistically demonstrates we have come a long way in not just prospering collectively as a nation but also ensuring that we maintain a symbiotic and respectful relationship with ecology in general. Such an attitude has led to the promulgation of many reforms:

  1. An area of 10,400 square kilometres around the monument was set aside as the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ). Industries within the TTZ could not use fossil fuels like coal. Those that did had to close down, shift or switch to using natural gas;
  2. Mawlynnong, a nondescript hamlet in the state of Meghalaya has been designated the cleanest village in Asia. Boasting just a little over ninety houses and with a population of approximately 500, Mawlynnong has 100% literacy and inhabitants of this agricultural community collect garbage is collected in bamboo bins;
  3. The CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre in Hyderabad is a building with an LEED rating. Constructed using significant amount of recycled material, such as broken glass and tiles and fly-ash, the CII-Sohrabji Godrej Green Business Centre uses rainwater harvesting and also recycles all its wastewater. Air-cooling towers sprinkle the air with water to cool it and gardens on the roof also bring down the temperature. This reduces the amount of air conditioning required. The building is designed in such a way that for a large part of the day it gets direct sunlight and doesn’t need artificial lighting. These are among the many ways in which the building saves energy.

But as Ms. Gupta also illustrates with equal concern, there are still enormous tasks to be accomplished if India needs to overcome environmental pollution and damage. The Central Ground Water Board of India in an ominous assessment of groundwater pollution has emphasized that groundwater in several Indian states is polluted with high amounts of chemical components like nitrates, fluorides, arsenic and lead. Some of these have seeped into the water when wells have been dug too deep. Delhi still continues to be the smog capital of the world, a landfill in Ghazipur is as tall as the Qutb Minar, and by 2030, 40% of the Indian population is at a risk of facing acute shortage.

While we might have succeeded in launching the largest number of satellites into space from a single rocket, we have not been completely successful in eradicating the pernicious ills of pollution and poverty. However, as Ms. Gupta exhorts it is within and in each of us to contribute our incremental bit and make this Planet a tad bit better every passing day. May The Force Be With Us.

The Silence – Don DeLillo

In Don DeLillo's New Novel, Technology Is Dead. Civilization Might Be, Too.  - The New York Times

The year is 2022, and the Seahawks are taking on the Titans in Super Bowl LVI. A home in Newark is abuzz with excitement. Max Stenner, a building inspector has placed a huge bet on the game and is on taut nerves. His partner Diane Lucas, and her former student and now a Physics Professor himself, Martin Dekker are giving Max muted company. The trio is awaiting two more guests. Jim Kripps, claims adjuster, and his partner Tessa Berens, a poet, are flying to Newark from Paris and are expected to join Max & Co for at least part of the game. Just when the game is about to kick off, and the flight from Paris about to land, every electronics and communications device goes kaput and there is a massive outage. Don DeLillo’s latest book, “The Silence”, a muted yet magisterial work encapsulates the ramifications of a social outage more than a technological glitch. The emotional outrage that follows a television screen going blank, a mobile phone going silent and a computer rendered impotent in captured in a magnificent manner by one of our greatest living authors.

“Something happened then.” The matter of fact manner in which DeLillo describes the sudden interruption is pregnant with implications. The Stenner household engages in conjectures and surmises that range between the asinine and the absurd. While Max ponders about only his building suffering from the outage and at the same time mulls about a Chinese cyberwarfare, Diane proposes an extraterrestrial interference. Martin, an Einstein freak, channels his inner ‘Albert’, and waxes eloquent on the dimensions of space and time. “Are we living in a makeshift reality?” Martin wonders out loud.

Meanwhile, the flight carrying Kripps and Tessa experiences a dangerous burst of turbulence due to the collapse in all communication and instrumentation and is forced to crash-land. Miraculously all the passengers survive, and other than a minor laceration to Kripps on his head, to show for his inflight travails, he and Tessa come out of the incident more or less unscathed.

Exasperated with staring into the blank television screen, Max takes generous swigs from a ten year old American bourbon and commences to provide an imaginary low down of the game. Assuming a seasoned commentator’s baritone, Max describes the goings on of the game and also adds a mix of commercials in between – for filling in the break at half-time. Diane is impressed with the monologue and begins to wonder whether it is the effect of the bourbon coursing through her partner’s veins. The passages in the book become more and more abstruse after the arrival of Kripps and Berens into the Stenner household. A usually reticent Martin assumes centre stage when he begins expounding on complex concepts that conflate quantum physics with metaphysical attributes.

With “The Silence”, DeLillo joins a select band of authors who, although divided by oeuvre are united by objectiveness. The reclusive tech Guru and the father of virtual reality, Jaron Lanier,  Jennifer Odell, an American artist, writer and educator based in Oakland, California, the Abby Rockefeller Mauzé Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Shelly Turkle and Shoshana Zuboff, Harvard professor, social psychologist, philosopher, scholar, and the best-selling author of “Surveillance Capitalism”, represent a select band that is striving to bust the myth of certain shibboleths that form an uncompromising edifice of the tech world that we invest in and which, in turn ‘harvests’ us. “Staying connected”, “moving fast and breaking things”, “data is the new oil”, “Fear Of Missing Out”, are concepts which not just occupies us but also ossifies us on a real time basis. The blue tinge of the smartphone screen even warns us about the things which we would be missing – and which others will beat us to – during the time we ignorantly and negligently go to sleep. “The Silence” in many ways represent the much needed intermission between poring over social median and agonizing over its ramifications.

In this aspect “The Silence” is more vocal than one can possibly imagine.  

What Tech Calls Thinking – Adrian Daub

What Tech Calls Thinking | Adrian Daub | Macmillan

This is a book about the history of ideas in a place that likes to pretend its ideas don’t have any history.” Thus, begins Adrian Daub’s arresting and extraordinary book that is a dizzying concoction of Marshall McLuhan’s prescience, Ayn Rand’s unrelenting obstinance, and everything in between. Silicon Valley’s obsession with resurrecting and resuscitating time worn ideas and repackaging them as novel forays in innovation, is more a leitmotif of the tech industry than a temporary zeitgeist. As Daub reasserts, taking journalist Franklin Foer’s powerful quote as an aide, Silicon Valley companies “have a set of ideals, but they also have a business model. They end up reconfiguring your ideals in order to justify their business model.”  

Daub, in a refreshingly original and enthusiastic manner demonstrates how Silicon Valley shibboleths such as “dropping out,” “disruption,” “genius”, and “failure” are elevated to sacrosanct ideals, thereby fawning an entire industry egged on by a more than just eager media, which just cannot wait to lap up Horatio Alger success stories. Consider “dropping out” for example. Once considered to be a symbol of inadequacy and a notion of incapability, this term is now arguably the playbook for supposed greatness. Equated with the exploits of tech moguls such as Bill Gates, Steve Jobs et al, “dropping out” is bandied about and extolled with a frequency that borders on the intolerable. Daub informs his readers that this phenomenon of glorifying a ‘drop out’ culture, can be traced back to the counterculture of the late 1960s. Those were the times when the doyen of hippie culture Timothy Leary advocated an entire generation to turn on, tune in and drop out. This birthed, in the words of Daub, “elitism that very visibly snubs the elite … while nevertheless basking in its glow.” This is the same elitism that waxed eloquent over the “dropping out” from Stanford of the notorious Elizabeth Holmes who fell from grace post an unraveling of her fraudulent blood-testing organisation, Theranos. But as Daub, genuinely asks, “what did she drop out into?” Forking out $1 million out of a superrich family friend, to add to a generous dosage of monetary assistance from her father, Holmes had it all covered. Dropping out, my foot!

“Disruption” is yet another word which tech has appropriated for itself as an uncompromising neologism. It is as though continuity is an anathema, even if such a continuity happens to be perfectly well balanced, harmonized and functioning in a totally steady state. Nothing can compromise the motto of “Move Fast and Break Things.” “If it ain’t broken, then don’t fix it” has become a dated concept, a draconian and antediluvian throwback to passive and muted thinking. Except that, as Daub illustrates, such conventional thinking could in fact be the need of the hour. “As the poet Charles Baudelaire wrote in the 19th century, when the world around him was modernising at a breakneck pace: ‘The form of a city / changes faster, alas, than a mortal’s heart.’ Keep living the way you’re living, and soon enough you’ll find yourself living in the past.

The origins of the term disruption, as employed in its contemporary connotation may be attributed to the wisdom received from can be traced to the philosophy of “creative destruction” expounded by Austrian political economist, Joseph Alois Schumpeter. In a six-page chapter forming part of his book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, Schumpeter introduced to his readers “The Process of Creative Destruction.” He held forth on how the ancient is consistently replaced by the modern. To quote the economist himself, “the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of creative destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.” This ‘Schumpeterian’ notion, as Daub educates his readers has been taken to irrational levels by the tech fraternity. “Disruption is possessed of a deep fealty to whatever is already given. It seeks to make it more efficient, more exciting, more something, but it never ever wants to dispense altogether with what’s out there. This is why its gestures are always radical, but its effects never really upset the apple cart: Uber claims to have “revolutionised” the experience of hailing a cab, but really that experience has largely stayed the same. What it managed to get rid of were steady jobs, unions and anyone other than Uber making money on the whole enterprise.”

This fixation over the notion of “disruption” is also syncretic with the philosopher Martin Heidegger’s principle of accelerationist humility. As Daub educates his readers, this tenet is emblematic of an extreme form of something that forever denotes an idea of disruption. This search for altering things in perpetuity irrespective of an underlying necessity ensures that a world of artificial churn and a perpetual motion machine keeps perceptions occupied and dogmas, well entrenched.

If Ayn Rand’s remorseless capitalism is a bedrock that is yet to be outgrown by some of tech’s superstars such as the irreverent Peter Thiel, the influence of the Esalen Institute and its former speakers still permeates the fabric of the functioning of the technology landscape. The brainchild of a Stanford graduate named Dick Price, who was influenced by a lecture titled “Human Potentialities”, and delivered by Aldous Huxley, the Esalen Institute was a veritable brewery of philosophy. Aiding Price in the establishment of this institute were Michael Murphy, Frederic Spiegelberg, Gregory Bateson, and Fritz Perls. Prominent and most wanted (and vaunted) speakers taking to the rostrum included, R. Buckminster Fuller, Ken Kesey, Linus Pauling, Joseph Campbell, and Huxley himself.

The gestalt characterizing Esalen was the human potential movement, one of the longest-lasting institutions of New Age spiritualism. The tech industry seems to be on the firm grip of the “Esalen Principle” these days. As Daub informs us, the Institute’s current CEO comes from the Wikimedia Foundation, and the institute itself offers courses in “Designing the Life We Want” taught by Silicon Valley consultants. Daub also visits some other prominent thinkers whose philosophy has been appropriated or rather misappropriated by corporate money bags to further their capitalist cause.

“What Tech Calls Thinking” – thought provoking, turbulent, and topical.

A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue – Michael J. Tougias

A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible  Rescue: Tougias, Michael J.: 9781451683349: Amazon.com: Books

Imagine you are the captain of a 47 foot sail-boat that has just been swallowed whole by a roiling cauldron of waves. Escaping the sinking boat by the skin of your teeth, you and your two man crew barely manage to haul yourselves into a torn raft that just about manages to stay afloat. Howling monster waves that reach an incredible eighty feet buffet the raft, slamming into them with a force hitherto unseen and toss the survivors around like ragged dolls. Just when you have spent your strength righting the boat for a third time, the dreaded signs of hypothermia begin to set in. Before even getting into the raft, you have broken ten ribs after getting rammed into and by various moveable objects in the ship’s cockpit only moments before the damn thing sunk like a stone. If this whole scenario reads like something straight out of an apocalyptic playbook, then brace yourself. This was exactly what was experienced by the crew of Sean Seamour II when three intrepid sailors attempted a transatlantic crossing and were pitchforked into a storm of indescribable proportions just off the Gulf Stream. Their nightmare experience is captured in stunning detail by Michael J. Tougias in his rip roarer of a book, “A Storm Too Soon.”

In a brilliantly researched book, bestselling author Michael Tougias, narrates the hair raising and singularly terrifying experiences of Rudy Snel, Jean Pierre “JP” de Lutz, and Ben Frye in a manner that will have the reader shell shocked, poleaxed and stupefied. JP the intrepid captain of Sean Seamour II was no stranger to pain and trauma even before the Gulf Stream incident. Having a sadistic and abusive ogre for a father, he had a pot of boiling water poured over him when he was just ten years old. Making it look ‘accidental’, it was a devious strategy formulated by his father to ensure that his estranged wife and JP’s stepmother Betty gets back to him. The agonizing time spent in the burns ward in a hospital, after being in coma for three months, transformed the boy’s attitude to life. The sea became his succour, strength and savior. JP’s dream was to cross the Atlantic from Florida to France in the Sean Seamour II After a careful distillation of candidates, JP hits upon Rudy Snel, and Ben Frye as his designated crew members. The plan is simple, to sail in May, beating the onset of the hurricane season. The sailing path would be northeast toward Bermuda before turning due east toward Europe. 

The fate of the voyagers being toyed around by the punishing waves now solely rests on a US Coast Guard crew manning a HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter. Pilots Nevada Smith and Aaron Nelson, Officer Scott Higgins and rescue diver ATS2 Drew Dazzo wage a battle against time and put their own lives and limbs at risk in what can be termed an audacious, if not an impossible rescue. Tougias describes in a fast, spine chilling and goose bumps inducing manner the sequence of rescue, the near misses and ultimate triumph. The hairs at the nape of the neck bristle with trepidation and excitement as the reader is also immersed into the mountainous waves, wreaking carnage. Every mouthful of sea water swallowed by the trio in the raft and the rescue diver induces a gasp in the reader and every successful rescue, makes her applaud, hoot, holler and whistle.

Interested readers can read the action summary of the US Coast Guard here and also the not so faint hearted can see a You Tube clipping of the actual rescue here.

“A Storm Too Soon”, a riveting, arresting and deserving homage to valour, optimism, camaraderie and the innate human attribute of selflessness!

More Things in Heaven and Earth: A Novel of Watervalley – Jeff High

More Things in Heaven and Earth: A Novel of Watervalley: High, Jeff:  8601423410067: Amazon.com: Books

Imaginatively titling his book based on a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet – the reason for which would become obvious to the reader as she reads through – is not the only clever take pulled off by author Jeff High in his first novel forming part of the Watervalley series. A humorous, heartwarming and highly readable endeavour, “More Things in Heaven and Earth”, is a joyous exercise in celebrating humanity. A medical degree from Vanderbilt University, two hundred thousand dollars in debt, and an exasperation over frequently living off peanut butter and jelly, more or less combine to influence young Dr. Luke Bradford’s decision to turn down enticing research offers and opt to set up a practice in the quaint and verdant town of Watervalley instead. Dr. Bradford’s entry into Watervalley is transformed, literally, into a unique combination of hilarity and embarrassment, as a necessary bout of incredulous calisthenics, while driving his beat up Corolla results in his getting out of the car, to greet the town’s mayor, in his underpants. When to add insult to injury, Dr. Bradford almost succeeds in setting alight his kitchen in a neat apartment on 205 Fleming Street, his choice of a career destination seems, putting it mildly, inauspicious.

How Dr. Luke Bradford adapts to a small town life and how he gets to grips with the incredible complexities and simmering undercurrents that symbolize the living and working of the inhabitants of Watervalley makes for some engrossing and enthralling reading. The myriad cast of characters, ranging from the irascible to the ingenious, leave the young and unsuspecting doctor in a whorl of conflicting emotions and contrasting opinions. Guiding him through this maze of human paradoxes, is his stentorian and no-nonsense housekeeper, Mrs. Connie Thompson. A stickler for discipline and with a middle name for punctuality and hygiene, Mrs. Thompson is also a remarkable cook churning out unbelievably delectable stuff for the Doctor. She also doubles up as his friend, philosopher, confidante and guide handholding him through his triumphs and travails.

Dr. Bradford’s trysts with the townspeople of Watervalley is at the core of Mr. High’s book, and makes for some highly exciting reading. The reclusive John Harris who has blockaded himself out of the town to lead an isolated existence amidst the hills turns out to be not just a connoisseur of good Scotch Whiskey but also a man of multidimensional abilities, who for some unfathomable reason just does not seem to have any lost love for his fellow ‘Watervalleyians’. Then there is the mysterious Toy Anders whose imposing physique hides within a cascade of emotions and untold stories. The doctor’s immediate neighbour, is a bewildering eleven year old Will Fox who seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time not just wearing a bicycle helmet but also  perched atop a tree – with the helmet on. Watervalley also induces in Dr. Bradford the stirrings of love and pangs of passion. The bewitchingly beautiful Ms. Christine Chambers is the reason for such an emotion. Instantly falling in love with the dainty damsel, Dr. Bradford realises, much to his chagrin, that she is a tough nut to crack. The doctor would need to bring his best abilities to the table if he was to wing this particular challenge.

“More Things in Heaven and Earth” is a light, crisp and enjoyable book that makes one wish she was a companion to Dr. Bradford in his wonderful experience at Watervalley. Therein lies the victory of Jeff High himself!

Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita: Volume 2 – Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha

Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita (Vol-2, Based on Chapter 3 and 4 of  Bhagavadgita)

Volume 2 in the series takes off from where Volume 1 pauses. The first installment in the series laid significant emphasis on the concepts of ‘Stitha-prajna’ (contended, calm and firm in judgment and wisdom), and ‘Stitha-dhi’ (an intellect that is firm, calm and unmoved). As Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha delectably illustrates, once the state of Stitha-dhi is attained, the beneficiary neither resents nor grumbles about the latent and paradoxical interactions with the world. The ‘Dvandvas’ (“opposites”) are met with an imperturbable equanimity. This is the ‘end state’ which each true and sincere ‘seeker’ must strive to attain.

Volume 2 further dwells into the means of attaining the state of Stitha-dhi. Chapters III & IV of the Bhagavadgita underpin such precepts. In a few stirring, strong and seraphic passages, Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha leaves his readers in no doubt that the only path of refuge for the seeker lies in a ‘Wise Teacher.’ This is the preceptor who is the Knower himself. A fount of ‘Brahmavidya’ (a branch of scriptural knowledge derived primarily through a study of the divine), the ‘Guru’ is an unassailable, unshakeable and unwavering rock which lends succor to a true seeker guiding him through the illusory mores of euphoria and anguish; ecstasy and grief; pure and impure; and good and evil. The talismanic influence of a teacher is encapsulated by a horripilation inducing verse from the Bhagavadgita:

“tad viddhi pranipatena pariprasnena sevaya

upadeksyanti te jnanam jnaninas tattva-darsinah”

(“To know that – Go to a Knower – the Seer of Truth; prostrate before him, inquire from him with humility, and serve him fondly with all attention. The Knower of Truth will then instruct that Supreme Knowledge to you.”)

As the Swamiji informs his readers, Arjuna’s quest for enlightenment does not end the moment Krishna completes his discourse on the Gita. This is just a temporal respite for the valorous archer to take up his powerful bow, and meet his formidable adversaries arrayed before him. The deeply entrenched attachment for a grandfather, the bonds tying him with his teacher and the blood that courses through the veins of his opposing cousins, all represent illusions that need to be rend asunder if Arjuna needs to perform the true duties of a ‘karma yogi’ (person who does good to the whole world, loves the whole world and all  its beings selflessly). However, this does not mean that once the Kurukshetra war is done and dusted, Arjuna will be enlightened for life. He still needs to make the ultimate transition from being a karma-yogi to a ‘Jnana-yogi’ (one who has attained the path of Wisdom and intellect). “‘Atma-jnana’ (Spiritual Knowledge) is unique in every way. There is no parallel to its power and potential. Krishna highlights how it destroys sin, however huge the stock of the sin maybe.”

Another arresting bit of information imparted by the book is the myth busting revelation surrounding the misapprehension, misinformation, misjudgement, and misapplication that has at its edifice the ‘Varna’ (type, order, colour or class) philosophy first found in the ‘Manusmrithi.’ (an ancient legal text among the many Dharmaśāstras of Hinduism). The Varna system organised society into four classes:

  • Brahmins: priests, scholars and teachers;
  • Kshatriyas: rulers, warriors and administrators;
  • Vaishyas: agriculturalists and merchants; and
  • Shudras: laborers and service providers

This classification has generated immense controversies and has been equated to the nefarious and insidious evil of “casteism” in many scholarly treatises. Of course, the asinine behaviour of a few imbeciles has only gone to stoke and add fuel to an already burning fire. However, as the Swamiji illustrates, the primordial objective behind the orderly categorization was never to belittle any particular caste or to demean any particular creed. “The soul in the body is the same for all, and the distance to It is also the same. Nature governs only the activities of a person. It does not interfere with his innate divinity, thereby brining any special discredit or disadvantage. This is a point seekers and students should unfailingly understand, if they are to be true to the teachings of Bhagavadgita.”

The Swamiji also expounds that the infantile notion of casteism was a colonial deceit, birthed solely to foster the deadly “Divide and Rule” philosophy that constituted the very métier of the British Raj. Reaching its apogee towards any census, innumerable castes were fabricated by the British and foisted upon a gullible section of the public. All with the principle of violating the tenets of unity and festering an environment of sustained instability. A classic ploy of the ruler to be exercised over the ruled.

The Swamiji also warns the reader not to get entangled in or enamoured by the allure of the ‘rewards’ promised by the Vedas either during the earthly existence or in the heavenly life after one sheds the mortal coil. These rewards are a direct concomitant of convoluted and complex rituals. However, the motive and the motivation for and towards realization is restricted only to those moments during which the Performer of the rituals immersed in his ritualistic deeds concentrates on his doing. Once the elaborate rituals are completed, it is back to the mundane nuances of the world. This rituals-to-rat race-to-the-rituals phenomenon does not lead Man anywhere. Instead as the Swamiji exhorts, the act of ‘seeking’ must be sustained, inherent, innate, and sublimated within the innermost recesses of the mind, body and intellect. This Upanisdhadic expostulation should never be missed by a true seeker.

As verse 1.2.12 of the ‘Mundakopanishad’ (an ancient Sanskrit Vedic text, embedded inside Atharva Veda), instructs:

pariksya lokan karma-citan brahmano

 nirvedam ayan nasty akrtah krtena

tadvijnanartham sa gurumevabhigacchet

samitpanith srotriyam brahmanistham

(“Having analysed the enticing, but hollow ritualistic rewards and promises of the Vedas, and finding that the Causeless cannot be attained by causal means, the true seeker must grow utter indifference to all of them. He should then humbly approach the great Teacher who is an embodiment of the scriptures as well as the supreme Truth, carrying a bundle of faggots (expressing that he wants the firewood of his ignorance to be burnt by the fire of knowledge to be received from the Teacher)”)

“Essential Concepts in Bhagavadgita: Volume 2” – introspective, informed and inspiring.