Thursday, January 27, 2011

Employees First, Customers Second - Book Review

I chose to read this book which I first noticed in the "Management" section of the airport bookstore. I usually stay away from the MBA type books because, as all true scientists, I find it a little too esoteric for my taste. But the title intrigued me because conventional MBA philosophy advocates the opposite; "customer is king" is the mantra that is sold under different labels. It seemed a little contrary to my usual bias and I was curious to see what was inside.

Vineet Nayar, the author, took charge as CEO of HCL Technologies in 2005, at a time when the company was doing quite well in its stable position among the major IT rivals. Five years later, the company is one of the fastest growing companies which tripled its revenues, halved its attrition rate and grew its customer-base five-fold. All this in a period marked by one of the most severe recessions in recent history. The book provides the blueprint for this transformation.

In retrospect, a clear formula emerged for this radical transformation which included phases such as Mirror, Mirror; Trust through transparency; Inverting the pyramid and Recasting the role of the CEO. But the journey to transform a large, profitable company into a dynamic, forward-looking organization required a lot of courage and faith in its employees. Nayar shows through his simple narration, how it is possible to come up with totally new strategies that are focused on employees who are in the so-called "value-zone", the critical interface with clients.

With several initiatives with catchy titles such as Smart Service Desk, U&I,employee first councils and a revolutionary way of implementing 360 degree feedback, change of a unprecedented magnitude was enabled in a company with 55000 employees. With employees fully engaged and trusting, it is no wonder that HCLT is hurtling towards even greater heights.

Personally, it took me while to complete this book, but I also did not want to read it only half-way. As a former disgruntled employee of large corporations where I felt the greatest threat was in disengagement, the first symptom of further failure, I knew how little the management cares or can do about this. This book points to one option of how turning the entire management philosophy upside down, can work wonders.

For all you cynical workers and managers, here is book that shows another way.

Love, my friend, is not Easy!

A friend of mine introduced me to the book 'Love, my friend, is not Easy!' and the author Ms.Geeta Ravi. Though I have not personally met Ms.Geeta so far, I spoke to her few times and saw her facebook profile - enough to know that she is a yet another young girl who is into Information Technology but has the energy and motivation to write a story, get it edited and went through the ordeal of publishing it out. 

Whenever we request any author to honor EveningHour's meet-the-author, I like to read their book and know its story, style and ins and outs before the author meet. Thus I started reading the 'Love, my friend, is not Easy!'. Definitely a long title for a relatively small book was my first thought. The cover page resembled one of those modern art. Looked impressive for my normal eye.

The story seemed simple and straightforward. The summary says the story is set in the backdrop of the IT industry and that it is the story of three metro Indians whose lives take a dramatic turn when they discover love. I assumed it will be yet another love story. Turns out I did not really understand the depth of the word 'dramatic' used in the summary sentence. It did have quite many surprises.

The author, Ms.Geeta, did use a different style of writing. Each of the chapters are named by the character's name and a summary of what's going in their mind at that moment. The character's thoughts are written as well as their actions. Quite an interesting style and story.

Now, I am excitedly waiting to meet the author at our upcoming Author Meet at EveningHour on Jan 29th, 5:30 PM.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Counsel of Strangers - Book Review

As the title suggests, this is a novel about strangers, 6 strangers of all ages, occupations and social class, who happen to meet at a wedding. It is not so much a novel as a collection of six short stories that merge one fateful night. The night where wedding revelry is only a backdrop to these guests who find themselves reluctant invitees to the pomp and show. Instead these characters spend the evening in each others company, divulging their past lives and current predicaments.

On the surface, the characters appear unique and quite different from each other. Wing Commander Brahme, a retired Army Officer, Kartik, the young teenage boy, Anandi-Mohini, a single woman with a past, Sahil, the news reporter, Sajani the nurse and Professor Natrajan. Their stories cover different aspects of the human condition, from dealing with late-life romance, to lack thereof, from being alone to being watched continuously, seeking meaning to seeking affection. But there are common threads that repeat, the USA connection for three of the 6 characters, the Mumbai connection for another three.

Dange does a fantastic job of getting the thoughts of the aging and elderly just right but falters with the first person narration of the little boy who resents being under the microscope of his family, afraid to repeat the delinquency of their older child. Nurse Sajani's voice is much more believable as a woman who has spent her years caring for other bodies, but craves to be free from her duties as she ages alone. The lines spoken by the educated elite ring true and is the voice that the author seems most comfortable with, whether it is the moral superiority expressed by the NRIs settled in the US or the intellectual snobbery of Professor Natrajan who uses it as a shield to distance herself from her only son.

The stories are laced with wry humor and true-to-life situations. I loved the first chapter about Wing Commander Brahme and identified with Anandi-Mohini's theories about marriage. The writing is liberally sprinkled with quotes from Ezra Pound and lyrics of well-known Bollywood songs. It is a light and engaging read, particularly a good book to while away the time in airports and train journeys.

The technique of telling many different stories in first person narration as chapters in a novel is not new one, it has been successfully used by other Indian authors such as Anita Nair in Ladies Coupe and more recently by Chitra Banerjee in One Amazing Thing. But this is one novel where the oft-repeated lines from Bollywood movies also undermine the story by the obvious effort and insistence on trying to tie things up nicely at the end.

The novels strength is in its life-like characters but they turn into mere caricatures as they sprint to the anticipated happy ending.

Sri Venkateshwara Suprabhatham 3D Animation DVD

When I went to Vijayawada Book Fair, apart from all the books and the related people, I was hugely impressed by a 3D animation DVD of Venkateshwara Suprabhatham. Personally, being a big fan of Venkateshwara Suprabhatham, I stopped for few minutes to watch the DVD and I fell in love with it.

Never have I seen such an animation DVD. Remember all those TV advertisements that would promise you a real-feel - this is not just a promise - it is indeed as close as it can get to real! I felt as if I am seeing the real Tirumala, the real GOD, the animals, the light, the movement, the grace, the peaceful faces. The visual effect is such that if tears roll down your eyes watching this Suprabhatham, you need not be surprised.

The subtitles describe the meaning for every line of the Suprabhatham and the visuals are related to the sloka being sung. Words cannot describe the feel one would go through watching the DVD.

I was not sure how the children would take it and if it would be interesting enough for them. All the children that have watched it are glued to it. So, if you want your children to appreciate and get addicted to Suprabhatham, this is definitely a great way to do it.

Now the pricing - it is only Rs.100 and is available at EveningHour.

I wish I could meet Mr. Pendyala Rambabu and thank him and his team for a job well done! They brought a new life to the beloved Venkateshwara Suprabhatham.

The Music Room - Another review

The cover is stark, predominantly black with just a view of the back of a woman with a long braid, her right hand holding a tanpura. The long dark braid almost touches the floor where she sits, wearing a classic white sari. The blurb says "Fantastic! A must for every musician and music lover! Pandit Ravi Shankar". Priyanka (of Evening Hour bookstore) recommended the book to me and I will be forever grateful to her for bringing this into my life.

The simplicity of the cover carries into each page of this memoir, written by Namita Devidayal, a journalist based in Mumbai. The book takes us through her story, a young child encouraged by her mother to learn Hindustani classical music from an exponent of the famous Jaipur gharana. Namita takes us through the intricacies of Indian classical music in a simple story-teller fashion, weaving stories of prominent singers of the last 100 years into the origins of this stream of music, including the legendary Tansen.

Namita's teacher is Dhondutai Kulkarni, a woman whose life has been dedicated to her true calling, a classical singer, who sings not just for fame and glory but for that spiritual connection with the almighty, the shortcut that gifted musicians have to God with their "bhakti". The book is not just Namita's or Dhondutai's story but also of the various gurus who generously gave of their knowledge to their students, in an era where records and royalties did not exist. The power of music to transcend ordinary barriers of religion, class and other social mores are beautifully depicted through the interactions between the Khansahibs, Kesarbai and Dhondutai's own decision (encouraged by her father) to stay single and single-mindedly pursue her music instead of serving "Two masters - man and music."

For Mumbaikars, this book is a special treat as it describes Mumbai through the eyes of two generations; a big city, but one which was an incubator for talented musicians, where benefactors who were true art connoisseurs, provided a platform for genuinely talented artistes. The author brings to life this maximum city in a loving narrative with beautiful descriptions of Shivaji Park,Birla Matoshree Hall and the seedy neighborhood of Kennedy Bridge where the books begins.

As with great writing, all the stories are told in an open observational style, there is no preaching, no judging. It is almost a non-memoir because the author is not the star but just a narrator, of the present which is a logical continuation of the past. Namita discontinues her musical education as she moves to Princeton for college. But her connection with her guru resumes at a later time and evolves as Namita herself matures. The last few pages of the journey to the musical origins of Dhondutai's life in Kolhapur where teacher and student sing together in the Mahalakshmi temple are specially poignant.

My favorite parts of the book were the details of the origins of Hindustani music, the vignettes about famous artistes and of course, the nuances of the ragas. Many anecdotes of the power of music to directly take mere human beings out of the mundane world into the spiritual realm are intricately woven into the pages. At the same time, the petty competition among musicians and the stigma associated with women who performed on stage just a few decades ago are faithfully rendered.

I wondered about the title of the book, the significance of which does not come until much later into the narrative. It is a room where Dhondutai keeps her modest cassette player and a selection of recordings of her concerts. Dhondutai's life symbolizes what faith, commitment, and genuine talent that finds nurturing support can achieve even from a modest family origin. She may not have found the fame that Kesarbai did but she has superbly advanced the reputation of the Jaipur gharana by imparting her knowledge to her student Namita who has helped the flame burn brighter by bringing it to not just music-lovers but to book-lovers as well.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Family Wisdom by Robin Sharma

While Robin Sharma books are always sold and rented as hot cakes, we did not get a chance to read beyond 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari' for a long time. Couple of days ago, when I was waiting somewhere, I opened Family Wisdom, mainly because it is the only book that is readily available at that time.

As with 'The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari', it started off with a compelling story that would not let you put the book away. Catherine is a busy lady who rushes off to work in the early hours say 5 AM and would not return home until very late by which time everyone is fast asleep. Despite thoughts and little guilt that she is missing her young children and her husband, she does not actively do much about it. Until, one day, she gets stuck in a horrible airplane crash. While her partners got killed in the crash, she survives. Now, Julian, her brother, the monk comes back into her life after several years and teaches her 'Family Wisdom'.

The first principle is that Leadership starts at home. The parents and the adults at home should provide the example. Be the person that you want your child to be! Parents are leader and they had to stop doing what was easy in your lives and start doing what is right!

The second principle is about trust building and opening the lines of humanity. The second mastery of Family Wisdom says Shift from scolding the Child to molding the Leader through deepening your relationships at home.

There are 3 more Masteries of Family Wisdom that Robin Sharma mentions in the book. All very applicable to the current world and most of us would probably see ourselves in that situation.

Inspirational book. Read, understand and follow them through.

Friday, January 21, 2011


I have read The Secret, Power of Subconscious Mind, Family Wisdom, The Monk Who Sold his Ferrari, You can Heal Your Life, and even the famous book The Alchemist over the last few months. There is one important point that got reiterated in all these books!

Thoughts are what have formed our past! 
Thoughts are what have formed our present! 
Thoughts are what will form our future!

The lessons are learned from these books include

1. Always have a vision, a goal! Have a far-stretched one. Believe that it will happen! Now, that is not enough! Write it down and keep it visible! You must see it, believe it, feel it, and then it will happen! It should be part of your system - conscious and subconscious as well. No matter how far-stretched your goal might have seemed to you, it will happen! You just have to believe and feel it with absolutely no doubts!

 Simply said, as in the Secret Book,
  Ask, Believe, n Receive

2. All of us have issues that we face at home or work with family, friends, colleagues, bosses and even maids! But, somehow, limit the amount of time that you think about these issues. The more you think about these issues, the more you discuss about them, the more they happen - over and over.

There are three solutions to any problem - how ever theoretical it may sound -

a) Accept,
b) Reject and move away from the situation/person or
c) Ignore and move on!

Even though it is hard for us to choose one of the three in few scenarios, practically, one of the three have to be picked! Pick and focus again on your goal.

3. Have Gratitude! Be thankful for all the good things that happen to you! Consciously look out for them. Even if it is just a phone call from a friend or someone commenting that you have a good outfit. The more thankful you are, the more good things will happen to you! Try it out for few days and see the difference! There are many books and many people that talk to you about the power of thanks and gratitude!

To put it in one word, our thoughts make us! Be wise in choosing the thoughts that you have!

Read any or all of the books mentioned above. Wonderful books!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hyderabad n Vijayawada Book Fairs

The last two months gave new experiences to the EveningHour Team with the Book Fairs. EveningHour set up a stall in Hyderabad Book Fair. It was a good experience being in the middle of book readers and book lovers for a whole 11 days! There were approximately 245 stalls that sold new Telugu, English and Hindi books, as well as stores that sold only second hand books for about Rs.50. Additionally, there were few stalls for school aids, paper bags, TV9 and such. The prime time was 4 pm to 7:30 PM. So many variety of books, so many different people.

From EveningHour store, Ayn Rand books got the maximum movement. Never knew there were so many fans for Ayn Rand in Hyderabad. Teenage books like Harry Potter, Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer, Diary of Wimpy Kid were sought after very much. The second hand book stores were literally empty by the last day! With all the various programs conducted by the Hyderabad Fair People for children and adults, talks by leaders, the book fair was a huge hit! The Hyderabad book fair ended on 26th Dec.

The Vijayawada book fair started from 1st Jan. You could say the fair was split between Telugu book publishers and stores and academic publishers. Surprisingly, the Hyderabad Book Fair did not have much of an academic presence. We also heard that mostly 'Sahityam' books are in demand in Hyderabad while I could see a whole lot of presence of religious books in Vijayawada. Even the famous Gita Press did not have a stall in Hyderabad.

When we started out with EveningHour 14 months ago, we were told that every city has demand for different sort of books. While a book which could be easily available in Hyderabad might not be available at all in Bangalore and vice versa. This difference between the stalls in Hyderabad and Vijayawada re-iterated this theory.

Apart from the usual books in the Vijayawada book fair, two stalls impressed me very much. One is by Kottapalli team. They have created a new league of education through art, magazine and classes. They have setup libraries in different villages, different schools in the city. Very impressive work.

Next, I was truly impressed by an animated DVD of Venkateshwara Suprabatham with subtitles in 5 languages. Words cannot describe the quality of the DVD. They picturized appropriate to the chanting. Since I am a big fan of Venkateshwara Suprabatham to start with, I have been watching it over and over again ever since.

Overall, both the book fairs lend to a new and wonderful experience. The next time there is a fair in your city, be sure to visit it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Music Room by Namita Devidayal

'Fantastic! A must for every musician and music lover!' --Pandit Ravi Shankar.

'Gives us a unique insight into the guru-shishya tradition, and what eventually goes into the making of great artists.' -- Sonia Gandhi.

Now it is not common that a book gets reviewed by famous people like Pandit Ravi Shankar and Sonia Gandhi. And that is the main reason why I started reading the book. Of course, the title and the cover page did do its bit in helping me choose the book.

What followed is a journey, a real journey of Namita herself through the Music world and of her Guru's, Dhondutai's and many of Dhondutai's masters as well. The real-life story of Dhondutai, her entry into the music world, her father's support till his last, her journey, the masters, Gharanas and the like. The book describes in detail the various music legends, history of how music changed through centuries, the importance of Guru(Teacher) for a Sishya (disciple), their relationship, the hard work and efforts that are necessary for a student and for a teacher as well, the emotions that a Guru goes through while searching, agreeing and training his or her Sishya - the list is endless. It also clearly depicts the problems that good singers face from their competitors, how the teacher might be stuck between her own ego versus teaching and promoting the students sincerely. The amount of research and the knowledge of Namita is very obvious when you read through the book. The book talks about various ragas, the meanings, the best-times to sing them and all related information.

Personally, it is the best book I have read in the recent times. It cannot be read in a fast pace because the story is interwoven with details of various facts including invasions, emotions during the Independence period, and all that I mentioned above. I always wanted to learn music but somehow was never successful in continuing it for more than a month or two. But, the story was written in such a beautiful way that it inspired me once again that it might not be too late to try it out once again. As I write the review, I am still in a trance set by the commitment, belief, and the whole music history.

Great Job! It is a must-read for everyone, particularly the music-lovers. But, be sure to pick it in a time when you have the energy to go through all the pages. Do not settle for a hurry-read.

The complete Kritis of Sri Thyagaraja

Compiler : Maddali Venkata subbayya, M.A. (Litt)
Cost : US $ 25 ; Rs 625-00

The book really gives The complete kritis of Sri Thyagaraja in Telugu script, with English transliteration and English translation. It gives the meaning of the Kriti in English.

The inspiration to add one more book of Sri Thyagaraja's compositions arose in the mind of the compiler, when he attended Thyagaraja Aradhana festival. The inspired singing of the great vidwans and the enthusiastic response of the truly international audience sparked the idea in his mind. He believed that the saint-composers's goal and the heart-felt enjoyment and enlightement of the audience would be even better served if the text was available in English script and the original Telugu, with the full meaning in English.

The book has presented in the composer's original medium all the songs of Thyagaraja available to date, from the labors of previous compilers. The book serves the multiple objectives, such as to provide the lovers of Karnatic music, and particularly Thyagaraja's-who do not know Telugu, a version in English script notation.

The saint-composer conceived of "Svara, raga Sudharasayuta BHAKTI " as heavenly. Indeed, in the next line of the song he proclaimed that those who stop with enjoying the great music alone are like herons and frogs sitting on a red lotus, missing on the honey within.The heart melted by music is meant to receive the Bhava. The book serves to the vast circle of ardent lovers of Thyagaraja's music in India and abroad needed to be furnished with accurate and complete meaning of every line of his compositions. Not a single line has been left unclear in this book.

The book also gives a short history of Sri Thyagaraja. His great grand father Kakarla Pancanada Brahmam, a Vaidiki Brahmin, migrated from the Cumbum taluk of Prakasam district of Andhra Pradesh and settled in Tiruvarur in Tanjore district of Tamilnadu. His fifth son is Girija Brahmam, whose son is Ramabrahmam. Sri Thyagaraja is the 3rd son of Ramabrahmam. He was born in1767 and lived for 80 years. He was highly learned in mantra and jyotisha sastras. He had sishyas (disciples) in those fields also.