Thursday, March 31, 2011

Meditation

Yesterday, one of our (EveningHour library) members asked for a book on Meditations. He was looking for a book on how to meditate and the process of meditation. While we could help him out with couple of books, that prompted me to write about Meditations.

I was lucky enough to go to a course called Arhatic Yoga recently. We were taught five varieties of yogas in the course. For couple of the yogas, we were asked to 'concentrate' and in the rest, we were asked to 'meditate'. Until that moment, while I might have known the dictionary meanings of the words, the practical difference between 'concentrate' and 'meditate' was vague or may be I would have used them interchangeably.

Concentration is the easier one to explain. Concentration is giving one's complete attention to one thing! One concentrates on a GOD, thought, issue, or even exam. While we are concentrated on some thing, the goal is to think about nothing else!

Meditation is not as simple to define. A simple google search will tell you that there are many definitions for Meditation. In his book, "Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul", the author Deepak Chopra says, "Meditation involves the search for a level of awareness that isn't conditioned. It takes the mind in its restless, confused state and leads it to a higher state that is clear and steady." 


In practical terms, concentrate is to put the attention on one aspect, say a favorite GOD, while meditate is to let go - step aside and observe your mind. Let it think whatever it is thinking, when you are conscious of it, push the thought aside and observe again. It is a state of being aware.


So what is the purpose of meditation ? Meditation has a purifying effect. Purification is necessary in achieving Calmness and remove the stress in your system. It also strengthens your connection to your Higher Soul. 


How to Meditate is the next important question. Breathing exercises/Praanaayama are by far the easiest technique to meditate. Breathing exercises regulate our thoughts and emotions as well. That is why whenever someone is under stress, they are strongly recommended to take deep breathing. And along with the expelled air, comes out the negative thoughts and the negative energy. What is also important, very very important, is to exercise soon after the meditation. Otherwise, the excess energy in the body may stays clogged within the system and not distributed thoroughly through the body.





Sunday, March 27, 2011

Right fit wrong shoe - Book REview

In one sentence, Mills and Boon meets Bollywood.

A breezy light-hearted love story set in small town India, Kanpur to be specific, features (rather, stars), pretty young girl-next door, Nandini and tall, loaded and handsome, son of neighbor, Aditya, in typical Bollywood setting. It is a desi version of the good old Mills And Boon stories that I used to read in my youth. It was refreshing to see the standard love story ingredients set in contemporary India with a jilted young man returning to wreak revenge for the wrongs done by ex-flame.

I read this book on my train journey to Bangalore last week, as I headed to attend my cousins wedding. I finished the book by the time the train stopped at Bangalore city station. Varsha Dixit has churned a "cute" book with the regular cast of characters common to any movie script; loving parents, perfect relationship with extended family, absolutely devoted friend, doting neighboring aunties, including one referred to as "Badi Maa" etc etc. For a change, Nandini appears to be a feminist who is not afraid to voice her opinions. The dialogs with Aditya are quite corny while the liberal Bollywood masala sprinkling which predominates the interactions with her friend are quite funny if you understand the context.

Nandini is a lovable, if superficial character and the cliched intimate moments with Aditya are hilarious. The book is a reader's version of the Bollywood movies that it seeks to imitate. Worth one read, no stress on your grey cells.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

How to start a business in under a week!


2010 has seen a lot of new businesses – startups - in Hyderabad. The trend seems to continue in 2011 as well. And the entrepreneurs did not come from just category – the entrepreneurs ranged from fresh students to employed (many software engineers) and house wives as well. On the other hand, there are still many more that want to start a business but because of many reasons, did not venture into the entrepreneur world yet.

Few of the Inhibitions include
  1. Time
  2. Finance
  3. Support
  4. Inertia

Time

This is a never-ending topic with so many reasons that does take away our valuable time – work, household work, kids, relatives, the list is endless. But, many a famous leaders and authors talked about ‘Time’ and its management in many books and speeches. To quote just a couple, our telugu author and speaker Yandamoori Veerendranath and ‘The Monk who sold his Ferrari’ famous Robin Sharma have said that by waking up just one hour ahead each day, all of us have 30 more hours per month and 365 extra hours every year. Wow! Just imagine how much we can achieve in these extra hours.

Now that we have this one hour per day, what can we do with it for our startup?

First Day

Analyze yourself. What is it that you like the most? What is it that stirs you? Is it cooking? There’s a blog I saw that talked only about the lunch and snacks recipes that she made for her son and the tips on how she made the recipes interesting. And, there are many others that talked about crafts, cooking, how-to tips and so forth. Create a blog, take the help of Google ad-words campaign and sooner than later, money will trickle to your bank accounts.
Or it may be that you are the hands-on person and like to make cookies, sweets, flowers, dresses, greeting cards, or calendars. Once you put your brain to it, the list has no limits. Just analyze yourself thoroughly and pick the one thing that you love the most.

Second & Third Day
Now that you narrowed down your expertise, chalk down the ingredients.  Create a list of the materials and resources that are necessary for the product and start procuring them. If it is a blog, create the free accounts at Wordpress or Blogspot or any such you know of. If it is a product that you started to develop, look into your cupboards. May be you have few left from a previous project or may be from your parents or good friends who are just about to junk them.  Be frugal. Only after you have done a preliminary check, go to the market and get the products.

Fourth & Fifth Day
Start working on the product. Start small. Even if you would love to design and decorate a big decorative piece, if it gets delayed for any reason, it is easy to lose motivation. So, stick to the basics. Quick and short is the mantra. The product should be completed within two days at the maximum.

Sixth & Seventh Day
Now, that you have the product in hand, show it to your friends and family. Be straightforward. Tell them you are starting a business but since they are your friends, you would give it at a reduced price but cannot give it for free. Visit a nearby retail store and ask if they would showcase your product. Tell them they do not have to pay anything up front. They just have to pay you if it gets sold. A good friend of mine just did this and the store guy was quite okay with the concept and she got her first foot into selling.

Oh! Do not forget to add a label to your product with your own brand name and contact number. When someone likes to order more of your products, how do they reach you?

If it is a blog, it is much easier. Show the blog to your friends. Most of them will ‘follow’ you on the blog. If some did not, do not lose heart. If you wish, you could submit your blog to other established sites like fullhyderabad.com, indusladies.com and such.

That’s it! Sounds simple? It is indeed simple if you are confident and just start working on it.
You did it and reached the first milestone! Your business is ON! Now, at a regular pace, continue doing what you did the first week and you will achieve many more milestones!

Bon Voyage!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Place Called Here - Book Review



Cecilia Ahern is considered a bestselling author for her earlier novel, PS. I Love You. I haven't read that book but watched the movie version with Hilary Swank as the central character. While the movie was a mushy romantic comedy,I think Cecilia Ahern is a good writer with a knack for telling a story.

Sandy Shortt, a six-foot one, Irish woman from a small town who becomes obsessed with finding things, probably as a consequence of the mysterious disappearance of her classmate and neighbor Jenny-May Butler at the age of 10. Sandy seems to be a complicated person who runs an agency that helps find missing people, after a stint as a cop. She distances herself from her loving parents and is unable to sustain any meaningful relationship with the opposite sex, thanks to her maniacal obsession with finding out where people or even mere objects like socks or toothpaste disappear to.

Then one day, she herself disappears as she embarks on a search for Donal Ruttle, the younger brother of Jack Ruttle, a man unable to live with himself even though a year has passed since his brother went missing. Sandy and Jack don't really meet each other but Sandy's disappearance drives Jack into an intense search that is hard to explain to his family. Bits and pieces of Sandy's life are revealed as she assesses her current "lost" situation with her penchant for finding lost items.

Ahern leads us into a magical place called "Here" which is inhabited by things and people that seemingly drop out of life in inexplicable circumstances. Whether it is lost airline luggage or a missing box of doughnuts, your friendly neighbor or his child, these are the ones whose faces peer at you from newspapers and posters labeled as missing, who live Here. As Sandy spends time among some of the people she has vainly tried to find, she reconciles her irrational obsession with disappearing objects and the significance of loss in the lives of the people who are lost and those that are left behind.

The book is full of interesting characters, both in the real world and Here, many of whom remind you of those you know or parts of yourself that you see reflected in the facets of their characters. But what struck me most were the words at the end of the book where Ahern says, "We all get lost once in a while, sometimes by choice, sometimes due to forces beyond our control. When we learn what our soul needs to learn, the path presents itself."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Eat Pray Love - Movie Review



Yesterday I watched the motion picture version of Eat Pray Love, a book I had enjoyed reading almost a year ago, at Evening Hour. It is an author's job to bring her character's to life, in the imagination of the reader and as individual readers, we have unique visuals for the same written word. So is the case when one director chooses to make a movie based on a book, the reader is curious to see how another person has visualized the same written word. Of course it helped that Julia Roberts was playing the central character, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author, whose year-long spiritual journey had been chronicled in the book.

The thought that crossed my mind as the final credits rolled, with Liz sailing off into the sunset with her new beau was that the movie was too long. The highlight of the movie was the fantastic cinematography where the essence of the three exotic locations Italy, India and Indonesia (Bali, specifically) were captured lovingly in the frames. Julia Roberts pulled off the character of the tormented Liz who escapes her New York life (a city that seemed bereft of its normal vibrancy, reflecting the mental state of the heroine) to find herself. In the darkened frames in various cities Julia appears far from her "Pretty Woman" image but she does justice to the part nevertheless. Interesting characters cross her path, from Sofi,Giovanni and Luca Spaghetti (really!) in Rome to Tulsi and Richard from Texas at the unidentified ashram in India and of course, Ketut, Wayan and Felipe in Bali. The movie comes across as serious cinema with a sprinkling of comic elements, romance, heartbreak and friendships. An honest depiction of human life and its similarities across the globe. But it felt too long.

I had not thought of the book as being too long but the book did have 108 chapters (of varying length) dealing with the major parts of the story. It is unfair to compare the movie with the book and to judge it inferior, not because it strays from the story (which this one does not) but because it does not match your visualization of it. In my opinion, where the movie falls short is in reflecting the dark humor and sometimes, the irreverent amusement that Gilbert infuses into her book when she describes her experiences. I missed some of the other characters in the book that do not show up and also some of the key turning points in her journey.

If you haven't read the book, please watch the movie. And if you have already read the book, perhaps the movie will make you do the same thing that it did to me - want to read the book again.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

From me to you - Book Review



It is not really a book. It is a collection of articles written by Sathya Saran, ex-editor of Femina who wrote the eponymous column over a period of a decade. The tagline says, "Writings on love, life and learning" and the collection stays true to this promise. Divided into sections named Encounters, Musings, Cityscapes, Tangents and perspectives and Reflections on nature, we get a glimpse into Sathya's mind as she wrestles with several issues. Most of her inspirations are taken from her daily life. As a resident of Mumbai, there is mention of encounters in the ubiquitous local trains, musings on human nature when it comes to destroying mother nature's bounty, common people who trigger uncommon musings in this thoughtful woman.

Sathya Saran comes across as one among that rare species of famous woman who has a heart and is not afraid to wear it on her sleeve. Her penchant for saving trees lined up for ruthless cutting, or her fanaticism about not encouraging the use of plastic bags make her a lovable activist since she also allows us to glimpse into her fallacies as the time she has to face the reality that she needs reading glasses, or when she discovers that she has turned into someone she does not recognize and wants to find herself. I identified with so many of her articles, it was almost like hearing a close friend narrate an incident from yesterday until you come across her writing about meeting Gloria Steinem or Maharani Gayatri Devi and you realize that Sathya Saran hobnobs with the beautiful and famous. Which makes her wonderful writing all the more precious. To move among the rich and royal, in a world focused on outer beauty and show, to keep alive the flame of a spirit that cares, for nature, for regular people and turn an ordinary daily event into one that is memorable is indeed a formidable accomplishment.

Sathya Saran's writing is extremely poetic, each word chosen precisely and lovingly, considering that the column must have had a word limit. I wished some of the topics had been dwelt upon longer. The other possible improvement could have been the quality of the paper and printing, by Westland. But this slim book is a treat, both to read and to treasure for reading over and over again, whenever you feel jaded with the monotony of life.

Gulzar says in the blurb on the back cover that "Sathya Saran could have been a poet..... should have been a poet", I could not agree more.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Queen of Dreams - Book Review

After a long time, I found myself reading a novel by an NRI. I have admired Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni's work for a long time, specially during the years when I was an NRI myself and developed an interest in writing. I have read most of her novels and am a great fan of her poetic style of narration. Like all authors, she has figured out a formula that works and keeps churning out novels that are interesting, on seemingly diverse topics while keeping the core theme common. Her earlier novels like Mistress of Spices and even the more contemporary ones like Sister of My Heart and Vine of Desire, have a magic realism element where the unexplained old traditions of the old country (India) lie side by side with up-to-date descriptions of freeways and bridges of the United States.

Queen of Dreams reads a lot like Mistress of Spices, right from the title itself which to me sounded uncannily similar. But true to the formula, the story begins deceptively as the life of painter and single-mother Rakhi who also co-owns Chai House, a eatery in Berkeley, California with her Sikh friend, Belle. The monotonous life of American-born daughter of immigrant Bengali parents who refuse to talk about their country of origin would have been a dreadful bore if Rakhi's mother had not been a "dream teller". A novel concept of people who have the gift of dreaming the dreams of others and can be trained by cult of women is brought into the narrative through the dream journals kept by Rakhi's mother who has this gift. Rakhi's father appears to be a bystander, largely ignorant of this part of his wife's life and only an incidental character in Rakhi's formative years when her mother's mysterious aura captivates her completely. Jona, Rakhi's little daughter and Sonny the ex-husband play important roles which are lovingly described in the chapters. Rakhi's ambivalence towards the relationship shared by her ex-husband and child, the fascination for India, the mysterious country that is not spoken about, the frustration of dealing with the creative dry spell in her paintings and the competition small neighborhood businesses face from large faceless corporations are dealt with finesse.

The writing is beautiful. Some of the prose reads like poetry, Banerjee liberally uses similes and metaphors that say a thousand words. Some examples that stayed with me were "Inside me the thoughts I have been battling wait like submerged rocks in a river", "When I opened my eyes, the house was in front of me, like a woman kneeling with her arms open." For the most part, the story moves a tad too slowly. After a fatal road accident, while translating the dream journals from her native Bengali, Rakhi's father starts bonding with Rakhi as they both discover the secrets of the woman who was a central but aloof presence in their life. It is Rakhi's father who helps her find the elusive recipe for making her eatery a success and deal with the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center that affects all non-white immigrants in America.

The book is an interesting read, written predominantly for a westernized audience, with liberal doses of mystical masalas that are implied as being part of the lives of Indians in India; a cocktail of flavors that always satisfies its hungry audience of readers, both resident and non-resident Indians.