Saturday, December 13, 2014

Books read this year: 2014

Its been over three months since I last wrote a post here, and
one and a half months since I have been planning to write one.

After lots of delays, which have seen me experimenting like
anything, with lots of new updates, I think I can finally settle
down to sort out my thoughts and write a post: Books read this year.

One of my resolutions for this year was reading 100 books. I am
nowhere near that 100 mark, though I have crossed 80 so far, and
think I can manage another 2-3 by the end of December. Its been one
hell of a ride in terms of books read, lessons learnt (and
forgotten).

What started me on the book reading path had been reading the
Inheritance cycle last year. Continuing on the same theme, I had
decided on reading up some of the more read fiction and fantasy
novels. And I managed to wrap off some of the series I have
wanted to. They include the Lord of The Rings and the Middle
East Saga, the Harry Potter series, the Drenai Saga, and the Wheel
of Time Series. And I must say, having read epics like the Wheel of
Time, which spans over some 12000 pages with 15 novels in it, I
find most of the other fiction works I now read child's work. It
literally feels like reading your old school text books once you
have graduated from the college.

It doesn't surprise me therefore, how the purists and the literary
critics try to tear down every other novel they have read, giving
reviews which the general masses hardly understand. I mean, once
you have spent ages reading Shakespeare and other such classical
books, which have enamored their readers for centuries now, how can
anything other than other works that equal a masterpiece get the
praise that is due to it. Of course, the reverse is not true; Just
because someone always writes scathing reviews doesn't mean they
know a lot, now do they?
But that is not the purpose of this point, the purpose is to
capture the books that I managed to read this year, so here goes
the complete list

  • Percy Jackson Series - The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson Series - The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson Series - The Titan's Curse - Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson Series - The Battle of the Labyrinth - Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson Series - The Last Olympian - Rick Riordan
  • Percy Jackson Series - The Demigod Files - Rick Riordan
  • Middle Earth Series - The Silmarillion - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Middle Earth Series - The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Arctic Incident- Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Eternity Code - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Opal Deception - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Lost Colony - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Time Paradox - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Atlantis Complex - Eoin Colfer
  • Artemis Fowl Series - Artemis Fowl: Last Guardian - Eoin Colfer
  • The Rosabal Line - Ashiwn Sanghi
  • The Accidental Prime Minister - Sanjay Baru
  • Lean Startup - Eric Lies
  • The Third Eye - T. Lobsang Rampa
  • The Day I stopped drinking milk - Sudha Murthy
  • The Oath of the Vayuputras - Amish Tripathi
  • The Drenai Series - Legend - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - Waylander - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - The King Beyond The Gate - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - The First Chronicles of Druss - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - Druss - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - White Wolf - David Gemmell
  • The Drenai Series - The Swords of Night and Day - David Gemmell
  • Outliers - Malcolm Gladwell
  • American Gods - Neil Gaiman
  • Only The Paranoid Survive - Andy Grove
  • Nine Parts of Desire - Geraldine Brooks
  • I am Malala - Malala Yousafzai
  • iWoz - Steve Wozniack
  • Blink - Malcolm Gladwell
  • The Idea Man - Paul Allen
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 00 - New Spring - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 01 - The Eye Of The World - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 02 - The Great Hunt - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 03 - The Dragon Reborn - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 04 - The Shadow Rising - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 05 - The Fires of Heaven - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 06 - Lord of Chaos - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 07 - A Crown of Swords - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 08 - The Path of Daggers - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 09 - Winter's Heart - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 10 - Crossroads of Twilight - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 11 - Knife of Dreams - Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 12 - The Gathering Storm - Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 13 - Towers of Midnight - Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan
  • The Wheel Of Time Series - Book 14 - A Memory of Light - Brandon Sanderson & Robert Jordan
  • Calico Joe - John Grisham
  • Star Dust - Neil Gaiman
  • Better - Atul Gawande
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - J. K.  Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - J. K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - J. K.  Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - J. K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix - J. K.  Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - J. K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter Series - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling
  • The Drenai Series - Waylander II: In the realm of the Wolf - David Gemmell
  • The Game Changers -  Alok Kothari, Rahul Kumar and Yuvnesh Modi
  • The Little Prince - Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry
  • Unbreakable - M. C. Mary Kom
  • Autobiography of a Yogi - Paramhans Yogananda
  • Made In America - Sam Walton
  • Delivering Happiness - Tony Hsieh

Now many of these books and series deserves a post in itself, and I
wish I had the time to write about each of them, but I guess then I
will spend the rest of my days this year just finishing up this
post.

All I can say is, all those books have left behind a lot of crazy
ideas, and for once and all, I think I no longer have any regret
for not having read them earlier.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

10 days of vipassana

I started this year with a very strong resolution related to Yoga, zen, meditation and such. One such task on the to do list was attending the Vipassana camp at Igatpuri.

I will admit that I didn't know much of it in advance, that I just read the name from an ex-colleague's blog detailing his experience, and even then didn't go much in depth reading about it. All I knew was that they would provide me lodging, food, and instruction for free, and I would have to live the life of austerity and celibacy for 10 days, and only if I found it useful should I donate towards the cause.

Such were the limits of my ignorance, I thought it was some sort of yoga camp, and told about this course as a yoga camp to my friends and known ones.

Since that person had done the course at Igatpuri, and it came out as the first centre established in India, I also decided to do the course there. (The Gangotri approach for bathing in Ganga).

There were multiple reasons why I wanted to do this course in particular
  1. It had an ideal duration - I don't think habits are formed within 2-3 days, and so 10 seemed like a number that would give a lot of exposure, even if that exposure was beginner level.
  2. I would be able to stay away from mobile, internet, emails and what nots
  3. I couldn't escape even if I wanted to - significant barriers there
  4. The food would have to be better than what I was currently used to eating
  5. If nothing else, I should be able to reverse my time table and successfully form a habit of waking up early at 4.
  6. There would be a complete silence observed by all participants, which meant no one would disturb my peace without disturbing his own.
  7. I would be isolated from my parents, friends and other people; in fact isolated from the whole world as if it didn't exist
  8. I will have enough time with myself in a single stretch to determine my life's priorities
Yet none of them was related to what they taught me over there - Vipassana - the science of observing. In a way I think it was a good thing - I didn't have much expectations, and thus went there as clear slated as possible.
The fact that I had left my job some 2.5 months back, meant that I had had sufficient time to de-attach myself from the previous environment, and now could concentrate on the next things in life.

There were some internal doubts as I started on my journey in the evening of 12th - I kept thinking whether it was a wise decision to spend 15 days on this course, and shouldn't I actually prepare for some interviews instead and get myself a job. Yet the doubts were only minimal, it had been a while since I journeyed on my own and so, I was soon in the zone, ignoring any and every doubt that assailed me.

I got down at Igatpuri at 00.40 in the night, and that was on the highway. I started walking towards Dhamma Giri, which was 2.6 km, since no auto or anything was available in the late hours. I wasn't sure that they would admit me inside in the night. By some luck, a group of teens passed by, and one of them offered me a lift, which I gladly took. He dropped me at the gates, and than warned me it wasn't a good area to hang out at in the wee hours of the night, because of the surrounding forests and wild life. Negligence accepted.

I entered the campus, and at once started feeling the peace inside me. It wasn't something really profound or really drastic, just the freshness in the air, the smell of trees, the sound of the chimes. It was a full moon night, so the moon was shining brightly in the sky, and I have to say I haven't had many occasions to see the moon in that much glory. It was relaxingly beautiful and serene.

After meeting with the guards and explaining to them I was there for the course, I walked in for some 10 minutes, before I reached the inner campus, and here a guard showed me way to a dormitory, where I slept off.

I was reading the book Autobiography of a Yogi, and was somewhere around the middle of it when I reached there. I spent a couple of hours the next day after waking reading another handful of pages, before I had to deposit it, along with my other valuables and trinkets - mobiles, ring, kada and so on. No reading /writing material is allowed, and electronic devices like mobile/laptops aren't allowed either. The first is to cut down any distraction a student might have, the second is to bring down any external communication. All rings, bracelets, amulets etc are also to be removed from the body/possessions and deposited. Finally, all cash keeping aside some 200-250 bucks was also to be deposited, because people were sharing beds in dormitories.

I was aware of these restrictions before hand, so none of them came as a surprise. And I was happy to submit my mobile away, I don't remember a single instance in last 6 years when I had the luxury of not having to answer any calls or check any mails on the mobile for even 2 days in a stretch. This time it was going to be 10 :)

The registration process went like this - Get your enrollment verified - Get a green/white card slip depending on whether you are a new/old student, get your application reviewed/fill another form to detail out why you are doing the course, envelope your belongings, deposit them and an amount of Rs. 200 for the laundry service, and get a token number for both, get a bed allocated. Most people get open dormitories, many get private room dorms with shared bathrooms, some get shared rooms on a 2 or 4 sharing basis, and a few get single rooms with attached bathrooms.

Once the room was allocated, I shifted my luggage from existing bed to the new bedding, and made my stay there.

One thing that stood out on the morning of this day 0 earlier, was a fellow student (uncle actually), who had also arrived early, though not early as me. He had come in at around 7 in the morning, the registration was to begin from 9.30, and so very less number of people had arrived yet. I was going through cycles of waking and sleeping, and one time I saw him enter and go to sleep. Next time I woke up, I saw him coming back after taking a bath, and this time he came to me and said - "Ready ho ja bhau, apane ko sabse pehle registration karana hai. Khoob sadhana karni hai, Single room chahiye apne ko to."

I would later always refer to him as "Sadhana-ji" in my mind throughout the duration of the course (by some criss-cross of fortunes, he had a seat adjacent to mine in the meditation hall, though I was lucky not to share a room or dorm with him).

I had been allotted a single room with bathroom, so I settled in quite quickly, and than started wandering about. I was carrying all the necessities mentioned - soap, shampoo, 10 shirts, tracks, pyjamas, lock, clock, torch, bedsheet, umbrella etc, so had no issues with any of that.

The registration usually starts in at around 9.30, and than it goes on till around 5 in the evening. At 5 we had some light snacks, and after a break of another 45 minutes, all of us assembled at the food mess and started receiving further instructions at around 6.30.

And from this meeting onwards, the "arya maun", or the noble silence began. It meant not only silence of words to fellow course-mates, but also silence of actions and thoughts to them (that is not interacting even via sign languages and trying to not think of answering others). Afterwards, in groups of 70-80 we entered the Dhamma hall, where we administered ourselves the oaths of taking recluse in Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for the next 10 days.

After a few more formalities, the meditation started at around 8.30, and lasted till 9 PM.

The medium of instruction was audio recordings. We had fairly good seats - around 2.5*2.5 ft squarish cotton fed cushions, with elevated seating to better accommodate hips and legs. There were chairs available for those with medical conditions, though in subsequent days, others also started using them depending on their body limits and mental resolve. There were also cutout chairs available - they don't have the legs, and can be coupled with the seat itself to provide some back rest.
I was able to survive the course without using either, and a lot of people do that, so I think in general one should try to avoid the chair as much as possible.

I didn't carry my wrist watch with me - in subsequent days I would learn that most of the time, you open your eyes much earlier to look at the time if you have a watch with you.

The time table went something like this:

Get up at around 3.50, got out and drink water, walk around for 10-15 minutes, freshen up, brush if time is available.
Go to meditation at 4.30, meditate from 4.30-6.30.
Come back to room at 6.30 and brush and bath, go to mess for breakfast at around 6.55 or 7, have around 65% of my usual breakfast, come back and rest//lie down.
Go back and meditate from 8-9 (I mostly spent this one in a state fighting my sleep, trying to keep it at bay), then meditate again from 9 to around 10.45 (though it goes on till 11, people near you are restless, and soon you also start becoming so by the end of it).
At 11, freshen up, go for a light lunch (around 75% of my usual diet), take a bath, and try to sleep off for around an hour if you can, till 1 PM.
Meditate from 1- 2.15, from 2.30-3.30, from 3.30 to around 4.40 (again, the time was till 5, it just seemed like hollow sitting after 4.40, so I would get out because of restlessness in the environment)
Have a nominal round of snacks (around 60%) at 5, and stroll till 6.
Finally, meditate from 6-7, have pravachan from 7-8.30, and meditate from 8.30-9, ask questions afterwards, and retire to sleep later.

This is the most simplistic time table I can think of, I was unable to sleep during the day after the 3rd day, the night sleep reduced to around 4 .5 hours by end of day 5, and I meditated lesser on days 7,8,9.

I think, on the average, you are supposed to meditate for around 10 hours a day, but if you can manage 50 solid hours of meditation throughout, even those could teach you a lot.

I will endorse the course for its scientific design, a no-bullshit approach, and ease of doing it. In the end, I achieved a lot more than I had thought I would, I found peace, the kind which makes you have tears of bliss, I had a much better sense of understanding of events and actions, and I got answers to questions that I hadn't ever thought I would be asking myself there and then. So effective I found the course to be, I had to intentionally bring down my meditation time since it was happening too suddenly and uncontrollably for me.

On day 10, we had mangal maitri, and after that the maun was broken. I had been able to observe the verbal silence throughout, though the actionable one was broken on some 4-5 occasions, and the thought one I think some 20-22 times. I had also missed 2 morning meditation sessions because of sleep imbalance, but no more.

I got a chance to interact with a lot of people sitting around me, listen to their experience, listening to fables about Buddha from some of them. So much knowledge the people had collectively, it only brought out my ignorance in my face - how little knowledge I possess.

On the next day - day 11, we had our final meditation from 4.30-6.30, after which we took breakfast.

I cleaned my room and bathroom, packed my stuff, and then took off. On my way down, I went to the Buddha centre, where a summary of events from Buddha's life was depicted in pictures and text. It was really moving - when I saw the one with the Kheer being offered to Buddha, and realized its significance in that day's breakfast.

Sabka mangal ho.
Sabka kalyan ho.
Sabki swastha mukti ho.

I next proceeded to Triambakeswar, and from their took a snap call to go to Shirdi Sai Baba, and then returned to Mumbai in the night. Once in Mumbai, I met some old friends, visited Siddhivinayak temple, ISKCON temple, met my brother in law, attended a barebone exhibition setup for an audio equipment expo, closed my old accounts, and then I left for B in another eventful train journey, where I was traveling with an unconfirmed but valid ticket and was now at the mercy of fellow passengers.

Govindaa, Govind Govindaa, Govind Govindaa, Govinda Govinda;

PS: Here are some other links if you are interested in reading more about Vipassana:
  1. www.dhamma.org/
  2. http://lunasealife.wordpress.com/2011/07/28/vipassana-what-i-found-in-10-days-of-silence/
  3. http://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-11035/what-i-learned-from-a-hardcore-10-day-meditation-retreat.html
  4. http://anoopsplace.blogspot.in/2011/03/10-day-vipassana-meditation-course.html
  5. https://medium.com/this-happened-to-me/10-days-of-vipassana-d176bc723048
  6. http://www.themindfulword.org/2013/vipassana-meditator-pain-peace/
  7. http://www.beliefnet.com/Faiths/Hinduism/2001/01/Ten-Days-Of-Silence-Inside-A-Vipassana-Retreat.aspx
  8. http://travel.cnn.com/mumbai/play/vipassana-i-survived-10-days-meditation-639422
  9. http://www.updevelopment.org/2012/08/vipassana-meditation-experience/
  10. http://paulosena.com/2010/10/05/my-10-day-vipassana-course-in-igatpuri-india/
  11. http://smritiweb.com/badri/my-experience-at-vipashyana-at-igatpuri/

Monday, April 21, 2014

Random Gyaan

Publishing a random assortment of texts from notes to and for myself:
  1. The value of Lies and perceptions, Uncertainty and Progression in building businesses
  2. The art of nothingness
  3. The value of competition and environment
  4. Self-rationalization
  5. The misunderstood agile
  6. The cost of barriers
  7. Alive after dead-line
  8. Fighting righteousness
  9. The veil of equality
  10. The right time & Chaos and Order


1. The value of Lies and perceptions, Uncertainty and Progression in building businesses

A business is built around perceptions.

The basic idea is , that a certain task A can get done within a certain duration B, by a person/group of persons C. Based on this estimate, a certain date D is promised for delivery of the end product E of task A.

When D, E are communicated, they are accepted, not because they have already been achieved, but because they are both in the future and can be achieved.

And in general, there is a belief, that if the task is done on time, its because of C, and so is the case if it is done before or after time. Successive tasks help you build the perception – a confidence level on how well can C execute upon the tasks.

A business has many such tasks in execution, being performed by many people one after the other. What drives each person to complete his task on time is the dependencies the next person might have on him.

If observed carefully, then in any successful organization, you will find that it is the perception that everyone else is working on time which helps people stick to their timelines.
And the thing about perception is, that they can be created, they can be sold as a vision.

But when there is a marked difference between what is promised vs what is delivered, the perception starts turning into one of lies, instead of one of promises. 3 lessons apply:

Businesses die because of uncertainty. Uncertainty kills businesses – there is absolutely no idea whether that block of ice you see in the ocean is an iceberg or a glacier. On the other hand, the thing with certainty is that you need to be certain how certain that certainty is going to be. (confidence level)


What cannot be measured, cannot be managed. And it is the non managed, the non measured which takes you into the unknown territory.

Businesses are built on progression. You progress from doing one thing to another in a small set. 


2. The art of nothingness


So starting this year, there was a resolution to understand zen koans, and derive peace from them.
Here are some samples:

Thought: You will burn for this.
After-thought: One way or the other.

Q: Explain Nothing
A:
(Explanation: no answer => nothing, any kind of answer would mean it is not nothing.)


Life is a paradox.


3. The value of competition and environment

There has to be competition. Find it.
Competition is really important to grow further, it brings about a degree of fear in thoughts which leads to better concentrated effort.

Similarly, the environment is very important for your learning curve. It speeds up things like crazy. And access to the right people at the right time is crucial for faster learning.



4. Self-rationalization

The human limit for self-rationalization is almost infinite. One will convince himself of a number of things, and to a large extent, and yet he won't realize he is ultimately fooling himself.

You will convince yourself that if something that went wrong, it was no fault of yours or it was all your fault. You will convince yourself that you are invincible – always correct, always on the right side. You will make yourself believe that you can not fail. Yet all those beliefs and convictions shatter away in the face of harsh reality.

While it is a good trait to have to cool off at an individual level, when a group of people start self-rationalizing, the group is on its way to be doomed into a herd.


"Khud hi khud ko bevkuf banana".


5. The misunderstood agile

Agile is over-rated. One man's agile is different from another one's.
In my opinion, agile is never about changing and turning over the fundamentals.
There are some key assumptions that can never be changed, even though some of those assumptions are relative to the person making them.

Yet, once you start changing the fundamentals you are more on the way of idle iterations, than agile, since the original purpose is lost.


6. The cost of barriers

No one stops you from doing things, they just raise the barriers - mental, psychological, physical.
Don't fall into the trap. Do what you think you must. Fuck all other shit.
That's exactly what they say - we are not stopping you, but ...


7. Alive after dead-line


If no one is dead after a missed deadline, what's the point of calling it so?

There is a reason why its called the deadline, at least let those who miss it see the face of death... If you can't run, you jog; if you can't jog, you walk; if you can't walk, you crawl; but don't skip the deadline.



8. Fighting righteousness


So how do you fight someone who believes he is right?

The worst person to pacify is he who thinks is right. Doesn't matter whether he actually is or not.
Logic is the only weapon against a righteous person.

“Right brings might”


9. The veil of equality

Rules and policies are always circumstantial. It all depends on who is applying them.
There is a mist of equality. But no matter how much the fog, there is a subtle play of power at hand everywhere. 

I believe fairness, equality, and all such concepts are over-rated. End of the day, its the bottom line that matters. And the bottom line is this - no matter how much fairness you expect, there will always be some degree of unfairness.


10. The right time & Chaos and Order

One thought that has stuck with me for a while now is - Entrepreneurs don't wait for themselves to be ready, they jump in even before they think they are ready. While I am not entrepreneur, this thought is somewhere there at the back of the mind every time I am making any stupid decision. 

On the flip side, they may not be completely ready, but they still have a confidence that they can sails through, right? confidence level. 

Ever wondered how chaos is killed? Does chaos die because of chaos itself? Maybe, if you add more chaos to existing chaos, things start settling and there is chaos no more? Things can not remain chaotic for long, pattens start emerging sooner or later. Maybe that's why they say there is a method to madness? Its funny right?

Ever wondered how order is killed? By having a more ordered system? Because a highly ordered system reduces the system's ability to handle unordered things, and ultimately, we are all humans, something random is bound to happen one way or the other.

So how does one handle both?
The solution is to have balance, or  semblance of it, a middle ground in between order and chaos. Seems like a paradox? True. But then, life is a paradox.