Monday, December 28, 2009


Enjoyed  any good drama recently? Acted in any drama recently? Yes? No?

Anyway, if you act in a drama, how long you continue to be the character? Just during the play? May be sometime after? Hopefully, you will not continue to act out your role outside of play.

Do you feel bad if you have to kill somebody as part of the drama? Do you take it personally and grieve over it if somebody treats you badly just due to his or her role in the drama? I am sure you will laugh away these questions.

Yes, I think we are all smart enough to see the absurdity of taking this drama analogy too far. We get it boss, we say. We act in a drama and we drop it off when we leave it. We do not carry that along with us rest of our working day.

How about the big drama called LIFE? Where does our so called wisdom go when we have to act out the drama called life? All of us have a role to play, it's all scripted, lines are given, scenes are written, we may not know the exact details of this one really large DRAMA but we will instinctively play our role, our dialogs, our acts whether we like it or not. Instead of understanding our role, lines and scenes well and playing the role to best of our abilities, we start brooding over the drama, our role, director, how the director is doing a shabby job. Thinking like this on everything except our role, we create misery for ourselves. In drama, if you get a role to experience a lot of suffering, just because you act the suffering does not mean that you have to go through all the pains. No, we say. We have become the role itself. If the role has to act out the suffering, for whatever reasons, we make the suffering real and grieve over it. If we are smart, we see suffering for what it is. It is the suffering that role in the drama has to act out and you are that role. You are not expected to feel that pain anything more than what is needed to bring the best in you.

Do you hate the villain of the drama? No, you don't. He is another actor like you. Since he suits the role well, that role of villain has been given to him. As part of his role, he indulges in all sorts of bad things. He blows up building, he sends suicide bombers, he hijacks planes, he fights civil wars etc.  You bear bad treatment meted out to you by the villain. If the script requires, you go and kill the villain in the drama. After all this, you will probably have a drink with the villain and rest of your crew after the drama is over.

So, the people who we think as bad people are nothing but actors like us who play that particular role. OK, if the script require, we will go and kill them as we go and kill terrorists. But, we do not hate a fellow actor for playing his role.

I do not know where I picked up this drama analogy. Probably from one of the works of Sri Paramahamsa Yogananda. But, nothing explains life better than seeing it as a drama and acting our role to the best of our abilities per the flawless direction of GOD.


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Saturday, December 26, 2009

Plenty of good books

Ever since I got my lovely Amazon Kindle, I have been reading my way to glory:) Some of the books I read and recommend are :

97 Things Every Project Manager Should Know: Collective Wisdom from the Experts by Davis Barbee (Author) - Excellent collection of project management wisdom from several veteran project managers.

The Bhagavad Gita (Classics of Indian Spirituality) by Eknath Easwaran - Simple yet most notable translation of great ancient epic by my spiritual teacher  Sri EE. For extensive commentary, please consider reading the three volume set (Bhagvadgita for Daily Living) by Sri Easwaran.

The Blood of Lambs: A Former Terrorist's Memoir of Death and Redemption by Kamal Saleem and Lynn Vincent - Heart touching memoir of a former Palestinian militant. Now the author (i.e. former militant) is a reformed man who is on the lecture circuit to talk about and against radical Islam. Great read for all middle eastern political junkies (like me).

The Essential Swami Ramdas by Swami Ramdas and Rebecca Manring - Collection of essays of Swami Ramdas. Great spiritual wisdom from a great guru who founded Anandashram near Mangalore.

It Takes a Genome: How a Clash Between Our Genes and Modern Life Is Making Us Sick by Greg Gibson - Nice book on latest discoveries in the field of genome and related research. Written in a way so that common people can understand the complex stuff.. Good book.

High On Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips - Pretty disturbing and unsettling autobiography from Mackenzie Phillips, a Hollywood star. This book is going to haunt the reader for a long time. Kudos to the author for daring to bare (her life).

Hoodwinked: An Economic Hit Man Reveals Why the World Financial Markets Imploded--and What We Need to Do to Remake Them by John Perkins - Nice book by the author of previously very famous 'Confessions of an Economic Hit man'. Expected much more from Perkins. Feels like the previous book redistilled. But, still Perkins does a good job of explaining how we screwed ourselves and how we are still not learning from our mistakes which lead to current economic mess.

How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhavananda, Christopher Isherwood, and Patanjali - This is a true jewel. It really takes great minds to write a book that attempts to interpret the original work of Sage Patanjali. The authors have done a fabulous job. This is a real treat for anyone who wants to understand more about life in general. Sure to answer lot of nagging questions. If you approach this book with an open mind, I bet you will emerge with many good answers and refreshing perspectives. Master piece and classic.

Imagining India: The Idea of a Renewed Nation by Nandan Nilekani - Nice book by one of the founders of Indian IT giant Infosys. Reads well. Author has done a good job of collecting a lot of data and info and traces how India has gotten where it is now and what can be done to take it to the next level. Refreshing read.

JFK And Sam: The Connection Between the Giancana And Kennedy Assassinations by Antoinette Giancana, John R. Hughes, and Thomas H. - Interesting book that looks at mafia angle to JFK assassination. Pretty interesting details about JFK and his links to Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Strong conspiracy theory emerges when we learn that Sam Giancana himself was bumped off just before he was to appear before the senate committee probing JFK assassination  in late '70s. Great read.

Karma and Reincarnation: The Wisdom of Yogananda, Volume 2 (v. 2) by Paramhansa Yogananda - Nice little book on a very complex subject.

Managing with the Power of NLP: Neurolinguistic Programming; A Model for Better Management (2nd Edition) by David Molden - Loaded book. Takes an interesting look at NLP and how it can be used to improve our daily lives. Takes a quite bit of work, time and attention to really get the stuff in this book :)

Marilyn Monroe: Murder - by Consent: A Psychologist's Journey With Death by Jack V. Hattem - Nice book by a psychologist who was part a team that  looked at Monroe's death from psychology point of view. Does not get into any of the interesting, lip smacking conspiracy theories. Sticks nicely to pure psychology and attempts to present a balanced view of Monroe's poor state of mind and how that state of mind might have been played out by people who just wanted her to go. It is like giving a gentle push to an already dilapidated wall. It was ready to fall and your push was only a pretext. Probably same thing happened with Marilyn Monroe as well. She has major  psycho problems. She was abusing medicines. She was close to self-destruction. Somebody pushed right buttons and she played into that scheme and took a her own life. Nice read although not a fast read.

My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror by Louis J. Freeh - Nice autobiography by former FBI director.

My Life and Work - An Autobiography of Henry Ford by Henry Ford - Impressive book. Ford was clearly ahead of his times. He writes very candidly about his management philosophy, profit v/s general good, people, global welfare etc.  If Ford, as a company, has survived while GM has not, it must be because there are still people at Ford who have an iota of wisdom of its founder. Great book.

On the Trail of the JFK Assassins: A Revealing Look at America's Most Infamous Unsolved Crime by Dick Russell - Another nice book on JFK assassination. Probably the first book to identify who really pulled the trigger on that fatal shot which blew JFK's head off.

The PayPal Wars: Battles With Ebay, the Media, the Mafia, And the Rest of Planet Earth by Eric M. Jackson - A book by an early Paypal veteran chronicling how Paypal got started, how it grew, how it battled with eBay, how the acquisition happened etc.

Raid on the Sun: Inside Israel's Secret Campaign that Denied Saddam the Bomb by Rodger Claire - Excellent thriller of a book on an Israeli operation. It was an audacious operation to say the least. Flying over 1200 miles without refueling, flying over several enemy countries, escaping all those radars, cleanly bombing Saddam's nuclear reactor and returning safely. Once again, dare devil Israelis succeeded. If you want to know how they went about the whole operation, their pains, their creativity, their determination and their commitment, read this book. This is sure to tell you why and how that tiny nation has survived and prospered despite all  odds. It also makes a case why it sometimes necessary to be on the offensive rather than defensive all the time. Israelis always take the fight to where terrorists are and don't give them a minute of relief to sit down and plan their next attack against Israel. That's why they have succeeded. Great book on a great operation by a great nation!

The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe by J. Randy Taraborrelli - Beautiful bio-epic on Marilyn Monroe. Does not get much into conspiracy theories around her death. Simply goes about chronicling her life with a lot interesting facts about her life. For example India finds two references. While Marilyn was being borne her grandmother (mother's mother) was in India. Another reference to India. When President Kennedy and Monroe spent time together for the first time, first lady Jackie Kennedy was in India and called JFK when JFK and Monroe were together in a cottage in Palm Springs, CA. Many such interesting trivia makes this large book an interesting read.

The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World by L. Fletcher Prouty - Dare to bare it all book. A lot of good info. Boring style. Kindle's text-to-speech is the savior.

See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism by Robert Baer - Excellent memoir of a former CIA agent. Baer packs a lot of anguish and frustration about how CIA became way too much focused on technology and in the process ignored human intelligence and how such attitude led to events like 9/11. Good read. A lot references to important events in the middle east in 80's and 90's as the author worked extensively there. A few interesting incidents in India too as Baer worked in India also and recruited agents who nicely gave him the stuff he wanted - stealing from Indian secret files.

Six Minutes to Freedom by Kurt Muse and John Gilstrap - one of the best books on a high voltage hostage rescue mission in Panama by US special forces. Author Kurt Muse was an American living in Panama. He was active in organizing an uprising against dictator Noriga. He got jailed. US had to rescue him carefully while they mounted the operation to remove Noriega. This book beautifully chronicles author's life in Panama, his family's courage and bravery while he was arrested and jailed, how his, then, teenage daughter escaped from the clutches of Norigea henchmen to inform her mother in the US, how the family ran from pillar to post and all power centers in Washington to get Muse rescued and how the final operation unfolded. It was a dare devil operation. The helicopter which was supposed to carry Kurt Muse and Delta forces got badly hit while taking off after the Delta forces had neutralized jail guards and rescued their hostage. So, the copter could not fly. They drove it to safety on the streets of Panama City. It may seem funny to imagine a helicopter being driven like a car on the streets. But, read the book and you will become an occupant in the helicopter with bullets going right above your head. That's how the authors have dramatized it. Great read!

Spiritual Relationships: The Wisdom of Yogananda, Volume 3 by Paramhansa Yogananda - Beautiful little book by the master. Focused on relationships. Relationships are a necessary pain. You can not escape them and the pain they inflict on every human being. Of course, there is supposed to be joy underneath all the pain that relationships bring. This book and guru Yogananda's timeless wisdom may help understand the real stuff so that we can try to see relationships for what they are and how to make most out of the relationships which are mostly preordained.

Third Class in Indian Railways by Mahatma Gandhi - Collection of essays by Mahatma Gandhi on variety of subjects. First essay is about his experiences in Indian railways. Rest of the essays are about Swadeshi, Champaran movement etc. Makes an interesting read. Kindle edition is available for free on AMZN.

Trail of the Octopus by Lester K. Coleman and Donald Goddard - One of the many books that came out after Pan Am 103 flight was destroyed by  a bomb in mid air in 1988. As usual, there are many conspiracy theories. Ultimately blame was tied to Libya and Gadaffi. Author, Coleman, was a clandestine agent working in the middle east during that time. This book is his take on the series of events that lead to the bombing of flight 103 and how what he wanted reveal became something powerful people could not swallow. After that, those powerful forces went after Coleman and he ran away from USA and is still living somewhere in Europe to escape charges pending against him in the USA. Decent book for conspiracy aficionados.

Wings of Fire: An Autobiography of APJ Abdul Kalam by Arun Tiwari - Biography of former Indian President Abdul Kalaam. Very nicely traces his life as a scientist, technocrat and finally a president. Nice read. Free PDF versions floating on the net.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Traffic lights and wisdom behind the WAIT

Do you hate waiting at traffic lights? I think so if you are like most people. But, as mature people, we also understand that without traffic lights, it is not possible for many streets to cross each other and not possible to manage the traffic at all. So, for the greater good, authorities make us wait for our turn to cross the street and so on. This logic seems simple. Right?

But, why does this not occur to us when we have to wait at life's traffic signals? I am sure you have run into some or the other kind of waits in life too. Something is stalled at work. Things are not moving. You are frustrated. You wonder why things are not moving at the rate they should be moving. Why aren't people warming up to your ideas and embracing them? Why are not things happening, boss? You lament.

Think that you are at life's some traffic signal. You are waiting for your turn. You are not the center of this universe. There are many other things than trivial things you are worried about. You have to wait for your turn to get green light and drive on.

This perspective helps when things do not go  our way. So, what we do? Borrow the analogy from what we do while waiting at traffic lights. Be engaged. Watch the scenery around. Listen to good music. Listen to useful audio books. Do something to keep you productively occupied. But, always stay focused on the road. The moment light turns to green, you want to zip forward. So, do not get distracted.

Use the same principles when you get stuck at traffic lights of life too. Sometimes wait at a life's traffic lights seems way too long. Things do not move at all in some cases for years in a row. It can be very painful without having a bigger perspective. Know that you and your petty desires are as inconsequential as a spec of dust in the grand scheme of things. You can not and will not get any special treatment. You got to wait. So, all you can do is to make the wait a fun one and a beneficial one. Turn to things that you enjoy. Of course, harmless things only. Do not do anything foolish out of frustration or depression or anything that follows the wait in life that you can not understand.

Even while waiting at a traffic light we know that the wait is going to be only momentary. We know that very soon we are going to on the freeway and then we can cruise for miles at a stretch comfortably. Life is like that. It's all well planned. If you are stuck waiting at a traffic signal, free way is not too far way. You will very soon be on life's freeway too. Of course, at some point, you will have to get out of the freeway and get on local streets to get to where you are going. Slowing down and speeding up are both parts of life. Both are required. As nobody can enjoy day without night, same thing with halt and progress in life.

This metaphor can be taken even further. Sometimes we get stuck due to some other reasons. May be there is an accident. May be traffic is stopped for some other reason. These days we get real-time traffic advice on some GPS systems that are enabled with such capability. They can receive live traffic updates and advice you an alternative routes to take.

Even in life we get live traffic updates if we carefully listen. God sends enough live traffic updates. We are listening to damn music so loud that we fail to hear those updates. We are distracted by everything else that we forget to heed to God's advice to take alternate routes. But, if we care to listen, we sometimes can take alternate routes to reach our destination. Sometimes, things get too painful on some of the paths we take in life simply because that's not the right path for us at all. Have you found it very hard to make progress on some areas in life while you have been able to make progress in other areas with much less effort? There must be a reason for that. The area you are struggling is not the area that God wants you to progress. In God's grand scheme of things, you got a role to play and you are trying to play some other role. God has to stop you from doing that.


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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Enter the Past Tense: My Secret Life as a CIA Assassin Roland W. Haas

Are you intrigued by high-profile assassinations?After that hush hush talk about one or the other intelligence agency being behind such an assassination? Have you wondered how such things are orchestrated? Then, read this book and hear out from the mouth of a proverbial horse.

Very interesting and captivating book. The author served as a secret assassin for CIA. Of course, he is bound by rules and regulations about how much he can say about all that he did for CIA. But he has very masterfully written a great memoir which reads like a thriller. Do not expect to learn about any famous assassinations attributed to CIA or any other intelligence agency. But you can expect to learn  general information about how such things are carried out.

Little dated in the sense that events in this book take place during 1970s. So, unless you are very interested, it may bore you from time to time. The book also gives a nice overview of hippy culture back then and how hippies used to go around the world on a shoestring budget. In fact the author went around the world as hippy and carried out his hits on the way.

Risks and rewards of the profession are highlighted very well for anyone considering the profession:) Read authors plight after he was caught by Iranian authorities and faced the death squad. If not for timely intervention of his handler, the author would not been alive to write this book.

If you consider this is as the memoir of blue-collar assassin and liked it, you may also like to read memoir of a white-collar assassin in another excellent book - Confessions of an Economic Hit Man by John Perkins.


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The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover's Secret War Against the World's Most Famous Scientist by Fred Jerome

Wow! what an eye opener of a book. If you thought, Einstein was welcomed into US with open arms and was accorded everything, read this book. As much as US and it's common people loved this brilliant scientist, there was a group of powerful people, under the paranoia of communist infiltration of US institutions, thought this gentle scientist was a communist spy. They did not just stop there. They spent a lot of resources and energy to see if they could nail Einstein as a communist spy.

This book is truly one of its kind. After FBI released secret files on Einstein a while back under freedom of information act, the author Jerome systematically poured over thousands and thousands of pages of documentation compiled on Einstein and came up with this nice book which is an eye-opener.

Einstein moved to US in 1930s from his native Germany after Hitler became powerful there and made life difficult for jews. Einstein was also a jew. By 1930s, Einstein was a household name in the scientific community. He had won Nobel prize in 1921. He was regularly coming to US as a guest professor at many leading universities. So, when things got hot for him and his family in the US, it was only natural that he looked at US for his next home.

Einstein was not just a brilliant scientist. He was a man of many talents and opinions. A scientist, philosopher, social scientist, economist etc. all rolled in one. He had strong opinions about socialism, war, atom bomb among many things that really made him stand out and attracted the attention of US government authorities.

Since he came from Germany and was not very much in support of USA building atom bomb, he was kept out of US atom bomb project which employed many of his peers from US and elsewhere. People also were not sure if he still kept any loyalty for his former homeland which was in war with rest of the world as part of world war II.

Einstein kept ruffling feathers with his outspoken views on every important issue. After the world war II, cold war picked up and a section of US went berserk with the paranoia about communism and how communism was going to take over US. So, a section of US society made up of powerful people including senators and government officials started vigilante movement to smoke out communists from wherever there are bring them to justice and thus protect US from being taken over by communism.

Einstein became victim of one such witch hunt. Since he was powerful in his own ways and more importantly had done nothing wrong at all, they could not inflict any harm on him but systematic persecution continued.

Makes an interesting read. Style of the book is not that interesting. Loses traction in many places due to poor narration. Make a really good read if you can hold on.


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The 3 Mistakes of My Life by Chetan Bhagat

Beautiful novel by Indian novelist Chetan Bhagat.

Chetan Bhagat, who hit the literary scene a while ago by chronicling his IIT days into a novel, delivers another simple but nice novel. Simple but really enjoyable. He is truly a master story teller. It's amazing how he takes common things and instances like the demolition of a mosque, Indian middle class, nation's passion with cricket, communal riots, etc. and delivers a really nice novel.


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Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years by David Talbot

Another excellent book for John F Kennedy history junkies. Deals with many interesting stories about JFK and his brother Robert F Kennedy who was also assassinated under mysterious circumstances a few years later after JFK was assassinated.

Good read if you are looking for some captivating read on JFK, RFK, conspiracies, mafia etc. to spice up your reading.


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Barack, Inc.: Winning Business Lessons of the Obama Campaign by Barry Libert and Rick Faulk

This book examines what businesses and people running businesses can learn from the way in which Obama ran his presidential campaign successfully.

Very interesting and insightful book. You will learn how information technology and social networking, in particular, played a very important role in Obama's successful campaign. Do you know one of the Facebook's founders took time-off to lead IT efforts of Obama campaign?

The book does not just limit to Obama's focus on technology. Traditional but nevertheless very important aspects of management like soft skills, hard skills also figure prominently  in this book. There are many instances that authors bring out the best managerial qualities of Obama in terms of motivating his people, admitting the mistakes, reflecting on what went wrong and how to fix it.

Very well researched and very well written book. After (wrongly) understanding that political campaigns only meant behind-the-screen-operations, ugly mud slinging, attacks on character etc., this book is a refreshing read about probably the most successful political campaigns in recent times.

I think many of us who are always looking for bits of wisdom from anywhere will find this book interesting.


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