Frankl’s Choice

Viktor E Frankl (1905-1997), a Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, had a choice to make, at a crucial time in life:

Frankl had applied for a visa to America, which he was granted in 1941.  By then, the Nazis had already started rounding up the Jews and taking them away to concentration camps,  focusing on the elderly first.  Frankl knew that it would only be time before the Nazis came to take his parents away.  He also knew that once they did,  he had a responsibility to be there with his parents to help them through the trauma of adjusting to camp life.  On the other hand, as a newly married man with his visa in hand, he was tempted to leave for America and flee to safety, where he could distinguish himself even further in his field.

The choice some people make in life  sorts them out from the multitude.   Frankl chose not to be part of that multitude.  And then,  he survived Auschwitz (as No.119,104),   to write of his Nazi camp life,  in Man’s Search for Meaning‘.   A 1946 book that  Frankl wrote in nine days.  The book,  as preface to its 1992 edition by the author says,   has lived to see nearly 100 printings in English, besides having been published in 21 other languages.

Frankl,   engaged in digging a tunnel for laying an underground water main, was given by the construction firm, on Christmas 1944 eve, two gift coupons,  each of which could be exchanged for six cigarettes.  And a cigarette,  a common currency of exchange among prisoners,  could be bartered for a soup.  Few prisoners opted to smoke their ‘currency’.

You could borrow,  for a read,  Victor E Frankl’s   ‘search for meaning’,  or buy a copy  from online book rental   Indiareads.com.

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Big boys carry their own bags

In my Chennai neighbourhood I see parents  carrying bags,  as they walk their daughters/sons to the school bus.  Wonder when or how these school-goers would grow up.  At times ,  I want to  tell these kids they are big now, and  making mom or dad carry their schoolbags made them look small,  weak and helpless.   But then my wife,  more sensible of the two,  holds me back.

As parents,  we have all been guilty of pampering our children in varying degrees.  But I don’t remember carrying our only son’s  bag, not even in  his pre-school  year .  My wife usually took him to the nursery school.  What I do recall is,  when he started college, we travelled  with him to BITS, Pilani ;  stayed in his hostel for a day, tasted the mess food;  and  met a couple senior ‘wingies’ (staying in his hostel wing).  My bright idea was to persuade them not to subject our son to the kind of ragging  we witnessed on the campus.
But then,  as I later heard our son say,  the  wingies  I had met targeted  our son the moment our backs were turned on the Pilani campus.  So much for my bright idea.  Now I know, how  parents can help, if they stop being their children’s  baggage-keepers.

After first and second  semester  holiday,  on his return to Pilani  my wife and I  used to see  off our son at the Chennai Central Station. That most other students on Delhi-bound TamilNadu Express  made it to the station on their own wasn’t lost on our son.  But there was no way he could stop us from dropping him at the station.  On one of these train trips, I believe,  after the second semester,  a Pilani girl had her berth next to my son’s,  in 3-tier sleeper compartment. My wife, fussing over our son,  got down to setting his baggage for him, securely,  under the seat. The girl did this, for herself – arranging her baggage. What’s more, no one had come to see her off.  That was when our son put his put his foot down,  so to speak.  No more bag-carrying for him.  That was the last time he allowed us to see him off.  For the next three years he spent in Pilani, our son’s train to Delhi  left the Chennai Central, without our presence at the station.  The girl  on the train  was Anu Hasan.

Sheila Hailey’s  I Married a Bestseller   devotes a chapter on bringing up  children .  Shiela,  insisting that her children  helped them around the house,  assigned daughter Jane to dust daily Arthur’s study,  empty his wastebasket,  and set her  author father’s table  as organised as he wanted it,  using a checklist to get it right.  When she reached 13 Jane was given a monthly clothing allowance,  and was taught to sew.  Jane was made to realize she could get more out of  her monthly allowance, if she made the clothes  herself.
Steven,  at age 10,  maintained the family swim pool, testing chlorine and acid levels,  adding chemicals when necessary,  and backwashing the filter.  Mom urged him to work for an allowance,  and Arthur encouraged his son to use tools at an early age.
Hailey who authored AirportHotelWheels  and several other bestsellers made it a point to  dine  with his children – aged ten, eight, and six –  and often shared his thoughts on the  book he was doing.  For children family dinner gave an opportunity to discuss with parents what they wanted to do in class and off-school.  The whole family spent quality time, feeling  relaxed.

Chicken Soup for the Soul : Is Soul non-vegetarian ?

Jack Canfield who co-founded Chicken Soup for the Soul said the title was inspired by his  grandma’s tale that her chicken soup cured anything.  I wonder what Jack would have done for a title,  had his grandma been a vegetarian.  Chicken-soup-for-soul books have been such sure-fire sellers worldwide since 1970s  that it was merely a matter of time before we had a desi avatar –  Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul.  Westlands  are now at it,  bringing out  Soup editions for Indian armed forces,  women,  mothers,  fathers,  teachers,  teenagers,  and desi brides.

The latest ‘soup’  edition,  for Indian corporate souls,  is required reading for office-goers. It’s the kind of book you read on cummute to work;  you talk about with colleagues at office canteen. The book talks about corporate souls experiencing spurts of success,  stifling setback,  and life-long strife to maintain proper work-life balance.  The blurb mentions 101 stories of entrepreneurship and creativity at the workplace. I haven’t counted the chapters;  nor have I read them all.
It’s kinda book that invites readers to taste it,  in bits and pieces  picked out at random.  I remember the school days when we played  ‘book cricket’,  with a book in hand,  to be opened at random for the page number (denoting the runs scored).  With the Chicken Soup book I picked chapters,  as I picked up  ‘runs’  in  ‘book cricket’.  Reading this way was fun.

In his piece Sunil Agarwal wondered if company executives would do well to  have  appraisals of performance at  home – as spouse, parent  –  just as they have work appraisal at office.  Author Agarwal is an investment banker in Mumbai.  Akhil Shahani, born in a business family and an MBA from Kellogg’s  School of Management, writes of  the lesson he learned from failure of his software start-up.   Shahani has an ally in Sabeer Bhatia .  In this   BBC interview   (Hotmail) Bhatia  said  Indian  business community lacked the mindset to accept failure as learning experience.  In the US,  he said , business failure  was seen as a badge of honour,  something that spurs you to try again. The story of Silicon Valley has been that nine out of ten products failed,  but the one that makes it more than makes up for all earlier losses.

In the chapter – A professional Hug – interviewer  Juhi Rai Farmania,  of a corporate recruitment agency,  writes how she came to  give a hug to a job applicant at the end of the interview. I visualised in her account   a touch of  Jaadu Ki Jappi,  from the Munnabahi movie featuring Sanjay Dutt. We get to read about how  Sridhar Seshadhri  got his dream job with Facebook;  how  Sanghvi(Bali D), along with her Nishi Aunty (Nishita Garg)  opened an online library in Kolkata;  how a pipeline maintenance engineer Goutam Datta was saved by his technician from a charging bear in Orissa’s Mahargiri forest;  and how his office peon Rozario continued to hand out Christmas cake to  his office colleagues , and to  Datta even after he quit the company.

And then we have this dog-eat-dog story by media person Ingrid Albuquerque-Solomon.  As a has-been in the print media myself,  I would think media-eat-media stories are  a factor of today’s corporatized media,  in which branding and market share appears to be the driving force;  and editor is reduced to  a name that appears in the newspaper printline.  In the newspaper I used to represent the name appears in the finest of fine-print.  I wonder what Ingrid would say.  Wouldn’t it add value to the series,  if they publish a Chicken Soup for the Indian Soul in media ?

Editor of the book under review Juhi Rai Farmania says her first soup-for-soul story,  on the loss of her dear friend,  was done to share with her readers the beautiful message that changed her  relationships. This reminds me of a  ‘feel’ piece my friend  Vidya Sigamany  did on  death,   explaining why  she couldn’t bring herself to attend  the funeral of a person dear to her soul.  Sigamany’s piece –  Deepest Condolences –  would merit  inclusion in  a chicken soup book for those mourning the loss of their dear ones.

And  if Chicken soup publishers are considering language possibilities,  say a Tamil avatar ,  I would recommend as editor-contributor the likes of  Chennai-based IT professional and weekend writer LakshmiSudha (no friend of mine).  Her  writings can be accessed at Sangapalagai.  Writer  Sivasankari  comes to mind,   if  Westland-Tata wants to set up a  ‘soup-kitchen’  for the Tamil souls under Knit India’

I thank   BlogAdda ,   for  sending  the book for review  under their programme  for Book Reviews by Bbloggers.


Oprah, Rushdie rob limelight in Jaipur

Ms. Winfrey,  the one and only Oprah Winfrey,  says she was flummoxed to find that India, a country that prides itself on its close-knit families and respect for elders could also need shelters to house widows shunned by their families.  After her visit Oprah called  Maria Shriver,  and both of them  resolved to help fund the organization that runs the widows ‘shelter.

The audience applauded. The audience comprised mainly writers,  critics and other participants at the  Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).   Ms Winfrey was being interviewed for telecast by  NDTV’s  Barkha Dutt.   Viewership for the show  telecast, prime time,  was  high.  And Oprah  was at her scintillating self;  said a lot of sensible things.  Loved the show.

My issue, however, is with the Jaipur festival folk who hosted the Oprah show.  Someone  with  celebrity status such as Oprah needs no promotion; she commands media attention wherever she goes.  The same cannot be said for many others at the literature  festival who deserve to be heard by a wider audience.  I wish the organisers programmed their proceedings in ways that enable lesser known participants gain much-needed media exposure. I know,  festival organisers can turn around and say they host varied programmes . They can’t be faulted if such festival proceedings  go unnoticed in the media. Organisers cannot tell newspaper reporters  and TV channels whom or what to cover at the festival.

And the media always  goes after celebrities.  The reason why persons of social stature and celebrtiy status are invited to such events is understandable. The festival organisers need participation of the likes of Oprah and Rushdie much more than their need to participate at Jaipur.  In the process  the celebrity invitees take up virtually the entire space, and media attention,  leaving most other  participants  crowded out of the limelight.

The Oprah show at Jaipur took up media time/space that could have otherwise gone to other participants  who could do with some publicity to further their career. The factor that drives lesser known,  but promising,  writers to Jaipur is the possibility it holds for  networking and for media attention.  A person of  Oprah’s calibre and celebrity status has scores of platforms open to her. Ms Dutt could have done her interview in a studio setting.  The festival  organizers could have hosted a round-table format, with Oprah interacting with  a group of writers who deserve to be heard and seen on TV .

What dominates  media coverage at Jaipur is  the protest-reading by four writers , of passages from The  Satanic Verses,  and the controversy over the proposed  visit to Jaipur of author  Salman Rushdie.  And then we had him  announce that he wasn’t coming, after all.   Rushdie’s announcement came with a much publicised statement,  citing intelligence report that held him back from Jaipur. Apparently,  Rushdie  knows  how to gain publicity mileage  even  in absentia.

Of Team Anna and Arun Maira’s ‘fireflies’

Our industrial output,  slipping into a negative growth mode,  plunged to minus 5.1 percent in October (see headline).  The same month last year saw a robust 11.3 percent growth.  Economics alone wouldn’t  explain such  steep fall to dismal depths within a year.  Corporate leaders talk of a governance deficit.  The government (read PM),  facing the charge of  decision-making paralysis,  points to compulsions of coalition politics that resulted in the govt. having to put on hold FDI in retailing, despite a cabinet decision. Localised protests hold up commissioning of Kudamkulam nuclear power plant. Kerala and Tamil Nadu are engaged in disruptive politics over the future of Mullaiperiyar dam.  And then we have Team Anna  dictating terms to the govt. on drafting the  Lokpal Bill, and giving parliament a timeline for enactment of the Bill.

This then is the scenario in which I got to read  Arun Maira’s  ‘Transforming Capitalism.  The book’s sub-title – ‘Improving the World for Everyone‘ – sounds rather presumptuous , I thought.  But then I wouldn’t fault the author, for it is often the publisher who gives a book the title that   sells.  A  compilation of  Mr Maira’s  newspaper and magazine articles,  the book is designed to help business leaders and managers undertand the social issues they need to factor in,  while making business decision. Mr Arun  Maira,  a Planning Commission member,  has spent decades in the corporate sector –  in the Tatas and later at the Boston Consulting Group.

Transforming Capitalism‘ is the sort  of book  you choose to  read for ideas,  for professional guidance,  and for other info. of  your interest.  You don’t need to start at the beginning  ,  and plod through chapter, after chapter, to get at the guts of it , on Page 148 (as I did) . The chapters, reproduced from Mr Maira’s media writings  ,  are stand-alone pieces  that  people read on morning commute.  As the author says in the preface,  his chapters are longer than Tweets,  but they are short enough to be read during a brief plane ride. You can start anywhere, flip through chapters,  go back and forth. I did this all,  and also revisited a chapter,  in which Maira writes about  people’s movement led by Arvind Kejriwal  – Parivartan.

Reading of all  the good work he has done at Parivartan,  I couldn’t help wonder if too much TV does a person  any  good  for his  reputation or for  the cause he upholds .  Mr Kejriwal  of  Team Anna fame is all over on TV nowadays,  so much so that you can’t escape his  presence at prime-time  talk-shows,  by switching channels, unless  you switch to cartoon channel or switch off altogether.

Anyway,  even as the govt.  announced  the  date for moving the Lokpal Bill  in Lok Sabha  Anna Hazare  reiterated his threat to go on fast from December 27, if,  by then the Bill doesn’t get passed in parliament.  Team Anna may have zero trust in  govt., but their apparant intolerance with the ruling party,  and the ultimatum Anna Hazare sets for the parliament  do not set a healthy precedent  for growth of people’s movement in a democracy.

In refreshing contrast to present day,   the 2009 scenario   of   civil society awakening after RTI,  as articulated by Mr Maira in his book , appeared  conducive to the spread  of  Parivartan-type communities in various  parts of the country. The  communities were driven by  by varied causes –  provision of drinking water,  adult literacy,  village schooling,  micro-lending,  women’s issues and concerns.

Mr Maira,  terming them  ‘communities of practice’,  says the spread of such communities  would transform India from bottom up. The communities  (‘fireflies’, in Mr Maira’s book) that used the provisions of the Rights to Information Act  to help people get their dues and prevent grass-roots corruption can be connected to each other through networking, and not by hierarchies.  The  author would like to see the govt. (with its  power to facilitate ) as well as the corporates (with their  resources) stepping forward to promote a supportive framework that enables many more ‘fireflies’ to rise.  This, according to Mr Maira,  is the only way India can step up growth in a free market economy. This perceptive chapter in the book has been reprinted  from  Civil Society,  a monthly magazine.  Its publisher Umesh Anand  was the one who persuaded Mr Maira to do the book.

And I got to read Arun Maira through  this  programme of  book reviews by bloggers.  Anyone who blogs; and  has flair for books  can access Blogadda for details .

Talking books, unread & reread

The bookshelf in front of my desk has often had me  wonder,  ‘would I ever be able to read all those books  before my time is up’.  I am 73 .  Browsing the Net and channel surfing have pushed reading books to  a back-seat in my re-ordered daily routine.

My shelf has books waiting to be read.  It has part-read books bookmarked to be taken up later.  And there are the ones I gave up on after a chapter or two.  Such is my backlog of reading.

This, however, doesn’t end one’s quest for books to be read.  My current wish list includes Vinod Mehta’s Lucknow Boy, and  a pre-Jan 25  Egypt’s novel Taxi,  by Khaled Al Khamissi,  who weaves a story of despair,  poverty and hopelessness through the voices of  Cairo’s taxi drivers.  Of course, I am in no rush to get Lucknow Boy ; would rather wait for it to show up at a used-books seller’s  pavement spread . That is where you can haggle before buying. Books picked up at county  library book sales  during our periodic US trips,  account for scores of titles on my shelf.  The thing about them  is,  during closing hours of sales,  you pay only for a carry bag , and they let you take away as many titles as the $2 bag can hold.

As if I am obliged to read all books in my possession,  the unread and unfinished ones  sitting in my shelf give  me a  ‘guilt’  feeling  whenever I pick out an odd title for a re-read.  How could I go back to something I have already read,  when there is so much still to be read,  and not much time to do it in. You find an answer  in this magazine piece  by Hannah Rosefield.   Readers come in two types ,  she says – people who reread books, and  those who don’t.

A self-confessed first category person Ms Rosefield cites in her defense  Patricia Meyer Spacks’s book, On Rereading.  She is quoted as saying,  “rereading a book loved over a decade ago may provide a comforting continuity, a sense that both we and the book have remained essentially the same, but equally it can reveal how much we have changed, or how different the book is from our memory of it.  Perhaps we like it just as much, but for different reasons;  perhaps we don’t like it at all”.

Though I am not the type that rereads books, I revisit a title ,  prompted by something I watch or read about in the media. Reading  review of a  book on Eva Braun I made a mental note to look for Hitler in my shelf.  A festival screening of Trisha,  a movie adaptation of Hardy set in India,  prompts one to revisit  Tess by Thomas Hardy.

Rosefield  in the magazine piece, referring to the types of readers,  doesn’t mention the  type of people who read two or more books at any given time. I am doing three right now – An Amateur’s Attempts – a collection of blogposts and other bits by my young frind Lakshmi Bharadwaj; The Bookseller of Kabul; and a re-read of Reel Power, a book by Mark Litwak on what makes Hollywood tick.

Satyan, T S, no more

Heard about Satyan’s  demise from  his  neighbourhood  friend Mr Bapu Satyanarayana ;  shared an auto-ride with  Satyam’s long-time media colleague  Mr Krishna Vattam to his Saraswathipuram residence, Mysore , for the last glimpse of Satyan. His  mortal remains were placed for public homage on his frontyard.  Within  half hour after our arrival  he was carried away to the crematerium.

A graduate from the Maharaja’s,  of 1944  vintage,  Mr Satyan took to photography at a time when most others in his profession were not even schooled  enough to write a photo caption in grammatical English. Satyan  rose to represent Life magazine,  an odd sized and picture-filled weekly founded by Henry Luce in 1936.  As someone accredited to Life , Satyan enjoyed the status of an aristocrat among the Delhi press corps those days.  But this  photo-man from Mysore retained his common touch.

To quote him ,  “My people are not the rich and the famous; they are simple ordinary folk…..(who) were there when I picked up the camera six decades ago, and they have been there every time I have gone back to capture the interesting moments in their lives” So wrote Satyan in 2002, when his In Love with Life –  a photo journey through life –  was released.

Among numerous historic events he covered for Life,  if I remember right , was the flight of Dalai Lama from Tibet in 1959.  Among the chapters in his subsequent work – Alive and Clicking – that still sticks in my mind is  Satyan’s  account of a meeting with  Satyajit Ray  for a photo assignment ,  when Ray,  a coffee house regular, took Satyan along for meeting friends at the Calcutta Coffee House.

My association with Satyan dated back to early 60s when I was a sarkari journalist with the Press Information Bureau (PIB) in New Delhi. Despite  our gap in the pecking order in the media, Satyan always found time for a chat whenever he dropped in at my office to collect photographs of government functions and other official events handed out by the PIB photo publicity unit. He had an affinity with reporters and writers in the media.  Being a photographer with a flair for writing  Satyan practised  photo-journalism at a time when they had not invented the term – photo-journalist.
Earlier this evening as I lingered for a while  in front of his residence,  after he was gone, memories of my Satyan connection flashed through  mind.  This photo of his deserted residence may well symbolize  the end of the  Satyan chapter in the book of my life.