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.


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 .

They battled for Mumbai

Those seeking to keep non-Maharashtrians out of Mumbai would do well to remember their contribution in battling terrorists at the Taj and elsewhere in Mumbai.  So says blogger Abraham Tharakan in a recent post. The point cannot be over-stressed; needs to be plugged in by other bloggers, the media, the chat-show hosts, and public-interest ad sponsors.

Maj. Sandeep Unnikrishnan, who truly needs no introduction to Mumbaikars, was Keralite raised in Bangalore; he had served in J & K, was stationed in Delhi; and gave his life for Mumbai.

Havildar Gajendar Singh who lost his life engaging a grenade-lobbing militant at Nariman House hailed from Dehradun.

Havildar Azad Singh, NSG, involved in the shoot-out that killed two terrorists at the Taj,  was no Mumbaikar. Nor was commando Rameswaran who took care of the third one gunned down at the Taj.  

The sight of a ravaged Taj wouldn’t let Mumbai people forget the terror attack, for months to come. What must be remembered as well is that among those who put their lives on the line for Mumbai were many who didn’t belong to Maharashtra.

Nano’s ‘no,no’ to West Bengal

So Tatas have moved on,leaving West Bengal to pick up the pieces in Singur. News is Nano may well roll out of the relocated plant in Gurarat by the end of 2008. And West Bengal may well have its growth clock set back by a decade or more. Can anyone with investment in mind be expected to opt West Bengal after seeing what the Tatas had to go through in Singur?

Mamata Banerjee, by ‘pulling the trigger’ as Ratan Tata put it, may have scored a political point. The Trinamool Congress supremo, unrepentent, and still on a protest mode, is crying ‘state-sponsored terrorism’;she has cautioned chief minister Buddhadeb Battacharjee not to ‘play with fire’.The chief minister, on his part, accuses the opposition of being ‘very, very irresponsible’. He claims his government has lost a battle, but not the war.

Not the kind of political rhetoric that inspires investor confidence, does it? The message Mamata sends out to potential investors is, no matter who is in power, those who wish to do business in West Bengal would need to do a deal with her.

Mamata and the environmental activists promoting, what Alka Sehgal terms, ‘romanticised images of rural life’ would have one believe that the Singur farmers who sold/lost thier small holdings had little to gain from the compensation package, or benefit from urbanised growth the Nano car plant would bring to their area. Ms Sehgal, writing in a web magazine Spiked , cites business columnist Gurcharan Das as saying, ‘the real question is whether Indians want to remain starving peasants or become part of an urban proletariat.’

Not a particularly inviting choice, is it, considering that one could argue equally persuasively against either option. But the immediate question that stares at Singur farmers after the Tatas pullout is, WHAT NEXT?. One farmer, who had willingly given up land for the plant, told the media: ‘Can any of the opposition leaders tell us what we do now?’ He might as well bang his head at a brick wall.

For the way we practice democracy doesn’t provide for politicians’ accountablity for the socio-economic damage they cause by agitations to further their political agenda. Law makers would do well to consider bringing in legislation banning agitations against any project that is past the ‘commitment’ stage. Such ban would however not preclude a judicial review or litigation pursued in public interest.

It is said that West Bengal’s loss is Gujarat’s gain. Neither can be said to be a winner insofar as the Nano pull-out set off an unseemly scramble among states, vying with one another to attract the Tatas. Potential investors, on their part, tend to shop for concessions and privileges in excess of the declared industrial policy of a state. The project goes to the highest bidder, not necessarily the most deserving one. Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi is charged by the opposition Congress with ‘a sell-out’, and making ‘secret’ deal with the Tatas.

Politically motivated ? Sure, but such charges, even if unfounded, seek to create public suspicion and to undermine a government’s integrity. The ultimate loser is India.The circumstances that led to the relocation of Nano project doesn’t enhance the country’s image among foreign investors. They don’t help us project India as a preferred FDI destination.