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.


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Talking the walk, Swapna’s Delhi Walk

When  Swapna Liddle’s  Delhi – 14 historic walks   was made available by  BlogAdda for book  review  I grabbed it because I wanted to  ‘re-visit’  Delhi; and because I believe heritage walks are not just for tourists,  but are  also for the likes of me wanting to re-discover Delhi. And here I found a historian with a doctorate in 19th century Delhi  to take me around.

Carrying,  as I do,  an emotional baggage of  having spent my college, and early working life in the city, I admit to reading  Delhi – 14 historic walks with tinted eye-glasses that had weathered 30 Delhi summers (1950-80s).  And if,  in  Liddle’s  290 pages,   I find the  book  leaves something to be desired,  it is because of my rather high expectations.  I expected the author to lead me by the hand while talking the walk,  pointing  things with anecdotes.  I expected a story-teller to bring  alive  the ruins and tombs of nawabs and other nobility with tales,  gossip and myths of their life and times.

I wasn’t totally disappointed, though.  Diwane Khas  at the Red Fort assumed a khasiat (added value) for me after reading Swapna Liddle ,  in the sense  I visualized  the emperor’s special court hall as the  spot where  Shahjahan  suffered the indignity of getting  deposed from the throne by his own son Aurangazeb.  Among other nuggets from history that Liddle weaves in her historic walks was Mehrauli’s  Metcalfe connection.  Sir Thomas Metcalfe,  British agent at the Mughal court in the 1840s, showed up as  bit of a crank in the sense that he converted the first floor of Quila Khan’s tomb in Mehrauli as a retreat.
The Qutab Minar, widely known as symbol of the Turkish conquest of northern India,  was seen by the Muslim faithful as a maznah, from where they gave the call to the faithfuls to come for prayer. Someone who could climb up the Qutab (72.5 m), and still have the stamina to call out to the faithfuls,  must have had super-human lung-power. Hogwash ?  Perhaps,  but it made an interesting read.

The book made me wonder  how Ballimaran got its name ;  I had no occasion to learn, till I read Liddle,  that  Mirza Ghalib lived in a rented haveli that belonged to a neibourhood  hakim.  And that Delhi’s St.Stephen’s College  was initially housed in a modest Chandni Chowk  house in narrow lane called  Katra Kushal Rai.

I wonder if  sarkari tourism  depts.  realise the potentials  of  city walks.  Walking tours are mainly done by  NGOs and through  individual initiatives.  I have read about some city-loving  San Francisco residents devoting their weekends to  taking interested  visitors on neighbourhood walks.  Nearer home, the walks with which I am familiar,  in Mysore and Mylapore (Chennai),  are individual initiatives.  The royal Mysore walks  is the creation of a software techie who got bitten by the walkbug in Singapore. While on assignment abroad Vinay was so taken in by the Singapore city walk  that he chose to return to  native Mysore  to start a heritage walk.  Vinay’s business model has apparantly been  successful  enough for him to start a Mysore bike tour.

I wish his success drives him enough to try out walks for other interest groups –  R K Narayan walk (of his haunts in the city),  the Maharaja’s College walk,  Kukrahalli walk (for bird-watchers),  The Mysore Banyan Walk , Mandi Mohalla or  the Agrahara walk. Speaking  agraharam,  my media friend Vincent D’Souza  has been conducting walks centred on the agraharam in Chennai’s Mylapore. 

INTACH with which the author is associated conducts the walks  she writes about in her book.  Her friend  Surekha Narain,  who acknowledges  Swapna Liddle  as a guiding force, is into conducting  Surekha Walks  devoted to the  Ghalib trail, the Pahargunj bazar, and the 1857 Mutiny walk.  I have a few walks ideas, triggered by my sense of Vintage Delhi. Would  Surekha  consider any of these ?

The Coffee-house walk:  Starts from Janpath where the original coffee-house was located. When the India Coffee Board decided to close  down  its chain of coffee-houses in 60s, their employees, left in the lurch, were backed by the Delhi coffe-house regulars to form a workers’ co-op to take over the Board abandoned coffee-houses. When they  faced eviction from  Janpath, the workers union started the search for an alternative, with  the support of coffee-house regulars –  they included artists,  academics,  poets,  journalists, politicians, lawyers,  insurance agents, and students. Among the regulars were  Inder Gujral and Young Turk  Chandra Shekar.  A joint agitation by coffee-house  regulars and workers  resulted in NDMC  allotment of open space where Thambu coffee-house came to be located .  So called because , the the coffee-house functioned under a tent.  That was the space where  Palika Bazar is now located.  The workers’  coffee-house  eventually moved to Mohan Singh Place,  still in Connaught Place (CP).

Meanwhile,  some  regulars from my time (70s-80s)  drifted away to other C P  locations such as the United Coffee House,  the Tea House in Regal Building. On a Delhi trip a while  back I discovered  a small band of old time regulars meeting  at Connaught Circus Embassy restaurant.  The group of coffee-regulars  is sustained  by my college friend  S P Dutt  (Barkha’s  dad) – we have been coffee-house regulars  since our days together in Hindu College,  till our jobs took us away from  Delhi.  I left New Delhi in early 80s, for good.  SPD, as friends call Dutt, returned to the city,   re-connected with old-time regulars after retirement,  and Embassy is where they meet nowadays.  Out-of-towners ,  like yours truly,  visiting Delhi can catch up with  S P Dutt’s group at Embassy, on weekdays –  ‘make it there,  11ish’,  as SPD would say when you call.

Karolbagh Monday market:  A weekly walk, on Monday,  holiday for  Ajmal Khan Road traders. It is  on Monday pavement hawkers of all type take over the stretch from Pusa Rd. end to the Unani hospital. The pavement close to the Gurudwara Rd. crossing on Ajmal Khan Road  would be of interest for pavement shoppers of used books.

Worship Walk, of 3 histoic temples, a gurudwara and a church. Could start from the Hanuman temple near Rivoli Cinema, Connaught Place;  walk down Irwin Rd. to  Gurdwara Rakhab Gunj;  Continue the walk upto the Gole Post office, where there is a church;  take a turn towards the Bird Rd. Kali Mandir, located on encroached pavement; and make your way to Birla temple on Mandir Marg via the heritage Gole Market.

The Mandir Marg Ridge: This walk could interest alumni of Mandir Marg schools,  notably Harcourt Butler and Madarasi.  Students living in Karolbagh used to walk to school through the ridge,  picking along the way  wild berries with sour-sweet taste,  that grew on thorny bushes.  The back-door ridge was also the escape route, notably for those who had running accounts at the Madarasi  school front  chai-samasa dukhanwala.

Delhi University Walk: For students in my times,  who did cafe-crawling before,  after,  and,  often, during class hours.  University coffee-house,  strategically located near the campus gate bus stop,  was usually the place where students started their day. From here it is a few minutes walk to the Miranda House cafe,  so named because  of its proximity to the noted women’s college hostel. And then there was Wenger’s,  an upscale cafe near the university library, conveniently located for students meeting  for ‘group study’.  After the study session at Wenger’s  day-scholars take a walk with hostellers to catch the bus home,  from the Miranda House stop. The 8 pm bus to Kashmere Gate,  Daryagunj and beyond  that passed by Miranda House was  widely known  among students as Ashiq Special. 8 p m was when the  women’s hostel gate closed for the day.

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 .

Sunitha’s TED talk

Name: Dr. Sunitha Krishnan,  40,   mental health worker.

Work :  Giving voice to the voiceless sex-abuse victims ; an identiy to these ‘Anamikas’ ; helping them build up self-confidence  Has  rescued and rehab-ed  3,200 sex-abused females, aged  from three years to 40.

Motivation :  Gang-raped by eight men when she was 16 ; ostricised by society for the next two years.

Job hazard:   Has been beaten up many times by  thugs,  pimps and brothel keepers ; one of her staff members was killed in her effort to  rescue  a sex-abused woman.

Her TED talk:  12.42 mins  indictment of  our society;  scathing commentary on victimisation of victims of sexual abuse.

Her poser:   Would we accept one of these Anamikas  into  our homes as maid, house nurse or nanny ? Would we feel comfortable with  their children playing and moving  with ours ? Till such time there are not enough of us who can say,  ‘Yes, we will’,   Sunitha feels her work wouldn’t be done.

Her wish:  Each of us talks  this through to at least two others in our family and social circle. They,  in turn, could do the same with two of their contacts.

My wish:  All TV channels,  notably,  those dedicated to religious faiths, should telecast Sunitha’s TED talk.

BBC debates gender equality

There was gender equality in its panel –  three women and as many men.  The BBC World Debate in New Delhi  focused on the question whether gender equality is achievable in work place ? Consensus  was,  ‘ yes, but not anytime soon’.

Panelists : Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi ;  ICICI Bank chief  Chanda Kochhar ;  Obama’s envoy for global women’s issues  Melanne Verveer ;  and  Suhel Seth,  said to be New Delhi’s much sought after party guest,  and,  presumably,  most-invited  TV panelist ;   Renault and Nissan CEO  Carlos Ghosn ; and show host BBC’s  Nik Gowing,  who  gave equal opportunity for them to address the issue. What they said:

Ms. Nooyi:  What do we mean by gender equality ? Is it men-women employment on  50-50 basis,  or  equal recognition of their work?  Does it refer to peer respect for women in work place? Gender equality  is hard to define. She reckoned that  in many societies women are not given a choice  to work.

Ms Kochhar:  Employers need to address issues such as  maternity benefits. This assumes importance in ICICI bank,  where  80 percent of  women employees are below 30. As a woman, and working mother,  she says she considers  it  a privilege to be able to handle both roles. It is a 24 hr. job.

Mr.Ghosn :  Gender equality entailed men sharing responsiblities on the home front as well. Why not encourage male employees to take care of baby  by granting paternity leave and other benefits ?  Yes,  gender parity is achievable in the long term.

Mr Seth:  In the long-term we are all dead. To get anywhere on gender equality we need to look at the status of women beyond their work place. Viewed in this light the issue relates to gender respect.  There can be no gender equality without a mindset change in society.

Mr Vijay Malya:  Kingfisher commemorated the International  Women’s Day with flights that had  all-women crew.  He saw it as a matter of visibility of women in male-dominent fields. He refers to car racing says it would serve as role model for others, if we can identify  a woman Formula 1 driver.

Those of us who watched the debate may not have become any wiser on the status of  gender parity.  But then it is an  issue  that perhaps  needs to be hammered in,  on an ongoing basis in seminars, workshops and  TV talk shows.

At the end of it my thoughts were : 1) Can we  think of a women who can match up  to  Suhel Seth in TV appearances  as a  stock panelist ?   Kiren Bedi, maybe  ?

2) And why can’t  BBC think of holding a gender issue debate in Saudi Arabia ?