Monday, December 11, 2017

Tao Te Ching - Lao Tzu (Translated by Arthur Waley)

81 are the principles of Lao Tzu. Tao cannot be explained and can only be experienced. The only thing is that when someone puts it across like Lao Tzu does, we can only nod in agreement if we have experienced it sometime. But if there is one thing we learn from the Tao it is that the world's principles are of seeming paradoxes. Certainly of least effort, of softness, of yielding, of weak, of being supple, of bending and bowing, of egolessness, of dignity, of beauty, of receptivity, of unity, of contentment. The symbols are of supple and weak plants, of water, of low lying lands, of empty spaces, of those who stand behind and desire no war.
Translated by Arthur Waley

"True wisdom is different from much learning
Much learning means little wisdom"

He talks of doing things without doing. Of being soft. Of bending. Of being gentle. Of not having any firm likes and dislikes. Of seeing things as they are. And buy being so, achieving all and more. Some lines that I noted down.

He who rids himself forever of desire can see the Secret Essence.

He speaks of the danger of choosing one - because it will give rise to another. When we are attached to beauty we face ugliness, when we choose virtue we encounter wickedness - better not to be attached to one.

Rule people by employing their hearts, filling their bellies, weakening intelligence, toughening sinews; make people knowledgeless and desireless."

The way is to be empty - but can draw without needing to be filled. Valley spirit never dies. Draw as much but it never dries.

Put yourself in the background but always to fore; remain outside but always be there, strive for no personal end - to ever last.

The highest good is like water - benefits all but does not scramble, content with the places that all men disdain. Profound thought, gentleness in friendship, true words, order in government and no strife.

When your work is done, then withdraw.

Rear them but do not lay claim to them, control them but never lean upon them, be chief among them but do not manage them.

It is in the space where there is nothing that the usefulness of the wheel, the house, depends. Just as we take advantage of what is, we should recognise the usefulness of what is not.

He who is dealing with the empire regards his high rank as though it were his body is the best person to be entrusted with the rule. He rules his subjects as one should love one's body.

Do not fill yourself to the brim. Then you will endure all wear and need no renewal.

Strive towards void, quietness. The root of all things is quietness. Submission to fate. He who has room for everything has no prejudice.

The sage says not a word. The work gets done. And people say it happened on its own.

It is only when one thing appears that the other arrives.

It is only when there is desire that people sway. Give them things to do, that occupy them, keep them busy.

Banish learning and there will be no grieving. 

To remain whole be twisted, 
To become straight,let yourself be bent, 
To become full, be hollow
Those that have little may get more
Those that have much are perplexed

It is by not believing in people that you turn them into liars.

The small man, a man of consequence, will not be separated from his baggage wagon
The lord of 10000 chariots allows himself to be lighter
If he is light the foundation is low
If he is active, the lord and master is lost

Perfect activity leaves no track behind it.

Return to a state of infancy, to the state of the uncarved block
The greatest carver does the least cutting

Discard the absolute, the all-inclusive, the extreme

Fulfill purpose without boasting, pride, as a step that could not be avoided, without violence

Even when he conquers, does not regard weapons as lovely things.

The uncarved block is greater than anything under heaven
Once the block is carved there will be names
As soon as there are names, it is time to stop

Understand, conquer yourself,

Being content with what you have is to be rich

Tao produces but takes no possession
By not making a show of greatness, achieves greatness

Tao is to use, not see or listen

Dim the light before it shines bright, do the opposite of what needs to be done first, soft overcomes hard, weak overcomes strong

Get things done without doing
And 10000 things are transformed

After Tao was lost came power
After power was lost came human kindness
After human kindness was lost came morality
After morality was lost came ritual
Ritual is husk
Full grown men takes his stand upon the sorted substance and not husk

Humble is the stem upon which the mighty grows

Tao - the only motion is returning, weakness is the only quality, being is the product of non-being

Great form comes without shape, great music comes with faint notes, large squares have no corners

No man of violence can come to a good end

Teaching without words, action that is actionless, few understand it

He who grudges expense pays dearest in the end
He who has hoarded most will suffer the heaviest loss
Be content with what you have, none can despoil you
Who stops in time, nothing can harm

The most perfect seems to have something missing but works perfectly
Most full seems empty but never fails
Most straight seems crooked
Great skill appears clumsy
Staying still overcomes heat
Limpid calm puts everything right

No lure greater than to possess what others want
No disaster greater than not to be content with what one has
No presage of evil greater than that men should be wanting to get more

He who has once known the contentment that comes simply through being content, will never again be otherwise than contented

The further one travels, the less one knows
The sage arrives without going, sees without looking
Does nothing, achieves everything

Tao consists in subtracting day by day
Till one has reached inactivity
By this inactivity, everything can be activated

No heart of his own, the heart of the people as his heart
Good and bad he approves, and thus he gets goodness
For the world's sake, he dulls his wits
Seems dazed with fright

He who aims at life achieves death
He who has a true hold on life is not touched by animals or weapons, has no death spot

Rear but do not claim, content without leaning, be chief without managing

Strength means holding on to what is weak
An infant has the highest power, soft bones, strong grip
But to fill life to the brim is to invite omens,
Vigour invites decay

Those who know do not speak, who speak do not know

Do nothing, and people transform
In inactivity, people become prosperous
I have no wants, people return to the uncarved block

When the ruler looks depressed, people are happy and satisfied
Upon bad fortune, good fortune leans
Sage squares without cutting, gives light without shining

Running a large kingdom is like cooking small fish

A large kingdom must be like the low ground towards which all streams flow. The point where all things converge. Must be the female and get underneath to conquer the male. Large kingdoms needs inhabitants. Small kingdoms need some place to send surplus inhabitants

Tao is like the south west corner of the house, the treasure of the good man

Everything difficult must be dealt with when easy, when small

Deal in state of not-yet-being, put in order before confusion

He who acts harms, who grabs, lets up

Heed the end no less than the beginning
And your work will not be spoiled 

The more knowledge people have, the harder they are to rule
Those who rule without giving knowledge bring a stock of good fortune to the land

In order to be above, speak as though you are lower to the people

Only he that pities is truly brave,
Only he who is frugal is profuse
Only he who refuses to be foremost is capable of being the Chief of Ministers

The best charioteer does not rush ahead
The best fighters do not make a display of their wrath
The greatest conqueror wins without joining issue
The best user of men acts as if he were their inferior
This is the power of not contending

It is he who does not delight in war that wins

When you doubt your ability to meet the enemy's attack, take the offensive yourself. 
If you doubt your ability to advance an inch, then retreat a foot

To know when one does not know is best
To think one knows when one does not know is a dire disease
Only he who recognises this disease as a disease
Can cure himself of the disease
The Sage's way of curing the disease
Also consists in making people recognise their diseases as diseases and thus ceasing to be diseased

If you do not harass people they will not turn away form you
Know your value, but do not place yourself high

Conquer without striving, get answers without speaking, get things without beckoning
Coarse are the meshes but nothing slips through

He who tries to do the master carpenter's chipping will most likely cut his hand

People starve because people above them eat too much
People are difficult to keep in order because those above them interfere
People attach no importance to death because those above them are too grossly absorbed in the pursuit of life

When he is born, man is soft and weak: is death he becomes stiff and hard 
When things are alive they are supple and soft, but when they are dead, they become brittle and dry
What is stiff and hard is companion of death
The hard and mighty are cast down; the soft and weak are set on high.

Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water
But when it attacks things hard and resistant there is not one of them that can prevail
The yielding conquers the resistant and the soft conquers the hard

It is Heaven's way, without distinction of persons, to keep the good perpetually supplied.

True words are not fine sounding, 
Fine sounding words are not true 
The good man does not prove by argument
And he who proves by argument is not good
True wisdom is different from learning
Much learning means little wisdom

For Heaven's way is to sharpen without cutting
And the Sage's way is to act without striving

My big lessons. About spending. About weakness. About softness. Read and reread. It's a never ending story. But more importantly, practice. Tao is not to listen and see, but to be.

Anjali- Sudha Murty-The Magic of the lost temple.

This book was a birthday present from my best friend.It is based about a citygirl from Bangalore.
Anoushka aka Nooni is a brave,courageous but simple girl. She has to stay with her Ajja  and  Ajji in their village  for her summer vacations.She learns bicycling,trekking and other things you could do only in a village with the help of Amit,Anand,Medha and the young college boy- Mahadeva.

After a few days when Nooni begs for a story, Ajji tells her one about King Somanayaka and the magic stepwell. Almost the next day ,Nooni along with her friends discover remains of the step well. As excited as Nooni, her grandparents inform the whole village. Shankar Master, Hanume gowda (head of the village panchayat) and Ajja plan it all out. The digging,the calling of certain people,the rules for the stepwell etc. With the help of Abdul Rasheed, a friend of Nooni's dad  they dig out the stepwell.

A fun book. All children must read it. :) 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Dazed and Confused - Movie Review

It's 1993. It's Linklater. The movie is about the last day of school in 1976. Issues the teenagers had then - coach of the football team wants players to sign a commitment that they will not do drugs or alcohol etc, parties, girls, sex, rules, rebellion etc.

The day starts with the school closing for summer. The seniors have a practice of ragging freshmen - some more seriously than the others. The freshmen are running for cover. Seniors have their own issues. The party house gets busted because the parents get wind of it. A run in with cops, some breaking of the law, some fights, some broken hearts, some new romances. And all the time there play the 1970s hit songs for Led Zeppelin to Nazareth to Alice Cooper to Kiss to ZZ Top.

And if that was not enough well there is Mathew McConaughey, Ben Affleck, Renee Zelleweger etc who were  all a bunch of nobodys then. In that one day Linklater gives a pretty good idea of what society was like then and that makes for good cinema in my book.

Anjali - The Danger of Labels

We were discussing something about dog food today. Anjali told some story about how two guys ate dog food and survived. I told her of how Pedigree, the dog food, was good enough to eat - when we did a program for Mars they has actually invited us to the plant and to eat the dog food.

'Once we give a name it changes everything,' she said.

'Labels,' pondered Shobha.

'If it was not called dog food people would probably eat it like they would eat McDonalds or something,' said Anjali.

Wow! That's a bit thing to discover. That labels are so restricting. That they change our perception and they change our actions.

And just this evening I was reading the 'Tao Te Ching' and there is a line which goes something like, the moment it is called something is the time when you must stop doing whatever you are doing, because you are stuck with the label and it straitjackets you.

"The uncarved block is greater than anything under heaven
Once the block is carved there will be names
As soon as there are names, it is time to stop"

Good for you Anjali. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Wings of Fire -APJ Abdul Kalam with Arun Tiwari

Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam lived an admirable life. For someone who is not a film star, a sportsman or even a controversial politician, with such humble beginnings, a Muslim in a country that has always been torn apart by religious, communal and caste lines, rose above all and entered the hearts of all Indians. His field - boring and not-understood by the common man - science. Clearly what APJ achieved was for what his life stood for. Integrity, simplicity, compassion, humanity, inclusivity and a passion for excellence. Not many in India will check all boxes today - which is what makes APJ Kalam the ideal role model for any young Indian. (True to his trademark humility he also writes - I am no role model)
Universities Press, Rs. 250, 180 p

'Wings of Fire' is co-written by Arun Tiwari, APJ Kalam's associate during his stint in Hyderabad at the DRDL and is pretty much an account of his life, more so in the scientific arena where he, under the guidance of and along with great stalwarts like Prof. Vikram Sarabhai, Prof. Satish Dhawan, Prof. Brahm Prakash and others worked on the Indian space program and the missile program - with indigenously grown technology. The boy from the small town of Rameshwaram, belonging to a Muslim family, son of the wise Jainulabdeen, grew up, bred on the rustic yet worldly wisdom of his elders which he carried all his life. The famous story of his father and his close friend Lakshmana Sastry, priest of the famous Shiva temple has been written about much. The Muslim and Hindu, would have many a discussion on religion and custom and their children grew up together, went to school together. APJ's father was a man who, through his prayer, gave solace to many - people would come to him with bowls of water after he prayed in the mosque and he would dip his hands in them. The water would be given to the sick. Their house also fed many and turned away none. The parents were often called an ideal couple.

His father's words on prayer - "When you pray, you transcend the body and become part of the cosmos, which knows no distinction of wealth, age, caste or creed.' It's the best line on prayer I have read yet.

Or "In his own time, in his own place, in what he really is, and in the stage he has reached - good or bad - every human being is a specific element within the whole of the manifest divine Being. So why be afraid of difficulties, sufferings and problems? When troubles come, try to understand the relevance of your sufferings. Adversity always presents opportunities for introspection."

Or "One must understand the difference between a fear-ridden vision of destiny and the vision that enables us to seek the enemy of fulfillment within ourselves.'

His friend and later brother in law, Ahmed Jallaluddin, who was older to him by 15 years, encouraged him to excel in his studies, and was a big influence on him. So was Samsuddin, his first cousin and sole distributor of newspapers in Rameswaram. He also gave him his first job in his newspaper business. Some wonderful insight into the kind of people who lived in those times were of Lakshmana Sastry who admonished a teacher for separating the Muslim boy from his son Ramanadha Sastry in class and of Sivasubramaniam Iyer, an orthodox brahmin, who invited Kalam home for a meal and invited the wrath of his orthodox wife. But he was bent on making a change and the next time Kalam went home, she served him herself - the change had begun - of true wisdom, of equality and inclusivity of all God's creations. And today we have some Hindus who under the garb of religion and tradition do not hesitate to kill a Muslim or a low caste person and worse, is tacitly encouraged by the people in power who neither take action nor speak about it.

Kalam moved from Rameswaram to Ramanathapuram and enrolled in the Schwartz High School. "Does the seagull not fly across the Sun, alone and without a nest? You must forego your longing for the land of your memories to move into the dwelling place of your greater desires; our love will not bind you nor will our needs hold you." So said Jainulabdeen and bid him on. I wish many parents would have the strength to do that. I wish that I had the strength to do that when I was younger too.
At school he was influenced by teachers with broad minds and genuine love for students and the art of teaching. Iyadorai Solomon, his teacher told him that everything he wanted could happen if he desired it intensely and was absolutely certain that it would happen. "To succeed in life and achieve results, you must understand and master three mighty forces - desire, belief and expectation.'..'With faith, you can change your destiny." APJ, who had a childhood dream of flying, did finally become the first person from Rameswaram to fly a plane.

Then APJ moved to Tricy to St. Joseph's College. He says 'I was not a bright student in terms of marks but had a practical bent of mind. Here he developed a taste in English literature but more interestingly his two science teachers Prof. Chinna Durai and Prof. Krishnamurthy introduced him to the wonders of physics. "Science has always been the path to spiritual enrichment and self-realisation.' From St. Joseph's to the Madras Institute of Technology was the next step and he as financed by his sister Zohara who mortgaged her bangles and chain. At MIT he came under the guidance of Prof Sponder, Prof Pandalai and Prof Narsingha Rao all of whom influenced him. After MIT he applied for two jobs - one in the IAF at Dehradun and another in DTD&P at Delhi. APJ wanted the former, did not succeed, and secured the later. India probably benefited from that failure.

In his meeting with Swami Sivananda, after one of his greatest disappointments at not being selected for the Air Force, he learns that
"Desire, when it stems from the heart and spirit, when it is pure and intense, possesses awesome electromagnetic energy. this energy is released into the ether each night, as the mind falls into the sleep state. Each morning it returns to the conscious state reinforced with the cosmic currents. That which has been imaged will surely and certainly be manifested. You can rely, young man, upon this ageless promise as surely as you can rely upon the eternally unbroken promise of sunrise...and of spring."

Having decided to create his own opportunities APJ forged on. In the Directorate (DTD&P) he was posted to Civil Aviation and sent to Kanpur and later to ADE, Bangalore. There APJ was given charge of a hovercraft kind of a ground equipment machine (GEM) which he brought to a good stage. 'Nandi', the prototype, was flown by him with Defence Secretary Krishna Menon. Unfortunately Nandi was shelved but a bigger opportunity came up. He was called for the post of a rocket engineer by the INCOSPAR (Indian Committee for Space Research) where he met Pof Vikram Sarabhai. The team set up a Rocket Launching Station in Thumba in Kerala, inside a large church which was given by the church authorities. A stint at NASA - which included a visit to a NASA base had a painting prominently displayed in the reception lobby - that f Tipu Sultan's army fighting the British with indigenously developed rockets! Tipu had 700 rockets and subsystems of 900 rockets and his army had rocket men, when he was captured.

On innovation APJ says "You cannot expect a person to deliver results if you humiliate him, nor can you expect him to be creative if you abuse him or despise him.'

India's first rocket launch (of NASA make) happened in 1963 from that church. "Rocketry was reborn in India (from Tipu's days) thanks to the technological vision of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.'

APJ quoted from Kahlil Gibran - 'Bread baked without love is a bitter bread that feeds but half a man's hunger.' Mindfulness.

He speaks of Prof Vikram Sarabhai's leadership skills - where he would make every man party to the decisions, would challenge every person to their limits, praise whatever was accomplished even in failure and reassigned when things got difficult. He backed young experimenters and preferred them to established experts. With his guidance APJ moved into the making of a Rocket Assisted Take off system for military aircraft to help in areas with short runways. An indigenous one was developed. Then the Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV) was conceived and the Sriharikota Rocket Launch station was born. Sometime after that Prof Sarabhai died. An extraordinary man, industrialist, scientist and a visionary leader.

Then came the time of the SLV and the leadership of Prof Satish Dhawan and Prof Brahm Prakash. APJ was made Project Director of SLV.  APJ, visualised his team to be a group where each member worked to enrich the others in the team and experience the enjoyment of working together (as against a 'work' or 'workers' first approach).

APJ's time management principle
"During a morning stroll of 2km I used to prepare a general schedule and emphasise two or three things I would definitely like to accomplish during the day, including at least one thing that would help achieve long term goals. Once in office I would clean the table. Scan all papers and divide them into different categories - immediate action, low priority ones, ones that could be kept pending and reading material.  Then I would put the high priority papers in front of me and everything else out of sight."

On Project Management
"We learned the hard way that project management is about achieving a regular and efficient interfacing between the different individuals and work centres. Hard work can be set at nought in the absence of proper coordination."

To modify and paraphrase Dr. von Braun a bit
"Hard work is not enough. Not only do you have to have a goal but you have to have strategies to achieve it as fast as possible. Total commitment is not just hard work, it is total involvement. But if you have a vision along with the hard work you have more than just hard work. Its is the goal that makes the difference. Make your profession your religion, your mission.'

APJ again
"Total commitment is a crucial quality for those who want to reach the very top of their profession."

"Flow is a sensation we experience when we act with total involvement. Actions need no consciousness intervention. There is no hurry, no distracting demands on one's attention. The past and the future disappear."

Somewhere in the middle of all this, the SLV 3, under his guidance, crashed into the sea in 1979. After recovering from the debacle and with the support of his superiors, the team finally launched the SLV3 in July 1980. India had joined a small group of nations with satellite launch capability. Prof Satish Dhawan announced that India was ready to explore space. A Padmashri and a Padmabhushan were awarded. APJ remembers his team and their commitment through injuries, danger, his mentors and expresses his gratitude to all. He relates it here.

Then he moved to DRDL, Hyderabad.

A nice quote
"You have to dream before your dreams can come true. Some people stride towards whatever it is that they want in life; others shuffle their feet and never get started because they do not know what they want - and do not know how to find it either.'- Prof Satish Dhawan

With support from the Indian government the team worked on an integrated guided missile development program. The program developed Prithvi, Trishul, Agni.

"God can do tremendous things through the person who doesn't care about who gets the credit. The ego involvement should go. Before God trusts you with success, you have to prove yourself humble enough to handle the big prize." - Schuller

"The trouble is that we often merely analyse life instead of dealing with it."

'Motive is a force which is internal to the individual and forms the basis of his behavior in the work environment.'

 In 1989 the missile was launched successfully. APJ was conferred the Padma Vibhushan and then the Bharat Ratna. Someplace towards the end he speaks about his dream of wanting to start a small school for the underprivileged children.

There are many more quotes and ideas presented beautifully in the book with the kind of a clarity one would associate with a man of such high achievement and stature. What comes across clearly is that APJ was what he was because of his innate compassion, gratitude, diligence, integrity, hard work, clarity of purpose, a learning mindset and a zeal to be the instrument for God's purpose. From his early reverence to his mentors and gurus to his superiors and colleagues, he takes the best part of them. It is astounding to see what he has achieved and what he has enabled in a lifetime. His ideas of leadership are exactly what Collins said in 'Good to Great' - the Level 5 leader. His comeback after his many failures paved the way for bigger successes in other areas. Without doubt, the kind of a leader who can find a place among common people because he represents love, he represents what we all would like to be.

Another book that Anjali put on my desk to read. At this rate, I will be reading more of her books than what's on my list. One of the most inspiring books I have read. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Bangalore Book Event -This Way Is Easier Dad

Please come.

See you on the 16th December,
Sapna Book House,
Near Brigade Road Junction
Residency Road.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Shashi Kapoor - Memories

He was never as hot as Amitabh was in our growing up days - but somehow he always had this nice guy thing about hi, Something that became bigger after he died - perhaps because we live in times like this when good guys are not given a thought to. But its surprising to see such a genuine outpouring of emotion for Shashi Kapoor - from the common movie goes like me - to his pals. I read an account of him by Farrukh Engineer who apparently went to school with Shashi (both charmers, and both looked alike), one by Simi Garewal (who says he was the only one who had the savoir faire to hold his own internationally - from the wines to the food to impeccable table manners) to an account by Shashi's late wife Jennifer Kendall's sister (she wrote of how shy, introverted and diffident Shashi was, and poor at that time, as he worked at Geoffrey Kendall's drama troupe 'The Shakesperians' and how badly Geoffrey behaved with Shashi Kapoor who bore it all). Shashi and Jennifer's was a lifetime love story. Jennifer kept him on a strict diet which was the secret of his dapper looks and fit physique and after she died of cancer Shashi let go and gained a lot of weight.

Simi says Shashi was one guy against whom no one in the film industry spoke badly about and despite never seen or met him, I can imagine. There was an openness in his eyes that perhaps conveyed that. Rishi's eyes do not convey that straighforwardness nor do Raj Kapoor's for all their roles of innocence.

'Deewaar' takes the cake as Shashi holds his own against Amitabh as the good guy who sticks to the straight and narrow and stays with Mom. The incredibly popular dialogue of 'meri paas maa hai' comes across with the right amount of uncertainty and confidence. There was 'Kalyug' where he plays the role of Karna and gets killed in an accident while changing the car tyre. There were several other movies too, notably one that I saw recently which he acted as an old nawab in a Merchant Ivory film - he had gained much weight but then the acting of an ageing and poverty ridden nawab was effortless.

Mostly I will remember Shashi Kapoor for being the hero in the one song I can sing fully and sing unabashedly. Saari Khushiyaan Hain... which is shot in a fashion I could not comprehend but just glad to have hear that song. I picked it off an old 45 rpm record at home, for some reason learned the lyrics and started singing it passionately for many years whenever I was asked to sing. Then I discovered it on YouTube and here it is. From 'Suhana Safar' in 1970.  Brings back memories of a time unpolluted - air, thoughts, people etc.

For a nice guy, for all things gentle and soft.