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How To read A Book- The Classic Guide to Intelligent Reading – By Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren

Mark Twain once said, “A person who does not read good books is no different from a person who cannot read them.” In this age of information overload where what’s app, blogs, magazines and newspapers are vying to catch the reader’s attention are we more knowledgeable and wiser than our ancestors? Most of us would reply in the affirmative. We may have more information of things around us but more knowledgeable may be a bit debatable.

Late Dr. Gopal Valecha was an Industrial Psychologist and a renowned trainer. While attending his training program in 1997 he narrated an interesting anecdote. After completing his Ph. D. at Iowa State University his guide asked him what can Gopal term as his major accomplishment? He said that from then onwards he can put ‘Dr.’ behind his name. His guide replied, “More than that you will understand how to read a book.” I found that statement a bit weird but around 7 years later I could understand the significance of that statement. Not that I did my Ph. D. but came across a book titled How to Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren.

It was first published in 1940 and later on got translated into French, German, Swedish, Spanish and Italian.  After reading this classic of 426 pages, I was shocked to know my limitations in reading. Montaigne speaks of “an abecedarian ignorance that precedes knowledge and a Doctoral ignorance that comes after it.” The first is the ignorance of those who, not knowing their ABCs cannot read at all. The second is the ignorance of those who have misread many books. One of the errors is to assume that to be widely read and well read are the same thing. The book is divided into four parts:

Part I – The Dimensions of Reading: This covers the first two levels of reading viz. the Elementary Reading and the Inspectional Reading. Elementary reading is more to do with grammar, syntax, sentence construction etc. which is generally covered in school.

Inspectional Reading involves skimming or pre-reading. This will help you decide whether you really want to read a book, and whether it requires analytical reading. Time being the major constraint and a number of books needing your attention, inspectional reading helps you make that critical decision. Inspectional reading should not involve more than 15-20 mins. It includes reading the blurb, the preface, and scanning the book to see illustrations, tables to get an overall feel of the book.

Part II – The Third Level of Reading: The Analytical Reading is the complete and thorough reading which requires maximum effort. Inspectional reading is the best option when you have limited time, whereas analytical reading is apt when you have adequate time. Francis Bacon once remarked, “most of the books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and a few to be thoroughly chewed and digested.” Remember analytical reading is primarily for the sake of understanding.

Ponder over a title to understand the classification. A title as well as the subtitle conveys vital information about the book.  A group of 25 reasonably well-read people were asked to name the book which shot Charles Darwin to fame.  Darwin is known for his Theory of Evolution and the participants guessed the book as The Origin of the Species. Having not read the book, they assumed that the book must be about the development of human species. Actually, the title of the book is The Origin of Species and discusses the proliferation of the natural world of the great number of plants and animals from a small number of species.

The evolution of human race from apes has been covered by Darwin in The Descent of Man. Title  and preface are generally ignored by the readers  as they are  perceived being insignificant from the angle of classifying a book.

Part III – Approaches to Different Kinds of Reading: This part contains seven chapters which include reading of practical books, imaginative literature, history, Science and Mathematics, Philosophy and social sciences. One chapter is devoted for reading of stories, plays and poems.

Part IV – Fourth Level of Reading, The Syntopical Reading: When you are carrying out a research on a topic and know very well that one book is not sufficient, you need to refer a number of books on the same topic or related topics. You can either devise a bibliography of the number of titles available on the subject or scan few books at random.

Let us say your research topic is: Have the economic reforms really benefitted the country? In such a case you need to refer books not only from economists like Getting India Back on Tracks by Bibek Debroy, An Uncertain Glory by Jean Dreze etc. but also the biographies of Narasimha Rao and Dr. Manmohan Singh. The other purpose is you need to look at different perspectives of the topic. You may read the complete book or you may read only the specific topic. In case of syntopical reading, the emphasis is more on the reader’s priority than on the book.

To enhance the reading competency, a reading list of 150 books has been recommended which include works of Greek philosophers like Socrates, Plato, Essays of Francis Bacon, Voltaire, novels like Don Quixote, Karl Marx’s Das Capital etc. Exercise and tests to understand the four levels of reading are also provided. The book provides intellectual satisfaction on the pleasures of reading.


Reason and Excuse: The Crucial Difference

Amit, a participant who had attended my sales training program around four years back called me over phone two days back.

A: Sir, I am working for a small  Indian company selling Test and Measuring Instruments (TMI) What is the secret that our competitors, the giant multinational companies, go on consistently getting orders from customers beating us all the time? I know they have technically superior products. But are their sales engineers likewise?

I: Amit: such companies not only have a good product range but also have a systematic sales and a training process.

A: Now I understand why the salespeople from MNCs are so good.

I: But is that your real question? What is bothering you?

A: My main worry is, how do I improve my order booking performance? I am not sure of my job in these difficult times.

I: what is the reason?

A: I come from small town called Akola, working in a company which does not have a great brand. On top of that, our company does not spend much on training either. I am so passionate about attending training programs and learning new things.

I: You said you have attended my training program four years back. After attending did you ever felt like clarifying your doubts or getting new insights from the trainer?

A: No sir, I was extremely busy with my work.

I: Did you ever get time to refer to the course material?

A: No sir.

I: You said, your company does not believe in training, but you have attended my program.

A: Yes sir, that was an exception.

I: If I am not mistaken, along with the course material, I had presented a copy of my book Contextual Selling?

A: Yes Sir, I have started reading the book now. It is quite interesting.

I: After four years?

A: Now I am having some time. All these days there was absolutely no time.

I: Did you pay for the training program?

A: No sir, the training program was sponsored by the company, and the course material as well as the book was a part of it.

I: So you did not buy the book either!

A: Sir that is OK, being from a small town, I have an inherent disadvantage compared to my counterparts from competition who are from metros. They have all the exposure and opportunities.

I: Out of the three legendary Khans in Bollywood, who have the advantage of lineage and pedigree?

A: Obviously it is Amir and Salman.

I: Anyone who did not have such an advantage while entering the industry?

A: I think it was a Shahrukh.

I: Any other examples you can think of who have made it big and carved out a niche?

A: Irrfan Khan, what a great actor he was!

I: Anybody beyond the Khans?

A: I think of Nawazuddin Siddiqi, Ayushman Khurana etc.

I: You said you belonged to a small town which was your main disadvantage. Can you think a of a cricketer from a small town and still made it big?

A: Is it Dhoni from Ranchi?

I: You are right. Which year did you complete your engineering?

A: In 2008.

I: Did you attend any training programs or self-development activities for the last 10 years?

A: No

I: Did anyone prevent you from attending such programs?

A: No. But I feel training the executives should be the responsibility of the company.

I: Why?

A: Ultimately it helps to reach the company goals.

I: Do you have monthly, quarterly, and annual targets?

A: Yes.

I: Do you deserve to get your commission, incentive or bonus (whatever is applicable) if you were to reach your targets?

A: Certainly

I: Do you feel good quality training can help you improve your sales. Negotiation and communication skills?

A: Yes.

I: Amit, in that case, can you see that you also need to take responsibility for your development.

A: I can see your point.

I: Let us look at a concept of Locus of Control.

Locus of control states that the degree of stress perceived by a person depends on the control (or the lack of it) that he/she has on the situation. The cause of the stressor may be seen as stable or unstable, global or specific, and internal or external.

1.Stable and Unstable causes are enduring and temporary, respectively. My competition is always going to have an upper hand is an example of stable interpretation.

2. Global and Specific causes are relevant to many events or to a single occasion, respectively. E.g. Competition products are technically superior, is an example of global interpretation.

3. Internal or External causes indicate personal characteristics and behaviors or the result of environmental forces, respectively. E.g. I feel inferior because I am from a small town and not trained is an example of internal representation.

The more stable and global the cause of a stressor seems, the more people feel and behave as though they are helpless. Likewise, the more internal the cause of a stressor seems, the worse people feel about themselves. Together, these feelings and behaviors contribute to a depressive reaction to the stressor. Let us look at an example:

It is not advisable to take either of the extreme positions (Global or Specific, Stable or Unstable etc.) but should be treated as a continuum where a combination of both can be thought of.

Test & Measuring Instruments (TMI) range consists of products like Oscilloscopes, Logic Analyzers, Protocol Analyzers, Signal Generators etc. TekEdge was considered as a market leader in TMI in general and Oscilloscopes in particular. There was a small company called Le Croy which had some unique offerings in Protocol Analyzers.  However the company was much smaller to TekEdge. Analogous to David Vs Goliath battle, the Le Croy engineers while making an offer used to intentionally keep their price low vis-à-vis TekEdge offer.

A new manager called Santosh wanted to question the Global paradigm of TekEdge being superior in all respects. To one of his clients, he quoted a price which was $1000 more than the competition. When the customer questioned Santosh’s logic, he said, “even though my competition is big in the overall TMI market, my company has a unique advantage in the niche Protocol Analysers segment which is tailormade to your application.  Santosh changed his paradigm from Global to Specific and was able to close the order with a premium.

Another example: consider a  case where a  guy’s girlfriend breaks up with him and he thinks that his love life is always in the dumps (i.e., a stable interpretation), that nobody really cares about him (i.e., a global interpretation), and that he must not be a dateable guy (i.e., an internal interpretation). Such an interpretation could contribute to a depressive reaction, such as him coming to the conclusion that he might as well not try because there is nothing he can do about it and that he is pretty much a lost cause.

I: I hope you might have understood the concept of Locus of Control and that your interpretation (of your competition, your company, customers and yourself) being stable, global & internal was causing you considerable stress. Would you agree with that?

A: Yes.

I: I shall ask you three simple questions, One, what was your original problem?

A: Sir, my original or the surface problem was: What makes the sales engineers from competition so successful?

I: What was the actual or the fundamental problem beneath the surface problem?

A: How should I improve my performance?

I: What is the root cause?

A: I am lazy. What I felt as genuine reasons were excuses. I need to take responsibility for my development.

As human beings we go on telling a number of lies to others, but rarely do we recognize the lies we tell ourselves!

Rajan Parulekar,,

Participant Feedback for Stress Management Program

  1. The impact of program was so much on me that I stopped worrying too much from the time I came out of The Times of India Building and concentrated on living in the present moment. – Periyaswami , Regional Sales Manager, Fronius India, Bangalore
  2. Keeping Expectations too much is not healthy and one should know his/her capacity before expecting too much.  Ramprasad, Director -Lakshmi Vacuum Treatment, Bangalore
  3. We are getting good feedback from our managers and some of them are requesting to conduct such programs for their teams. – Rajeev Tyagi, COO, Metrohm India, New Delhi
  4. The concept of energy wheel and using hobby as a rejuvenator of energy will be implemented in practical situations sir. Thanks for your inputs. – Seetharam, Sah, DGM – BEML. KGF -Karnataka
  5. We have to reduce the expectations  because expectations reduce joy in life.  We have to accept the situation as it is. We have to find out stressors in our life and a way to overcome it. – Savita Bhide, homemaker, Mumbai
  6. The wisdom wheel was very useful; we also need to know and differentiate what we can control and what we can’t and then figure out how can we make better of things we can’t control and accept things we can’t change. – Paritosh Saha – Engineering Head, Star TV Mumbai
  7. You have given a mantra to face any challenge , ‘This too shall pass’ is indeed very powerful. -Bindesh Singh, IT Project Manager, Indian Railways, Mumbai
  8. The energy wheel with four quadrants is interesting. It will help us to help us understand where we stand and where we can go, for example boredom can lead us to creativity. – Sai Pradeep, GM Axon Interconnect Bangalore
  9. The key takeaways are: when to say NO, how much additional tasks you can take and check for alternatives. – Jay Shah, Program Manager, CS Systems , Mumbai
  10. Rajan’s excellent oratory skills and well articulated steps to manage stress are indeed helpful. Better to attend such sessions again and again to gain new insights and revise old sessions. – Madhuri Pradhan, Homemaker, Thane
  11. Overthinking negative thoughts about things not in our direct control can be detrimental to us. The present intensive lockdown has given us a lot of extra time. However, we have to fill it with useful activities. As they say, an empty mind is a devil’s workshop.                                                                                                                         I would like to create a daily routine for myself, with both personal and professional goals, which would be a mix of work, physical exercises, helping out with cleaning the house and cooking and a limited amount of social connectivity  (like engaging with school mates, friends, cousins etc. over video calls). I feel this is important to stay positive, get over the confinement fatigue and keep myself cheerful and constructively engaged until things return to some normalcy          – – -C.S.Ramachandran- Service Manager, Metrohm India

Behavioral Dynamics of Personal Selling

To understand the salespeople’s attitudes and beliefs towards salesmanship; a questionnaire used to be administered during the Sales Training program commencement. One of the questions said, ‘In a sales call who should talk more? Customer or the Salesperson?’ Majority of them voted for the latter. In a sample size of 285 participants, around 78% participants responded that they feel that they speak for 80% or more during a sales call.

The interesting part was the above statement was perceived by the group as a positive correlation to sales success.  When probed deeper about the reasons for dominating the conversations the answers given by the group were:

  1. To Engage with the customer
  2. To educate the customer.
  3. As I know more about my products, I have to talk more.
  4. To beat the competition.
  5. To close the order fast.
  6. As the time given by customer is very short, I have to speak as much as possible.

After taking the groups through a psychological process called Cognitive Dissonance, which is a gap between the beliefs and the reality,  the participants were shown that the above are apparent reasons and the real reasons why salespeople tend to dominate conversation is out of fear ( of rejection ) and the desperation to sell!

Let us try to understand the above language from a Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) perspective. The language verbalized by the salespeople is not the reality but is the map of an  individual. The map is not the territory. The map is arrived at by three universal modelling processes which are Generalization, Deletion and Distortion. If there is a close approximation between the map and the territory then the salesperson is able to perform successfully in his given role.However with a great divergence, the perceptions will be flawed and he may not be able to achieve his quotas.

The above modelling processes have their validity and relevance in day -today life. However they may also create the problems depending on the context.

  1. Generalization: Generalization is the process by which elements or pieces of person’s model of the world become detached from their original experience and come to represent the entire category of which the experience is an example.* ( Leslie Cameron, Bandler 1985, p224) When a person has learnt a process, say of driving a car, he moves from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. While coming out of the garage, he knows to put the reverse gear, turn the car, change the gear and put on the accelerator without looking down. In a way he need not have to learn the activities every time he drives the car. In a similar manner from a sales perspective, when an executive goes for a sales call, majority of the activities are common like introduction of the self and the company, ice breaking, understanding the client needs etc.

However the dysfunctional aspects of generalization happen when he goes through some setbacks when the self -talk revolves around the following statements: Today, you can sell only on price. Clients don’t respect my time. They buy only from competition.

  1. Deletion: Deletion is the process by which people selectively pay attention to certain aspects of their experience and exclude others. This allows them to focus the awareness and attend to one portion of their experience over others. This process makes coping possible and protects them from being overwhelmed by external stimuli *( Leslie Cameron – Richard Bandler 1985, p225)

Some of the examples of deletion are the ability to focus on a book in the drawing room when TV is blaring and children playing. Another example is when you are in a party with a group of people and you are talking to an important client over phone. The negative examples of deletion is self-talk by a Salesperson: John does not respect quality products.

  1. Distortion: Distortion is the process which allows people to make shifts in how they experience sensory data. Without this process, they could not plan for the future or dream into reality.

Positive Examples: fantasy allows a salesperson winning the Best Sales Performance Award which motivates him to push harder; abstract and surrealist paintings by Picassos and Dalis are other examples of distortion. The dysfunctional examples of distortion are:  A successful salesman in the past who is reprimanded for his abysmal performance in the last three quarters says, “I am perfect.”When he has lost order due to poor follow-up he says , “ that’s because the design department didn’t give me the specifications in time.”

From the above it can be observed that modelling processes discussed above are not good or bad per se. Generalization helps us from reinventing the wheel on a day-today basis, deletion helps to focus on important issues and distortion helps us to be creative.

Let us look at the number of categories where the salespeople can get into a self-defeating mode and the ways the seniors, mentors can help them come out of it.

Sr. No. Deviation Example (as verbalized by a Salesperson) Challenge (as perceived by the Sales Manager)
1. Simple Deletion I am tense About whom. what?
2. Comparative Deletion Competition offers better product and at a lesser price.  Better in what way? Price how much lesser?
3 Lack of referential index Their salesmen are trained. Who are they?
4 Cause and Effect I have lost orders because Dinesh from Pre-sales did not give the support. Have all the orders been lost because of Dinesh?

What about those orders which you have won?

Any body apart from Dinesh you can contact?

5 Presupposition I talk more because I know my products are better than my competitor. Does the customer buy because of your product or has he a problem to solve?
6 Mind Reading My manager does not like me.

Customer is biased towards competition

How do you know that?
7 Nominalization (Event to be converted into a process for more possibilities) I am a poor negotiator. Is it possible to improve your ability to negotiate?
8 Modal Operator of Necessity I have to achieve my quota this quarter. Can you choose to achieve your quota? (Less anxiety)
9 Modal Operator of Possibility I can’t share the LOST ORDER statement with my manager. What happens if you share? (worst-case scenario)

Instead of can’t what happens if you won’t?

10 Complex Equivalent Customer hates me… he yells at me. Are you sure his yelling means he is hating you?

It may be noted this is an indicative list to identify the mental roadblocks faced by the young salespeople. The sales manager or the HR manager is advised not to use the challenges in an indiscriminate manner; lest the damage may be caused to the young executive. An adequate amount of credibility and trust which needs to be created by the manager which will enable the executive to make the necessary behavioural changes in reaching the designated goals.

Rajan Parulekar , Paradigm Trainers Private Limited, , 98450 14098

The Unknown Tendulkar

He was neither a cricketing genius nor a renowned Marathi playwright.

He was born in 1909 in a poor family of a primary school teacher in Ratnagiri, Maharashtra. After completing his B.A. at Elphinstone College, he went to Cambridge on a scholarship to pursue astronomy. Drawing inspiration from Gandhi and his Dandi Yatra, he dropped out of Cambridge, returned to India and joined the freedom movement.

On Pandit Nehru’s advice, he devoted 10 years of his life for the sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh. To earn his living, he started writing for newspapers. In his second attempt of further studies, he went to Gottingen University in Germany to study Aerospace Engineering. Nazis suspected his Communist antecedents and put him behind bars for a month. Then he moved to Paris. His fascination with Communism took him to Russia. For two and half years he studied photography in Russia. He survived on photography and writing for newspapers and magazines like Pravda, Izvestia and Kastyor. On his father’s death, he returned to India and was in and out of jail during the freedom movement for 20 months. Due to financial challenges, he approached Mahatma Gandhi and sought his permission in writing Gandhi’s biography. With 12 long years, moving across the country and in his impeccable English, he  completed the  8-Volume Biography: Mahatma – The Life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The first volume covers his life from 1869 to 1920 and the last one from 1947 to 1948. First published in 1951, it had the foreword of Pandit Nehru who on this magnum opus of around 4000 pages said, “It brings together more facts and data about Gandhi than any book that I know. I consider these books to be of great value as a record  of the life of a man not only supreme in his generation, but also a period of India’s history which has intrinsic importance of its own.”

Apart from the above, some of his other books include 30 months in Russia, and  Gandhi in Champaran.   Once the director of Sahitya Academy wrote to him asking for his detailed resume. This person who had around 5000 pages to his authorship, did not have even 2 pages on himself. His response was: Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar, Born: 9th October 1909 at Ratnagiri, Education: BA ( Hons)

The biography brought international fame to  DG but he still remained the simple soul as he was, all along his life, in his half-sleeved khadi shirt, a khaki half pant, Kolhapuri chappals  a Shabnam on his shoulders, sauntering  at old book shops in flora fountain and other antique shops.

A group of people came to invite him as a Key- Note speaker for an important event. After entertaining them, he said,” I generally do not like to mix with people, I do not like to go on stage, and I do not like to be photographed or want my name appearing in the newspapers.” The organizers were taken aback. One of the visitors said, “we shall go back and tell our chief and then call you over phone.” He said,” My bungalow is named as Ekaant ( Solitude ) I do not even have a telephone.”


Journalist MJ Akbar narrates an incident quoting H Y Sharada Prasad, the media advisor to Indira Gandhi. DG was awarded Padma Bhushan during Rajendra Prasad’s tenure. He sent a telegram to the President saying he would prefer to have a watch instead of a piece of paper from the government. Needless to say, he received both.

Deenanath Gopal Tendulkar (1909 -1972) a great writer, a pioneer in documentary film making, a renowned international photographer, who incidentally never had his own photograph in his lifetime, whom Pandit Nehru used to invite him over dinner, Mahatma Gandhi used to do the proof reading for his writing, today is an unknown Tendulkar.

On Humility

While working for a company called Toshniwal in Mumbai around 4 decades back, my boss narrated a story of his friend’s son, Ajay who had returned from US for vacation. Ajay a young guy in his late 20s, had completed his MBA from an Ivy league school and was working for a Wall street company then.  Ajay had gone to Bombay House to meet his school mate. It was around lunch time and Ajay’s friend was out on a client visit. As Ajay was waiting in the lobby, an old man looked at him and asked,” hey young man, whom are you waiting for?” Ajay gave the details. “Till he comes, you may come to my cabin.” Ajay followed suit. Half an hour later his friend turned up went to a nearby restaurant.

Over lunch when the friend asked what was the topic of discussion, Ajay replied,” When he came to know about my background, he asked about my opinion on  India and the Indian economy, I shared  my thoughts on the real problems ailing our country.”  By the way who was that old man?” The friend replied, “Ajay, he was JRD Tata. You should have thought twice before giving your advice to such a man!”

I was narrating this incident to a stranger while waiting for a local train in Vile Parle station. He shared an interesting personal experience. He used to wait at Asiatic bus stop at around 6 pm which was near Eros cinema at Churchgate station in Mumbai. Every day while standing in the bus queue, he used to notice a car which used to stop just 10 feet way from the bus stop and the first person in the queue used to get in the car.  It was a bit surprising; the same car every day, but the person who boarded was different. One day this man decided to solve this mystery and left the previous two buses to be the first in the queue when the car was to arrive. He got onto the front seat. The person in the backseat was JRD Tata reading his newspaper. The driver used to drop JRD at his residence in Peddar Road via Chowpatty & Wilson college. The empty front seat was getting filled up for that routine journey.

Sudha Murthy while working as a trainee engineer in TELCO (now Tata Motors) narrates an incident when she was waiting for Narayan Murthy in the lobby of Bombay House after office hours. JRD waited along with her till NRN arrived. Young Sudha Murthy still recollects the anxiety she felt when she was with this grand old man.  Sudha Murthy was to put in her papers when NRN and his team were to start Infosys. She happened to run into JRD once again. When she told him about the new company, JRD said, “All the best for your new venture, beyond profits think of building a great institution which can be also used for the social good.” Such simple and yet profound message has left deep impact on the work Infosys foundation has been carrying out.

Two years back Ratan Tata was to be felicitated with Lifetime Award for contribution towards philanthropy by Prince Charles at the Buckingham Palace. Ratan Tata declined to attend the function as his dog was not keeping well.

Dr Albert Schweitzer was on his new hospital project at Lambarene at Gabon in Africa. One afternoon, while on the rooftop he asked a young passer-by to help him lift the tiles on to the roof. The young African said, “I am an intellectual, I do not do such menial work.” Schweitzer replied, “I also struggled to be like you but could not succeed.”  Albert Schweitzer though from Alsace in France did phenomenal work for the poor and the downtrodden in Africa. He established hospitals for the lepers.  He had PhDs in Philosophy, Theology and then on Bach Music. He has around 25 books to his credit including one on Indian Philosophy.

Considered as one of the most significant persons of the 20th Century, he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1952 for the exceptional humanitarian work in Africa. When the Swedish Academy sent him telegram to grace the award function, he expressed his inability to receive the award that year as his hospital work was in full swing and felt that the long journey from Gabon to Sweden may affect his work, He received it later in 1954.

H W. Fowler (1858-1933) and his younger brother Frank published a book called as The King’s English in 1906 and The Dictionary of Modern English Usage (MEU) in 1926. The books have become a de-facto standard in the English-speaking community for the right word usage. MEU suggests an apt usage of a word with guidelines in avoiding jargon, e.g. During the second world war, Winston Churchill said to the Director of Military Intelligence, “Why do you write the word Intensive here?  You should be using Intense instead. For clarity refer the Fowler’s Modern English Usage.”

Fowler the lexicographer who worked on MEU for two decades was known for his spartan simplicity. Clarendon Press oversaw publishing and printing his works. The secretary of Clarendon wrote to him offering him the wages of a servant in addition to his remuneration.

It was the month of November, Fowler was 68 then living in London. His message to the secretary read:


My half an hour from 7 to 7.30 am was spent in:

  1. Two-mile run along the road &
  2. Swim in my next—door neighbour’s pond, exactly as some 48 years ago. That I am still in condition for such freaks; I attribute to having had for nearly 30 years no servants to reduce me to a sedentary and all-literary existence. And now you seem to say: Let us give you a servant and the means of slow suicide and quick lexicography. Not I know it: I must go my slow way.


Rahul Dravid was the chief guest at the annual gathering of Design for Change in Ahmedabad. The students asked him: What makes you nervous:

RD: Would it be OK If I say it is my wife?

What is your greatest fear?

RD: In my dreams I feel I have forgotten how to bat. And when I wake up realize that that dream has come true.

What is unique about you?

RD: I can bat well but so can many others. So, there is nothing unique about me.

What is common between all these great people with a high level of competence and intelligence but the humility of not wearing it up on their sleeves? Be it JRD., Ratan Tata, Schweitzer, Fowler or Rahul Dravid? I think it includes active listening, thought clarity, a great sense of self-deprecating humour (sometimes black too). Shakespeare described Brutus as ‘his life was gentle and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up to the world and say, this was a Man!’ Genuine humility may be an essential quality towards becoming one.

Sometimes it may be difficult to differentiate between genuine and pseudo-humility. it cannot be deciphered from the body language or what one says. E.g. When a question is asked, both the idiot and the master smile. The idiot smiles as he has not understood the question, the master smiles as he has understood the futility of the question.

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism


Cutting through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa is a collection of his talks delivered at Boulder Colorado in 70s. On the main path of spirituality (which is supposed to lead us away from suffering and towards enlightenment) there are a number of sidetracks, bylanes which hoodwink us in believing that we are on the right track. The author calls such misleading tracks as Spiritual Materialism.The book delineates the bylanes first and then takes us to the main path. One such bylane  is the belief that  an external entity like a book, a discourse is going to help us towards salvation. A Guru  will provide us answers for all our problems. You download your problems on your Guru and he will take care of you. The process of initiation into spirituality clears the road towards enlightenment is also one such misconception. A master once told his new disciple after the initiation process; remember, wearing a robe does not make you enlightened and if you are enlightened you do not need a robe.

The author says that a true Guru actually does not give you answers but helps you look into yourself ; the frustration, the anxieties and guides you in facing and penetrating them. Most of the activities  that are carried out on the path of Spiritual Materialism like chanting a mantra or a Sutra or thinking about the  positives and eschewing the negatives may help us feel better but it may not lead us towards  self-realization. In fact most of such activities are nothing but ego-enhancing tricks played by the mind.  We may watch endless youtube videos, read multiple books and listen to a number of audiobooks but unless and until we realize that knowledge like gold, has to be burned, hammered and beaten before wearing as an ornament. Now it becomes your wisdom, otherwise it is just a downloaded information of others. On this line I remember Carl Rogers’ statement that most of the cognitive knowledge is useless.

Another dimension of Spiritual Materialism is a misplaced sense of humour. Some people feel that humour is a roadblock on the path of spirituality and are serious all the time. Others try to be funny likewise. As Buddha has said, an extreme of an error is another error. Both the situations, where one is  trying to be serious and the other trying to be funny are equally ridiculous. A truly evolved person sees both sides of a situation and thus takes an aerial view. It involves seeing the basic irony of the juxtaposition of extremes so that one is not caught taking them seriously. Thus there are rare chances a truly spiritual person taking extreme views.

After discussing the sidetracks the author discusses about the main paths of surrendering, the four noble truths and the most important concept of Shunyata ( emptiness)


This book has been my companion for the last four years. It was never on any best-seller list. There are no anecdotes, no jokes, no one-liners, no quotations from eminent people at the beginning of each chapter, not even any endorsements from celebrities.  It does not even try to impress you. It simply states the truth as it is.  Just sample this:

The conventional concept of enlightenment is that you aim for a higher level of consciousness from a lower level by silencing the thoughts. For some, the targetted goals may  include understanding past lives, predict future, becoming one with supreme consciousness etc. Compare this with what the author says. The journey of enlightenment is not that that you go up but you fall down, Every day you fall down to such an extent that you hit the rock bottom that you cannot fall down further. And what is this act of falling down? It is to see through your negativities; be it anger, jealousy, frustrations, pain, the games you play.  It does not mean that you detest such negativities but simply acknowledge them as a part of you being human. And then you start accepting others as they are. And when you hit the ground, you become a sane person, you know how to make a cup of tea with simplicity and precision, how to communicate with others in a non-judgmental way. And that is enlightenment. The first approach is an ego-boosting activity ( spiritual materialism) where one wants to achieve a goal of becoming extraordinary like the  celebrity who struggles hard in life to become one and then wears dark glasses to remain incognito. In the second instance it is to become thoroughly ordinary, the right path towards self-realization. As someone has said one of the most ordinary things in life is to become extraordinary.

Jijibisha:The Will to Live- The Story of Manoranjan Byapari

What  do you expect the future of a boy who had a pathetic childhood, no schooling, a painful adulthood with petty jobs, who  was in and out of prisons for petty crimes? The odds are very high of such a person amounting to anything significant in life.

His parents were migrant labourers from erstwhile East Pakistan who migrated to West Bengal during partition. He was a toddler at a refugee camp in south  24 Parganas then. His sister died of starvation and father was ruined by gastric ulcer.

He worked as a dishwasher in a tea stall, pulling cycle rickshaw, daily wage worker and a caretaker in a Chhatisgarh crematorium. Last 20 years he has worked as a cook in a ramshackle hostel in Kolkata for the hearing impaired.

In the early 70s when the Naxalbari movement was at its peak, he used to take part in protests and quite often he was beaten, tortured and put behind bars. He used to be frequently arrested under the charges of arson, looting, bombing and attempt to murder. He was sent to Alipore and Presidency Jails a number of times.

Manoranjan Byapari is no trader of entertainment but a personification of pain.

All these years, the only thing that was simmering in him was anger against the unjust establishment. One day while in jail one of the inmates said to him,” Getting angry at others may not solve your problem. From this window can you see the sapling on the rooftop of National Library? If it can survive in concrete, you too can find something worth living in this prison. Find a purpose in life.” That day Manoranjan started learning Bangla alphabets on the walls and floor of the prison; first with dust and stones and then with chalk. Two years in prison, he  was able to read and write Bangla fluently. When he came out, he started reading voraciously whatever he laid his hands on.

Throughout the day he used to pull a cycle rickshaw sometimes as long as 16 hours. The spare time while waiting for the passengers was devoted for his new passion of reading. A word called jijibisha from a story caught his attention. He could not decipher the meaning He asked a number of passengers but no one could answer him properly. One day a passenger, an old lady answered his query saying the word jijibisha meant a will to live. Finding something exceptional in the rickshaw puller, the lady  scribbled  her name and her home address on a piece of paper and asked Manoranjan to meet her later.  After the lady alighted, he  took out the novel underneath the seat. It was Agnigarbha by Mahasweta Devi, ( Jnanpith Award winner, Political activist and writer of books – Hazar Chaurashir Maa, Rudali etc.) the same lady who was in the rickshaw a few minutes before.

His first piece of writing, Rickshaw Chalai (I pull a rickshaw ) was published in Mahasweta Devi’s journal Bartika.

His autobiography Ittibrittey Chandal Jibon when translated into English, spread his fame beyond West Bengal and he was invited to Jaipur Lit Festival. He has to his credit 17 books over the last 40 years of his toil and has received number of awards which include West Bengal Sahitya Academy, Ravindra Smriti Puraskar, Gateway Litfest Writer of the year, Hindu Award for Non-Fiction among others. His writing focusses on the marginalized sections of the society  be it the sex workers, daily wage labourers, beggars etc with whom he has one-one interactions. His writing is authentic as he is able to empathise with his protagonists. In one of his interviews he says:


I too have worked very hard to progress step-by-step. I would labour throughout the day and then sit down with pen and paper at night. My body would droop with fatigue. My guts would twist like burnt cobra in hunger, but I would keep writing page after page ignoring all the pain.


Ray Bradbury in his book Zen in the Art of Writing says, If you have to write with passion you need to have something original, something authentic to say. His philosophy is, “Every morning I jump out of bed and hit a landmine, that landmine is me; it explodes. After the explosion,  I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces together.”

Manoranjan Byapari was born a Chandal,  considered as among the lowest in Shudra caste and he says that you just cannot get out of what your birth has assigned you irrespective of your achievements. His autobiography Interrogating a Chandal Life – Autobiography of a Dalit  won him a number of accolades. However the elite Bhadralok literati still shuns him. Even after being a writer for 20 years he was struggling to get a decent job and had to work as a cook in a shanty  hostel.  It speaks volumes about the Hindu caste-based hierarchy.  He says, “I write because I cannot kill.”


Putting your best foot forward- Does it work all the time?

As a startup founder, if you were to make a presentation to your potential investors, with an opening slide: Few Reasons why you should NOT Invest in our Company, what would be the outcome? You would sum it up as nothing but a disaster!

Rufus Groscom and Alisa Volkman started a company in the US called Babble which was an online magazine with blog network. The company had positioned on the new paradigm of parenting by  challenging  the dominant parental clichés. In 2009 when they approached for the Venture Capital (VC) funding, their first slide was:  Five reasons why not to invest in Babble. They received a $3.3 Mn funding.

Looks a bit counterintuitive! Isn’t it? Normally the convention is to highlight your strengths which works well when your target audience is either neutral or has a positive disposition towards your offerings. But does a typical investor look upon you in a similar way?

Just imagine when you say that you have a ‘killer idea’ and that you will reach your breakeven in the first year and  will scale up to 20x revenue in the next two years what must be going on in the investors’ mind? Rather than getting impressed, a conventional sales pitch is normally looked down with scepticism. The investor is also operating from a position of strength which is due to the funds at his disposal as well as the number of ‘killer ideas’ he has encountered in the past.  Psychologically he is tuned to find out the follies in your sales pitch. What happens when you take a counterintuitive approach of focussing on your weaknesses?

  1. You create Trust: When you put your cards on the table you look vulnerable which makes you look trustworthy. Your investor feels that if you are speaking about something wrong, there might be a lot of things you may be doing right. You are perceived with a positive intent. In the conventional sales pitch, the intent is perceived as getting the funding by hook or by crook! (for details refer Trust: The Difference that Creates the Difference, from Contextual Selling)
  2. You look smart: You may speak about your strengths but if they are hyped the investor may feel you are beating your own trumpets. However, when you critique yourself, you may be perceived as smart.

Teresa Amabile, professor of Business administration at the Harvard Business School conducted an experiment on how a writer is perceived by her audiences. A sample of a New York Times book review was taken. The book review which was primarily of a complimentary nature was modified with a critical tone; major part of the content remaining the same. Minor modifications were made from inspiring to uninspiring, tremendous impact to negligible impact etc.

People rated the ‘critical’ reviewer 14% more intelligent and having 16% greater literary expertise vis-à-vis the ‘complimentary’ reviewer. After all an amateur can appreciate art but only a professional can critique it!

  1. Objections are Pre-empted: There are two groups who have been given a task of identifying reasons for being happy.  Group A has to list three reasons whereas group B has to list for 12 reasons. Which group according to you should be happier between the two? Most of us would opt for group B.

Norbert Schwarz (Professor, Department of Psychology, University of California) in his article Ease of retrieval as information has given an interesting example on Availability Heuristics.  Also called as availability bias, it refers to the mental short cuts that come to people’s mind while evaluating and solving a problem. Group A may think the reasons of happiness can be attributed to spouse, children and the career. The available answers which were quick to find makes them happy. Group B may explore possibilities beyond the first three which may include vacation, hobbies etc. but may find it hard to reach the magical number of 12 and they start questioning themselves whether they are happy in the first place or not. So, the counterintuitive answer is A.

Looking at the Startup founder’s admission about his challenges the investor now has to struggle hard to find out new problems (as those have been already pre-empted in the first slide) and he concludes that the startup’ s problems are not that significant!

Coming back to the Babble story, a few years later Rufus and Alisa approached Disney for a takeover. The opening slide was:  Why you should NOT buy Babble? And the reasons included

  1. Poor user engagement,
  2. Only 3-page views per visit
  3. despite being a parenting website 40% of posts were from celebrities etc…

Disney bought Babble for $40 Mn.

A note of caution: Aspects like technology model, IP, revenue stream, scaling, breakeven, competition, manpower cost, future disruption etc are going to be equally important and the presenter needs to be focusing on the strengths too. The article only wishes to point out that speaking about the negatives may be also relevant at appropriate times!

Rajan Parulekar,

Personal Growth Companion by D.M. Silveira

Circa 2002, while visiting the IIM Bangalore library, I came across a book titled Personal Growth Companion (PGC) by DM Silveira. PGC addressed the  dilemmas faced by people and takes them through a simple process of self-assessment which paves the way for new awareness of capabilities and potential. Some of the chapter titles were: Have you met yourself recently, what is your paradigm? Do people feel good about you? It is not a typical self-help or a how-to book telling you about success or a millionaire mindset but more on introspection and reflection. It helps you through the limitations of psychological categories and transcends scientific classifications, a few sample questions to illustrate the point:

On Busyness: Am I caught in a hurry? What am I trying to tell myself and others through my tearing hurry? Is it tied with my ego? Do I lack an inner focus and am I hurrying as a compensation?

On creativity: Is my life over-organized and repetitive? Does the routine enslave me? How much of novelty and surprise is there in my life?

The elaborate questionnaire was more on reflection rather than pigeonholing you into a category like introvert, extrovert etc.  The book was written in a simple yet a profound manner.  I got literally hooked into it. I carried the book while on a trek in the Sandakphu-Phalut range of the eastern Himalayas (near Darjeeling) and the book truly lived upto its title. By the time I returned to Bangalore, I was so impressed by the book, I penned a book review. The Sunday Supplement editor of Deccan Herald replied that it could not be published as the paper had a policy of putting up the reviews of books published in the current year. PGC was published in 1996. I searched for PGC in a number of bookshops but could not succeed. In retrospect, I felt relieved the review was not published considering the unavailability of the book.

DM Silveira, the author was living in Vashi, New Mumbai. I called him over phone and asked him whether I can buy a copy of the book from him. He said, “I am happy to note you liked Companion but I have to express my apologies. I publish only one edition of my book. And the only copy is on my dining table.” That statement revealed DM’s (as he preferred to be addressed) paradigm about the triviality of success and ephemerality of phrases like ‘Million copies sold,‘ #1 on New York  Times Best Sellers List’ etc.  There were no celebrity endorsements on PGC either.

Curiosity had the better part of me. I decided to meet him at his home in Vashi. A fair, slim and bespectacled person around six feet tall with a cheerful disposition was indeed much different than my expectations.

I also came to know that DM had to his credit a book called Human Resource Development. It was acknowledged as a scholarly work and was appreciated by the practising HR professionals then. Once he narrated an interesting anecdote. Reserve Bank of India had placed an order for 200 copies. DM used to publish his books under his own company called Classic Publishers Pvt Ltd. which was based in Kandivali Mumbai. DM along with his son Nikhil had been to the RBI for delivering the consignment. As DM was carrying the boxes on his shoulder, Nikhil said,”Dad, you are the author of this book, you are not supposed to carry the boxes on your shoulders to the stores. Let me take it.”

DM started his career as a clerk in Goa Secretariat in late 60s. His boss coaxed him to go to Mumbai for completing his graduation and explore better career opportunities. Working part-time as a journalist he completed his graduation in literature. One day I asked him about his journey of authorship, he said he decided to write full-time and live in Pune for an year. He said,” Rajan it was  a tough call. Actually India Today had offered me the number 2 position, but then I insisted on #1 position. But then Aroon Purie ( founder of India Today) did not find the idea too interesting and so I am here.” For some time I thought he was pulling up a fast one on me or a case of sour grapes. The second possibility was difficult to digest for a person who earlier was the editor of magazines like Newsmag, Onlooker and later on for a newspaper called Free Press Journal.

DM was the one who coaxed me into writing a book while cautioning it to be a painful process.

Whether in person or on a mail his opening sentence used to be ‘Patrao kosso assa, chennagiddiraa? ( meaning bossy, how are you, all well, smattering of Konkani, Portuguese, and Kannada) He connected me with Union Bank of School of Management in Bangalore where I conducted a number of lectures for the executive MBA program. His recommendation to clients used to open doors with a number of corporate clients for me.

For few years while in Delhi, he used to publish a yearly book of facts called India Book. DM, writer of great books, editor of FPJ and other magazines, Gold Medallist in Masters in English Literature from Bombay University was truly a humble man.  He had no qualms interacting with a much younger and inexperienced person like me. He used to be in his elements while sharing interesting anecdotes about Piloo Modi, LK Advani  etc

On 31th March 2009 he passed away due to a massive heart attack, while brushing his teeth; just shy of two weeks of his 60th Birthday on 16th April. It is said little knowledge makes one arrogant, a little more makes one reasonable and the final knowledge makes one truly humble. DM, the maverick, belonged to that rare but a truly humble creed!