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Badrinath

In the Himalayas, there lived an infamous bandit named Sultana, who plundered the caravans of rich pilgrims and looted resource-rich monasteries. The very mention of Sultana, it was said, made wealthy men tremble with fear. His unique technique was that he robbed in broad daylight after sending word in advance that he was going to strike.

Once, it seems, he sent word to the abbot, Baba Kalikambliwala, of a monastery called Swarg Ashram that he was going to descend on the ashram with his gang and plunder their treasury at a certain appointed hour. All the members of the monastery were filled with fear. All except the Baba. He had an elaborate lunch made for Sultana and his gang and waited for him on the porch of his cottage.

The bandit came with a gang of six, all armed with swords and guns. As he got off his horse, Baba Kalikambliwala went towards him and welcomed him. He invited him and his gang to sit on the porch, drink water and relax.

Then he handed over the keys to the treasury and said, “You may take what you desire but I don’t want violence and bloodshed. If ever you feel like killing someone, spare everyone and kill me instead. Life and death are the same to me. The police chief of this region is a member of our monastery community. I could have sought his help but then there would have been violence, and lives would have been lost. I want none of that.

“After you have taken all that you wish from the treasury, don’t ride away immediately. I have arranged a feast for you. You and your friends should enjoy the lunch, rest for a while if you are tired, and then go on your way. I have no animosity towards you or any other living creature. Now, do what you feel is best.”

The bandit, having never encountered a man like that, is said to have bowed low, apologized, and instead of plundering the treasury, contributed a small amount of gold coins and left, after profusely thanking the abbot for the sumptuous lunch.

– Excerpted from the autobiography of Mumtaz Ali a.k.a Sri M. He became a yogi after meeting his Himalayan master.  http://srimautobiography.com/
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Gang_Leader_for_Day

Just finished reading this book. I had first heard about this book when I saw Sudhir Venkatesh as a guest in Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show. That interview piqued my interest, though it took me some time to finally get around to reading the book. Its an unputdownable book and though my mind was pre-occupied with several other issues, I finished the book in a single weekend! Its the best non-fiction and sociology book that I have read in a long time. Though it is non-fiction, it kept me absorbed like any best selling thriller.

Sudhir Venkatesh wrote the book as a graduate student at the University of Chicago working towards his PhD in Sociology while doing a survey on poverty in the projects in Chicago in 1989. The projects are similar to slum-clearance tenements in urban India. His book covers the period from 1989 – 96. Venkatesh articulates some of my own dissatisfaction with the academic world. For a great section of the people, graduate school and the vast number of academic papers published are far removed from the realities of their life and benefits them very little or none whatsoever. This is exactly the point the book stresses.

When Sudhir started his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, he was eager to start doing some field work, and to help out his professors with their research. Armed only with a survey and a clipboard, he naively went out to one of the worst projects in the city and tried to start asking questions ("How do you feel about being black and poor? A: pretty good; B, mostly good; C: indifferent….") Local gang members quickly corralled him and held him until their boss came by to check him out. That boss, J.T. was a local gang leader, and having graduated from college himself, he was able to quickly decide that Sudhir was less than dangerous unless to himself. J.T. then takes Sudhir under his wing, introduces him to people, lets it be known that Sudhir was under ‘protection’  so that his life would be safe, and allows him inside the gang to see how it operates, and how people lived in the Robert Taylor Homes, the most notorious projects in Chicago and in all of America. Sudhir sees regular beatings, a drive-by shooting, helps a stoned and sick hooker, and even sits in on a truce meeting between J.T. and another rival gang leader. J.T. eventually lets him be the leader of his gang for a day – hence the book’s title– and invites him to citywide meetings with the higher-ups in the gang. Sudhir took notes as he went along, and was privy to corruption, bad cops, failed urban renewal plans, and also to how the gangs were trying to position themselves as communities that helped all their people.  The gang even helps by registering voters and contributing to school-supply funds and hosting basketball tournaments and picnics for the project residents.

Sudhir knows that these gang members are hustlers who make their living by selling drugs, resolving disputes and taking cuts from people whom they protect and help. He realizes he is no less a hustler as he is hustling them for information towards his thesis.

This is my best quote from the book that appears towards the end of the book:

“I’m not sure I’m ready for another big research project just yet," I said.
Oh Yeah?" J.T. said, handing me one of the beers. "What else you going to do? You can’t fix nothing , you never worked a day in your life. The only thing you know how to do is hang out with niggers like us."
I nearly choked on my beer when he summarized my capacities so succinctly – and, for the most part accurately.

I highly recommend this book. It shows how just one person can really make a difference, by allowing us and policy makers to understand a variety of complex and complicated issues about race, poverty and crime in America.

100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

After hearing much about this book I finally decided to pick it up. Will update this post when I have finished reading this gem. Am still reading…

This is a self-help book that shares wisdom designed to enrich the quality of a persons’ professional, personal, and spiritual life. The book contains 101 simple solutions to be integrated into ones’ life. At just 195 pages, the book is a speed read. However to get the full benefit of each suggestion, it is a good idea to read the book slowly. Start from the beginning and read one solution each day. Reading the whole book in one sitting might leave you overwhelmed with information, making it easy to miss the point or forget the tips. That’s how I felt after reading the book

The best part of this book is how easy it is to read. Each solution is a short one to two pages and very easy to incorporate into one’s life. Some solutions are common knowledge, but a great number of them are unique, useful, and insightful. The book is quite holistic and covers a wide arena of topics. Tips like “always carry a book with you” ensures lifelong learning, while “spend a day without your watch” covers slowing down.

The book starts off with a quote from Norman Cousins: “The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of ourselves when we live.” But the best quote, that stuck a chord in me was when Robin quotes his father’s words “The tree that has the most fruits is the tree that bends to touch the ground”. Meaning the people who know the most and who have lived the most are also the people closest to the ground. In a word, they are humble.

4 Gates of Speech

He also quotes an old Sufi tradition which advises us to speak only after our words have managed to pass through four gates. At the first gate, we ask ourselves, “Are these words true?” If so, we let them pass on; At the second gate we ask; “Are they necessary?” At the third gate we ask; “Are they beneficial?” and at the fourth gate, we ask, “Are they kind?” If the answer to any of these is no, then what you are about to say should be left unsaid.

I definitely recommend this book. If you want simple steps that tell you how to improve your life, this book is it.

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