July 31, 2021

The Demons of Lunka (Legend of Ramm #2)

 Get it here: https://amzn.to/3C0TMHd

May 28, 2021

Book Review: Undercover by Ashish Khetan

Ashish Khetan's book is a non-chronological personal account of his sting operations on Hindutva organizations. It was an account that was often, hard to read, as gory details of pillage, murder, etc. sprung forth from Khetan's pages. Khetan lays bare the 'Gujarat model' of encounters, pliable defense lawyers (and judges), and how careers of those who tried to save rioters got a leg up versus how those who tried to stop riots or bring the perpetrators to book were vilified and hounded. I especially enjoyed the blow by blow account of the Godhra train burning, the Bilkis Bano incident and then the judicial proceedings, and the Modi SIT deposition. I reduced 1 star from a 5 star rating because of the non-chronological nature of the book which confused me - often a case that was to be addressed in the future came up in the past and vice versa.

Outside that minor niggle, Khetan's Undercover is essential reading to understand how the "System" was broken at a national level by proponents of the Gujarat model.

PS: Read it before the System bans it.

Book Review: Prey by Crichton

Crichton is the ONLY author whose every book, that I have read, has been pure class. Prey is Crichton's attempt at mingling Artificial Intelligence with advanced biological techniques to create a predator. Oh man, Crichton is a storyteller par excellence. I know there is criticism of this book for being scientifically inaccurate in places, but the story is one hell of a ride. Buy it!

April 25, 2020

Foreword: "What your Banker won't tell you"

Almost everyone in the world wants to have more money than they already have. (If you are not one such person, please do not read beyond this page.) However, the science and math of saving money and generating wealth is rather poorly understood. This book attempts to answer questions on wealth generation such as:

•What is financial planning?
•Should I stop buying gold and putting money in Fixed Deposits?
•Are mutual funds and SIPs really good?
•How to identify good mutual funds?
•How to make money in the stock market?
•If everyone made money with real estate in the 20th Century and 2000s, why won’t my property appreciate in value?
•What about ULIPs? Insurance? “Retirement funds”?

However, one of the first rules of investing and becoming wealthy is to spend what you need to, after saving, and not vice versa. If you do not have a saving mindset and would rather have that expensive dress/ watch/ dinner at a high-end restaurant versus owning that incremental share or mutual fund unit or fixed deposit, no amount of information can help you.

The first step to becoming wealthy is to become addicted to saving money. Without that, nothing will work.

Get the book here: https://amzn.to/3kxPqkL

July 27, 2019

The vicious cycle of poor quality, high cost education and how it deprives our country of enterprise

In many ways, I am a cliché. I am an engineer and an MBA (General Category, if you must know), and I then entered the corporate sector to draw a salary that helps pays bills. I studied very little and somehow managed to crack two entrance exams. In many ways, I was a misfit – I was the exception that managed to make it precisely because I hated rote-learning, precisely because I hid novels in my Resnick Haladay or my FIITJEE DPPs. Precisely because I “wasted time” in debate and quiz club in school, when I could have been mugging up Chemistry.

I have worked for almost a decade in the corporate sector and let me tell you that despite being from among the best B-Schools and among the best Engineering Colleges, not one subject (OK, maybe just the one) prepared me for corporate life. Sample this – I came across this problem when my daughter was scribbling on one of my old FIITJEE copies.

Problem 1 - Hunter and Monkey. A monkey hangs from a branch at a height h above the ground. A hunter stands on the ground at a distance R from the tree, and is pointing his gun at the monkey at an angle (theta) to the horizontal, as shown in figure (1):

If the monkey jumps down from the tree at the same time as the hunter fires the bullet, what should be the value of theta, to hit the monkey?

In some way while I was doing these kind of problems at FIITJEE, I always thought my future career would involve monkeys and hunters, or mechanical contraptions mimicking the monkey and the hunter. For me, in 11th standard, the breaking point was fluid dynamics and organic chemistry. Both stumped me completely – but being the perfectionist that I was then as I am now, I continued to go at them never really understanding either, until the syllabus had moved so far ahead that I had to give up.

I decided to focus on NCERT and board exams early in 12th, giving up on IIT. IIT anyway meant nothing but a high paying job to me, and I figured I could eventually put my mind to anything and eventually make money doing it. Sadly, fates conspired for me to clear DCE’s entrance exam (DCE had a separate entrance exam then) and I ended up becoming an engineer.

However, once I entered engineering college, I realized how advantaged I was precisely because I had not given up my life to focus on IIT. (Some of my batchmates will disagree but) I had a rounded personality, I had leadership traits, and most importantly, I had developed a joy for reading that made me both read and comprehend English at almost lightning speed. When I (inevitably) began preparing for CAT, I realized how far ahead I was, needing almost no preparation for English Reading Comprehension, but quite a lot for DI (I hated DI with a vengeance).

MBA entrance exams like CAT were far easier than engineering entrance for me, and I ended up in FMS. It was then that I ended up meeting a hundred odd people like me – talented misfits, great at one or many things, super smart and fun to work and learn with. The one class we had in FMS which still helps me was IT or Computer skills, in which the Professor taught us Excel and Word tricks that put most of us ahead of the field when we joined the corporate world.

It was when I started working that I realized how useless my entire education had been. Yes, education had given me a scientific temper which helped me understand medium to difficult statistics (needed in most of my roles so far), and it had given me Microsoft skills, but beyond that it was my love of reading, my public speaking experience and my (decidedly moderate) curiosity developed by quizzing that helped me. Work was about communication – both written and oral, influencing people without authority or with authority, nurturing people and getting things done. My formal education did zilch to prepare me for any of these. It was quizzing and non-fiction that gave me a love of learning and not the monkey/ hunter/ parabola, or the formula of some ether molecule in organic chemistry. It was my debating experience that gave me a fearlessness of speaking in public (and speaking my mind!). And it was the novels that I hid in my course books that gave me a command over the English language (and the annoying habit of needing to write books and articles like this, you might say).

Our education system is broken and there are now startups who will charge parents thousands or lakhs of rupees to help get their children ahead in this broken system. But none of these startups teach vital life skills. Our schools and colleges also make essential life skills optional, so that only the few like me who have an interest or were nudged into some of these hobbies by their parents, manage to gain vital life skills. They condition us to not dream but mug up, to filter out the wrong options from four multiple choice questions – not teaching us one bit about how life and work are all about people and managing or influencing them. And thus, they condition us to follow the trodden path – mug up, get into a decent college, do a post-grad and sit for placements. 

Not that I would have been an entrepreneur, but clearly the minority of India born multinational organizations and their lack of scale is a symptom of our education system which dis-incentivizes risk taking and teaches only about exam management. Yes, our poor labor law, land law and tax law system is to blame, but then isn’t the education system to blame for that as well? The average bureaucrat or politician who is a product of the same education system, cannot even comprehend the scale of a US tech behemoth (think Netflix, Google), and thus cannot think big, cannot dream.

It would be awesome if people put life skills ahead of marks for their children, and celebrated accumulating them. All my education got me (for the most part) was a foot in the door, but the right system would help our children create doors of their own, wherever they want.

And not waste their growing years solving problems about monkeys, hunters, bullets and pulleys. Or worrying about where to put the covalent bond in an ether molecule.

March 20, 2019

Book Review: The Return (Animorphs) by Katherine Applegate

Animorphs is awesome to begin with, mediocre in the middle, trash towards the end and awesome again at the end. The Return is absolutely one of those books that are towards the end of the series.

I understand the Applegates have had a lot of the books in the series ghostwritten, so that might explain the decidedly mediocre plot in 'The Return'. Also the books with Ellimist and Krayak or their stooges can be weird to read because the Almighty beings have no rules to contend with. They defy gravity, time, space and even logic. It makes for irritating reading.

The only book one can read in the series and walk away contended and completely mindblown with is 'The Ellimist Chronicles'. Every other book in the series is as risky to read as the Animorphs invading a Yeerk pool.

Book Review: The Animorphs #39: The Hidden by Katherine Applegate

'The Hidden' is one of those Animorphs books that manages to bring back fast paced, high octane action. The Animorphs must protect the morphing cube from the Yeerks and there a couple of very interesting story points where random animals get the power to morph. However, the book is let down by a sloppy ending, all the action ending with a damp squib at the end.


Book Review: A Midsummer's Equation by Keigo Higashino

From the author who pulled off literary magic in 'Salvation of a Saint' and 'Devotion of Suspect X', this book went automatically on my reading list. I had thought Higashino's standards had lowered with 'The Name of The Game...' but this book was decidedly worse. Higashino is best at slow burn thrillers where you know who committed the crime but games are afoot to evade the law, but he struggles to put together something even half thrilling in 'A Midsummer's Equation'. The story is linear and placid. And flashes of Higashino's brilliance are rare. 

Readable only as a flight-read.

February 10, 2019

Book Review: Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire by Alex von Tunzelmann

Very rarely, do you come across a history book that commands to be read - every day, every hour, every minute. 

Tunzelmann has mined the history of our nation to give us facts hitherto unknown: the eggheadedness of Mountbatten, his rather unconventional marriage to Edwina and Nehru - Nehru the superhero. My favorite character in the book was Nehru - a man with the backbone to take on international powers, with the very Indian ability to get into streetfights with rioters and hooligans (just imagine a Prime Minister in a fistfight with a street hooligan!) and also to charm politicians when he wanted to. I know most people will pick this book up for details on the Nehru/ Edwina affair, but Tunzelmann manages to dig up more dirt on the Indian partition and its key players than any other historian I have ever read: Guha for example, pales in comparison. Perhaps the fact that she is focusing on an event, on a smaller period of time helps her uncover the amount she does. 

It is somewhat ironical, but also typical that it took a foreigner to tell us the truth about everything. I am a little surprised that this book hasn't been banned yet for one frivolous reason or the other. 

'Indian Summer' is essential reading for those who want to understand how our nation and our petulant neighbor were born.

January 24, 2019

Deals on all books

The following of my books are on deal on Amazon.

‘The Great War of Hind’ at Rs. 29 https://amzn.to/2QZthcM

‘If God Went to B-School’ at Rs. 29 https://amzn.to/2S0pJLK

‘A Year in Faking News’ available for free https://amzn.to/2RZ31Ul