& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, December 31, 2016

The Light Bulb Strategy – Robert Craig

Rather unusually, I’m ending 2016 with two blogs on a different kind of ‘non-fiction’ books.

The first is a blog on a self-development book by Richard Craig – The Light Bulb Strategy (7 Steps to Switch It On and Lead a Brilliant Life), and the second book is on change management – Art and Science of Transformation by Harold Schroeder (see the blogpost below). Both authors are Canadian and Toronto-based.

Robert Craig is a personal development author, speaker and coach, with a background in finance, training, operations, project management, marketing, strategy and real estate investing. His book is about brilliance. “It’s about leading your life in such a way that you find your brilliance, grow it and share it with others. It’s about reaching your potential; having a fulfilling life and helping others do the same.” However, he says, brilliance doesn’t happen on its own; one needs to plan for it strategically. The purpose of The Light Bulb Strategy is to take a complicated subject – designing one’s life to be brilliant and making it simple to understand.

Metaphorically, Craig says, the light bulb is the individual. And then he takes us through seven steps to strategize about our lives. The 7 Steps of The Light Bulb Strategy is:

Step 1 - Change Your Light Bulb – this step is all about understanding our core – it’s WHO we are; our personalities, our values, our belief, our habits, our fears

Step 2 - Envision Your Light Bulb of the Future – This is where we get clarity on WHAT we want to do – daily, monthly, annually, and for the rest of our lives. It’s about defining our vision, our mission and our goals and ensuring they are all aligned

Step 3 - Power-Up Your Light Bulb – This is where you connect with your power source – WHY power. Here we define WHY we want to achieve our goals, vision and mission in life

Step 4 - Build Yourself a Better Light Bulb – This is where we define HOW we are going to achieve our vision; we determine our strategy and create a plan using our limited resources efficiently

Step 5 - Protect Your Light Bulb – This is where we define WHERE we will get our big things done. He glass globe itself represents time – time is limited. It’s about WHEN we are going to get those big things done.

Step 6 - Switch-On Your Light Bulb – This is steps is achieving balance between personal and professional lives. The better the EXECUTION of your personal and professional work life, the brighter the filament glows

Step 7 - Reflect on the Brilliance From Your Light Bulb – This step is represented by the actual glow of the Light Bulb. Here we will look at the levels of brilliance – the better the execution towards achieving your goals, vision and mission, the brighter your Light Bulb shines!

Craig then explicates each of the seven steps in great detail.

The book offers great insights into personal development and Craig makes his concepts easily relatable by linking them to everyday situations. Here’s a passage that had a poignant resonance with my present personal situation.

Being a parent is such a huge responsibility. Our influence helps to shape their lives as they journey to become adults. We set the example that they see every day through their eyes. They are always watching to see how we act, react and behave. We need to teach them strong values, but more importantly we need to live to those values.

We need to allow them to make mistakes so they can learn from them. We need to let them try different things so they can discover what their passions are. They need to be able to ‘Build their Base’. That is to build a strong, secure base which will give them confidence and a sense of well-being.

Communication with our kids is vital as well. We need to spend time and listen to them, understand them. To listen to their victories and understand what concerns they have about the world they live in.

Our kids are our future. We need to teach them strong values, share family traditions and love them unconditionally. We need to listen to them, talk to them, educate them, be present for them and watch them become brilliant.”

Read more about the book here: Robert Craig’s The Light Bulb Strategy

Buy the book here: The Light Bulb Strategy

Art and Science of Transformation – Harold Schroeder

Harold Schroeder’s The Art and Science of Transformation (2016) is an important contribution to the comprehension of the ever-changing field of organizational management. Schroder is a renowned Toronto-based management consultant with several decades of experience advising boards on crucial issues of change management. He is recognized for his superior relationship management, problem-solving, communications, and negotiations skills. He is experienced is building organizational capacity and achieving accountability.

In Art and Science of Transformation, Schroeder emphasises that in today’s business environment which is rapidly changing, organizations are required to undergo frequent transformations to remain competitive and efficient. He cautions that as most of such transformations are inherently risky, they fail if not handled astutely.

In his seminal book, Schroeder explains the concepts of ‘art’ and ‘science’ of transformation. “’Science’ of transformation is the use of change management tools, methods and techniques, such as those set out in the Project Management Body of Knowledge and including elements such as planning, resource estimation and risk analysis. ‘Art’ of transformation is the softer, people-related skills and attributes that are often personal in nature or develop from exceptional learning. These include communications and inter-personal skills, leadership and the type of attributes sometimes referred to in terms of ‘acumen’ or ‘emotional intelligence’.”  

The book is a fascinating study of the various factors that need to be adequately addressed by an organization not only when embarking upon a major shift in organizational paradigm, but also in the day-to-day management of people and projects. He observes, “Not all transformations require the same input or combination of art and science; the required skills and the balance of art and science will vary depending on factors such as project complexity, numbers and characteristics of stakeholders and perceived business risks. In any organizational transformation, it is crucial to achieving the right balance of art and science.”

 The Art and Science of Transformation is an invaluable contribution to our understanding of organizational change, especially in an environment where political policy changes necessitate rapid adjustments. The book is of interest to all – experts and non-experts because it breaks down the process of transformation management into specific modules and explains each of these processes in an easily-understandable manner.

And you may buy the book here: The Art & Science of Transformation

Monday, December 26, 2016

Dangal: A father's quiet desperation

My family's life is neatly divided into two segments – when we were in India (before Canada) and when we are in Canada (after India). We measure everything that occurs in our lives by this basic parameter, especially everything that happens in India in popular culture – cinema, music, television (especially news), books, and the worldwide web.
We are uncritical fans of popular Hindi cinema and we track every little thing that happens in the Bombay-based film industry. It is our considered opinion (and we don't care that nobody is asking) that while all the three Khans continue to be at the top of their game in 2016 just as they were in 2008.
However, there is a perceptible change in the popularity levels of Shahrukh Khan and Salman Khan. The latter has become undisputedly a bigger star than the former in the last eight-and-a-half years.

Significantly, there is apparently no change whatsoever in Aamir Khan’s star appeal. Ghajni (2008), which was the first Aamir Khan film we saw in Toronto, had the same enthusiastic response as Dangal (2016) is getting at present.

On Saturday night (Christmas Eve) we went to see Dangal at the Yonge-Dundas Cineplex - the only multiplex that regularly screens Hindi movies. The show was houseful, we had booked in advance. This - the fact that the show was houseful - is unusual because not too many Hindi movies attract a large audience in Toronto.

Most Indo-Canadians live in the extended suburban towns of the Greater Toronto Area – Mississauga, Brampton, Markham, etc. It wouldn’t be unusual (although not commonplace) for the hordes of fans to flock the multiplexes in these smaller towns.

But in Toronto? That’s hearteningly unusual.

A minor digression: At the cost of repeating myself, let me explain the reason why Hindi movies don't do too well in Canada. Generally, most of us here prefer to see Hindi movies at home on pirated DVDs because it’s cheap ($1), convenient (you get it at grocery stores) and I'm sure all of you will agree that most movies aren’t worth spending a hundred dollars (average cost of a family outing to see a movie).
Most of us go to the cinema hall only to see movies of the three Khans.

Of course, everyone in Brampton goes to see all Akshay Kumar movies in cinema halls, because Akshay Kumar is bigger than the Khans in Brampton.
In 2016, Akshay Kumar rewarded all Bramptonians (and those who don’t live in Brampton but like me, would love to) with two critically-acclaimed films – Airlift and Rustom, and one supremely awful but popular film – Houseful 3.
Will he get a Filmfare for best actor? He should but won’t because Aamir Khan will get it.

For our (Canada-India) bilateral ties to skyrocket, the Narendra Modi government is bungling its way from one crisis to another should appoint Akshay Kumar as India’s Ambassador (High Commissioner) to Canada.
But enough about Akshay Kumar, let’s now get back to Dangal.

I’d have thought that the first generation immigrants such as Mahrukh and I would comprise a majority of the audience at the Cineplex in downtown Toronto because that is the kind of audience that comes to see Hindi movie in cinema halls.

However, for Dangal there were a good number of second and third generation Indo-Canadians, and a substantial number of students from India enrolled in Canadian universities.

All making for a rather raucous audience that was totally involved in the film; clapping, cheering, grunting, sighing and exhaling as the story unfolded.

Wisely, Cineplex had permitted audiences to get in half-an-hour before the show time, and the sprawling hall for screen 13 had filled up in no time. Once again, the sight of so many northeastern Indians surprised me.

A lot of nachos were being consumed, and a lot of Coke was being drunk. The smell of food was at once overpowering and nauseating.

In addition, there was almost a muted roar inside the hall; this is because wherever there are Indians, there is immense and unceasing chattering. As the movie began, there were a few whistles and a lot of clapping when Aamir Khan came on the screen.

I will not attempt to review the film because I’m not a reviewer, and writing a review must involve understanding the craft of filmmaking, which I don’t.

But as someone who has had a lifetime of experience watching all kinds of movies, and as someone who is fiercely proud of popular Hindi cinema, I must admit that I haven’t seen anything like Dangal before.

Yes, we are now familiar with sports-themed films, a relatively new genre in Hindi cinema, and Shimit Amin’s Chak De India (where Rob Miller directed all the sports action) is the best the genre has offered so far. Naresh Tiwari’s Dangal is a welcome addition to this genre.

However, Dangal is a different kind of film, not easy to slot in a specific genre.
It is about a father’s obsession to get a gold medal in wrestling for India. When his repeated efforts to produce a male child are thwarted – and this situation, which in real life must have been fraught with tragic tension for the entire family, and especially his wife, is narrated deftly and lightly – the father Mahavir Singh Phogat decides that he’ll turn his daughters Geeta and Babita into wrestlers.
What follows is the story of a father’s unceasing efforts to turn his daughters into dedicated sportswomen, who reluctantly at first and enthusiastically later share his dream.

Four actors enact the roles of the two daughters, and while the two older actors have got some (deserving) attention, having been featured on the popular Koffee with Karan TV chat show with Aamir Khan, the younger actors who play the younger versions of the girls are remarkable, too.

Aamir Khan completely lives the role and transforms himself into Phogat, the wrestler father he portrays. With a massive midriff, jowly cheeks, and eyebrows permanently knitted in determination, he is unrecognisable. His movements are a combination of an elephant’s languorous gait, and a lion’s lithesome lumber. There is no trace of a megastar anywhere, except in the few scenes where he is shown as a young wrestler.

Shaksi Tanwar is fabulous in a role that doesn’t offer much by way of histrionics; she succeeds in not being overawed by Aamir Khan in all the scenes they share.

The buildup to the climax is slow and the sequences of the wrestling matches at the 2010 Commonwealth Games are the ones that evoke the maximum excitement.

Women wrestlers are shown as they should be – as sportswomen. The physicality of their bodies is not camouflaged or objectified. The close-crop shots of the players gripping each other make the wrestling bouts seem palpably real.

Another noteworthy aspect of the movie is the realistic depiction of the grimy poverty of the Phogat household in rural Haryana. There is no attempt to airbrush or photoshop the insides of the home of a poor former wrestler.

The home conveys a feeling of quiet desperation, and it helps us comprehend Phogat’s overt determination to overcome his circumstances by badgering his daughters to win medals.

The medals would perhaps compensate for the comprehensive failure that his life has become after he had won the national championship when he was young.

A few concluding comparisons: Is Dangal better than Sultan? Of course, it is. Should they be compared? No, because Dangal is more like Chak De India than Sultan, in the sense that both are stories about coaches. Is Aamir Khan better than Salman Khan? Yes. He is even better than Shahrukh Khan in Chak De India.

And finally, isn’t it wonderful that after all the 2010 Commonwealth Games will not only be remembered for the massive corruption of Suresh Kalmadi, but also for Geeta Phogat’s impressive gold medal?
Go watch the movie in case you haven’t already.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

2016: A Year of Belief & Kidneys

2016 will be an important year for me. My debut novel Belief was published in September. Also, I was diagnosed with glomerulonephritis (GN). It's a disease; both my kidneys are malfunctioning.

Let me first deal with my novel.

After a prolonged process, during which I was often not even sure what I was doing, I finally saw the book when my publishers (Mawenzi House Publishers) gave me the first copy of my debut novel. 

It was one of the happiest moments of my life. As I held the book in my hands, I realised that Charles Pachter’s self-portrait Decoy, which was used for cover, added a lot of gravitas to a grim story.

My publishers had arranged for me to read at the Word on the Street in Toronto and had Quill and Quire review the novel. I was glad the reviewer understood that the novel wasn’t just about terrorism, as much as it was about immigration and youth radicalization. 

The Toronto Star published a story about my reading from the novel at the condo where I worked as a security guard and where I began writing the book. That report by Nicholas Keung made me a minor celebrity as two other newspapers republished the story. Other media outlets also published reports (and narrowcasted discussions) about the novel and me.

My publisher told me that it’d been taken up as an undergraduate course material at Ryerson University (but I don’t have any details), and seemed satisfied that the book was selling well. 

Of course, some friends underlined the fact that I had managed just one review, implying it'd be forgotten soon, and hinting that the little attention it got was both ill-gotten and ill-deserved. 

Did the novel get the attention it deserved? 

I suppose so. 

There is no denying that I’d have loved for it to have become a critically acclaimed, mass-market success. But it's unlikely to be. 

Like most first novels, it was praised by people the author knew, bought by a few, and read by fewer.

I hope the book will continue to attract the attention of readers and will continue to sell in 2017.

Now, about my kidneys. From the internet I gathered the following: 

“Glomerulonephritis is inflammation of the glomeruli, which are structures in ones kidneys that are made up of tiny blood vessels. These knots of vessels help filter blood and remove excess fluids. If the glomeruli are damaged, the kidneys will stop working properly and one can go into kidney failure. Glomerulonephritis is a serious illness that can be life-threatening and requires immediate treatment. The condition is sometimes called nephritis. There can be both acute (sudden) glomerulonephritis and chronic (long-term or recurring) glomerulonephritis.”

To add to the complications, it was also discovered that I had low thyroid count, a hereditary ailment.

From a person who took pride in not taking a sick day off from work, ever, I had to take time off to visit two doctors regularly, be admitted to a hospital and undergo a biopsy, and be on permanent medication.

Almost everyone who got to know of this was concerned; although quite disconcertingly, a few seemed glad. Their reaction, never openly expressed but glaringly obvious, was, “Well, that should finally put you in your place!”  

Both, the publication of my novel and my illness taught me an important lesson – to rein in my expectations about praise and recognition, and empathy and understanding.  

Schadenfreude is a German word that means pleasure derived from the misfortune of others. 

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Fifteen Dogs - Andre Alexi

At a particularly poignant moment in Andre Alexis’s Fifteen Dogs, Majnoun, one of the 15 canines who has developed humanlike faculties of thought and speech, thanks to a wager between Hermes and Apollo, describes to Nira, his female human friend, what to a male canine is a perfect dilemma: to choose between two compelling desires of sex and hunger.

-           Do dogs have stories? Nira asked him one day.
-          Of course, said Majnoun.
-          Oh, Maj! said Nira. Please tell me one.

Majnoun agreed and began.

-          There is the smell of bitch, but I am before a wall. The smell is strong and I am going mad. I can’t eat. I can’t drink. The wall is too thick to knock down and it goes for miles in this direction and for miles in that direction. I dig under and I dig and I dig. The master cannot see my digging so I dig until there is air beneath the wall and the smell of the bitch is stronger than it was before. I call to the bitch but there is no answer. But there is air beneath the wall. Should I go on digging? I don’t know, but I dig even though I can smell the master’s food from his house. The smell of bitch is stronger and stronger. I call out, but now I am hungry.

Here Majnoun stopped.

-          Is that it? Asked Nira.
-          -    Yes, said Majnoun. Do you not like it?-          Well, it’s…different, said Nira. But it doesn’t really have an ending.-          It has a very moving ending, said Majnoun. Is it not sad to be caught between desires?

To the Gods Hermes and Apollo, the dogs are, to quote Shakespeare, “as flies to wanton boys are we to th' gods. They kill us for their sport.”

Apollo wagers a year’s servitude to Hermes that animals with humanlike intelligence would be as unhappy if not more as humans. They take a group of 15 dogs in a shelter and bestow them with humanlike intelligence.

The canines take to their changed fate differently. They get divided into two distinct categories – those who are clearly not keen to explore the possibilities with their newfound ability to communicate through their new language and the other category who want to gallop away with the new language.

The former category is convinced that canines should be like canines, communicate in the manner in which they have always done. The other group believes that the gift of humanlike speech and cognition has to be explored, experimented with and savoured. One of them, Prince, turns into a poet.

This obviously leads to a wide schism between the two groups. The novel focuses on three dogs – Majnoun, Atticus and Prince – as they journey through the world that has suddenly turned unfamiliar because of their transformation.

The humans are portrayed as generally mean, indifferent, condescending when they are unfamiliar with the pets, and once they get to know the animals, they become friendly but continue to treat the animals condescendingly, irritating the canines.

The novelist’s genius is in the novel’s simplicity. Fifteen Dogs is a simple parable. It explores the depths of emotions that are human but are being felt but canines. The novel portrays the canines as intelligent beings, capable of understanding and manipulating humans, their masters. However, having become like humans doesn’t lessen their animal instinct, and even the most peaceful (and humanlike) of them all – Majnoun – is prone to merciless violence against other dogs when guarding their own turf.

An endearing aspect of the novel is Prince’s poetry. In the endnote, the author explains that poems were written “in a genre invented by Francois Caradac for the OULIPO. It was invented after Francois Le Lionnais, a founder of the group, wondered if it were possible to write poetry that has meaning for both humans and animals. In Fifteen Dogs each poem is what Caradec called a ‘Poem for a dog’. That is, in each poem the name of a dog will be audible – to the listener or to the dog – if the poem is said aloud, though the name is not legible.”

The novel deals with universal themes, except that these universal themes are woven around the lives of dogs, many of whom meet with a brutish end, and even the ones who survive longer are necessarily happy.  Apollo wins, but before he does, the gods, too, act like humans, displaying envy, and worse, bending the rules of the game, to score brownie points.

The novel won the Giller Prize in 2015.