Posted in Articles, Book Fiction, Book Non Fiction

Liberty Books Blogger!

Finally! It happened! It’s official!

After a series of intense emails and phone conversations, I have been shortlisted to join Liberty Books small but exclusive band of Book Bloggers! This is very exciting as I was looking for a larger platform on which to share my book reviews. Liberty Books have been super kind to take me on to blog for them.

The best part? I will be given complimentary books and giveaways as part of the deal! How exciting is that!?

As it is, there are only two books stores in Lahore that I frequent a lot: Liberty Books and Readings. I also like The Last Word a lot, but shopping from there is an expensive business– and I stick to getting a graphic novel or an exclusive book when it’s not available anywhere else.

I am fond of Liberty Books because of the Loyalty Card program they have introduced. I collect points when I purchase books, and then I can redeem my points to get more books! In addition to this, I get all my magazine subscriptions from them as they provide very timely and speedy service!

In Lahore, they are located at Emporium Mall (Pop Up Store) and at Packages Mall, and can also be found online here. Liberty Books will also be seen at the upcoming Lahore International Book Fair being held from Feb 1st to Feb 5th, 2018.

As of now, I am in a moment of #gratitude!

Cheer!

 

Posted in Book Non Fiction

I’m OK, You’re OK

The Self Help industry is big business. Countless books are written in this genre by these self-help gurus, along with numerous talks and seminars they conduct. The self-help industry has convinced the world that in order to stay happy and lead a meaningful life, you need to read these self-help books and get some expert advice from these gurus. It’s all about achieving happiness, setting goals and removing negativity from your life.
Unfortunately , we are living in a day and age where it’s all about instant gratification. Buy that brand new phone and be the envy of friends. Travel to an exotic location and be happy. Post an envious instagram picture and accumulate likes. The problem with instant gratification is that immediately following the gratification, one is led to the feeling of “what next?” and thus one slumps into an unhappy mood.
Granted, there are some rather good ones out there (Robin Sharma, Mark Manson) and then there are some rather useless ones (Rhonda Byrnes’ The Secret). There are some who are extremely popular with the masses (Anthony Robbins) and it feels like they are merely cashing in on their fame. Then there are some books that feel the author is on some huge ego trip (Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy).
It can become challenging to find that right book that suits you.
The other problem is that most of these books come out from the Western world, so their viewpoint is very American- Euro centric (The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin), or women-centric (Option B by Sheryl Sandberg). This creates a barrier based on race and religion between the author and the readers in this part of the world.
For those of us in the Asian world, it becomes a chore to decipher what works and what doesn’t work for us, keeping in mind our cultural and religious context. I wish there were some people from this part of the world who would write a book on depression or ways to better ourselves, but there are none.
In my experience, having read through most of the more popular ones (for example The Road Less Traveled- which is great in parts), I’ve been able to wade through the chapters, absorbing what suits me, and discarding what doesn’t apply to me.
Having said that, there is one book that revolutionized the way I think and made me wish I had read this book 20 years ago. It would have helped me deal with the people a whole lot better, and would have made me understand the complexities and ulterior motives of the people around me.
The premise of the book is rather simple and can be broken down into three major parts:
A. The Ego States
B. Transaction Analysis
C. The Four Life Positions
A. The Ego States:
Right from the moment, we are born, our brain becomes an HD drive. We start to record information. We take in information from our parents, siblings, friends. Because of this, every human being develops multiple natures and this can be broken down into three ego-states— Parent, Adult and Child (PAC).
Here’s what the three ego-states mean:
1. Parent– while growing up, we learn a lot from our parents, teachers, elders. As children, we take in what’s right and what’s wrong (for example, smoking is bad, don’t have sex before marriage etc). These are rules and restrictions that have been placed on us as children. We record all this information in our brains and the brain retrieves this information when we are adults.
2. Adult– if you are in this state, it simply means that you are able to identify both your Parent and Child ego states, and come up with a mature, rational and reasonable attitude in life. So for example, if someone is confrontational with you, you could react either with a Parent ego state (echoing what your parent would have done) or a Child ego state (echoing what your child self would have done). However, if you react with an Adult ego state, you would rise above the occasion and avoid the confrontation all together (this is a very simple example as life is a lot more complicated than this!)
3. Child– in this state, you are dealing with other people as you would have as a child. So for example, if as a child you displayed feelings of resentment because you felt abandoned by your parents, you will develop the same feelings as an adult when someone abandons you.
B. Transaction Analysis
Human beings are social animals. We cannot live in isolation. We crave for interactions. We survive by interacting with each other. However, what’s important is to understand this interaction for when you understand this interaction, you will know how to deal with people in a better way without having to feel you’ve been taken for a ride.
When one person interacts with another, known as Transactional Analysis, the person speaks from one of the three ego-states. The other person who responds also speaks from one of his three ego-states. Once you understand these three ego-states, and what they mean, your life will become a whole lot easier, with reference to dealing with people.
The other day, I was talking to a colleague, and I had asked him a question from a very Adult stance. His response was not what I was expected, and I realized that he was speaking from his Child ego state. This helped me understand him and so I guided the conversation towards the two of us having an Adult to Adult conversation. I helped him realize where he was coming from and this helped him understand himself better.
This will take some skill on your part to understand where the other person is coming from. However, it will also help you understand where you are coming from.
C. The Four Life Positions
There are four life positions that we all are in. These life positions determine where we are standing in our lives.
1. I’m not OK, You’re OK
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The first position define our being Not OK in life. You are one down. This is primarily what a child would think: he feels helpless and defenseless, but sees his parents who he considers are ok. If untreated, this life position can carry on to our adult life, which can proved damaging.
2. I’m not OK, You’re not OK
The second life position determines that neither I am OK, nor are the people around me OK. There is a feeling of abandonment and difficulty, leading to the feeling that I am not ok, and neither are those who are around me, otherwise, they would have helped me. You are basically lost and unhappy.
3. I’m OK, You’re not OK
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The third position, I’m OK and you’re not OK, determines a life position where one heals himself and tells himself that he can survive, despite the fact that others around him are not helping him because they are not ok. You are one up. You are angry. An example of this would be a battered or abused child, who learns to survive on his own. This is a dangerous position to be in.
4. I’m OK, You’re OK
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The fourth position is something we all aspire to: I am OK and you are OK too. You are ready to get on with happiness. This position is what it all boils down to. In regards to the previous three positions, where the life positions are unconsciously formed, the fourth position is a conscious and verbal decision that one takes. Therein lies hope.
In short, the aim of Transactional Analysis is to “confront the patient with the fact that he is responsible for what happens in the future no matter what has happened in the past. Moreover, it is enabling the persons to change, to establish self-control and self-direction, and to discover the reality of a freedom of choice.”
The remainder part of the book deal with some very encouraging and interesting aspects of our personalities.
In We Can Change, the author shares his views on how we as adult can change our mindsets and personalities to become the people we are meant to be. Nothing stays permanent and an understanding of the PAC model will help you understand yourself more and will bring about a desire to change.
In another chapter, How We Use Time, the author talks about how we use our time, and an important element is discussed here: games people play. He defines games as “defenses to protect an individual from greater or lesser degree of pain.” In other words, when you interact with people, others will have an ulterior motive and will speak to you in a certain manner signifying their intentions. There are ways to decipher this, through verbal and nonverbal clues.
Harris further talks about how we can apply the PAC model in marriage, in children, and in adolescents. To understand this further, reading the book is a must.
The last two chapters are somewhat not that engrossing as the author talks about taking the PAC model to the larger scheme of things: world politics.
Initially, when I started the book, I was feeling a little hesitant and didn’t want to confront with a barrage of information and self-help mumbo jumbo. But I am so glad I read this book. It’s definitely helped me gain a deeper insight into the psychology of a human being and where they are coming from. It makes me less judgmental and more open to the idea that all of us are on our own unique journeys.
I’ve read a lot of books on self-help, self-memoirs, on happiness, on achieving success but none have impacted me as much as I’m Ok, You’re OK, primarily because the concept of human interaction is explained so well and so thoroughly, that it becomes obvious as to why people behave the way they do and why they play games. It’s not rocket science but rather basic. This is the main reason why this book succeeds because it’s not focused on the concept of instant gratification but rather to be patient and invest your time in focusing on the here and now, after which you can reap the rewards.
Posted in Book Fiction, Book Non Fiction

The Spy (Book)

In 1998, a book came out that transformed the lives of millions, and still does so today. It’s a book that’s been quoted by people from all walks of life world over as one of their favourite books. The book is called The Alchemist and the author is world-famous Paulo Coelho. With each subsequent book that he put out, it would send the literary world abuzz with excitement and anticipation to see what wisdom he shares through his unique and interesting characters.

Some of his more popular books are Veronika Decides to Die, The Witch of Portobello, Manual of the Warrior of Light, as well his recent best seller Adultery. It was with that level of eagerness that every awaited his latest novel The Spy.

The Spy is a short book and centers around the life of Mata Hari, the female Dutch dancer, exotic courtesan and convicted spy who was executed by a firing squad in 1917. The first chapter draws you right into the final moments of her life at prison and being led out to the grounds to face the men who will execute her. The book is split into three parts, each detailing a section of her tumultuous life.

The source of inspiration for Coelho is the letter that Mata Hari had written to her lawyer, explaining how she ended up in the situation she is in. The point is that Coelho has merely used that a device to create a story of what Mata Hari may have done and said. The Spy is to be read as more as a fictional story based on a real life historical person, as opposed to reading a biography (Coelho acknowledges in the end notes of a better written biography on Mata Hari).

Part I deals with early life of Mata Hari, initially known as Margaretha Zelle, and explores her life as a prostitute who encounters the rich and influential men. She is also a dancer and dreams of going to Paris to perform. She brings unique dance moves, inspired from Egypt, to the delight of the people who flock thetheaters to watch her.

Part II follows her journey into the rest of Europe as she becomes a popular exotic dancer, scandalizing a lot of people and being watched by the old world order who cannot fathom a strong, independent woman who is bold in her dealings with the men and women. She lands in trouble with a wrong man who uses her as a spy for her personal request to move to Paris from Hague, leading to disastrous consequences.

Part III ultimately shows how Mata Hari is accused of being a double spy and ends up being arrested, leading up to her execution.

While the story is known to many, it’s Coelho’s treatment of Mata Hari that’s slightly disappointing. One expects a thrilling, espionage thriller novella, but what we get instead is a brief, skimming over of some of her important moments. Her encounters with Freud and Picasso are merely glanced over, for example. At times, Coelho does a better job of describing the pre-war Paris, or the contents of her luggage for that matter, than he does of what’s happening inside of her mind.

Having said that, there are some interesting moments, but they are far and few in-between. I was somewhat disappointed though given what a huge writer Coelho is. It just felt like he wanted to talk more about a woman who’s bold, independent and assertive, shedding some light on women power and feminist stance that Mata Hari expressed, all in 1917 at a time when an average women was anything but Mata Hari. The Spy is a very short read, more like a novella, and makes for a quick read for those who don’t have time to pick up a book.

Posted in Book Non Fiction

When Breath Becomes Air (Book)

It was on my Facebook newsfeed that I saw a friend recommending everyone to read When Breath Becomes Air. The book went straight to number one on the New York Times bestseller list and stayed there for 12 weeks.

When Breath Becomes Air is written by Dr. Paul Kalanithi, a 36-year-old neurosurgeon. After having trained for almost a decade, Paul finds out that he’s been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. It is at this moment that his life takes a massive turn: from being a doctor treating patients to becoming a patient himself under going treatment for cancer.

It is this very twist of events that Paul chronicles in his book, which is less a memoir and more of an insight into his life experiencing this unforeseen circumstance.

In the foreword by Abraham Verghese, with reference to Dr. Paul Kalanithi’s book, he invites the reader to “see what courage looks like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words.”

In the first part of the book, Paul brilliantly details the early part of his life and how he came to do medicine. Paul’s childhood experiences are at its best when he shares about his parents (who are south Indian, one is Christian, other is Hindu) and their life in the United States. He along with his brother had a somewhat of that seemingly perfect childhood growing up. Paul also shares his love for literature—Dickens, Twain, Austen – so much so he eventually attaining a degree in English Literature. As he says in the book, “books became my closest confidants, finely ground lenses providing new views of the world.”

He leads us through his college years with a constant thought that would bug his conscience: What makes human life meaningful? Paul felt that literature would provide him the answer, and it did to a large extent. However, he was driven less by achievement and more by asking this pertinent question.

With two degrees under his belt, English Literature and Human Biology- Paul decides to pursue his career in medicine, which proved to be quite beneficial as Paul says in the  book, “medical school sharpened my understanding of the relationship between meaning, life and death.”

In some of the more interesting parts of the book, Paul shares his experiences of going through medical school: his first birth, his first death and his first time cutting up a cadaver. Life becomes challenging for him as he still continues to explore one thing: what makes life meaningful? He shares his experience of dealing with a family who just had a new born baby, only for that baby to die later. He deals with a family whose love one was about to undergo surgery with no clear indication of the outcome. Moments like forced Paul to take decision which he says requires experience, knowledge and most importantly moral clarity.

In the second part of the book, Paul shares with us how his world changes when he finds out he is diagnosed with lung cancer. Now, he is not the doctor anymore but a patient, and a very unique patient because he has all the knowledge of a doctor. However, his thought process changes as he now thinks like a patient who needs to fight for survival. He doesn’t think like a doctor, who needs to come up with techniques to handle the medical diagnosis and subsequent treatments to the patient.

Because Paul is doctor, he works alongside his doctors to seek out the best treatment and can read his medical reports. These were some of the more difficult parts of the book to read as I would recall my own experience with my father’s cancer- treatment, surgeries, doctor visit, scans and all.

In the midst of this all, Paul and his wife contemplate having a child and this becomes a deep moral issue for them- should you plan on having a child when you know that the husband will die eventually? (They eventually do have a daughter and the book is dedicated to her!)

Paul, who now has a death sentence above his head, tries to understand what life is all about in the short amount of time he has left. Again, literature comes to his rescue and he restarts reading books. As he says, “I had to face mortality to understand what made my life worth living.”

When Breath Becomes Air is one of those rare books that becomes very difficult to forget once you finish reading it. The book is filled with joyful, life-affirming moments that you cannot help but be sucked into the infectious optimism. There is so much strength and hope that it uplifts you. It also serves as a reminder that we all have a limited time on earth, and so we should start living our lives meaningfully. Would we change our priorities in life if we knew we had a year to live?

 

Posted in Book Non Fiction, Uncategorized

Sparrow at Heart – A Graphic Novel

Graphic novels have a unique cult following in the world, and apart from the usual comics, novels such as Life if Pi, The Alchemist and The Kite Runner all have been adapted into graphic novels. Joe Sacco (Footnotes in Gaza, Palestine) and Marjanne Satrapi (Persepolis) are some of the more well-known graphic novelists in this part of the world. Graphic novel allows the readers to experience a novel in a rather creative manner, allowing for the visuals to do the talking and add depth to the plot.

Which brings us to the fact that Sparrows at Heart is perhaps Pakistan’s first and only published graphic novel.

Sparrows at Heart follows the life and times of renowned artist Shakir Ali. To the uninitiated, which includes me, Shakir Ali was a hugely influential artist who famously led the National College of Arts to it’s glory. He enjoys a massive following in Pakistan and his legacy still continues till today with artists like Jamil Naqsh and Ahmed Pervez citing Shakir Ali as their influence. Sparrows at Heart was released at the time when Shakir Ali’s 102nd birth anniversary was recently celebrated in Pakistan.

The graphic novel is the brain child of two young, creative individuals: Haider Ali Jan, a visual artist based in Lahore, and Zain Naqvi, a designer and illustrator, both of who are graduates from NCA. Research included, the duo spent close to four months working on this novel, where one focused on the writing/ storyline and the other focused on the visuals.

We follow the life and times of Shakir Ali, from his childhood in Rampur through his years in Europe, ultimately bring him to Lahore to lead NCA as the principal. Along his journey, we are given insights into his relationships with his father and sister, his life in Delhi where his masculinity was brought into question, to his marriage and failed relationships, to his encounters with political figures and European culture. While it was not possible to fit in his entire life story, the authors had decided to show as many different sides to his personality that makes him who he is. This brings a rather personal experience for the readers who would know so little about his personal life.

While going through the novel, one can see the different kinds of visuals which according to the authors represent the style of art that Shakir Ali would use. Each page is distinctive from one another and tells it’s own story. They have indeed taken a bold step to use atypical layouts, with sentences that are curled up, or spread out across the page. There are a lot of visual motifs too, namely the sparrow interspersed throughout the pages. At 81 pages, Sparrows atHeart is a quick read and an enriching reading experience too as the readers fall into the sumptuous visuals.

In the preface by Salima Hashmi, she had to say the following about Shakir Ali: “It was this breadth of vision he brought to NCA through his presence. A generation of architects, artists and designers grew up under his wings, bred in a culture which encouraged freedom of thought, investigation and making of work in tune with the need of the time.” There is no need for any further explanation on the influence Shakir Ali has today amongst the artisan community.

Sparrow at Heart was a wonderful reading experience for me for two reasons. One, I got an insight into the life of Shakir Ali (of whom I had very little idea about) and how much of an influence he had on what we call modern art in Pakistan. Two, being an architect and a creative person myself, I fell in love with the concept of a graphic novel. By no means is this a flawless or perfect graphic novel, but it’s the beginning of a movement that will blow up in the next couple of years. Credit to the authors Haider Ali Jan and Zain Naqvi for paving the way to more creativity through writing and coming out with Pakistan’s first graphic novel.

 

Originally published in Royal Palm Golf and Country Club magazine, March 2016

Posted in Book Non Fiction

Start Something That Matters

In the last few years, there has been a lot of interest in entrepreneurial start-ups. Young men and women, fresh out of college (and some still while in college and universities) choose to venture into start-ups in various fields they are passionate about. Social media has allowed them access to people from all over the world. With local based start-ups such as Markhor, the shoe company that utilizes the services of local craftsmen in Okara to create world class shoes, more and more people are opting to start their own business at an early age rather than go for a 9 to 5 job in a corporate set up.

This is where Blake Mycoskie book, Start Something That Matters, becomes a very important book. He drives home a point that a lot of people, who are venturing into start-ups are people who also want to give back to society, hence the title Start Something That Matters. He encourages those who want to start a charity, should do so with a business model in mind, to allow for the charity to sustain itself for a long term basis.

The book opens up about the author’s trip to Argentina with his sister, where Mycoskie realised that a lot of children there didn’t have shoes. Since he had already fallen in love with the Argentina culture, he took great interest in alpargata, a soft, casual canvas show worn by almost everyone in the country. As he describes his tough yet rewarding journey, the concept of TOMS was born. TOMS is actually derived from Tomorrow Shoes, and not his name, as he recalls in the book. It was the story behind the shoe and the concept that people bought; for every shoe you buy, the company will donate a free pair of shoes to a poor child. This created the world famous One for One movement. So successful is the business model One for One, that even with the book I purchased, a book will be given to a child.

The book is split up into eight chapters, with each chapter allowing us to get into the whole successful business model. The key element according to the author is “find your story.” TOMS is successful because of the story behind the origin. The author suggests various ways to find your story, that will resonate with the audience, and encourages you to repeat your story over and over till you find people who are convinced of it. Secondly, he also suggests ways to overcome your fear, which he says is part of life, and thus we have a choice to overcome our fears.

So it is with remaining chapters where he shares with the readers about what to do with limited resources, keeping it simple, building trust, giving is good business and the final step of starting your own business.

The book is full of real life example of successful ventures that have used their “stories” to reach out to customers. For example, Subway was not making money when they started out. They had heard of a young man, who was overweight, and roped in him with the Subway Diet Plan. After he lost weight, thanks to Subway’s healthy sandwiches, Subways used his story to reach out to customers. They bought it, and Subways started making money. There are loads more examples of how young men and women have started their own business and are making a difference in the world.

According to Mycoskie, one needs “passion” to push their story ahead to create a business model that’s self-sustaining and most importantly giving back to society. His optimistic attitude shines throughout the book, and despite some hurdles and hardships that he shares about so candidly, it’s his sheer determination and passion that helps him get through. Which is why this book is so great, because he tells us how we all can do it without sounding “preachy” and throwing out technical jargon. It is full of inspirational words and helpful tips to bring out the passionate entrepreneur in you.

 

I have personally seen quite a lot of people wearing TOMS shoes here in Lahore, and have deliberately asked them about the shoes. They would share the story of TOMS with me, and that’s when I realise how successful the founder of TOMS is: his story is being shared by those who buy the shoes. I know as a nation, Pakistan is very generous. We love to help and give to others, especially in times of crises. It’s part of our culture to give openly. Start Something That Matters is that perfect inspirational book for those who want to love their work, start a business model of success, initiate an innovative charity and have a positive impact in the world by giving back.

 

Originally published in Royal Palm Golf and Country Club, February 2016