Girish Joshi

Girish's Blog

stories, philosophies, ideas, reading, and life.

to all those who listen;
from all those who speak.

Popcorn Coffee

On a Sunday afternoon in a downtown café in Mumbai, while having a slow meandering conversation with Kajal, who had been his friend from high school, Girish had a moment of awakening. All the stories that he had ever loved were written in the third person. Like a cameraman zooming in and out of the scene of a movie, as a third person he could reach places which were unfathomable otherwise. For Girish, it was like finding a way out from a cul-de-sac without needing to reverse his car. When Girish first found out that he could write, he wanted to write even better. So, he did what anyone in his place would do: he began taking writing lessons. His shelf was soon filled with all the books on writing one could find on the market, and his computer was filled with all the popular writing courses one could find on the internet. The more time Girish spent learning how to write, the more it dawned on him that there was so much he didn’t know. The more he looked at the road, the longer it began to look. And now, years had passed without Girish being able to furnish a readable short story. He might have given up on writing had it not been for what Kajal said that Sunday afternoon in the café.

            “I stopped using Grammarly for writing,” Kajal told him while sipping her popcorn caramel coffee. They are adding popcorn to the coffee, Girish murmured to himself, where is the world going while looking at his normal ginger-lemon tea. When he had told the waiter that he wanted a regular ginger-lemon tea, the waiter gave him a perplexed stare. “Sir, that’s a black tea,” he told Girish as politely as he could. One could not possibly add lemon to the milk without metamorphosizing the milk into the cheese, which Girish had known, but now he wasn’t so sure since he had seen a coffee with popcorn on the menu. So he told him what he loves telling everyone, “I’m lactose intolerant.” There was a certain pleasure he derived from the look on people’s faces when he told them as if they all were wanting him to tell the story of being lactose intolerant. There was nothing more satisfying than having eyes upon you who wants a good story, and so terrifying either.

            “Even before I finish my sentence, Grammarly be like—you know it’s good but it can be better, let me show you how you dumbass. Also, will you give me the number of the teacher who taught you English in high school, because here are seven mistakes you have made in the eight lines you have written in the last hour? God! For once I wanted to write without being told that I am not good enough, I have enough people in life to tell me that already,” Kajal ranted with her eyes so big Girish thought they might just pop out of the socket and fall into her popcorn coffee. Perfectionism was not letting them write, Girish told her. He thought about the times he had spent optimizing the structure of one sentence that he totally forgot what he was going to say in the next one. Words are like the river; how would the words flow if you’d keep placing check dams in between?

            “I rewrote the first two chapters of the novel that I had told you about last year in the third person, plainly on a Microsoft Word file without Grammarly poking its nose in my business. I’ll save it for the editing,” Kajal said gleefully. “On MS Word? You know there’s a software for novelists called Scrivener…,” Girish paused midway realizing better now that he had been going circles, that it was just another Grammarly, another way to be told that he wasn’t ready yet to write the story that resided somewhere within and around him. The curse of knowing so much is that you end up knowing that you can never know enough. And that is indeed a disturbing thought to live the rest of your life with. Is that the reason why they say ignorance is bliss and fools are always happy?

“There are two types of writers in this world: gardeners and plotters. I had been a gardener earlier, planting the seed of my story and seeing how it grows, but it didn’t work for me. I guess some people are not cut out to be a gardener. I wrote the plot this time before writing my novel, this helps me channel my imagination and acts as a guiding light — telling me where to go,” Kajal blurted as she finished her popcorn coffee. Girish didn’t know whether it was the lemon tea or the charm of the evening but he felt the heat from the gears of his brain fuming. In that moment, Girish just knew what had to be done. He asked Kajal, “Do you want to play a game of chess?” Amazed, Kajal replied, “But I just know the basics, I’m no good at it.” With his grin reaching his ears, Girish told her, “We don’t have to play a perfect game to call it an evening”. Perhaps he was right when he said that, all they had to do was play. Maps were slowing them down, and if all roads were going to be their home, they could safely throw the maps away.

“I feel like the words are betraying me.”

“Or do you feel like you are betraying your words?”

I gasped.

“These eyes, these eyes, when they look at me, I feel as if they are taking away something I love. These eyes of expectations. They are like slithering blades over my throat. I lose my breathing, and I lose my words.”

“What are they expecting of you?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know. Sometimes I feel that want my everything. As if nothing I’ll do will ever be enough. How long can a man live knowing that he’ll never be enough?”

He sighed.

“Do you feel like running away?”

“All the time.”

“Then why don’t you run away?”

I paused.



“But what if I start missing these eyes?”

“What do you mean?”

“As long as I don’t write, I’ll never find out how bad I am. What if maybe I’m afraid of finding out how bad I am? I’m afraid of finding out that I cannot run faster or longer.”

“Then these eyes will keep watching you.”

“Why do we fall in love with the cage?”

“We don’t love the cage. We love the captor.”


“Because we believe that someday, the captor will see our love, and set us free. It’s our defence mechanism, it’s our survival instinct.”

“I just want this feeling to go away. This heaviness. It makes breathing impossible for me.”



“Just write.”

“I don’t understand.”

“You don’t have to. Just write.”

“Write what? Anything?”

“No. Write the story you want to tell.”

“Sometimes I feel as if I’m losing my voice. I wake up every morning and don’t know how it is night again. I don’t even know who I am anymore. How do I tell the story? One must know who they are before they tell the story.”

“One often finds out who they are when they tell the story. The kind of stories we tell define the kind of man we become. Some men live their whole life without telling stories. But we don’t talk much about those men once they are gone.”

“I want to be the kind of man people talk about when I’m gone.”

“What do you want them to talk about you?”

“The good things. I want them to remember me for my goodness, not greatness.”

“Then you have to tell good stories.”

“But what if I don’t have any good story to tell?”

“All stories are just, well how do I say it? Just stories. It’s the storyteller who makes them good.”

“And what if I’m not able to make them good?”

He paused.

“Then you’ll make them bad. But so what, a bad story is still better than no story.”

“Which story should I tell then?”

“The one that’s closest to your heart.”

“I feel like closing my eyes and drifting to sleep.”

“Dreams are where the best stories reside. Goodnight, Ali.”

“Goodnight, Abu.”

“Morning rosebud.”


“What did you dream last night?”

“Why do we start forgetting our dreams the moment we wake up?”

“So that every night when dreams visit us, we watch them fondly, as if we are watching them for the first time.”

“Are you telling me that I have been watching the same dream for years?”


“And you have been watching the same dream for years?”


“Is your dream the same as mine?”

“No. We all dream different dreams. They come to visit us at night when we sleep, and we spend morning to evening forgetting the dream. When the night finally comes and we drift to sleep, the dream can sweep inside our heads again just as virtuously as it came on our first night on this planet.”

“Is that why we think of the dream so fondly?”

“Yes. That’s what being a dream watcher means. People have spent their whole lives trying to catch their dreams in the middle of the day, madness I say. It doesn’t do good to dwell on the dreams, dreams which would eventually come back to you every night.”

“But what if my dream doesn’t come back?”

He laughed.

“They always do.”

“No. There have been nights when I don’t remember having a dream at all.”

“Remembering is a funny thing. Sometimes we forget about the dream even before we wake up. This dream that I’m talking about, lives within us, so in reality it never leaves us, just that we forget about under the sun.”

“Then how does this dream gets her Vitamin D?”


“I’m joking.”

We chuckled.

“The purpose of our lives is to realize that dream. The dream we see under the starry sky. Some people say that these dreams that we see are about death. And we forget about them in the day so that we can carry on living. But I disagree. I think these dreams are about life. When our first woman and man must have gained consciousness, these dreams would have given them a purpose to wake up in the morning.”

“Abu, but I wake up in the morning for the breakfast. What’s in the breakfast?”

“But you did not tell me about your dream?”

“I forgot.”

He kept his hand on my head.

“Come, I’ve made waffles.”

“You know what I am going to write about?”


“The Dream.”

“Do you have a story in mind?”

“Listen to me: once upon a time, in a place far away from the city lived Ali and his Abu. Ali wanted to become the greatest storyteller but the stories just wouldn’t come to him. One moonless night, when everything seemed to have failed Ali, he turned to his Abu. And Abu being his sweet Abu, heard his little Ali’s worries. The words seemed to have failed him, Ali had thought. But Abu had just two words for Ali, and those were ‘just write’. That night Ali fell asleep belonging to his Abu’s arms, that’s where he always belonged. When the morning shone, Abu told Ali about the dream we carry within us but forget under the sunshine. Abu told Ali that ‘the dream’ is the purpose of our lives. This dream that pays us a visit every night when we sleep is the reason why we wake up in the morning. And Ali had spent his entire life waking up for his Abu’s waffles. Maybe this was it, maybe Ali needn’t be the greatest storyteller when he could just be the greatest dream watcher. And since then, in a place away from the city lived a boy who spent his night dream watching, and his days writing about them.”

“And that is how he became the greatest storyteller that ever lived?”

“Stop teasing me, Abu.”

Abu hugged his little Ali, and then he whispered to his ears.

“It’s time for you to go to school.”

The Wise Man’s Fear

The Kingkiller Chronicle:

IT WAS NIGHT AGAIN. My desk lay in silence, and it was a silence of three months. A while had passed since I inked. A while had passed since I had written anything. Maybe like Kvothe, even I had forgotten the name of the words that when strung together sang for the book. When you don’t exercise a muscle it loses strength. It is the same with writing.

I remember. I remember, almost as if it was yesterday, even though it has been a long time. I remember asking Dewarshi, “What should I read? Everywhere I put my nose, it hurts.” I remember him smiling at me in the sunshine that only spreads in the middle of the sea. On his face, it fell, and on mine, illuminating all the wrinkles time had left on our faces. “You should read fantasy. You need to escape from reality until you are yourself again.”, he told me under the sunshine.

“Until I’m myself again,” I murmured.

The horses of my mind ran towards The Kingkiller Chronicles, the fantasy trilogy by Patrick Rothfuss. I had read and loved The Name of the Wind many moonless nights ago. And I had read a couple of chapters of the second book of the series, The Wise Man’s Fear. “There are times when reality is nothing but pain, and to escape that pain the mind must leave reality behind,” I remember remembering things about the book which drew me in. “I know what I’m going to read,” I told him.

We kept walking on the steel grating upon the open sea until it was time for him to go to work and time for me to go to bed. He served for the day, and I served for the night.

Whenever they saw me walking around the deck with my kindle, they asked, “So what are you reading these days boy?” And I said, “The Wise Man’s Fear”. And then they asked, “What is it about?” And I did not know how to explain. Should I tell them that it’s the second book of the trilogy? Should I speak of Kvothe: unparalleled sword fighter, skilful magician, talented musician, innocent kingkiller? Or should I speak of Kote: the disguised innkeeper of The Waystone Inn, the man who is “waiting to die”? What was the wise man afraid of? And the name of the wind is supposed to be wind, right? The problem was simple: from where do I begin? And that was the same problem that sat with me in silence as I sat to write. Where should I begin? Should I tell them what happened to me before I started reading this book? Or should I speak of what happened when I read this book? It was a decision waiting to be made. The silence that longed for a song. As I began, the wind began to blow and my fears washed away.

It is the story of the storytellers. It is the story of Kvothe. He runs an Inn in a town where people know him by the name Kote. Names are powerful to the point where they become dangerous. You have to know the name of the man, to know the man, and nobody knows Kote here. Nobody knows that he’s Kvothe. The Kingkiller Kvothe. Nobody knows his name, nobody knows his story. Until one day, he saves the life of a chronicler who recognises him and knows his name. Names are powerful.

Kvothe was an Edma Ruh. They say the Ruh know all the stories in the world. They are the performers, singers, dancers, actors, troupers, and above all, storytellers. They travel to places in their wagons and perform for towns and villages to put butter over their bread. For the Ruh, home isn’t a place. It is people and wagons. One day Kvothe’s entire troupe, except Kvothe of course, is murdered by the mythical figure known in the folklore by the name Chandrian. Why? Because Chandrian, this group of seven beings, has set out to destroy knowledge about themselves. Everybody knows something about them. But nobody knows anything. And why Kvothe’s troupe? Because Kvothe’s parents were singing entirely the wrong sorts of songs. The songs that told the story of Chandrians. All the truth in the world is held in stories, and perhaps Chandrians want to keep the truth to themselves. Isn’t it why Voldemort killed Lilly and James Potter? Perhaps not, but that is how it all began.

This may not seem odd to you, but it was strange to me. Growing up among the Edema Ruh, home was never a place for me. Home was a group of wagons and songs around a campfire. When my troupe was killed, it was more than the loss of my family and childhood friends. It was like my entire world had been burned down to the waterline.

“My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day. The image of them gently swaying to the music is how I picture love in my mind even after all these years.”

And thus begins the journey of the Kvothe. The killing of his parents leaves him in trauma and Tarbean at the same time. When he gathers himself together and protects himself from being shredded into thousand pieces, he finds himself at the University. All these years, his music, his lute had kept him alive, and held him from the door of madness. Now at the University, he has a home. The first book, The Name of the Wind chronicles his early adventures at the University. Kvothe is barred from the Archives, the university’s library from where he could learn about Chandrians, thanks to Ambrose Jakis—his archnemesis. By the end of the book, he eventually learns to call the Name of the Wind.

“Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts. There are seven words that will make a person love you. There are ten words that will break a strong man’s will. But a word is nothing but a painting of a fire. A name is the fire itself.”

In the second book, The Wise Man’s Fear, Kvothe leaves the University for a term to travel to a kingdom far away called Vintas. He’s set to meet the king of the Vintas and offer him his services in return for his patronage. And thus begins another adventure in which Kvothe saves the life of the king from his healer, helps him get his ladylove, and gets rid of the bandits for the king. He sleeps with a Felurian, talks to the Cthaeh, and trains with the legendary Adem Mercenaries. He learns Ketan, the sword fighting technique and Lethani, the Adem philosophy. And his love for Denna grows and so does his understanding of the Chandrians.

Bast is Kvothe’s assistant. At the end of the first day, also the first book, he grabs hold of the Chronicler and tells him to make Kote remember that he isn’t some Innkeeper baking pies, he’s Kvothe. At the end of the second day, also the second book, Bast sends two soldiers to rob the Waystone Inn, so that Kvothe can fight with them and remember who he once was.

Now that I think of it all, I remember that these books are about remembering. Kvothe remembering who he was, who he is.

I have heard what poets write about women. They rhyme and rhapsodize and lie. I have watched sailors on the shore stare mutely at the slow-rolling swell of the sea. I have watched old soldiers with hearts like leather grow teary-eyed at their king’s colors stretched against the wind. Listen to me: these men know nothing of love.

So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because that’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.

One of my favourite parts of the book is the Adem philosophy of Lethani.

“What is the heart of the Lethani?” I asked Vashet.
“Success and right action.”
“Which is the more important, success or rightness?”
“They are the same. If you act rightly success follows.”
“But others may succeed by doing wrong things,” I pointed out.
“Wrong things never lead to success,” Vashet said firmly.
“If a man acts wrongly and succeeds, that is not the way. Without the Lethani there is no true success.”.

“Love is the willingness to do anything for someone,” I said. “Even at detriment to yourself.”
“In that case,” she said. “How is love different from duty or loyalty?”
“It is also combined with a physical attraction,” I said.
“Even a mother’s love?” Vashet asked.
“Combined with an extreme fondness then,” I amended.
“And what exactly do you mean by ‘fondness’?” she asked with a maddening calm.
“It is . . .” I trailed off, racking my brain to think how I could describe love without resorting to other, equally abstract terms.
“This is the nature of love.” Vashet said.
“To attempt to describe it will drive a woman mad. That is what keeps poets scribbling endlessly away. If one could pin it to the paper all complete, the others would lay down their pens. But it cannot be done.” She held up a finger. “But only a fool claims there is no such thing as love. When you see two young ones staring at each other with dewy eyes, there it is. So thick you can spread it on your bread and eat it. When you see a mother with her child, you see love. When you feel it roil in your belly, you know what it is. Even if you cannot give voice to it in words.”.
“You obviously understand the Lethani,” she said. “It is rooted deep inside you. Too deep for you to see. Sometimes it is the same with love.”.

There are many reasons to love this story, and I have only attempted to enumerate a few. In case you are looking to escape reality for a while, and are ready to go on a journey, read the first two books of The Kingkiller Chronicles, and like the rest of us, start weeping and praying for the release of the final book.

“A story is like a nut,” Vashet said.
“A fool will swallow it whole and choke. A fool will throw it away, thinking it of little worth.”
She smiled. “But a wise woman finds a way to crack the shell and eat the meat inside.”.

Relationships are one of the most gratifying aspects of human existence. They are our safe harbour in the stormy seas. Our guiding stars in the moonless nights. The bringer of immense satisfaction and joy. We, humans, are capable of giving up on everything that we hold dear for the sake of our relationships. And yet, these relationships can also be the cause of immense misery and sorrow. They can torment and ruin us. The irony is such that what may burn us, can also cause light. That is why we cannot leave our relationships on chance. My father always tells me that a good marriage is like winning the lottery. And if you are someone like me who can’t sit on his bum after buying a lottery ticket, then this book is for you. Since this is not a work of magic but only a book. It will not guarantee that you win the lottery but it will demystify the process for you. It would never be a boy meets girl form now. Rather it would be an anxious boy meeting an avoidant girl. You’ll being to understand the shape of all romantic stories, that I can say with confidence.

I first heard of attachment theory while reading How to Not Die Alone. A whacky title isn’t it? It was a book on relationships that I had read at the beginning of the year. The idea that we have different attachment styles stung me. I found myself gravitating to know more, and maybe to know all about it. Soon I found myself in possession of the Attached by Amir Levine. It was one of the popular books on attachment theory. It promised to help me understand the nature of adult love.

The basic assertion of the theory is that our need to be in a close relationship is encoded in our genes. We single out a few specific individuals in our lives and make them precious to us. Evolution plays its course such that in our dependence our true independence lies. We need to depend to be free. A paradoxical idea indeed. But what about my independence and her clinginess? Why would you want to cage me? he’ll say. Why can’t you spend more time with me? she’ll say. People, it turned out, are only as needy as their unmet needs. When their emotional needs meet they usually turn their attention outward. And that’s the dependency paradox in attachment lingo. The more effectively we are dependent on one another, the more independent and daring we become. Humans are heterogeneous. We are the same but not alike. Our needs are different, even emotional ones. And that’s where attachment theory marks its dent on me. By defuncting these three misconceptions which I’ll enumerate below from the book:

1. The first misconception is that everyone has the same capacity for intimacy. We have been raised to believe that every person can deeply love. It’s tempting to forget that people have very different capacities for intimacy. And when one person’s need for closeness is met with another person’s need for independence and distance, a lot of unhappiness ensues.

2. The second misconception we fell victim to is that marriage is the be-all and end-all. We don’t like to admit that people might enter marriage without the goals of true closeness and emotional partnership in mind, let alone the ability to achieve them. Mismatched attachment styles can lead to a great deal of unhappiness in marriage, even for people who love each other greatly.

3. The third hard-to-shed misconception we fell for is that we alone are responsible for our emotional needs; they are not our partner’s responsibility. Again, we must constantly remind ourselves: In a true partnership, both partners view it as their responsibility to ensure the other’s emotional well-being.

We have different capacities for intimacy. Most of us are not even aware of it. We enter social contracts like marriage without knowing what are we getting ourselves into. We carry this load on our shoulders that we and only we are responsible for our emotional needs. An infant is not told: “Stop crying over her. There are plenty of parents in the world. Like there are plenty of fishes in the sea. When you’ll be ready, you can always find a better parent”. We have a responsibility towards the emotional needs of our loved ones. And so do our loved ones have a responsibility towards our emotional needs. The question reduces to how much we need, and how much can we stretch to give. All good relationships are about finding the common ground. A place where both partners can meet each other. This is explained through how we get attached to other human beings to form a relationship. The attachment style is formed in our childhood, it’s a mix of our nurture and nature. The good news is that it’s possible to change the attachment style. On average, one in four people does so over a four-year period. It’s doable but it’s hard work. Good things in life rarely come easy anyway.

According to the theory, there are three types (well actually four types) of attachment styles: anxious, secure, and avoidant. The avoidant attachment style is further divided into dismissive-avoidant and fearful-avoidant. So, that makes a total of four kinds of attachment styles.

These styles differentiated on the axis of anxiety and avoidance (opposite of intimacy).

Those who exhibit low avoidance and low anxiety are secure. Those who exhibit low avoidance but high anxiety are anxious or anxious-preoccupied. Those who exhibit high avoidance and low anxiety are dismissive-avoidant. Those who exhibit high avoidance but low anxiety are fearful-avoidant.

The word avoidance denotes avoidance towards intimacy. Thus someone having low avoidance means that they seek intimacy. I have already written a blog post (What kind of baby are you?) to understand attachment styles better. This is the best quiz to assess your attachment style.

These described attachment styles differ in:
• their view of intimacy and togetherness
• the way they deal with conflict
• their attitude toward sex
• their ability to communicate their wishes and needs
• their expectations from their partner and the relationship

Secure Attachment

People who are secure in their relationships are comfortable depending on others and having the other person depend on them. Moreover, they are relatively unconcerned about whether the other person truly cares about them.

• Secure people feel comfortable with intimacy and are usually warm and loving.
• Parents of secure people were sensitive, available, and responsive.
• Know how to communicate their own expectations and respond to their partner’s needs effectively without having to resort to protest behaviour.
• They find it relatively easy to get close to others and are comfortable depending on others and having others depend on them. They don’t often worry about being abandoned or about someone getting too close to them.

Anxious Attachment

People who are preoccupied with their relationships are worried that the other person is not or will not be available when needed. They would like to depend on the other person and have that person depend on them, but feel that such dependence is not reciprocal.

• Anxious people crave intimacy, are often preoccupied with their relationships and tend to worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
• Parents of anxious people were inconsistently responsive.
• They find that others are reluctant to get as close as they would like. They often worry that their partner doesn’t really love them or won’t want to stay with them. They want to merge completely with another person and this desire sometimes scares people away.

Identification Metrics:
1. Wants a lot of closeness in the relationship
2. Expresses insecurities—worries about rejection
3. Unhappy when not in a relationship
4. Plays games to keep your attention/interest
5. Has difficulty explaining what’s bothering him/her. Expects you to guess.
6. Acts out—instead of trying to resolve the problem between you
7. Has a hard time not making things about themselves in the relationship
8. Let you set the tone of the relationship so as not to get hurt.
9. Is preoccupied with the relationship
10. Fears that small acts will ruin the relationship, believes s/he must work hard to keep your interest.
11. Suspicious that you may be unfaithful

Avoidant Attachment

People who are fearfully avoidant in their relationships are uncomfortable depending on others and serving as an ‘attachment figure.’ Moreover, they worry that others may not be there emotionally when they are most needed (high anxiety, high avoidance).

People who are dismissing in their relationships are also not comfortable opening up to others and depending on or having others depend on them. In addition, they are not concerned with the question of whether the other person truly cares about them (low anxiety, high avoidance).

• Avoidant people equate intimacy with a loss of independence and constantly try to minimize closeness.
• Parents of avoidant people were distant, rigid, and unresponsive.
• They are somewhat uncomfortable being close to others; They find it difficult to trust others completely, difficult to allow themselves to depend on them. They are nervous when anyone gets too close.

Identification Metrics:
1. Sends mixed signals
2. Values his/her independence greatly
3. Devalues you
4. Use distancing strategies—emotional or physical
5. Emphasizes boundaries in the relationship
6. Mistrustful—fears being taken advantage of by a partner
7. Has rigid views of relationships and uncompromising rules
8. During a disagreement needs to get away or “explode”
9. Leaves you guessing their feelings
10. Has difficulty talking about what’s going on between you

There are two goals of this information dump. The first goal is to realize your own attachment style. And the second goal is to realize the attachment style of the partner you have or seek. It’s a no-brainer that a secure attachment style is an ideal that we are after—that’s where we head. But until then, we must recognize the blind spots of where we are.

As anxiously attached people we have to come up with ways to cope with our anxieties. We have to learn to identify the times when our attachment system gets activated. One idea to keep in mind is to let the steam settle before you respond. Try to be with those secure folks who can take care of our emotional needs. As an anxiously attached person, you should stay away from avoidantly attached people. Else, you may fall spiralling into the anxious-avoidant trap.

As avoidantly attached people we have to learn about our deactivating strategies. The stories we tell ourselves to keep people at bay are at best just stories. We need to find those strategies and become conscious of their application. We have to learn to trust and be comfortable with being vulnerable. Again as an avoidantly attached person, look for someone securely attached.

Although the majority of people are securely attached (50%). But they seldom appear in the dating pool. Secure people can look boring because they never activate your attachment system. If there is one thing that you can take home from this book, then it’s that an activated attachment system is not love. Anxiety is not love. Butterflies in the stomach is not love. Love is peaceful. If you are out of love right now, I hope that you find love that is peaceful soon. I hope you hold onto it, not uncaringly, nor too tightly, but gently enough so that love stays. And in turn, love will take care of you.

Beach sand.

The Juhu Beach, Mumbai

A little girl in a withered floral dress is selling balloons. She’s got five of them—all of them are so different. A teenage love, the boy in black and the girl in green. Probably carrying some books in their bag as they walk on the sand. A family of three—wife with her husband holding the baby in his arms. People are playing volleyball on my left. And on my right, where the sea meets the sand for a moment soaking the beach with its presence but not completely engulfing, people are playing cricket. The little girl with balloons passes me again but at a distance this time. Barefoot. She rubs a balloon against the palm of her hand to make a screeching sound only a little girl with balloons can make. I lift my eyes from the notebook to the sea. She’s staring at me intensely as she walks. Maybe she’s trying to understand what I am doing on the beach with a pen and a notebook. I hope she has them too—a pen and a notebook.

A boy writes his name on the sand with a stick longer than him. Maybe tomorrow, waves will fade his name leaving behind an illegible blemish on the sand. But he doesn’t care—he’s happy now—unconcerned about what the time will do to his name. An old lady is sitting in a wheelchair. Another old lady sits beside her on the sand. They are looking at the sea, not speaking to each other. There’s silence between them, the kind of silence which speaks louder than the sound. Maybe they have known each other all their life. Are they family, friends, or strangers? I will never know. Two brothers are trying to build a sand castle as their dad sits on the sand looking at his phone next to them. He’s carrying a water bottle that reminds me that I need some water too.

Lamps on the beach have started to glow as the last rays of the sun remain in the sky. The orange hue at the horizon is disappearing. Soon it will be dark, but this city will not sleep—it never does. A little boy in my front is hopping like a frog, and every time he lands, he draws a heart on the sand with his little fingers. Happiness can manifest in peculiar ways when you are little. Some people are far away at the point where the waves are crashing, getting their feet wet in the salty waters. The sea begins where the beach ends. And the sky begins where the sea ends. And as I look up to see where the sky ends, an aeroplane passes over my head, and towards the sea it flies, and my gaze follows it till the end of the sky.

A couple in their fifties or sixties is looking towards the sea. The husband has kept his hand on the shoulders of the woman of his dreams. Whether they are good dreams or bad dreams, only they know. The wife rests her hand around his hip, claiming to the world that he’s mine. After all these years, she’s still possessive about him. They look at the phone the husband holds as they talk, laugh, and breathe in those moments. I look at my phone—two text messages and a missed call. I smile a little. The sand castle those brothers were making is beginning to look more like a volcano, or maybe just a giant heap of sand. But my eyes are searching for that little girl in her withered floral dress with balloons. How many balloons has she sold? I think she’s gone, hopefully to her home, where there’s a notebook and a pen.

There’s still some orange hue in the sky. I can see that, but it’s dark now, and night has fallen. I hear the sound of the bell, and there I see a man selling cotton candy on the beach. And before I know it, I’ve travelled two decades past. I see little me and my young father, with my hand in his hand, he’s buying me cotton candy on the beach. A raindrop falls on me, a tiny little raindrop, and I’m back to the present. An old man is walking with his young son. I wonder what they are talking about: father to son. Is he telling him the stories of the war? Are they talking about love? He is using the umbrella as a cane. You can never be sure when it will rain in Mumbai. This city has survived too many storms to be bothered by raindrops. A raindrop fell on my arm, I ignored it, and then another raindrop fell on my notebook, and I ignored both of them. I just sat there looking at the sea from that sandy beach as the warm winds flew over my face, listening to the sound of the waves. Raindrops began to fall on the beach, forming tiny craters on the sand, and I knew it was time to go to the hotel.

Get Some Headspace

People ask each other difficult questions like: “But, what is meditation?”. It’s a difficult question because of the reasons of two kinds. The first kind of reason has to do with the meaning of the name meditation. Everyone has their own definition, and even though from afar every definition looks different, yet when we observe closely, we realize that all roads are leading to the same place. The second kind of reason has to do with the ineffability of the name meditation. It is something that you have to experience to really know. And therefore, every attempt to explain “But, what is meditation?” is congruent to asking a young fish “How’s the water?”.

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

— David Foster Wallace

Behind all the facades and forms, meditation simply means to be aware in the present moment. The kind of meditation Andy Puddicombe talks about in his book Get Some Headspace is called mindfulness meditation. In mindfulness, the anchor for awareness is the breath. Because every moment is just as long as our breath, and there is no way to hold onto moments and breath. Andy uses metaphors to explain what he means when he attempts to answer “But, what is meditation?” I found these metaphors particularly helpful, and I hope you (yes future Girish, you) find them helpful too.

You are not your thoughts and emotions.

Imagine yourself sitting on a chair at the side of the road watching the busy traffic.

This road is your mind.

The traffic on the road is your thoughts and feelings.

And being aware means being on the chair watching the traffic from a distance, realizing that you are not your thoughts and feelings.

You are neither the traffic nor the road upon which the traffic flows. You are only the observer of the traffic. There is no way for you to control this traffic, you can only observe these cars of different colours, shapes, and sizes passing by. And you can breathe.

Sometimes you’ll see a flashy car and you’ll be tempted to chase after it on the road, like how we get caught up in our thoughts or lost in our feelings. Other times, you’ll see a scary car coming toward you and you’ll run away from it, like how we resist uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. The moment you realize that you have been distracted, that you have been on the road running behind that flashy car or running away from that scary car, you take a deep breath and gently bring yourself to the side of the road on the chair.

This process of bringing yourself back to awareness by bringing yourself back to that chair at the side of the road is meditation. Meditation trains us to notice the traffic without chasing or fighting it — just to let the thought come. Then gently shift our focus away from it and back onto our breath — to let the thought go.

You are not your thoughts and emotions. You are only an observer of these thoughts and emotions. Sit back, relax, and watch how they come and go.

Meditation does not make you think.

Practising not-doing is scary. Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, wrote ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone. And he’s right because when we sit quietly in a room alone, to meditate, a lot of thoughts and emotions arise on the surface—as if someone forgot to turn off the faucet. People exclaim, ‘Meditation is making me think’. But meditation does not make you think! All it does is shine a big bright light on your mind so that you can see clearly what’s already there. This bright light is awareness. Awareness is the present of meditation. You may not like what you see when you switch the light on, but it’s a clear and accurate reflection of how your mind behaves on a daily basis.

Give some time to the wild stallion to calm down.

What’s the hurry?

Your mind is like a wild horse when you sit to meditate. You cannot expect it to stay still in one place all of a sudden just because you’re sitting there like a statue doing something called meditation! You need to give this wild mind lots of room. Rather than trying to immediately focus on the object of meditation (breath), give your mind time to settle, to relax a little. What’s the hurry? Take it slowly, be gentle and give it all the space that it needs. Allow the horse to come to a natural place of rest, where it feels happy, confident and relaxed staying in one place.

There is always a blue sky.

Imagine a clear blue sky.

Imagine that your mind is like this blue sky.

I’m not talking about all the thoughts, confusion and craziness. I’m talking about the underlying essence of the mind, the natural state. Think back to the last time you felt very happy and relaxed.

Now, imagine a cloudy day, no blue sky at all, just big, dark, heavy clouds.

Imagine those clouds are the thoughts in your mind, how sometimes they’re fluffy and white and appear quite friendly, whereas at other times they appear dark and heavy. The colour of the clouds simply reflects your feeling or mood at the time. Even when it appears as though there’s nothing but big, dark, heavy clouds, there’s always a blue sky there. So, the sky is always blue. You don’t have to create the blue sky, it’s always there — or, rather, here. Meditation is not about trying to create an artificial state of mind. Neither is it about trying to keep all the clouds at bay. It is more a case of setting up a deckchair in the garden and watching as the clouds rolled by. Sometimes the blue sky would peek through the clouds. And, if you sit there patiently and do not get too engrossed in the clouds, then even more of the blue sky would start to appear. So, remember the idea of the blue sky, the possibility that perhaps underneath all those thoughts and feelings there might exist a place that is still, spacious and clear.

Happiness is just happiness. Sadness is just sadness.

Happiness is just happiness, no big deal. It comes and it goes. Sadness is just sadness, no big deal. It comes and it goes. If you can give up your desire to always experience pleasant things, at the same time as giving up your fear of experiencing unpleasant things, then you’ll have a quiet mind.

Resistance is futile. Peace is acceptance.

Resistance is futile. As long as there’s resistance, there’s no room for acceptance. And as long as we don’t have acceptance, there’s no way of having a peaceful mind.

We are not trying to create a dam upon the river of thoughts. That’s a futile exercise. No one can control or stop the flow of thoughts. It is the nature of thoughts to come and go. Nobody knows from where these thoughts originate, and nobody knows where these thoughts go. But we know scientifically that the quality of life depends on the quality of thoughts. So thoughts are something we must pay attention to, instead of getting intervened in our thoughts, we should take a step back and let our thoughts come, and let them go.

Happiness is yours when you give it away.

We’re attracted to the things we like and we become attached to these things. We don’t want to give them up for anything. The only problem is, the more we chase after them the further away they appear. And the more we try to hold on to these pleasant feelings, the more fearful we become of losing them.

When you experience pleasant sensations in your practice, I want you to imagine sharing those feelings with other people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the pleasant sensation of a quiet mind, of a relaxed body or a comforting emotion; simply imagine you are giving it away, sharing it with your friends and family, the people you care about. It doesn’t require lots of thought and I still want you to focus on the breath, just counting the breaths as they pass. But, if you find yourself sitting there and you feel very good, then maintain this attitude of wanting to share it with others.

When you experience discomfort in your meditation, whether it’s the restlessness of a busy mind, physical tension in the body, or a challenging emotion, I want you to imagine it’s the discomfort of the people you care about. It’s as if in an act of extraordinary generosity, you are sitting with their discomfort so they don’t have to.

When we try hard to hold on to pleasant states of mind that create tension. By imagining that you are giving away those feelings, and sharing them, you lose that tension and become less judgmental. When it comes to unpleasant feelings we’re always trying to get rid of them, right? This also creates tension.

True kind of happiness is the ability to feel comfortable no matter what emotion arises.

Show me where is your sadness.

So where is it? Where’s the sadness? Is it in your mind or is it in your body? Can you go and locate this feeling of sadness for me?

Meditation is supposed to teach you to be more aware, it would not get rid of unpleasant emotions. It just so happens that when you’re aware there is very little room for these unpleasant emotions to operate. When you’re thinking about them all the time, then, of course, you give them lots of room, you keep them active. But if you don’t think about them, then they tend to lose their momentum. When you study the emotion very closely, it’s actually very hard to find.

Often our “idea” of a feeling is just that, an idea. When we look a little more closely, we see that the idea is actually not what we thought it was. This makes it very difficult to resist. And with no resistance, there is simply acceptance of the emotion.

Meditation is like going to the theatre.

When you sit to meditate it’s a little like watching this play. The images and voices are not you, in the same way, that the play or the film is not you. It’s an unfolding story that you’re watching, observing and witnessing. This is what it means to be aware. Your own story, as in your own life, will still require direction and a sense of engagement, but when sitting to observe the mind during your meditation, taking a seat in the audience is by far the best way of watching. And it’s through developing that ability of passive observation that you get to experience the clarity and confidence to make decisions, make changes and live life more fully. Think back to the blue sky, this space that has always been there. Awareness is not something you need to create, as it’s always present. We just need to remember not to forget.

We are so used to doing something, being involved in something, that it can feel a bit boring to just sit and watch the mind, especially if the thoughts are mundane. We create stories in an attempt to make things interesting, to get away from boredom. But have you ever stayed with boredom long enough to look at what it is? Is it simply a thought or feeling of wanting to be somewhere else. of doing something different?

This underlying sense of expectation, of wanting for something to happen, is a mind that is looking for the future, as opposed to a mind resting in the present.

Naval Ravikant is an American entrepreneur and investor. He is the co-founder, chairman and former CEO of AngelList. He is also a podcaster who shares advice on pursuing health, wealth and happiness. I was first introduced to him by my friend Vijay who shared Naval’s podcast and tweetstorm on the topic — “How to Get Rich (without getting lucky)”. When I heard him, it felt as if he was speaking directly to me, and in a lot of ways, it was like he was speaking everything I needed to hear. Two years passed, and I almost forgot about it. Until I stumbled upon this book. Naval himself hasn’t written any book yet, so there wasn’t any other option. This book was a collection of all the knowledge Naval had dissipated on the internet in different forms in a systematic manner. Here’s an attempt of summarizing what I have learnt from him:

Life is a game. We all are playing different games. The satisfaction in life depends upon what kind of game you are playing and with whom. These games can essentially be divided into three categories: wealth creation games, money-making games, and status games. Wealth is having assets that earn while you sleep. Money is how we transfer wealth and time. And status is your rank in the social hierarchy. If you are playing status games then you are going to slander those who play wealth creation games because that adds to your status. If you are playing money-making games, then you are essentially just renting your time to make money, while this can make you money but this will not make you rich. It’s when you give to society what it cannot get on its own right now, and when you give that thing on a scale you begin to play the wealth creation game.

Naval recommends that if you are going to play then you might want to play the wealth creation games. And if you are going to play, then you might just want to play it right. That means playing the long-term game with long-term people. Also, play iterated games, because all returns in life whether in wealth, relationships, or knowledge, come from compound interest. Making money is not a thing you do—it’s a skill you learn. It’s about knowing what to do, who to do it with, and when to do it. It’s about understanding than purely hard work.

Wealth can be broken down into Accountability, Leverage, and Specific Knowledge. Accountability means getting your skin into the game. It means to risk failure under your own name. It means to risk humiliation. Without accountability, you don’t have the incentive. So embrace accountability. Leverage basically means an advantage, a fulcrum to say. It comes in form of labour (people working for you), money (capital builds more capital), or products with no marginal cost of replication (books, media, movies, and code). The third form of leverage is permissionless, you don’t need anyone’s permission to have them, they are very egalitarian. Specific knowledge is knowing how to do something society cannot yet easily train other people to do. It is something you were doing as a kid or teenager almost effortlessly. It is found by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. Hustle, and you might find. Hard work is overrated. Judgement is underrated. Wisdom is knowing the long-term consequences of your actions, and wisdom applied to external problems is judgement. Work hard to develop judgement and leverage. Learn to think clearly. Build knowledge from the first principles. Understand the basics at the very, very fundamental level. On any subject, prefer to read fundamental books.

Suffering is the moment when you can no longer deny reality. This is the moment when you see things exactly the way they are. You cannot see the correct answer even though it might be right under your nose as long as you are in the moment of suffering and pain, as long as you are wishing that reality was different. Your problem is that your desire is colliding with reality and preventing you from seeing the truth. The more desire you have for something to work out a certain way, the less likely you will see the truth. This is applicable to business as well as relationships. What you feel tells you nothing about the facts—it merely tells you something about your estimate of the facts. There is a Buddhist saying, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” To be able to think, you need to have empty space. It’s only after you are bored you have great ideas, allow yourself to get bored. Make the time.

A game involves making decisions at every point, so if we really want to get good at the game that we are playing, we will have to get good at decision-making. The classical heuristic is to optimize for the long term. Remember to be honest, but use honesty with caution. Apply Buffett’s old rule, ‘praise specifically, criticize generally’. If you can be more right and more rational, you’re going to get nonlinear returns in your life.

Don’t take yourself so seriously. You’re just a monkey with a plan. Happiness is a highly personal skill that can be learned. For some people, it’s a flow state. For some people, it’s satisfaction. For some people, it’s a feeling of contentment. Happiness is really a default state. Happiness is there when you remove the sense of something missing in your life. Happiness is not about positive thoughts, because every positive thought holds within it a negative thought (Tao Te Ching). Happiness, to Naval, is about the absence of desire for external things. Happiness is mainly not suffering, not desiring, not thinking too much about the future or the past, and really embracing the present moment and the reality of what is, and the way it is. Richard Feynman said, “I never ask if I like it or I don’t like it. I think this is what it is or this is what it isn’t.” The world just reflects your own feelings back at you. Reality is neutral. Reality has no judgements.

You can practice believing in the utter insignificance of the self. If you thought you were the most important thing in the universe (which by the way most people think), then you would have to bend the entire universe to your will. This is to think that you are fixed and the world is malleable, but the reality is that the world is largely fixed and you are malleable.

Happiness is basically staying in present. You can destroy your happiness if you spend all your time living in delusions of the future. A lot of unhappiness also comes from comparing things from the past to the present. Happiness is more about peace than it is about joy. And the sad part is that peace and purpose don’t go together so well. The purpose would bring into your life some sort of desire. And desire is a chosen unhappiness. Desire is a contract you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want. Happiness is being satisfied with what you have. And success comes from dissatisfaction. Choose. “All of man’s troubles arise because he cannot sit in a room quietly by himself.”

Peace is not a guarantee. Peace is not a certainty. It’s always flowing. It’s always changing. You want to learn the core skill set of flowing with life and accepting it in most cases. You can get almost anything you want out of life, as long as it’s one thing and you want it far more than anything else. Peace is happiness at rest, and happiness is peace in motion. You can convert peace into happiness anytime you want. But peace is what you want most of the time. Happiness is built by habits. To be happy and stable: don’t drink alcohol, don’t intake sugar, don’t engage in social media mindlessly, and “Stop asking why and start saying wow.” Build habits that make you happy—meditate, exercise, stay aware of the moment, get more sunlight on your skin, drop caffeine intake, be nonjudgemental (that might make you feel good in the short term, but in the long term it would make you feel lonely), and tell your friends that you are a happy person.

Take deep breaths, and muster the courage to “accept”. There is happiness in acceptance. Remember that the present is all we have.

There comes a time in everyone’s life when logic fails us. How we try to explain everything to ourselves. How we try to understand everything that is happening to us. We struggle to change and control what we cannot change and what is not in our control. How we love and how we cry. How eventually our feelings overwhelm us so much that we feel crippled inside.

It’s one thing to understand something, but it’s an entirely different ball game to accept something. It’s not easy, in fact, it’s one of the hardest things to do—something for which I was not prepared. You see, I had always been a rebel. I’ve always been someone who believed that human free will was supreme. We always get what we want, the only question is do we really want it that bad enough? And somehow that had worked for me in this life, I always got what I wanted. What I couldn’t get, I could explain myself. Until I fell in love and got my heart wrenched again, and again, and again.

“Have you ever been in love? Horrible, isn’t it? It makes you so vulnerable. It opens your chest and it opens up your heart and it means that someone can get inside you and mess you up. You build up all these defenses. You build up this whole armor, for years, so nothing can hurt you, then one stupid person, no different from any other stupid person, wanders into your stupid life… You give them a piece of you. They don’t ask for it. They do something dumb one day like kiss you, or smile at you, and then your life isn’t your own anymore. Love takes hostages. It gets inside you. It eats you out and leaves you crying in the darkness, so a simple phrase like “maybe we should just be friends” or “how very perceptive” turns into a glass splinter working its way into your heart. It hurts. Not just in the imagination. Not just in the mind. It’s a soul-hurt, a body-hurt, a real gets-inside-you-and-rips-you-apart pain. Nothing should be able to do that. Especially not love. I hate love.”

― Neil Gaiman, The Kindly Ones

I don’t have love.

I just hate the fact that acceptance is so hard and letting go is so hard.

But then again I am not someone who’d just keep whining that it’s hard and not do anything about it. I talked with my friends, teachers, family, and communities on the internet. Here are a few things we can do to learn to accept the things we cannot change:

1. Gently take note of our feelings. Acknowledge that there is something beyond our control, and we are still trying (hoping) to change it. Are we denying something that can’t be changed? Sit with it, and let the feeling engulf us.

2. Check in with ourselves as many times a day as we have to, reminding ourselves: it is what it is, there is nothing we can do about it anymore, we did our best, and now it’s time to let it go. I know it’s hard right now, but have faith, beyond the chaos there’s a blue sky.

3. Give ourselves permission to fall apart. We have been strong, now it’s time to let go. We grieve, but we don’t have to grieve all day. We can fix ourselves an hour of grief. We sit with our sadness. It’s a healthy feeling, we don’t have to fear it. Eventually, it goes away.

4. You know, how sometimes it’s only when we close the book we were reading, that we really begin to understand. Some problems in the life get solved when we distance ourselves from them. Distancing is not a coward’s way out. It’s an act of bravery.

5. So, if this book of life is not making sense to us right now then how about we stop resisting the waves and let ourselves drown in the sea of uncertainty. We might realize that we can still breathe under it. After all, letting go feels a little heavy in the lungs right?

6. Throw away this book, and pick another one. Watch a movie. Listen to a friend, hear their aches. Help someone. Weep in the pillow. Go for a walk or a run down the hill. Dance to your music. Remember who we once were, and remember that we’ll be that again.

7. Freud said, “Love and work. Work and love. “That’s all there is.” The most important relationship in this life is the relationship we have with ourselves. We are kind to those we love, will we be kind to ourselves?

This book is a collection of 10 short stories by Roald Dahl written during his days of being a fighter pilot. I loved Katina, Someone Like You, Death of an Old Man, Madame Rossetta, and Yesterday Was Beautiful.

Death of an Old Man

Oh God, how I am frightened.
Now that I am alone I don’t have to hide it; I don’t have to hide anything any longer.

What if you die just before the war gets over? There is so much you’ll have to lose. It’s not the same as dying just after the war starts.

Oh God, I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die today anyway. And it isn’t the pain. I don’t mind having my leg mashed or my arm burnt off; I swear to you that I don’t mind that. But I don’t want to die. Four years ago I didn’t mind. I remember distinctly not minding about it four years ago. I didn’t mind about it three years ago either. It was all fine and exciting; it always is when it looks as though you may be going to lose, as it did them. It is always fine to fight when you are going to lose everything anyway, and that was how it was four years ago. But now we’re going to win. It is so different when you are going to win. If I die now I lose fifty years of life, and I don’t want to lose that. I’ll lose anything except that because that would be all the things I want to do and all the things I want to see; all the things like going to sleeping with Joey. Like going home sometimes. Like walking through a wood. Like pouring out a drink from a bottle. Like looking forward to week ends and like being alive every hour every day every year for fifty years. If I die now I will miss all that, and I will miss everything else. I will miss the things that I don’t know about. I think those are really the things I am frightened of missing. I think the reason I do not want to die is because of the things I hope will happen. Yes, that’s right. I’m sure that’s right.

This story captures the agony of a fighter pilot who is one the side that’s going to win the war, and he’s afraid of dying just before the war is over. He doesn’t want to lose the life that’s ahead of him. On his last flight, he combats a German pilot. Both of them fight beautifully, he struggles until he learns that there is no point of struggling at all.

I won’t struggle, he thought. There is no point in struggling, for when there is a black cloud in the sky, it is bound to rain.

An African Story

It’s a weird story that involves a crazy pilot who flies low to observe a stable antelope from the right side of the cockpit and gets his plane nearly crashed by hitting a giraffe from the left wing. He crashes in the middle of nowhere and meets an equally eccentric old man who lives with a black cow. This man tells him the craziest story he has ever heard. The story is very simple. The old man finds out that his farm help Judson has killed his dog since he was annoyed by the noise the dog was making. Judson is a serial dog killer, he has killed a lot of dogs in his life, and the old man detests Judson. One morning, when Judson goes to milk the old man’s black cow, he finds that there is no milk. In the evening there’s milk, but there’s no milk in the morning. The old man decided to stay awake all night, to catch the milk thief. At night, he sees that it’s a black mamba who’s stealing his milk. The next night, the old man asks Judson to help him catch the thief. He tells Judson to stay near the cow in a trench with a stick and wait for the time when the thief comes. Unaware of his faith, Judson waits. When the black mamba encounters Judson, mamba bites him, and he falls to the ground. The old man decides to let mamba have his share of the milk forever. It’s really a weird story of an old man’s revenge for his dog.

A Piece of Cake

Hallucinations and trepidations of a pilot who finds himself crashing from a flight he thought would be just a piece of cake.

Madame Rosette

Two pilots looking to meet girls for an evening at Cairo ring famed brothel-keeper Madame Rosetta but later change their mind to raid the brothel and save all the girls from Madame Rosetta.


A 9-year-old Greek girl is saved by a squadron, she has lost her parents in a bombing by Germans. She can’t speak English, but the squadron inducts Katina as a new member. Katina then becomes a silent spectator for the story, and the story unfolds with war anecdotes of squadron members. They move to different locations, some of them get killed, and eventually, the squadron loses Katina too.

Yesterday was Beautiful

An aviator whose plane has crashed in a Greek village is looking for a boat to go back to the mainland. He meets an old man who is wandering about the German bombers who keep coming to kill and destroy. He tells the aviator that he knows who has a boat in the village, and then he points him towards his house, telling him that at present, only his wife is at home, someone else’s home, because the home of the boatman was destroyed by the German bomber. His daughter was in the home when the Germans came. He tells him. The aviator goes to the wife of the boatman for help, and she asks him how many people has he killed in his life? The aviator says he cannot keep a count. The wife tells that her husband isn’t here, he’s out, and then she points at the old man sitting outside.

They Shall Not Grow Old

A pilot takes off for a reconnaissance flight, but doesn’t return back on time, he’s assumed to be dead. He then reappears a few days later.

Beware of the Dog

A pilot loses his leg while flying and crashes in the woods.

Only This

The pain of a mother whose son is fighting in the war. This story captures her restlessness and anxiety beautifully.

Someone Like You

This story is about the feeling of never knowing what would have happened with a subtle change of direction—a jink. This story is about jinking. If you have the joystick to kill in your hands while flying a bomber, and if you jink a little, what happens, who do you kill and who do you save? You never really know what would have happened. If you count to twenty before driving off, do you avoid accidents and save lives? Because you won’t hit the one who was supposed to step in front of your car twenty counts ago. It’s about two pilots sitting in a pub and drinking beer wondering that they have destroyed so many pubs like that, and so many people like the men and women and the waiters, all drinking in a pub. It’s a self-reflection of the choices they have made and their impacts.

‘Oh God, I wish I was a waiter or a whore or something.’


“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ― Viktor E. Frankl

(This quotation is instinctively attributed to the famous Viktor Frankl of Man’s Search for Meaning, however on further inspection, one realises that the actual author of this quotation is unknown. However, this quotation aptly describes the spirit of this book.)

This is Volume 1 of The Great Mental Models series by Farnam Street. Farnam Street is a blog by Shane Parrish primarily featuring writing on mental models, decision-making, learning, reading, and the art of living. In one line the blog is described as “helping you master the best of what other people have already figured out”.

A mental model is how we simplify our world to understand it better. It is the reality in abstraction. A good life corresponds to good quality of thinking. And mental models enhance our quality of thinking by helping us in navigating through complexities by making better decisions with high confidence. However, there is not one metal model that fits all situations, like there is never one outfit for all occasions. It’s like having a set of lenses to see the world around us from a different perspective. And when we learn to see the world as it is, and not as how we want it to be, something begins to change, and then slowly, almost creepily, everything changes.

This book series is going to help you build a latticework of mental models. Below is a summary of all the mental models described in this volume.

The Map is Not the Territory

If I hand you a map, you may soon start believing that the map is more real than the thing it is depicting, forgetting that the map is a scaled-down version of reality.

“The map appears to us more real than the land.” — D.H. Lawrence.

To all those who believe in astrology; without commenting on the authenticity of the claims we can say that those who choose to believe it often forget that it is only a map and not the territory. And therefore, to the believers, it might appear to be more real than reality.

The map of reality is not reality. Even the best maps are imperfect. They are supposed to be imperfect. The perfect map of territory would be just as big as the territory itself, rendering the map functionless. We are bound to forget that there exists a territory separately from the map. This territory contains details the map doesn’t describe. If our aim becomes simplification rather than understanding, then we start to make bad decisions. We can use maps to guide us, but we must not let them prevent us from discovering new territory or updating our existing maps.

Let the maps guide you, but don’t get guided by the map.

“Remember that all models are wrong; the practical question is how wrong do they have to be to not be useful.” — George Box.

Circle of Competence

There are things that you are good at. There are things that you are not good at. And then there is the wisdom of recognising the difference. It’s like Serenity Prayer but with a twist. Instead of “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”, it goes like “God grant me the serenity to accept the that there are things I’m not competent of doing, courage to do the things I’m competent of doing, and wisdom to know the difference.”.

We all have a circle of competence, it’s important to know the boundaries of that circle, and to stay inside it while operating. If you don’t have at least a few years and a few failures under your belt, you cannot consider yourself competent in a circle.

“A little learning is a dangerous thing;

Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring;

There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,

And drinking largely sobers us again.”

Key practices for building a circle of competence: curiosity, desire to learn, monitoring, and feedback.

First Principle Thinking

I think of Elon Musk or Richard Feynman when I think of First Principle Thinking.

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” ― Richard P. Feynman

It is a fact that if you can’t explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough. And that’s where this mental model comes in. Partly the reason why I do this exercise of writing after finishing the book is to ensure that I’m not sleeping or fooling myself.

Knowledge should be built upon the foundational principles. If we don’t learn to take something apart, test our assumptions about it, and reconstruct it, we end up bound by what other people tell us—trapped in the way things have always been done.

Socratic Questioning

  1. Why do I think this? What exactly do I think? (explain the origin of your ideas)
  2. How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite? (challenge assumptions)
  3. How can I back this up? What are the sources? (look for evidence)
  4. What might others think? How do I know I am correct? (alternative perspectives)
  5. What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am? (consequences and implications)
  6. Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process? (questioning the original question)

Thought Experiment

Its analogues to running in a simulation in your head. Take the example of the trolley problem — the classic. A trolley is running on a track which splits in two, on one end (not used regularly) there is one kid, and on the other, there are five. Which end do you turn to? Do you kill the one and save the five? You obviously wouldn’t want to do this experiment in real life, that’s where thought experiments come into the picture. You can run the trolley on the tracks as many times as you want, you can kill children in your thoughts as many times as you want until you come up with a response with a reason. Would you say that five lives mean more than one, even if the one life that was taken was unjust since the kid was playing on a track that was not used, knowing very well the consequences of being on the other track?

Second Order Thinking

Every action has a reaction, we all know, but every reaction has its own reaction. When you throw a pebble in a pond there is never just one ripple. When we make decisions, we forget to think about the indirect repercussions of that decision. If you make abortion illegal, do you know that you’d end up raising the crime rates of the state in a couple of decades? There are always effects of effects.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” — John Muir

You may be focused in one direction, not recognising that the consequences are rippling out all around you. Include second and subsequent effects, if you want to understand the world.

“Once a few people decide to stand on their tip-toes, everyone has to stand on their tip-toes. No one can see any better, but they’re all worse off.” — Warren Buffett

A little time spent thinking ahead can save us massive amounts of time later.

Probabilistic Thinking

They say control the controllable. But when you go out living your life like the bloke you are, you realize that so much in life is uncontrollable, uncertain, and risky. Then how do you live such a life? Probability. Probability is why you don’t think twice before sitting in an aircraft or driving a car. It’s also why you take a lot of your big decisions in life, a lot of times you don’t even know how amazing our brains have evolved themselves to do probability calculations. It’s our only tool to map the unknown and uncontrollable. Yes, there are some pseudo maps available too, but they work on the placebo effect.

The more extreme events that are possible, the higher the probability that one of them will occur. Crazy things are definitely going to happen, and we have no way of identifying when.

Think in terms of probability/chances, and keep updating those probabilities as needed information keeps flowing in.


When you cannot solve the problems moving forward, try solving them by moving backwards. If you cannot decide what you want to do, you can start by deciding what you don’t want to do.

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still remain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless yet be determined to make them otherwise.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald

Avoiding stupidity is easier than seeking brilliance.

Simply invert, always invert, when you are stuck. If you take the results of your inversion seriously, you might make a great deal of progress in solving your problems.

Occum’s Razor

Simpler explanations are more likely to be true than complicated ones. You can more confidently base your decisions on the explanations that have the fewest moving parts. Complexity serves us more when it comes to creating art than when it comes to real life.

It’s not an iron law but a tendency and a mind-frame you can choose to use: If all else is equal, that is if two competing models both have equal explanatory power, it’s more likely that the simple solution suffices.

“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebra.”

It states that the probability of simplicity is higher than complexity. The scenario with fewer moving parts is more likely to happen than the scenario with more moving parts.

Hanlon’s Razor

It’s not personal, it’s just stupidity (business).

Never attribute to malice that which is more easily explained by stupidity. The universe is not conspiring against you, what you may think of as malice may just be sheer stupidity, laziness, or inattentiveness. It will help you avoid paranoia or ideology. It is a reminder that people do make mistakes, and it demands that we ask if there is another reasonable explanation for the events that have occurred. The explanation with the least amount of intent is likely to be right.

When we see something we don’t like happen and which seems wrong, we assume it’s intentional. But it’s more likely that it’s completely unintentional. Most people doing wrong are not bad people trying to be malicious. Failing to prioritize stupidity over malice causes things like paranoia.

“I need to listen well so that I hear what is not said.” — Thuli Madonsela

I’m currently reading Volume 2 of The Great Mental Models, the review of that book would follow up shortly.

Tuesdays with Morrie

On my twenty-sixth birthday, Puneet & Aditi gifted the book Tuesdays with Morrie along with few other (cool) things they had gifted me (wink). I had heard of this author, and of this book, and I had told myself years ago that I was not going to read another of Mitch Albom’s books. But that’s the fundamental nature of life, to throw her travellers on the roads they have decided not to take.

Years ago, on the recommendation of a friend I had read The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and all remembered was that I was not very happy with that recommendation, for all the reasons I was oblivious to now. So when Puneet handed over the book to me, I will not lie, I shrugged (sorry, matey). He told me that he had taken help from Aditi to find out whether I had read this book before or not, and then started telling me how he ended up finding this book in a local bookstore in Jodhpur, and the pains he had to go through. Along with the book, there was a letter in a white envelope too, written dearly to me. Now I can’t tell you the specifics of those letters to you here, because that would be against the principle of being a gentleman, and since you know that I’m a gentleman, and so is Puneet. Let’s just say that enough good stuff were written in those letters which had persuasive powers to convince me to pack Tuesdays with Morrie in my bag when I was packing to go offshore.

Completely drenched and not particularly happy I was when I had started reading this book. There was chaos in my mind, in my heart, and unfortunately in my life too. So much was unclear to me, so much I had in me to worry about, so much I had beaten myself over the last past few weeks or months, I had almost lost the count. Morrie came to my life, like I can imagine how he must have come to Mitch’s life, in the moments when he needed him the most. Like a really good coach we all need and deserve time after time.

Mitch found that he was not where he had thought he’ll be when he would graduated from his college. He had promised Morrie, the best professor he ever had, that he’ll stay in touch but he could never keep his promise. Materialistically he was doing well for himself, he lived a life most people could only desire, but he wasn’t happy. All the conditions for the happiness where there, but happiness was not there. On the other hand, Morrie now couldn’t dance anymore, after few days, he couldn’t walk anymore, and he was told by his doctor that he only has few months to live before this disease reaches his lungs and chokes him to an eternal sleep. No condition for the happiness was there, but Morrie was filled with happiness and love which he wanted to give to all those around him. Love for life he had lived, and love for the life he was about to live in his numbered days. When Mitch met his estranged professor again, he truly learned what living is. That’s what Tuesdays with Morrie was about.

A man who is going to die is teaching “how to live” to the man who is going to live.

Just like his college, where Morrie had suggested that he should work on a thesis under him, the teacher and his disciple decides to work on one last project together, they meet every Tuesday, well, because they have always been Tuesday people, and discuss life. Mitch records the words of his professor and later publishes it into this book. And now, even though it has been years since Morrie is sleeping peacefully, his wisdom still lives on.

“If you hold back on the emotions–if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them–you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that loving entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your heard even, you experience them fully and completely.”

“Life is a series of pulls back and forth… A tension of opposites, like a pull on a rubber band. Most of us live somewhere in the middle. A wrestling match…Which side win? Love wins. Love always wins”

“I give myself a good cry if I need it, but then I concentrate on all good things still in my life.”

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come in. Let it come in. We think we don’t deserve love, we think if we let it in we’ll become too soft. But a wise man named Levin said it right. He said, “Love is the only rational act.”

“This is part of what a family is about, not just love. It’s knowing that your family will be there watching out for you. Nothing else will give you that. Not money. Not fame. Not work.”

“Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent… But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate you fully. That’s how you are able to leave it…You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief… But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. “All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.”

One of my favourite movies, “Anand” , which can lighten me up on my heaviest days was on the similar lines, maybe that is why I loved this book so much, or maybe it was because of what Puneet wrote to me in his letter, or maybe it was just the zeitgeist of my life. Whatever it was, when I will think about this book, I will think about being at peace in the middle of the night, in the middle of a dark deep sea, devouring this book, feeling happy even. And for those moments when this book was in my hand, my problems didn’t even seem as big as they had seemed earlier in my head. Life is fundamentally shrewd I say.

While reading The Almanack of Naval Ravikant, I came across an article by Farnan Street on Charlie Munger. In Charlie’s words, the article describes How to Live a Life That Really Works — Charlie Munger’s Operation System. Here are some of my key takeaways:

  • To get what you want, deserve what you want. Trust, success, and admiration are earned.
  • You want to deliver to the world what you would buy if you were on the other end.
  • Learn to love and admire the right people, alive or dead.
  • Without lifelong learning, you are not going to do very well. You can only progress when you learn the method of learning.
  • Attain fluency on the big multidisciplinary ideas of the world and use them regularly.
  • Problems are frequently easier to solve if we turn them around in reverse. Learn to think through problems backwards.
  • Avoid sloth and unreliability. Be reliable. Unreliability can cancel out the other virtues.
  • Avoid intense ideologies. Always consider the other side as carefully as your own.
  • Get rid of self-serving biases, envy, resentment, and self-pity. Self-pity is close to paranoia, and paranoia is very hard to reverse. When you tell the stories of your self-pity, tell yourself: “Your story has touched my heart, never have I ever heard of anyone with as many misfortunes as you.”
  • Allow for self-serving biases in others who haven’t removed them. If you really want to persuade, then appeal to the interest not to reason.
  • Avoid being part of the systems that preserve incentives.
  • Work with and under people you admire, and avoid the inverse.
  • Learn to maintain your objectivity, especially when it’s hard. Checklist routines avoid a lot of errors.
  • Concentrate experience and power in the hands of the right people — the wise learning machines.
  • You’ll be most successful where you’re most intensely interested.
  • Learn the all-important concept of assiduity: Sit down and do it until it’s done.
  • Every mischance in life is an opportunity to behave well, every mischance in life is an opportunity to learn something new, and it’s your duty to not get submerged in self-pity but to utilize this terrible blow in a constructive fashion.
  • In your own life what you want is a seamless web of deserved trust. And if your proposed marriage contract has 47 pages, my suggestion is do not enter. The highest reach of civilization is a seamless system of trust among all parties conc

It’s 2:30 AM. On the second day of my night shift at Tapti. I’ve been wondering what I have been passionate about in life so far. I’ll edit this list later on, for now, I’ll let it live on my blog.

  1. Creating a club or play space at my friend’s (who was my neighbour) terrace.
  2. Playing computer games.
  3. Computer Software and the Internet.
  4. Music.
  5. Strategy games like Age of Mythology, Rise of Nations, CiteVille, and FarmVille.
  6. Mission-based games like Vice City and San Andreas.
  7. Learning how to code, and learning how to code better.
  8. Learning things I was not good at.
  9. Making new friends, meeting high-value people, and learning from them.
  10. Computer graphics and making 2-D computer games.
  11. Mathematics.
  12. Public Speaking.
  13. Building tangible things.
  14. Persuading others, talking about my ideas and vision.
  15. Dreaming big, and letting others laugh at my dreams.
  16. Steve Jobs.
  17. The Beatles.
  18. Making websites and blogs.
  19. Hobby Electronics — Arduino, Sensors, Quadcopter, Tinkering Labs.
  20. Startup Culture.
  21. Working for S&T Committee.
  22. Academic Coursework. Writing Exams. Doing Assignments.
  23. Reading for curiosity and pleasure.
  24. Goodreads.
  25. Working on my personal projects which never lead anywhere.
  26. Following my curiosities.
  27. Being a leader, being followed by people.
  28. Working towards self-imposed goals.
  29. Self-discovery through reading, listening, meditation, and running.
  30. Getting obsessed about one thing and then going deep into it.
  31. Storytelling. Writing stories.
  32. Journaling.
  33. Working on my blog.
  34. Teamwork, working with other people. I assume responsibilities.
  35. When a friend needs my help.
  36. Romance and romantic love interests.
  37. Chess.
  38. Stock markets.
  39. Learning an instrument.
  40. Recording myself. Voice notes.
  41. Work that involves design and problem-solving.
  42. Automation.
  43. Data Science.
  44. UPSC type preparation.
  45. Teaching. Making slide decks.
  46. Working for things I had founded or created. Working where I had ownership and my skin in the game.
  47. Inspiring other people.

The Name of the Wind

I enjoyed reading this book. It was immersive. Although I read it very slowly over the course of four months breaking several times in between. Ideally, this book should be read without breaks and as fast as possible. I also remember running my fingers over a lot of phrases in this book to save them so that I can devour them at some later point in my life. The problem with reading good stuff is that it fills me with rage, “Why was I not able to write something like that?” I ask myself, and then my conscious slowly whispers back to me, “only if you would have sat and tried”. It’s brilliantly written, I mostly love this book for its literary style. Yes, the story is great, but then how the story is told is what stole my heart. Patrick Rothfuss has a way with words, a way only a few are able to have. If you don’t believe me then just read his Goodreads bio or his reviews of his own books.

Some of my favourite lines from the book:

“ ‘So we were ill-lit ships at night …’ ” I quoted.
“… ‘passing close but all unknown to one another,’ ” Denna finished.

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”

“When we are children we seldom think of the future. This innocence leaves us free to enjoy ourselves as few adults can. The day we fret about the future is the day we leave our childhood behind.”

“My parents danced together, her head on his chest. Both had their eyes closed. They seemed so perfectly content. If you can find someone like that, someone who you can hold and close your eyes to the world with, then you’re lucky. Even if it only lasts for a minute or a day. The image of them gently swaying to the music is how I picture love in my mind even after all these years.”

“The best lies about me are the ones I told.”

“Are you hurt?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “Especially in my everywhere.”

“All stories are true,” Skarpi said. “But this one really happened, if that’s what you mean.” He took another slow drink, then smiled again, his bright eyes dancing. “More or less. You have to be a bit of a liar to tell a story the right way. Too much truth confuses the facts. Too much honesty makes you sound insincere.”

“If I seem to wander, if I seem to stray, remember that true stories seldom take the straightest way”

“Chronicler shook his head and Bast gave a frustrated sigh. “How about plays? Have you seen The Ghost and the Goosegirl or The Ha’penny King?”
Chronicler frowned. “Is that the one where the king sells his crown to an orphan boy?”
Bast nodded. “And the boy becomes a better king than the original. The goosegirl dresses like a countess and everyone is stunned by her grace and charm.” He hesitated, struggling to find the words he wanted. “You see, there’s a fundamental connection between seeming and being. Every Fae child knows this, but you mortals never seem to see. We understand how dangerous a mask can be. We all become what we pretend to be.”
Chronicler relaxed a bit, sensing familiar ground. “That’s basic psychology. You dress a beggar in fine clothes, people treat him like a noble, and he lives up to their expectations.”
“That’s only the smallest piece of it,” Bast said. “The truth is deeper than that. It’s…” Bast floundered for a moment. “It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Frowning, Chronicler opened his mouth, but Bast held up a hand to stop him. “No, listen. I’ve got it now. You meet a girl: shy, unassuming. If you tell her she’s beautiful, she’ll think you’re sweet, but she won’t believe you. She knows that beauty lies in your beholding.” Bast gave a grudging shrug. “And sometimes that’s enough.”
His eyes brightened. “But there’s a better way. You show her she is beautiful. You make mirrors of your eyes, prayers of your hands against her body. It is hard, very hard, but when she truly believes you…” Bast gestured excitedly. “Suddenly the story she tells herself in her own head changes. She transforms. She isn’t seen as beautiful. She is beautiful, seen.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?” Chronicler snapped. “You’re just spouting nonsense now.”
“I’m spouting too much sense for you to understand,” Bast said testily. “But you’re close enough to see my point.”


Who is Michelle Obama? Is she only the first African-American First Lady of the United States, as we know her, or is she something more? What’s her story? How did she become what she became? And has she ever stopped becoming something? Since growing up isn’t finite, can we really become something and that would be the end of it. Whoever this fine lady is, she is surely someone who has a lot she wants to say. And that is what this book is about; the journey of a lady who reached the world’s most famous address, how she lived there, and the ways in which she’s finding herself again after walking out from that door one last time.

“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”

Michelle in this book tells the story of her life, and she also tells something about stories we carry with us:

“Even when it’s not pretty or perfect. Even when it’s more real than you want it to be. Your story is what you have, what you will always have. It is something to own.”

At the beginning of this year, I read Barack Obama’s Biography A Promised Land. A treatise on Presidency, what does it mean to be a President? The book soon lead me to read another book on leadership and politics by Obama’s appointed FBI Director. It was inevitable that sooner or later I’d get my hands on Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir. While I was hoping to learn more about Michelle than Barack in this book, I was disappointed that the later part of the book felt like it was more about him than her, which is something I could understand, but not without feeling irked.

What I loved about this book was Michelle’s storytelling style and her love story with Barack. This book was worth reading for me just for that fact alone, everything else that came along with the book was like the cherry on the cake.

I received this book as a gift from one of my best friends, Aditi Bhatt. It’s a little book bound in hardcover, and it’s cute to carry around. The book is scribbled with quotations on friendship and some words of wisdom from the author Ruskin Bond. There are two blank pages at the end of every section where you can pen down your thoughts but I did not ink the book because to ink a cute little book with my hauntingly beautiful handwriting (those who have seen it, they know) is a blasphemy. So I read the book, and I read it again (because it was little, and also because I promised myself to go over the text again once I’ve read it) and thoughts of all the friends I’ve made in this dear life came to me. Some of the advice I read in these quotes resounded with the advice my father gives me on friendships. Some of the advice I already knew by walking in this life with my friends. But then there were things that made me think: even though I’ve had a handful of friends in this life who I’ve loved and who have loved me, I still have a lot to learn about this big thing called Friendship.

My friends call me lighthouse. And it’s because I’m tall and I work in the middle of the sea. Although I like to believe it’s also because I am their guiding light on the stormy nights, as far as I know, my friends, think otherwise. When I first heard about this book…well…actually at first I heard about the author from one of those friends who had christened me lighthouse, I was intrigued. A boy of my age managing the office of Ratan Tata, and also being his best friend. A boy of my age who has written a memoir. I instantly knew that I’d love to read it. I had two reasons for the same. A) I was fascinated by the Tatas. I wanted to know what growing old with Tatas is like. B) I was fascinated by the fact that someone my age has written an endearing memoir and it reminded me of my long-lost forgotten memoir project, “The Young Man and the Sea”.

It was a heartfelt read, I could relate a lot with the author being a millennial myself. The caricatures inside the book are beautiful. It’s a simple book, and it’s simply written, and that is what I liked about this book the most. It settled my expectations and left me happier than I began. There’s just so much to learn from Ratan Tata and from Shantanu Naida. There is also so much to know and see.

How to Not Die Alone

This book has a funny name for obvious reasons. Do you know which other book has a funny name? The classic: How to Win Friends and Influence People. The moment you tell your friends that I’m reading a book with the name How to . . ., their judgement begins, they pity you—oh, poor soul, may God be kind to you. It’s not what you think NAINA. Will you cut me some slack? And you know what’s worse? Gifting such books to your friends—it’s a sure-shot way of running your friendships. No, no, no, I’m not saying Puneet that you are bad at making friends, I’m just saying, you know, with the right ideas, you can be better. Please, Aditi, listen to me, I’m not saying that you will die alone, but maybe once you read this—you might just die with someone better. Okay, I lied, we all are going to die alone, but for once let me use my poetic licence, will you?

Anyways, two friendships and a lover later, here I am, reviewing this funny book with a funny title. In my defence, I really did care about my friends. Love is a delicate subject. Some of us spend our whole lives trying to understand what love really is, and still never quite reach there. And some of us get a vague idea and ideals for love from popular art, culture, and nurture and try to spend our whole lives trying to replicate what our minds understand as love. The word itself feels so effortless, unlike calculus, which demands that you read it out of a book, practice, and yet fail in it. The word love sounds like something as we all are equally capable of giving and receiving. And while that may be true for most of us, maybe for most of us love does come easy, but then some of us do struggle in finding who to love. That’s what this book is about. How to have long-term happy relationships, how to choose a good lover and a life partner. How to not end up dying alone.

This book may not give you all the answers you are looking for on a silver platter. You make still die alone even after you will finish this book. But this book will surely give you a process to go through. And where there is a process, there is peace.

Key Takeaways:

1. Dating is harder than ever before for a number of reasons. If you are interested in reasons and you don’t believe what I have to say: read the book. Yes, I’m talking to you Future Girish, I knew you’ll come back. Yours: Lazy Present Girish.

2. People either have unrealistic expectations of relationships (Romanticizer), or have unrealistic expectations of their partner (Maximizer), or else they have unrealistic expectations of themselves (Hesitaters). Find out who you are, and then learn not to be yourself.

3. Have a work-it-out mindset instead of having a soul-mate mindset. While love may be effortless (yeah, why not?), relationships take effort and building a successful one is a process. No one is perfect, even Prince Charming has a morning breath.

4. There are two types of people: Maximizers and Satisfiers. It’s a spectrum, not a box. But try to be on the satisfier side of the spectrum. There are online quizzes to find out who you are, or you can just close your eyes, and for once in your life try to be honest with yourself. In case you want to know who Maximizers or Satisfiers are: read the book or google search.

5. Actually, there is another type: Hesitaters. They feel they are not ready yet. By waiting, they miss out on the chance to develop their dating skills and figure out what type of person they want to be with. Just a suggestion: STOP TALKING TO YOUR EX!

6. I’m not going to talk about attachment styles here: I’ve already written an article about it on my blog. You can refer it by clicking here. Spoiler alert: Try to be securely attached. Again, there are online quizzes, or you can just close your eyes. In case you are anxious or avoidantly attached: try to self-regulate yourself.

7. Seek Life Partners: people who are trustworthy and reliable and who will stay with you for the long haul. Avoid Prom Dates: fun in short term, but will ultimately let you down. Things that matter are: loyalty, kindness, emotional stability, growth mindset, ability to make hard decisions, and the ability to fight constructively. Things that matter less: looks, money, shared hobbies, similar personalities. Focus on the side of you this person brings out because that’s who you’ll be whenever you’re with them.

8. We think we know what we want but we don’t. Because apps only measure superficial traits, they suck, they exacerbate our shallowness. No, Rach, no, proper height doesn’t equate long-term happy relationship. You are not relationshopping—your dates are not potential purchases. Expand your settings to see more people, be less judgmental when you swipe, date fewer people at a time, and transition to the date faster.

9. To meet people in real life: go to events, ask your friends or family to set you up on dates, connect with people you already know, and introduce yourself to people when you’re out and above.

10. Dates are not job interviews. Be experimental. You’re mindset about your date matters.

11. F**k the spark! Chemistry can build over time. The spark is not always a good thing. That may actually be anxiety because the person doesn’t make it clear how they feel about you. Sometimes the presence of a spark is more an indication of how charming someone is—or how narcissistic—and less a sign of shared connection. Pro tip: Be afraid of charming people. Fuck the Spark and go after the Slow Burn. As Aditi says, in between Passion (Junun) and Peace (Sukun), choose Peace.

12. Don’t have a negative bias. Do not judge others the way you would not want to be judged. Be warry of fundamental-attribution-error—our tendency to believe someone’s actions reflect who they are rather than their circumstances. Try to come up with more compassionate reasons for their behaviour. Go on second dates, even if your first date sucked. Distinguish your Permissible Pet Peeves from dealbreakers, don’t write off people for silly reasons. And don’t ghost.

13. When a decision has to be made in a relationship, you will have two choices: deciding or sliding. Couples who decide tend to enjoy healthier relationships. STOP SLIDING. GIVE THOUGHTS. When you are seeing someone, don’t make assumptions about whether you’re in a relationship. You need to DTR (define the relationship) to ensure you are on the same page. It’s a deadly mistake to not ask WUWU.

14. When a relationship is not working, you have two options: end it (ditchers) or mend it (hitchers). Like ditchers, don’t confuse falling in love with being in love. Like hitchers, don’t let the sunk-cost fallacy cognitive bias have the better of you. The best way to be profitable in a loss-making trade is to get out of it as soon as possible with as little loss as possible. For ditchers, opportunity cost is learning how to make relationships work. For hitchers, the opportunity cost is to find a more satisfying partnership. Ask yourself the Wardrobe Test Question: If my partner were a piece of clothing in my closet, what would they be? (doesn’t make sense? Read the book.)

15. When you have decided that you want to break up with someone, make a plan and stick to it. Be kind and firm. Don’t break up with them just before they are about to fly, or just before a big day. Don’t be a Nice Breakup Person. Keep your distance from them until both of you have moved on.

16. Your breakup was not a loss but an opportunity for growth and learning. Journaling helps. Write about positive aspects of the breakup and negative aspects of the relationship. Participate in “rediscover yourself” activities.

17. You and your partner don’t think alike. Before you tie the knot, have a series of self-reflection activities. Have conversations about the past, the present, and the future. And it’s crucial to discuss topics like money, sex, religion, and children.

18. Seek relationships where you can learn and grow together with your partner. Have a weekly check-in ritual. Great relationships are created, not discovered.

This work is based on John Truby’s book The Anatomy of Story.

The shortest expression of the story as a whole is the premise line. It’s your story stated in one sentence. It is the simplest combination of character and plot and typically consists of some event that starts the action, some sense of the main character, and some sense of the outcome of the story.


Step 1: Write Something That May Change Your Life

If the story is important to you, then it will be important to a lot of people in your audience. And when you’re done writing the story, no matter what else happens, you’ve changes your life.

Sounds cool, but how to actually do that?

Do some self-exploration.

First, write down your wish list, a list of everything you would like to see up on the screen, in a book, or at the theatre. You can jot down the characters you have imagined, cool plot twists, or great lines of dialogue that have popped into your head. You can list themes you care about or certain genres that always attract you.

Second, write down your premise list, a list of every premise you’ve ever thought of. Express each premise in one sentence.

Now study these two lists and patterns will emerge about what you love. This, in the rawest form possible, is your vision. It’s who you are as a writer and as a human being, on a paper in front of you. Go back to it often.

Step 2: Look for What’s Possible

Let your ideas and stories blossom, don’t just jump on a single possibility right away, even if it looks really good. Explore your options. Brainstorm different paths the idea can take and then choose the best one. See if anything is promised by the idea. These “promises” can lead you to the best option for developing the idea. Ask yourself “What if . . . ?” for seeing what’s possible in the idea.

Step 3: Identify the Story Challenges and Problems

You have to identify inherent problems right at the premise line. There are particular problems embedded in every idea, and these problems are signposts for finding your true story. For example in The Great Gatsby Fitzgerald’s challenge is to show the American dream corrupted and reduced to competition for fame and money.

Step 4: Find the Designing Principle

Your overall story strategy stated in one line, is the designing principle of your story. It organizes your story as a whole. Being the internal logic of the story, it makes the parts hang together organically so that the story becomes greater than sum of its parts. Premise is concrete; it’s what actually happens. The designing principle is abstract; it is the deeper process going on in the story, told in an original way.

Step 5: Determine Your Best Character in the Idea

Best character is the one that’s most fascinating, challenging, and complex. It need not be likable. You want this character driving the action.

Step 6: Get a Sense of the Central Conflict

Find out: “who fights whom over what?” and answer the question in one succinct line.

Step 7: Get a Sense of the Single Cause-and-Effect Pathway 

A leads to B, which leads to C, and so on all the way to Z. This is spine of the story, and if you don’t have a spine or you have too many spines, your story will fall apart. Ask yourself: “What is my hero’s basic actions?” Your hero make take many actions over the course of the story. But there should be one action that is most important, that unifies every other action the hero takes. That action is the cause-and-effect path.

Step 8: Determine Your Hero’s Possible Character Change

Character change is what your hero experiences by going through his struggle. The change can be represented as:

W x A = C

where W stands for weakness, both psychological and moral; A represents the struggle to accomplish the basic action in the middle of the story; and C stand for the changes person.

Basic Logic of a Story: How does the act of struggling to do the basic action (A) lead the character to change from W to C?

Notice that A, the basic action, is the fulcrum. The basic action should be the one action best able to force the character to deal with his weakness and change.

  1. Write your simple premise line. (Be open to modifying this premise line once you discover the character change.)
  2. Determine the basic action of your hero over the course of the story.
  3. Come up with the opposites of A (the basic action) for both W (the hero’s weakness) and C (changed person).

If your hero’s weakness are similar to the basic action he will take during the story, he will simply deepen those weaknesses and remain who he is.

Step 9: Figure Out the Hero’s Possible Moral Choice

Your hero must either select one of two positive outcomes or, on rare occasions, avoid one of two negative outcomes. A classic example of choice between two positives is between love and honour.

Step 10: Gauge the Audience Appeal

Ask yourself: Is this single story line unique enough to interest a lot of people beside me?

A Checklist for Creating Your Premise

  • Premise
  • Wish List and Premise List
  • Possibilities
  • Story Challenges and Problems
  • Designing Principle
  • Best Character
  • Conflict
  • Basic Action
  • Character Change
  • Moral Choice
  • Audience Appeal


I always say that for a good life you need meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And there is going to be struggle in both of them. This book was about how to make your work more meaningful and how to struggle better with work.

Last year, through a friend and through a YouTube video on productivity I found this book. I had started posting stories on my Instagram after getting inspired by a friend who worked in digital marketing and content creation. Even though I wasn’t doing quality work, I wanted my work to be seen. See, the narcissist inside me is talking. The boy is dreaming of a hot breakfast without caring to get out of his bed. It was a short book that I had finished in one night in February. I was offshore, and it was the changeover from night shift to day shift, I just couldn’t sleep. I found myself nodding my head all along with the book, sometimes I found my eyes getting wider when I desperately wanted them to narrow down me to sleep. There was a line in the beginning—”Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog.” I sighed.

This book promises to deliver 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered. For selfish reasons, I’d summarize those 10 ways, in case I forget them in days to come.

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.

Find a Scenius.

Find like-minded individuals and groups. Lone genius is a myth. Creativity is collaboration. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.

Be an amateur.

Contributing something is better than contributing nothing. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few. Wear your amateurism on your sleeve.

You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.

Talk about things you love. Your voice will follow.

Read Obituaries.

They are a near death experience for the rest of us. It reminds you that every day is an extra day, and you have to make the most out of it.

  1. Think process, not product.

Take people behind the scenes.

Work is a process not a thing. “People really do want to see how the sausage gets made. By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

Become a documentarian of what you do.

Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of your working. This isn’t about making art, it’s simply keeping track of what’s going around.

Research. Reference. Drawings. Plans. Sketches. Interviews. Audio. Photographs. Video. Pinboards. Journals. Drafts. Prototypes. Demos. Diagrams. Notes. Inspirations. Scrapbooks. Stories. Collections.

  1. Share something small every day.

Send out a daily dispatch.

Once a day, after you’ve done your work day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. If you are in early stage — share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you are in the middle of executing a project — write about your methods or share works in progress. If you have just completed a project — show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned.

Daily dispatch can be a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media. Don’t worry about being on every platform; pick and choose based on what you do and the people you’re trying to reach.

Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

The “so what?” test.

I had a professor in college who returned our graded essays, walked up to the chalkboard, and wrote in huge letters: “SO WHAT?” She threw the piece of chalk down and said, “Ask yourself that every time you turn in a piece of writing.” It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Turn your flow into stock.

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. Maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. Stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow.

Build a good (domain) name.

One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work. My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salon. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.

Your website is not a self-promotion machine, it is a self-invention machine.

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work . . . and if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.

  1. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.

Don’t be a hoarder.

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.” — Paul Arden

The reading feeds the writing, which feeds the reading. “I’m basically a curator. Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.”

Our tastes make us what we are, but they can also cast shadow over our own work.

No guilty pleasures.

We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage, because what makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences, the unique ways in which we mix up the parts of culture others have deemed “high” and the “low”.

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it.

Credit is always due.

Always give proper credits to people whose work you share, otherwise you are not only robbing the creator of the credits but you are also robbing your audience of the original work.

  1. Tell good stories.

Work doesn’t speak for itself.

“The cat sat on a mat’ is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is a story.” — John le Carré
If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.

When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.”

Structure is everything.

If you study the structure of stories, you start to see how they work, and once you know how they work, you can then start stealing story structures and filling them in with characters, situations, and settings from your own life.

Talk about yourself at parties.

You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between. Tell the truth and tell it with dignity and self-respect.

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

Strike all adjectives from your bio. You’re not an “aspiring” photographer, and you’re not an “amazing” photographer, either. You’re a photographer. Don’t get cute. Don’t brag. Just state the facts.

  1. Teach what you know.

Share your trade secrets.

Don’t worry about the competition. “The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” — Annie Dillard.

  1. Don’t turn into human spam.

Shut up and listen

If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.

You want hearts, not eyeballs.

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Be a more interesting person. If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. Being good at things is only thing that earns you clout or connections.

The vampire test.

If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Vampires cannot be cured. When you come across a vampire, banish it from your life forever.

Identify your fellow knuckleballers.

When you pin your kind, you get your team. The people who share your obsessions, the people who share a similar mission to your own, the people with whom you share a mutual respect.

Meet up in meatspace.

Meet people in the real life.

  1. Learn to take a punch.

Let ‘em take their best shot.

Relax and breathe. Strengthen your neck. Get hit a lot. Take lots of criticism. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can’t hurt you. Roll with the punches. Having your work hated by certain people is a badge of honour. Protect your vulnerable areas. Keep your balance. Your work is something you do, not who you are.

Don’t feed the trolls.

“There’s never a space under paintings in a gallery where someone writes their opinion,” says cartoonist Natalie Dee. “When you get to the end of a book, you don’t have to see what everyone else thought of it.” For troll problems, use the block button on social media sites.

  1. Sell out.

Even the renaissance had to be funded.

“An amateur is an artist who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint.” Said artist Ben Shahn. “A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.”

Paul McCartney said that he and John Lennon used to sit down before a Beatles songwriting session and say, “Now, let’s write a swimming pool.”

Pass around the hat.

Turn your audience into patrons. Put a little virtual tip jar or a donate now button on your website.

Keep a mailing list.

They might not open it, but they definitely has to go to the trouble of deleting it.

Make more work for yourself.

Be ambitious. Keep yourself busy. Think bigger. Expand your audience. Don’t hobble yourself in the name of “keeping it real”, or “not selling out.” Try new things. “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.” — Walt Disney.

Pay it forward.

“The biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the things that you do, because you are successful,” writes author Neil Gaiman. “There was a day when I looked up and realized that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.”

Be as generous as you can, but selfish to get your work done.

  1. Stick around.

Don’t quit your show.

“Work is never finished, only abandoned.” — Paul Valéry.

Just keep going. Every day, without hope or despair.


Persevere, regardless of success or failure. Author Ernest Hemingway would stop in the middle of a sentence at the end of his day’s work so he knew where to start in the morning.

Go away so you can come back.

What are you hoping to express if all you see is four walls? Flee the office. To pick up a signal, cut off mobile service. Don’t die. Simply disappear a while. Take a sabbatical from your work if possible, or else use the time with commute, exercise, or nature to disengage from the world, and to engage with yourself.

Start Over. Begin Again.

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” — Alain de Botton. Think of it as beginning again, instead of starting over. Go back to chapter one—literally!—and become an amateur.

THE WEIRD GIRL CAME EARLY in March, one sunny day, in the garden that lay far away from her home. In the city in which the weird girl had lived almost all her life, weird things were starting to happen. From the outside, it was hard to tell what was different, but for those who had lived and lost in this city, everything was. The winds blew with more water in them than this arid city could ever provide. The sun was like a flaming pie and it was only March. But it wasn’t about the bad weather, if it would have been bad weather, this story would not have been told, and the weird girl wouldn’t have come.

She seemed to be waiting—for someone to come or something to happen. It was hard to tell for the other folks because she just walked around looking at everyone through her weirdly huge eyes. As if she was really seeing them. When she got tired of walking she sat on one of the unbroken green benches and took out her phone. It looked like a slim black-coloured brick. It wasn’t a good phone, I could tell for a fact because it didn’t have a half-eaten apple imprinted on the back. It was just an ordinary phone, she wanted to click pictures with it. Probably for that place where these humans put happy memories. Everyone’s just happy there all the time. There weren’t many people around where the weird girl was sitting. There was a pair under the palm tree: his head laying on her lap as she whispered something into her ears. She captured them on her phone. There were five kids playing with a flying disc, and one of the kids always seemed to miss that flying disc. She captured them too. There was an old man around the corner, stiff as an iron bar but trying hard to stretch. She captured him. She then turned on the front camera of her brick, I’m sorry, her phone, and saw herself. She looked into her own eyes and made weird faces, she pulled out her tongue and tucked in her lips. And then sometimes, she’ll just raise her eyebrows and try not to smile. And once she gave her widest grin. She seemed to be lost in her own world, a weird girl, in a weird city, at a weird time. Aren’t these human beings weird? I sighed.

My people think that humans don’t fear being seen. But in the last five years and sixty-three days on earth, I’ve learned that being seen is what humans fear the most. They are hiding but they are just not good at it. As if nobody taught them that there is more to being invisible than just wearing clothes. Their technology is outdated. Almost all of them still wear clothes. I’ve seen a few naked humans too, but I’ll not tell you about them. From where I come, gentlemen are not supposed to tell such things. And what’s weirder is that they have even forgotten that the reason they started wearing clothes was to hide, to not be seen by others, and to not be seen to themselves. Now they wear new clothes every day, hoping that the other humans would look at them and appreciate them. They are fine if you look at them, but the moment you start to see them, they run inside their cocoons. It might not look that way on the surface, but they are always hiding. They are trying hard to be invisible. That pair under the palm tree is using this garden to hide away from onlookers. And if you’d look just as closely as I’m looking, then you’ll see that they are also hiding their true self from one another. The kid who just got hit by that flying disc is smiling. He’s hurting, but to save himself from the embarrassment, he had put up a smile like a bandaid. And that stiff old man, he’s just trying to hide from death. The inevitable home of all humans. Humans are so afraid of being seen that they can live all their lives beneath a mask. They are walking projectors—just trying to project an image of themselves onto others, and each one of them wants their image to be brighter than the other. This is all very blinding, and weird.

The weird girl yawns and then looks up, she sees me standing there. She squits her eyes as if she had just woken up from a deep slumber. As if someone had taken her from a dark chamber to sunlight, and now her eyes are trying to adjust. “You made me wait forever”, she said. “It takes time to see beyond obvious, I was here since the beginning,” I told her, “and your city needs you to do just that—see beyond obvious.”

“So you mean to say”, she says, “that only I can see you in this garden?”

“Yes, that is exactly what I have been trying to explain to you for the last thirteen minutes.”

“And you are telling me that I’m invisible?” she asks me.

“No one can see you before sunrise.” as I tell her, I can see her weird face becoming weird, her eyes grow bigger and bigger, and I wonder if they might just fall out of the socket? “Listen to me, being invisible is not easy, there are three or maybe four things I want you to know. First, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean you are intangible. People might run into you and discover you, or worse they might drop something heavy on you because they can’t see you. Protect yourself. Second, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean you are inaudible. People can still hear you. They can feel your breaths. Walk slowly on the creaky floors. Third, you are invisible, that doesn’t mean that you can escape motion sensors. There will be a lot of motion sensors in Krayton Hill, be cautious.

Imagine three babies in a room with their mothers around. They look happy, smiling even, like babies do when you leave them in the company of their favourite toys, their nappies dry, their stomaches fed, and their mothers around. On the surface, other than the level of their cuteness, there isn’t much difference between these three babies. They are oblivion to adulthood and sufferings of life. But these three babies are not the same. They are different in the way they are attached to their mothers.

When the mother of the first baby leaves the room the baby starts to cry, howling even, like babies do when you leave them alone feeling insecure. To a baby, the world revolves around her mother, and as long as she’s around the baby can be sure no one can do no harm to her. Much like how we feel around our romantic partners when we are deeply in love. When the mother of the first baby returns, the baby is still crying. She holds her in her arms, trying to pacify her by singing a lullaby, but the baby is still crying as if the baby is punishing the mother for leaving her behind. This type of attachment of the baby to her mother is called anxious attachment.

When the mother of the second baby leaves the room this baby too like the first one begins to cry like babies are supposed to. Having his favourite toys, his dry nappy, his full stomach means nothing to him if his mother is not around. When the mother of the second baby return, the baby on seeing her stops crying. He’s happy to have her back, she looks at her and smiles and he looks at her and chuckles like he’s telling her: mother, would you please take me with you when you go away from me next time? She holds him in her arms, and he plunges his head on her shoulder and closes his eyes. This type of attachment of the baby to his mother is called secure attachment.

When the mother of the third baby leaves the room the baby cannot care any less. He seems undisturbed by the fact that his universe has left him behind for the loo. He’s busy with his toys and as long as his nappy’s dry and his stomach’s full he doesn’t really need the life-giver. On the surface, he looks fine, but if you put instruments to measure his heart rate, you’ll find it elevated. He’s just trying to protect himself from the hurt. Like some of us do with our lovers, when they leave we learn to be cold. When the mother return, he doesn’t even look at her, he’s still busy in his own world. When the mother takes her in her arms, he smiles, his eyes telling nothing about the last five minutes when she wasn’t around to watch over her but the mother can feel his heartrate. He’s calm. This type of attachment of the baby to his mother is called avoidant attachment.

So, what kind of baby are you?

I finished reading this book six months ago. I wanted to devour it so I began working on the long notes for this book, more like a book summary. There was this need to not forget what I was reading. I worked till the third chapter of this book, but then life started happening (wink wink) and I just couldn’t find time and space to sit and work on that. And now six months later, there is too much inertia in me to sit back with the book again. I want to finish what I had started, but just not right now. I’m not in the correct headspace for that. I know, eventually, I’ll find my way to this book again.

I am not a design student, but design was always close to my heart. It was Steve Jobs who introduced the importance of design in my life. When I began reading this book I wasn’t sure how it might help me in my job as a control room engineer, but I was surprised to find case studies that I could relate with. There were many real-life cases too, where I found myself nodding my head.

If there is one big theme from the book that has still stayed with me from the book then that would be that it is mostly the fault of the bad design that we ascribe to human error.

A Promised Land: Review

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office.

— Dwight D. Eisenhower

13 Reasons Why  I Love Barack Obama?

1. He has a great sense of humour.

McRaven explained that he was looking at the body as we spoke, and that in his judgement it was definitely bin Laden; the CIA’s facial recognition software would soon indicate the same. To further confirm, McRaven had a six-foot-two member of his team lie next to the body to compare his height to bin Laden’s purported six-foot-four frame.
    “Seriously, Bill?” I teased. “All that planning and you couldn’t bring a tape measure?”

2. He listened to his mother.

“You know, Barry,” she said, “there are people in the world who only think about themselves. They don’t care what happens to other people so long as they get what they want. They put other people down to make themselves feel important. “Then there are people who do the opposite, who are able to imagine how others must feel, and make sure that they don’t do things that hurt people.
    “So,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye. “Which kind of person do you want to be?”

3. He (also) listened to his grandmother.

“The thing about getting old, Bar,” Toot had told me, “is that you’re the same person inside.” I remember her eyes studying me through her thick bifocals, as if to make sure I was paying attention. “You’re trapped in this doggone contraption that starts falling apart. But it’s still you. You understand?”
    “Sometimes,” she told me, “you just do what needs to be done.”

4. He was once broken and broke.

I was almost forty, broke, coming off a humiliating defeat and with my marriage strained. I felt for perhaps the first time in my life that I had taken a wrong turn; that whatever reservoirs of energy and optimism I thought I had, whatever potential I’d always banked on, had been used upon a fool’s errand. Worse, I recognized that in running for Congress I’d been driven not by some selfless dream of changing the world, but rather by the need to justify the choices I had already made, or to satisfy my ego, or to quell my envy of those who had achieved what I had not.
    In other words, I had become the very thing that, as a younger man, I had warned myself against. I had become a politician—and not a very good one at that.

5. But he tried to sell Magic Beans to Michelle.

“If you lose, we’ll be deeper in the hole,” she said. “And what happens if you win? How are we supposed to maintain two households, in Washington and Chicago, when we can barely keep up with one?”
    “In other words,” she said, “you’ve got some magic beans in your pocket. That’s what you’re telling me. You have some magic beans, and you’re going to plant them, and overnight a huge beanstalk is going to grow high into the sky, and you’ll climb up the beanstalk, kill the giant who lives in the clouds, and then bring home a goose that lays golden eggs. Is that it?”
    “Something like that,” I said.

6. And his Magic Beans really had magic.

She looked at me and shook her head, incredulous. “I can’t believe you actually pulled this whole thing off. The campaign. The book. All of it.”
    I nodded and kissed her forehead. “Magic beans, baby. Magic beans.”

7. He is a good listener.

Over time, though, I focused more on listening. And the more I listened, the more people opened up. They’d tell me about how it felt to be laid off after a lifetime of work, or what it was like to have your home foreclosed upon or to have to sell the family farm. They’d tell me about not being able to afford health insurance, and how sometimes they broke the pills their doctors prescribed in half, hoping to make their medicine last longer. They spoke of young people moving away because there were no good jobs in their town, or others having to drop out of college just short of graduation because they couldn’t cover the tuition.
    “Most people, wherever they’re from, whatever they look like, are looking for the same thing. They’re not trying to get filthy rich. They don’t expect someone else to do what they can do for themselves. But they do expect that if they’re willing to work, they should be able to find a job that supports a family. They expect that they shouldn’t go bankrupt just because they get sick. They expect that their kids should be able to get a good education, one that prepares them for this new economy, and they should be able to afford college if they’ve put in the effort. They want to be safe, from criminals or terrorists. And they figure that after a lifetime of work, they should be able to retire with dignity and respect.”

8. He is always willing to learn.

“Your problem,” he said, “is you keep trying to answer the question.”
“Isn’t that the point?” I said.
“No, Barack,” Axe said, “that is not the point. The point is to get your message across. What are your values? What are your priorities? That’s what people care about. Look, half the time the moderator is just using the question to try to trip you up. Your job is to avoid the trap they’ve set. Take whatever question they give you, give ‘em a quick line to make it seem like you answered it…and then talk about what you want to talk about.”
“That’s bullshit,” I said.
“Exactly,” he said.

The most effective debate answers, it seemed, were designed not to illuminate but to evoke an emotion, or identify the enemy, or signal to a constituency that you, more than anyone else on that stage, were and would always be on their side.

Then again, a president wasn’t a lawyer or an accountant or a pilot, hired to carry out some narrow, specialised task. Mobilising public opinion, shaping working coalitions—that was the job. Whether I liked it or not, people were moved by emotions, not facts.

9. He understands that life and presidency are a game of chances.

What I was quickly discovering about the presidency was that no problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution. If it had, someone else down the chain of command would have solved it already. Instead, I was constantly dealing with probabilities: a 70 percent chance, say, that a decision to do nothing would end in disaster; a 55 percent chance that this approach versus that one might solve the problem (with 0 percent chance that it would work out exactly as intended); a 30 percent chance that whatever we chose wouldn’t work at all, along with a 15 percent chance that it would make the problem worse.

10. He is brave enough to accept the past.

At times, we bent global institutions or ignored them altogether; we meddled in the affairs of other countries, sometimes with disastrous results; our actions often contradicted the ideals of democracy, self-determination, and human rights we professed to embody.

11. He’s a philosopher

“Check it out, boss,” Reggie said, pointing at the wall. There, carved in the smooth, porous stone, was the dark image of a man’s face. Not the profile typical of hieroglyphics but a straight-on head shot. A long, oval face. Prominent ears sticking straight out like handles. A cartoon of me, somehow forged in antiquity.
“Must be a relative,” Marvin said.
We all had a laugh then, and the two of them wandered off to join the camel riders. Our guide couldn’t tell me just who it was that the image depicted, or even whether it dated back to the time of the Pyramids. But I stood at the wall for an extra beat, trying to imagine the life behind that etching. Had he been a member of the royal court? A slave? A foreman? Maybe just a bored vandal, camped out at night centuries after the wall had been built, inspired by the stars and his own loneliness to sketch his own likeness. I tried to imagine the worries and strivings that might have consumed him and the nature of the world he’d occupied, likely full of its own struggles and palace intrigues, conquests and catastrophes, events that probably at the time felt no less pressing than those I’d face as soon as I got back to Washington. All of it was forgotten now, none of it mattered, the pharaoh, the slave, and the vandal all long turned to dust.
Just as every speech I’d delivered, every law I passed and decision I made, would soon be forgotten.
Just as I and all those I loved would someday turn to dust.

12. He knows whatever he’ll do might not be enough.

Michelle and I had just finished getting dressed when Marvin knocked on the door and told us to look out our forth-story window. Pulling back the shades, we saw that several thousand people had gathered in the early dusk, filling the narrow street below. Each person held aloft a single lit candle—the city’s traditional way to express its appreciation for that year’s peace prize winner. It was a magical sight, as if a pool of stars had descended from the sky; and as Michelle and I leaned out to wave, the night air brisk on our cheeks, the crowd cheering wildly, I couldn’t help but thing about the daily fighting that continued to consume Iraq and Afghanistan and all the cruelty and suffering and injustice that my administration had barely even begun to deal with. The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to such chaos seemed laughable; on some level, the crowds below were cheering an illusion. And yet, in the flickering of those candles, I saw something else. I saw an expression of the spirit of millions of people around the world: the U.S. soldier manning a post in Kandahar, the mother in Iran teaching her daughter to read, the Russian pro-democracy activist mustering his courage for an upcoming demonstration—all those who refused to give up on the idea that life could be better, and that whatever the risks and hardships, they had a role to play.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.
Try anyway.

13. He tells me being president means taking big risks and sometimes kissing your wife when you do succeed.

“We have him,” he said. “It seems he was picked up by some friendly Libyans, and he’s going to be fine.”
    I wanted to kiss Tom at that moment, but I kissed Michelle instead.
    When someone asks me to describe what it feels like to be the president of the United States, I often think about that stretch of time spent sitting helplessly at the state dinner in Chile, contemplating the knife’s edge between perceived success and potential catastrophe—in this case, the drift of a soldier’s parachute over a faraway desert in the middle of the night. It wasn’t simply that each decision I made was essentially a high-stakes wager; it was the fact that unlike in poker, where a player expects and can afford to lose a few big hands even on the way to a winning night, a single mishap could cost a life, and overwhelm—both in the political press and in my own heart—whatever broader objective I might have achieved.

I had finished reading A Promised Land about two weeks ago. Usually, as soon as I finish the book, I sit to write the review and then move on to the next reading project. But this time I wanted to sit with what I had read, for as long as I could, slowly chewing the things I had earlier gulped in an attempt to reach the finish line. Last month, I had read something on the blog Farnam Street that stayed with me: “Skim a lot of books. Read a few. And immediately re-read the good ones twice.” A Promised Land was a good book. I had to read it again. And not just re-read it, but also re-think it. I wanted to sit on my laptop, typing out the words Obama so effortlessly had said in his memoir perhaps in an attempt of not forgetting them, or perhaps to get them ingrained in my mind. I was little more than twelve years when Barack Obama became the president of the United States of America and he remained to be the president until I was little more than twenty years old. This was also the time when my grandfather was elected as a member of the legislative assembly in my state for the first time. I grew old watching these two lawmakers through the comforts of my home, one at the dining table and the other on the wall opposite speaking to me through the hanging television. Now that I think of it, risking sounding a little presumptuous, I wanted to understand what goes into the making of a good leader? To me, both of them represent the same kind of politics, the only kind of politics I understood, the politics of unity and hope. Read A Promised Land to learn what it is like to be a president or a leader.

While reading A Promised Land (to be honest, also A Higher Loyalty), I ended up compiling qualities of good leaders. I hope it helps you identify good leadership around you. It’s not an exhaustive list, help me expand the list.

  • A sense of humour
  • Having a balance of humility and confidence
  • Integrity and decency
  • Transparency
  • An awareness that we all seek meaning in work.
  • Knowing that doing is far more important than saying
  • They never yell. They know guilt and affection are far more powerful than fear.
  • A good listener. It’s hard because it requires us to be vulnerable, to risk our superior position.
  • Is willing to learn
  • They strive to be better than themselves
  • They are just; they don’t bend laws or those who are there to protect it.
  • They know history. They understand history.
  • They have healthy self-doubt. Decency to ask, “what am I missing?”
  • Listens to the experts
  • Good decision-makers
  • Thinks long term
  • They draw different viewpoints into a conversation, disregarding the hierarchy in meetings to allow people to speak their minds up.
  • Tells the team to think; does not tell them what to think
  • Willingness to accept mistakes and flaws.
  • Credits to the team; Blames to the self.

I’ve also compiled my highlights, summary, and notes of the book here.

A Promised Land: Notes

This is a chapter wise summary and highlight of Barack Obama’s autobiography A Promised Land. I started reading this book in mid-December 2021 and finished it in mid-Feburary 2022. I then spent around two weeks going through the book all over again, typing down all my favourite parts that I wanted to carry with me for a long long time, and then writing the one-paragraph summary for each chapter of the book. My goal was that if years later I ask myself can we revisit Obama’s story, the answer should be: YES WE CAN! 

Chapter 1

In this chapter, Barack talks about his early days, first, of the white house and then,  of the time when we are at crossroads in life. He talks about the influence of her mother on his way of thinking. How she had talked her into getting inside the institutions. He talks of his student life, his idealism, and his pursuit of finding meaning.

“The world is complicated, Bar. That’s why it’s interesting.”

“You know, Barry,” she said, “there are people in the world who only think about themselves. They don’t care what happens to other people so long as they get what they want. They put other people down to make themselves feel important. “Then there are people who do the opposite, who are able to imagine how others must feel, and make sure that they don’t do things that hurt people.
“So,” she said, looking me squarely in the eye. “Which kind of person do you want to be?”

And then there was the unsettling fact, that, despite whatever my mother might claim, the bullies, cheats, and self-promoters seemed to be doing quite well, while those she considered good and decent people seemed to get screwed an awful lot.

Looking back, it’s embarrassing to recognise the degree to which my intellectual curiosity those first two years of college paralleled the interests of various women I was attempting to get know.

Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”

― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

I lived like a monk—reading, writing, filling up journals, rarely bothering with college parties or even eating hot meals. I got lost in my head, preoccupied with questions that seemed to layer themselves one over the next. What made some movements succeed when portions of a cause were absorbed by conventional politics, or was it a sign that the cause had been hijacked? When was compromise acceptable and when was it selling out, and how did one know the difference?

“I don’t know, Bar,” she told me one Christmas. “You can spend a lifetime working outside institutions. But you might get more done trying to change those institutions from the inside.
“Plus, take it from me,” she said with a rueful laugh. “Being broke is overrated.”

Chapter 2

He decides to run for congress. Michelle is not happy with this decision, yet she supports him. He loses. He learns what being a politician is, what politics is, and he finds his voice, and his kind of politics, a different kind.

Enthusiasm makes up for a host of deficiencies.

“Have you ever noticed that if there’s a hard way and an easy way, you choose the hard way every time? Why do you think that is?”

Springfield had a special designation for junior members in the minority like me—”mushrooms,” because “you’re fed shit and kept in the dark.”

It confirmed, too, what I already knew about myself: that whatever preferences I had for fair play, I didn’t like to lose.

“You’ve got to stop beating your head against the wall, Barack,” he said. “The key to surviving this place is understanding that it’s a business. Like selling cars. Or the dry cleaner down the street. You start believing it’s more than that, it’ll drive you crazy.”

I was almost forty, broke, coming off a humiliating defeat and with my marriage strained. I felt for perhaps the first time in my life that I had taken a wrong turn; that whatever reservoirs of energy and optimism I thought I had, whatever potential I’d always banked on, had been used upon a fool’s errand. Worse, I recognized that in running for Congress I’d been driven not by some selfless dream of changing the world, but rather by the need to justify the choices I had already made, or to satisfy my ego, or to quell my envy of those who had achieved what I had not.
In other words, I had become the very thing that, as a younger man, I had warned myself against. I had become a politician—and not a very good one at that.

Chapter 3

After losing Congress, Barack resigns to a quiet life, with small satisfaction. But the fire in his belly was too hot to stay calm, as Michelle said: if there was a hard way and an easy way—Barack would take the hard way. When he started meeting people; he realized how divided America was, and there he saw his race. His kind of politics was the politics of bridge-building, politics of unity and hope. He launches a Senate race. He tells Michelle that if he loses, it could be his last act in politics, and sells her some kind of magic beans. She relentlessly gives him her yes, but not her vote. He wins the race and writes a book to pay off their debts.

After losing the race to Congress Obama retired to a quieter life, full of small satisfactions, content with balance with the work and the family. Holding Malia’s hand as they walked across the park; watching baby Sasha laugh and laugh as he nibbled her feet; listening to Michelle’s breath slow, her resting against his shoulder, as she drifted off to sleep in the middle of an old movie.

As long as the residents of a district/state/nation remained strangers to one another, our politics would never truly change. It would always be too easy for politicians to feed the stereotypes that pitted Black against white, immigrant against native-born, rural interests against those of cities. If, on the other hand, a campaign could somehow challenge America’s reigning political assumptions about how divided we were, well then just maybe it would be possible to build a new covenant between its citizen. Ultimately wasn’t this what I was after—a politics that bridged America’s racial, ethnic, and religious divides, as well as the many strands of my own life?

The kind of bridge-building politics I imagined wasn’t suited to a congressional race. To really shake things up, I realised, I needed to speak to and for the widest possible audience. And the best way to do that was to run for a statewide office—like, for example, the U.S. Senate.

When I think back now on the brashness—the sheer chutzpah—of me wanting to launch a U.S. Senate race, fresh as I was off a resounding defeat, it’s hard not to admit the possibility that I was just desperate for another shot, like an alcoholic rationalising one last drink. Except that’s not how it felt. Instead, as I rolled the idea around in my head, I experienced a great clarity—not so much that I would win, but that I could win, and that if I did win, I could have a big impact.
Along with this clarity came a parallel realisation: If I didn’t pull it off, it would be time to leave politics—and so long as I had given my best effort, I could do so without regret.

Politics doesn’t have to be what people think it is. It can be something more.

“If you lose, we’ll be deeper in the hole,” she said. “And what happens if you win? How are we supposed to maintain two households, in Washington and Chicago, when we can barely keep up with one?”
“In other words,” she said, “you’ve got some magic beans in your pocket. That’s what you’re telling me. You have some magic beans, and you’re going to plant them, and overnight a huge beanstalk is going to grow high into the sky, and you’ll climb up the beanstalk, kill the giant who lives in the clouds, and then bring home a goose that lays golden eggs. Is that it?”
“Something like that,” I said.

Talking to voters in the early days of the U.S. Senate campaign, Barack addressed the topics he was running on—ending tax breaks for companies that were moving jobs overseas, or promoting renewable energy, or making it easier for kids to afford college.

Over time, though, I focused more on listening. And the more I listened, the more people opened up. They’d tell me about how it felt to be laid off after a lifetime of work, or what it was like to have your home foreclosed upon or to have to sell the family farm. They’d tell me about not being able to afford health insurance, and how sometimes they broke the pills their doctors prescribed in half, hoping to make their medicine last longer. They spoke of young people moving away because there were no good jobs in their town, or others having to drop out of college just short of graduation because they couldn’t cover the tuition.

“Most people, wherever they’re from, whatever they look like, are looking for the same thing. They’re not trying to get filthy rich. They don’t expect someone else to do what they can do for themselves. But they do expect that if they’re willing to work, they should be able to find a job that supports a family. They expect that they shouldn’t go bankrupt just because they get sick. They expect that their kids should be able to get a good education, one that prepares them for this new economy, and they should be able to afford college if they’ve put in the effort. They want to be safe, from criminals or terrorists. And they figure that after a lifetime of work, they should be able to retire with dignity and respect.”

Whether in sports or politics, it’s hard to understand that precise nature of momentum.

She looked at me and shook her head, incredulous. “I can’t believe you actually pulled this whole thing off. The campaign. The book. All of it.”
I nodded and kissed her forehead. “Magic beans, baby. Magic beans.”

Change needed to come faster—and I was going to have to decide what role I would play in bringing it about.

Chapter 4

Barack now has his eyes on the presidential race. He doesn’t think he’s ready, but people see a hope in him. And Teddy Kennedy tells him that you don’t choose the time, the time chooses you. Michelle is not happy with Barack running for president, she doesn’t want the family to be exposed to this level. Barack reflects upon why he wants to run for the president, is it merely his vanity or something more?

The truth is, I’ve never been a big believer in destiny. I worry that it encourages resignation in the down-and-out and complacency among the powerful. I suspect that God’s plan, whatever it is, works on a scale too large to admit our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and happenstance determine more than we care to admit and that the best we can do is to try to align ourselves with what we feel is right and construct some meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve play at each moment the hand that we’re dealt.

“I won’t be wading in early,” Teddy said. “Too many friends. But I can tell you this, Barack. The power to inspire is rare. Moments like this are rare. You think you may not be ready, that you’ll do it at a more convenient time. But you don’t choose the time. The time chooses you. Either you seize what may turn out to be the only chance you have, or you decide you’re willing to live with the knowledge that the chance has passed you by.”

“Did you say we? she said. “You mean you, Barack. Not we. This is your thing. I’ve supported you the whole time, because I believe in you, even though I hate politics. I hate the way it exposes our family. You know that. And now, finally, we have some stability…even if it’s still not normal, not the way I’d choose for us to live…and now you tell me you’re going to run for president?”

“God, Barack…When is it going to be enough?”

Why would I put her through this? Was it just vanity? Or perhaps something darker—a raw hunger, a blind ambition wrapped in the gauzy language of service? Or was I still trying to prove myself worthy to a father who had abandoned me, live up to my mother’s starry-eyed expectations of her only son, and resolve whatever self-doubt remained from being born a child of mixed race? “It’s like you have a hole to fill,” Michelle had told me early in our marriage, after a stretch in which she’d watched me work myself to near exhaustion. “That’s why you can’t slow down.”

Maybe it was impossible to disentangle one’s motives.

If one of the qualifications of running for the most powerful office in the world was megalomania, it appeared I was passing the test.

My deepest fear, it turned out, was no longer of irrelevance, or being stuck in the Senate, or even losing a presidential race. The fear came from the realisation that I could win.

“So my question is why you, Barack? Why do you need to be president?”

“Right,” I said. “Why me?” I mentioned several of the reasons we’d talked about before. That I might be able to spark a new kind of politics, or get a new generation to participate, or bridge the divisions in the county better than other candidates could.

“But who knows?” I said, looking around the table. “There’s not guarantee we can pull it off. Here’s one thing I know for sure, though. I know that the day I raise my right hand and take the oath to be president of the United States, the world will start looking at America differently. I know that kids all around this country—Black kids, Hispanic kids, kids who don’t fit in—they’ll see themselves differently, too, their horizons lifted, their possibilities expanded. And that alone…that would be worth it.”

Chapter 5

In his campaign, Barack meets new friends who help him communicate to America in a way that reaches the hearts of his voters. He learns how to debate effectively. He talks about David Axelrod (political consultant) and Paul Tewes (political strategist).

Looking back, I realise I was doing what most of us tend to do when we’re uncertain or floundering: We reach for what feels familiar, what we think we’re good at. I knew policy; I knew how to consume and process information. It took a while to figure out that my problem wasn’t a lack of ten-point plan. Rather, it was my general inability to boil issues down to their essence, to tell a story that helped explain an increasingly uncertain world to the American people and make them feel that I, as president, could help them navigate it.

My head was crammed with too many facts and too few answers. I stumbled, mumbled, hemmed and hawed onstage.

“Your problem,” he said, “is you keep trying to answer the question.”
“Isn’t that the point?” I said.
“No, Barack,” Axe said, “that is not the point. The point is to get your message across. What are your values? What are your priorities? That’s what people care about. Look, half the time the moderator is just using the question to try to trip you up. Your job is to avoid the trap they’ve set. Take whatever question they give you, give ‘em a quick line to make it seem like you answered it…and then talk about what you want to talk about.”
“That’s bullshit,” I said.
“Exactly,” he said.

The most effective debate answers, it seemed, were designed not to illuminate but to evoke an emotion, or identify the enemy, or signal to a constituency that you, more than anyone else on that stage, were and would always be on their side.

Then again, a president wasn’t a lawyer or an accountant or a pilot, hired to carry out some narrow, specialised task. Mobilising public opinion, shaping working coalitions—that was the job. Whether I liked it or not, people were moved by emotions, not facts.

In the early weeks, Tewes hung signs on every wall in every office with a motto he’d authored: RESPECT, EMPOWER, INCLUDE. If we were serious about a new kind of politics, he explained, then it started right there on the ground, with every organiser committed to listening to people, respecting what they had to say, and treating everybody—including out opponents and their supporters—the way we wanted to be treated.

When, during our team’s weekly conference call, a new organiser made a joke about why he’d joined the campaign saying “hating pantsuits” (a reference to Hillary’s favourite campaign attire), Tewes admonished him in a lengthy rant for all the other organisers to hear. “It’s not what we stand for,” he said, “not even in private.”

The team took this to heart, particularly because Tewes practised what he preached. Despite the occasional intemperate outburst, he never failed to show people how much they mattered. When Marygrace’s uncle died, Tewes declared National Marygrace Day, and had everyone in the office wear pink. He also had me record a message announcing that for that one day, he would have to do everything Marygrace said.

Politics could be less about power and positioning and more about community and connection.

“Fired up!” ”Ready to go!”

It was part of the brutal nature of modern politics, I was discovering, the difficulty of competing in a game where there were no clearly defined rules, a game in which your opponents are not merely trying to put a ball through a basket or push it across your goal line, but are instead trying to convince the broad public—at least implicitly, more often explicitly—that in matters of judgement, intelligence, values, and character, they are more worthy than you.

Chapter 6

Barack wins Iowa but then loses the next caucus to Hillary. He talks about maintaining his calm in adversities. He’s thinking of Toot and recalls her telling him – “you just do what needs to be done”. Obama is beginning to find his voice — his voice of unity, his audacity of hope, his voice of not Black America, or White America but the United States of America.

Having spent the previous year as David, I was suddenly cast as Goliath—and as happy as I was about our victory, the new role felt awkward.

“When we’ve been told we’re not ready,” I said, “or that we shouldn’t try, or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes we can.

I’ve often been asked about this personality trait—my ability to maintain composure in the middle of crisis. Sometimes I’ll say that it’s just a matter of temperament, or a consequence of being raised in Hawaii, since it’s hard to get stressed when it’s eighty degrees and sunny and you’re five minutes from the beach. If I’m talking to a group of young people, I’ll describe how over time I’ve trained myself to take the long view, about how important it is to stay focused on your goals rather than getting hung up on the daily ups and downs.

If you asked Toot about any of these things, though, she’d maintain that she’d started working at the bank not because of any particular passion for finance or wish to help others, but because our family needed the money, and that’s what had been available to her.

“Sometimes,” she told me, “you just do what needs to be done.”
She taught me to marry passion with reason, to not get overly excited when life was going well, and to not get too down when it went badly.

THERE IS NOT a Black America and a White America and a Latino America and an Asian America. There’s the United States of America.

God sees the world through the eyes of those most oppressed.

“Every generation is limited by what it knows,” Dr. Moss told me. “Those of us who were part of the movement, giants like Martin, lieutenants and foot soldiers like me…we are the Moses generation. We marched, we sat in, we went to jail, sometimes in defiance of our elders, but we were in fact building on what they had done. We got us out of Egypt, you could say. But we could only travel so far.
“You, Barack, are part of the Joshua generation. You and others like you are responsible for the next leg of journey. Folks like me can offer the wisdom of our experience. Perhaps you can learn from some of our mistakes. But ultimately it will be up to you, with God’s help, to build on what we’ve done, and lead our people and this country out of the wilderness.”

Chapter 7

He talks about being Black in America. People have now placed all their hopes on him, and he’s worried that he’s going to disappoint them. He gets a security detail called Renegade and they cage the Bear.

Du Bois writes, Black Americans remain the perpetual “Other,” always on the outside looking in, ever feeling their “two-ness,” defined not by what they are but what they can never be.

At some basic level people were no longer seeing me, I realised, with all my quirks and shortcomings. Instead, they had taken possession of my likeness and made it a vessel for a million different dreams. I knew a time would come when I would disappoint them, falling short of the image that my campaign and I had helped to construct.

I realised, too, that if supporters could mould bits and pieces of me into an outsized symbol of hope, then the vague fears of detractors could just as readily congeal into hate. And it was in response to this disturbing truth I’d seen my life change the most.

To the relief of his keepers, the bear became accustomed to captivity. (Barack Obama on Renegade—his secret service detail)

And while there are moments in politics, as in life, when avoidance, if not retreat, is the better part of valour, there are other times when the only option is to steel yourself and go broke.

“To the audacity of hope,” I said. Clinking our bottles, we started to laugh as hard as before.

Chapter 8

In the middle of the campaign, he takes a break and goes to Hawaii with his family.

Even more than back home, I felt the immensity of the challenges that awaited me if I won, the grace I’d need to do the job.

Splashing in the ocean with the girls, letting them bury me in sand without having to tell them I had to get on a conference call or leave for the airport—it was worth it. Watching the sun go down over the Pacific with my arms wrapped around Michelle, just listening to the wind and rustling palms—worth it.

Seeing Toot hunched over on her living room couch, barely able to raise her head but still smiling with quiet satisfaction as her great-granddaughters laughed and played on the floor, and then feeling her mottled, blue-veined hand squeeze mine for perhaps the last time.

“We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

Chapter 9

Financial crisis looms over America — housing market collapses. Obama’s economy was going to tax the rich and strengthen the unions. He was going to be the president of commoners. He was going to bridge the inequality that had spread over America like a plague. The government’s role in a modern world is to ensure fair play in the marketplace and to save capitalism from itself. He talks about his favourite music. He talks about the John McCain who once defended Barack in his own rally when a bystander said he’s afraid of a Black President. And he talks about Sarah Palin, John’s running mate who according to Barack stood for everything that was wrong with the modern Republican Party. Toot passes away and Obama dedicates his closing statement of the campaign to all the unsung heroes like his Toot. “That’s what America’s about. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

“The entire financial system. It’s all a house of cards waiting to topple.”

“Apparently I’ve underestimated how willing people are to maintain a charade.”

By 2007, the American economy was not only producing greater inequality than almost every other wealthy nation but also delivering less upward mobility.

Under the banner of economic freedom—an “ownership society” was the phrase President Bush used—Americans had been fed a steady tax cuts for the wealthy and seen collective bargaining laws go unenforced. There had been efforts to privatise or cut the social safety net, and federal budgets had consistently underinvested in everything from early childhood education to infrastructure. All this further accelerated inequality, leaving families ill-equipped to navigate even minor economic turbulence.

I promised to raise taxes on high-income Americans to pay for vital investments in education, research, and infrastructure. I promised to strengthen unions and raise the minimum wage as well as to deliver universal healthcare and make college more affordable.

I wanted people to understand that there was a precedent for bold government action. FDR had saved capitalism from itself, laying the foundation for a post-World War II boom. I often talked about how strong labour laws had helped build a thriving middle class and a thriving domestic market, and how—by driving out unsafe products and fraudulent schemes—consumer protection laws had actually helped legitimate business prosper and grow.

I wanted to restore in the minds of the American people the crucial role that government had always played in expanding opportunity, fostering competition and fair dealing, and making sure the marketplace worked for everybody. (Today, the market itself is owned by a select few, think of Amazon)

There are moments in an election battle, as in life, when all the possible pathways save one are suddenly closed; when what feels like a wide distribution of probable outcomes narrows to the inevitable.

Ultimately it was rap that got my head in the right place, two songs especially: Jay-Z’s “My 1st Song” and Eminem’s “Lose Yourself.” Both were about defying odds and putting it all on the line; how it felt to spin something out of nothing; getting by on wit, hustle, and fear disguised as bravado. The lyrics felt tailored to my early underdog status. And as I sat alone in the back of the Secret Service van on the way to a debate site, in my crisp uniform and dimpled tie, I’d not my head to the beat of those songs, feeling a whiff of private rebellion, a connection to something grittier and more real than all the fuss and deference that now surrounded me. It was a way to cut through the artifice and remember who I was.

Through Palin, it seemed as if the dark spirits that had long been lurking on the edges of the modern Republican Party—xenophobia, anti-intellectualism, paranoid conspiracy theories, an antipathy towards Black and brown folks—were finding their way to centre stage.

When a man at a Minnesota rally announced into the microphone that he was afraid of having Barack Obama as a president, McCain wouldn’t have it.

“I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States,” he said, causing his audience to boo lustily. Answering another question, he said, “We want to fight, and I will fight. But we will be respectful. I admire Senator Obama and his accomplishments. I will respect him. I want everyone to be respectful and let’s make sure we are because that’s the way politics should be conducted in America.”

“The thing about getting old, Bar,” Toot had told me, “is that you’re the same person inside.” I remember her eyes studying me through her thick bifocals, as if to make sure I was paying attention. “You’re trapped in this doggone contraption that starts falling apart. But it’s still you. You understand?”

Another time. Another life. Modest and without consequence to the rest of the world. But one that had given me love. Once Toot was gone, there would be no one left who remembered that life, or remembered me in it.

It was a beautiful night, cool with a light rain.

“She was one of those quiet heroes that we have all across America,” I said. “They’re not famous. Their names aren’t in the newspaper. But each and every day they work hard. They look after their families. They sacrifice for their children and their grandchildren. They aren’t seeking the limelight—all they try to do is just do the right thing.
“And in this crowd, there are a lot of quiet heroes like that—mothers, and fathers, grandparents, who have worked hard and sacrificed all their lives. And the satisfaction that they get is seeing that their children and maybe their grandchildren or their great-grandchildren live a better life than they did.
“That’s what America’s about. That’s what we’re fighting for.”

It was as good a closing argument for the campaign as I felt that I could give.

I am told, quietly contemplating who we are as a people—and the arc of this thing we call democracy.

Chapter 10

Barack would soon be the President. President-elect assembles the best people to help him run the country. He talks about his life in-between, after he knew he would be the president, and before he actually assumed the office.

I would be the one who made the final decisions on issues that rose to my attention and who explained those decisions to the country at large.

My mother-in-law never complained about anything. Whenever I interacted with her, I’d remember that, no matter what kind of mess I was dealing with, no one had forced me to be the president and that I needed to just suck it up and do my job.

“God is with you,” he said, “in the furnace.”

I would soon be vested with the authority to blow up the world.

What does it mean to be a good president or for that matter a good leader? I think, like love, it means to know that even on having the authority to blow up our whole world, they won’t.

To protest a man in the final hour of his presidency seemed graceless and unnecessary. More generally, I was troubled by what these last-minute protests said about the divisions that were churning across the country—and the weakening of whatever boundaries of decorum had once regulated politics.

This too would be part of the job: finding a way not to take such attacks personally, while avoiding the temptation to shut myself off—as perhaps my predecessor had too often done—from those shouting on the other side of the glass.

They asked him once what had been secret to writing one of the four or five greatest speeches in American history. Simple, he said: Whenever he and Kennedy sat down to write, they told themselves, “Let’s make this good enough to be in a book of the greatest speeches someday.”

Chapter 11

Barack starts working as a president, it’s another job behind all the pomp and power, he lets you know. Like a new car, the presidency depreciates from day one. He inherits a broken economy and to get it on the track again he gets the RECOVERY ACT to vote. Even though he did not need the support of Republicans, he still asks for it because what better way to reach across the aisle than from a position of strength. He gets zero Republican votes. And that would be the recurring theme of his presidency, Republicans choosing party over country.

 The presidency is like a new car. It starts depreciating the minute you drive it off the lot.

“That’s definitely the worst briefing any incoming president has gotten since FDR in 1932!” he said. He sounded like a boy impressed by the sight of a particularly grisly wound.
“Goolsbee,” I said, “that’s not even my worst briefing this week.”

“Renegade to Secondary Hold,” which was their discreet way of saying I was going to the bathroom.

It’s worth pointing out here—only because people were often surprised to hear it—that a First Family pays out of pocket for any new furniture, just as it does for everything else it consumes, from groceries to toilet paper to extra staff for a president’s private dinner party. The White House budget does set aside funds for a new president to redo the Oval Office, but despite some worn upholstery on the chairs and sofas, I decided that a historic recession wasn’t the best time to be going through fabric swatches.

I had argued that people across the country weren’t as divided as out politics suggested, and that to do big things we need to move past partisan bickering. And what better way to make an honest effort to reach across the aisle than from a position of strength, at a time when I didn’t necessarily need support from House Republicans to get my agenda passed?

The Recovery Act passed the House 244 to 188 with precisely zero Republican votes. It was the opening salvo in a battle plan that Republican leaders would deploy with impressive discipline for the next eight years: a refusal to work with me or members of my administration, regardless of the circumstances, the issue, or the consequences for the country.

Over time, my staff and I became so resigned to this style of “he said / he said” coverage that we could joke about it. In duelling press conference today, the debate over the shape of planet Earth heated up, with President Obama—who claims the Earth is round—coming under withering attack from Republicans who insist that the White House has covered up documents proving Earth is “flat”.

For them, all taxes for confiscatory, paving the road to socialism; all regulations were a betrayal of free-market principles and the American way of life. They saw my victory as a mortal threat—which is why, shortly after my inauguration, they pulled together a conclave of some of America’s wealthiest conservatives in a smartly manicured resort in Indian Wells, California, to map out a strategy to fight back. They didn’t want compromises and consensus. They wanted war. And they let it be known that Republican politicians without the stomach to resist my policies at every turn would not only find donations drying up but also might find themselves the target of a well-financed primary challenge.

Chapter 12

Fire is everywhere. People are losing jobs and their homes. But above all, they are losing faith on the American Dream. Their government has failed them. Obama’s Administration is the fire department. He discovers that things are not black and white, solutions to problems are not obvious, it’s a game of probabilities. He invents a process that helps him sleep at night knowing that he has taken his best chances. And yet there will be days, no matter how good your process is, you’ll still screw up. He’s finally able to restore normalcy, but it gets no attention.

I cannot look at my children and tell them honestly that if you work hard enough and sacrifice enough, then anything is possible. I have learned today that you can make all the right choices, do all the right things, and it still might not be enough, because your government has failed you.

“I remember my dad talking about talking about the American Dream when I was a kid,” the American Dream when I was a kid,” he said. “How the most important thing was to work hard. Buy a house. Raise a family. Do things right. What happened to that? When did that become just a load of…?” He trailed off, looking pained before wiping the sweat from his face and restarting his mower.

He hadn’t lost his home, but he’d lost faith in the shared enterprise of our country, its larger deal.

If your next-door neighbour’s house is on fire, you don’t want the fire department dispatcher asking whether it was caused by lightning or by someone smoking in bed before agreeing to send a fire truck; you just want the fire put out before it reaches your house. Mass foreclosures were equivalent of a five-alarm fire that was destroying everyone’s home values and taking economy down with it. And from our perspective, at least, we were the fire department.

When did political correctness became incorrect?

It was a familiar trick, I thought to myself, the kind of rhetorical sleight of hand that had become a staple of conservative pundits everywhere whatever the issue: taking language that was once used by the disadvantaged to highlight a societal ill and turning it on its ear. The problem is no longer discrimination against the people of colour, the argument goes; it’s “reverse racism,” with minorities “playing the race card” to get an unfair advantage. The problems isn’t sexual harassment in the workplace; it’s humourless “feminazis” beating men over the head with their political correctness. The problem is not bankers using the market as their personal casino, or corporations suppressing wages by busting unions and offshoring jobs. It’s the lazy and shiftless, along with their liberal Washington allies, intent on mooching off the economy’s real “makers and the doers.”

Such arguments had nothing to do with facts. They were impervious to analysis. They were deeper into the realm of myth, redefining what was fair, reassigning victimhood, conferring on people like those traders in Chicago that most precious of gifts: the conviction of innocence, as well as the righteous indignation that comes with it.

“There’s only one thing you can count on, Mr. President,” he said. “On any given moment in any given day, somebody somewhere is screwing up.”

What I was quickly discovering about the presidency was that no problem that landed on my desk, foreign or domestic, had a clean, 100 percent solution. If it had, someone else down the chain of command would have solved it already. Instead, I was constantly dealing with probabilities: a 70 percent chance, say, that a decision to do nothing would end in disaster; a 55 percent chance that this approach versus that one might solve the problem (with 0 percent chance that it would work out exactly as intended); a 30 percent chance that whatever we chose wouldn’t work at all, along with a 15 percent chance that it would make the problem worse.

But with a sound process—one in which I was able to empty my ego and really listen, following the facts and logic as best I could and considering them alongside my goals and my principles—I realised I could make tough decisions and still sleep easy at night, knowing at minimum that no one in my position, given the same information, could have made the decision any better. A good process also meant I could allow each member of the team to feel ownership over the decision—which meant better execution and less relitigation of White House decisions through leaks at The New York Times or The Washington Post.

Then I told myself that it was still the weekend and I needed a martini. That was another lesson the presidency was teaching me: Sometimes it didn’t matter how good your process was. Sometimes you were just screwed, and the best you could do was have a stiff drink—and light up a cigarette.

It’s often said that a president gets too much credit when the economy is doing well, and too much blame when it slumps.

You have to break eggs to make an omelette.

The absence of catastrophe, the preservation of normalcy, wouldn’t attract attention. Most of the people impacted wouldn’t even know how our policies had touched their lives. But every so often, while reading in the Treaty Room late at night, I’d come across a letter in my purple folder that began with something like this:

Dear President Obama,

    I’m sure you’ll never read this, but I thought you might want to know that a program you started has been a real lifesaver…

I’d set down the letter after reading it and pull out a notecard to write the person a brief response. I imagined them getting the official envelope from the White House and opening it up with a look of puzzlement, then a smile. They’d show it to their family, maybe even take it to work. Eventually the letter would fall into a drawer somewhere, forgotten under the accumulation of the new joys and pains that make up a life. That was okay. I couldn’t expect people to understand how much their voices actually meant to me—how they had sustained my spirit and beat back whispering doubts on those late, solitary nights.

Chapter 13

Barack is able to level the ground for his staff members to speak up to him, he listens. He isn’t sitting behind the resolute desk, like a king on his throne. He’s out there on the sofa with everybody. He visits service members in a hospital to learn the true cost of the war. He isn’t afraid to accept that sometimes America blundered in its foreign policy too.

At the start of each day of my presidency, I would find a leather binder waiting for me at the breakfast table. Michelle called it “The Death, Destruction, and Horrible Things Book,” though officially it was known as the President’s Daily Brief or PDB.

Having at least one contrarian in the room made us all think harder about the issues—and I noticed that everyone was a bit freer with their opinions when that contrarian wasn’t me.

The service members I met were adamant that they had no regrets about sacrificing so much for their country and were understandably offended by anyone who viewed them with even a modicum of pity.

A national security official from a previous administration opined that the practice, no matter how well-intentioned, was not something a commander in chief should do—that visits with the wounded inevitably clouded a president’s capacity to make clear-eyed, strategic decisions. I was tempted to call that man and explain that I was never more clear-eyed than on the flights back from Walter Reed and Bethesda. Clear about the true costs of war, and who bore those costs. Clear about war’s folly, the sorry tales we humans collectively store in our heads and pass on from generation to generation—abstractions that fan hate and justify cruelty and force even the righteous among us to participate in the carnage. Clear that by virtue of my office, I could not avoid responsibility for lives lost or shattered, even if I somehow justified my decisions by what I perceived to be some larger good.

I wondered how Lincoln had managed it, what prayers he said afterwards. He must have known it was a necessary penance. A penance I, too, had to pay.

At times, we bent global institutions or ignored them altogether; we meddled in the affairs of other countries, sometimes with disastrous results; our actions often contradicted the ideals of democracy, self-determination, and human rights we professed to embody.

Chapter 14

He talks about Merkel, who was suspicious of his rhetoric. And Sarkozy. He describes his encounters with Erdogan and Medvedev. He praises Vaclav Havel, former president of the Czech Republic. He’s looking at democracies around the world. And how today’s autocrats are more sophisticated, they fight elections slowly undermining the institutions that make democracy possible. Vaclav tells Obama that being cursed with people’s high expectations is a trap.

Merkel was famously suspicious of emotional outbursts or overblown rhetoric, and her team would later confess that she’d been initially sceptical of me precisely because of my oratorical skills. I took no offence, figuring that in a German leader, an aversion to possible demagoguery was probably a healthy sign.

Decisions made in the corporate boardrooms of New York, London, or Paris often had more impact on their economies than the policy choices of their own governments.

Hearing all this, I remembered what the dissident writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once said about politics during the Soviet era, that “the lie has become not just a moral category but a pillar of state.”

One Turkish PM Erdogan, Obama said, I got the strong impression that his commitment to democracy and the rule of law might last only as long as it preserved his own power.

I told myself it was the nature of democracies—including America’s—to swing between periods of progressive change and conservative retrenchment.

Watching Vaclav Havel maintain his moral compass even after his side had won power and he’d assumed the presidency had helped convince me that it was possible to enter politics and come out with your soul intact.

“Today autocrats are more sophisticated. They stand for election while slowly undermining the institutions that make democracy possible. They champion free markets while engaging in the same corruption, cronyism, and exploitation as existed in the past.”

“You’ve been cursed with people’s high expectations,” he said, shaking my hand. “Because it means they are also easily disappointed. It’s something I’m familiar with. I fear it can be a trap.”

Chapter 15

Barack has to order to kill young men whom he wanted to give a better life. He wants to give them a better life, but the economics of the machine he commands does not permit that. He thinks about his good fight, his audacity of hope. He cannot help but think that what he’s saying are just some high-minded ideals and what really moves us are our primal urges. He visits the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and jokes with the Majesty about his wives. And he goes to Egypt, wherein pyramids he sees how one day he too will turn to dust and will be forgotten. At last, he goes to Germany and with Markel and Elie visits the graveyard of those how lost lives in the holocaust.

They were dangerous, these young men, often deliberately and casually cruel. Still, in the aggregate, at least, I wanted somehow to save them—send them to school, give them a trade, drain them of the hate that had been filling their heads. And yet the world they were a part of, and the machinery I commanded, more often had me killing them instead.

“I hope you don’t mind me asking, Your Majesty,” I said, “but how do you keep up with twelve wives?”
“Very badly,” he said, shaking his head wearily. “One of them is always jealous of the others. It’s more complicated than Middle East Politics.”

How useful is it to describe the world as it should be when efforts to achieve that world are bound to fall short? Was Václav Havel correct in suggesting that by raising expectations, I was doomed to disappoint them? Was it possible that abstract principles and high-minded ideals were always would be nothing more than a pretence, a palliative, a way to beat back despair, but no match for the more primal urges that really moved us, so that no matter what we said or did, history was sure to run along its predetermined course, an endless cycle of fear, hunger and conflict, dominance and weakness?

“Check it out, boss,” Reggie said, pointing at the wall. There, carved in the smooth, porous stone, was the dark image of a man’s face. Not the profile typical of hieroglyphics but a straight-on headshot. A long, oval face. Prominent ears sticking straight out like handles. A cartoon of me, somehow forged in antiquity.
“Must be a relative,” Marvin said.
We all had a laugh then, and the two of them wandered off to join the camel riders. Our guide couldn’t tell me just who it was that the image depicted, or even whether it dated back to the time of the Pyramids. But I stood at the wall for an extra beat, trying to imagine the life behind that etching. Had he been a member of the royal court? A slave? A foreman? Maybe just a bored vandal, camped out at night centuries after the wall had been built, inspired by the stars and his own loneliness to sketch his own likeness. I tried to imagine the worries and strivings that might have consumed him and the nature of the world he’d occupied, likely full of its own struggles and palace intrigues, conquests and catastrophes, events that probably at the time felt no less pressing than those I’d face as soon as I got back to Washington. All of it was forgotten now, none of it mattered, the pharaoh, the slave, and the vandal all long turned to dust.
Just as every speech I’d delivered, every law I passed and decision I made, would soon be forgotten.
Just as I and all those I loved would someday turn to dust.

Angela Merkel and I toured a famous eighteenth-century church that had been destroyed by the air raids, only to be rebuilt fifty years later with a golden cross and orb crafted by a British silversmith whose father had been one of the bomber pilots. The silversmith’s work served as a reminder that even those on the right side of war must not turn away from their enemy’s suffering, or foreclose the possibility of reconciliation.

One was a set of stone slabs featuring the names of the victims, including Elie’s father. The other was a list of the countries they came from, etched on a steel plate that was kept heated to thirty-seven degrees Celsius: the temperature of the human body, meant to be a reminder—in a place premised on hate and intolerance—of the common humanity we share.

Elie described to me and Merkel the daily strategies he and other prisoners had used to survive: how the stronger or luckier ones would sneak food to the weak and the dying; how resistance meetings took place in latrines so foul that no guards ever entered them; how adults organised secret classes to teach children math, poetry, history—not just for learning’s sake, but so those children might maintain a belief that they would one day be free to pursue a normal life.

Chapter 16

In this chapter, Obama talks about Healthcare—Obamacare. Swine Flu pandemic hits the nation and he listens to his experts. Obama has to hire a supreme court judge. And he again stands at a crossroad when a fifty-eight-year-old Black Harvard professor is taken down and handcuffed on his own property by the cops for being rude to them. Obama wanted to say a lot on these issues, but a president doesn’t always get to speak his mind. This episode is another dent in his hope of uniting the United States of America.

“This is the time, Mr. President,” he had said. “Don’t let it slip away.”

“Making sausage isn’t pretty, Mr. President,” he said. “And you’re asking for a really big piece of sausage.”

“You need to be involved, Mr. President,” one of Ford’s staffers advised, “but you need to let the experts run the process.”

This, I was coming to realise, was the nature of the presidency: Sometimes your most important work involved the stuff nobody noticed.

The idea of giving nine unelected, tenured-for-life lawyers in black robes the power to strike down laws passed by a majority of people’s representatives doesn’t sound very democratic.

An initial sense of uncertainty and displacement that came with being just one of a handful of women of colour on campus; the need to sometimes put in extra work to compensate for the gaps in knowledge that more privileged kids took for granted; the comfort of finding community among other Black students and supportive professors; and realisation over time that she was as smart as any of her peers.

For just about every Black man in the country, and every woman who loved a Black man, and every parent of a Black boy, it was not a matter of paranoia or “playing the race card” or disrespecting law enforcement to conclude that whatever else had happened that day in Cambridge, this much was almost certainly true: A wealthy, famous, five-foot-six, 140-pound, fifty-eight-year-old white Harvard professor who walked with a cane because of a childhood leg injury would not have been handcuffed and taken down to the station merely for being rude to a cop who’d forced him to produce some form of identification while standing on his own damn property.

The basis of our nations’ social order had never been simply about consent; that it was also about centuries of state-sponsored violence by whites against Black and brown people, and that who controlled legally sanctioned violence, how it was wielded and against whom, still mattered in the recesses of our tribal minds much more than we cared to admit.

Chapter 17

Republicans just wouldn’t budge to cooperate with Obama even on their own terms. Teddy Kennedy dies, Teddy had instilled in Obama the dream of getting the healthcare legislation passed. He describes the scene of Teddy’s funeral. He couldn’t let Teddy down, and he couldn’t let those millions of people down who had believed in him. Even Democrats were not worried that by supporting this legislation, they might end up losing their next elections. Obama makes an attempt to convince them, and he says that those who had the most to lose were easiest to get onboard. Tom Perriello told him “There are things more important than getting re-elected.” He redefines politics. Now some may say, that he was selling a fairy tale. But then who said fairy tales aren’t true? They are true not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that the dragons can be defeated.

he’d hem and haw about this or that problem he had with the bill without ever telling us what exactly it would take to get him to yes.

“My father believed in redemption,: Teddy Jr. said. “And he never surrendered, never stopped trying to right wrongs, be they the results of his own failing or of ours.”

“I guess the question for you, Mr. President, is, Do you feel lucky?”
I looked at him and smiled. “Where are we, Phil?”
Phil hesitated, wondering if it was a trick question. “The Oval Office?”
“And what’s my name?”
“Barack Obama.”
I smiled. “Barack Hussein Obama. And I’m here with you in the Oval Office. Brother, I always feel lucky.”

The idea of letting them down—of leaving them to fend for themselves because their president hadn’t been sufficiently brave, skilled, or persuasive to cut through the political noise and get what he knew to be the right thing done—was something I couldn’t stomach.

They understood that in politics, the stories told were often as important as the substance achieved.

This is it, I’d say to them finally. The point of it all. To have that rare chance, reserved for very few, to bend history in a better direction.

In fact, it was often those with most to lose who needed the least convincing.

“There are things more important,” he told me, “than getting reelected.”

It’s not hard to find people who hate Congress, voters who are convince that the Capitol is filled with poseurs and cowards, that most of their elected officials are in the pocket of lobbyists and big donors and motivated by a hunger for power. When I hear such criticism, I usually nod and acknowledge that there are some who live up to these stereotypes. I admit that watching the daily scrum that takes place on the House or Senate floor can sap even the hardiest spirit. But I also tell people about Tom Perriello’s words to me before the healthcare vote. I describe what he and many others did so soon after they’d first been elected. How many of us are tested in that way, asked to risk careers we’ve long dreamed of in the service of some greater good?
Those people can be found in Washington. That, too, is politics.

Chapter 18

Barack faces more challenges as he comes to realise that President was like a bomb-disposal expert — trying not to make sloppy mistakes. He argues with Bob Gates for not sending additional troupes to Afghanistan.  He kept thinking about the soldier’s mother who said to him: “Don’t leave those boys who are still over there hanging.” He learns that he’s getting the noble prize, but he thinks he hasn’t done anything yet to deserve it. Maybe it’s a call for action.  

Instead, I came to experience my responsibilities the way I imagine a bomb-disposal expert feels about clipping a wire or a tightrope walker feels as she steps off the platform, having learned to shed excess fear for the sake of focus—while trying not to get so relaxed that I made sloppy mistakes.

There was one task that I never allowed myself to get even remotely comfortable with. Every week or so, my assistant Katie Johnson set on my desk a folder containing condolence letters to the families of fallen service members for me to sign. I’d close the door to my office, open the folder, and pause over each letter, reading the name aloud like an incantation, trying to summon an image of the young man (female casualties were rare) and what his life had been like—where he’d grown up and gone to school, the birthday parties and summer swim that had made up his childhood, the sports teams he’d played on, the sweethearts he’d pined for. I’d think about his parents, and his wife and kids if he had them. I signed each letter slowly, careful not to smudge the heavy beige of the pen. If the signature didn’t look the way I wanted, I’d have the letter reprinted, knowing full well that nothing I did would ever be enough.

It was hard for Bob Gates (who was he) to see that what he dismissed as politics was a democracy as it was supposed to work—that our mission had to be defined not only by the need to defeat an enemy but by the need to make sure the country wasn’t bled dry in the process; that questions about spending hundreds of billions on missiles and forward operating bases rather than schools or healthcare for kids weren’t tangential to national security but central to it; that the sense of duty he felt so keenly toward the troops already deployed, his genuine, admirable desire that they be given every chance to succeed, might be matched by the passion and patriotism of those interested in limiting the number of young Americans placed in harm’s way.

On the flight back, with sunrise still a few hours away, the only words I could remember from the entire visit were those of one soldier’s mother: “Don’t leave those boys who are still over there hanging.” She looked exhausted, her face hollowed by grief. I promised I wouldn’t, not knowing whether that meant sending more soldiers to finish the mission for which her son had made the ultimate sacrifice, or winding down a muddled and lengthy conflict that would cut short the lives of other people’s children. It was left for me to decide.

As a trumpet played taps, its plaintive melody punctuated by muffled sobs in the audience, my eyes travelled the memorials to the fallen soldiers: a framed photograph, a pair of empty combat boots, a helmet set atop a rifle.

Michelle and I had just finished getting dressed when Marvin knocked on the door and told us to look out our forth-story window. Pulling back the shades, we saw that several thousand people had gathered in the early dusk, filling the narrow street below. Each person held aloft a single lit candle—the city’s traditional way to express its appreciation for that year’s peace prize winner. It was a magical sight, as if a pool of stars had descended from the sky; and as Michelle and I leaned out to wave, the night air brisk on our cheeks, the crowd cheering wildly, I couldn’t help but thing about the daily fighting that continued to consume Iraq and Afghanistan and all the cruelty and suffering and injustice that my administration had barely even begun to deal with. The idea that I, or any one person, could bring order to such chaos seemed laughable; on some level, the crowds below were cheering an illusion. And yet, in the flickering of those candles, I saw something else. I saw an expression of the spirit of millions of people around the world: the U.S. soldier manning a post in Kandahar, the mother in Iran teaching her daughter to read, the Russian pro-democracy activist mustering his courage for an upcoming demonstration—all those who refused to give up on the idea that life could be better, and that whatever the risks and hardships, they had a role to play.

Whatever you do won’t be enough, I heard their voices say.
Try anyway.

Chapter 19

Obama learns that he has less freedom than an ordinary citizen even after being in the most powerful office in the world. He understood power, Russia was creating problems for the West. Under Putin, the new Russia looked with every passing day like the old. Abstract theories and rigid orthodoxy can curdle people into repression. And it wasn’t unique to Soviets. We all were equally capable of being orthodox.

mistaking nationalist aspirations for Communist plots; equating commercial interests with national security; subverting democratically elected governments and aligning ourselves with autocrats when we determined it was to our benefit.

With enough HEU, a smart high school physics student with access to the internet can produce a bomb.

I was learning yet another difficult lesson about the presidency: that my heart was now chained to strategic considerations and tactical analysis, my convictions subject to counterintuitive arguments; that in the most powerful office on earth, I had less freedom to say what I meant and act on what I felt than I’d had as a senator—or as an ordinary citizen disgusted by the sight of a young woman gunned down by her own government.

I was also part of a post-Vietnam generation that had learned to question its own government and saw how—from the rise of McCarthyism to support for South Africa’s apartheid regime—Cold War thinking had often led America to betray its ideals. This awareness didn’t stop me from believing we should contain the spread of Marxist totalitarianism. But it made me wary of the notion that good resided only on our side and bad on theirs, or that a people who’d produce Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky were inherently different from us. Instead, the evils of the Soviet system struck me as a variation on a broader human tragedy: The way abstract theories and rigid orthodoxy can curdle into repression. How readily we justify moral compromise and relinquish our freedoms. How power can corrupt and fear can compound and language can be debased. None of that was unique to Soviets or Communists, I thought; it was true for all of us. The brave struggle of dissidents behind the Iron Curtain felt a piece with, rather than distinct form, the larger struggle for human dignity taking place elsewhere in the world—including America.

And yet, with each year that Putin remained in power, the new Russia looked more like the old. In the hands of the shrewd and the ruthless, chaos had proven a gift.

Chapter 20

We fear what we don’t know. Obama tries to avoid the war. He talks about his visits to China and Japan. At Japan, he bows to the Emperor and the Empress, and the conservatives in his homeland lose their mind, he worries, when did the sizable chunk of his people became so insecure and frightened?

“Humans aren’t that different from animals, Bar,” she told me. “We fear what we don’t know. When we’re afraid of people and feel threatened, it’s easier to fight wars and do other stupid things. The United Nations is a way for countries to meet and learn about each other and not be so afraid.”

Human beings are members of a whole
In creation of one essence and soul.

“Turns out avoiding a war is harder than getting into one.”

On China

Chinese government had faithfully followed Dang Xiaoping’s counsel to “hide your strength and bide your time.”

Their ability to remotely convert any mobile phone into a recording device was widely known.

There was too much money to me made. U.S. corporations and their shareholders liked the reduced labour costs and soaring profits that resulted from shifting production to China. U.S. farmers liked all the new Chinese customers buying their soybeans and pork. Wall Street firms liked the scorers of Chinese billionaires looking to invest their newfound wealth, as did the slew of lawyers, consultants, and lobbyists brought on to service the expanding U.S.-China commerce.

Instead of engaging in protectionism, America needed to take a page from the Chinese playbook. If we wanted to stay number one, we needed to work harder, save more money, and teach our kids more math, science, engineering—and Mandarin.

On Japan

Their manners were at once formal and self-effacing, their voices soft as the patter of rain, and I found myself trying to imagine the emperor’s life.

Later, I learned that my simple bow to my elderly Japanese hosts had sent conservative commentators into a fit back home. When one obscure blogger called it “treasonous,” his words got picked up and amplified in the mainstream press. Hearing all this, I pictured the emperor entombed in his ceremonial duties and the empress, with her finely worn, greying beauty and smile brushed with melancholy, and I wondered when exactly such a sizable portion of the American Right had become so frightened and insecure that they’d completely lost their minds.

I didn’t seem threatened, as they were, by the idea that the rest of the world was catching up to us. (Obama was secure and confident and humour)

For China, Obama said, “having reached a certain measure of economic security, they would start wanting those things the GDP couldn’t measure.”

For hundreds of years, the wall had held. This prompted Reggie to ask me how the Ming dynasty finally ended.
“Internal strife,” I said. “Power struggles, corruption, peasants starving ‘cause the rich got greedy or just didn’t care…”
“So, the usual,” Reggie said.
I nodded. “The usual.”

RIGHT-WING IN INDIA is so insecure that even after the fact that they are in the complete majority and from last eight years the opposition party, Congress, has been deemed meaningless and irrelevant, they still keep singing the songs of Congress. It’s like how even after killing your greatest enemy, you still keep thinking of it. Maybe you are worried if s/he’s really dead. Maybe you are worried about them coming back. Maybe you are worried if you’ll be able to defeat them once again? So you go to the grave of your fallen enemy every day just to shovel a little more dirt on it, making sure there is enough weight to keep the dead in the casket. You piss on it, thumping your chest, to wait for another day. Right-wing is afraid, they are afraid of their own people, they are afraid of institutions. The way they wield power is by casting the narrative of how bad things would be if they will not be in power. The way they gain power is by casting the narrative of how bad things are right now. They look at the darker side, as opposed to looking at the brighter side. That’s why they are also called conservatives. Not that left is a great place to be.

People are afraid, that is the crux of it maybe. They are afraid that people who are different from them in their ways of life would run over them someday. Those who are in the majority think that those in the minority are growing. They are taking the jobs. They are committing crimes. And those in the minority think that those in the majority will wring them like you wrung a soggy cloth and then leave them hanging on a thin wire under the sun extracting the essence of who they were. They know too much history to believe otherwise. And perhaps no amount of rhetoric would make a White love a Black or would make a Hindu love a Muslim. I just wish they also knew the history of Cambodia, Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia, and Germany. Some leaders are too wise for their own good, they exactly know how to strike the cords that make the voter push for them to the office.

Chapter 21

He makes all nations accept that they have a role to play in saving the world from climate change. He threatens to go Public if the nations in the meeting room do not reach a conclusion and accept some responsibility. He wonders about his own CO2 footprint, but on the advice of his team decides not to speak about it.

In other words, if you wanted good government, then expertise mattered. You needed public institutions stocked with people whose job it was to pay attention to important stuff so the rest of us citizen didn’t have to.

“Has anyone ever considered,” I said, “the amount of carbon dioxide I’m releasing into the atmosphere as a result of these trips to Europe? I’m pretty sure that between the planes, the helicopters, and the motorcades, I’ve got the biggest carbon footprint of any single person on the whole goddamn planet.”

“Huh,” Marvin said. “That’s probably right.” He found the game we were looking for, turned up the sound, then added. “You might not want to mention that in your speech tomorrow.”

“Of course, I may be wrong,” I said. “Maybe you can convince everyone that we’re to blame. But that won’t stop the planet from getting warmer. And remember, I’ve got my own megaphone, and it’s pretty big. If I leave this room without an agreement, then my first stop is the hall downstairs where all the international press is waiting for news. And I’m going to tell them that I was prepared to commit to a big reduction in our greenhouse gases, and billions of dollars in new assistance, and that each of you decided it was better to do nothing. I’m going to say the same thing to all the poor countries that stood to benefit from that new money. And to all the people in your won countries that stand to suffer the most from climate change. And we’ll see who they believe.”

Most important, we’d succeeded in getting China and India to accept—no matter how grudgingly or tentatively—the notion that every country, and not just those in the West, had a responsibility to do its part to slow climate change.

Chapter 22

Obama has now understood that politics also means telling stories, selling your program, rewarding supporters, punching back against opponents, and amplifying the facts. He acknowledges that he might have failed in telling a story to his people that they could believe in after becoming the president.

In other words, FDR understood that to be effective, governance couldn’t be so antiseptic that it set aside the basic stuff of politics: You had to sell your program, reward supporters, punch back against opponents, and amplify the facts that helped your cause while fudging the details that didn’t. I found myself wondering whether we’d somehow turned a virtue into a vice; trapped in my own high-mindedness, I’d failed to tell the American people a story they could believe in; and whether, having ceded the political narrative to my critics, I was going to be able to wrest it back.

How prepared were citizens in Europe’s wealthier, more efficient nations to take on a neighbouring country’s obligations or to see their tax dollars redistributed to those outside their borders?

I never had to tell anyone in the White House to work extra mile. Their own fear of dropping the ball—of disappointing me, colleagues, constituencies that were counting on us—drove people far more than any exhortation I might deliver.

When asked once what sort of out-of-town conferences were okay for administration officials to attend, his response was short and to the point: “If it sounds fun, you can’t go.”

Ironically, one aspect of management that took me longer to learn than it should have was the need to pay closer attention to the experiences of women and people of colour on the staff.

But as I’d discovered about myself during the campaign, obstacles and struggles rarely shook me to the core. Instead, depression was more likely to creep up on me when I felt useless, without purpose—when I was wasting my time or squandering opportunities. Even during my worst days as president, I never felt that way. The job didn’t allow for boredom or existential paralysis, and when I sat down with my team to figure out the answer to a knotty problem, I usually came away energised rather than drained.

The work, I loved. Even when it didn’t love me back.

There were nights when, lying next to Michelle in the dark, I’d think about the days when everything between us felt lighter, when her smile was more constant and our love less encumbered, and my heart would suddenly tighten at the thought that those days might not return. My insistence that everything would work out in the end, I was really just protecting myself—and contributing to her loneliness.

Chapter 23

There is a blowout in Deepwater Horizon. Oil Spills all across the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the biggest man-made disaster. Obama works to seal the well, even though he’s cannot just put up his fucking Aquaman gear and swim down there with a wrench. At least four million barrels of oil go into the open waters.

In the meantime, I had no problem with increasing U.S. oil and gas production to reduce our reliance on imports from petrostates like Russia and Saudi Arabia.

“Trying to seal a live oil well a mile under the surface…this is more like a space mission.”

“What does he think I’m supposed to do?” I growled at Rahm after hearing of Carville’s broadside. “Put on my fucking Aquaman gear and swim down there myself with a wrench?”

The best estimates concluded that the Macondo well had released at least four million barrels of oil into open waters, with at least two-thirds of that amount having been captured, burned off, or otherwise dispersed. Where the rest of the oil ended up, what gruesome toll it took on wildlife, how much oil would eventually settle back onto ocean floor, and what long-term effect that might have on the entire Gulf ecosystem—it would be years before we’d have the full picture.

“I hate to say it,” a Republican senator told me when we came by the White House for another matter, “but the worse people feel right now, the better for us.”

“Last I checked, this is America,” I said, stuffing files in my briefcase before I headed up to the residence for dinner. “And in America, you can’t single out one religious group and tell them they can’t build a house of worship on their own property.” “I get it, Mr. President,” Rahm said. “But you need to know that if you say something, it’s going to be hung around the necks of our candidates in every swing district around the country.” “I’m sure you’re right,” I answered as I walked to the door. “But if we can’t speak out on something this basic, then I don’t know what the point is of us being here.” Rahm sighed. “At the rate we’re going,” he said, “we may not be.”

Chapter 24

His chief of staff Rahm is stepping down, even Larry — National Economic Advisor is leaving. Being at the top can be lonely, Obama feels the chills. He’d be surrounded by even fewer people who’d known him before he was the president. Obama visits India, he praises Dr Singh. Both of them worry about the rise of nationalistic aspirations and the right-wing.

I realised that justifying the past mattered less than planning what to do next.

“What am I going to do without you around to explain why I’m wrong?” I asked, only half-joking. Larry smiled.
“Mr. President,” he said, “you were actually less wrong than most.”

More than once we’d asked ourselves why we’d chosen such stressful lives.

“After we’re finished, we should try something simpler,” I said to him one day. “We could move our families to Hawaii and open a smoothie stand on the beach.”
“Smoothies are too complicated,” Rahm said. “We’ll sell T-shirts. But just white T-shirts. In medium. In medium. That’s it—no other colors or patterns or sizes. We don’t want to have to make any decisions. If customers want something different, they can go someplace else.”

I’d be surrounded by even fewer people who’d known me before I was president, and by fewer colleagues who were also friends, who’d seen me tired, confused, angry, or defeated and yet had never stopped having my back. It was a lonely thought at a lonely time. Which probably explains why I was still playing cards with Marvin, Reggie, and Pete when I had a full day of meetings and appearances scheduled to start in less than seven hours.

“Everybody loses sometimes.”
Reggie flashed a hard look at Pete. “Show me someone who’s okay with losing,” he said, “and I’ll show you a loser.”

Along with Lincoln, King and Mandela, Gandhi had profoundly influenced my thinking.


And in that moment, I had the strongest wish to sit beside him and talk. To ask him where he’d found the strength and imagination to do so much with so very little. To ask how he’d recovered from disappointment.

“In uncertain times, Mr. President,” the prime minister said, “the call of religious and ethnic solidarity can be intoxicating. And it’s not so hard for politicians to exploit that, in India or anywhere else.”

As for Rahul, he seemed smart and earnest, his good looks resembling his mother’s. He offered up his thoughts on the future of progressive politics, occasionally pausing to probe me on the details of my 2008 campaign. But there was a nervous, unformed quality about him, as if he were a student who’d done the coursework and was eager to impress the teacher but deep down lacked either the aptitude or the passion to master the subject.

Somehow, I was doubtful. It wasn’t Singh’s fault. He had done his part following the playbook of liberal democracies across the post-Cold War world: upholding the constitutional order; attending to the quotidian, often technical work of boosting the GDP; and expanding the social safety net. Like me, he had come to believe that this was all any of us could expect from democracy, especially in big, multi-ethnic, multi-religious societies like India and the United States. Not revolutionary leaps or major cultural overhauls; not a fix for every social pathology or lasting answers for those in search of purpose and meaning in their lives. Just the observance of rules that allowed us to sort out or at least tolerate our differences, and government policies that raised living standards and improved education enough to temper humanity’s baser impulses.

Except now I found myself asking, whether those impulses—of violence, greed, corruption, nationalism, racism, and desire to beat back our own uncertainty and morality and sense of insignificance by subordinating others—were too strong for any democracy to permanently contain. For they seemed to lie in wait everywhere, ready to surface whenever growth rates stalled or demographics changed or a charismatic leader chose to ride the wave of people’s fear and resentments. And as much as I might have wished otherwise, there was no Mahatma Gandhi around to tell me what I might do to hold such impulses back.

You never looked as smart as the ex-president did on the sidelines.

Chapter 25

Obama deals with the Arab Spring. He mentions in detail about Libya. He ponders on leadership. How leaders carry with then their insecurities, their childhood traumas, or memories of unexpected kindness. How much is it the personality that manifest, and how much is it just the zeitgeist? Are they merely the conduits for the currents of the time or are they instruments of their own will?

It was no longer the plucky David surrounded by hostile Goliaths; thanks to tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military aid, the Israeli armed forces were now matchless in the region.

U.S. officials also had to explain why it wasn’t hypocritical for us to press countries like China or Iran on their human rights records while showing little concern for the rights of Palestinians.

Looking back, I sometimes ponder the age-old question of how much difference the particular characteristics of individual leaders make in the sweep of history—whether those of us who rise to power are mere conduits for the deep, relentless currents of the times or whether we’re at least partly the authors of what’s to come. I wonder whether our insecurities and our hopes, our childhood traumas or memories of unexpected kindness carry as much force as any technological shift or socioeconomic trend.

Even as conditioned varied from country to country, most of these leaders maintained their grip through an old formula: restricted political participation and expression, pervasive intimidation and surveillance at the hands of police or internal security services, dysfunctional judicial systems and insufficient due process protections, rigged (or nonexistent) elections, an entrenched military, heavy press censorship, and rampant corruption.

“A Problem from Hell”: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha

“But there are moments in history where just because things have been the same way in the past doesn’t mean they will be the same way in the future.

Chapter 26

He knows that no matter what he might have told Michelle about running for president — that him being the president will change the way children and young people everywhere saw themselves and their world, he was nowhere close. Presidency he says is contemplating knife’s edge between perceived success and potential catastrophe. He talks about the political style of Trump, his lack of inhibition and instinctive understanding of what moves conservative bases.

I wondered if that was true. It’s what I had told myself at the start of my political journey, part of my justification to Michelle for running for president—that the election and leadership of a Black president stood to change the way children and young people everywhere saw themselves and their world. And yet I knew that whatever impact my fleeting presence might have had on those children of the favelas and however much it might cause some to stand straighter and dream bigger, it couldn’t compensate for the grinding poverty they encountered every day: the bad schools, polluted air, poisoned water, and sheer disorder that many of them had to wade through just to survive. By my own estimation, my impact on the lives of poor children and their families so far had been negligible—even in my own country. My time had been absorbed by just trying to keep the circumstances of the poor, both at home and abroad, from worsening: making sure a global recession didn’t drastically drive up their ranks or eliminate whatever slippery foothold they might have in the labour market; trying to head off a change in climate that might lead to a deadly flood or storm; or, in the case of Libya, trying to prevent a madman’s army from gunning down in the streets. That wasn’t nothing I thought—as long as I didn’t start fooling myself into thinking it was anywhere close to enough.

“We have him,” he said. “It seems he was picked up by some friendly Libyans, and he’s going to be fine.”
I wanted to kiss Tom at that moment, but I kissed Michelle instead.
When someone asks me to describe what it feels like to be the president of the United States, I often think about that stretch of time spent sitting helplessly at the state dinner in Chile, contemplating the knife’s edge between perceived success and  potential catastrophe—in this case, the drift of a soldier’s parachute over a faraway desert in the middle of the night. It wasn’t simply that each decision I made was essentially a high-stakes wager; it was the fact that unlike in poker, where a player expects and can afford to lose a few big hands even on the way to a winning night, a single mishap could cost a life, and overwhelm—both in the political press and in my own heart—whatever broader objective I might have achieved.

They too, understood that it didn’t whether what they said was true. They didn’t have to actually believe that I was bankrupting the country or that Obamacare promoted euthanasia. In fact, the only difference between Trump’s style of politics and theirs (Boehner or McConnell) was Trump’s lack of inhibition. He understood instinctively what moved the conservative base most, and he offered it up in an unadulterated form. While I doubted that he was willing to relinquish his business holdings or subject himself to the necessary vetting in order to run for president, I knew that the passion he was tapping, the dark, alternative vision he was promoting and legitimising, were something I’d likely be contending with for the remainder of my presidency.

Chapter 27

He reminds us that we are better than this. McRaven confirms to him that they have shot down Bin Laden. Years of hard work, intelligence, strategy, and planning bore fruit as everyone in the situation room feel the burst of exhilarating energy on putting down a terrorist who was the mind behind 9/11. Obama thinks to himself, was that unity of effort, that sense of common purpose, possible only when the goal involved killing a terrorist? The question nagged at me. For all the pride and satisfaction I took in the success of our mission in Abbottabad, the truth was that I hadn’t felt the same exuberance as I had on the night the healthcare bill passed. I found myself imagining what America might look like if we could rally the country so that our government brought the same level of expertise and determination to educating our children or housing the homeless as it had to get bin Laden; if we could apply the same persistence and resources to reducing poverty or curbing greenhouse gases or making sure every family had access to decent daycare. He ends the book with this question. Is unity on possible with the they-versus-us divide?

“But”, I said, “we’re not going to be able to do it if we are distracted. We’re not going to be able to do it if we spend time vilifying each other. We’re not going to be able to do it if we just make stuff up and pretend that facts are not facts. We’re not going to be able to solve our problems if we get distracted by sideshows and carnival barkers.” I looked out at the assembled reporters. “I know that there’s going to be a segment of people for which, no matter what we put out, this issue will not be put to rest. But I’m speaking to the vast majority of the American people, as well as to the press. We do not have time for this kind of silliness. We’ve got better stuff to do. I’ve got better stuff to do. We’ve got big problems to solve. And I’m confident we can solve them, but we’re going to have to focus on them—not on this.”
“We’re better than this,” I said. “Remember that.”

McRaven explained that he was looking at the body as we spoke, and that in his judgement it was definitely bin Laden; the CIA’s facial recognition software would soon indicate the same. To further confirm, McRaven had a six-foot-two member of his team lie next to the body to compare his height to bin Laden’s purported six-foot-four frame.

“Seriously, Bill?” I teased. “All that planning and you couldn’t bring a tape measure?”

With these thoughts came another: Was that unity of effort, that sense of common purpose, possible only when the goal involved killing a terrorist? The question nagged at me. For all the pride and satisfaction I took in the success of our mission in Abbottabad, the truth was that I hadn’t felt the same exuberance as I had on the night the healthcare bill passed. I found myself imagining what America might look like if we could rally the country so that our government brought the same level of expertise and determination to educating our children or housing the homeless as it had to getting bin Laden; if we could apply the same persistence and resources to reducing poverty or curbing greenhouse gases or making sure every family had access to decent daycare. I knew that even my own staff would dismiss these notions as utopian. And the fact that this was the case, the fact that we could no longer imagine uniting the country around anything other than thwarting attacks and defeating external enemies, I took as a measure of how far my presidency still fell short of what I wanted it to be—and how much work I had left to do.

Walking in my university’s library I came across the book whose spine read: Honest Always Walks Alone. I pulled it from the shelf and flipped its pages. I was thinking about my grandfather, and all the ethical people I knew in my small world: Gandhi, Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Mandella. People who had taught me to do the right thing in life. People who urged me to be truthful and who hoped that I would not deal in lies. People who demanded that I be just. People who wished that I make decisions in this life thinking not just about myself, but also about those around me. See, I have been raised like that. When my cousins would visit my home during summer vacation, my home would become their home. My cousins would become the immigrants who’d take my place in the family, they’ll become the centre of attraction—the new hot THING, they’ll get all their wishes fulfilled, they’ll have the ownership of the remote of the television, they’ll sleep on my bed, and they’ll get a pardon for the crimes for which I own slap receipts. At the tender age of eight, I knew what the immigrant crisis was like. I was young, naive, and insecure. So one day, I asked my father, why is it like that? And he brushed my hair, and with his ever endearing eyes told me: they must feel belonged. Don’t worry, just because we love your cousins when they are here, doesn’t mean that we love you any less. You should join us and help us make them feel at home, your home, their home. That was the right thing to do, even though I knew it wasn’t the easy one. This was one of the most profound lessons of my early life. My father taught me that there was virtue in being secure. And that it wasn’t for the faint-hearted. There is a higher loyalty that you have with this universe. It’s bigger than your personal loyalties. The loyalty that asks you to always be just and truthful, seldom bothering of the consequences.

When I came across A Higher Loyalty, I don’t even remember how and when did I came across this book—it’s been living in my kindle unread and rent-free for over two years, I knew this was something I want to read. I had no clue who the author was or what was this book exactly about. When I read it, I found out that this book was exactly what I had hoped it to be, even better. It contains political drama, therefore it is only reasonable to assume that it’s going to get polarized reactions. But I promise to you that if you suspend your disbelief for the political ideology and just listen to the man talking about leadership, you’ll reward yourself with the gains of a lifetime that has thought, preached, and practised ethical leadership (I know you might not agree on the practice part, and that’s all right).

James Comey was the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, appointed by President Barrack Hussein Obama. A lawyer by profession, he had served as the U.S. Deputy Attorney General in the presidency of George Walker Bush. And he was fired from the FBI in little less than four months after President Donald John Trump assumed the presidency. Apart from being the memoir of a man who had been with the government for most of his life, this book is also a take on the kind of leadership he had seen and observed during his career. He gives you the view of the oval office from his lens under the three presidents, and that was my favourite part of the book.

It’s a gripping read, the book starts rather unusually, with his encounters with Mafia. Although this part is interesting, it leaves you wondering why would he want to talk about Mafia at the beginning of his book on leadership. Not a great example, right? He tells you about La Cosa Nostra—how one gets membership in “this thing of ours”. The life that deals with lies, with the boss in complete control, loyalty oaths, us-versus-them worldview. A life that is about lying about things, large and small, in service of some wrapped code of loyalty. And then to settle the curiosity he explains, that as much as he wanted to believe that this exists only inside the life of the Mafia, he was wrong. Much of it is applied outside of the Mafia too. And sometimes, they become our Presidents.

This book is also about bullies. I don’t know who Benjamin Disraeli is but he said: Courage is fire, and bullying is smoke. Mafia members may dress and talk in distinctive ways, but they are part of a fairly common species—the bully. All bullies are largely the same. They threaten the weak to feed their insecurity. And bullies are all around us, sometimes it’s our elder sibling, sometimes our coworker, sometimes our neighbour, sometimes it’s our boss, but the worst is when the bully is your President. Why? Because bullies are insecure. And insecure people cannot listen and they cannot laugh. And those who cannot listen and laugh cannot be trusted to run a country. I believe only those who do not have anything to say and anything to laugh upon would think otherwise.


“We all have a tendency to surrender our moral authority to “the group”, to still our own voices and assume the group will handle whatever difficult issue we face. We imagine that the group is making thoughtful decisions, and if the crowd is moving in a certain direction, we follow as if the group is some moral entity larger than ourselves. In the face of the herd, our tendency is to go quiet and let the group’s brain and soul handle things. Of course, the group has no brain or soul separate from each of ours. But by imagining that the group has these centres, we abdicate responsibility, which allows all groups to be hijacked by the loudest voice, the person who knows how brainless groups really are and uses that to this advantage.”


This book, therefore, is about leadership.

“We would teach that great leaders are
(1) people of integrity and decency;
(2) confident enough to be humble;
(3) both kind and tough;
(4) transparent; and
(5) aware that we all seek meaning in work. We would teach them that
(6) what they say is important, but what they do is far more important, because their people are always watching them.
In short, we would demand and develop ethical leaders.”


“A sense of humour, in particular, strikes me as an important indicator—or “tell”—about someone’s ego. Having a balance of confidence and humility is essential to effective leadership. Laughing in a genuine way requires a certain level of confidence because we all look a little silly laughing; that makes us vulnerable, a state insecure people fear. And laughing is also frequently an appreciation of others, who have said something that is funny. That is, you didn’t say it, and by laughing you acknowledge the other, something else insecure people can’t do.”


“There are people in your lives called ‘loved ones’ because you are supposed to love them.” In our work, I warned, there is a disease called “get-back-itis.” That is, you may tell yourself, “I am trying to protect a country, so I will get back to” my spouse, my kids, my parents, my siblings, my friends. “There is no getting back,” I said. “In this line of work, you will learn that bad things happen to good people. You will turn to get back and they will be gone. I order you to love somebody. It’s the right thing to do and it’s also good for you.”
Tired people tend not to have the best judgement. And that is not as hard as you may think, I added with a smile. “You can multitask. You can sleep with people you love. In appropriate circumstances.”


I recommend this book to those who are interested in ethical leadership, working in the FBI (briefly covered), and U.S. Politics.

“My efforts at life-plagiarism has been imperfect, but the lessons were priceless.”

I spent the first twenty-four years of my life not knowing that one of my great grandfathers was part of the film production business, moreover, he published a novel. HE PUBLISHED A NOVEL. For someone who wants to write his own novel, this was a fascinating discovery. The day my uncle told me about it and showed me the tattered copy of this book, I knew I have to read it, but there was just one problem: the book was written in Hindi. It’s not that I cannot read Hindi. I’ve studied this language for eight years, and I’ve spent all my life conversing in this language. It’s just that I’m an extremely slow reader of Hindi books, which is evident from the fact that I’ve never finished a Hindi book in my life. So when I started reading this book I was doubtful whether I’ll be able to know what happens in the end to Prathibha? Wait, you must be wondering who is Prathibha? But before I tell you that, I want you to know that I did finish this book, yes, it took me close to six months, but I made my great grandfather proud. That’s what I love about books you see, I never met that man. For the first twenty-four years, both of us were unaware of each other’s existence, he’s still unaware of my existence wherever he is, and while he was writing this book he would have never thought that someone from his family tree one day would be reading his work and writing a review on it on an online platform like GoodReads. I know, I know, this is not exciting you the way it is exciting me, but that’s okay, not all things are meant to excite us on a similar frequency. And that’s just science.

Spoiler Alert Begins.

अभिनेत्री की आत्मकथा translates to Autobiography of Actress. This is the story of Prathibha who writes the memoir of her days in the film industry. She was married to Ajay and living in Mumbai when Samaresh discovered Prathibha and cast her into his upcoming film. Although the marriage wasn’t passionate, it was peaceful. But the winds began to blow over her marriage as she grew as an actress and as she grew closer to the lead actor of her film, Amar. By the time the film production came to an end, her marriage with Ajay has ended as well. Amar grew over Prathibha, in all sense, she had given her entire self to Amar. Thanks to Amar, Prathibha had now got herself distanced from Samresh over the issue of signing his next film. Amar kept growing in riches and fame with the help of Prathibha, if Prathibha was a ladder, then Amar was climbing it well. One day Prathibha introduced her niece Neeta to Amar. Neeta wanted to make a name in the film industry, and so Prathibha and Amar gave her the role of actress’s sister in their next film. Neeta was beautiful and the daughter of a rich man. Amar was growing close to Neeta like he once had grown close to Prathibha. And eventually, he left Prathibha to marry Neeta. This was a big blow to Prathibha. She felt cheated and used and devasted. It was her servant Krishna, who held her and provided her with the solace and alcohol, for which she had no one else to turn to.

Prathibha’s memoir ends here abruptly. Ajay gets a mail that Prathibha is in the hospital and she’s probably taking her last breaths. Years have passed since they both have seen each other. Ajay is ashamed as he had eloped with Bella on seeing Prathibha getting closer to Ajay. Prathibha is feeling ashamed as she couldn’t be an ideal wife to Ajay. Samaresh is at the hospital. The doctor says that Prathibha has lost a lot of blood. Samaresh tells Ajay that Prathibha was stabbed by Krishna when his insecurities and jealousy overpowered him on seeing Prathibha with another man, the financer of her new projects. After being left behind by Amar, Prathibha had grown close to Krishna, and Krishna had started to assert his control over her. Something like this was inevitable. When Ajay finally sees Prathibha, she’s pale and lifeless on the hospital bed. She gathers all that is left inside her to tell Ajay that she’s terribly sorry for whatever she did to him. All her life she had felt ashamed to apologize, but now on the face of death, the idea of apologizing to Ajay seems less terrifying. She gives Ajay the key to her locker and dies in front of his eyes.

Ajay finds out that Prathibha’s locker has her will and a manuscript of her unfinished autobiography. She has left two bungalows for Ajay which Ajay decides to sell and use that money to start a school in the memory of Prathibha. And Ajay decides to publish this unfinished autobiography of the actress.

Spoiler Alert Ends.

I’ll be honest, even before I had started reading this book I knew that I’ll be rating this book with a 5 star, because of NEPOTISM. Because I’m carrying some of the genes of the person who wrote this book. But once I did finish reading this book, I knew that this book was a 5 star for what it was. This book touched me more than I was prepared for, and ever since morning I have been thinking about Prathibha, and Ajay, and Amar, and my great grandfather. Did he really know people like that? Or was it all a figment of his imagination? I’ve written creative stuff, and I know that usually, the inspirations for the inner world come from the outer world. The thing is that I’ll never be able to know if my great grandfather knew someone like Prathibha. Sigh.

This book is not available in the market. There is one copy of this book in my uncle’s library. But it’s a little scary to read old torn books, they are delicate beings, you don’t want to be a book-killer. Also, my uncle’s library is of no use to you. So, in case you do want to read this book, which I highly recommend that you do, you can use this link to download the e-copy.

Let me tell you something about life which Kurt Vonnegut told me many springs ago. I met him in a bar, and how did I found myself in a bar is a story for another day, but trust me I was sober all night. Kurt was standing at a corner with a glass of champagne in one hand, and a cigarette which he wanted to place between his teeth in another. It was one of the coldest nights of Phalodi, and how did Kurt found himself in Phalodi is a story for another day, but trust me that old man was anything but sober all night. He was probably in his eighties, he had curly grey hairs and wore reading glasses over his moustache. When I saw him, I knew it was an unusual setting for a man like that, unusual things had always been my fancy.

‘May I’, I said as I moved my lighter towards him to help him light his cigarette. He didn’t say anything. He looked at me for a second and then submitted to my help. I stood there, not trying to see him into his eyes, wondering what should my first words be? I always had this weird obsession with first words. How should a gentleman greet another gentleman? And just when I thought I had something of the worth to say, he told me, ‘Where is your cigarette young man?’.

‘Some of us only have within them what it takes to ignite, and not what it takes to burn. Is it necessary for a young man to smoke who walks with a lighter in his coat?’ I smirked as I spoke. And this time Kurt smiled at me, and he said, ‘I like you, young man. I like you.’

I knew it was going to be one of those nights which I’ll remember every morning thereafter in my life. I just knew, there was something about this unusual old man. He told me, ‘I assume you don’t drink either?’ and I said, ‘Yes sir, I was born a teetotaler.’ He growled and said, ‘You don’t smoke, you don’t drink, what is then the purpose of your life?’ And I kept starring at him unable to hold my cognition. I thought he must have been kidding me. He took a sip from his glass and while looking at his glass he said, ‘Two yeast sat discussing the possible purpose of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement.’ After a pause, he said, ‘Because of their limited intelligence they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne. Aren’t we like that two yeast?’, he asked me. I looked at him how you look at a professor who has finally made you understand what you had struggled all your life to get inside your head. ‘I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different’, he told me that night, the night I never forgot.

For that moment my robin felt that he had found his batman. So I asked him, ‘So who are we? and what are we doing here?’. That’s the thing with old men, they just want somebody who’d listen to them. Kurt placed his hand on my shoulder as he said, ‘We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.’ We both laughed so hard that everyone in the bar started looking at us. I guess they were all just jealous of seeing me bond with this old eccentric man.

‘A purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.’, Kurt spoke as he took a drag on his last cigarette of the night and then crushed the butt beneath his heel. I asked him, ‘So who do you think is controlling us?’. He laughed, and laughed, and laughed, and then it got hard for him to breathe, he started coughing. I fetched him a glass of water. There were tears in his eyes from laughter, he asked me to come close, and then he whispered into my ears, ‘True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.’ I was taken aback, and I couldn’t help but laugh at that moment. He stopped laughing all at once, and said to me, ‘I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, “If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”’. And then my mother woke me up from my dream, and I said to her, ‘if this is not nice, then what is?’.

All this happened, more or less.

Let me say it out first: this book won’t make you a successful day-trader. But this book will prepare you for your journey towards learning more about day-trading. If day-trading is a universe you are looking to explore then, definitely this book is one of the places you won’t regret visiting. Once you are here, you’ll realize the divergence in the mindset of a trader and an investor. Novices to technical analysis will find themselves a bit lost however since for the purposes of brevity this book won’t explain what is MACD? or what is ATR? or what is RSI? Andrew would leave you on your own to figure that out. I would recommend that you make yourself aware of the nuances of technical analysis before you begin reading this book.

I’m sharing my notes from this book here, you may now stop reading this review if you don’t want the spoilers. However go ahead if you’d like a gist of what this book talks about:

Risk Management

Success in day trading comes from risk management – finding low-risk entries with a high potential reward. The minimum win:lose ratio for me is 2:1.”

You must avoid stocks that:

(1) are heavily traded by computers and institutional traders,
(2) have small relative trading volume,
(3) are penny stocks and are therefore highly manipulated, and
(4) don’t have any reason to move (no fundamental catalysts).

Three-Step Risk Management

Step 1: Determine your maximum dollar risk for the trade you’re planning (never more than 2% of your account). Calculate this before your trading day starts.

Step 2: Estimate your maximum risk per share, the strategy stop loss, in dollars, from your entry. This comes from the strategies set out in Chapter 7, where I explain in each strategy what the stop loss should be.

Step 3: Divide “1” by “2” to find the absolute maximum number of shares you are allowed to trade each time.

For Example:

Step 1: Let’s say my trading capital is Rs 1,00,000. Accordingly, the 2% rule will limit my risk on any trade to Rs 2,000.

Step 2: Using my strategy I can estimate the maximum risk per share. This number is calculated as Buy Price – Stop Loss. Assuming that this number is Rs 20 for my example.

Step 3: Rs 2,000 / Rs 20 = 100 shares. I can safely trade 100 shares in this case.

“Remember, you can always risk less, but you are not allowed to risk more than 2% of your account under any circumstance.”

“Trading needs practice and I strongly recommend that new traders paper trade under supervision for at least three months in a live simulated account.”

“A key reason why many traders fail is that they take negative events and losses in trading personally. Their confidence and peace of mind are connected to their trading results. When traders do well, they feel good. When they encounter losses, they become discouraged, doubtful, and frustrated, questioning themselves, their strategy, and their career. Instead of dealing directly and constructively with their losses, they react to the emotions triggered by personalizing the events.”

“Successful traders are those who trade for skill and not for the money. Almost all professional traders hide their unrealized Profit and Loss (P&L) column while in a trade. They have no interest in seeing how much they are up or down. They focus on the perfect execution of a profit target or a stop loss level. Consistently profitable traders take every negative or positive trade they make as an opportunity to improve themselves.”


Physical and Mental Health are important. Eat well balanced nutritional meals, exercise, maintain body weight, fitness levels, get adequate rest.

“One of the fundamentals you must learn from this book is that every day trading strategy comes with a stop loss level and you must stop out from stocks that trade against your strategy.”

“Many traders think a good trading day is a positive day. Wrong. A good trading day is a day that you were disciplined, traded sound strategies, and did not violate any trading rules. ”

How to Find Stock for Trades

“You are only as good as the stocks you trade.”

Stocks in Play

• A stock with fresh news
• A stock that is up or down more than 2% before the market Open
• A stock that has unusual pre-market trading activity
• A stock that develops important intraday levels which we can trade-off from

Fundamental Catalysts

• Earnings reports
• Earnings warnings/pre-announcements
• Earnings surprises
• FDA approvals/disapprovals
• Mergers/acquisitions
• Alliances/partnerships/major product releases
• Major contract wins/losses
• Restructurings/layoffs/management changes
• Stock splits/buybacks/debt offerings

Float and Market Cap

“Trading low float stocks is very difficult for the new trader. It is difficult to read the direction of their next move and therefore they are very difficult to manage your risk while trading them. I discourage new traders from trading low float stocks. When the new trader is wrong, the loss is such that it wipes out many gains.”

“The second category is medium float stocks in the range of $10-$100. These stocks have medium floats of around 10 million to 500 million shares. Many of my strategies explained in this book work well on these stocks, especially the VWAP and Support or Resistance Strategies. Medium float stocks that are more expensive than $100 are not popular among retail day traders and I myself avoid them. You usually cannot buy many shares of them because of their high price. Therefore, it is basically useless to day trade them. Leave them for the institutional traders.”

“The third category of stocks for trading is mega cap stocks like Apple, Alibaba, Yahoo, Microsoft and Home Depot. These are well-established companies that usually have over $500 million in public shares available for trading. These stocks are traded in millions of shares every day. As you may guess, these stocks move only when large institutional traders, investment banks, and hedge funds are buying or selling large positions. Retail traders like us, who typically trade 100 to 1,000 shares, usually cannot move the price of these stocks. Retail traders should avoid these stocks unless there is a good fundamental catalyst for them. From the strategies set forth in Chapter 7, Reversals and Moving Average Strategies usually work well on these stocks. Do not forget though, unless there is a fundamental catalyst, these stocks are being heavily traded by computers and high-frequency traders and are not suitable for retail day trading.”

Pre-Market Gappers

• Stocks that in the pre-market gapped up or down at least 2%
• Stocks that have traded at least 50,000 shares in the pre-market
• Stocks that have an average daily volume of over 500,000 shares
• Stocks that have Average True Range of at least 50 cents (how large of a range a stock has on average every day)
• There is a fundamental catalyst for the stock
• As a rule, I do not trade stocks with an enormous short interest higher than 30% (the short interest is the quantity of stock shares that investors or traders have sold short but not yet covered or closed out)

“A high short interest indicates traders or investors think a stock’s price is likely to fall. But the challenge with high short interest is that these stocks are more prone to a short squeeze by bullish investors and traders. A short squeeze occurs when short sellers panic and are scrambling to return their borrowed shares, forcing prices to increase quickly and dangerously. You do not want to be stuck short in a short squeeze.”

Real-Time Intraday Scans

• Have gapped up or down at least $1
• Have ATR of more than 50 cents
• Have average relative volume of at least 1.5 (the stock is trading at 1.5 times its normal volume)
• Have average daily trading volume of at least 500,000 shares

“I will also take a look at the sector of stocks. If I have a few stocks in one sector, there is a good chance that these stocks are not in play. They have high relative volume because their sector is under heavy trading by institutional traders. It is important to know that stocks usually trade with their sector. For example, when oil stocks are selling off, almost all of the oil companies sell off. Therefore, it is important to recognize Stocks in Play from the herd. Remember, you are only as good as the stock you trade, so if you are the best trader in the world, but in a wrong stock, you will lose money.”

Indicators on my Charts

1. Price action in the form of candlesticks
2. Volume of shares being traded
3. 9 Exponential Moving Average (9 EMA)
4. 20 Exponential Moving Average (20 EMA)
5. 50 Simple Moving Average (50 SMA)
6. 200 Simple Moving Average (200 SMA)
7. Volume Weighted Average Price (VWAP)
8. Previous day’s closing price
9. Daily levels of support or resistance

I keep the color of all my moving average indicators in grey except VWAP which is colored in blue. VWAP is the most important day trading indicator and needs to be easily and quickly distinguished from other moving averages. I don’t want to have a lot of colors on my charts so I maintain a white background with mostly red and black coloring.

Market Orders

“Buy me at any price! Now!”
“Sell me at any price! Now!”

Limit Orders

“Buy me at this price only! Not higher!”
“Sell me at this price only! Not lower!”

Marketable Limit Orders

“Buy me now, but up to this price! Not higher!”
“Sell me now, but down to this price! Not lower!”

Learn Hotkeys!

Check out: Trade2Win dot com and


Green candles indicate buying pressure. Red candles indicate selling pressure. There are three types of people in the market: a) Buyers b) Sellers and c) Undecided.

Bid-ask spread is the difference between what buyers are ready to pay for a stock and what sellers are willing to accept for the same stock.

The goal of successful day trading is to identify whether buyers are in control or whether sellers are in control, and then make a calculated move, at the appropriate time, quickly and stealthily.

Price action means reading the candlesticks to generate an opinion on the general attitude for the stock.

Must know candlesticks:

a) Bullish Candlesticks
b) Bearish Candlesticks
c) Indecision Candlesticks:
a. Spinning Top
b. Doji
i. Simple
ii. Shooting Star: Seller’s may take control
iii. Hammer: Buyer’s may take control

Trading Strategies

Based on:

a) Price Action
b) Technical Indicators
c) Candlesticks and Chart Patterns

The author prefers to trade on 5-min charts, and also monitors 1-minute charts.

You must master only a few solid setups to be consistently profitable. Simple trading methods reduce confusion and stress and allow you to concentrate on the psychological aspect of trading.

Trade Management:

For $10-$50 price range, the author prefers to have a trade size of 800 shares

1. I buy 400 shares.
2. If trade goes in my favor, I add another 400 shares (note that I add into my winning position, not into losing one).
3. I sell 400 shares in the first target, bringing my stop loss to break-even (my entry point).
4. I sell another 200 shares in the next target point.
5. I usually keep the last 200 shares until I am stopped out. I always retain some shares in case the prices keep moving in my favor.

For $50-$100 price range, the author reduces the trade size to 400 shares.

Also, you can enter a trade small, with say 100 shares and then add to your position in various steps.

Never average down losing positions. When something is selling off, you really do not know if it will be a massive bear market until you see the charts. And sadly, you cannot see the charts until it is too late, not until after the sell off is finished.

Strategy 1: ABCD Pattern

Strategy 2: Bull Flag Momentum

Strategy 3 & 4: Reversal Trading

Strategy 5: Moving Average Trend Trading

Strategy 6: VWAP Trading

Strategy 7: Support or Resistance Trading

Strategy 8: Red-to-Green Trading

Strategy 9: Open Range Breakout

Remember that the market is always going to be there, you don’t need to rush this.

Trading Strategy Based on the Time of Day

Open: first 1.5 hours

• Bull Flag Momentum and VWAP trades tend to be the best strategies for open.


• Market is slow. Worst time of day to trade. There is less volume and liquidity.
• Reversal, VWAP, Moving Average, and Support or Resistance trades tend to be the best strategies for the Mid-day.
• Never trade Bull Flag Momentum in Mid-day or at close.

Close: last 1 hour

• Stocks are more directional, so I stick with those that are trending up or down in the last hour of the trading day.
• VWAP, Support or Resistance, and Moving Average trades tend to be the best strategies for the close.

You are not allowed to lose more than 30% of what you have made in the Open during Mid-day and the Close.

Step-by-Step to a Successful Trade

1. Morning Routine: Waking up on early, physical workout (like running), good breakfast.
2. Build a Watchlist.
3. Organize a Trade Plan. (entry, exit, and stop loss)
4. Initiate the Trade according to the Trade Plan.
5. Execute the Trade according to the Trade Plan.
6. Journaling and Reflection.

Question you must ask:

• Who is in control of the price: the buyers or the sellers?
• What technical levels are most important?
• Is the stock stronger or weaker than the market?
• Where is most of the volume being traded? At the VWAP? Or the first five minutes? Or near moving averages?
• How much volume at a price causes the stock to move up or down?
• What is the bid-ask spread? Is it tradeable?
• How quickly does the stock move? Is it being traded smoothly or is it choppy, jumping up and down with every trade?
• Is the stock trading in a particular pattern on a 5-minute chart? How is the stock being traded on a 1-minute chart?

All of this information should be gathered before you make any trade.

Trading teaches you a lot about yourself, about your mental weaknesses, and about your strengths.

The best things in life arrive when you are not looking for them. Two weeks ago, I was looking forward to reading nonfiction — any nonfiction, I had been feeling overwhelmed by reading primarily fiction last year. When my friend (Nahid) told me about this book, my first thought was that it would be a book full of exposition about intelligence agencies and geopolitics. I’ll have to drag through this book, there will be things I won’t understand, and I might not even have the curiosity to understand. I decided to give it a read anyway. I had no expectations that in pages to come, there will be moments when I’ll forget to breathe, moments when my heart will be in my mouth, and moments when I’ll feel like a kid on the first rollercoaster ride of his life. How many times does it happen that the best things arrive when you are not looking for them?

This is the story of Oleg Gordievsky alias SUNBEAM alias GORMSSON alias GORNOV alias NOCTOM alias OVATION alias PIMLICO alias TICKLE (because important people have more than one name): colonel of the KGB (Secret Police Force of USSR) who becomes an agent for MI6 (British Secret Intelligence Service). He was disenchanted with KGB, especially after the Soviet Rain on the Prague Spring. While working as an illegal in Denmark for KGB. He had attended classical-music concerts. He had devoured western literature. He had travelled to every corner of that country. And he did it sometimes in the spy business, but mostly for the pleasure of being able to do so. He had seen how beautiful life can be when you leave behind the cacophony of lies and the chains of propaganda. It was remarkable to learn that the ideology that originated to librate the unliberated ended up imprisoning an entire country. There are many reasons people attribute to why Oleg became a double agent, but the one that stands out is his cultural superiority.

There is a very good reason, he reflected, why ordinary Soviet citizens were not permitted to travel abroad: who but a fully indoctrinated KGB officer would be able to taste such freedom and resist the urge to stay?

Oleg after his recruitment to MI6 becomes the station chief of KGB in London and continues to help MI6 and the west understand how Kremlin works. He is instrumental in saving a nuclear disaster and strengthening British-Soviet ties by identifying Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet heir-apparent. He helps the western intelligence agencies filter the moles in their departments. And in some ways, he plays a subtle role in the dissolution of the USSR.

In 1985, Oleg is called back to Moscow abruptly. Somebody has betrayed him. KGB abducts him, drugs him, interrogate him for treason, but somehow releases him into ghettos. He is told to never work abroad again. KGB is just bidding its time, looking for solid proof against him, there is no hurry, and Oleg is left to rut like a mouse. How long will he be able to survive like that? Eventually, he’ll break down.

Years ago, MI6 had already planned for a situation like that, the plan to exfiltrate Oleg from USSR was called PIMLICO. Everyone knows that one cannot simply leave USSR without the Kremlin’s consent, especially if the one who is planning to leave is someone under suspicion of treachery. The chances of the success of that plan are slim…rather there are hardly any chances at all, and the repercussion of such a mission on diplomacy is immense. Yet, despite everything MI6 with the in-principle approval of then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher goes ahead with the PIMLICO. And they do that for a very simple but hard-to-swallow reason: morality.

In this book, you meet a man, who puts his life in danger for freedom and democracy, betraying his own family, friends, people, and country. His love for the idea he fought to protect takes precedence over his love for the woman he married. Every time Gordievsky is successful in a mission, you smile. Every time Gordievsky is close to getting caught, you pant. You feel his fears and his pains and his excitement. And you live through the story of this incredible man, meanwhile learning a thing or two about these intelligence officers making brush contacts, doing dead drops, or performing dry cleaning.

Oleg Gordievsky still lives a double life. To his suburban neighbors, the bowed, bearded old man living quietly behind the tall hedges is just another old-age pensioner, a person of little consequences. In reality he is someone else entirely, a figure of profound historical importance and a remarkable man: proud, shrewd, irascible, his brooding manner illuminated by sudden flashes of ironic humor. He is sometimes hard to like, and impossible not to admire. He has no regrets, he says, but from time to time he will break off in mid-conversations and stare darkly into a distance only he can see. He is one of the bravest people I have ever met, and one of the loneliest.

How many times does it happen that the best things arrive when you are not looking for them? I hoped to read nonfiction with the motive of educating myself but ended up with an experience that the best of novels find hard to provide.

The Sicilian

In chess, one of the most combative and powerful openings for black is Sicilian Defence. It’s not an opening for the lazy, defensive, or weak-hearted. It’s for a ruthlessly brave Sicilian. It has elements of romanticism, bloodshed, justice, betrayal, and treachery. Much like Mario Puzo’s novel The Sicilian.

“That is Sicily,” the Don said. “There is always treachery within treachery within treachery.”

This is a gripping story of Turi Giuliano — a bandit hero of Sicily, a modern-day Robin Hood, who fights against the injustices of Rome and the Mafia and is revered by the common citizens of the country. A power tussle exists between Don Croce (nominal head of Mafia, Friends of the Friends) and Turi which constitutes the spine of the story. And although Don is able to outwit Turi in the end to death, continuing to live a lifeless life, Turi becomes a mythical hero…a legend. This book takes you to Sicily, her cities, her people, and her mountains, and it would be fair to say that Sicily in this novel is not just a setting, but also a character. I’ll tell you the honest reason why I wanted to read this book, few years ago, looking at the map of Italy and Sicily, a friend of mine exclaimed to me: look, it looks like a shoe (Italy) kicking Sicily. That was the inciting incident for me to put The Godfather and The Sicilian on my Kindle.

Although this book kept me hooked till the last page, filling my imagination with vivid details, the complaint I have with this book is that all the minor characters felt quite hollow to me, they felt as if they were just placeholders. I’m not sure how long I am going to remember this story. I might change my opinion as time will pass me by, but for now, I’d say that The Sicilian, contrary to my expectations, did not possess the magic The Godfather did.

The sun and the moon

The sun is the brightest thing in the entire universe. I know there are stars that shine brighter than the sun, but from where we are, the sun — our sun, is the brightest star. It’s the source of life on our planet, it has been shining for life from eternities and would continue to do so till eternities, and yet it is loveliest on only three occasions. First, when the sun arrives at dawn. Second, when the sun departs at the dusk. And third, when the sun is covered with clouds. It’s only on these three occasions when you can truly enjoy its company. For the rest of the time, you are fine looking for some shade. The brightest thing in the entire universe, the source of the gift of life, is also the loneliest thing in the entire universe except on these three occasions. Some people are like that, they burn too much for their own good.

The moon on the other hand is not a very bright thing. Unlike the spotless sun, the moon is full of scars. You don’t take a note of the time when the moon arrives, and it has a habit of disappearing in the depths of the night sky. Sometimes I think the moon is deceptive. Every time you see it, it’s a little different from the last time you saw it. The shine it carries is not even its own, it merely reflects what it receives from the sun. And the moon even has a dark side that it never talks about. And yet, someone can spend the whole night in the company of this imperfect moon, fathoming the beauty, reminiscing what could have been, and dreaming what is going to be. Some people are like that, on some nights they can make their presence felt through their absence. And when they are not there, it’s not that the universe is suddenly gloomy, they leave you with a sky full of stars to cherish.

If we shall ever meet

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other on our worst possible day. You know those days when the words you say don’t make any sense. Those days when you find it hard to be yourself, or days when you are brutally honestly vulnerably yourself.

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other with hair unkempt, nails uncut, teeth unbrushed, dark circles under the eyes, and pimples on the face. Those days when you look into the mirror and can’t fathom to like being in your own skin.

If we shall ever meet, then I want us to meet each other on the day when we don’t need each other’s company but a book and a coffee. Those days when it is rainy outside, and your coffee is getting cold, but you are lost somewhere in your book.

Because with every passing day after the day we finally meet, we are going to learn that maybe both of us are not as bad as we found each other to be on the first day we met. Because with every passing day after the day we finally meet, we will get to know each other a little more, our love for each other will only grow.

How rare is that to meet them one day when you are not exactly ready to meet them, and then look at that same person after thirty-six years and whisper, you look prettier than the day we met. And they whisper, your words are making sense now. How rare is that to fall in love and feel more grateful about the love as the days pass by?



It’s a rather unusual book. You know, I wanted to love it. And I did when I started reading it. It was hard to read a line and not shed tears of laughter. The opening scene, with Arthur, Posser, and Ford was hysterical. And then listening to Vogon Captain sing his poetry. It was all so funny. And my god, the spot-on observations and one-liners of Douglas. This book had probably most screenshot moments. Where you are like, wait I have got to record this. It is so funny. Although sometimes that makes you think, man, he told me this entire story just to say that line. Isn’t it Douglas? Haha. But that wasn’t the problem. The problem with the book was that I was not able to emotionally connect with the characters. Maybe the author never intended me to feel for the characters. I was charmed by them, but I wasn’t rooting for them. The book lost its lustre in the middle and end game. With that said, I enjoyed what this book had to offer. But will I read the second book in the series? I don’t know for now. Oh now, I think I am the reason why human beings are only the third most intelligent species on earth. I am sorry. Please don’t hate me. Haha.

A Cage Without Bars

— Riku —

She kept crying, don’t let me go, don’t let me go, don’t let me — and then she let her go. Riku closed her eyes tight and gritted her teeth. Unfold the wings and let the winds take you where they want to, Riku. Her mother smiled as she embraced her daughter for her first flight. Her mother had an unwavering faith in the winds. She loved the freedom that the winds gave her. The only thing that she loved more than her freedom was Riku. When Riku opened her eyes, she gasped. She could fly.

Perhaps, it takes courage to let your children go. Perhaps, it is the fleeting nature of happiness. Riku could never understand. A bird-catcher had been following them for months now. She knew someday that bird-catcher will catch hold of Riku. Please, my daughter — she is young, she has not seen the world, she has not fallen in love with the winds, let her go, I’ll come with you.

On that night, she traded her freedom for Riku with the bird-catcher. The next morning, when Riku was flying for the first time, the bird-catcher was waiting to cage her mother. Perhaps, it takes courage to give away your freedom for your children. She just smiled. Every time Riku unfolded her wings, she remembered that her mother sacrificed her freedom so that she could have hers. Riku’s mother wanted her to see the world. She wanted her to see the beauty in everything, and she wanted her to see everything in beauty.

Riku closed her eyes tight and gritted her teeth. From the cracks somewhere, a tear rolled down. It fell on the page of the book a boy was reading, sitting on the bench. When she opened her eyes, she saw the most beautiful garden she has ever seen.

— Charlie —

He sat there on the bench in his garden with a book. What else does one need to be happy? He got birds, books, flowers, and the moon in his garden. A garden that smelt of hyacinths, and of his sweat. His father always used to say, life begins when you start to garden. Maybe that is why he planted a hyacinth when his father died. His father said a lot of good things, and he had learned everything in his life just from listening to his father.

People garden for all kinds of reasons: to give without having, to love the growing, to please the soul, but most importantly, people garden because they believe in beautiful tomorrow. There’s not much a garden needs from us, but one thing. Do you know what that one thing is, Charlie? Charlie smiled and shook his head. He knows the answer, but he wants to listen to his father say it all anyway.

Love. You have to love your garden, Charlie. You have to nurture the flowers and take care of weeds. Garden is not made by sitting in shade. Garden is made by sweating under the sun. And that is why his garden smelt of hyacinths, and of his sweat. Charlie always listened to what his father had to say. Tell me, Charlie, how is a gardener different from an emperor? An emperor wants to conquer what he can see. A gardener wants to make tomorrow beautiful. A gardener dreams bigger dreams than an emperor. Remember my son. And Charlie always remembered that there was no greater joy in life than to be a gardener.

Charlie has never seen the world outside his garden. He never felt the need. His days would start before dawn. He would sweat all day nurturing his flowers and digging out the weed. Weed is the biggest enemy of the garden, Charlie. You must dig out the weed every day, or the flowers will die. And at dusk, he would sit on the bench in his garden, reading the book, and feeding the birds. The only thing more beautiful than a garden was a garden with birds.

— Garden —

It was a fine evening when Riku came into Charlie’s life like a cool wind on a warm night and sat beside him on the bench.

What are you reading?”

“Flowers in the Attic,” said Charlie.

“What is it about?”

“It’s about a mother who cages her lovely children in an unused attic for years because a fortune was at stake.”

That is terribly unfortunate.” sighs Riku. “My mother used to say let the winds take you where they want to, Riku.”

“And where have they taken you?” said Charlie.

“To your garden…your garden is beautiful. It’s the most beautiful place I have ever been to.”

“I’m so glad you are here,” said Charlie.

That was also the most beautiful place Charlie has ever been to, the bench in his garden with Riku sitting beside him.

There was something about Riku. It wasn’t her ruby neck or pointy beak. It wasn’t her voice, although her voice was beautiful—and warm—and it made you feel hugged. Maybe it was the fact that she truly and genuinely wanted to listen to what Charlie had to say about his books and his garden. Maybe it was the fact that she was always so cheerful and full of life. She would sit beside Charlie on the bench every evening, and every evening Charlie would feel as if he was at the most beautiful place he has ever been to. It is uncanny how that same bench, that same book, that same evening, which Charlie had to himself for years, looks so different, so colourful now. As if Riku had filled a void in Charlie’s heart that never existed before. What else does one need to be happy?

— Winds —

Charlie loved Riku so much that there was no place inside his heart to love anything else. He couldn’t love his garden anymore. Now his days weren’t spent nurturing the flowers and digging the weed. They were spent thinking about Riku. Now his evenings weren’t spent reading the books. They were spent waiting for Riku. They were spent talking with Riku. There was so much that he always wanted to tell her. There was so much he always wanted to listen from her. In his garden, weed was growing like wildfire, and flowers — flowers were dying like it was the plague. His garden doesn’t smell of hyacinths anymore. His garden just smells of Riku. And Riku could see that his garden wasn’t the most beautiful place anymore. She could see that the Charlie as she knew him, the Charlie who loved his garden, the Charlie who loved his books, was lost somewhere, nowhere to be found.

But this is just the poetic way to say that Charlie loved too much. To love too much is to put your lover in a cage without bars. To love too much is to not love yourself enough. To love too much is an act of selfishness. Loving someone is to trust someone to be vulnerable enough to share your deepest fears, knowing that you will always be protected from those fears. Charlie knew that Riku feared cages. Charlie knew that because Riku loved Charlie, to be vulnerable enough to share her deepest fears. Because that’s what love is, giving someone your deepest fears and trusting that they’ll never scare you with them. So when Riku told Charlie that she wants to explore the world, that she wants to see all the beautiful places in the world, that how sometimes she feels that his garden has become a cage without bars, Charlie didn’t say anything.

You cannot love a flower and a bird just the same. A flower can stay rooted forever in one place. A bird has to unfold the wings. But what was Charlie’s fault? His father taught him to love things with roots. And what was Riku’s fault? Her mother taught her to love the winds.

Dawn was lining the horizon, but there was darkness all around Charlie. A cool wind was blowing, but Charlie was panting. There was weed all around. Riku was gone, maybe forever, maybe she’ll come back someday, we don’t know. All the flowers in his garden were dead, but there was a newly planted hyacinth near the bench. Charlie started to dig the weed around that hyacinth. He closed his eyes tight and gritted his teeth. From the cracks somewhere, a tear rolled down. It fell on the note Riku had left him before leaving:

Life begins when you start to garden. Life begins when you start to love yourself. But Charlie, remember, life begins. I’ll come back and tell you about the beautiful places winds are taking me to, but don’t wait for me. I want you to see beauty in everything, and I want you to see everything in beauty. Charlie, please, don’t stop loving your garden for me. Because life begins, and so must you. Your heart’s big enough to love everything you can see Charlie. And your father was right when he said, gardener dreams bigger dreams than an emperor. Because only a gardener can love a flower without plucking it. Because only a gardener can love a bird without caging it. Tomorrow will be beautiful. Take good care.

A boy named Azure

The winter sun is rising, morning, awakens Azure to another indifferent day. Mrs Parks, your child will not be able to feel emotions, the doctor had said when Azure was six years old. But Mrs Parks heard it as your child will be an idiot. And so it was, Azure—the idiot boy, who could not be understood, who could not understand either.

It used to make Mrs Parks sad, now it just makes her angry. Azure never minds; he cannot understand what her mother is feeling and why? He shrugs the dust on his bag, polishes his boots, and starts to move towards the school. Nobody knows what Azure did on the weekend at home, nobody wants to know about it either.

There is a pale and aimless river that flows towards the south, Azure walks on the road, but his eyes are always on that untamed river. He does not know how to swim, but he is not afraid of the waters either. All the children are walking around him in groups, with their polished boots and shiny bags, Azure just walks alone.

A dog is lying on the river bed, hardly moving, overlooked by all the children who are chirruping and singing like little birds, on the way to school. Azure stops all at once, and then in pieces, like how the ball hits the ground. He goes towards the dog on the river bed, brushes his hands gently on the dog’s head, and says: how are you, pup? Is it hurting? The dog has broken his lower limb.

They say Azure can’t feel maybe they are right when they say that, maybe Azure is just an idiot. He takes out the biscuit from his bag and gives it to the pup. The pup eats the biscuit. Azure watches him, but he doesn’t know how to feel. But unlike those who can feel, he knows what to do. He holds the pup in his arms, like a mother who holds her baby, tenderly. He is going to take him to the vet. He is going to miss school today. His teacher is going to complain to Mrs Parks. She is going to be angry, she’d cry,  why can’t you be like normal kids? But that’s alright, Azure won’t feel anything. Nobody will know what happened today, nobody wants to know what happened today either.

Painting the Picture

He is always telling her draw, draw, draw. She is always telling him write, write, write. They seldom listen to each other’s advice, but they always listen to each other nonetheless, every night. And every night they paint the picture of their day for the other. Her words are like brushstrokes, detailed and always colourful. His words are like words, verbose and always philosophical. His palette has only two colours, light and dark. Her palette is like a box of crayons, with fifty bright shades. You don’t have to agree with me all the time, she frowns. He agrees. That’s just how two friends make the other one feel belonged in their ordinary life.

Once she asked him, why do people cry when they are abundantly happy? He has only cried twice in his life, and it wasn’t because he was happy. He thinks for a while and then says because happiness is like a balloon. What do you mean? It’s like an inflated balloon that pushes the tears out by filling all the corners of the soul. There is no space left behind for sadness, so people cry tears of joy. But what if someone pricks that balloon, she asks. He winks at her and says, I’ll give you another balloon. She shrugs.

Sometimes I really think that you speak in circles, she said. Sometimes I don’t know what to say but I want to say something to you anyway, he sighs. C-I-R-C-L-E-S again, she exclaimed and laughed. Tell me why do circles always remind me of you? She asked, being witty. I don’t know. Does it have something to do with the pi? I am feeling hungry. She laughs again, and he thinks, but I wasn’t joking. She says because circles are round, just like you. He makes the poker face in his defence. And then she gives him the brownie that she saved for him since morning. It’s like a brick; he says. I’ll kill you; she says. That’s just how their conversations are, it’s hard to get hold of the head and the feet, but it makes sense to both of them, somehow.

There is so much they still want to talk about. The picture is only half complete. Her brushstrokes still need finishing. His philosophy still needs explaining. The colours in his palette have mixed and he is able to see new colours which he couldn’t imagine before. The colours in her palette feel brighter, but they need rest now. So, she asks him, in the politest way possible. I’m feeling sleepy. Can I sleep? As if she is not asking permission to sleep but forgiveness for leaving him with the incomplete picture. It’s not fair. It’s so early. I also had some questions to ask. But he holds himself from saying that. Good night he says, sweet dreams and take care. Good night she says, imagine pleasant nonsense. They both know they’ll be back tomorrow, to paint again that incomplete picture. She’ll come back with new brush strokes and brighter colours. He’ll come back with new words and different stories. Both of them trying to make each other feel belong. Just two friends painting one picture that will forever be incomplete. As they sleep tonight, both of them will still hope, maybe he writes tomorrow, maybe she draws tomorrow.

Little Cuckoo Bird


in a hole,
in a tree,
lives a little cuckoo bird,
wild and free.

she is not quite like the other birds,
she never sings, she seldom chirps.

and when she has to go to the neighbour tree,
she takes the road and not the sky,
she loves walking more than she loves to fly.

mother bird thinks that her little one is sad,
her father thinks that he must cut her legs.
even all her friends, they make fun of her,
when she is not there, they take their turn,
to laugh about the fact that she cannot fly,
she just walks to keep them in disguise.

but the little cuckoo bird has read some books,
she has the wisdom to know what’s true.
she knows that the destination is far away,
and she is going to reach there in her own way.
sure sometimes she might stumble and fall, but then,
she would get up and keep moving on.

Why do you always laugh at my jokes, even when no one else does? I would ask. He would say that every joke deserves a laugh, even the bad ones. So you do agree my jokes are bad? I’d tease. Your joke can be bad, but the intention is always good. And your joke intends to spread laughs. This world needs to laugh more than it does. Every laugh is an opportunity to forget the agonies and to remember the brownies of being alive. I’ll rather not miss those brownies for the world, my dear.

I understood his need for laughter, but I never quite understood his philosophy. But if you laugh at the bad jokes, I told him, you take away the incentive from people to make good jokes. He looked at me like a mother looks at her newborn baby. There is an unflinching boldness in the eyes of the newborns when they look at the glaring but calm eyes of their mothers. In those eyes, they find their solace. He graciously smiled, gently rose to grab the glass of water from the centre table and then he tenderly spoke.

Can the air that is around me be any different from the one at the corner of this room? Can the water that is in my throat be any different from the one touching the rim of this glass? So how can two jokes from your mind be any different? Just like the air in this room is reminding me to breathe. Just like the water in this glass is reminding me to drink. Boy, your jokes remind me to laugh. And because I know that the air inside this room is breathable. And because I know that the water inside this glass is drinkable. I will always know your jokes are laughable because your intent is good. You just want to spread laughs. He told me, I want you to remember that there is no greater joy than the joy of spreading laughter. I’ll never think twice before laughing at your jokes, even the bad ones. I laughed.

There was a smile on his face when he died. As if the death cracked a joke before she took her away. I stood there with tears rolling down my cheeks, but the corners of my mouth were touching my earlobes, I was smiling. Because I could hear him saying through the whispers of the wind. This world needs to laugh more than it does.

PS: The inspirations for this short story (if I may take the liberty) came from my conversation with Simran Dhingra. This is an ode to all those who crack lame jokes in an attempt to spread laughs, but end up sucking instead. I want you to know (including myself), I will always laugh at your jokes.


I organized two Winter Schools in my college days, the aim was to make juniors learn about things that were beyond the reaches of ordinary classrooms. In 2019, the theme was Bridging the Skill Gap. We conducted workshops on Data Science & Computational Fluid Dynamics I share with you here the speech that we delivered on the last day of the Winter School.

The only way to be comfortable with something is to be uncomfortable with it for a prolonged period until everything becomes familiar and relatable. That’s how we learn and grow by constantly going out of our comfort zones, by putting ourselves in places where we least want to be. When the logic delivered in class makes little sense. When urges are high to quit. When it feels like it won’t be easy and yet when we stay. When we walk a few extra miles. We become what we want to become. We learn what we want to learn. We grow. We learn most by putting ourselves in the most uncomfortable shoes.

Sure, the last few weeks were tough and challenging. Sleepless nights spent on fixing that ONE BUG. Sleepless nights spent on hammering that ONE NAIL. These sleepless nights will not go in vain, they never can. With the conclusion of Winter School, I can safely say that we all learned a lot and my friends that was our purpose behind conducting Winter School after all.

The real school will begin now, from tomorrow, in your own room, in your own time, when no one would be watching, no one to keep you accounted, what you in that school will determine what you become. I hope you make the right decision. I hope that you understand that Winter School is just the beginning, just the means, it’s not the end. The certificate that you’ll get is for participation, not competence. I hope you spend your time to become competent in Data Science and Computational Fluid Dynamics. I hope you become the kind of engineer India needs most right now. I hope you get skilled and help us Bridge the Skill Gap.

With S&T Committee we are trying to build a unique culture at RGIPT. The culture of learning and growing. The culture of innovating and tinkering and coding and entrepreneurship. The culture of teamwork and leadership. The culture of walking extra miles. We acknowledge that things are not perfect, but it’s my understanding that they never are. There is always some scope of improvement there to motivate us. I’m thoroughly impressed with the project and posters presented by the team. Pulling off an electronic circuit or an android app within a month without any proper guidance or educating is not easy, and all those who believe otherwise, well are welcome to try it once for themselves, we’ll be happy to fund their adventure. But, and this is a big But, nothing that we do is of any worth if we are not constantly growing. For what is the same perishes. If we are not taking feedbacks seriously and if we are not constantly changing and improving, all that we have built will go in vain, we must not let that happen. Our work should not be repeated annually, our work should be incremented. We should not be scientific only when it’s needed. We should be breathing science and talking ideas, we should spend more time tinkering and coding then we spend on futile things. We should spend more time in research labs, tinkering lab, libraries, then we spend in our rooms doing nothing. If we aim at excellence and if we want to be best, then we must do what they do, we must work hard. Success is simple, constantly work hard until you die. I never said Success is easy. It’s simple.

A big thank you to all the participants of Winter School for joining us and learning. I wish you keep sailing on this boat.

I would like to thank Dr. Satish Sinha for joining us on this valedictory session of Winter School. I’d like to call him on stage to say a few words of encouragement and announce the winners of the Poster & Project Exhibition.

Thank You.

For how many days could I go like that, sleeping late, spending all day talking to my friends on the phone, playing online games, watching the tv shows that never seem to end, and occasionally when I’m tired of everything else, picking up the book from where I left. Reading the story of that idealist Architect, Howard Roark, and everything that was going wrong in his life, and mine. Every night I’d promise myself, not tomorrow, I’ll sleep on time from tomorrow, I’ll build a routine tomorrow. I’ll do things which you can call work from tomorrow. But tomorrow came and it was today, and today was yesterday, but I was all the same. It was late at night and I still felt sleepless. I knew I’d be cursing myself tomorrow, again, and the cycle would continue. For how many days could I live a purposeless life? I thought to myself, as long as this quarantine lasts.

The entire world stood at a standstill because of a novel coronavirus that first infected someone in Wuhan, China who drank bat soup and then went on the world tour to all the countries in the world. The only places where it was not found were the place where they were not looking for it. Coronavirus spread worse than a wildfire, and it would engulf 5-10% of humans that came in contact with it. Nobody knew how to treat it, nobody had a vaccine. The governments around the world closed their universities and offices, and asked their citizens to lock down themselves in homes, and hope that this virus stays away from them. And that’s what everyone did that year. They slept on Monday mornings since there was no work to do. They spent all the days talking to their friends on the phone since their friends had nothing better to do either. They played online games because they couldn’t go out anyway. They watched tv shows when no one was around to give them company. And a few decided to attack their pending reading list. But there was one thing that everybody did, everybody grew closer to their families. Even if they were apart, in two distant cities, with no way to go back home, they called back home four times a day to ask what did you eat? Did you make your bed? How is everyone at home? To share news of hope, that the increase in the number of cases is coming down, that probably someone, far, far away has discovered the cure. News channels mongered fear among masses, yet not all feared some of them knew that what has to end will end anyway. Some of them knew that no amount of worry could predict the future like they knew that no amount of shame could undo the past.

If you read history, you’ll start to believe that humans can endure all kinds of hardships. If you read about the pandemics that prevailed before you and I were born, or the wars that man fought for a few inches of land, or about the norms of society that kept lovers away from each other. You’d know, come what may, humans will endure. This time, the hardships were different. This time there were no great wars to be one, there was no one to blame, there was no enemy that we could find. This time all that the warriors were supposed to do was sit on the sofa and serve the time. Now there are many things humans are good at, and more than that there are things in which humans suck. Staying closed in a room with nothing much to do is one of them. And that’s what happened that year. People just kept asking each other, how many days could I go like that.

I was coming back from Vashi to Santacruz, almost midnight, after spending good time with two old friends from college. My friends were kind enough to book me an OLA Cab. It had been a tiring day, and now all I wanted was a good sleep.

Being a creature of my habit I started talking to my OLA driver. He looked perplexed.

Me: Are you driving OLA for the first time?

Him: Yes sir, I’m new to the city. I’m practicing driving in Mumbai, also learning how to use this OLA Application.

Me: Oh! In that case, take me slow. I’m in no hurry. I just want to reach home safe. (I joked.)

Him: Don’t worry sir, you are in safe hands.

We talked for a while, and I admired his simplicity and humbleness. Listening to his story of Mumbai, hustles of earning his living, longings to see again his cherished home and family left behind, made me heartfelt. How lost I felt when I stepped in this city for the first time. I could smell the same old struggle. 

We finally reached the destination. He didn’t know what had to be done, kept looking at the screen. Out of nervousness, he started pressing some buttons. I thought he did the steps wrong. The billed amount was 139. How in the world that could be possible? I paid 350 to the auto in the morning. I told him you must have cancelled the ride instead of ending the ride. I felt bad for him. So, I told him this is what we are going to do. I’m paying you 300. And you should learn to use this OLA App. This is not the way you survive in a city like Mumbai.

As I started moving towards my room, with a heartwarming feeling. I made a call to the friend who booked the cab for me. To let him know that I had reached and that how OLA only charged me 139 because of the driver’s mistake.

He said, “Girish, that’s because the rest of the money was charged from my account.”

We couldn’t control laughing when I told him I payed the driver 300 out of pity. My friend told me, this is not they way you survive in a city like Mumbai. I badly needed sleep.

Sapiens use religion to derive meaning in this chaotic universe. They help us solve dilemma and choose between diverging roads. Babylonians believed in stars. All the important life decisions were based on the orientation of stars. Babylonians loved stargazing.

But, then one day one rebellious kid in one village refused to believe in stars, he said, “Stars lie. God created them, and he created all of us and he wrote all about it in this holy book”.

And that’s how god and scripture based religions were invented. Just like that, humans gave the control of their lives from stars to god. People stopped looking at stars and they started reading holy books instead and started praying to god. Through god they derived the meaning of their life. If the man was suffering, he said to himself, I shall suffer if that’s what god has written for me. If the man had to fight in wars, he said to himself, I shall fight if that’s what god has written for me. If the man had to starve in famines, he said to himself I shall starve if that’s what god has written for me. Because god knows best, after all he created me, and he is somewhere out there looking after me.

But, then one day one rebellious kid in one town refused to believe in god, he said, “God is a fiction created by us humans, we wrote those holy books and we interpreted them to suit ourselves – we are the master of our own souls”.

And that’s how liberalism and free will was invented. Whenever in dilemma follow your inner voice. Everyone agreed that the customer is always right, voters knows the best, and the beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. Now humans need not look to stars or read holy books or pray to god when they had to decide whom to marry, what career path to choose, or where to invest their money. They could just listen to their inner voice – their true self. But it wasn’t always easy to listen to what self had to say, and how independent the free will was always remained a question for the skeptic. Humans kept preaching about ways you could learn to listen to your inner voice, ways in which you could get to know yourself – such as watching sunset on a beach, climb mountains, reading a book by Fredrick Backman or Kurt Vonnegut, having an heartfelt conversation with friends, or watching a inspiring movie about following your passion.

But, then one day one rebellious kid in one a city refused to believe in free will and inner voices, he said, “Inner voice is a lie. I have a community of voices inside me, I don’t even know who I am? I would rather rely on Spotify to recommend me good music then listen to my inner voice. I would rather rely on Netflix to recommend me a good show then listen to my inner voice. I would rather rely on a software like Tinder to find who will I marry to. I would rather rely on Google trends to decide my career.”

And that’s how data religion is invented, with its own dogmas and commandments. According to this religion, Sapiens are out dated organic algorithms, and they can be replaced by inorganic intelligence, which may not be conscious at all. Algorithms that know us better than we know ourselves. Algorithms whom we cannot comprehend. Imagine living in world where what you have to do with your time is not the outcome of moment of stars, or will of god, or your inner voice. Rather it is a calculated response to all the data that you had been supplying to the algorithm. And the response actually works for you, it’s no more a placebo or a pseudo faith. Do these algorithms need to be conscious? Not necessary. They just have to give better results.

But, then one day one kid will rebel…………..

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This book – Homo Deus: A Brief History of Mankind ends with three concluding statements, which I’d like to quote here:

1. Science is converging on an all-encompassing dogma, which says that organisms are algorithms, and life is data processing.
2. Intelligence is decoupling from consciousness.
3. Non-conscious but highly intelligent algorithms may soon know us better than we know ourselves.

*life in progress*

This is a rite of passage, a coming of age. In these ten years, I grew up.

2010 (I passed 8th grade and moved to 9th grade)

Every kid who would score more than 85% aggregate would be awarded a scholar badge. This was the first time, I failed to get a scholar badge. I wasn’t sure about what I wanted to be when I grow-up. I hated to make choices. However, this time I had to decide between Hindi and Sanskrit. I had to choose a language which I’ll have to study for the next two years. I fixated on Sanskrit. I scored decently in the following years but now I can hardly speak in Sanskrit. I think no one can. I would spend most of my time playing computer games and researching ways to hack/optimize/enhance my computer. I had a thing about collecting pirated versions of high-end software. I wanted to learn them, but I didn’t know why? This was the time when I started my first blog on Blogspotit was called minipacksoftwares. I would post the links to download software. I started another blog called, carfest, where I would post about (as evident from the name), cars. I think I was doing okay. I enjoyed spending time on the web. I would create a free account on all the websites that I could get hold of. That was me in 2010. Fascinated by technology.

2011 (I passed 9th grade and moved to 10th grade)

I had friends who shared my passion for technology. Together we would discuss ideas we could turn into a business. I would come up with ideas of websites that I thought did not exist then. I would try to use my creative energies to come up with new ideas or solve problems that I believed would have existed. I was naïve in my thinking, but it was okay. I started to blog for a friend, it was called techinnews, it was about tech industry news. We grew into a sizable community. We had an active Facebook group. That was the time when my friend introduced me to Google AdSense. He talked to me about ways people earn money over the internet. He talked to me about ways we could create our own websites. I started learning programming languages. I always thought it was impossible for me to learn. The syntax would terrify me. I would play online games like CityVille and FarmVille a lot and listen to English Music.

2012 (I passed 10th grade and moved to 11th grade)

I was at a crossroads. Science, Commerce, and Humanities. I could choose only one. I hated to choose. Humanities lost by a close margin, I decided to study Science and Mathematics with Computer Science. It was honestly Computer Science that defeated Humanities. I aced my 10th Grade Exams, I don’t how? Maybe being a good student for two years paid off, I received two upgrades in my scores because of that. I started learning to code seriously. Meanwhile, my father decided me to show the world, he took us to Hong Kong and Macau for a week. This was my first international vacation. I spend a night in Disney Land. I got pictures clicked with Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie (Madame Tussauds). I travelled on a luxurious ferry. I saw a live theatre. I created a memory I still cherish. When I came back reality hit. I had joined coaching to prepare for JEE. I scored -5 in mathematics on my first test. I felt kind of funny and stupid.

2013 (I barely passed 11th grade and moved to 12th grade)

Eventually, my coding skills improved, I could now differentiate between a++ and ++a. I started working on independent coding projects with a friend of mine. We were trying to recreate the SNAKE game for our CS Class Project. We were quite successful, I coded very sloppily but the product was hit. I was scoring like crazy in school, the bar had never been lower. However, I started waking up at 4 AM in the morning to code. I was dead serious. It gave me an amazing kick. I realized that I feared stage, and before I was over with school, I had to overcome it. I started applying to participate in inter-house competitions. Finally, I was selected to represent in Hindi Debate Competition. I killed it. My Sanskrit skills paid off; I literally sang a Sanskrit Slokha to begin my speech. Everyone loved it. I was the winner. I was nominated to represent the school in National Level Hindi Debate Competition. Which was my biggest break by far. I was unstoppable. I even sang a song on the stage for the first time in my life. I decided not to continue with coaching and to do self-study. In hindsight when I think of it, probably I just wanted to buy myself more coding time. I taught about animations and game development to my juniors when I impersonated my CS teacher on the teacher’s day.

2014 (I passed 12th grade and took a year off for JEE Preparation)

This year we worked on YODHA as the CS Project. A street-fighter type game was developed with a graphics library for C++. I barely passed my preboard exams. I passed mathematics by one grace mark. My father got worried and visited my school teachers. I was asked to join tuitions under my school teachers. I suited up for the farewell. I had lost almost 15kg weight in the last year. I gave my boards, they went well. I miserably failed in all college entrance exams. During JEE Mains exam, I felt like crying. I wanted to run away. I felt what performance pressure was. Meanwhile, my board’s results were out, I scored above 90%. My family was proud. I decided to take a year off to prepare for JEE. I moved to Kota and joined a coaching institute. I gave up my internet connection and all my social media accounts. That was the time of my life when I studied full time. Winters came, and I fell ill. I could not breathe. I started visiting doctors. I realized what the comfort of home was. I realized the value of money. I realized the struggles of having a roommate (and benefits too). There were times when I just wanted to give up. I wanted to come back home. My friends kept telling me that it will get better. A few years down the line, I would think how petty my problems were. That kept me going. I stayed. I kept attending the lectures, practicing questions, and writing tests.

2015 (Wrote JEE and moved to College: Sem – I)

My roommate suffered from varicella, the course was also almost over, I moved back home and continued preparing. It was comforting. I started to appreciate the home-cooked food. I started to appreciate the Masala Chai. I wrote my entrance exams, fumbled up in most of them. I had to choose between studying Computer Science in a not-so-good college and Petroleum Engineering in a so-so-good college. I ditched my love for CS to study Petroleum Engineering. I could not secure myself a place in IIT. I was frustrated. When I joined my college, I had just one thing in mind. I have to make the best out of it. In a month, I had boycotted a mass bunk, lost the friendship of the entire batch, scored highest in the mid semester exams, and won myself a scholarship. I was a scholar again. I realized I had good communication skills than most of my batchmates. I tried learning to play volleyball but I miserably failed. However, in the end I scored a perfect 10 CG. I kept learning programming languages and web-designing. That was my hobby now.

2016 (Sem – II and III)

I won a number of intra-college competitions, that was some extra money. I enjoyed the fame as well. I started watching TV Shows. I was doing good in academics and hence I scored a perfect 10 CG again. This time when I went home for summer breaks, I was introduced to Arduino Uno by an old school friend. When I came back to college I started learning about UNO. And things I could do with it. I made a small team and we did handful of projects. I loved spending my time that way. I also started to learn how to play harmonica. The world of technology was making me all fascinated again. I started doing online courses. I was introduced to Internet of Things and Data Science. And I wanted to tell the world about it. I started ignoring my academics a bit, a hence a result I only scored a CG of 9.5. Initially devasted, I realized this was a big break through. I no longer had to care about maintaining a perfect CG. I would optimize my time. I had no clue what I wanted to be or what I wanted to do. I wasn’t exploring career options; I was just following my hobbies.

2017 (Sem – IV and V)

I found a senior who helped us secure funding from college for our tech endeavour. We restarted Tinkering Lab and later founded Science & Technical Committee. I started doing a course in Machine Learning. The best thing about this time was controlling a physical LED over the internet. My mind was blown with what technology could do. I was constantly in the dilemma between core and noncore. I was selected to attend SRISTI Summer School in Gandhinagar. It was a great experience, I learnt about teamwork, project execution, leadership, and technology development. I took these learnings home with me. I started working on tech projects with my juniors. We had ten teams, working on ten different projects. From flying drones to making utility apps. I mentored all of them. It was a great experience for me. The S&T Committee grew exponentially, I felt like a CEO of a booming start-up, and all my juniors were my employees. It was my job to ensure they learn and make the best out of their time in college.

2018 (Sem – VI and VII)

We organized a successful technical festival in college. I started working on a start-up idea by completely negating my academics. I started reading books, I bought a kindle for that. In that year I read 57 books. By the time the semester ended, I had entirely failed with my product development idea and my grades sucked. I got scared. I went to the internship. I learnt how to simulate a reservoir. The soulful music came to my rescue. When I was back at home after internship, I started preparing for the GATE Exams and college placements which were to begin from next semester. Everything went to the cold box. I realized that I was lactose intolerant. To free up my mind, I started writing on my blog. When I joined back college, I started meditating to maintain my peace of mind. I was getting anxious and nervous about my future. The first company came (it was everyone’s dream company), I sat for the interview. I got placed. I was on cloud nine. Within a month, I received an email about my selection for IPTC Education Week in China. I had a paid vacation to China to look forward to. That semester I scored a 7 pointer, that was a dream come true. Haha.

2019 (Graduated from College: Sem – VIII and Started Working)

I again organized the technical festival in college. Then I went to Beijing, China for a week. I made a lot of friends around the world. One of my most cherished memory was eating Indian food with friends from four different nations in China. Nothing could get more international than that. And guess what, they loved the Indian food. By the way, my team was also the second runner-up for the group project competition that was part of IPTC Education Week. Saying goodbye to all those lovely people was the hardest. I knew my college days were numbered so I started to live each day to fullest. I would spend my time talking to my favourite people all day. Enjoying those last sips of Chai and last bites of Samosas that I was going to miss dearly when it will all be over. I spent a good amount of time this year at home. Often just reading books and talking to friends on phone. I was eagerly waiting for my joining letter. It eventually came in August. I was going to work on an offshore platform. I learned how to escape an underwater helicopter. I learned how to extinguish a fire, how to board a life raft, and how to sail a lifeboat. I jumped in the open sea (with a life jacket). I don’t know how to swim. I travelled to work in a helicopter. I spent a night in an unmanned platform playing cards. I couldn’t attend my convocation because of work, I had graduated with a gold medal. This year I read 60 books. These days I spend 2 weeks at work and 2 weeks with my family at home every month. I did try to start exercising this year but I failed.

It was my second shift at Tapti—an offshore gas production platform where I had started working. Anand, one of my college juniors and a friend had emailed me to ask how my life was going on? I wrote this email to explain to Anand how offshore was treating me so far.

Hi Anand,

Well, everything in life gets boring once you gain familiarity, it’s just about time. I am about to finish two weeks here at the platform and I have no clue how the time passed. When you are on board, away from your family, you are not really alone. You are detached from the outside world not because there is no way to engage, but because you get engaged with the inside world. You can always make calls to friends and family or keep in touch with emails. It’s only about the first day, and then you lose the urge to constantly look out for your phone or laptop. It’s a family all together and with time you get accustomed to its culture.

We start our day with a daily behavioural based safety meeting at 7 AM sharp. Here we discuss the checklists, observations, and jobs. I have to reach the control room by 8 AM after getting ready and having breakfast at the galley. Since I am new, the control room timings are a bit relaxed as of now. At the control room, I observe my seniors, read P&ID diagrams, read manuals or books, take field rounds and try to trace the pipelines, try to understand how things work. It might sound too much but honestly, everything is just chill, all my seniors in the control room are young AEEs, so they understand. Often we just sit there and talk, and gossip. On some days, unmanned trips are planned, a team has to go to the unmanned platform for well health checking or to do some testing. I have been to the unmanned platforms twice as of today. Both times the total trip took less than 3 hours including travel. The travel is done via chopper. I have heard that sometimes you have to stay for the night, I haven’t experienced that yet. But I think it would be good. Unmanned are really peaceful, you can hear the sound of the waves crashing on the platform jacket. On the contrary on the process platforms, compressors make nasty sounds. Again since for now, I am at the learning stage so I only have day duties. The best part is that I share my day with 3-4 more new GTs whom I have known from my initial joining days, good friendships have been formed. I rarely get time to be alone, and rarely the time to write such big emails, without anyone staring at my screen.

A control room has to remain manned 24 hours but as of now since I have no responsibility, I can technically go in/out of it anytime I want. Take as much break as I want. We break for lunch at about 12:15 PM and come back by 2:15 PM. Then we break for tea/coffee. Whenever we get bored, we all new GTs go to the pantry. It gets hard to see what you are putting inside your stomach because sometimes the food becomes the way to entertainment.

When we come back to the living quarters in the evening, which is usually after 7:30 PM (that’s when control room handing over is done) , we have TT Table, Carrom, GYM, Desktops, and Televisions (in all rooms) to amuse ourselves. I have my kindle with me so I prefer that. You’ll feel exhausted so naturally after changing and having dinner and some light conversations or emails, you’ll hit the bed, to be ready for the next day.

I hope I gave you a brief picture of my day, more details on call when I come back, haha. The crew change for ONGC happens on Sunday and Monday. Tomorrow some of my seniors are leaving, and I am feeling sad about that. I told you, you end up forming a bond with the people you surround yourself with. But it’s okay I’ll see them again after 21 days. I am coming back next Sunday, hopefully, if they don’t drop me because of my weight. It’s another kind of experience to travel via chopper over the sea, it takes me around 50 minutes to reach Mumbai.

I hope your exams went good. I hope your preparations are going awesome and that your mind is at peace. I wish you the best if you are about to sit for placements. Let me know how things are on your side.


The new sun is rising as I look outside my moving train window. There is something peculiar about train journeys, they bring out the writer in you. Especially the window seats. Suddenly, everything comes passing by, the thought train begins, with every building, with every tree, and with every farm passing by, you retrospect. Slow music playing in the background in your earphones is all you need more to make the entire travelling experience, more surreal.

Today, I am going to Jaipur. Don’t ask why. I am not here to write about my travel itinerary. Let’s talk about something that makes your mind stop and think. FOOD. Yes, let’s talk about food. I wanted to tell this story for a very long time (yes, three days is a long time if you have nothing specific to do) and finally, I feel like penning it down. I was hungry, well friends say, I always am. Maybe I should check with a doctor, a mental note added. So I was hungry and I was lazy and I was alone at home. Hey, has anyone told you about my excellent cooking skills? No? Great. There is nothing to hear about that. I can’t cook. I was alone at home. And I was hungry. I could have died that day out of starvation. But guess what I survived. Thanks to the greatest invention of this century, food delivery applications. Yes, they are life saviours, it’s high time we give them credit for what it’s worth. Where was I? Yes. Hungry. So one thing led to another and I was successful in placing an order for a White Cheese Pasta (for brevity let’s call it WCP from now) from a not so very famous restaurant. The screen showed that I can have my WCP in the next 25 minutes. It was a long time, but I could wait that long. Now all I had to do was distract myself from thinking about food and hunger for another 25 minutes. And so I did that by diving in the YouTube Marathon. From Taylor Swift’s new album to a European travel vlogger exploring streets of Delhi to stand-up comedy videos to hacks to stop procrastination, I watched it all. I thought my watch was over, so I looked at the phone. It had been about an hour since I placed the order, and my delivery agent still seem to wiggle around in streets somewhere far away from my home.

I was raged. Hunger can make a nice man go crazy. If you would have seen me that day, you’d know how exactly my condition was. The clock said that my WCP was another 20 minutes away. This was totally unacceptable. So I called the delivery agent, after practising how I was going to bash him for being so late in delivering my WCP. It ringed. And with every ring, my heartbeat rose. He did not pick up my call. How unprofessional I thought, but somewhere I was relieved. He gave me a reason, a piece of evidence they call it in the food delivery industry. I was angry just that my anxiety level came down knowing I don’t have to talk to him.

Honestly, the reason I prefer shopping online, booking tickets online, or ordering my food online is that it reduces human interaction. And human interactions give me chills. So I was happy he didn’t pick up my call, but I was angry because my WCP was still not here. I thought I should lodge a complaint against that guy. I can ruin his food delivery career I wondered. How dare he not deliver my WCP on time? I exactly knew how many stars I was going to give this guy.

I was interrupted by the sound of a thunderstorm. I checked my weather app, it was raining in the city. And just then I got a call from an unknown number. I picked up the call. The delivery guy was on the line. He said that he cannot come to my home because it has started to rain, he’s worried about his phone getting wet. He’s waiting at the nearby popular vegetable vendor. He said if I can come to pick it up from there. I said hell no, for a) I was alone at home, can’t lock and go, that would have been counterintuitive in the first place b) duh, it’s raining outside and c) why would I? It’s his responsibility to bring me food, that’s what he is getting paid for. So I told him, I don’t know, whether it rains or not, whether your phone goes bad because of water or not, put it inside your vehicle, somewhere cosy and come quickly to deliver. I hung up. I think he felt that I was angry and hungry. I thought now he’d just cancel on me and I will never have my WCP. My stomach & I almost cried. I thought, if he knew the weather was bad, then why did he not deliver early, why was he riding like crazy, wiggling around the wrong streets. I knew what he would say. He would say it’s the restaurant’s fault. They took too much time in preparing your WCP. Such a shame, such a shame that I would die of starvation in the century when the food is plenty and when my internet connection is working. I guess old folks are right when they say, never trust technology too much. My whole life was passing in front of my eyes, just like I see these farms and animals passing from my moving train window right now. Leaving things behind, I took a deep breath of gratitude. I held a comfortable position on my bed, adjusted my laptop, and waited for the death to come peacefully. Such a shame. What would tomorrow’s newspaper read? I wondered. What would my mother think of me? I wondered. I told myself, whatever my time was here on earth, it was good.

I am an atheist. I never believed in miracles. I believed in logic, and logic told me to die but death told me not today, and an atheist saw a miracle that day. I think it’s god’s way of making his presence felt. My phone rang, it was that same unknown number. He said, I cannot find you home, which turn should I take? I gave him the directions and stood on the main gate of home to personally receive my, by then must have been cold, WCP. I told him to come to the first left in the street in front of the hospital. He took the second left, I caught a glimpse of him, probably his delivery backpack. I called him and told him to come back. He did but what I saw made my mind stop and think. He came on a scooter with four wheels and two sticks to assist him to walk. And suddenly, my every thought, every word, every act came passing by just like I see things passing by from my moving train window. I felt sorry and I felt terrible for being an, for being an asshole. He stopped in front of my house finally. He told me to take out my WCP from his delivery backpack. No delivery agent, in my entire life, has ever let me see inside his backpack. That was really kind of him and trustful. I could have taken as many food parcels as I wanted but I didn’t and I couldn’t because there was only one food parcel, my WCP. Anyway, I was touched. The WCP was worth Rs 120 delivery included. I gave him Rs 200. He said, I don’t have a change, this is my first delivery, and probably last. I went inside to bring change, but halfway through inside. I turned around. I went to him and handed over that Rs 200 note to him. He said God bless you. There was nothing more I could say other than hope that he keeps delivering food to hungry souls.

Was the WCP worth the wait? I can’t say, but it definitely saved my life that day. I am not exaggerating. My moving train took a halt.

To All Those Who Listen:

For a wrinkle of time, when the eyes are all on you, the stage is all yours, and everyone’s quiet. It’s then when you speak, you feel as if you are trying to stay afloat in deep waters.

The effervescent eyes of your listeners make you feel understood. You introspect. To reassure they are still there and the moment is not lost, you ask, am I making sense to you? Are you still following me?

In those brief moments when someone is truly listening to you, you feel heavenly. You know you can swim no matter how deep the water is. You know you’ll just be fine because someone is listening to you. And that’s the power of a genuine listener.

Do you still feel it’s easy to listen? Well, abracadabra.

– From All Those Who Speak.

Dear Ramona

Dear Ramona,

We honour the dead with a cherry tree in our regiment. The tradition is an old one. In the cherry blossoms, we see the bravery and courage of our brothers. Above all, we see our fortune. Life is about inches, isn’t it Ramona? An inch here or there and I could have been a cherry tree. Yes, it would be a beautiful death, but for heaven’s sake, I’d never trade it with your company, no matter how pinkish cherry blossom I will be.

Albert was killed three weeks ago. I planted a cherry tree for him, its just a twig now, but its only three weeks and I miss him so much. He was like a brother to me, and he was just a few inches away from me when they started firing. I couldn’t save him, Ramona. He kept groaning in pain and in trenches we had no one for his ease. His last words to me were, ‘write-home’. I told him that I will but what do I write Ramona? How do I tell his wife? How do I tell his young son that his father is the youngest cherry tree now? How do I overcome the fear that someday you’d read a letter like that and I’d be a cherry tree? How do I live knowing that three weeks ago I was standing in my lucky inches?

I know what your answer would be, thinking about that makes me laugh. You’d say that you would kill me if you found that I’m flirting around in heaven. How can you kill the dead, I would say and we’d both laugh like children. How I love being around you Ramona. I can’t wait to hold you in my arms again.

I’ll be on the frontline tomorrow for the first time. Shall I tell you a secret? Don’t tell anyone, I’m so scared but I’m pretending that it’s all cool. Do you remember our teacher told us to look for courage inside us? How wrong was he, ever since Albert has died, I don’t feel as courageous as I used to be. So I go and see the cherry blossoms, they give me courage. Or I look at your photograph. If I ever see our teacher again then I’ll tell him that courage is not inside us, it’s around us. If I do not return tomorrow then you’ll find this letter in the woods of my cherry tree. I promise I won’t flirt around in heaven, I promise to wait for you. Hug the tree, and I’ll feel loved.

Yours and Only Yours,

As she finished reading the letter tears rolled down from her eyes. She hugged his cherry tree forever. She felt the courage. She knew what she was going to tell Albert’s wife and son. Their husbands are the youngest cherry trees, indeed. Someday they’ll be a symbol of courage to many soldiers. The courage that’s all around us.

I have been meditating from last 45 days and here are a few things I’ve learned about the mind:

1. It is extremely difficult to be in solitude doing nothing, thinking nothing. Human mind invents ways to keep itself busy: daydreaming, scrolling the newsfeed, reading a book, talking to friends, working on a thesis, building a business or any other activity that we do we are always inventing ways to avoid ourselves. This is probably the reason we have achieved so much as a species because we are always doing something.

2. When I try to focus and not think anything particular I end up thinking about my insecurities. When I let my mind free and let it do what it wants to do, it does nothing and stares at me the abyss.

3. You cannot stop thoughts no matter how hard you try. It’s like putting a dam on a flowing river or holding your breath, in the end, it will burst. What you can rather do is observe your thoughts as they come and go. Don’t chase your thoughts, let them come and let them go. Make a note of how you does that make you feel.

4. Do not chase your thoughts or indulge in thought-trains. Imagine you are on a highway and you see cars blazing by provoking you. You can choose to run behind those cars, trying to get hold of the situation, dwelling too deep. Or. You can just decide to sit on a cornerstone with both your hands holding up your face and observe how those cars come and go.

5. As a part of the exercise, I was asked to make a mental note whenever I was about to sit down or stand up just before I was going to do that. If I could do that two-three times a day I would have been successful. I could do that exactly zero times in the last 45 days. Sounds so simple, yet so tough to be mindful.

Note: I have taken a break lately. I want to start meditating again. It’s an amazing tool for self-reflection. I’m using the Headspace app.

I read the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. I found the lessons to be enlightening. I could think about all those times when I was tricked by a salesman. Reflecting I realized it’s an important skill for everyone to learn. In our interactions every day we keep getting influenced and we keep influencing.

So here are major pillars of influence:

Social Proof: People will do things that they see other people are doing. For example, in one experiment, one or more accomplices would look up into the sky; the more accomplices the more likely people would look up into the sky to see what they were seeing. At one point this experiment aborted, as so many people were looking up, that they stopped traffic.

Scarcity: Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying offers are available for a “limited time only” encourages sales.

Liking: People are easily persuaded by other people that they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware–people were more likely to buy if they liked the person selling it to them. Some of the many biases favouring more attractive people are discussed.

Reciprocity: People tend to return a favour. Thus, the pervasiveness of free samples in marketing.

Commitment and Consistency: If people agree to make a commitment toward a goal or idea, they are more likely to honour that commitment. However, if the incentive or motivation is removed after they have already agreed, they will continue to honour the agreement. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because the buyer has already decided to buy.

Authority: People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts.

In a few days, Christmas bells will be ringing, but this is not a story about Christmas. This is a story about what Christmas brings. The feeling of belonging and flowers.

Ana sells flowers on the 37th Street of New York. She says that single stems and custom bouquets are her specialities, but I have never bought flowers from her, so I can’t vouch. However, every time I bring her a single stem of Tulip from Rockefeller Centre, she blushes. Who gives flowers to a florist? She says, and I would defend myself by saying, everyone should.

She spends her days giving flowers to strangers with a smile on her face. They would pay her, but I know that is not why she does it. It is her mission to fill the loneliest corners with flowers. Flowers bring serenity, she told me. I grabbed my phone to google what it meant. Serenity meant calmness. I must have come across this word while I was preparing for GRE. I must have, but time fades away the memories. It has been three years since I finished my Ph.D. and joined as an assistant professor at New York University. Now, when I meet Ana, I always greet her with a single stem of Tulip. Just like her, even I want to fill the world’s loneliest corners with flowers. The corners of our hearts that pretend to be happy.

Ana was raised in foster care. She had a lonely childhood that she seldom wants to talk about. On the inside, no matter how much I deny, it has been a lonely life for me as well in this foreign land. The coldness can make you numb. The weather comes and goes, but a hundred thousand people living around you that make no notice of your existence can leave you cold from inside.

Life is crazy in New York. Everyone is running behind their dreams, and nobody has got time for anybody. And then there is Ana. On my first day in New York, when I was unable to find my way to the university, it was Ana whose eyes rested on mine. It was the morning before Christmas, and she made sure that I reach where I belong. She locked her store and showed me the way. She said to me, no one should be lost & lonely, no one should be parted from where they belong. Thousands of miles away from home, I felt at home because of Ana. I felt belonged because of Ana. The next day was Christmas, so I bought a single stem of Tulip from the Rockefeller Centre and gave it to Ana. She said, who gives flowers to a florist? I said, everyone should.

For years Ana has been a part of my life. I see her every day. Every evening I make sure to bring a single stem of Tulip from Rockefeller Centre for Ana. Who buys the flowers for the florist from the florist herself? Not me.

Newspapers read that this was the coldest Christmas in the history of New York. Although this had nothing to do with my story.

A bro never bothers with pleasantry. That’s just how the bros and their bromances are. Bros usually find it tough to show that they care, it’s not that they don’t. They do, probably more than we expect them to. Behind the cursing, taunting, pranking, calling names, and never being able to say sorry or thank you, there is a lot of care that gets no attention.

Tell me, isn’t it tough to ask someone, ‘how are you doing?‘. Even more tough to prove that you really mean it. That’s why bros never ask that. They hate doing tough things. Their systems are programmed for minimum efforts. It’s not that they don’t care, just that their way of showing is different. A bro might ask his bro for a cuppa tea or a walk down the alley to the markets. And it goes without saying, a bro must never refuse. That’s how they tell they are doing fine. A bro will always accompany his bro for the walk, for all walks of life, that’s the rule of the land.

A bro will never tell you how much you mean to him, he’ll just ask you for a walk.

So when your bro refuses to go on a walk with you, let me tell you this straight bud, it’s not your bro’s fault. He is not the one who has broken the rule. You have. There are a lot of things one might not understand about bros, this is just one of them. At times we fail to comprehend our bros, we are humans before we are bros after all. Humans like making mistakes but bros don’t know how to say, ‘I’m sorry‘. Basic Courtesy is a course they could never clear backlog of. So they never actually apologise to their bro. Maybe because bros know that no words are enough.

Whenever a bro will seek forgiveness from his bro, he’ll ask for help. If the help is given, it means that the bro has forgiven otherwise there is still time for wounds to heal. More often than not, bros end up helping. They can’t help that’s their nature. That’s just how their systems have been programmed. To tell you the truth, bros are men of few words. That is the reason you won’t find sonnets on bromances. There was never a need. It’s not that bros are unapologetic. It’s just that they know that no apology would be enough. They know that they cannot beg for forgiveness so they ask for help.

A bro will never tell you how sorry he is, he’ll just ask you for a help.

So when your bro refuses to help you, let me tell you this straight bud, keep patience, it’s not over yet. Your bro will never ask you to wait but he’ll come back. Say what you like about bros but it can take an eternity to understand what makes a bro, a bro. Isn’t it needy to ask your bro to wait? Bros are anything but needy. At least they will never want to appear needy. So they’ll never ever ask you to wait. They won’t even give you a hint. Sometimes they’ll do their best to prove to you that they don’t need you. They’ll ask you to go away and never come back. But just when you are gone, they’ll look outside for their bro. Most often than not, their bro would be patiently waiting outside. A bro will always wait for his bro till eternity they say.

I still fail to comprehend how do they get these hints. From where do they learn the bro-science. Where do they teach you these skills? I think that’s just how bros are programmed to be. Why hasn’t someone written a manual on being a bro, I wonder? Nonesuch can be written, said, my bro. He’s right.

A bro will never tell you to wait, but he’ll look outside for you. His bro will always be waiting.

A bro knocked on my door, banged it to be accurate and said, ‘come let us go for a walk, I want to try out the new kebab shop‘. And it goes without saying, I could never refuse for a walk to my bro, that’s the rule of the land.

Next time when you see your bro, tell him that you care. No, wait. Just ask him for a walk or a cuppa tea. He’ll understand. If you ever end up hurting your bro and he refuses to go on a walk with you, which is of course very bad on your part. Make your bro feel important, ask for his help. If your sins are forgivable, he will help but if he doesn’t remember to wait outside. Always. That’s pretty much all you need to know about bros and their bromances.

Even now when sometimes no one is around I will sit at the corner, take out her photograph from the deep pockets of my wallet, and will stare at her, marvelling,  for hours without blinking. And sometimes when I lose hold of all my emotions I will hit the road to visit her. She would always be there, waiting patiently only for me. Ana is the only florist in the town. I’ll take the finest flowers for her, always. Daffodils. She loves daffodils. I know the reason why. I could never appreciate poetry but she said poems are like life, always open to interpretation. She said life in itself is meaningless, it is us who assign it a meaning. Just like poems, sometimes all that the poet means is that the sky is freaking blue. I remember, she would take me to the open fields and sing out loud:

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

And all I would do is keep looking at her and when she would notice me do that, I would pretend to look at the blue sky.

I knew she would be there, where else she could go. She always looks me into the eye when I see her but she never talks these days. Back then, she would tell me about the latest book she had been reading or would start singing out poetry in her majestic voice with animations related to what’s she had been thinking lately. I would try to reciprocate via another poetry but I would fumble and fail. She would laugh like a child. She learned over time that I do that on purpose. After all, it’s only her who told me that life in itself is meaningless, it is us who assign it meaning and I found the meaning of my life in her happiness. I think she’s giving me a silent treatment. Like you do to your loved ones when they hurt you but you want them to notice it first without you having to tell. It’s a punishment for not paying enough attention. But I know, she isn’t that kind of person. She’s the kind of person I want to be.

The sky was blue. The sun was shining. The golden daffodils were ravishing to reach her. She kept looking at me without saying a word. I kept smiling with every step I took. I looked once at the blue sky and then I looked at her. I kept the flowers on her gravestone caressing tenderly. She would always be there, waiting patiently only for me. Beneath the blue sky wandering lonely as a cloud, a host of golden daffodils and the meaning of my life rests in peace.

Outside the Window

While I was always looking outside the window for the rainbows when it rained, all the colours were right there within me.

I thought I’d be the happiest man once I’ll have that job, car or girlfriend. It’s not that our thoughts are delusional but rather we are conditioned to be delusional when we are taught to pursue happiness. As if one can, as if one has to be entitled to be happy, as if one has to deserve to be happy.

Televisions are busy selling us happiness. Friends keep telling where to find it. Society defines what happiness is. From the day we born we are asked to pursue it relentlessly. We believe that someday we will be happy and for that day we must make sacrifices today. We let our hearts ache and we leave our mind on wars that were never meant to be fought in the first place. Even if we end up achieving the goals that society has set for us. Even after getting what we were pursuing. When the burst of dopamine subsides we realize that happiness is still far away. While in reality, it was always around in form of companionship, in form of joyful work, in forms that we wish it to be. Happiness is always around and it is always a choice that we can make to ourselves. Happiness was never meant to be pursued. It was meant to be ensued.

Probably that’s why I didn’t feel happy when I got the job or when I bought a brand new car. While I was always looking outside the window for the rainbows when it rained, all the colours were right there within me. It was already past midnight but I was still awake. Unusual for someone like me, even though my eyes were burning my hands wanted to write what I wanted to say.

Happiness is a choice.

You can choose to be happy.

Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue.

I will not let anyone or anything take away my happiness from me. It’s my decision and I shall guard it against my life. 

I will not look for it outside the window. 

Honestly, at the end of the day all that matters is that are you happy?

Are you happy?

She is a heterogeneous and anisotropic reservoir. Fractured and faulted whose pores are saturated with multiple phases. All the odds have always stacked against her. Even her cohesion has long remained a question yet she never has perished. She is a complex process, not a supercomputer can simulate. A book that is unputdownable. A story that has been told, retold and untold by different narrators time after time. She is unprecedented in her approach and way of life. She isn’t about sharing the common history and the common geography. She is a concoction. She is a conundrum. She is a concept. She is India. Not a country she is for the forces that make a country has remained far away from her. Her nature is not permeable to conventional ideas; man she is difficult to handle and difficult to understand.

Therefore in schools I believe, they should teach a subject called India. India is not a country but a concept. Concept weaved by the great men and women who took birth on her soil, who toiled her soil, and for whom she bored all her fruits. The thing about concepts is that they need to be beautifully explained, otherwise they lead to confusion. And history has taught us well what a bunch of confused people can do. Without a doubt, the standard textbook for this subject should be The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru. His articulation of the concept India is should be read by every Indian. Not only has he articulated it well but also he has envisioned it.

A subtle twist in the history, a butterfly flapping her wings somewhere, would have changed the entire course. An evil thought in the minds of her leaders would have resulted in catastrophe. The gift we have today of distinct unity and diversity would have been snatched away and India would have turned into a country and her concept would have been forgotten.

Indian freedom struggle was a gift for the future. It wasn’t only about getting rid of the imperial rule, rather it was a quest for the meaning India would possess. It was about understanding this woman and learning to love her despite all her faults and fractures. Despite the fact that she wasn’t exclusive to one phase. Despite the fact that she wasn’t perfect but full of heterogeneity and disharmonies. The freedom struggle was about finding the melodies in her sounds and making peace with her smell.

Happy Independence Day.

I was home for the last two summer months. While lazing, reading, and eating in that time I gained a lot, although only the weight would be apparently visible. Now it’s time to pack my bags and bid goodbyes but goodbyes are hard, no one knows how to say them, especially to the loved one. They bring out melancholy blues. The feeling you get when the party is over.

Amazing right.

When you look at time as an onlooker, it looks like a snail but when you are the end, it turns out to be a cheetah who is caressing, clawing and crushing on the memories you just made. It tries hard to fade them away and you try hard to collect but in the end, the cheetah always wins. Time is such an arbitrary concept. Although the clock always moves at the linear speed time shrinks and expands. Even if the clock is not ticking, time keeps moving. It is there and yet it is not. It is omnipotent and yet it is yours. It’s a cheetah and it’s a snail.

But unlike the time I can come back. My goodbyes are not permanent unless my time has come. So I will come back again and again until my time calls. To be lazy again. To read again. To eat the food prepared by the best chef in the world, my mother, again. I’m going to come back.

Until then I bid goodbye to home.

This summer was a cheetah that looked like a snail.

Bus Not Taken

I stood there under the sun for the Volvo bus meanwhile nine ordinary buses arrived and departed. I boarded none. Those were nine opportunities for me to reach my destination but I decided to wait for the most comfortable one. And now sitting in the Volvo, flipping the pages of Arvid Adiga’s The White Tiger in my Kindle, I wonder. What if this bus would never have arrived? What matters more to the man? The end or The means? I choose the easiest means because I could. When the world only glorifies the man who reached his end does the mean really matter?

The nine buses that I had not taken didn’t go empty. Many dreamers boarded them with the hope of reaching their end. How am I different from them? We all reached our end only our means were different.

The point I’m trying to make is that often in life we skip opportunities for the right one. The reality is that there are no right opportunities. We keep waiting for that right one while letting all others slide. For some this waiting is worth cherishing and for some, well.

Bus Not Taken in a funny accent.

If you like tea, Girish, but l gives you coffee. What do you do?

I don’t know, maybe I’ll just drink coffee then.

No. You don’t just drink coffee. You savour it Girish. Let the caffeine do its magic. You can waste all you time longing for the tea, but that would just make your coffee cold. If you savour your coffee instead, Girish, you’ll be able to feel its texture and enjoy its smoothness. You’ll learn to differentiate between Cappuccino, Latte, and Espresso. You’ll find yourself sitting in Starbucks reading your next favourite novel or sipping coffee in a German Café on the bank of Ganga in Rishikesh. If you just drink coffee Girish then a lot of what this cup of coffee has to offer you will remain disguised.

I looked at my cup of coffee and then looked at him. Life is all about savouring your coffee and forgetting tea, he said.

The Power of Habit

A retrospection on the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg or How I Tricked my Brain to Develop Reading Habit?

Before reading the book The Power of Habit, I never gave a conscious thought over the effect habits have on our lives, how they are formed, and most importantly how they can be changed?

Our brains are complex machines but fortunately, it’s not Gates (Microsoft) but God who has designed its software. Habits are a mechanism by which our brains can perform trivial tasks without hanging. They reduce the computational overhead and save some brain effort. Remember your brain is lazier than you are and its only goal in life is to keep you alive.

Take for example the simple act of brushing your teeth. The intricate steps involved look simple to your brain because now they have been ingrained as a habit. The entire process now requires so little brain effort that you can actually plan your entire day or rerun the last night’s conversation while brushing your teeth. Try making your little niece brush her teeth once and you’ll understand what I’m saying.

So how are habits formed? Well. Left to its own whims, the brain will try to make almost any routine into a habit, because as I mentioned habits allow our minds to ramp down more often.

Last month while I was at Ahmedabad I started drinking soda every night after dinner. It initially started out as a social activity where we friends would sit to dissipate the fizz but eventually, it became a habit. Now even if there were no friends, my brain required soda. Similar is the story of all social drinkers and those who only smoke when they drink.

An interesting and powerful framework is introduced by the author to understand habits. The Habit Loop.

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This process, of habit, within our brains, is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future.

Over time, this loop—cue, routine, reward; cue, routine, reward—becomes more and more automatic. The cue and reward become intertwined until a powerful sense of anticipation and craving emerges.

When a habit emerges, the brain stops fully participating in decision making. It stops working so hard, or diverts focus to other tasks. So unless you deliberately fight a habit—unless you find new routines—the pattern will unfold automatically.

So how to change habits? Simple. Change the habit loop.

Now let’s understand how I tricked my brain to develop the reading habit? Simple. I employed The Habit Loop. Unknowingly and Retrospectively. It was only due to the newly developed reading habit that I ended up reading the book The Power of Habit that made me understand probably why I was successful.

It started with realizing the need for reading. But to read books you got to have books around you all the time. Something I could never adjust due to my schedule and social circle. I knew I spend a good amount of my time in front of screen consuming random material to fill myself. Last summer when I was home, I would endlessly read answers on Quora. I knew I had an appetite.

From past six months, I was wondering about buying a Kindle (Amazon’s e-Reader). And finally, I did. The cue was ready. Every time I looked at the Kindle it reminded me of the fortune I’ve spent being a student. I started carrying the Kindle to everywhere I went.

To establish the reward for the process I signed in on GoodReads and took a reading challenge. With every book read, I was one step closer. I proclaimed it everywhere that I am into reading now, this developed a sort of social pressure that was always missing. Now I was being judged in my own eyes if I was not reading enough.

And with a stroke cue and reward were in place and reading a 400-page book became the part of an effortless routine. What once seemed daunting was now something I’d long for.

Now I don’t suggest purchasing a Kindle at all. Rather what I point at is identifying and executing cue & reward so that a routine can form. For someone a stained book would do the trick and for someone joining a book club. The habits are a personal part of our lives and must be personally embraced, formed, and kept check off.

A habit can be a curse or a blessing. And only you have the wand to cast it.

Oceans remain unmoved despite all the tides and waves until a tsunamis hit them.

That was the first night I couldn’t sleep, but when I woke up I saw my father staring at the newspaper and smiling. He kept on circling my roll number on the paper, for him his son was about to be a doctor. Mother was so ecstatic that she forgot to cook that day but you know what your grumpy old grandpa wasn’t grumpy that day. I gave my first premedical attempt in 1989 Hima, this was eleven years before you were born. Your grandmother still has that newspaper in her closet and in your grandpa’s wallet, you’ll still find the wriggled bill of the restaurant where we dinned that day.

Do you always wanted to become a doctor, said Hima with glistening eyes.

I want to serve. It gives me pain to see someone suffer. I want to ease the diseased. Every time father took me to temple, I would only pray to god to eradicate poverty and suffering, but growing up I have realized we all have a ration for suffering.

What stopped you Dad? What stopped you from living your dream? asked Hima.

It turned out that my roll number on the newspaper was a result of a printing mistake. We went to Delhi to inquire and complain but our pleas were unheard, just like my pleas were unheard in the temple. Exactly four years later few officials were caught running a scam of changing roll numbers, who knows if I was one of their victims. My mother and I could dissipate our agonies with tears but my father, my father had to suffer the pain in solitary. I’m telling you Hima, fathers are often misunderstood as strong and vain but in truth, they are the most emotionally venerable beings.

We were transferred from Ajmer to Jodhpur and I had joined an undergraduate course in Biology. I started preparing again. I loved solving problems. I don’t remember the exact margin but I could not make it through either the second time and nor the third time Hima, he said rather rudely.

But I want to give it another try, I cannot abort without trying, that would be a pity. Your daughter is not pitiful, is she? Hima was firm and confident, she knew she had to convince Prashant, her father, for another attempt. She knew that all the odds stacked against her but she was a fierce fighter, unfortunately, Prashant knew the scars of a lost battle makes for a disdained life. He loves his daughter much to see her suffer his fate, of which he was certain.

I will not allow you to waste crucial years of your life in pursuit of an intangible dream. Hope is a dangerous thing and seeing your performance in your first attempt I don’t have that either. I’m happy with my life serving the nation as a civil servant. I’m sure you’d also find something meaningful. I don’t want you to stop like a stagnant lake, I want you to flow like a river and never stop, until one day you meet your ocean. Even before Prashant could gasp Hima was ready with her reply.

But you are my ocean, my everything. I have nowhere to go. I dream your dreams. Your opinions inspire mine. I look up to you for all the big fights in my life and even today I’m looking to you. I want to fight once more dad. I don’t want to give up on my dreams, your dreams, said Hima tearing up.

Prashant just kept staring at his daughter, my ocean, he indeed was named after the largest ocean, where else could her daughter go if not for him. Who else could she look for support if not for him?

I want to try again father and I’m not afraid of failing again. I’ll learn to live with the scars of failure but it the scar of desertion I can’t live with. I know I cannot ease the diseased without suffering myself first. I don’t want to become a doctor to fulfil your dream. I want to become a doctor to serve. I’m ready to be a stagnant lake if you are ready to be my ocean.

Oceans remain unmoved despite all the tides and waves, so was Prashant. Emotions were rupturing but he stood unshakable like the Pacific on the globe.

Hima you don’t understand the real world. It’s very competitive out there and I don’t want you to feel miserable once you fail. Talking is easy, any fool can do it. You don’t know what it takes. The endless turmoil of labour without the certainty of success. You don’t know what it feels to be labelled a failure all your life. The boy who could never become a doctor, the boy who missed the bus on the mark. You don’t know what it takes to give up on your dreams Hima so you better listen to me and do what as I say.

Then show me what it takes? cried Hima with anger this time.

You want to know what it takes, I’ll show you today, said Prashant has he stormed out from the room towards the closet he hasn’t opened in years. He never would, for it reminded him of his raw dream. He came back with the mark sheet of his third attempt. His best attempt. His last attempt.

See. What do you see? Compare it and compensate it for your results, that’s what it takes and you still remain a failure Hima.

Hima couldn’t stop marvelling at her father, her 35.2% aggregate was peanuts in front of her father 83.7% aggregate and her 254987 rank died of shyness in front of her father’s 137 rank. Hima couldn’t stop blushing, she kept looking at the piece of paper her father called his failure. To her, it was an inspiration.

In the moment, you wouldn’t believe, her tears ran up her checks and back to her eyes. Yes her smile was that wide and bright. Prashant was perplexed but he couldn’t help but smile seeing his daughter smile.

Dad, I want you to continue the story. Tell me about your last attempt, said Hima in her most feminine voice ever.

What is there to say? I gave my best and waited to be wretched again. And here I’m a civil servant and not a doctor.

But how is that possible dad? You scored the 137th rank in the state, questioned Hima.

Dad, how many seats you think they had in medical colleges in your time?

There were four colleges in Rajasthan, so around 600 seats give and take, said Prashant unaware of his daughters intent.

That means there were 300 seats for general students, factoring in the reservation and you secured 137th rank, said Hima. She was just going crazy, unable to contain herself from unfolding the mystery.

But I never received any communication, nothing in the newspaper, nothing in the mailbox. I just kept waiting, or probably I was so certain of my fate that I gave up without even trying, said Prashant as every next word was less loud than the last while he was trying to recollect past.

You must have attended the counselling, said Hima, otherwise how would they allot you a college.

Prashant was dumbstruck. He couldn’t believe that he gave up on his dream without even trying. He couldn’t believe that he was so ignorant that he ignored to attend the counselling that was held in Jaipur in the spring of 1991. They kept calling Mr Prashant Mehta, rank 137 please visit the registration desk on the microphone but the boy never showed up. The boy had deserted despite winning the battle.

But the war was not lost, how could he lose the war when his daughter was holding the baton. A tsunami of emotions was going inside him and he knew what he would say to his daughter when the clouds break away. His daughter was not a deserter, she was a warrior.

A Tragic Attempt at Comedy

A million voices may hymn the same rhyme but you must keep your tune. 

Every year in my school’s calendar we had a dedicated Science Week. Exhibitions, Book Stalls, Awareness Programs, Competitions, Events, Panel Discussions were held. There was a segment on the last day where ingenuine science questions were discussed, kind of questions you would not find answers to easily in books. I think they called it The Question Hour. I totally made that name up.

A decorated box was kept outside the staff room a week prior. Anyone could submit their question, the best ones would be taken up for the discussion.

See I was a high school junior back then majoring in science, I was least interested. Since I had already fallen into the trap and I wasn’t particularly as one would call it, a happy customer. We all have devil’s advocates in our lives, in my school, he appeared in form of my physics teacher. The subject I despised most. He made it compulsory for the entire class to come up with a thought-provoking question. That day’s attendance depended on a creased paper scribbled with ink screaming science.

And so we all took out a notebook, tore a page, and with pens twisted in hair or chewed by teeth started thinking of one such question. In one of his lectures a few months back this thought occurred to me, only if I could sleep with my eyes open? What a bliss it would be. So as a form of mockery, the comedian inside me wrote on the paper, ‘Can humans sleep with eyes open?‘.

When I showed it to my friends all of them laughed, as I expected. It takes a different kind of creativity to come up with such questions, I think I had a flare back then. There was one thing I was sure of that this question would never be taken up for the discussion. With a grin, I slipped the folded paper into the box.

Everyone was in the auditorium, the stage was set with a dais occupied by the chief guest, school principal, and subject experts. My physics teacher was about to host the highly awaited event, The Question Hour.

A question was being read and the panel discussing on it trying to convince the asker. Everyone certainly had a follow-up question. At times the microphone was directed towards the audience to answer. And really some of the questions were really ingenuine. The ones I remember fondly were, ‘Why do some people sleepwalk?‘ and ‘Why do me have moles?‘. There were some questions on space and quantum mechanics too but they never caught my fancy, thanks to my physics teacher. While this went on for a while, I kept talking to my friends unaware of my own prospects.

Girish Joshi has asked ‘Can humans sleep with eyes open?‘ announced the physics teacher, ‘Certainly, he’s not enjoying my lectures‘. There was uninterrupted sheer laughter. Everyone was roaring as if they have heard the joke of the century. I felt awesome. I knew I have a career in comedy.

The principal started saying, ‘There is no need to laugh, it’s an intelligent question indeed. The best one till now I must say.‘ I thought the principal was just extending the joke but then the panel started answering my question with at most sincerity. I still felt it was a practical joke on me, trying to control the laughs myself I pretended as if I was invested in them. They said there is a disease in which the patient has to sleep with their eyes open. It’s possible. The answer to that question did not matter to me that day. What struck me at the core was the fact, a million voices may hymn the same rhyme but you must keep your tune.

That question was awarded the best question award. You see that was when I decided that prospects look better in engineering than comedy.

Alas, I could never learn how to sleep with my eyes open.

Next time when someone tells you what a Giraffe sounds like. Don’t trust your friend, visit the zoo. Watch around, learn from others experiences too but not their beliefs.

As a kid I asked my father, why should I not fear ghosts? He said since you have never seen one, there is no reason to fear. They simply don’t exist, and perchance if you find one, tell it about your father. His confidence was enough to shoo away all my fears but there was a subconscious lesson he taught me that day. He taught me to believe only what I can see. When I look back today I think that lesson got sunk somewhere only to rise up again today when I saw the movie, ‘Ankhon Dekhi’.

I’ll be honest, there was a reason that lesson could not float. I believed what made my life easy and simple, and not what I saw and understood. I believed because that gave me an illusion to live with. That I know how things work. That I know that lions roar. That I know how it feels when the cold wind blows on your face. That I know how revolutions end. That I know how miserable life is. That I know there can never be two consecutive nights. That I know everything will work out. That I know there will be another day.

I knew nothing. I believed everything. It wasn’t my truth that I was living with but the truth I was told and I chose to believe. There is a lie in believe, do you know why? Because when you start believing, you stop questioning. When you stop questioning, there are no answers. When there are no answers, there is silence. There is nothing to find, know, and learn. Since you believe in everything; there is nothing to go out and experience. Isn’t such a life only a lie? Aren’t we all living such a life?

I cannot say that for you, because I don’t know you. That would be believing. I want to question. I want to reason. I want to experience it. What happens if we all stop believing?

Next time when someone tells you what a Giraffe sounds like. Don’t trust your friend, visit the zoo. Watch around, learn from others experiences too but not their beliefs. Because belief is a lie we tell ourselves to comfort. Believe what you see and experience for yourself and not others. Let them have their own experiences, their own beliefs, their own truths. Let them find a perfect shoe for themselves and you find one for yourself.

Be ready to be mocked and disdained because they won’t like it when you don’t believe in things as they do. Try being a misfit for a while and believe me (please don’t) they won’t be able to ignore you. After all, hasn’t this world been shaped by non-believers? Gallio never believed the earth was flat. Jobs never believed that computers were only meant for businesses. Elon never believed that humans are only meant to live on earth. What is stopping you from not believing? It’s fear. Fear of not knowing. Fear of being in the dark. Fear to reason everything up from first principles. Give away this fear and stop believing, and start experiencing. There are no ghosts.

Ankhon Dekhi is one such soul-stirring story of a man who decides to believe only what he has seen. Although ridiculed by the family and friends he holds his ground in his pursuit to experience what he hasn’t seen. He finds his own beliefs and steps into his own shoes.  The movie starts with the protagonist narrating about him living his dream. He’s flying. He can feel the wind blowing on his face. He takes us to the flashback to tell his tale. How he gave upon believing what he hasn’t seen. Highly inspirational flick or was it? Because the movie ends with him jumping off from a cliff.

Don’t believe me, just watch the movie.

The Beatles fans would know where this is coming from.

Strawberry Fields Forever.

Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.

As Lennon would sing, ‘It’s getting hard to be someone but it all works out.

I’m just using these lines to set up the premise of what I was wanting to say for a long time. About my thoughts on living with eyes closed, living the life of an ignorant. In a world that is opinionated and dogmatic, living with some open-mindedness.

Recently a railway station was rebaptized in India. My friends started putting forth their opinions. One said it’s for symbolism, symbols are needed for societies to sustain and glorify history. The other one said, but this would only provoke unrest and bring communal disharmony. The debate got furious, accusations and blames were made. They vs Us dynamics was established. Past references were brought up. Religions were pinpointed. Nasty opinions were enforced. Meanwhile, I stood and stared. They asked for my opinion. I kept silent.

Another day while I was scrolling through the Quora feed, I came across a discussion on the increasing population of Muslims in India. I could hear dogma screaming in solidarity. I could sense fear in their tone. When they asked for my opinion. I kept silent and scrolled ahead.

Indian mythology taught me that names are powerful. The name Ram commands respect and honour. If you carve Ram on a stone, it would float. I thought it was a myth, but then I saw governments floating and drowning. I saw leaders spending all their might to build Ram Temple while million of homeless kids were starving while living an illiterate and unhealthy life. No one talked of building hospitals, schools, and kitchens. Elections in my country were never fought on these issues. They asked for my opinion. I kept silent.

Someone was lynched in my country a few years back over some pity and piety issue. A lot of writers came forward and returned their awards in form of protest. Instead of questioning the mob, they questioned writers. There was a debate, and this time I was part of it. In conclusion, I said.

Workers protest by putting their tools down.

Doctors protest by putting their stethoscopes down.

Soldiers protest by putting their arms down.

Mobs protest by putting their peace down.

Writers protest by putting their pens down.

When are we putting our dogmas and opinions down?

There were claps and frowned faces. We could win the debate but not people. I kept silent thereafter. They talked of building temples, infusing hatred, instilling fear, and renaming a railway station. I kept silent.

Humans have this overwhelming habit of believing in something. As a part of our survival instinct that probably comes from evolution. We love creating societies and communities, and they have been instrumental in our growth as a species. We believe in what we see, what we hear, and what we understand.

We see what we are shown by the media.

We hear what we are told by the government.

We understand what is simple as religion.

Religion is simple because it preaches the concept of good and evil. Religion reconciles our notion of They vs Us. Us are elites, righteous, and good. They are evil, demonic, and satan. Us feels united because They exist. If They are not there, there is no Us.

Media constantly tells you about the dangers of They. How They are growing in numbers. How They will take away your freedom. How we must stop They. Making you feel the fear is real, the danger is real, and Us must unite.

Us should unite for what? Why should Us fear? So they vote for the government that promises to protect Us from They. Only this government thinks of Us. Only this government can save Us.

This is the narrative that we are told.

I was watching a stand-up comedy show and the comedian asked, ‘If there wouldn’t have been Pakistan, would you still feel patriotic?’.

Interesting question. I asked myself when do I feel most patriotic?

War Time.

When do you feel most religious?

War Time. Bonds grow stronger when you are told that there is a devious enemy out there to ruin you. They are growing in number. They’ll take your country from you. Religions grow and prosper on They vs Us. TRPs rise on They vs Us. Governments are formed on They vs Us.

When I say living with eyes closed. I don’t ask you to be blind, hold your vision and see beyond. All I’m saying is not to accept what you are told. Don’t believe what you see and what you hear. Things going around are a part of a narrative being told. Every time you indulge in the arguments, the narrator gets strong. Every time you fight back, the narrator gets strong. Do you know what storytellers crave for most? Attention. Don’t give it to them. Be ignorant. Live with eyes closed. You’ll see all the misunderstanding that’s going around.

Throw away the concept of They vs Us. It’s hard not being someone, but it will all work out. It has to work out. With too much narration going around, it’s time to live with eyes closed.

Do you know what happens when you ignore a pompous kid crying over a stupid demand?

He stops crying.


Artificial Intelligence has defeated us in checkers, chess, scrabble, backgammon, and Othello. With every passing day, they are getting good at recognizing faces, understanding natural language, performing complex motions, recommending things that make us happy, and detecting spams and frauds. If you follow tech then you’d know that now they can even make phone calls. Our phones know about our patterns (thus predicting our behaviour) more than our friends. Almost every online service employees AI to make our experience better. And soon enough AI systems will be driving our cars. Meanwhile military is using AI to guide missiles better, to make drones more smart and accurate, to make robots that can survey remote areas and destroy targets. Every industry on the planet is exploring avenues for AI for there is no survival without it. Even the dinosaurs, The Oil & Gas Industry. And yet we have only started out with Artificial Narrow Intelligence, the best (and scary) part is yet to come. But before we dive deep, let’s brush on some basics.

What is a Computer?

A fancy calculator. All it knows is how to perform arithmetic and logical operations. And it’s very good at what it does and defeats humans 101%. Ask it what is 1795 x 89453 and it will blurt out the answer before you can even blink your eye. Ask it to differentiate between apple and orange or write a novel and it will stare at you in the abyss for eternity. Turns out a computer is extremely good at things that require humans to think like calculus, solving a differential equation, or finance and extremely bad at things that humans do effortlessly like perception, motion, or speech.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

AI is making computers do all the things that humans can do and not just math. It’s our attempt to simulate the human brain. A computer with human-like capabilities will not only be efficient and fast but it will also defeat humans at 101%. Apparently, there is a funny paradox with AI; as soon as it works, nobody calls it AI anymore. So although AI is here already, it still seems like a thing of future.

Then What is Machine Learning, Data Science, Deep Learning?

They all are the subsets of the superset AI. But we’ll not talk about that today. There is enough literature on the internet to kickstart your adrenaline, go explore once we’re done.

Now let’s begin.

All the AI examples I mentioned at the start have one thing in common, they all are good at one specific task and that’s it. Humans aren’t like that. The best chess player can drive a car equally well and can also sing for recreation. The AI systems that are good at only one (or few) specific tasks belongs to class – 1 of AI. This is Artificial Narrow Intelligence or ANI. This is the only class we have mastered until now, or we chose to think that way.

Now for a moment try to appreciate how incredibly powerful and efficient our brains are. Have you ever marvelled at seeing a baby learn the first word or take the first step? Wonder a computer program doing that, learning on its own, and not just one thing, but everything, and learning it faster and better than us. But right now only the worlds fastest supercomputer matches our brain in calculations-per-second, and we know for fact how humongous supercomputers are and how much energy they consume. And no one really knows how to write such a program.

The class – 2 of AI, one we still are figuring out how to create is called, Artificial General Intelligence, or AGI. AGI will be as good as a human, it would be able to plan ahead, strategize, self-learn, and do all the things we humans can do with intelligence but only better and without fatigue. Now from here on it may start to sound like another sci-fi movie plot but most of the experts believe that we’ll reach AGI by the end of this century, and that’s the most pessimistic estimate I can give you. Optimistically AGI would be reached before 2050.

If AGI is reached, the life as we know it will forever be changed. We’ll have a digital species that is as smart as us, that is never tired, that is conscious all the time, that learns faster than us. And once AGI is reached, it will be only a span of time in which class-3 of AI will be reached. Artificial Super Intelligence, or ASI. ASI will be way intelligent than humans. To bring things in perspective, what ants are to humans that humans will be to ASI.

Imagine if we mere mortal humans could invent Wi-Fi, create the Internet, and could cure Cancer. What would an immortal machine with human-like capabilities do? The solution to world hunger, energy crisis, climate change, or any problem would be with us. Solution to ageing would be there, immortality can be reached. Obviously for that to happen, nanotechnology has to keep pace with advancements too.

But that’s the bright side. On the contrary, all the evil that man has done will also be amplified. The notion of good or evil is humanly devised. Applying it to non-animate things is called anthropomorphizing. ASI’s are not supposed to understand it. Morals and ethics will mean nothing to them. Hence an ASI would do anything to accomplish its goals, even if it means killing all humans and colonizing the entire universe. Elon Musk calls it “summoning the demon”? Sure his concerns are valid. Creating something smarter, (way smarter) then ourselves can be a Darwinian error. The excitement right now is same as when single-celled organisms were turning into the multi-celled organism. We are amoebas and we can’t figure out what we’re creating. No wonder why some call it our last invention.

Is this a path to immortality or extinction? Only the time will tell. Now is the best time to be alive.

Read about The AI Revolution at Wait But Why to have your mind blown.



A lot has been said on corruption, a staggering number of articles, case studies, opinions flooding the internet, endless hours of debate, deliberation, discussions on influencing forums, and yet no redemption. Today is another ordinary day and I’ll try to pen down my thoughts on something that has become absolutely unfashionable now—corruption.

Let’s try to attack the problem with the first principles, instead of ranting on what’s obvious, let’s make an attempt to see under our nose.

How does corruption starts?

Fundamentally. It starts with me. It starts with the notion of mine and not mine. We think what is mine is more important than what is not mine and there is always an urge to acquire what is not mine. We are taught this way and we are fed on this belief as good students, we have all learnt the art of corruption from our families.

Something happens to your child, a minor accident maybe, and you get all emotional. You’d dissipate all your energy to bring your child out of misery. The boy on the other street hasn’t had a decent meal in years and this fact doesn’t move you at all. Why? Why do you prefer your child over that poor boy?

Because that’s my child, you idiot. I know you’ll say that. You are right, but like your politicians, you too are corrupt. It’s just that your sins and their significance won’t bring advertisement revenues.

Corruption starts when we associate, either with ourselves, our families, our communities, our race, our religion, our society, our nation, or our world. Just the level is different, the act is the same. This is the reason corruption is cancerous, not only it is deeply seated but also on multiple levels and it only grows over time.

Communist. When I’m a student. Socialist. When I get employed. Capitalist. When I’m married. Corrupt. When I have a child.

Does power corrupt?

Power is bewitching, hideous, and most importantly expressive. Power can make a benevolent person express his benevolence, an intelligent person express his intelligence, and a corrupt person expresses his corruption. It would be wrong to say power corrupts for it only glorify what we truly are. It’s not power that made your politician, policeman, or passport officer corrupt. It only gave expression to who they truly were as individuals. Power sure does become instrumental for their actions but it would be wrong to blame the gun for the murder.

What is the solution?

There is none. There is no utopia. As long as our acts of kindness will include some and exclude others, as long as we divide on them and us, as long as we’ll fight for mine and not mine. As long as we’ll love some more than others, we’ll remain corrupt. These things will not change. Men will be men and humans will be humans.

No. But can my nation improve on corruption ranking?

Again. See my nation. I said we won’t change.

We’ll obviously solution lies in technology. Removing humans where they are not required. Making systems without loopholes. Implanting the fear, better grievance redressal. Better education for students and educators themselves. Transparency.  A lot has been said.

You must have heard of Butterfly Effect.

Let me introduce it to you anyway. A butterfly flapping its wings in the north can cause a cyclone in the south. That’s the most non-technical introduction to Chaos Theory, but how does that make you feel significant?


All the world is the same but with just one minor change. Without you. A world without you. Try to imagine how different it would be.

Yes, my pessimist friend. It looks all the same to you. And it is, in a way, but it isn’t. If you have already seen the movie It’s a Wonderful Life then I rest my case already. You are free to leave. The movie is wonderful enough to make you feel significant. But if you haven’t watched it, then hear me out.

What is life? A recollection of all the stories lived. I believe. That is why the best of them have been preserved in books. Some people call them biographies. The act which we associate with the rich and famous. But honestly, we all have great stories. Our best conversations are based on that. Our best speeches are based on that. Our best memories are based on that. And when we are telling our best stories, with laughter and drinks to the company we love, of our heroism, we feel significant.

Now people may be tempted to assign the highest significance to the hero but in reality, it is the narrator who remains disguised. For he is the one who made the acts of the hero truly heroic by providing the much-needed perspective and context. A narrator has the power to turn a story of despair into a story of hope. So the first lesson on feeling significant is to narrate your stories well and often.

Only when you start to narrate your stories do you realize that you’ve lived a life that’s meaningful. Because now you know, if you were not there, these stories would never have unfolded, and things that you have done would never have been done.

And in these moments you realize that feeling significant is more about the impact you have on others than yourself. The impact you don’t often realize you’ve made. There is an entire section in the library called Self-Help, but it’s very hard to find books that teach you to Help-Others. Probably the laws of publisher’s economics explain this. No Readers, No Books. Personally, I’ve felt most significant not when I achieved a seemingly impossible milestone but when a friend said to me that it’s because of you that I’ve achieved this seemingly impossible milestone. In those moments, I feel significant, I feel larger than life. So the second lesson on feeling significant is to help others.

But. To help others or to be able to tell your stories you must have what it takes. Now some people call it passion, some call it the drive, some disdain from talking about it, some doubt if such things exist. I prefer to side with Victor Frankl and call it the meaning. If you have read the book Man’s Search for Meaning you’d know what I’m going to talk about. Life is not primarily a quest for pleasure or a quest for power, but a quest for meaning. He who has a Why to live can bear almost any How. True as it may sound. Now, where do people find this meaning, usually not at bars (that was me trying to be funny)?

  • In Work
  • In Love
  • In Courage during difficult times.

Now I can go on elaborating on these points and trust me that’s my favourite part but I’ll take the liberty to assume that my point is self-evident (Yay. Saved some effort). So the last and most important lesson on feeling significant is to have a meaning.

A world without you would have been dull. All those stories would never have been lived. All those people will still be helpless. And a meaningful life would never have been lived. A world without that butterfly will have one less cyclone. What will this world miss out without you? Feeling significant yet?

I read Indian Summer in the summer of 2018. I was interested in reading history and I don’t exactly remember how I stubbled upon this book. But I know for sure that it had something to do with the first paragraph of the book. I just had to read the book to find out more.

“IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.”

All The Rumours Were True – In the Defence of Nehru

He saw a policeman fiercely approaching him on a horseback with a stick. Fear shivered down his spine, his first instinct was to hide and save his life, but he mustered the courage to stand tall. Brave isn’t the man who knows no fear but one who stands tall in the face of it. But why would this young man not run away? He had his entire life in front of him with all its glory and he was willing to sacrifice it, but for what? And why?

Jawaharlal was the name his father gave him and Pandit Nehru was he later called in the reminiscence of the place from where he came from, Kashmir.

The only son of British India’s top lawyer, Jawaharlal was heavily privileged. To young Nehru good-looks and confidence came through genes and wealth and prestige through inheritance. He was schooled at Harrow and studied natural science at Trinity College, Cambridge. He would go on riding, learn ballroom dancing, read fashionable books, pursue romances, and lead a very satisfying social life. Oblivious of his destiny, Nehru enjoyed a comfortable youth in London and developed a taste for radical politics.

After Cambridge, he went to the Inner Temple in London to follow his father into the legal profession. Nehru was in awe of social and political life at London. He became interested in socialism, votes for women, and Irish independence. That’s where he started leaning left.

When he came back to India having spent a good fortune of his father, he was a prig with little to command him. Nehru was having a successful legal career, he was married to an extremely beautiful woman but he wasn’t happy. Surprising how life can sometimes give you everything but satisfaction. Jawaharlal looked for an escape, often in mountains.

His salvation came in form of a Mahatma. He found a guru in Gandhi and Gandhi found his heir in Nehru. Together this duo, although of different political ideologies, would lead India to its Independence. And for this Nehru was ready to give away everything he cherished all this life. All his prized possessions and all his comforts. In the hindsight of all the commotions, Nehru finally had found the meaning of his life and that was to discover India.

Gandhi was going to deploy satyagraha and Nehru was adamant about participating in it despite his father’s opposition. Motilal Nehru was sceptical about the impact of sending few individuals to prison, moreover, he was unhappy with the thought of Jawaharlal ending up there. Father and son argued for several days. When rest of the family ate in crystal and china, in form of a protest Jawaharlal began to eat from steel bowl. It was just another night at Anand Bhawan before the dinner when Jawaharlal commented, “I wonder what it feels like to have a noose round one’s neck?” his mother nearly fainted and Motilal walked out slamming the door. Motilal secretly tried sleeping on the floor, wanting to understand the hardship his son would suffer in prison.

Nehru had given up himself to the country. He wasn’t afraid to spend years in prison or to die mercilessly. What he was afraid of was to die meaninglessly. Nehru’s charisma soon brought him to the top of Congress leadership.

In November 1937 an amusing article was published in the Modern Review (Calcutta), under the title “The Rashtrapati (President)” written under a pseudo name Chanakya. It described Nehru as a godlike figure, moving through multitudes as their serene and natural leader; then turned to criticism of how this adoration had spoiled the man. “What lies behind that mask of his, what desires, what will to power, what insatiate longings?” it asked. “Men like Jawaharlal, with all their capacity for great and good work, are unsafe in democracy. He calls himself a democrat and a socialist, and no doubt he does so in all earnestness, but every psychologist knows that the mind is ultimately a slave to the heart and logic can always be made to fit in with the desires and irrepressible urges of a person. A little twist and Jawahar might turn a dictator sweeping aside the paraphernalia of a slow-moving democracy. His conceit is already formidable. It must be checked. We want no Caesars.” This powerful vilification caused great outrage among Nehru’s loyal followers. What they did not realize was that “Chanakya” was actually Jawaharlal Nehru himself. In Nehru’s writing, there is no piece more telling of his personality than “The Rashtrapati.” Introspection, honesty, wit and mischief —few other politicians in history could have written such a lucid essay in self-deconstruction.

Growing up I held a pristine and spotless image of Jawaharlal inspired from my social science textbooks. I chose to disregard every rumour that I came across about Jawaharlal. Now that I know that he, just like rest of us, was a mortal human and culpable brings me to peace. Holding high expectations from others and yourself can be suffocating. So all the rumours were true, but without context, a rumour is still a rumour and not a fact. Jawaharlal was in love with Vicereine, Edwina Mountbatten. That was a rumour but it was true. She made him the man he was and influenced him and he loved her deeply.

Britain wasn’t particularly fond of Indians, Winston Churchill loathed Indians and formed alliances with Jinnah. It was Mountbatten’s who represented our case and helped us have undue favours over the proposed state of Pakistan. All because Nehru was in love with Edwina. It was because of this love that Nehru had the power to make necessary changes in Indian Independence Bill before it was signed by the king. It was also due to his love for Edwina that India has the international borders that we have today. And yes it was due to his love that we have Kashmir today otherwise Pakistan always had an upper hand with Kashmir keeping demography in perspective.

One of the fondest memory of me studying social science was reading about Unity in Diversity. To be honest, it was when I felt proud to be an Indian. India whose architect was Nehru. Had it not been for Nehru and Gandhi, it won’t be far-fetched to say, there wouldn’t have been India, but Hindustan. I’m glad history unfolded the way it did. I’m glad all the rumours where true, I’m glad Nehru fell in love with Edwina. I’m glad Nehru stood tall.

And now I know why that man did not run away. He was Nehru, the first prime minister and the architect of my nation. The one who truly discovered and conquered India.

What can one do?

I wrote this speech for Professional Communication coursework during freshmen year of my college in 2015. I'll add the review my professor gave me for this speech later.

But what can one person do? Something that I’m tired of hearing since childhood. You know some individuals fascinate me so much by the way the touch and influence our lives. The way they mould the world we live in. How do they do it? I have read quite a few biographies and what I could infer from them is. It was never about talent they had, there are a whole lot of talented people in this world. A lot of prodigies out there. You don’t always hear about them changing the world. It was never about the hard-work that they did. I meet a hardworking guy every ones in a while and they don’t always change the world. It was also not about the money or resources they had. But then what is it all about. I concluded that it was all about the choices they made, the decisions they take. You might not believe me. How can some choices or decisions change the world? Bhagat Singh could on one hand chosen to enjoy his youth, to have romances or on other hand he could give his life for his country. He chose to be what he is, a legend. And you have just two simple, or maybe not so simple set of choices. And these choices defines who we are and what we can do? These choices differ amazing individuals from mere civilian. We can choose to be what we want to be. So answer to your question what can one do is that he can make some choices.

One can choose to be a leader or a mere follower. Being a leader doesn’t necessarily intend joining politics or talking popular positions. All it requires is courage. For me leader is someone who can bring change first in himself and then society. Leader initiate things. He takes responsibilities. He stands against wrong. And sometimes he can start a revolution. On a cold day one woman refused to give up her seat on the bus in Alabama. The Civil Rights movement began. She was Rosa Parks. She was a leader. You find something going wrong. You take a step and try to stop it. You are a leader. And if you just pass by you are a follower. I’m not saying that you should stop following, following helps you learn, it inspires you when done in a right way but don’t get stagnant. Don’t end up being a part of herd.

Second choice is to choose to invent or to blame. What’s this (showing a bottle)? Sounds nonsense, I know. Who made this? Do you know back then when mankind resided in caves it was very difficult for them to get water out of river and take it back home. Then someone made a container out of leaves but it wasn’t durable. Someone else noticed that if you put wet soil under sunshine it becomes clay. And then someone else made a pot from that clay. But that wasn’t durable too. Then someone else invented plastic, someone else thought that a water container can be made out of plastic. Someone else gave it a shape. Someone else made it transparent, someone else gave it a cap, someone else made the treads for the cap and someone else just made a factory to manufacture bottles in that thousands of people are working just to make bottles. For thousands of years, millions of people are working so that we can quench our thirst where ever we go. Maybe we don’t acknowledge but there work is still here long after they are gone. And this is just a bottle, look around you, you are sitting in a museum of human work history. This fan and this air conditioner, someone was feeling hot. These people could have just blamed their tools, people, time or god and would have carried away with their life. But they choose not to and that made them great. They chose to find solutions. All your prized possessions, your achievements and glory will be buried along with you. Only your work will live on.

So you have these 2 simple choices to make, simple but requires courage and efforts. And if you chose to lead or invent or both you are no more a mere civilian. You are doing your bit. It doesn’t really matter whether you succeed or fail in your efforts. All it counts is have you done your bit? Let me end it with a short story. A terrible fire had broken out in the forest. All the animals were running away, including the lion, king of the forest. Suddenly, the lion saw a tiny bird rushing towards the fire. He asked the bird, “what are you doing?” To the lion’s surprise, the bird replied: “I am on my way to extinguish the fire.” He laughed and said, “how can you kill the fire with just one drop of water, in your beak?” The bird was adamant, and said, “But I am doing my bit.