Book Review – Jonathan Livingstone Seagull

It was morning,and the new sun sparkled gold across the ripples of a gentle sea.

A mile from shore a fishing boat chummed the water,and the word for breakfast flock flashed through the air,till a crowd of a thousand seagulls came to dodge and fight for bits of food.It was another busy day beginning.

But way off alone,out by himself beyond boat and shore,Jonathan Livingstone seagull was practicing. A hundred feet in the sky he lowered his seagullwebbed feet,lifted his beak, and strained to hold a painful hard twisting curve through his wings.The curve meant that he would slow,and now he slowed untill the wind was whisper in his face,untill the ocean stood still beneath him.He narrowed his eyes in fierce concentration ,held his breath ,forced one….single….more….inch…..of ….curve…..then his feathers ruffled,he stalled and fell.

Seagulls as you know,never falter,never stall.To stall in  the air for them disgrace and it is dishonor.

But Jonathan Livingstone seagull,unashamed,streching his wings again in that trembling hard curve – slowing,slowing,and stalling again –

Was no ordinary bird.

Overcome space and all we have left is here.Overcome time and all we have left is now.

Chiang says” You will begin to touch heaven in the moment you begin to touch perfect speed.And that isn’t flying thousand miles an hour,or a million,or flying at the speed of light.Because any number is a limit,and perfection does’nt have limits.Perfect speed,my son,is being there.”

A classic from Richard Bach the book has inspired millions including me.I feel a tremendous sense of identification with Jonathan Seagull Achievement that’s measured with a view of what people think of you is shallow,fleeting but achievement that brings you closer to yourself is permanent,for always and it is a part of you.Life is a continuous journey of raising the bar on yourself .The joy of knowing that you have been able to challenge yourself and win is unparalleled.Enjoy being yourself,revel in your own company,wake up early or work late in the night………the silence is bliss full.

Lines from Sarveshwar Dayal Saxena resonate a similiar resolve :

सामर्थ्य केवल इच्छा का दूसरा नाम है,
जीवन और मृत्यु के बीच जो भूमि है
वह नियति की नहीं मेरी है।

A classic that takes about an hour to read but a lifetime to absorb.Read one page at a time.

Selected Poems – Gulzar

Gulzar won an Oscar today along with AR Rehman.To be fair to myself this is not a review but  just a tribute to the great poet we have all loved for half a century now.

The book is called Selected Poems – Gulzar and it is published by penguin under Penguin Poetry collection.Some great mindscapes and some very profound thoughts wrapped up beautifully in an impeccable  bouquet of words.

A must read for all lovers of Urdu and Hindi poetry.

Little interesting facts :                                                            selected-poems

1.Gulzar is the pen name of Sampooran singh Kalra

2.Gulzar is married to film actress Raakhi

3.His first hindi movie was Bimla Rpys Bandini

4.One of his most famous songs “Dil Dhoondhta hai Phir wohi” takes its opening line from a Ghazal by Mirza Ghalib.

दिल ढूंढता है फिर वही फुर्सत के रात दिन

बैठे रहें तस्सवुर ए जाना किए हुए ……..

You can read some of his works on my blog by searching for tag Gulzar or byjust going to the poetry section.You will know which ones are his..won’t you ?

Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid?

Waiver of small and marginal farmers’ loans amounting to Rs 60,000 has been termed path breaking  by the government.The budget, however, offers little to address the larger problem of agricultural recession, the main reason behind severe indebtedness of farmers .

Official data shows that areas with the maximum concentration of small and marginal farmers will not benefit from the waiver. The Economic Survey that preceded the budget had suggested: “A second Green Revolution, particularly in the areas which are rainfed, may be necessary to improve the income of the persons dependent on the agriculture sector.” . It clearly suggests that farming has become almost an unviable option owing to increase in input costs and lower realization from produce which has unleashed a viscious cycle of indebtness amongst the farming community.

Small, marginal farmers make loss
Source: National Sample Survey Organization, Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers, 2003

As per Mohan Guruswamy, chairperson of the Delhi-based Centre for Policy Alternative “Seventy per cent of farmers who own less than one hectare do not opt for commercial credit. So the waiver bypasses them,”

Finance Minister P Chidambaram waived all ‘overdue’ loans due till December 31, 2007, of farmers with landholdings of up to two hectares (ha). For other farmers, the government has offered a one-time settlement: a rebate of 25 per cent if a farmer pays 75 per cent of the loan overdue. The waiver does not cover loans farmers are regularly paying—only 20 per cent farmer households are paying loans regularly. Only those who borrowed from government institutions will be covered so those who borrowed from moneylenders and other informal sources will not get any relief. And this is where a big portion of debt lies.Being illeterate farmers do not approach the banks due to lengthy procedures and paperwork – apart from all the paperwork a farmer has to get a letter from all banks operating in his area that he does not owe them any money before a loan for him can be considered.
The government claims the proposal will benefit 40 million farmers.Every second Indian farmer household is indebted. Of the 89.33 million farmer households estimated in 2003, 43.42 million were indebted. The average debt per farmer household was at Rs 12,595, and per indebted farmer household at Rs 25,902. Of late, farmers with more than two hectares of land are increasingly availing agricultural credit. The outstanding loan amount too has grown faster in case of farmers having more than 2.5 ha as compared to marginal (holding less than 1 ha) and small (less than 2 ha) farmers. On the other hand, the share of marginal farmers in formal credit distribution has come down from 28 per cent in 1981-82 to 25 per cent in 2003-04. The share of large farmers (with landholding above 2 ha) has remained at around 51 per cent since 1981-82. These figures demonstrate that farmers with large as well as small land holdings take credit but are not able to repay them due to adverse economics of the agricultural sector.

The current proposal will cover less than 50 per cent of the total debt of farmers in India. In 2003, the government estimated the total debt of farmers at Rs 1.13 lakh crore. Farmers owed Rs 65,000 crore to formal institutions and Rs 48,000 crore to non-institutional agencies. The debt has gone up since then.

Smaller the landholding, more the farmer depends on non-institutional credit
Out of relief net
Source: National Sample Survey Organization, Situation Assessment Survey of Farmers, 2003

The bigger picture
According to the Economic Survey, the growth rate of food grain production is 1.2 per cent, lower than the annual population growth rate of 1.9 per cent. Creation of additional irrigation potential has come down from 3 per cent annually in the 1990s to 1.8 per cent in 2007. Agricultural growth is expected to be around 2.6 per cent against 3.8 per cent in 2006.In such a scenario it will take a long time before we can see disposable incomes which will boost consumption for discretionary items on a farmers shopping list such as apparel,footwear,toiletries etc.

Fortune at the bottom of the  Pyramid ?

While a romantic idea,with the above in view I fail to recognize how the Indian farmer can be described as :

The world’s most exciting, fastest-growing new market? and fortune where you least expect it: at the bottom of the pyramid. Collectively, the world’s billions of poor people have immense entrepreneurial capabilities and buying power(??).

The book talks about Co creation and  challenges readers to re-evaluate their pre-conceived notions about the commercial opportunities in serving the relatively poor markets of the world.Somehow I cannot understand how someone who is already not able to repay his debts will transform into a profitable customer to serve and how those who are not even able to distribute the largesse effectively will make it possible.

The website further describes the book as :

“The Bottom of the Pyramid belongs at the top of the reading list for business people, academics, and experts pursuing the elusive goal of sustainable growth in the developing world”

I sincerely feel that that’s exactly where it will remain for a long long time to come at least in the context of India,if things do not change at the grassroot level.

The Origin of species

Darwin was born on 12th Feb 1809 and therefore I wish to dedicate this post to the researcher,thinker,naturalist and the man who changed the way we think of ourselves.His theory on the Origin of species has seeped into our darwinpsyche to an extent that it is being used by a recent ad of Amul Macho underwear to proove that human and animal instincts are in fact the same.Also that our ancestors were,in fact, monkeys.

If I were to reproduce the first page of the Book it would read like this :


By Means of of Natural selection

or the

Preservation of Favoured Races in the struggle for life

By Charles Darwin,M.A.

Fellow of the Royal,Geological,Linnean,etc Societies;

Author of ‘Journal of Researches during H.M.S. Beagle’s Voyage around the world’


The right of translation is reserved.

The first 1250 copies priced at 15 shillings sold out on the first day.I has been reprinted several times over in many languages and has scarcely been out of debate.The most fierce criticism that Darwin faced was from his wife who never lived with him as he had challenged the theory of divine creation as propounded in The Bible.

‘How stupid of me not to have thought of it’ exclaimed a contemporary after reading the book.And many have felt the same since then.The point is that the level of research that Darwin conducted carefully collating his notes,making sketches,observing minute changes among similar species as adaptations to their environment made his work historic.

Even though he appreciated the phrase ” survival of the Fittest” he was not the one to coin it.Herbert Spencer gave the expression in his work Principles of biology.The word evolution also came in much later in the 6th reprint by which time its use had become too commonplace to resist.

To Quote Charles Darwin form the introduction of the book ;

” When on Board H.M.S. Beagle,as naturalist,I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the inhabitants of South America,and in the geological  relations of the present to the past inhabitants of the continent.These facts seemed to throw some light on the origin of species- that mystery of mysteries,as it has been called by one of the greatest philosophers.On my return home, it occurred to me,in 1837,that something might perhaps be made out on this questionby patiently acuumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it..after five years I allowed myself to speculate on the subject,and drew up some short notes;these i enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions,which then seemed to be probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object.I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details,as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision.”

From the last paragraph ;

“Although much remains obscure ,I can entertain no doubt,ater the most deliberate study and dispassionate judgement of which I am capable,that the view that most naturalist entertain,and which I formerly entertained – namely that each species has been independantly created in erroneous.I am fully convinced that species are not immutable;but that those belonging to what are called the same genera are lineal descendants of some other and genrally extinct species,in the same manner as the acknowledged varieties of any one species are descendants of that species.Furthermore,I am convinced that natural selection has been the main but not the exclusive means of modification.”

Darwin has tried to project his views in a simple manner but the work is scientific in nature and therefore requires careful enquiry,judgement and understanding.I would suggest no more than an hour of reading followed by another one for contemplation to fully grasp the concepts and appreciate the level of detail.Get yourself one as Darwin’s birthday gift.

Book Review – A short history of nearly everything

a-short-historyThe book promises to bring scientific concepts closer to the uninitiated.And it certainly does that ….with ease and with excitement.

For someone like me who grew up with science around me( my father is a scientist) this book is a plain delight.I wish they had taught it in such an interesting manner when we were students.It is almost like a mystery novel in which the characters are the planets,the mountains,the oceans ……the universe and the eternal question is  who dunnit?

You can read it one chapter at a time to soak in the wonderful concepts but do not miss out on this masterpiece.

Thank you Mr.Bill Bryson.