The God Who Loved Motorbikes (2019)

Cover of The God Who Loved Motorbikes

I picked up the book written by Murali K Menon after seeing that the book was launched by John Abraham on September 25. The book is a Juggernaut publication and I saw that the book was available at a low cost on the day of the launch. Hence, I picked it up without giving a second thought.

The book takes on a usual motorcycle enthusiast story and stretches it into the realm beyond time and space. The enthusiast in this case is one of the small shrine gods that dot the landscape of Kollengode in Kerala. The story revolves around how the god, KK Swamy, follows his dreams of riding several motorcycles. The premise makes sense at some level. However, things get a little hazy here while considering the plot.

The story then hops several steps and we enter another story. The storyline begins quite naturally but then gets stranger and weirder as time passes. Then, things get so weird that I paused reading to think that the story has gone from a motorcycle story to a sci-fi genre. There are a few plot twists but none that surprise you too much. There is a lot going on, action wise but they are mostly just moving things forward.

When the story ends, there are many things left hanging. The plot fails to tie things up at the end. There are many loose ends. The story takes off in so many directions that I wonder what the author was thinking about while developing the plot of the story.

You could consider picking up the book to give it a read if you love this genre of motorcycle storytelling and sci-fi. It was a good way to while away time but at the end you are left asking if reading through it was a worthy investment of your time or not.

Let’s Talk Money (2018) – Monika Halan

In 2015, I discovered The Dave Ramsey Show on YouTube while trying to figure out how not to live pay cheque to pay cheque. I did not follow his plan, called the Baby Steps, because I thought it did not apply to the Indian condition. There was no 401k tax free investing in mutual funds, no 329B to invest in your kid’s education, no Roth IRA, no good expense tracking or budgeting apps.

However, the principles were the same. I believed that my income freed up from debt would be the no 1 wealth building tool. I believed debt was bad and broke marriages. I believed that finance was 80% habits and just 20% head knowledge. That did not stop me from incurring debt, though. My budgeting system broke frequently and I didn’t have 100% faith in the Dave Ramsey plan because at the back of my mind I kept thinking that his system would work only in the USA and not in India. Also, the program had a whole ecosystem of people involved – books you could buy, offline courses in churches, a whole spiritual dimension, a radio talk show for constant reinforcement and web resources to help in your struggle with yourself.

When I searched for a similar programme in India, I stumbled onto Bloomberg UTV’s Smart Money programme’s YouTube version. Here she spoke of stuff that we were very familiar with in India like gold, real estate, PPF, ELSS, mutual funds, endowment insurance policies, ULIP policies, etc. Like Dave Ramsey, she suggested term life insurance only, mutual funds for building long term wealth and a dislike for debt. A Google search told me that she had written a book way back in 2005 called the Seven Steps to Financial Freedom. The book was hard to get and I could eventually manage only a physical copy of the book.

So, when she announced her new book was out in July 2018, I bought the book immediately. July turned out to be a month for a lot of changes. I got a promotion at my old job and moved from an urban locality to a rural locality. While I read the book there was no coherence in my strategy in arranging my financial life. I felt the book lacked a coherent strategy of moving from a place where one was to a place where the book wanted us to be. It was good for a person arranging his finances for the first time.

The financial advice in the book is simple in substance but difficult to implement – get term life insurance, get medical insurance for you and your family other than what you get at your workplace, have 3 bank accounts for income, spending and investing, invest in mutual funds of various kinds as per your goals (index fund if you don’t want to go through the hassle), invest in PPF, PF, ELSS and NPS for tax savings and have a will. The details are in the book.

Despite being in banking for six and a half years, I felt I did not have a good grasp of financial concepts and even clarify certain concepts. This book helped me with the same. I certainly recommend this book to everyone who wants to put their financial house in order. I am currently in the process of applying Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps and walking through those using the concepts that I learnt from Let’s Talk Money.

My Gita by Devdutt Pattanaik

Devdutt Pattanaik is a writer whose books I love to read because he interprets puranas in their modern sense. It makes sense to me. It sometimes makes better sense than their traditional interpretation as I have heard.

My Gita is Pattanaik’s interpretation of the Gita. He begins the book by stating that the poem is not to be read from start to finish as one would a book or a poem today. He suggests that the wisdom is scattered throughout the verses of the Gita. Traditionally, the Gita would be expounded by a Guru to his disciple by teaching him only the relevant sections with explanations. Not the whole poem in the form it is read today.

Accordingly, Pattanaik’s book is arranged in a scheme such that the Hindu philosophy expounded in the Gita could be more clearly grasped and better understood.

The book is a tiring read. I have read various voluminous books like Radhakrishnan on the Upanishads and even his Dhammapada. I have even read Pattanaik’s earlier books but none have tired me so. It’s difficult to keep up with a thread of thinking in the book. This made my reading progress slow and tiring as I found it hard to grasp concepts.

The way to overcome this difficulty is to skim through the book quickly the first time to get a basic idea before reading the book understanding the depth of the book. The book is a complete guide to the Gita with context, several interpretations offered including alternative versions but finally is Pattanaik’s interpretation of the Gita.

Book Review: Governance and the Sclerosis That has set in

I haven’t read non-fiction as a genre for quite some time. Picking up Sidin Vadukut’s book recently re-ignited my interest in the genre. I have also been working up an interest in learning about recent Indian history. Books about this era starting from post-liberalization have now been emerging for quite some time now.

Arun Shourie is one of the authors who has written about India’s post-liberalization era. He was also a cabinet minister in the Vajpayee government. He covers three broad areas in this book – bureaucracy, environment and immigration. He shows through examples how the thinking within the government is not directed at solving the issue at hand but in ensuring that one is not held responsible for any errors in the resolution of such issues.

To be sure, some of these issues are complex. He also faces the same difficulty that his predecessors had in resolving the issues at hand. He tends to defend the delay caused during his own regime in the various Ministries whilst not really defending the actions taken by his predecessors in the same Ministries.

The book, otherwise, is a wonderful collection of reflection and insight into the working and the thinking inside the Government towards the end of the twentieth century and that in transition from the license raj to liberalisation. It is also a pretty breezy read despite being a book that cites a lot of correspondence and timelines to back up his assertions and observations, which are few, short and sometimes satirical to drive the point through.

Strangely, there were a lot of Arun Shourie interviews that got aired around the time I was reading this book. Again getting access to the government will hopefully push him to write more books that will help Indian citizens understand the issues with more clarity and depth.

Book Review: Revolution Highway by Dilip Simeon

Note: I wrote this on my earlier blog hosted as I recovered the text from the WayBack Machine. This post appeared on June 25, 2013 as per the permalink. I’m trying to collect here again all my old writings spread on various blogs.

Some time back, I had acquired the habit of writing down reviews of the book that I had recently read. The practice lost steam as I got caught up in the desire to read more. Writing a review gives pause for consideration for a book that has passed through one’s life. It is with these thoughts that I pick up the practice again.

A membership with the British Library in Mumbai gave me access to this book called Revolution Highway. It is written by labour historian Dilip Simeon. The book is a work of fiction that considers the 1960s and the 1970s India and the rush of ideas and idealism that flowed through India at the time. The time witnessed the sprouting of the Naxalite movement in the extreme left of the political spectrum and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh in the extreme right of the political spectrum. The book concentrates on the revolution that the Naxalite movement bred, the brief belief in the Revolution followed by disillusionment.

I read the book in a unique juncture in my life as well. It was a moment when I heard of the left movement within Bombay in the early 1960s and 1970s. I too went through a phase of disillusionment and have now emerged with a more balanced viewpoint of politics than what I had earlier.

Given this back drop, I found the book a fascinating read. It gives one an insightful reading of the history of the Indian Left given the world situation. It provides and reveals aspects of India’s own revolutionaries and how they get intertwined with the Revolutionaries who struggled in the pre-Independence era. Other than the world histories it has several asides that seem to stand alone and do not fully integrate with the story line. They seem like stand alone pieces of non-fiction inserted into a work of fiction. It provides some very insightful critique of the Left struggle. I especially enjoyed the criticisms leveled at the Left by Rathin, a character in the book. The interspersed bits of world history might have served as a better back drop if they were briefer.