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Wednesday 30 October 2013

Book Review: Aleph by Paulo Coelho

About the book:

In his most personal novel to date, internationally bestseller author Paulo Coelho returns with a remarkable journey of self-discovery. Like the main character in the Alchemist, Paulo is facing a grave crisis of faith. As he seeks a path of spiritual renewal and growth, he decides to begin again: to travel, to experiment, to reconnect with people and the landscapes around him.Starting in Africa and then crossing Europe and Asia via the Trans-Siberian Railway, he undertakes a journey to revitiize his energy and passion. Even so, he never expects to meet Hilal. A gifted young violinist, she is the woman Paulo loved five hundred years before - and the woman he betrayed in an act of cowardice so far-reaching that it prevents him from finding real happiness in this life. Together they will initiate a path that teaches love, forgiveness and the courage to overcome life's inevitable challenges.
Are we where we want to be, doing what we want to do? 

My Review:

When I picked up the book and set out to read it, I had really high expectations from it. One may call it a pre-conceived notion that I had from Paulo Coelho's earlier books, especially The Alchemist and The Winner Stands Alone. With these works of his, he qualifies as a master storyteller. The Alchemist is one of the greatest inspirations I have had till date. So, when I put my hands on the Aleph, it was in the anticipation of some life-changing, thought-provoking, mindset-altering plot. Just as it always happens, I expected that after reading yet another of Coelho's books, I shall cease to remain the person I was prior to reading it.

Okay, now to the actual reading part. A fleeting reading of the prologue itself gave me the idea that the novel has gravity in both its content and intent. It is only and only about a spiritual journey, self-discovery, recuperation of a ruptured/drained soul.

But with as intriguing and arresting and engrossing a beginning as understated, I had obviously expected something different, something more rooted in contemporary    social and economic problems. But this is not to say that the eventual storyline is below or above my expectations, it isn’t, it’s just different and in sharp contrast to my conjecture. Also, since it involved deep and thought-provoking spiritual elements, instead of reading it from crepuscule to dawn, I preferred to defer it for the mornings of the days, lest my eyelids falter and droop.
So, about the plot, the theme and the hovering concepts...
It is as much a story about spirituality as it is about love. Well, in his trademark fashion, Coelho touched upon subjects that are still debatable if not taboo. So there's the notion of being able to love two people at the same time, without hinting at betrayal of any sort. But considering the fact that this is Coelho’s autobiographical account, I must commend him for having the courage to reveal something so personal to the world.
Then the cherry on the cake are the pithy comments, sharp insights that dive into the oceans of wisdom, such as ,”Life is the train, not the station.”, “life without cause is a life without effect.”, “words are tears that have been written down, tears are words that need to be shed.”, “what cant be cured must be endured”

Also, a treat to the reader is a faint echo from his masterpiece The Alchemist. At one point, he mentions that god allows us to see such things when he wants something to change, a thought that found a unique significance in the former. Further there is a reference to the famed saying in an altered form “when you really want something the whole universe conspires in your favour.” even here he reads meaning into things, thereby lending them the status of omens. So when a clairvoyant declares that “the soul of Turkey will give your husband all the love she possesses, but she will spill his blood before she reveals what she is seeking.” he delays the journey, but undertakes it nevertheless. This is the most scrumptious part of the meal that Aleph is. And that brings us to the plot of the story. He feels that his spiritual progress has met with an insurmountable barrier. So he embarks on a journey as an author, which means he is into book signing sessions, conversations with his readers, et al. On this journey he meets Hilal, and that changes the equation of his life, or should I say it brings into balance the equation of his life. There's this dose of rituals, history, atrocity, revenge, redemption. Whether the ritual or ideas manifested in the past that Hilal and the author share is demeaning to womanhood is a question that’s best left unanswered, but the sexual references as in most of his books are quite disgruntling and marred by a forceful inclusion.

Somewhere along the plot, I did feel like abandoning the book because it lost the pace, charm and enthralling element that had initially attracted me to it. But there's nothing like completing a book that exudes a mystery, a revelation waiting to be unearthed.

And the fact that Coelho's books are indispensable to the sojourn called life, only adds to the thrill of reading till the last line.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Blog Tour and Author Interview: I.T. Confidential by C.D. rahm

About the author

He has been an I.T. professional and innovator in the field since first hearing the word “geek” and knew he wanted to be one. He worked alongside Thomas Edison in inventing electricity and Al Gore in inventing the Internet. He is believed to have come up with the name “mouse” for the device used to move the cursor around a monitor when he observed his cat chasing the one he employed across his desk during an earthquake. (The cat was very disappointed when he caught it, but ate it anyway.) C.D. Rahm is perhaps best known for his sage advice to Steve Jobs when he said, “Who would buy an electronic thingy named after a piece of fruit?”

About the book

If you could be a fly on the cubicle wall of an I.T. professional...

...someone would probably throw a stale bagel at you. But before they did, you would see what C.D. Rahm reveals in this tell-all book.

At great personal risk to career and plastic pocket protector, C.D. Rahm takes us on a tour of corporate malaise, rampant confusion, dinner-plate-sized chocolate chip cookies, and lousy box lunches.

Pulling no punches (except possibly the spiked punch from the disastrous office holiday party) he reveals everything: managers behaving badly, professional time-wasters, fast-food junkies, and the hygienically challenged.

An I.T. insider, his is a world of technology for all, productivity for none. It is a place where the confused and frightened lead the overworked and clueless. This is where polyester slacks meet PowerPoint presentations, and budgets meet their doom.

When network systems come down, I.T. professionals get up. And march straight to the vending machine. C.D. Rahm has been there, done that, and soiled the t-shirt.

Now you can know what I.T. geeks know: That if you have a chip on your shoulder you have probably stuck your head into the wrong port.

Whether you’re a tech expert or you don’t know your app from a hole in the ground, you will be astounded – or at least mildly surprised – by what you discover in “I.T. Confidential.”

Author interview

What’s the most unusual cubicle you’ve seen?

The one of a 35-year-old guy who had his workspace set up like a 12-year-old nerd’s bedroom, with Star Wars and Star Trek posters, action figures, spaceships, etc. Ladies, he’s single!

Any suggestions to make the workplace easier to deal with?

Don’t give cute names to conference rooms. Just number them: 110, 120, instead of “Sunflower.”  Otherwise, you’ll spend hours tracking down where your next meeting is. If you don’t believe me, walk up to anyone in your office and ask them which direction is north.

What are you bringing to the office potluck this year?

Cashews. At least I’ll have something to eat besides the ostrich tacos our developer is rumored to be bringing.

What was the weirdest I.T. request from a “manager?”

To take inventory of all the mouse pads. Seriously.

What is one of the more memorable encounters you’ve had as a consultant?

An employee cornered me in the elevator and asked me if I’d talked to Jesus today. I replied that I’d been talking with Him all morning as we were having software problems. He backed off and remained silent for the remainder of the ride.

How do you know a meeting is going to run long?

When someone insists on a roll call, introductions, and individual statuses, even though the team has been meeting for months.

Grossest co-worker lunch?

The pail of “homemade soup” brought in by one of the less hygienic staff. Looked like lake water with debris floating in it. Why he insisted on wandering around with it, no one knows; it smelled awful.

Which management fad book is your least favorite (like you’d have a favorite)?

Leveraging Your Core Paradigms by Dan Acronym. It’s completely incomprehensible, yet some manager in a desolate backwater sweatshop will try to make their team implement chapter six.

How do you know a catastrophically bad technology decision is about to be made?

The decision maker is on their BlackBerry for the duration of the meeting and is not paying attention to the awful technology idea being presented.

What prompts you to wear the hat of a hilarious writer.
  There is so much silliness and humor in the workplace right in front of us, that I can't help but turn this stuff into stories. For the book, we didn't use everything we had, there was so much of it. As long as you put people together in close quarters, there will always be comical outcomes.

The issues that your book discusses are in a lighter vein. any strategy behind making it a light read?

 Most of what the characters are doing in the book is funny, because the people doing those things are silly in some way. Often, the situations people are put in at work create that comic atmosphere. Once you step back and observe the interactions between people, you realize how hilarious some of them are.

Monday 7 October 2013


While the war of ebooks versus physical copies continues unabated, here's a short story that reflects upon the issue in an entertaining, yet emotional light

As I sit beside my window, with Anna Karenina resting on my lap, the sunrays bake me in their scorching heat. Within moments, I turn away to glance at my bookshelves. Just five years back, the shelves, which now cry for want of space, scarcely harboured not more than twenty books. But that was five years back. Much has changed. Transmogrified, like quite.

As I steadfastedly behold my own envious collection of gem-like books, my legacy, I descend into a reverie. The past comes alive on the celluloid of my life.
“Stop straining and paining your lovely eyes under the glaring light of that ugly gadget.”
I barely managed to hold on to my ‘gadget’ and rescue it from shattering to pieces at the staccato crispness and wrath that the words exuded.
Even if he wouldn’t have berated me in that hackneyed fashion, I would have known that he’s here by his paradigm cardamom scent. Grandpa’s here and he is referring to my kindle. I guess I just didn’t whisper those words to myself. I blurted them out loud enough to be heard by grandpa!

“Yes, grandpa is here and now put that crap away. Grandpa has brought you some real books. Paperback and hardcover.” he proclaims with an exacerbating emphasis on real.

“Tangible and lovable”, joining him as he repeats his catchphrase verbatim, for the nth time, I make a futile attempt to sound elated, while in reality I moan in half anguish and half chagrin, concocted with mortification and agony. His parlance, on the contrary, is adorned with pride at one level and laced with genuine loath at another.

I was in the middle of reading Strike @ 36 by Aparna Pednekar on Google Play. The fledgling novelist’s story was gaining momentum and the arrival of “the relentless foe of e-books” was the last on the list of things I wished for, at least then.

Since the day I started reading eBooks, I’ve been a witness to his intense detestation for the same. Now, its gravity and longevity is also proved.
Neither cannons, nor pinpricks, nor caresses could bring us to a consensus.
Our love for each other was unconditional, but when it came to books, we had dramatically agreed to disagree.

He would justify his stand by crying aloud that one day my Smartphone or kindle would be destroyed rendering me insane at the loss of the gems that books are.

“What if your paperbacks are terminated by termites?” I retort, surprised and glad at the unpremeditated rhetoric.

“I hope you know that, and I’m telling you because I am a well-wisher; you aren’t able to touch the pages, smell the book, you’ll lose all your aesthetic sense.” At this point, he’s almost yelling at me.
“For god’s sake, eBooks are NOT conspiring against your paperback and hardcover breeds. Only they are more convenient, and occupy some digital space on my kindle, weighing hardly 500 grams. I can have a long discourse on the environmental damage that I am preventing this way. It’s all rational.” I retorted rather blatantly.

Remember, using a pencil to mark down heart-rending dialougues??
He cursed the creators, called them idiots and blockheads, but not willing to prolong this skirmish, retreats to murmuring. An archetypal puerile versus senile war ends.

When we went on vacations that month, he was jubilant when I lost signal amid the hills, which forestall my further downloading. It was annoying, though, because I possessed just as ardent a soul of a compulsive bibliophile as him.

During our commute to the hotel, he expressed his discomfort about not being able to read books in distractions, while I relished my audio book aggravating his consternation.

Suddenly the crass cacophony of a crow breaks my reverie. The past retreats away into the blinding sunrays. I can sense the perambulation of lachrymal fluid originating from my eyes, peregrinating from the cheeks to the book in my hand. I try to smile, but manage to do so only faintly. I close my eyes and embrace the book, hugging the gem to my heart, despite the murky dust it has gathered and savouring the cardamom scent, but only after glancing at the library shelf, my only legacy.

I can hear a faint echo of the words of Marcus Tullius Cicero, “A room without books is like a body without a soul.” followed by the lugubrious words of grandpa, “Tangible and Lovable. . .”

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Kritika's bookshelf: read

Angels & Demons
The Story of My Life
The Hunger Games
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
A Tale of Two Cities
Pride and Prejudice
Jane Eyre
Sense and Sensibility
A Christmas Carol
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Time Machine
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
The Da Vinci Code

Kritika Narula's favorite books »


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