It is not necessary that every man should be an artist. It is necessary that every man should have his artistic faculty developed, his taste trained, his sense of beauty and insight into form and colour and that which is expressed in form and colour, made habitually active, correct and sensitive.
More often than not, when I have mentioned art to someone, they have always replied with, "Oh, I don't understand art." I've always struggled with this response, though I've accepted it. When the same people buy a new mobile phone, I've never heard them say, "Oh, I don't understand this new interface." They've experimented, asked friends, Googled for information and how-to videos, and have become comfortable, if not experts, in using it. Perhaps, this is a weak analogy, but I am sure I've made my point.
I may have an advantage that my best friend is an artist, and my understanding of art has been shallow at times, and cynical, when not shallow. Yet, I've taken time to refine my own understanding of art. I've been careful not to borrow an opinion and make it my own, and that is what's taking so much time. Roland Barthes' Death of An Author has been an all-time favourite, partly because it is excellent, but more so because it resonates with what I have always felt about art. Our understanding of art has to be our own, we can always refine, define, or deduct by what others have to say.
And then I read this very small 27-page book about the National Value of Art, by Sri Aurobindo. The title is misleading, to an extent, I must say - only two-and-a-half pages discuss the context of the national value of art. And, that, somehow is what's most fascinating about the book. Because before understanding the national value of art, it is important to know the value of art, the meaning of art, and the sense of art. And that, is what this book is really about. For example, this felt like a description of the purposeful nature of the art aesthetic:
But the aesthetic faculties entering into the enjoyment of the world and the satisfaction of the vital instincts, the love of the beautiful in men and women, in food, in things, in articles of use and articles of pleasure, have done more than anything else to raise man from the beast, to refine and purge his passions, to ennoble his emotions and to lead him up through the heart and the imagination to the state of the intellectual man.
This is the first time I've read any of Sri Aurobindo's works, and while I'll admit it has been difficult reading, I am excited and looking forward to reading much more of what he has said. The difficulty of course, is not about the written word or the construction itself, it is the sad habit of over-simplifying things that matter. We are keen to make meaning in an instant and when something that was written about ninety years ago prods you into mulling over every word, you are out of your comfort zone. That's how a small, 27-page book can beat you. But if you choose well, it can enrich you.
Mankind is apt to bind itself by attachment to the means of its past progress forgetful of the aim. The bondage to formulas has to be outgrown, and in this again it is the sense of a higher beauty and fitness which will be most powerful to correct the lower. The art of life must be understood in more magnificent terms and must subordinate its more formal elements to the service of the master civilisers, Love and Thought.
It is one thing not to understand art. It is another not to want to understand art. It is yet another not to care. But if you do care, I strongly recommend this book.
Finally, I ask that you buy the book, so that you can support the work of the Ashram, however, The National Value of Art is also available as a part of "Early Cultural Writings" (starting at page 433) which is available a free download [PDF 3.9MB]
It's a very small book; few essays that are indicative of this man's legacy. Yet there is so much more to this man, who is not mentioned enough when w...moreIt's a very small book; few essays that are indicative of this man's legacy. Yet there is so much more to this man, who is not mentioned enough when we speak of India's freedom struggle, which I think is a shame. The book is not so much an introduction to the man himself, as much as it is an introduction to his legacy.
A good book, perhaps, to get you curious about this tall leader.(less)
On the day after the ban (or perhaps the correct word isrecall?) of a book on Hindusin India, I read the very small book —A Letter to a Hindu, by Leo...moreOn the day after the ban (or perhaps the correct word is recall?) of a book on Hindus in India, I read the very small book — A Letter to a Hindu, by Leo Tolstoy. This is the first book by Leo Tolstoy I’ve ever read. I emphasise the word book because 20-odd pages doesn’t a book make; further, it is actually a letter, that was published as a book. Well, if Goodreads is willing to call it a book, I have no qualms. [You can download a PDF version of the book from here]
The letter was written over a hundred years ago, by Leo Tolstoy to Tarak Nath Das, in 1908, “in response to two letters sent by Das, seeking support from the famous Russian author and thinker, for India's independence from British colonial rule. The letter was published in the Indian newspaper Free Hindustan." [Link] Mahatma Gandhi, who later published this letter, and wrote the foreword, warns that:
One need not accept all that Tolstoy says—some of his facts are not accurately stated […]
[…] his presentation of the old truth is refreshingly forceful. His logic is unassailable. And above all he endeavours to practise what he preaches. He preaches to convince. He is sincere and in earnest. He commands attention.
And while it is easy to assume that there is some form of treatise of Hinduism in the book; there isn’t. The letter is addressed to a Hindu; but talks of a world that has just recovered from religious superstition and plunged itself into scientific superstition. This is 1908. I checked and double checked. It is uncanny that a letter is as relevant to today as it was a hundred years ago; makes you believe nothing has changed. The letter explores the nature of enslavement - the context was the British rule:
A commercial company enslaved a nation comprising two hundred millions. Tell this to a man free from superstition and he will fail to grasp what these words mean. What does it mean that thirty thousand people, not athletes, but rather weak and ordinary people, have enslaved two hundred millions of vigorous, clever, capable, freedom-loving people? Do not the figures make it clear that not the English, but the Indians, have enslaved themselves?
Physical and social slavery are but weaker manifestations of the slavery archetype — of the belief system. The contradictory belief system, according to Tolstoy, that humans around the world have employed in different forms needs to be re-evaluated:
[…] the very people who recognize love as a virtue accept as lawful at the same time an order of life based on violence and allowing men not merely to torture but even to kill one another.
As the Mahatma says in the foreword, the logic is unassailable and he commands attention. This letter is time-proof, as is evidenced by current affairs. Slavery is rampant, the nature of superstition has changed.(less)
Right at the start of the book, Scott Berkun makes the statement “A great fallacy born from the failure to study culture is the assumption that you ca...moreRight at the start of the book, Scott Berkun makes the statement “A great fallacy born from the failure to study culture is the assumption that you can take a practice from one culture and simply jam it into another and expect similar results.”
Towards the end, he says, “I can't tell you to simply copy what Automattic has done. It'd be foolish to tell you that since every company and person is different.”
It’s easy to consider The Year Without Pants: WordPress.com and the Future of Work as corporate self-help, but it is not. It is a documentary of an experience and the above two statements are, in my opinion, the most important takeaways of this book. Once you have resigned to the fact that this is not the book of answers, it makes for a good reading.
Personally, I have always admired Automattic as an organisation and having experienced their “culture” as a customer, this book made interesting reading for me. Yet, at times, I felt there was a bias on describing the one team that Berkun worked with (for good reason as he explains at the end of the book) and superficially glided over the larger essence of what makes WordPress, WordPress. As you read the book, you realise, one of the key factors that contributed to the company's success is how they hire, but little is explored of that aspect. A lot is left to the reader’s inferences and, at times, imagination. Even when talking about the team that he worked with, the reading is granular, moving from details to generalisations. When the events he experienced are abstracted, the knowledge is perceptive and often amusing (mostly, because you may have experienced something similar)
He often makes comparisons to Microsoft, which I felt, were unfair. MS may not have adapted well, but their context and their timeline was different. Like almost every ‘business’ book a lot has been written for a little. A series of posts on WordPress could have sufficed, but then, it wouldn’t be a book.
Yet, if you are curious about the organisation that Automattic (WordPress.com) is, this is a good book. It’s not a whole lot about the “Future of Work,” but only about how one company is doing things differently and succeeding. If from the culture of this company, you are able to extract the philosophy, and then reapply it in your own context, it might prove to be useful. (less)
Dense with embellishments, full of decorative adjectives, meaty metaphors, exploration of complex philosophical constructs, and a slow, repetitive sto...moreDense with embellishments, full of decorative adjectives, meaty metaphors, exploration of complex philosophical constructs, and a slow, repetitive storytelling format, for effecting reinforcements, is what this book is all about. The translation - I strongly suspect - is utterly faithful to the original, else the meat in this story is hardly twenty pages. The book is an extract of a small episode in the Rāmāyan; the period of exile and the abduction of Sitā and ends, with the army of monkeys setting off, in search of Sitā to the four corners of the world.
I was a bit surprised that there was no mention of the Lakshman-rekha; the line that Sitā crossed which allowed Rāvan to abduct her. Perhaps I have my versions mixed up, which is good; means some more research-based reading.
I do recommend the book for the stylistic aspects; some insight into the art of the exaggerated storytelling that I believe is peculiar to Indian mythology(less)
The Matrix meets Reiki meets Law of Attraction meets The Secret. Or something like that. I was expecting a Richard Bach-ish book, but this one isn't s...moreThe Matrix meets Reiki meets Law of Attraction meets The Secret. Or something like that. I was expecting a Richard Bach-ish book, but this one isn't so. The language is very different, the construction is often weird, and the punctuation is sparse; almost unlike Richard Bach. Perhaps he was trying something new; it didn't work for me. There's fair warning that it is a "teaching fable"(less)
It is not easy to write about the saints. All good things are rare and difficult; but because of the rarity and difficulty one ought not to turn away from seeking the good.
Those are the first lines of Ten Saints of India, a Bharatiya Vidya bhavan publication by T.M.P. Mahadevan, edited by KM Munshi and RR Diwakar. These opening lines somehow set the stage for me to read through the entire book, which isn't a very large book. It has very simple biographies of ten saints:
There isn't much in the book by way of understanding the deeper philosophies of these saints - but serves as a good introduction to the life of the saints and perhaps a good account of how they achieved sainthood. There's no pontification of religion or philosophy; just an objective view of how these saints' lives came into being. That perhaps is the hallmark of a good book that talks of the lives of great persons. By virtue of the original writer, 9 of the 10 saints are from south India, and are essentially of the Śhaiva or the Vaiṣṇava cults (some may take objection to the use of the word 'cult'; I am just using what's written in the book.) In between however, strewn along the reading path, are certain gems.
The saint's approach to reality is said to be more emotional, whereas that of a sage is regarded as more intellectual. [...] In India, the saints have been known for their sagely qualities and the sages for their saintly qualities.
I even discovered a new word: Thaumaturgy. The language of the book is very simple, however, and reads like a hot knife through butter. In the beginning of the chapter on Tirunāvukkaraśu, the author starts with:
Genuine conversion does not consist in a formal change from one religion to another, but in an inner transformation involving spiritual exaltation; in fact, it is that which effects a change over from unsaintly ways of life to saintliness.
To read about the life of these saints comes as a breath of fresh air, as we are surrounded by an overtly cynical and skeptical society that reflectively feeds on outrage. To peek into the life that is undisturbed by the things that consume our waking moment is almost wondrous. The book will not make you want to go right into Saṁnyāsa. It's not a guidebook to living your life; just short biographies of ten mortals who touched divinity. The corruption of ideas caused by excessive literalism,finds mention in the chapter for Mānikkavācakar:
Bridal mysticism has its unique value as well as its peculiar dangers. The devotee who is an expert in this type of mysticism considers himself or herself to be the bride of God. This is an attitude adopted not only by women-saints but also by men-saints. In fact, according to the philosophy behind this attitude, God is the only Male, and all the souls are His consorts. This is what the allegory of Kṛṣṇa and the gopīs implies. Nārada in his Bhakti-sūtra commends the bhakti of the milkmaids of Brindāvan as the highest type of devotion. In the Hindu scriptures the bliss of the divine communion is likened to conjugal happiness.
The danger the lurks in all such imagery is literalness in understanding it. In some of the Hindu sects, the interpretation became so literal that it led to mal-practices. But bridal mysticism in its pure form is as lofty as loftiness can be. It stands for an undivided loyalty and exclusive devotion to the Lord, and an intense longing for union with Him.
Further chapters expound the evolution of Advaita, how it came to be experienced by saints, to a small extent. As I have mentioned before, this is not the book that explores any ideas in great detail, but is a wonderful place to stoke curiosity, and seek other scripts to satisfy the curiosity.
On a separate note, I believe this book is out of print, so if you want to get your hands on it, you will have to reach out to your parents or grandparents - or BVB although I could not find this book in their catalogue either. I fortunately inherited this book, which unfortunately is in quite a bad shape.
But knowledge doesn't limit itself to a few places, does it?(less)
It's a great feeling to read a book after you have seen the movie. Especially noticing the liberties that the movie took, and didn't take. So I am now...moreIt's a great feeling to read a book after you have seen the movie. Especially noticing the liberties that the movie took, and didn't take. So I am now on a Ian Fleming journey. Love the reading, crispy, sprinkled with a bit of philosophy and smart quotes, while the world is being saved.(less)
Culture. At the end, that word resonated for a while. Perhaps it is about the profession or perhaps it is about the ease with which we move around the...moreCulture. At the end, that word resonated for a while. Perhaps it is about the profession or perhaps it is about the ease with which we move around the world and understand the story. But of course, the book was not about that.
For a long time, I put off seeing the movie (based on this book) till I read the book. Finally, I have.
It's an absolutely wonderful visual journey and I am inclined to say that is a visualizer first and story-teller second. Visualisation not just of the scenes or the details, but of the human landscape, textured with our tainted pasts, potential futures, and indeterminate emotions.
The language and presentation influences the thinking eye, if we do have such a thing, and users you ever so gently to the purpose of the writer. I am hard-pressed to think of many other writers who can do that. Few, but definitely not many.
I must say, I am very glad that this book reintroduced me to fiction and reminded me that good stories have their own place in life.
When you have a master story-teller, oh, even better.(less)
By far one of the best biographies written - notwithstanding whether you love or hate Steve Jobs or Apple. A beautiful insight into the person, unmode...moreBy far one of the best biographies written - notwithstanding whether you love or hate Steve Jobs or Apple. A beautiful insight into the person, unmoderated and unfiltered. Sometimes even mean (but then that was the life). To enjoy this book, I think you will need to be curious of the life of Steve Jobs, however.(less)
Life-changing book, is something I would never write for any book. Books by themselves do not do that - it's the reader who understands something in a...moreLife-changing book, is something I would never write for any book. Books by themselves do not do that - it's the reader who understands something in a book and chooses to make it an experience.
The Journey To The East is simply written book, the language almost plain of a journey, as you may have guessed across lands, , as you may first think it to be. Eventually, you get to know that this journey, fantastical at times, is nothing about the "travel". The journey is evenly punctuated by descriptions of life experiences that you may imagine, you had written yourself. It is a story of despair as much as it is a story of a forgotten goal while always being a story about paths in a journey. And within these many stories, we get to know ourselves in a classic Hesse-ian style.
I had an additional personal interest in this book, which made it more enjoyable, you may want to strip a star for that.(less)
**spoiler alert** I do not remember the last time I was grinning, smiling, excited, and as eager to know what happens next - as I was - when I was rea...more**spoiler alert** I do not remember the last time I was grinning, smiling, excited, and as eager to know what happens next - as I was - when I was reading Haroun And The Sea Of Stories by Salman Rushdie. For a while now, and age probably has got something to do with it - I have ceased to call things - life-changing. Perhaps, as we go along in our life and get to know that lesser life remains, perhaps there is less of life to change.
For two days, I lived an experience similar to that when I used to read story-books, a long time ago. That experience has a few determining qualities:
First, it creates heart-wrenching curiosity to know what happens next. There is excitement due to the dark shroud of dread, fused with a bright tube of hope. You feel all the emotions that the author wants you to feel. There is a sense of freedom in those slavish moment.
Second, the experience allows you to allow yourself to allow irrationality that we have absorbed from this world. And after we have allowed this willing suspension of disbelief, the fantastical journey becomes your own and you travel beside every character as you do with people in your everyday commute.
Finally, it remains with you. Stories told well have a lasting impact on you. Think about the grandmother-generalisation, if you will. Her stories are the ones that have remained with you for ever. Grandparents in general and grandmothers in specific are prone to developing skills of good story-telling.
This is the first book by Salman Rushdie that I have ever read, and like most others, I know more about his infamous book and the surrounding controversies than anything else. If you have been following my reviews for a while, I usually refrain from superlatives, but this is the work of a genius.
Potential Spoilers Ahead
The story runs at three levels. In order that they were revealed to me: The first one and the most enjoyable is the story itself - the vents, the characters and their lives and accidents. Below it, not very well camouflaged is, a political and social level, which an adult will want to uncover. The partially concealed metaphors make you want to probe within the store of your mind about relationships, meanings and linkages. The last one, is philosophical. This is a layer that can be said to be common in almost every book, because of the subtle nature of philosophy and its ability to be found almost anywhere. Yet, in this book, it stands strong. It is forceful and has an enduring after-taste.
The meat of it, however, is still in the story and the adventure. It is fully fantastical, curiously exaggerated , and a challenge to your imagination at all times. The language is young and flows like child-like curiosity and mischief.
It is not, as I have now stopped calling things - life-changing - but it is definitely a book that may allow you to change your perspectives about some things in life.
In the worst case, it is a beautiful story - and this is such a wonderful worst case to have!(less)
If you were a stickler for categorisation of books, you may put this under self-help or guides. The back of the book claims it belongs to ART/Creativi...moreIf you were a stickler for categorisation of books, you may put this under self-help or guides. The back of the book claims it belongs to ART/Creativity - but to my mind, this is misleading - to an extent.
Yes, the book has been written for "in-service artists" (painters and writers, the author says), though I found the matter in the book quite relevant. The problem there is not about whether one is creative (as the author describes towards the end of the book), but, probably about who is an artist?
Visual and performance arts have always been considered the domains where creativity abounds. To my mind it flows in every aspect of our life. And if there are sixteen principles to help define the authenticity of your creativity, I think they might be well useful for all of us.