Category Archives: Autobiography

“Eat, Pray, Love”, By Elizabeth Gilbert; Second Reading

I read this book few years ago and I had written about it during my earlier days of blogging. But I wanted to go back and read “Eat, pray, love” once again. Somehow I felt that this book had helped me in making some decisions about my life back then and I was again at crossroads and reading this book helped me once again. I have found a definite connection between myself and author Elizabeth Gilbert and that is a source of great inspiration for me. The way she handled her life and came out as winner after all the trials is amazing as well as motivating.

I also found incidents that I had not noticed during my first reading or not written about them during my earlier blog post. She manages to be funny even while writing most difficult phases of her life. The idea of writing a letter to God and getting it signed by all her well wishers in imagination is great. The way she is able to make friends everywhere in the world while travelling gives me something to think about. I have never been able to do anything like that. She celebrates thanksgiving dinner with her friends in Italy and it gets emotional for everybody present even though many of them are strangers.

I can go on writing about each chapter and how it made me think. It requires guts for somebody to give up everything and go on such a journey and then make millions of dollars and fans by writing about it. I wonder whether I will be able to take up this kind of journey in my life. You really need to be passionate about things and willing to give up pleasures of life and seek pleasure in simple and different things. I have to also make those butter fried potatoes some day that she made one night to satisfy her physical hunger but in the end she had to think about her Brazilian friend in the bed to satisfy herself.

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“Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance”, Louis V. Gerstner

I remember that I was attending a technical seminar few years ago where one of the IBM executive mentioned that it is an open secret that now IBM earns most of its profit from services and not from products as has traditionally been the case earlier. That particular statement left me thinking as I had always regarded IBM at the forefront of computer technology and responsible for so many innovations that have taken place in last 50 years. And then I came across this book “Who says elephants can’t dance”, by CEO of IBM Louis V. Gerstner who is credited with this turnaround of the company.

When he came on board from a non-technical domain of American Express, IBM was facing a tough challenge from PC makers, Microsoft, Apple and the technology trend from mainframes to desktop PCs. But it was a monolith, steeped in bureaucracy and very difficult to make any changes. At such time, Gerstner took tough decisions, laid out employees but did not break up the company into “Baby-blues” like AT&T and focussed on IT services and solutions instead of Hardware that it was selling till that time. He managed to turn around the fortunes of the whole company in few years and even though it is not doing the same things that it used to do earlier, IBM has adapted to market transition and has been financially successful.

His writing style is good and easy to read. But the book focusses a lot on the Gerstner himself and what he did to save the company. Since it is his autobiography, he has  liberty to look at things from his perspective but sometimes I felt that he was over the top. Several of his emails to all employees of the company find prominent mention in the book that I found a bit too much. There is also a famous incident where he switched off a projector in middle of presentation by top executives so that they could do some real “work”.

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“Persepolis”, By Marjane Satrapi

The name and the cover of the book attracted my attention in the bookstore and when I flipped the pages I found that the story was written in a comic strip form. The information on the back page was intriguing and I picked up this book without having any more information about it. “Persepolis” which is reference to ancient capital of Persia (Today’s Iran) is an autobiographical account of author Marjane Satrapi about her growing years in Iran before and after the Islamic revolution and her years spent in Europe where she went for college education.

The story tells us how a little girl growing up in Iran gets influenced by revolutionary ideas against the Shah of Iran even though her own family had one time served the King. The protests, killings and eventual revolution had a deep impact on the girl but after the Islamic revolution and start of Iran-Iraq war things begin to change. Her parents send her to Europe so that she can study. Here she undergoes conflict between her traditional upbringing and the freedom in society that she encounters.

This book was a wonderful change where I was reading a comic which was not superhero centric or meant for children. The story was serious but depiction in comics made it lighter to read and more enjoyable. Revolutions, war, protests change the destiny of the countries but their impact on children and families can be much more devastating. I really liked the way tradition, religion and new age values have been mixed together in this book. I wonder why this genre of comics is so rare.

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Alex Haley’s “Queen: The Story Of An American Family”

“Queen” is Alex Haley’s second book after the very famous “Roots” in which he had traced his ancestry back to Africa. In “Queen”, he has written the story of his grandmother who was an illegitimate and un-acknowledged daughter of James Jass Jackson III and his slave Easter. This story is not as engaging as “Roots” was, but it really brings out the culture of that time when slavery was prevalent in America and many children were born out of relationships between black slaves and their white masters.

The love story between queen’s parents is very beautifully captured by the author. It again brings out the fact that love can blossom in any situation and does not see any boundaries. This was not a forced relationship of white master and slave girl that was the norm in those days. In this case, James truly loved and cared about Easter. At the same time, James was also bounded by social norm of that time and could not acknowledge the relationship or the child. The story though shows that James tried to help Queen as much as he could.

The story also talks about Queen’s anguish as a slave girl. She was not accepted by her father and also was teased by other slave children because she had mixed heritage and skin color. We in today’s age cannot even imagine what kind of difficulties that generation must have faced not only when they were living as slaves but later after civil war when slavery was abolished but racism was still very prevalent for many years.

The book was finished after Haley’s death by David Stevens. I have read somewhere that there is a TV series based on this book but I have not seen it.

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Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Autobiography

I finally finished reading the 4th part of Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Autobiography “Dashdwaar Se Sopaan Tak”. I first came across his autobiography in an exhibition when I was looking for something to read in Hindi. I had read his “Madhushala” but I was not aware of the autobiography. When I saw that it was in four volumes, I was not sure whether i am going to read it completely, but still decided to take the first volume “Kya Bhooloon Kya Yaad Karoon”. That was many years ago. After that I had been reading it and once I finished one book, I bought the next one and so on and finally I finished reading the last volume recently.

This last book was of particular interest to me for many reasons. In this book he has written a lot about his son “Amitabh Bachchan”s movie career and I wanted to read about it from the only authentic source possible since Amitabh himself has not written any book on himself. This book also has a lot of information about Bachchan’s closeness with Nehru-Gandhi family and how the two families were together in good and bad times. But most important of all, this book is about the courage of a man who at that age was so candid and truthful about his life and events that it ends up shocking you.

There are just too many things which remain with you after you have read the book but I will try to give a few examples. He is very fond of his family but does not mind passing a curt remark if he feels like it. He has written about the obsession of his female fans or his ruined friendships with his poet friends. When we read the complete book, you just feel very respectful for his courage and honesty. The fact of the matter is that the one who does not have anything to hide is probably the most honest person on earth and that part comes out very well through this book.

Now coming to the language of the book. It is written in very good literary hindi which is sometimes difficult for me as well despite having Hindi as my mother tongue. It also highlights his literary journey. I did not know that he wrote Gita in the poem form of Ramcharitmanas. He was truly the master of Hindi Literature and to think that he used to teach English and did his PHd in English poetry on Yeats. Probably, that is why Amitabh has such a beautiful dual language fluency. Overall, a great book by a great man.

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