Archive for February 2007

Epictetus – The Art of Living

February 21, 2007

The Art of Living(a book review)ByVikram Karve 

 

I’ve got a wonderful book in my bookcase. It’s called The Art of Living: The Classic Manual on Virtue, Happiness, and Effectiveness, a new interpretation by Sharon Lebell. The compact book encapsulates in a nutshell the salient teachings of Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher.  

Whenever I buy a book I write my name, the date and place of purchase on the first page. I bought this book from one of my favorite bookstores Gangaram’s
Bangalore on 18 August 1999. There was a time, in the nineties, when I used to visit
Bangalore very often. I ensured I stayed somewhere near

MG Road

, and spend the evenings strolling in the delightful area around

MG Road

and

Brigade Road

. A delightful meal of the scrumptious Kerala delicacies like Stew, Appams, Parotta and the Ghee Rice at Imperial on Residency Road, baked delights at Nilgiri, Rosogullas at KC Das and Book Browsing at Gangarams Book Bureau were an absolute must. It’s been six years now, I cherish those memories and hope I get a chance to visit
Bangalore soon. 

Now let’s have a look at a few gems from this witty and wise book which delves on two basic questions pertaining to the art of living: How do I live a happy, meaningful, fulfilling life? How can I be a good person? 

Approach life as a banquet, Epictetus advises. Think of your life as if were a banquet where you would behave graciously. When dishes are passed to you, extend your hand and help yourself to a moderate portion. If a dish should pass you by, enjoy what is already on your plate. Or if a dish hasn’t been passed to you yet, patiently wait your turn… there is no need to yearn, envy, and grab. You will get your rightful portion when it is your time. 

Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not… and once you learn to distinguish between the two inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.  

Events don’t hurt us, only our attitude towards them. Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them to. Accept events as they actually happen. That way peace is possible. 

Create your own merit. Never depend on the admiration of others. Personal merit cannot be derived from an external source. There is no such thing as vicarious merit. 

Whereas society regards professional achievement, wealth, power, and fame as desirable and admirable, Epictetus views these as incidental and irrelevant to true happiness. What matters most is what sort of life you are living; a life of virtue, caretaking the present moment. Authentic happiness is always independent of external conditions…your happiness can be found within. 

This captivating book has had a profound effect on me; my way of thinking and living, and motivated me to delve into the life and works of Epictetus in more detail and it was heartening to see the congruence and harmony of the teachings of Epictetus with Eastern philosophical wisdom and precepts.  

I’m glad I bought this splendid book. It cost me only ninety five rupees. Go down to your neighborhood bookstore and browse through it. I’m sure you will love to have a copy in your bookcase. 

 

VIKRAM KARVEvikramkarve@sify.com 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

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THE ART OF LIVING

February 21, 2007

THE ART OF LIVING

Book Review of THE IMPORTANCE OF LIVING by LIN YUTANG

[A book that shaped my life and taught me the art of living]

by

VIKRAM KARVE

There is one book you will never find in my bookcase – you will always find it by my bedside near my pillow. At night, just before I sleep, I open the book to any random page, and read till I drift off to blissful idyllic sleep.

The name of this book, which has had a profound effect on me, maybe even subconsciously shaped my philosophy of life, is called: The Importance of Living written in 1937 by the Chinese philosopher Lin Yutang.

But first, let me tell you a story, maybe apocryphal, about a scholar who had thoroughly studied the Bhagavad Gita for many years, considered himself an expert, traveled far and wide delivering discourses on the teachings of the Gita and was widely acknowledged as an authority on the subject. His ultimate desire was to deliver a discourse on the Bhagavad Gita at
Benares, which was the sanctum sanctorum of learning. So he went to
Benares, and impressed by the scholar’s erudition and fame the king invited him to deliver a discourse on the Gita in his court. All the wise men of
Benares assembled to hear the Scholar, but just as he began to speak the king interrupted him and told him to read the Bhagavad Gita one more time in the evening and deliver his discourse the next day. The Scholar was furious but he had no choice but to comply with the king’s wishes.

As he read the Gita in the evening, he realized some new meanings and updated his speech accordingly. Next day the same thing happened – the moment the scholar began to speak the king interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more and then come and give his lecture. And again as the Scholar read the Gita he comprehended some new wisdom – something he hadn’t perceived before. So he incorporated his new findings and proceeded to deliver his talk.

Again the same thing happened – the king interrupted him and told him to read the Gita once more before he gave his discourse. And again the scholar discovered some new wisdom in the Gita. This cycle went on for days till the scholar realized how ignorant he was and how much more there was to learn form the Gita that he gave up the idea of delivering the discourse and decided to devote himself completely to the study of the Bhagavad Gita.

And the one morning, when the scholar was deeply immersed in his study, the king went to the scholar’s house, sat before him with folded hands and requested the scholar to enlighten him about the teachings of the Gita.

It’s the same with any great book. Every time you read it, something new emerges, and you realize you have so much more to learn from it. I have read The Importance of Living innumerable times, again and again, with renewed pleasure, and every time I read it I imbibe a different flavor, and grasp new wisdom, which delves on all aspects of the art of living, and I have realized that there is more significance and value in Lin Yutang’s magnum opus than I am capable of appreciating. So let me not be as presumptuous as to attempt to evaluate this classic treatise – I’ll just try to gently pilot you along in random vignettes to give you a flavor of this delightful philosophical gem.

Let’s open this delightful book to a few random pages, read some lines to give you glimpse into the wisdom on the art of living contained in this masterpiece. In the section on Leisure and Friendship are these words: “Only those who take leisurely what the people of the world are busy about can be busy about what the people of the world take leisurely”. Reflect on this, let these words perambulate in your mind for some time. There is nothing that man enjoys more than leisure. The highest value of time is when you are doing what you love and want to do. During leisure you are free to choose what you want to do and enjoy doing. So leisure enables you realize the highest value of your time!

Tell me, why do you work? Is it for job satisfaction? Or is it to earn money so that you can enjoy satisfaction off the job? In fact, most of us work for our leisure, because there is nothing we enjoy more than leisure. Elaborating on a theory of leisure the book says: “Time is useful because it is not being used. Leisure is like unoccupied floor space in a room…it is that unoccupied space which makes a room habitable, as it is our leisure hours which make life endurable”. Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.

Enunciating the distinction between Buddhism and Taoism: “The goal of the Buddhist is that he shall not want anything, while the goal of the Taoist is that he shall not be wanted at all”, the author describes the tremendous advantages of obscurity, deduces that only he who is not wanted by the public can be a carefree individual, and only he who is a carefree individual can be a happy human being and concludes with a philosophy: “Nothing matter to a man who says nothing matters”.

“How are we to live? How shall we enjoy life, and who can best enjoy life?” The feast of life is before us; the only question is what appetite we have for it. The appetite is the thing, and not the feast. The book has fourteen chapters on various facets of the importance and enjoyment of living and once you start reading it is unputdownable. The Importance of Loafing, The Enjoyment of the Home, Nature, Travel, Culture, The Art of Thinking, Eating,
Reading, Writing – the range and variety of topics covered indeed make fascinating reading.

The best way to read this book is to browse whatever appeals to you, randomly, in an unstructured and haphazard manner. Think of yourself as a traveler in the philosophical or spiritual domain. The essence of travel is to have no destination. A good traveler is one who does not know where he is going to; a perfect traveler does not know where he came from!

Are you the ambitious competitive go-getter obsessed with an overpowering desire for achieving quick success – craving for power, wealth, fame, and the status and money-oriented aspects of life? Do you value material possessions more than peace of mind? Is external achievement more important than inner tranquility? Then don’t read this book now, as you may be too “busy” in the competitive rat race and don’t have any time to “waste” on anything that doesn’t give you something tangible in return. Read The Importance of Living after you’ve burned out, had a heart attack or nervous breakdown – when you’ll have plenty of time and, perhaps, the inclination to reflect, contemplate and delve upon the more intangible philosophical aspects of life.

But if you are happy where you are and content with what you have, place living above thinking, and are interested in savoring the feast of life and its joys, then this witty philosophical treatise on the art of living in its entirety is the book for you. The Importance of Living presents an uncomplicated approach to living life to its fullest in today’s rapidly changing, fast paced, competitive, ambition dominated, money and status oriented, commercialized world, enabling each one of us to enjoy inner peace and happiness.

Sometimes, it is a great pity to read a good book too early in life. The first impression is the one that counts. Young people should be careful in their reading, as old people in eating their food. They should not eat too much. They should chew it well. Like you should eat gourmet food only when you are ready for it, you should read a good book only when you are ready for it. Mature wisdom cannot be appreciated until one becomes mature.

But The Importance of Living is a book for all ages. Of 1937 vintage, an ancestor and precursor of modern “self-help” books, it is a delightful philosophical treatise, which advocates a humorous and vagabond attitude towards life and deals with a variety of topics encompassing the art of living. Is such a philosophy of life relevant today? Read the book, try out and practice whatever appeals to you in your daily life, experiment, enjoy yourself, elevate your plane of living, and maybe your entire way of life may change forever.

VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

vikramkarve@hotmail.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

Teaching Stories from the Orient

February 21, 2007

A FASCINATING BOOK ON MY BOOKSHELVES – ORIENTAL STORIES AS TOOLS IN PSYCHOTHERAPYByVIKRAM KARVE 

 

An Eastern merchant owned a parrot. One day the bird knocked over an oil flask. The merchant became very angry and hit the parrot on the back of the head.From that time on, the parrot, who had previously appeared to be very intelligent, could not talk any more. He lost the feathers on his head and soon became bald.One day, as the parrot was sitting on the bookshelf in his master’s place of business, a baldheaded customer entered the shop.The sight of the man made the parrot very excited. Flapping his wings, he jumped around, squawked, and, to everyone’s surprise, suddenly regained his speech and asked the baldheaded man, “Did you, too, knock down an oil flask and get hit on the back of the head so that you don’t have any hair any more?” 

This is a story called The Merchant and the Parrot from a delightfully interesting book in my bookcase called “Oriental Stories as Tools in Psychotherapy” by Nossrat Peseschkian. I bought this book on 12 October 1998 from the International Book Service at Deccan Gymkhana in Pune and love to delve into it from time to time. 

The book features a fascinating compilation meaningful oriental Teaching Stories – the psychotherapeutic function of stories is the theme of this book. The author, a physician and psychotherapist, emphasizes the fact that long before the development of modern psychotherapy, stories served as instruments of folk psychotherapy and highlights how stories are effective transmitters of messages. He avers that stories have a lot in common with medication and, like medicines, used at the right time in the right form stories can lead to changes in attitude and behavior, but, given in the wrong dosage, told in an insincere and moralizing way, the application can be dangerous. 

You can study, scrutinize and critically analyze this book if you are a serious reader and want to go deep into the subject; or like me, you can enjoy and be illuminated by the lovely teaching stories in the book. 

 Teaching stories have a special quality – if read in a certain kind of way they enlighten you. There are three ways to read teaching stories:- 

        Read the story once. Then move on to another. This manner of reading will give you entertainment – maybe produce a laugh; like jokes.         Read the story twice. Reflect on it. Apply it to your life. You will feel enriched.          Read the story again, after you have reflected on it. Carry the story around in your mind all day and allow its fragrance, its melody to haunt you. Create a silence within you and let the story reveal to you its inner depth and meaning. Let it speak to your heart, not to your brain. This will give you a feel for the mystical and you will develop the art of tasting and feeling the inner meaning of such stories to the point that they transform you. 

A good teaching story has several levels of meaning and interpretation and offers us opportunities to think in new ways. At first you may just have a good laugh, but as you think and reflect, the significance becomes more and more profound. Each story veils its knowledge and as you ruminate, the walls of its outer meanings crumble away and the beauty of the previously invisible inner wisdom is revealed, and you begin to identify yourself in the story, and to acknowledge that you too could be as foolish or as lacking in discernment as the characters in these classic tales. 

Here is a story called “Fifty Years of Politeness”: 

An elderly couple celebrated their golden anniversary…while eating breakfast together, the woman thought, “for fifty years I’ve always been considerate of my husband and have always given him the crusty top of the bread roll. Today I want to finally enjoy this delicacy for myself.”She spread the top part with butter and gave the other part to her husband.Contrary to her expectations, he was very pleased, kissed her hand, and said, “My darling, you’ve just given me the greatest joy of the day. For over fifty years I haven’t eaten the bottom part of the bread roll, which is the part I like best. I always thought you should have it because you like it so much.” I love and cherish this book which has enhanced me in all aspects of my life and browse through the stories quite often; and as I reflect and interpret I feel refreshed, enlightened and wiser. Whether it’s your work, marriage, relationships, children, or any situation or facet of your life, there’s sure to be an apt story in here for you which will put you on the path of self-discovery. 

I’ll conclude with a quote from this exquisite and unique book: Occasionally we can’t avoid science, math and erudite discussions which aid development of human consciousness. But occasionally we also need poetry, chess, and stories, so our spirit can find joy and refreshment.    

VIKRAM KARVE

 vikramkarve@sify.com  

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

  

BIBLIOTHERAPY by Vikram Karve

February 21, 2007

BIBLIOTHERAPY
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Whenever I’m in a blue mood, I browse through my bookshelves and pick up a book. Reading is the greatest of all joys, and the moment I start reading a book I enter a different world, and this change of environment has a positive psychological effect, and lo and behold, my spirits are uplifted. Those who do not have the habit of reading remain imprisoned in their moods and immediate surroundings.

I’ve just picked up a delightful little book called “The Ladies Oracle” by Cornelius Agrippa from my bookcase. Let me tell you about it.

Whenever I buy a book, I write down the date and place of purchase on its first page. I have duly recorded that I bought The Ladies Oracle on 14 February 1989 on the pavement bookstalls opposite the CTO at Fort in Bombay as it was then known.

Let’s get down to using this delightful oracle. First choose a question from the ninety five listed in the book from pages (v) to (viii) numbered 5 to 100 (I wonder where the first five questions are?).

I select question number 35: – Shall I always enjoy good health?

Now I turn to page (i), close my eyes and put my finger on the table of signs. (I have placed my finger on the sign representing a single square).

Now I consult the table starting from page ten, follow the line marked by the number of the question (35th line) till I arrive at the column which has the chosen sign over it, and this figure gives me the number of the page (74) where by looking at the sign traced by my finger I find my answer: – You will always have joy, health and prosperity!

Fantastic! I’m feeling good already.

Now the next question, number 15: – How many lovers shall I have?

I go through the procedure and the Oracle gives me the answer: – A great many, but those that have so many generally choose the worst.

Hey, I’ve to be careful!

The next question, number 91: – What opinion has the world of me?

The Oracle answers: – You are thought to have had more than one adventure.

Oh, dear! Have I?

Shall I be happy in love? The oracle says: – You will find more pain than pleasure.

Pretty bleak – better I steer clear of falling in love!

Will my reputation be always good?

It will always be as you make it!

Must take care to build up a good reputation!

Shall I go many long voyages?You will do well not to voyage farther than round your own room!

Great! That puts an end to all my travel plans! All I’m going to do is go round and round in my room! What a gloomy answer! And I thought browsing books was supposed to lift my spirits!

Okay, just one last question, and the answer better be something good, or else no more ‘bibliotherapy’ for me!

I select question number 74: – What is the person that I am thinking about doing at this moment? and the Oracle answers: – She regrets not being with you!

Wow! Bibliotheraphy really works. I feel thrilled, jubilant, ecstatic, on cloud nine, in seventh heaven and right on top of the world as I rush off to surprise my beloved sweetheart. And just imagine, I thought she never even thought about me!

Long live The Ladies Oracle!

Oh, yes. The Ladies Oracle is a delightful little book you can consult from time to time on matters of love and life, believe me you’ll enjoy it. (It may be called The Ladies’ Oracle but I’m sure even men will enjoy reading and consulting it with satisfying results).

Dear Reader, why don’t you try it out? It’s entertaining reading, guaranteed to lift your spirits. And do let me know what questions you asked the Oracle and what answers you got!

VIKRAM KARVE
vikramkarve@sify.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

The Management of the Absurd

February 21, 2007

Browsing Books: MANAGEMENT OF THE ABSURD
By
Vikram Karve

Book Review by Vikram Karve

The Book:
TITLE: MANAGEMENT OF THE ABSURD
AUTHOR: RICHARD FARSON
PUBLISHED: 1996 TOUCHSTONE NEW YORK
ISBN 0-684-80080-2

Leafing through my beloved books on my bookshelves is one of my favorite pastimes. I love the company, the smell and the feel of books, as I leisurely browse and glance through the varied books I have collected over the years. And maybe select one for perusal.

This morning I picked up a delightful management classic called Management of the Absurd by Richard Farson. I acquired my copy on 06 May 1999 in the Pune Book Fair (that’s what I’ve written below my name on the first page). It is a laconic book which explores the paradoxes of management in an extremely witty manner. Let’s browse through this wonderful book together.

In his foreword Michael Crichton writes: “In this book Richard Farson reports more than experience; he gives us …wisdom”.

The 172 page book has eight parts and thirty three chapters, and as the author says in the introduction, these chapters need not necessarily be read in sequence, but in whatever order appeals to the reader. Let’s do just that.

“Morale is unrelated to productivity” the author says chapter in 27, turning conventional HR wisdom on its head. He deprecates management practices of pampering and mollycoddling employees (which one reads of particularly in the IT sector), giving gifts, holding parties, recognizing birthdays, gestures of goodwill and other HR gimmicks designed to court employee favor as a calculated morale-raising strategy. Self-actualized people, who were among the greatest achievers in our society, were not necessarily comfortable or happy; they could be ruthless, boring, stuffy, irritating, and humorless and organizations are absolutely dependent on such people. You don’t agree, don’t you? That’s why you must read this book, which turns things you have learnt topsy-turvy and gives you something to think about.

Effective Managers are not in control, emphasizing the vulnerability requirement in a leader. Absurdly, our most important human affairs – marriage, child rearing, education, leadership – do best when there is occasional loss of control and an increase in personal vulnerability, the author says, and compares leadership with romance. If you know how to have a romance, it isn’t a romance, but a seduction. Not knowing how to do it makes it a romance; it’s the same for leadership, an intangible quality, management techniques don’t work. Genuineness in relationships is the only way to lead professionals.

Training leads to the development of skills and techniques, and suggests the possibility of control. Education leads to information and knowledge, which suggests the possibility of understanding, even wisdom. Wisdom involves humility, compassion and respect – essential to effective leadership!
Training makes people more alike, education tends to make people different from each other, so the first benefit of education is that the manager becomes unique, independent. “Don’t try to train leaders. Educate them!” the author exhorts.

Planning is an ineffective way to bring about change. Too often it is an empty ritual designed to make management feel there is something going on in that area.

There are paradoxes and paradoxes, absurdities and absurdities!

Individuals are strong, but organizations are not.

The better things are the worse they feel, says the theory of rising expectations, and that’s why good marriages are more likely to fail than bad ones, and second marriages are better than first marriages, but shorter!

In communication, form is more important than content, praising people does not motivate them, and the more we communicate, the less we communicate.

The ‘meat’ of the book is the chapter on – The “Technology” of Human Relations. Exploring the impact of technology on Human relations, the author discusses how technology invents us, develops a life of its own and with every application of technology a counterforce develops that is the exact opposite of what we intended. The danger is that we become so in love with technological applications that we forget its detrimental effects; he illustrates his point with examples of how computer technology increases design capability but stifles creativity. We must focus on Relationship Enrichment rather than acquisition of techniques of management skills, he suggests, since the more important a relationship, the less skill matters.

The book is replete with startling insights. The author states his message in his introduction: “I believe many programs in management training today are moving us in the wrong direction because they fail to appreciate the complexity and paradoxical nature of human organizations. Thinking loses out to how-to-do-it formulas and techniques, if not to slogans and homilies, as the principle management guides.”

This is a refreshing, original and thought provoking book. A rare gem in the plethora of management literature. Something different from the run of the mill stuff. Do read it. You’ll be glad you did.

VIKRAM KARVE


vikramkarve@sify.com

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

Book Review : My Favourite Autobiography – A Soldier’s Story by Omar N Bradley

February 15, 2007

Book review by Vikram Karve

 

MY FAVORITE MILITARY AUTOBIOGRAPHY

 

A Soldier’s Story by Omar N. Bradley

 

 

 

 

I love reading autobiographies, as there is nothing more inspiring and authentic than learning about the life, times, thoughts and views of a great person in his own words.

 

It’s a lazy hot Sunday afternoon. I browse through my bookshelves and pick out A Soldier’s Story by General Omar Nelson Bradley, one of my favorite autobiographies, and certainly my all time favorite military autobiography. Come Dear Reader, sit with me for a while, and let’s leaf through and peruse this fascinating book.

 

General Bradley (1893-1981) known for his calm and resolute leadership and affectionately called the “Soldier’s General” commanded the largest American combat force in history and rose to be the first Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff.

 

This is a story, not of my life, but of a campaign…I have sought… to tell a story of how generals live and work at their chosen profession the author says at the beginning of his memoirs which focus on his participation in World War II.

 

Candidly written with remarkable humility in beautiful expressive language it is a wonderful memoir embellished with interesting episodes and lucid characterizations of many renowned military personalities.

 

 In this book I have tried to achieve one purpose: To explain how war is waged on the field from the field command postTo tell a story of how and why we chose to do what we did, no one can ignore the personalities and characteristics of those individuals engaged in making decisions…..Where there are people, there is pride and ambition, prejudice and conflict. In generals, as in all other men, capabilities cannot always obscure weaknesses, nor can talents hide faults…General Bradley writes in his preface which concludes…I could not conscientiously expurgate this book to make it more palatable…if this story is to be told, it must be told honestly and candidly… 

The author writes in a wonderfully readable storytelling style and starts his riveting narrative on September 2, 1943, driving to Messina along the north coast of Sicily when, suddenly, General Eisenhower summoned him to tell him that he had been selected to command the American Army in the biggest invasion of the war – the liberation of Europe from the Germans. He then goes back in time and starts his story with vignettes from his early formative days of soldiering. He describes how, from General Marshall, he learnt the rudiments of effective command which he himself applied throughout the war: “When an officer performed as I expected him to, I gave him a free hand. When he hesitated, I tried to help him. And when he failed, I relieved him”  – isn’t this leadership lesson valid even on today’s IT driven world where delegation seems to be taking a back- seat and excessive monitoring, interference and intervention seem to be on the rise.

 

Rather than encourage yes-men, ego-massage, sycophancy and groupthink, General Marshal sought contrary opinions: “When you carry a paper in here, I want you to give me every reason you can think of why I should not approve it. If, in spite of your objections, my decision is to still go ahead, then I’ll know I’m right”. 

When it was suggested to General Marshall that a corps commander who had an arthritic disability in the knee be sent home rather than be given command of a corps in the field in war, he opined: “I would rather have a man with arthritis in the knee than one with arthritis in the head. Keep him there”.

 

“For the first time in 32 years as a soldier, I was off to a war” he writes on his assignment overseas in February 1943 to act as Eisenhower’s “eyes and ears” among American troops on the Tunisian front in
North Africa.

 

He vividly describes the chaos after the American defeat at Kasserine, the arrival of Patton on the scene who growled “I’m not going to have any goddam spies running around in my headquarters” and appointed Bradley as his deputy, a defining moment which was the first step of Bradley’s illustrious combat career.

 

This is easily the best book on Patton’s stellar role in World War II, complementing General Patton’s Memoirs War As I Knew It and Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago. Though his admiration for Patton is evident, General Bradley writes about his long association with Patton with fairness and honesty and reveals unique and remarkable facets of Patton’s leadership style and character.

 

Sample this – Precisely at 7 Patton boomed in to breakfast. His vigor was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humor. He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier. (Can there be a better description?)

 

Bradley vividly describes how Patton transformed the slovenly and demoralized II Corps into a fighting fit formation. “The news of Patton’s coming fell like a bombshell on Djebel Kouif. With sirens shrieking Patton’s arrival, a procession of armored scout cars and half-tracks wheeled into the dingy square opposite the schoolhouse headquarters of II Corps…In the lead car Patton stood like a charioteer…scowling into the wind and his jaw strained against the web strap of a two-starred steel helmet.”

 

General Bradley writes superbly, as he describes how Patton stamped his personality upon his men and by his outstanding charismatic leadership rejuvenated the jaded, slovenly, worn-out, defeated and demoralized II Corps and transformed it into a vibrant, disciplined, fighting fit organization that never looked back and went on winning victory after victory in most difficult circumstances and against all odds.

 

There are bits of delightful humor in this book. Commenting on the ingenuity and improvisation abilities of Patton’s staff, the author writes: “…Indeed had Patton been named an Admiral in the Turkish Navy, his aides could probably dipped into their haversacks and come up with the appropriate badges of rank…” Though, at times, the author appears to be in awe of and enamored by Patton’s larger than life charisma, he is candid, dispassionate and, at times, critical when he describes how he was bewildered by the contradictions in Patton’s character and concludes: “At times I felt that Patton, however successful he was as a corps commander, had not yet learned how to command himself.” 

Their techniques of command varied with their contrasting personalities. While the soft-spoken unassuming Bradley preferred to lead by suggestion and example, the flamboyant Patton chose to drive his subordinates by bombast and threats, employing imperious mannerisms and profane expletives with startling originality; and both achieved spectacular results. 

 

Many of us are at a loss for words when asked to qualitatively appraise our subordinates. See how easily General Bradley lucidly evaluates his division commanders, bringing out their salient qualities, in so few words with elegant simplicity and succinctness: “…To command a corps of four divisions, toughness alone is not enough. The corps commander must know his division commanders, he must thoroughly understand their problems, respect their judgment, and be tolerant of their limitations…among the division commanders in
Tunisia, none excelled the unpredictable Terry Allen in the leadership of troops…but in looking out for his own division, Allen tended to belittle the role of others… Ryder had confirmed his reputation as that of a skilled tactician…his weakness, however, lay in the contentment with which he tolerated mediocrity…the profane and hot-tempered Harmon brought to the corps the rare combination of sound tactical judgment and boldness… none was better balanced nor more cooperative than Manton Eddy…though not timid, neither was he bold; Manton liked to count his steps carefully before he took them.”
 Aren’t the author’s understanding, observation and articulation remarkable?

 

 

Throughout the book, we find honest, frank and incisive appraisals of characters in this story – superiors, peers and subordinates – most of them renowned and famous personalities. He writes with candor about the problems of command during the planning of the invasion of
Europe.

From then on the story gathers speed and moves so captivatingly that one is spellbound as one reads the author fluently narrate the events of the campaign with remarkable preciseness and detail, one realizes what an engaging and compelling book this is – it’s simply unputdownable!

 

All important events, turning points, and personalities are vividly described with the aid of maps, charts, pictures and appendices; from D Day (the Normandy Invasion) to the surrender of the German forces. Towards the end of his memoirs General Bradley reflects “Only five years before…as a lieutenant colonel in civilian clothes, I had ridden a bus down Connecticut Avenue to my desk in old Munitions Building… I opened the mapboard and smoothed out the tabs of the 43 US divisions now under my command…stretched across a 640-mile front of the 12th Army Group…I wrote in the new date: D plus 335…outside the sun was climbing in the sky. The war in
Europe had ended.”
 

While this autobiography is a “must read” for military men and students of military history, I am sure it will benefit management students and professionals for it is an incisive treatise on Soft Skills encompassing aspects of Leadership, Communications, and most importantly, the Art of Human Relations Management in the extremely complex and highly stressful scenario of War where achievement of success (victory) is inescapably paramount. It is a primer, a treasury of distilled wisdom, on all aspects of management, especially human resource management.  One can learn many motivational and management lessons from this book.

 

There is nothing to surpass the experience of learning history first hand from a man who lived and created it rather than a historian who merely records it. The Art of Leadership is better learnt from studying Leaders, their lives, their writings, rather than reading management textbooks pontificating on the subject and giving how-to-do laundry lists. 

 

The Art and Science of Management owe its genesis and evolution to the military. Modern Management theories, concepts, techniques and practices emerged from the experiences and lessons learnt during World War II [particularly in The United States of America].  

It’s ironic isn’t it? It was the military that gave modern management principles to the civilian corporate world, and today we see military men running to civilian management institutes to “learn’ management and get the coveted MBA which the sine qua non and all important passport for entry into the corporate world.

 

I love reading stories, all kinds of stories, fiction, fantasy, parables, fables, slice of life. I like Life Stories, biographies, particularly autobiographies, as there is nothing more credible, convincing and stimulating than learning about the life, times and thoughts of a great person from his own writings. It’s called verisimilitude, I think.

 

A Soldier’s Story is a magnificent book. A masterpiece, a classic! It’s enjoyable, engrossing and illuminating. Read it.

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

http://vikramkarve.blog.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empress Court

February 15, 2007

EMPRESS COURT

By

VIKRAM KARVE

 

 

The next time you visit South Mumbai, go to Churchgate, admire the beautiful Art Deco style façade of the Eros Cinema, an architectural landmark, which marks the beginning of the Art Deco district of Oval Precinct; and start walking southwards down Maharshi Karve Road, passing Eros, Sundance cafe to your right, the verdant Oval Maidan across the road to your left.

 

Keep walking past splendid Art Deco buildings like Court View, Queens Court, Greenfield, Windsor, Rajesh Mansion; stop at the T-junction with Dinsha Vachha Road, look across the road and you will see the most magnificent of them all – Empress Court.

 

Pause for a moment to appreciate the splendid pista green building with its exquisite façade. Then cross the road, walk through the elegant entrance, climb up the wooden spiral staircase to the second floor and ring the doorbell. If you had come just a few days earlier, I would have opened the door – for this is the place where I spent the six best years of my life. Oh yes! How can I ever forget

Empress Court

– the best house I have ever lived in!

 

Let’s go in. A huge hall, dining room to the left, drawing room to the right, airy windows and a cute circular balcony. Stand in the balcony and admire Mumbai University’s Rajabai Clock Tower right in front of you across the Oval, the High Court to its left and Old Secretariat to the right; all Gothic style majestic structures in stone.

 

Walk through the airy cool rooms, each with a balcony with excellent views. Open the doors and windows and enjoy the refreshing sea breeze. It’s heavenly. Words cannot describe the blissful delight I felt when I lived here. Close your eyes and think of GB Mhatre, the architect who crafted and designed this elegant apartment house.

 

Empress Court, facing the Rajabai Clock Tower, on the western side of the Oval, is a part of the heritage Fort precinct. The lush green Oval Maidan, a Heritage Grade I precinct, an open space colonial pattern esplanada of scenic beauty, acting as a buffer between two architectural period styles – the Gothic buildings of the Mumbai University, Bombay High Court and Old Secretariat to the east and Art Deco district to its west.

 

The location of

Empress Court

is ideal. There is the Oxford Bookstore next door where I spent delightful hours browsing books on elegant orange rocking chairs, refreshing myself with delicious cups of invigorating teas in the Cha Bar. Just a short walk and you are at

Marine Drive

. The Business and Art districts, education, museums, sightseeing, shopping, good food, entertainment, night life, clubs, sports, bus and railway stations – everything is so nearby. You’re right in the centre of everything that’s happening in Mumbai.

 

I shall never forget the clock atop Rajabai Tower which woke me up at six every morning, the metamorphosis at sunrise as the sun rose every morning between the tall BSE building and the Clock Tower, the soothing green Oval maidan, football matches at the Cooperage, and the calm tranquil sunsets on Marine Drive.

 

Thank you Empress Court

! I shall always cherish the six years I spent with you – the best years of my life in the best place I have ever lived in.

   

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

 

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

History of Poona – a book review by Vikram Karve

February 15, 2007

Book Review

 

A LOCAL HISTORY OF
POONA AND ITS BATTLEFIELDS

By

COLONEL L W SHAKESPEAR

 

[MACMILLAN AND CO.
LONDON 1916]

 

Reviewed by Vikram Karve

 

 

 

It was indeed my good fortune to chance upon this engrossing book on Pune (
Poona), the city I was born and live in. I enjoyed reading this book. Let me tell you about it.

 

Dear Reader, before you read on, please bear in mind that this 1916 vintage book was written for “present-day residents” of Poona by Colonel L.W. Shakespear, who at that time, in 1916, was the AQMG 6th Poona Division, and apparently an eminent military historian who also wrote “History of the 2nd KEO Goorkhas (sic)” and “History of Upper Assam and the North-East Frontier”.

 

Things change, a lot of water has flown down the Mula and Mutha, the anglicized Poona is now known as Pune (its original Maharashtrian name) and if you want to truly enjoy this delightful book, close your eyes for a while and transport yourself ninety years back in time from the chaotic Pune of today to the Poona of 1916 in order to enable you to lucidly see in your mind’s eye its glorious heritage so vividly portrayed by the author.

 

Eschewing long-winded prologue, the author, a military man, succinctly states his objective right in the beginning on the first page: “ It is not intended to go deep into dynastic matters, but only to touch on the locality’s earliest days, and then turn to more modern times; calling up items of interest which may make their sojourn here, and perhaps their outings, of greater value to present-day residents.”  This is not a definitive work and the reader must keep in mind the author’s intent and point of view for a better understanding of this book.

 

Tracing the genesis of Poona, Shakespear concludes: “From about A.D. 230 to A.D. 500 no specific information is found concerning this locality; but there is reason to believe that … Poona was ruled by the Ratta clan, which… became sufficiently powerful as to be styled “Maharashtra”, or country of the greater Rattas, from whence the… name Maharatta. The next few pages sketch, in a perfunctory manner, the period till the advent of English troops in 1722 and building of the first Residency west of the Mutha river, at its confluence or Sangam with the Mula river, for Mr. Mostyn, the first British Resident. There is an illustration, of an old-time painting by Henry Salt, depicting the Mula-Mutha Sangam, the City, and Parbatti (Parvati) Hill in the background that gives a good idea of the extent of Pune city before the Bund was built across the river followed by a wooden bridge near the Sangam.

 

“This brings us to the period when
Poona began to possess a personal interest for the English” the author writes and than takes the reader on a series of “rides” or “outings” to vividly describe important historical events against the backdrop of geographical topography. The narrative, interspersed with apt illustrations, is very interesting and even today it would be worthwhile to walk the “rides” and see the various landmarks of heritage value and historical importance like Ganeshkhind, Bhamburda Hills and Plain, Lakdi Pul Bridge, Parvati, Panchaleshwar, the Poona and Kirkee cantonments, Garpir, Ghorpuri, Wanowri, Yerawada, Katraj, Sarasbagh, Gultekdi, Hadapsar, Saswad, Chinchwad, Induri, Talegaon, Lonavla and Peths of Poona City. There is an interesting description of the underground water ducts and conduits from the springs and lakes at Kondhwa, Katraj and foothills of Sinhagarh to bring water to Rasta Peth and ensure pure water supply to the city.

 

The meticulous account, embellished with maps and sketches, of
Poona and its Battlefields, and the battles that took place thereon, has been fluently narrated in easy readable storytelling style and this makes the book gripping and unputdownable once you start reading it. However, the reader must remember that this book is written by a British Army Officer in 1916 and depicts his version of events and point of view and the perspective of that period. 

 

The book describes the defining events in the evolution of the cantonment town of
Poona, which was the precursor to the modern day Pune as we know it today. It is an entertaining and informative book, a unique and rare piece of writing about an important period of the history of
Poona (Pune) and would be of interest to Punekars and students keen on learning about the heritage of Pune.

 

 

 

VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

 

The Peter Principle and The Peter Prescription

February 14, 2007

Book Review – The Peter Prescription

(reviewed by VIKRAM KARVE)

 

 

Title: The Peter Prescription

Author: Dr. Laurence J. Peter

Published: 1972 (William Morrow)

 

 

For the past few days it’s been raining cats and dogs in Pune, confining one indoors; the electricity and cable TV go off frequently, and this gave me a golden opportunity to dust off some of my favourite books from my bookshelves and re-read them sitting in the verandah sipping piping hot tea. I realized that re-reading good books gives me even greater pleasure. So that’s what I’m going to do for the next few days – browse my bookshelves, re-read some of my favourite books, and tell you about them or rather “review” them for you.

 

During my college days I read three non fiction books which had a lasting impact on me. The first was Parkinson’s Law (written in 1958) based on the author’s study of the British Civil Service and Admiralty. The other two books were written by Dr. Laurence J. Peter – The Peter Principle (1969) and The Peter Prescription (1972). These three Management Classics are a must for the bookshelves of every manager.

 

Written with incisive wit, Parkinson’s Law is a seminal book on the workings of bureaucracy which is essential reading for any student of Management. It is an all time management classic, a masterpiece, which is must reading for every manager.

 

The Peter Principle, a delightful read, provides a superb insight and intriguing study of hierarchiology. The Peter Principle may be Dr. Peter’s seminal pioneering work, but I feel The Peter Prescription is his definitive book, a classic.

 

If you have not read ‘The Peter Principle’, do read my review of the book appended below this article, as I feel it is prerequisite reading before you embark upon ‘The Peter Prescription’.

 

Whereas both Parkinson’s Law and The Peter Principle formulate and substantiate their respective theories, The Peter Prescription is a philosophical self-help treatise on how to achieve happiness in all aspects of life. Written in his same hilarious inimitable style, Dr. Peter exhorts us to be creative, confident and competent by replacing mindless escalation with life-quality improvement. The message of the book is in congruence with eastern philosophies which focus on inward enhancement rather than outward escalation.

 

In his introduction Dr. Peter states: “Many authors offer answers before they understand the questions…….. I understand the operation of the Peter Principle, and the remedies offered are the product of years of research……… prescriptions will lead to great personal fulfillment and joy of real accomplishment.”

 

The book, interspersed liberally with quotations and case studies, comprises three parts. The first, titled Incompetence Treadmill why conventional solutions not only fail to alleviate the effects of the Peter Principle but may actually serve to escalate the problems. His analysis of ‘marital incompetence’ is hilarious. A bachelor is a man who looks before he leaps – and then does not leap he concludes. With the flattening of hierarchies, I wonder whether there still exist any Professional Processionary Puppets – the organization-men. It would be worthwhile to look into organizations for similarities to prototypes adorning bureaucracies of yesteryear in order to ascertain whether it is a progressive or rigid hierarchy bound organization heading for decay.

 

The meat of the book is in Part Two, titled ‘Protect your Competence’ which give a total of 25 “prescriptions” on how to remain creative and competent. There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that to enjoy it. The prescriptions, which are condensed wisdom of the ages, guide us on how to achieve this.

 

The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness he quotes. Competence is a system dependant factor as viewed by your bosses (like beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder) and is governed by the HR policies in your organization. Why is man so competitive? Do the HR policies in your organization encourage competition, rat race and reward escalationary behaviour, and if so, what can you do about it? Maybe you can find some answers by exploring the prescriptions.

 

Let’s have a look at Peter Prescription 3 – The Peter Panorama – which I have used to great effect, which comprises listing your satisfying activities, joyful experiences, pleasant reminiscences, and after introspection make a second list of those which are feasible to do regularly and then make sure you do them whenever feasible. Enjoyable events begin to crowd out the unpleasant and you feel happy.

 

Do read, experiment, and try to imbibe the prescriptions in your professional and personal life, and experience the results for yourself. Introspect, evolve a philosophy of life, fine tune the art of living, concentrate your efforts within your area of competence, and have an improved quality of life consisting of abiding competence and contentment. If you cannot be happy here and now, you can never be happy.

 

Part Three of the book is written from the management perspective giving 42 “prescriptions” to Managers to contain and mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle in their domains and manage for competence. It views The Peter Principle from a manager’s point of view, and assuming the manager himself is not a victim of the Peter Principle, offers valuable tips in the HR Management, particularly recruitment, promotion and selection. ( Obviously, outsourcing wasn’t prevalent then in the sixties and seventies, otherwise how about ‘outsourcing’ incompetence).

 

As stated in the introduction, the purpose of The Peter Prescription is to explore how you yourself can mitigate the effects of The Peter Principle by avoiding the final placement syndrome, and as a manager, how can you keep your employees at their appropriate competence levels to achieve mutual optimal benefit. It’s only when you read the book and apply the prescriptions in your real life that you will experience the results.

 

 

Book Review – The Peter Principle

(reviewed by Vikram Karve)

 

The Book: The Peter Principle

Authors: Dr. Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull

Published: 1969 William Morrow

 

 

I think there is a Chinese saying that it is a misfortune to read a good book too early in life. I think I read ‘The Peter Principle’ too early in life. And at that time I being of an impressionable age, the book influenced me so much that I “rose” to my level of incompetence pretty fast, either unintentionally or by subconscious design.

 

I read ‘The Peter Principle’ in the early seventies, maybe sometime in 1972, when I was studying for my degree in Engineering, and even bought a personal copy of the book in 1974 (which I possess till this day) which considering my financial status those days was quite remarkable.

The book, written by Laurence J. Peter in collaboration with Raymond Hull, a management classic and masterpiece in the study of hierarchiology, is so fascinating, riveting and hilarious that once you start reading, it’s unputdownable.

 

In the first chapter itself, giving illustrative examples, the author establishes the Peter Principle: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence and its corollary: In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent.

 

Dr. Peter writes in racy fictional style and as you read you experience a sense of verisimilitude and in your mind’s eye can see the Peter Principle operating in your very organization. That’s the way to savor the book, and imbibe its spirit – read an illustrative “case study” in the book and relate it to a parallel example in your organization.

 

He discusses cases which appear to be exceptions like percussive sublimation, lateral arabesque etc and demonstrates that The apparent exceptions are not exceptions. The Peter Principle applies in all hierarchies.

Discussing the comparative merits and demerits of applying ‘Pull’ versus ‘Push’ for getting promotion, Dr. Peter concludes: Never stand when you can sit; never walk when you can ride, never Push when you can Pull.

He then tells us how to recognize that one has reached one’s state of incompetence (final placement syndrome) and should one have already risen to one’s state of incompetence suggests ways of attaining health and happiness in this state at zero promotion quotient.

 

Towards the end of his book he illustrates how to avoid  reaching the state of incompetence by practicing various techniques of Creative Incompetence. (I probably practiced Creative Incompetence quite competently and hopefully I am still at my level of competence!)

 

In conclusion Dr. Peter tries to briefly explore remedies to avoiding life-incompetence which he has elaborated in his follow up book ‘The Peter Prescription’ which is a must-read once you are hooked onto The Peter Principle.

 

The Peter Principle is a compelling book, written almost forty years ago, and with the flattening of hierarchy and advent of flexible organizational structures and HR practices, it would indeed be worthwhile for young and budding managers to read this book and see to what extent the Peter Principle applies and is relevant in today’s world.

 

 

 

Reviewer: VIKRAM KARVE

vikramkarve@sify.com

 

 

 

 http://vikramkarve.sulekha.com

 

The Peter Principle – book review

February 14, 2007

Book Review – The Peter Principle

(reviewed by Vikram Karve)

 

I think there is a Chinese saying that it is a misfortune to read a good book too early in life. I think I read ‘The Peter Principle’ too early in life. And I being of impressionable age, the book influenced me so much that I “rose” to my level of incompetence pretty fast, either unintentionally or by subconscious design.

I read ‘The Peter Principle’ in the early seventies, maybe sometime in 1972, when I was studying for my degree in Engineering, and even bought a personal copy of the book in 1974 (which I possess till this day) which considering my financial status those days was quite remarkable.

The book, written by Laurence J. Peter in collaboration with Raymond Hull, a management classic and masterpiece in the study of hierarchiology, is so fascinating, riveting and hilarious that once you start reading, it’s unputdownable.

In the first chapter itself, giving illustrative examples, the author establishes the Peter Principle: In a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence and its corollary: In time, every post tends to be occupied by an employee who is incompetent.

Dr. Peter writes in racy fictional style and as you read you experience a sense of verisimilitude and in your mind’s eye can see the Peter Principle operating in your very organization. That’s the way to savor the book, and imbibe its spirit – read an illustrative “case study” in the book and relate it to a parallel example in your organization.

He discusses cases which appear to be exceptions like percussive sublimation, lateral arabesque etc and demonstrates that The apparent exceptions are not exceptions. The Peter Principle applies in all hierarchies.

Discussing the comparative merits and demerits of applying ‘Pull’ versus ‘Push’ for getting promotion, Dr. Peter concludes: Never stand when you can sit; never walk when you can ride, never Push when you can Pull.

He then tells us how to recognize that one has reached one’s state of incompetence (final placement syndrome) and should one have already risen to one’s state of incompetence suggests ways of attaining health and happiness in this state at zero promotion quotient.

At the end he illustrates how to avoid  reaching the state of incompetence by practicing various techniques of Creative Incompetence. (I probably practiced Creative Incompetence quite competently and hopefully I am still at my level of competence!)

In the end Dr. Peter tries to briefly explore remedies to avoiding life-incompetence which he has elaborated in his follow up book ‘The Peter Prescription’ which is a must-read once you are hooked onto The Peter Principle.

The Peter Principle is a compelling book, and with the flattening of hierarchy and advent of flexible organizational structures and HR practices, it would indeed be worthwhile for young and budding managers to read this book and see to what extent the Peter Principle applies to, and is relevant in, today’s world.

 

 

The Book : The Peter Principle

Authors: Dr. Laurence J. Peter & Raymond Hull

Published: 1969 William Morrow

 

Reviewed by: Vikram Karve

vikramkarve@sify.com