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Long overdue review. According to my notes, I read this book in Feb 2014. It took me over a year to covert these notes into a review. Not bad.

Book: Poor Little Rich Slum: What We Saw in Dharavi and Why it Matters

Author: Rashmi Bansal is a writer and entrepreneur from Mumbai, India, who has written seven books about entrepreneurship in the Indian context.

My Observations:ย This isn’t the first Rashmi Bansal book that I read. If I remember correctly, Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish was the first one.

Poor Little Rich Slum contains diverse stories about entrepreneurs and projects from Dharavi โ€“ a locality in Mumbai (India), spread over 1.7sqKms, that houses one of the largest slums in the world. Like all the other Rashmi Bansal books, this one is also an engaging book. It shows the positive side of an Indian ‘slum‘, and highlights the endurance of its inhabitants.

Layout: I like the layout of this book. The cover page draws you in. The blue-colored theme of the cover page is taken all through the book. Rounded fonts are easy on eyes and the font-sizes are suitable (not too small, as it happens with some paperbacks). The book is small enough to carry in one’s hand or handbag, and to hold while reading.

Organization: The book is divided into sections and chapters. Each chapter reads like a standalone story but is also connected to other stories creating a mosaic of stories – stories of human spirit, enterprise, and survival. These stories are different in one way but they also share some similarities – common challenges and successes. Photos by Dee Gandhi are used to the maximum effect. These photos, coupled with the words, take us into the very heart of Dharavi, to the people of Dharavi and their daily lives.

Content: The authors compare Dharavi with the elephant in John Godfrey Saxe‘s poem The Blind Men and the Elephant. i.e. how different observers have looked at the same entity and have arrived at different conclusions.These differing conclusions have resulted in differing approaches people and institutions have taken toward the development/redevelopment of Dharavi.

Rashmi and Deepak have done a good job of asking the right questions and sharing the honest answers of the entrepreneurs. They have included the hindi sentences/phrases used by the entrepreneurs. As someone who understands hindi, I liked reading these sentences; however, for those who do not understand hindi, it could be frustrating.

The chapters that especially made me stop and think were Chapter 25 – Waiting for Godot, Chapter 26 – David vs. Goliath, and Chapter 28 – Final Thoughts. Chapter 26 contains some very useful insights from the exercise of treating Dharavi as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). For example, the quote from Aneerudha Paul: “It is proven historically that high-rise buildings do not work for low income people.” Living in a concrete jungle with its own slums, I find this observation thought-provoking. Paul, a Mumbai-based architect and urban designer, presented a redevelopment approach for Dharavi which was quite different from the one proposed by the govt. His approach focused on not looking at Dharavi as a monolith but as a collection of nagars, chawls, and housing societies, each with its own nuances. i.e. dozens of small pockets with their unique characteristics. He further proposes to develop each pocket according to its needs (e.g. industrial-cum-residential facility for potters’ colony). I was excited to read about his approach. Another thing that I liked was how the authors have highlighted the role of women in Dharavi. Yes, the women also take an active part in the socioeconomic activities of Dharavi, and are an equal partner in its development. I also loved the paragraph where the authors write: “Economies are not built on capital alone. They are the products of human intent. Dharavi is what you get when a million people hold a common intention. To rise above their circumstances, and make the best life possible for themselves.” How true!

I found this book worth reading as it presents Dharavi not just as a “physical location” or a “slum” but as a complex “emotional entity. A city within a city, with the soul of a village.” Yes, there are emotional/sentimental parts in the book but then one can’t blame the authors for that as any such undertaking is bound to affect the researchers/authors. I finished this book with a sense of hope. All in all, a good read ๐Ÿ™‚

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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This book has been on my To-Read list for quite sometime. Finally, I got the e-book and started reading it on my trusty iPad. I was looking for an easy read to take me a step closer to my reading target for 2015. This book was the perfect match.

Book: #GIRLBOSS

Author: Sophia Amrouso (@sophia_amoruso) is the founder and owner of Nasty Gal, which sells clothing, shoes and accessories for young women.

My Observations: The very first introduction to Sophia is through the book’s cover page as she’s on it ๐Ÿ™‚ As a model, she has some unique features and exudes a strong personality. This is proven true as you read the book which contains her life’s story. Choosing a book name with # in its title is an intelligent choice. Whenever the book’s name is mentioned, it becomes a hashtag!

The book combines Sophia’s story with the story of Nasty Gal Vintage as both are intertwined. There are 11 chapters and an intro section which contains the chronology of Sophia’s life to-date. The intro gives a quick background of the overall story which prepares the reader for the intricate details contained in the following chapters. The chapters are:

  1. So you want to be a #GIRLBOSS
  2. How I became a #GIRLBOSS
  3. Shitty jobs saved my life
  4. Shoplifting (and hitchhiking) saved my life
  5. Money looks better on the bank than on your feet
  6. Hocus-pocus: The power of magical thinking
  7. I am the antifashion
  8. On hiring, staying employed, and firing
  9. Taking care of (your) business
  10. Creativity in everything
  11. The chances

So who is a #GIRLBOSS? According to Sophia, “A #GIRLBOSS is someone who’s in charge of her own life. She gets what she wants because she works for it. As a #GIRLBOSS, you can take control and accept responsibility.” And why is Sophia telling her story? In her own words, “to remind you that the straight and narrow is not the only path to success.

Every chapter of this book starts with an interesting sketch and a quotation highlighting the key message from that chapter. I especially loved the sketches. The narrative is honest – to the point of being shockingly honest at times. Through the initial few chapters, I felt as if Sophia would turn out to be a nuisance and a self-projecting person. I was wrong. She is straightforward and open, with a no-nonsense attitude. This may, sometimes, come out as being full of oneself but it isn’t that at all. It’s just her being who she is. She doesn’t hide anything. From her lack of interest in the routine jobs to her shoplifting and hitchhiking, she shares her experiences not to boast but just to give a true picture of her life and how these experiences have shaped her and her business. She is what you would call ‘street smart’. She also had a natural entrepreneurial streak and used it to her advantage. Her life story and the story of Nasty Gal Vintage are both interesting stories. After the initial shock or discomfort, I started liking Sophia’s candid prose. Her style is conversational (my favorite style). She avoids jargon and shares the lessons she learned as a businessperson (especially as a #GIRLBOSS). She openly shares her missteps and the lessons she learned on the way.

Sophia is an introvert with a strong personality. This personality is reflected not only in her brand but also in her book. By the time you reach the end of the book, you feel as if you’ve been through the whole journey with Sophia. As if she is sitting with you narrating her life story to you over a cup of coffee/tea.

Some of the things that I highlighted are:

  • The message that “you don’t get what you don’t ask for.” As an introvert, I can relate to this. I have taught myself to ask for things whenever there’s an opportunity. The worst case scenario: you will get ‘no’ for an answer without losing much; the best case scenario: you will get ‘yes’ for an answer with lots to gain. Worth giving a try!
  • The concept of sigils: This is something I need to explore more. According to Sophia, Sigils are abstract words or symbols you create and embed with your wishes.
  • Jason Fried‘s book Rework. I always like it when an author references another author for something useful. Sophia refers to Jason’s advice that ‘one of the smartest investments a business can make is in hiring great writers.‘ Ain’t that true! This book is now in my To-Read list.
  • Her discussion about introverts and extroverts, and what motivates them.
  • Her advice that it’s all about the silhouettes! This is great advice for all the women who happen to have a waste, hips and thighs (i.e. everyone except barbie dolls and their lookalikes ;)).

This book is for anyone interested in running their business, especially those who are working on their startup ventures. Female entrepreneurs or bosses will also find some useful tips. In the book, Sophia learns from her experiences, and you learn with her. All in all, a good read!

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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During my recent visit to UK, I went to the Lake District. Spent a night and a day there. On top of my list of things to do in the Lake District was ‘visiting Dove Cottage‘ where the great English Romantic poet William Wordsworth lived with his sister, Dorothy. My friend and I took a day pass for the bus and went from Windermere to Grasmere. The tour of Dover Cottage was worth the journey, and the sights on our way were breathtakingly beautiful, especially for a city-dweller. It was amazing to see Wordsworth’s room and the window from which he would look out at the beautiful surrounding area. On our way out, we stopped at the book-and-gift shop at the Dove Cottage. That is where I found this book. The tour guide had mentioned it during the tour and, after reading a few lines from the book, I decided to buy it along with another book by Wordsworth himself.

I started reading this book on my train journey from Windermere to Edinburgh. Having been through some of the places mentioned in the maps included in this book, I felt I could relate to the book more. This time, I made sure to note down the things that I noticed while reading this book.

Book: The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals

Author: This book is the published version of Dorothy Wordsworth‘s personal journals. Dorothy was the younger sister of the famous poet, William Wordsworth. The journals were not meant to be published and were used by Wordsworth as a source of inspiration for his works.

Editor: Pamela Woof is the editor of this book. She’s a lecturer in Literature at the Center for Lifelong Learning, University of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Editor’s Notes: The book comes with a detailed Notes section which helps the reader understand the individual journal entries in much more detail. From the detailed Notes section it is evident how much research has been put into compilation of this volume. The person at the bookshop had advised me to read the book without the Notes first, followed by another reading with the Notes. I have only read the book once but have used some of the Notes and found them very useful.

Sections: There are two sections of this book. The first one consists of The Grasmere Journal (written during 1800-1803) and the second one consists of The Alfoxden Journal (written during 1798).

My Observations: What did I notice when reading this book? Dorothy’s beautiful writing style. She is a true journal writer. The Alfoxden Journal is a short journal spanning only a few months. The style and focus of writing in the Alfoxden Journal is different from that used in The Grasmere Journal. The Alfoxden Journal is more detailed, more focused on describing the natural beauty surrounding the author. When you read the journal entries it feels as if the author has taken her time to compile the entries. The sentences in this journal are complete and not hurried. Also, the entries are less personal than those in The Grasmere Journal in that the scenery is more prominent than the author observing the scenery. Towards the end, one can notice the presence of the author and the entries become more personalized. Some sample phrases from this journal: “very delicious pathway“, “the young frisking and dancing in the sun, the elderly quietly drinking in the life and soul of the sun and air.” We read more about William and Dorothy’s walks, especially late-night walks. Also, Mr. Poole and Coleridge seem to be regular visitors at the Wordsworth house.

The entries in The Grasmere Journals are more hurried and use short phrases to describe the daily experiences. Dorothy also uses lots of short forms e.g. Wm or W for William, C for Coleridge; Rd for Richard. Maybe because Dorothy became busier during her stay there? Whatever the case, the contrasting styles are hard to miss. We see more personalized accounts of events and the surrounding beauty. Themes of this journal’s entries include: walks; cooking; mending; sewing; gardening; weather (cold, rains, hailstorms, winds); headaches; staying up till late at night while walking, reading, writing or simply talking; writing letters; receiving letters; reading, writing, and walking for letters on a daily basis; writing or reading literary works; sending notes for daily communication (no phones!). Nature seems to be part of the Wordsworths’ daily lives. Multiple, long walks almost every day was a common feature of Wordsworths’ lives. Dorothy walked alone, especially till late at night, which is something I envy. Dorothy was a keen observer and paints vivid pictures with her words, even when she uses simple phrases and not long sentences. Another thing I noticed here was that the spellings of many words differ from their current spellings (e.g. Sate instead of Sat). At some places, punctuation marks are missing. It is good that the editor has kept Dorothy’s punctuational nuances as it gives the reader a true feel of reading Dorothy’s journal. It does, however, mean that sometimes one has to re-read a sentence to understand it completely.

Enjoying tea and food at friends’ homes was also common. Every time I read Dorothy mention tea, I wanted to drink some myself. At some places, Dorothy mentions about carving their names in a tree or a stone. I wonder if that stone is still there. At one place, she mentions a bridge where William worked on a poem. Is that bridge still there, I wonder. Should refer to the Notes section. The bad weather and its effects on daily lives is also a constant theme. I wonder if this weather (cold and damp) affected the people and their health, even making them depressed to some extent.

But.. no theme is more prominent in The Grasmere Journal than William. The journal starts with William and ends on him. Maybe because Dorothy and William were very close and had to depend on each other for support, especially emotional support. Dorothy’s journal provides a rare insight into William’s daily life and, especially, his writing. How he obsessed over his work, be it an original poem or a translation. His issue with sleep is also evident from this journal’s entries. Dorothy shares her concern about her beloved brother’s sleep issues and sometimes reads to him in the hope that it would help him fall asleep. William’s long walks, his time spent in the orchard, and his writing or editing poems is the theme I loved the most. Sometimes, Dorothy mentions when William wrote a piece, where he wrote it, when and how he edited it, or what inspired him to write a particular piece. This is surely a treasure trove for anybody interested in William Wordsworth as a poet and a man. His exchanges with Coleridge are also an important theme of both the journals. Coleridge was a regular visitor and stayed with the Wordsworths quite often. His health issues are also mentioned in quite a few entries.

While reading these journals I couldn’t help but compare the way Dorothy and the people of her time enjoyed the simple pleasures of daily life, with the current obsession with keeping a photographic record of everything. Living in the moment was more important than recording it. Yes, Dorothy did record her observations in her journal as William did in his poems, but these were more of a reflective exercise. Are we missing something by being too focused on capturing every image instead of focusing on the sights and sounds around us? I also cannot help but compare the lives of the people from those times with the message from Pico Iyer‘s book about “The Art of Stillness“. Isn’t this what he is taking us back to? To live in the moment.

Simply put, I LOVE Dorothy’s journals. They offer a peep into the lives of the people who lived in the Lake District over 200 years ago. Dorothy was a keen observer and excels at describing what she observed in such details that it felt as if I was observing the scene myself. Best of all, she took me closer to Wordsworth – the poet and, more importantly, the man. My introduction with him was through his poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud‘ (aka The Daffodils) which was part of our school curriculum. This phrase has been with me over the years. But now, after visiting the Dove Cottage, and the Lake District, and especially after reading Dorothy’s journals I feel much closer to Wordsworth. The journals are a must-read for anyone interested in Wordsworth and the life in English countryside 200 years ago.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0 (can be read multiple times, especially some sections)

Afterthought: Dorothy would’ve loved blogging!

I end my review/observations with some pics from my visit (yes I am also a photo-taker like many of you) to the Lake District and the Dove Cottage. The rest I will upload in a separate post.

The Dove CottageThe Dove Cottage

View from the Dove Cottage

View from the Dove Cottage

The street view - albeit with houses built much later

The street view from the Dove Cottage – albeit with houses built much later

View from the vantage point near the Dove Cottage (Dove Cottage is the white colored cottage hidden behind the trees)

View from the vantage point near the Dove Cottage (Dove Cottage is the white colored cottage hidden behind the trees)

The Daffodils Garden - managed by local volunteers - the sights and sounds here bring you peace and tranquility

The Daffodil Garden (managed by local volunteers) – the sights and sounds here bring you peace and tranquility

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I was searching my books’ cupboard for a book to read when I remembered Dario Fo‘s autobiography (of sorts) titled My first seven years. Thought I had not read it so took it out. However, luckily, I had marked the date when I had finished reading it – Mar 5, 2015. My comment penciled at the end of the book: ‘Loved it! What humor Dario Fo has!‘ I checked out the other pages and gradually recalled the glimpses of the book’s content. I had bought this book during my Oct 2008 visit to New York City. It has been with me for so long but somehow I didn’t read it despite taking it out of the cupboard many times. Finally, read it earlier this year ๐Ÿ™‚

Dario Fo is an Italian actor-playwright, comedian, singer, theater director, stage designer, songwriter, painter and political campaigner, and recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Literature. I’m not familiar with any of his work but am happy that I bought this book, and that too completely by chance. The hardbound book (in brand new condition, with the dust jacket) was a bargain at US$5.98 instead of its list price of US$23.95. Total pages in the hardbound edition: 247. The English translation has been done by Joseph Farrell who has translated several of Fo’s plays.

In this book, Fo recounts his childhood (first 10 years plus some more), especially the first seven years of his life. In the Prologue, Fo quotes Bruno Bettelheim: “All I ask is that you give me the first seven years of the life of a man. Itโ€™s all there; you can keep the rest.” And what a childhood Fo has had! To have witnessed the Italian resistance of fascism and to share the experience in an easy-going and comic way is something quite unique. His sense of humor is brilliant. I couldn’t keep myself from smiling when reading about his escaping the bombing where his place of lodging at the time was completely destroyed. When the grocer asked him: ‘What are you doing here? We had given you up for dead. Not a soul got out of your building alive..‘, Fo’s response was ‘Forgive me if I chose not to be on that list!‘ Even the account of his father’s funeral ends up being funny. I must add here that the Joe Farrell (the translator) has done an excellent job.

According to my notes, the chapter I loved the most was Chapter 19: At Grandfather’s. Fo’s grandfather had a farmhouse in Lomellina, and was an experimenter. Fo recalls his visit to this farmhouse when he was 14 years old. I love his interaction with his granddad. His granddad’s advice to him: “Don’t just look with your eyes, look with your nose too…smell, listen to the scents and perfumes (i.e. of the plants/trees)“.

This book is a good read for those interested in autobiographies. Plus, those who would like to read about the Italian political history as lived by ordinary people. It also offers an insight into childhood (especially early childhood) and its impact on character formation. For example, Fo’s father told him: ‘Good humor and irony are your salvation, don’t ever forget that.‘ It is evident from this book that he followed his father’s advice throughout his life.

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Two days ago, my colleague and I were working on an assignment. I finished my part and was waiting for her to finish her part when she gave me a book. According to her, she got it from her brother’s bookshelf, and found it to be an interesting read. I took the book and kept it with me. Finished reading it this morning.

The book is titled Darkness Visible – A Memoir of Madness and was authored by William Styron – an award winning American novelist and essayist. I didn’t know about him or his work before reading this book but plan to read some of his work now. I found the book quite engaging as it contains the author’s experiences with depression. In 1985, Styron became a victim of almost suicidal depression. How it was for him and how he came out of his ordeal makes an eye-opening read. Styron’s writing style is conversational, honest, and open. Despite being a small book (paperback version has 84 pages), the content is full of firsthand information about depression and how it affects an individual. The author has included relevant medical information but has made it easy to understand instead of using jargons. Furthermore, he has shared examples of other famous people who fell victims to depression (or meloncholia, which he prefers to use instead of the bland and soulless ‘depression’). This book is from 1990 yet it is a must-read, especially for those who work with people suffering from mental health issues.

I work with people who are poor or underprivileged. A majority of these people suffer from mental illnesses to varying degrees. Sometimes, it is the mental illness that leaves them unable to continue with a normal life.The stigma attached to mental illness and its various treatments poses a challenge. However, as Styron mentions in the book, this stigma was (or maybe still is) present in developed countries as well. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is a common mental disorder, characterized by sadness, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, feelings of tiredness, and poor concentration. Globally, more than 350 million people of all ages suffer from depression. More women are affected by depression than men. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.

According to a news item published in The News (Pakistan), the prevalence of depressive disorder in Pakistan is at a phenomenal 44.4% (25.5% in males and 57.5% in females). However, this is justย the tip of the iceberg. The real challenge is the stigma associated with mental illness, and the unavailability of a formal mental health system with trained professionals and formal institutions providing quality mental health services. The small number of professionals available in Pakistan are concentrated in major cities and rural areas, especially remote rural areas, are at an extreme disadvantage. According to a 2009 report from the WHO, there are only 3,729 outpatient mental health facilities in Pakistan, of which 1% are for
children and adolescents only. The total number of human resources working in mental health facilities or private
practice per 100,000 population is only 87.023. In this scenario, it is critical to engage community based volunteers to raise awareness about the common mental illnesses. The local media, with its wide coverage, can also play a crucial role; however, ongoing awareness raising about mental health issues is, apparently, not a priority of the media.

I was planning to write to Styron about his book and, especially, to thank him for being open about his fighter against depression. However, I found out that he died in 2006. Recently, Deepika Padukone (a famous Bollywood actress) publicly shared her ordeal with depression and how she coped with it. Hats off to her for sharing her story for it must have been difficult for her to do so at the prime of her career. Her interview can be found at NDTV’s website. Here are some more celebrities who have struggled with depression.

Here’s hoping that such open discussion will help people understand depression as an illness with available treatment options. Let us look around and reach out to people who may be suffering in silence without knowing what it is that has hit them. If you or someone close to you is suffering from depression or other mental health issue, please reach out to the people who can help you, before it’s too late.

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