Sunday, July 25, 2010 11 comments

Book Review: Johnny Gone Down

Well, I happened to visit the City Center Mall in Kolkata last week, entirely by accident. Or you can say that it was a fortuitous visit. But this post is not about my visit. Rather it’s about one of the books which I picked up from a small book store called the Book Cellar. As you may have figured it out from the heading, the book is titled ‘Johnny Gone Down’ and its written by an amateur [is he really one?] author by the name of Karan Bajaj. Rings a bell? Maybe, if you have read an earlier novel by the name of ‘Keep off the Grass’[his only other major work, JGD being his second novel], or maybe if you are associated with Kraft Foods[for that is exactly where the author works]. The novel has already become a best-seller in the Indian market, and that forced me [A Certified Bookworm] to find out why.

Finally, after avoiding and slithering in between inseparable couples who do not hesitate in performing PDA acts, I managed to find myself a cozy corner, and dug into the book[Obviously not literally]. Before I begin the book, let me say that Karan Bajaj is another of those Young-generation Indian authors writing in English, who have taken the world[or at least Indian youngsters] by storm. Yet another IIMian[From IIM Bangalore], his book obviously draws comparison with Chetan Bhagat’s works. Though both of their works are fast-paced, trendy pieces of prose, the similarity ends there. Bhagat is more interested in highlighting social and national problems whereas Bajaj tries to tell us just how badly things can go wrong if we choose the wrong path. Anyways, this isn’t a Bajaj Vs. Bhagat post, so I might as well begin the review before you click on some other hyperlink.

Quoting one line from the Back Page synopsis, just to give you a general idea: ‘An innocent vacation turned into an epic intercontinental journey that saw Nikhil become first a genocide survivor, then a Buddhist monk, a drug lord, a homeless accountant, a software mogul and a deadly game fighter.’ Sounds rather confusing, is it? A hotchpotch of events which apparently make little sense to the general reader. So we have a protagonist called Nikhil, who is also known by a stream of other names: Monk Namche, Coke Buddha, Nick and finally Johnny. He travels across various countries, meets not-so-harmless people and makes a mess of his life. What’s so great about this abstruse storyline, you may ask. Let us go a bit deeper into the story and try to find out.

If you consider the different events [The Book is divided into parts separating the main events] as individual occurrences then it might seem that they are describing different persons rather than the same lonely hero. But as one reaches the end of the book, he/she realizes that those events are all inter-connected, and form bits of a pattern, which might seem non-existent or quite subtle at first. But slowly the pieces begin to unravel themselves, and we are left gasping with awe. Such is the impact of this 311 page novel. It makes the life of a normal, common Indian man look like that of a Hollywood film flick. True, this book has its share of co-incidences and fancy outings, but then it’s a work of fiction after all, and we all know that Sugar and Spice makes a Fiction novel seem really nice.

But the best thing about this book is that it’s different. And largely original, though the author claims that he has been inspired by several movies, books and his own personal adventures while he breathed life into Nikhil Arya. For starters, how many heroes lose their hand within the first 100 pages of the novel? Okay, not many. Then, how many Buddhist monks[the actual ones and not Quacks in disguise] do you see in the Drug distribution business? Sounds weird? Wait, it gets even better. Why should a drug lord who is earning millions of dollars every year, leave everything, go to the USA and become a Homeless accountant who shares his place with drug addicts? Plus why does Nikhil suddenly dive into Software and end up as a Shooter who plays a deadly game which could end his life within seconds? Is he fed up of life or with himself? Does he blame himself for the pain he has caused to numerous other people including his wife, or is it the fault of the World which was too cruel on him. Or is it just another trick of God, where the entire Universe is just an illusion and the Universal Truth is that All Life is Dukha [suffering, as preached by Buddha]. The Ultimate Aim of life is Nirvana. Or is it indulging in material pleasures, wealth, drugs, casual sex, revolver duels, software codes and virtual lives? Nikhil has to find that out before it’s too late. Before he ends up hurting everybody who has ever been close to him. And the only place which can give him true redemption is the land of sages and spiritualism, India.

The story is mesmerizing; the pace is fast and the action plentiful. And that’s not the only reason why you should read this novel. It has its own share of tragedy [in fact lots of it] and also wicked humor, dark at times and inspiring at others. You will feel that you can closely relate yourself to Nikhil’s character, someone whose life has gone totally out of control, who wants to get out of this maze, but is unable to do so. One thing leads to the next, and he is unable to break free. He feels deserted, helpless and lost. He blames himself for taking the wrong decisions. But at the same time, life is not just about facing misfortunes. It is surviving in the midst of a crisis, and having the courage to move on. The best point that the author makes is that Kindness, just like corruption and sadism, is Universal. No matter where you go, whichever country you are at, there will always be someone to help you and guide you. That’s something which goes beyond the language and culture barrier. This point has been highlighted quite well. Moreover, the climax and the ending are very inspiring and motivational. There is suspense in every page. The reader is forced to keep reading till he completes the novel, it’s that addictive, and thrilling.

Will Johnny Make it? Or is he going down for good this time? But will even death give him renunciation? Read the book to find out. You may like the book or you may hate it, but you will definitely learn something new out of this novel. A lesson in life which is worth knowing. And if you are an aimless person, miserable with the way things have been going on with you, desiring change with hopeless pessimism, then you are surely going to love this book. Try to grasp the inner meaning of this novel, and you will enjoy it even more, rather than simply treating it as a work of fiction.

Karan Bajaj has done an excellent job, and the fact that he has visited all the places which he writes about in his book, makes the story feel even more authentic and crisp. And the best part is that the book costs just a paltry Rs. 99, definitely a steal for any book lover. If you still don’t feel that you should get this book, then maybe you can go and practice shooting with a revolver instead. A toy one of course, you do not want to spend your time in prison[like Nikhil did] do you?

I am participating in the WeBlog's Sleepy Sunday contest! You may read other participating posts HERE
Sunday, July 18, 2010 12 comments

Why MBA?

This is a collection of a few most clichéd statements pertaining to the popular question asked by many interviewers for Bschool aspirants:- ‘Why MBA?’ Many people have asked me the same question as well.

It is an open secret that most of the interviewees have absolutely no idea about the answer. Simply because they don’t have any reason for doing an MBA. They are merely doing so because their friends are doing so, and/or they are being forced by their family members. Or more simply, they are just doing it to get a high paying job and status in society. Of course all those actual reasons are considered taboo during the interviews, so let’s see what kind of answers these smart candidates actually give to hoodwink the interviewers. These are a collection of actual answers given in interviews, collected by me after studying various forum and blog posts in the net. I repeat, they are NOT a work of fiction created by me. People actually give these sort of answers during interviews when asked why they want to do an MBA.

Also, most of the answers have been given by engineers, who believe that MBA is an Official extension of engineering. So without wasting any more time, here I begin:

1) This is the formula used by most engineers-‘If you can’t convince them, then confuse them.’ So the answer is typically this type-‘As you can see, I gained technical insight and foresight into solving industrial and engineering related problems and also the applications pertaining to logical and technical skills which I gained during my engineering course. However, I would like to supplement it by gaining managerial skills at your esteemed ABC institute, to be able to provide in-depth leadership solutions for all esoteric problems.’ In reality what he means is-‘I don’t know why the hell I wasted 4 years doing something which I never understood[engineering] and I have absolutely no idea why I want to do the MBA. I just know that I need that 7 digit salary. But since you[the interviewer] won’t accept a direct answer, I have to go about it in a roundabout manner.’

2) The interviewer asks-‘You are so talented in photography. You have actively worked in an NGO. Your photos and articles have been published in international magazines. Why do you want to do an MBA then?’ Answer-‘This can be defined by Maslow’s theory in his pyramid. Blah blah, degree of self-actualization, needs, defining human psychology, etc etc.’ By now, even the interviewer is struggling to stay awake. Finally the candidate miraculously concludes his discussion by saying that an engineer just cannot stay alive and make a living unless he does an MBA. Defined by Maslow of course.

3) Sometimes the student tries to define a non-existent link between engineering and management. He tries to prove that both are actually quite similar and that one cannot exist without the other. So all engineers should be managers and all managers must have an engineering degree. Otherwise it will create havoc in this world. One guy actually said that just like different organs in our body perform different functions but are all interconnected by nerves, similarly management is largely connected to engineering and that only engineers can be good managers. Some people will go to any length to try to prove something which has no meaning. But after all, too many lies do make a truth.

4) Yet another plan devised by the ubiquitous engineers-‘Technopreneurship. The term stands for entrepreneurs who venture in the technical field. For example, Bill Gates or Steve Jobs, or even Akio Morita, founder of SONY. The frustrated interviewer remarks-‘If all engineers rush after MBA, then who will do engineering jobs’. The candidate smartly replies-‘This is an era of technopreneurship. We need capable entrepreneurs who venture into the field of technology to create outstanding products and sell them, blah blah blah.’ The interviewer sighs and gives up.

5) Finally, a person actually remarked- Since I am from IIT, the best engineering college it’s only logical that I go to IIM, the best management Bschool. Only that he forgets to mention WHY that should be so.

You may think that I harbor some kind of grudge against engineers or something. There’s nothing like that, since I am an engineer[about-to-be] aiming for doing MBA myself. It’s just that I do not approve of such shady methods of trying to fool the interviewer. If you have no reason of doing MBA besides money and status, why don’t you have the guts of simply saying so? Be frank and who knows, you can even be selected as the interviewers will definitely appreciate your honesty. In most cases, they are experienced people and will be able to see through your lies. However, with most of the people clearing the cut-offs being engineers, the institutes have no choice but to accept them[they can’t keep all their seats empty, can they?]. This is why many people who have no clue as to why they should pursue an MBA, also do manage to get into a good Bschool. Its only later, after passing out that they realize their mistake and end up suffering in some job which they never actually wanted. They may earn lots of money, but I doubt whether they will ever be satisfied.

It’s not a sin to run after money. In fact, you should learn effective[but legal] ways of generating wealth both for yourself and your company. Subroto Bagchi of Mindtree Tech. says that ‘To build a company, you should learn to love money. If you do not love money, do not build a company.’ Robert Kiyosaki, the author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad, also says that its very important to have a good financial understanding of a business. However, that does not mean that your only objective in life should be earning money. Even Chetan Bhagat remarks-‘You should have at least one non-monetary reason of doing an MBA.’ Most engineers have no real interest in business, economics, etc. Its just that MBA has become too much of a fad in India. We should try to relinquish this greed of making quick bucks, and instead do something which really interests us.

After all, before you take the decision of jumping into the MBA bandwagon, ask yourself this question-‘Am I wasting the 4 years I spent doing engineering? Will I actually apply any of my engineering skills after I complete my MBA? Or did I do engineering just for getting an engineering degree[which holds lots of value] and no other purpose’. These questions will help clarify your doubt.

Sunday, July 11, 2010 6 comments


Updates from my side:

1. Saw I Hate Luv Storys today. Average, time pass movie. Nothing new. But enjoyed time with a great friend. :)

2. Saw two middle aged men arguing with the man selling food in the Interval Food counter. It was quite a loud argument, and at one point seemed that we would witness a free WWE Sample[okay not really]. I find it amazing how even grown up people start behaving so immaturely at times, just because they were getting a few minutes late for the movie.

3. Getting burned out from my summer training at Kolkata. Thankfully, it will be over soon.

4. Have almost completed Assassin's Creed 2, one of the few great games I have played recently. The last one was Batman: Arkham Asylum.

5. FIFA World Cup 2010 draws to a close. Final is tonight. Am supporting Netherlands though Spain look to be the favorites to hold the cup.

6. Have bought Simply Fly by Captain Gopinath. Simply amazing book. Also in line is Made in Japan by Akio Morita, and then The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell, followed by the Idea of Justice by Amartya Sen. Am booked. Phew!

7. CAT preparation going on well, though Quant is hurting me real bad. In my first real mock, I got 94 percentile[IMS Open SIMCAT 1]- With almost Zero preparation. Am confident of scoring 98+ in the future mocks. But I need to work harder in Quant.

8. Need to work on my Education research. Have to decide on my career goals and take a firm decision.

Thats it for now. Thanks to all of you who have taken the pains of going through my lengthy posts. Am immensely grateful. I hope I will keep entertaining[or boring] you in future as well. For now, Adios Amigos.

P.S.- I got Desperados 2. Its cowboy time, baby! Bang!
Sunday, July 4, 2010 6 comments

A few Book reviews

First another sincere apology to all my blog readers- I managed to post just one entry in the past month[June]. Here are my excuses:

1. I am lazy
2. I had my sixth semester exams, which I messed up [except for the java exam].
3. My summer training has started, and I am traveling frequently to Kolkata and then back home every week.
4. The biggest culprit- My modem got damaged after suffering from a lightning discharge which got transmitted by the telephone wire. So I was left without a stable net connection, and rarely came online.
5. I am indolent, erm isn’t that the same as point 1? :-D

Anyways, to take a slight break, no serious topic this time. Will write short reviews on a few books [which I have read recently/am currently reading]. Would like to thank one of my best friends, Girish, for lending them to me.

1. The Double Life of Ramalinga Raju, by Kingshuk Nag[former Times of India editor].

This one is an excellent work compiled by Nag, and gives us a detailed insight into the Satyam Scandal. What were the things that actually went on in Satyam, even years before the news broke out. As the tag line says- ‘How did an IT czar run a $2 billion company to the ground?’ We get to know the entire life history of Raju, and also his family, and the other conspirators who were responsible for this nefarious act. Raju’s lust for acquiring land led to his downfall. Also included- Extensive coverage of Maytas Infra, a real estate company run by Raju’s son. Very highly recommended. Nag has a great writing style. I could not put the book down. I felt I was reading a comic book, and not a book on corporate chicanery.

My score- 8.5 out of 10.

Plus- Great highlights, factual, exhaustive
Minus- Nothing much really, maybe the author could have written a bit more.

2. What the Dog Saw, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Those who are Gladwell followers will possibly have read this one too. This guy is a genius. Period. I have never in my life seen such an accomplished and versatile Non-fiction writer in my entire life. He used to write articles on Business, Medicine, law, etc for the New Yorker magazine[from which the articles in this book are taken] and is now writing books dealing with the intricacies of human behavior. Why do people do the things that they do? Gladwell has further increased my interest in psychology. This book is a collection of different articles which he has written in the past, after doing extensive research. His topics are quite diverse- Why is Heinz still the leader in the Ketchup market? What do hair dyes have to say about women independence? Why should we not hire people who are too-smart? What are the harmful effects of having too much information? What is the art of failure? How can we predict Dog patterns and avoid dog attacks? For what purpose was the birth-control pill invented? How can we hire the right candidate for our job? Who was responsible for the failure of Challenger space-shuttle? Are smart people over-rated?

I guess you got the idea. Go and get the book and unravel the Gladwell magic for yourself. I bet that you will be hooked. Do read his previous books as well if you haven’t already.

Final score- 9.5 out of 10 [sorry, but nothing’s perfect in this world]

Plus- Everything
Minus- Nothing. [Sorry, but am a bit biased towards Gladwell]

3. The High performance Entrepreneur, by Subroto Bagchi:

First of all, let me say that this book is not for everyone[at least that’s how I feel]. If you have no interest in entrepreneurship, the chance is that you may not like this book. Though the author has written it in a very reader friendly approach, and you should have no problem understanding the text. In short, it’s totally non-esoteric. However, I would recommend you skip this one if you have no interest in business, corporate life, etc. This book gives you an insight into setting up a business of your own, ie a profitable company in which you[along with your team-mates] are the boss and you have to make the rules. However, entrepreneurship is a very tricky business and out of every 100 start-ups, just a few are likely to succeed and make it big. This book will give you lots of tips on Do’s and Don’ts and things to keep in mind while setting up an entrepreneurial venture. I have not yet completed the book, but have found it simply amazing. Bagchi has a great and lucid writing style, and tells us a lot about his company, ie Mindtree. He says that the most important characteristic of an entrepreneur is resilience. For an aspiring entrepreneur like me, this book is almost like a Bible.

Rating- 9 out of 10.

Plus- Great guide-book for all budding entrepreneurs. Lots of comprehensive features about the intricacies of setting up a business from scratch.

Minus- Not really recommended for people who have no interest in business, entrepreneurship, etc.