Thursday, December 28, 2017

How to Pray to the Deities - A Book on Malaysian Chinese Rituals

Though we can now access a lot of things from and about different countries, in every land, there is that which people from elsewhere might overlook for one reason or another. Primarily, we are all designed to enjoy according to how we’ve been programed early on. Secondarily, we seek, like the famous Mulla Nasrudin story, only within the limited areas of our existing knowledge. 

This habit of ours is most evident in our reading tastes: most of us continue to read “favourite” authors throughout our lifetimes, ignoring vast realms of genres and writings from other continents. At some point in my life I realised that if I went on re-reading Tolkien and Rex Stout and other old favourites, I’d lose out on knowledge about so much else. Perhaps it was easier for me as, from a very early age, I began to select books out of the blue from the libraries to which I had access. It was thus that I drifted through Salinger and Hesse and it was this trait which re-surfaced, later in life, allowing me to transition from fiction to other writings, quite painlessly.

Although at first, in our years in Malaysia, I was hard put to find access to books (India spoils one that way, given our plethora of secondhand booksellers - still true, hopefully), later I found at least one second hand book shop and other ways to get at reading material.

I cannot honestly recall where I bought a book called “How to Pray to the Deities, a compilation of Deities, Myths and Chinese Traditions and Customs”. The book says that I cannot reprint or reproduce any part of the book and I am thus denied sharing the joy of the illustrations with you.

I was often charmed, when observing my Malaysian Chinese neighbours, at how similar their rituals were to our “Hindu” ones in India. Lighting incense, shrines at home and by the roadside, temples and gods/goddesses. 

You can see the red shrines in the houses, one to the left of the white car parked inside the house to the left and the other to the extreme right. 

So, let’s peep into this book through my eyes! Fortunately, I got quite a bit of the book online from a forum:

Monday, December 11, 2017

Science in Literature - Fiction, Verse and Prose

It’s not an easy interface, some would say. Yet, on the one hand, science is a set of methods which can be used to examine everything. And, in fact, on so many levels, science has sought to unravel the workings of all aesthetics, including literature.
But that’s not all. It is rare to find a real scientist who has no love for reading. Not just the reading of scientific literature - a class of writings seemingly far removed from the core purpose of literature and that is poetry, and prose of a pleasurable kind. All excellence, at the end of the day, is infused with multiple excellences. And good science writing reads as good as any best selling piece of literature.

All people of quality in any walk of life are usually those who have quantitatively and qualitatively gulped down the best of human endeavours. And that is how excellence in output very naturally evolves.

I’m, at present, working with Madhu to train Indian scientists to write science in a way that is transparent and easy to read for, at least, academics or scientists in other fields. While I’ve no head for science, I find it pretty cool in its rigour and other pursuits. But I basically delight in fiction and verse. A world many would deem irreconcilably divorced from the realm of scientific endeavour.

And, yet, even fiction and verse have a method to their seeming madness and not a day goes by that a scientist somewhere is busy untangling that which constitutes good writing. Madhu uses his workshops to explore the art and science of writing and their role in constructing science writing.

Some years back I had started a Facebook Page - Writer Rites - to bring good literature to people. Using a Ray Bradbury ‘challenge’, I devoted myself to posting, every day, one short story, one poem and one bookish article. Usually, based around a theme.

Increasingly, at least once a week, I’m seeking to bring science as a theme.

There is a challenge I face, though. And it’s not only the imagined divide between literature and science. There is, also, the issue that science, in the attempts at ‘science popularisation’, among other things, has come to symbolise, for the layperson, various peculiar things - doomsday science fiction,

peculiar animal behaviour from cute to grotesque and a disturbing role of doling out dos and don’ts that borders on exactly what religions do.

And, thus, I undertake to unearth fiction/poetry by scientists or fiction or poems that showcase the joys of scientific endeavour.

Here's a sample from November:

The Solitude of Prime Numbers, By Paulo Giordano

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

R K Mohapatra's Handy Guide to Investment - a Value-Added Volume

A book for these times. The world has been reeling from an economic downturn for some time now. Perhaps India has been somewhat sheltered from this slump. For one thing, not many Indians have, in any case, access to our Government’s schemes for its citizen. Illiteracy, for one thing and corruption, for another, have kept us working hard, with low or no expectations for relief. However, we’ve now in power forces that seem bent on creating waves. Demonetization apart, we’re being bombarded by various financial experiments and it is natural for some of us to wonder what will happen and how we will be affected.

Thus, while this book might be a solid guide for financial planning, one wonders how its advice will work in the new contexts - today’s news says our FDs may be in danger.

However, Mohapatra’s book contains principles which are the backbone of good financial planning and will be a boon to all Indians, and, I daresay, to a great many elsewhere too.

Investment - Risk and Growth is a 136 page book, with 7 chapters, 3 annexures and an appendix. The 10 page introduction is rich, in itself,  with sane and sensible advice and cautions. The print and font and quality of the paper are honest and lend to ease of reading. Using tables and infographics, the author leads the reader through the essentials of financial planning before launching into more details in the chapters that follow.

The chapters cover the various investment options and instruments along with the risks and benefits of each. The annexures provide handy tables for those who plan to take serious steps to empower themselves financially. And the appendix provides a cost inflation index which is as recent as was possible for the author.

Priced at 200 Rs., this book would make a fine and worthwhile gift to any young person but also a nice one for older people as well as those who have retired. For anyone who reads this valuable resource can then be an asset to any who turn to them for advice. I would go so far as to say that it should be available to undergraduates too. After all, in our times, it is better to be well prepared well in advance.