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The books that shaped my life

Shailesh Rao     March 19, 2009

The New Organon, Francis Bacon
I read this in college and what stood out was its central theme— the only way to really understand things is to be active. Ever since, this has been one of my guiding principles—to be action-oriented and be engaged in whatever I do. Ideas are easy. Getting something done isn’t.
Mahabharata, Vedvyas
My childhood was steeped in the myriad stories, and charactersof the Mahabharata. I always loved the stories about Karna, and admired his sense of duty and honour. There’s always something uniquely inspirational about stories of underdogs fighting against the odds.

Life of Pi, Yann Martel
I loved this story. What’s interesting is the conversation this book generates after you read it. Essentially, this book tells you whether you are an optimist or a pessimist. It was great to reconfirm that I am, at my core, an optimist!

Team of Rivals, Doris Kearns
Goodwin When I was moving to India, I read Team of Rivals—the story of Abraham Lincoln’s fight against slavery. In many ways, we are trying to effect positive change by promoting information transparency and access in India through technology. Lincoln’s example taught me the importance of the pace of change—not too fast and not too slow. That’s the pace that will be absorbed by most.

Freedom at Midnight, Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins
I read Freedom at Midnight at school. It fuelled my naive optimism that you can overcome any challenge and make a difference. Living in America, I identified culturally with the story of Indians at the time of Independence.

As told to Anumeha Chaturvedi


A book review

Bhairavi by Peter Lavezzoli
(Harper Collins)

A book like this was overdue. For much of the West, Year One of the explosion of Indian Classical music is usually taken to be 1965, when George Harrison twanged a sitar on the Beatles’ classic Norwegian Wood.

As Lavezzoli’s superb book points out, the date of origin is a decade older— 1955, actually, when the album Music of India: Morning and Evening Ragas by sarod player Ali Akbar Khan was released. This is the starting point of Bhairavi, which then proceeds to take in every major subsequent event in Indian music’s march into Western culture— from The Grateful Dead’s Mickey Hart learning Indian percussion under Ustad Allah Rakha, to guitarist John McLaughlin’s fusion supergroup Shakti.

Lavezzoli takes his time to explain the technicalities of Indian Classical music, and goes to great lengths to show how it is totally different to Western modes of composition and improvisation. Having established this, he then proceeds to talk about the impact of the music—and the worldview that comes with it—on the life and art of generations of Western musicians, and through their work, western popular music. A riveting read.

— Bibek Bhattacharya


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