Four Thousand Weeks

I picked up Four Thousand Weeks to listen to on Audible.

I first heard of the book on Cal Newport’s appearance on the Tim Ferriss Show (Episode 568). Ferriss then posted a chapter of the book on his blog. From the introduction on the post it seemed like he was deeply affected by it. It did not affect me that deeply.

I subscribed to his newsletter, The Imperfectionist and read a few of his blog posts. I found that I could not focus on what he was trying to say. Hence, I decided to pick his audiobook.

His website gives a succinctly good summary of the book. What he adds in the book is evidence and anecdotes to back up the claim.

The average human lifespan is absurdly, insultingly brief.

If you live to be 80, you’ll have had about 4,000 weeks. But that’s no reason for despair.

Confronting our radical finitude – and how little control we really have – is the key to a fulfilling and meaningfully productive life.

If you need practical takeaways from the book, I’d suggest watching Nathan Lozeron’s summary of the book on his YouTube channel, Productivity Game which also has a nice 1-page PDF summary.

On listening I found a lot of overlap with concepts from Cal Newport’s Slow Productivity, the Gita’s exhortation to follow process and not be swayed by outcomes, and Warren Buffet’s advice to his pilot.

The Fourth Peshwa (2019)

The Fourth Peshwa (2019) is the English translation of a 1962 Marathi language epic written by Ranjit Desai. The Marathi version of the novel is called Swami. The translation is by Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare.

Cover of the book, The Fourth Peshwa

I got this book from the Apla Granthalay (Your Library) in Pune. The library has books in Hindi and Marathi. They also have some books in English. I saw that the library has a collection of books from Eka, an imprint of Westland. Since I live in Pune, I thought I would pick up a book related to Pune. This one made sense.

While the librarian was checking the book out to me, I asked her for suggestions for books to read in Marathi. She looked at the book I was checking out and said that the book would be a good place to start. She said that Ranjit Desai was a Marathi writer and had written a book called Swami. When I turned the book around, it said that this was the English translation of Swami. I said that reading the Marathi original after reading the English translation would make sense.

The book is based on the life of Madhavrao Bhat. The story is a fictionalized version with elements such as statecraft, court and family politics, romance, and campaigns that the Peshwa undertook in his lifetime and ends with the death of his wife, who committed sati. Madhavrao I died at the young age of 27.

During his reign of about 11 years, Pune became the seat of power of the Maratha Confederacy which stretched from Delhi in the North to Mysore in the South, with the Mughals, Mysore, and Hyderabad being under Maratha suzerainty.

The book begins with the immense loss that the Marathas faced at the Third Battle of Panipat. Madhavrao I grapples with internal and external opponents as he sets about consolidating power of the Maratha Confederacy in Pune with the Peshwas. He is constantly troubled by his uncle. He has enemies at home and beyond the borders. His health suffers immensely as well. In the end, he wins the external battle with the Nizam and Hyder Ali. His generals also free Delhi as he is on his death bed.

His use of both western medicene and Indian medicene to treat his tuberculosis also interested me. I have recently been seeing that people largely use both systems interchangibly to treat themselves and their family members. When to move from the Indian system to the western medicene has been a topic of debate in our home as well.

I enjoyed reading some of the romantic flourishes as well. The one I particularly liked was when Madhavrao I tells his wife, Ramabai:

Whenever I see anything beautiful I am reminded of you.

pg 263, The Fourth Peshwa, Ranjit Desai (Tr. Reshma Kulkarni-Pathare)

I finished reading the book in about 4 days. I was reminded of how I read books when I was in school. I used to read the book at all times. I enjoyed following Madhavrao I on Google Maps through the various cities of Karnataka, as he chases Haider Ali for a year. I enjoyed reading the words the translator uses for some of the Indian elements – mujra (for payment of respect and not for the dance), cummerbund, flamebeau, etc. I enjoyed reading Wikipedia entries to understand this part of the history of the city that I now called home. I also realized that a Marathi movie I recently enjoyed watching called Pawankhind (on Amazon Prime) was also written by the same author.

But, above all, I enjoyed holding a library book in my hand. Note the cover over the book, the sticker with the library book number, stamp on the inside of the book with a cover inside to put the book card, with a record of all the souls that read this book before me.

An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (2007)

I began reading about Indian Philosophy in 2020. I was reading through the notes of Nitin Pai, when I got the link to Chatterjee and Datta’s An Introduction to Indian Philosophy in 2022. This is when I decided to purchase the book and listen to it.

Cover of Chatterjee and Dutta’s book, An Introduction to Philosophy. Image: Pradeep Mohandas/

Before I began reading the book, I had approached the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy in 2020 and 2021. I thought that it would help look at the whole, before looking at the parts.

As I had written here:

In comparison, the various darsanas of Indian Philosophy seem to say that there is only one theme that plays the central role – the reduction of or end of suffering.

After reading the book, I understand better the approaches each school of philosophy took to end suffering. But, I am still puzzled by why the Indian philosophies placed the end of suffering at the center of all it’s philosophical aims. By this, I feel like I have lost an enormous part of the listening of the book.

The book’s tone helped me put my 5-year-old daughter to sleep on two nights. But, after that she developed the same thick skin to the narrator’s tone as I did.

Half-Lion: How Narasimha Rao transformed India (2016)

I am trying to understand the present situation better for a selfish reason. I am trying to decide what direction my career should take in the next few decades up to retirement. For this selfish reason, I am trying to understand the direction India will likely take in the next few decades.

The present moment has its roots in the liberalization of 1991. Books by Gurcharan Das spoke of India’s growth despite the state. The dismantling of the License Permit Raj was the state moving out of the people’s way. Das’ book spoke about what happened as a result of the dismantling process. One of the first books I read about liberalization itself was Jairam Ramesh’s book, To the Brink and Back.

Cover of the book

I heard the podcast episode with Vinay Sitapati on The Seen and the Unseen in June 2022 and later that month decided to pick up the book on Audible.

My reading had slowed down considerably since February 2022 and listening to this book was another effort to break the readlock.

In writing this book, Sitapati was given access to Prime Minister Rao’s private archives. He makes deductions based on his notes and balances them with accounts of people who were with Rao in those crucial years. These give an insight indirectly into Rao’s actions and his thinking. The title of the book is a direct translation of NarasimhaHalf Lion.

On the subject of economic reforms, there was a charge that Rao undertook liberalization as a result of pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Sitapati argues convincingly to state that Rao used the IMF and Nehru-Gandhi’s legacy to push reforms. Rao makes these arguments at the Congress session held in Tirupati in 1992. Sitapati argues that Rao learns from Deng Xiaoping to reform while seeming to maintain historical continuity.

On the subject of Rao’s inaction during the Delhi Riots of 1984 and the demolition of Babri Masjid in 1992, Sitapati argues that 1984 is Rao’s vilest hour while he is more innocent than guilty for his inaction in 1992. He asks why Kalyan Singh, then Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh is not vilified for 1992 as Chief Minister Modi is vilified for 2002 and not Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

There are two parts of the book that were of interest to me. One, was his contributions to Indian foreign policy. Second, was his contribution to the Indian nuclear programme.

He is known for his Look East policy looking at South-East Asia. He is also known for opening channels of communication with the USA and Israel. In the background of the fall of the Soviet Union, he is credited with making sure that Indian defense products got continued maintenance support from Russia and the newly created Eastern European countries.

Rao is also known for laying the foundation for the nuclear tests India conducted in 1998.

I was disappointed to see only one chapter dedicated to Rao’s foreign policy and the nuclear programme but hope this is the first in a series of new well-researched political biographies. Sitapati has written another book about the BJP before Modi. I would probably listen to Sitapati’s podcast episode on The Seen and the Unseen before deciding if I might buy the book.

Fear of Reading Malayalam

It’s not strictly just reading, it could even be listening to it. I have been wondering about how to begin reading works of Malayalam literature.

Of late, I’ve had to read movie reviews of the Malayalam movies I have watched to understand the nuances and cultural contexts involved. I needed articles like Anna MM Vetticad’s on Malayalam New New Wave cinema to understand the cultural intricacies of what’s happening in Malayalam cinema today.

Trailer of the Malayalam movie Hridayam

I supposedly even misunderstood the art in a straight forward Malayalam movie like Hridayam. It took an interview with its director Vineeth Sreenivasan to understand those nuances.

If I misunderstand mass media stuff like movies, then I think understanding books would be many more times difficult. This keeps me away from reading or listening to Malayalam books.

In the beginning of the year, I had written here that 2022 would be about reading and writing. It’s been 6 months in and I don’t think that I have fared too well.

But, there are other things happening. Watching Hridayam got me back to listening to music again. Specifically, listening to the song, പുതിയൊരു ലോകം.

The Power of Your Subconscious Mind (1963, Audible – 2019)

I was watching a video on how to read a book effectively, from the YouTube channel, Think School. The video had the app, Kuku FM as a sponsor. The app provides book summaries in Hindi and Marathi.

I listened to the Hindi summary of the book, The Power of Your Subconscious Mind. This summary was brilliantly written and performed by Neeta Iyer. This pushed me enough to buy the book.

The book in English is essentially what could be a precursor to The Secret. It involves various examples of self-suggestion to solve various issues in your life. I tried it out and realised that it did not work for me, as didn’t The Secret. Of course, I am to blame for this.

Joseph Murphy had visited India and there are a few Indian references and anecdotes.

The only thing this helped me with was my paused Audible purchases. I am now back on the Audible bandwagon and listening more. Thank you for that, Joseph Murphy.

Back to Return to Earth

I wrote the last Chapter of Return to Earth on November 30, 2021. Return to Earth is a re-worked version of a novel that I was attempting to write for NaNoWriMo 2021.

Through December, 2021, I was busy with delivering work related projects before the end of the calendar year.

In January 2022, I was following up with a distraction. A short story idea that I had hoped to write and publish by end of January 2022. The short story consumed me. I was not able to think of returning to the novel. It took a bout of COVID-19 for me to drop the idea of pursuing the short story and return to the novel.

Another thing pushing the return to the novel, Return to Earth, was the kick-off of Cohort 2 of Long-form Writing which I had the honor of co-hosting with Hemant and Saurabh.

I returned to writing the novel, Return to Earth, again yesterday (on February 8, 2021). This is a short but important chapter in the novel.

Dune (1965)

I listened to the audiobook version of Dune, the 1965 sci-fi book written by Frank Herbert.

I had started my Audible subscription to listen to non-fiction books that I could just not get through reading. I expanded it for reading science fiction and fantasy books which also tend to be really long. I thought that the audiobook format would be the perfect way to consume this content. Especially the older ones.

The story is a political thriller set in a science fictional future. If you removed the frame of a futuristic planet and interplanetary rivalries, it is just political intrigue.

I would probably watch the movie and not read the rest of the series.

Writing a Novel

November is celebrated as National Novel Writing Month in America. It’s called NaNoWriMo for short. Although it began as a US phenomenon, it has turned into a global movement. There is growing global participation each year of authors writing every day in the month of November. They hope to write about 50,000 words in the month of November. Consistent daily writing with global accountability.

My tryst with NaNoWriMo began in 2012. I do not have any public record of this. I had emailed a bunch of people in 2012 asking if they would be my beta readers. There is no record of this novel on my private storage or on Google Drive. I seem to also not have informed these people about the status of this novel.

In 2018, I started writing chapters of a science fiction novel. I had called it One in Malayalam – Onu. I had published the chapters on Medium. Although I call them Chapters, the number of words in each was very low. I don’t think the whole thing together would qualify as a short story. I was also not sure where the story was going after Chapter 8. Hence, I abandoned that effort.

In 2019, I took to a physical notebook and started writing a nation-state fiction. The first book in the series was called William Horsborg – Life and Times. I wrote about 1200 words before I gave up on that. I will take this up again. It is a story I used to tell myself as I drew maps in a notebook as a 11 year old child. I have the stories in my head and they will not leave me in peace until I have told them.

I gave 2020 a hard pass and did not attempt NaNoWriMo.

In 2021, I had mixed feelings about writing a novel. I see-sawed between wanting to write and not wanting to write. An opportunity to write for about an hour a day opened up for me yesterday. I took the time to read the story I had written in 2018.

Although, I started writing it in the month of November, I am not counting it as an entry for NaNoWriMo 2021. But, I would like to acknowledge the part that NaNoWriMo played in remembering about writing the novel.

I am calling the novel, Return to Earth, tentatively. It is not a final title and it may change. Once each chapter is over, I will share it here and on my About page. I finished writing about 1000 words of the first chapter today morning.

The Vault of Vishnu (2020)

I had purchased all Ashwin Sanghi books up to Sialkot Saga as and when they came. I purchased The Vault of Vishnu on pre-order. When the book came I realised that Sanghi had written more books in the interim that I had missed.

Book Cover – The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi

During this time, I was trying new techniques of reading multiple books at the same time. In mid-May this year, I realized I could not read like this. I also found that I could not read the next book until I broke the log jam by writing a review about it on my blog. In fact, this log jam affected everything else in my life as well. Hence, I am writing this now to break the log jam so I can go on to my next book.

I always liked how Sanghi wrote his book from multiple stories that coalesce some where in time. I particularly liked the leisurely pace at which the book started. I kept switching between books until I wrote the review for the 7 Brief Lessons in Physics and then I finished the book in one sitting. Now, you might understand why the second paragraph of this review was essential.

The book neatly merges facts and fiction. For all the facts, Sanghi has a nice appendix with all the reading he did to research for the book. It merges timelines across time and space. It merges spies and history. I like how his writing style has improved so much since the Rozabal Line.

Official trailer of The Vault of Vishnu by Ashwin Sanghi

When I read the title, The Vault of Vishnu, my Malayali mind immediately leapt to the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvanantapuram and the hidden vaults under the temple. That is why I ordered the book. Turns out the referenced temple is the Chidambaram Temple in Kanchipuram in Tamil Nadu.

Sanghi begins his novel with the events that happened at Doklam in 2017 between India and China. Given the situation at the border now, the novel may be relatable? Then the story moves between India and China and across centuries. Even in the novel, we are dependent on help from the Americans for intelligence. There is reference to limitation of RISAT-2 which keeps an eye on India’s borders with China and Pakistan. There are references to our glorious past – especially the Cholas, Indian contributions to Kungfu and Shaolin and Bodhidharma (no Indo-Chinese fiction book is complete without him).

The story line of the Chinese monk travelling to get to India is a little slow through the book and adding a map to understand the path he took would have been a great add.

For me, the book reemphasizes our open borders between India, China, Persia and Central Asia. Knowledge, legends and myths have traveled on these roads for centuries and the modern nation-state has sought to destroy these ancient connections. I think we are poorer as a result.

From the books page on his website, I realised that he has published many more books than I anticipated. I am yet to read The Keepers of the Kalachakra in his Bharat Series, all books in his Private Series and some of his later books on his 13 Steps series. I had read 13 Steps book on wealth and luck.