Wednesday, March 19, 2014

eBook Review - 'THE LAST PANDAVA'

‘THE LAST PANDAVA’ - ‘HE WHO DEFIED DEATH TWICE’ : : / : Pages 49 : Price Rs 50/-

This is an eBook written and published by Sai R Vaidyanathan. He wears many hats. He is an author, journalist and graphic designer. He writes extensively on mythological subjects, Hindu religion and culture and on the Vedic civilization. He is also an avid blogger. His writings are factual, interesting and impressive. He has seamlessly interwoven ten tales from the Mahabhaaratha and made it into a fascinating eBook on Arjuna’s grandson Parikshit and how he defied death twice over.

At the end of the great 18 day Kurukshetra war, only 12 warriors survive the massive bloodbath. The Pandavas have completely vanquished their cousins and bitter enemies the Kauravas. Duryodhana not one to easily give up asks Ashwatthama to kill the Pandava brothers before he gives up his mortal body. Ashwatthama had his own revenge to take for the death of his father Drona by Arjuna. So he goes to the camp at dead of night where the Pandavas are resting and supposedly kills all of them and announces the news to Duryodhana. Duryodhana is satisfied and dies.

The Pandava brothers are not really killed. In fact all the brothers survive. All of Draupadi’s five children are killed by Ashwatthama in the mistaken notion that they are the Pandava brothers as they look like their fathers. Bhima goes to kill Ashvatthama in retaliation and he is followed by Arjuna on the advice of Lord Krishna to protect him. Ashwatthama retaliates with his Brahamaastra. Arjuna saves Bhima by firing his Brahmaastra. Ashvatthama redirect’s the Brahmaastra towards Uttara’s womb which is carrying the unborn child of Abhimanyu, Arjuna’s son. Parikshit is the only hope now for the continuation of the Pandava legacy. Uttara prays to Lord Krishna who saves Parikshit from the attack. That is Parikshit’s first brush with death.

Yudhishtira, the eldest of the Pandavas ascends the throne of Hastinapura. Over time, Parikshit succeeds Yuddishtira as the king of Hastinapura and the first king of Kali Yuga. He rules benevolently but due to an unfortunate incident gets cursed that he would die within seven days bitten by the king of serpents  Takshaka . Petrified of his impending death and knowing its inevitability, he approaches his preceptor for solace. He is advised to listen to the glories of Lord Krishna by Shukdeva, a person of great wisdom, over the seven days. The narration by Shukdeva is the Bhaagavat Mahapurana. The suspense for the reader during this tantalizing period is skillfully built up by the author. Parikshit gets killed by the Takshaka on the seventh day as cursed and in retaliation his son Janamejaya conducts a huge sacrifice (mahayagnya) to kill all the world’s serpents. A clever Brahmana boy Astika pleads to Janamejaya to stop the mass killing of snakes which would have resulted in the death of the serpent king Takshaka. On the advice of Vyaasa, the sacrifice is abruptly stopped by Janamejaya.

Mahabharatha is a complex epic with hundreds of characters and running into one lakh verses. No less a genius than Vyaasa could have composed such a massive work. To read it in full is no easy task. But stories culled out artistically and skillfully and presented to the lay reader make them instructive and absorbing. That is what Sai Vaidyanathan has done. He has fired the curiosity of the reader by the title of the book. He has then brought in the very important characters of the Mahabharatha like Lord Krishna, Arjuna. Bhima, Ashvatthama and Parikshit and has smoothly crafted the incidents into a very readable eBook. The eBook has 18 chapters with interesting titles. The 49 pages of the eBook  can be easily read in one sitting. At the end of it, the reader gets a fairly good perspective of the Mahabhaaratha war, the meaning of life, the cycle of birth and death, how destiny cannot be escaped and how in this Kali Yuga chanting the name of the Lord (naama japa) can help us to attain salvation. Sai Vaidyanathan has done a commendable job by writing this eBook in a short and gripping form and it will definitely appeal to all earnest readers - young and old alike.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014



When the book landed on my table in August ‘13 for a review, the cover design caught my attention. I quickly flipped through the book and was very impressed with the colourful pictures (55 in all) of the zodiac showing the nine planets and twenty-seven stars, the glorious sun at the centre and the earth revolving around the sun.The glossy art paper added lustre to the attractiveness. I wondered whether I would really be able to understand about the stars and planets in our solar system and our co-ordinates in the universe which the cover page of the book claimed. I also doubted my competence to review such a scholarly work. It is human nature to procrastinate when the task ahead is daunting. I put the book aside to read later in leisure. I almost forgot about it till I got a reminder from the Editor asking me whether I had completed the review of the book. I decided then and there to read the book page by page.

The book is an unusual, very original and a magnificent effort by a brilliant author. Sri Subramaniam is an engineer and an industrialist. He is also an active Rotarian. Besides his professional qualifications and skills as a transformer design engineer, he has vast knowledge of cosmology, astronomy and astrology and has participated in international conferences. Through this book, Sri Subramaniam has tried to share with his readers- young and old, amateurs and professionals, his masterly understanding and deep knowledge of cosmology and astronomy acquired over the years.

Our earth is a tiny speck in a vast universe which continues to remain a great mystery for humankind. The author places the reader in centrestage with all the stars and planets revolving around him and tries to give him a panaromic view of the staggering vastness of the cosmos, the beauty of creation and its unfathomability. Fundamental issues like how the universe emerged, where do we come from, where are we in the grand scheme of things and what is our destiny are addressed. By providing an easy ephemeral reference, the readers get to see the planets and stars positioned at a particular point in time.

The book is divided into four parts.

Part 1 puts things in perspective. Our location in the universe, the rotational movement of the earth, measurements of stars and planets, and viewing them in the morning as well as at night. We get a total bird’s eye view of the planets and stars as if we are perched at a place millions of miles away from the North Pole.
Part 2 covers the planets and the cosmos with vivid descriptions of the magical colours that can be seen in the sky.

Part 3 dwells on aspects of creation of the universe, the scientific explanation and the meaning of unified force (Brahman/God-particle). After dwelling on the basics of astronomy and the theory of creation and their inter-linkages, Sri Subramaniam moves into Astrology, predictions and its uesfulness. In this Part there is a full chapter on meditation on the panchabhoothas (five elements), the navagraha (nine planets) and the 27 nakshatras (constellations). For those who regularly meditate this is bound to be of immense benefit.

Part 4 contains data on constellations and their degrees of brightness with an apt summary of what we have learnt and what we should analyse and contemplate upon. It has a chapter on Navagraha Nakshatra Vana. Here the planting of trees is done in a circular form with nine flowering plants representing the planets and twenty-seven trees representing the nakshatras. Tree is a form of divinity according to Vriksha Shastra. They bless the worshippers and also purify the environment. By maintaining such ‘vanas’, humankind is bound to reap huge benefits for itself and the plant and animal world around.

It is a phenomenal book, very authentic, authoritative, cogently written, extremely readable and with a fine blend of science and spirituality. The author’s Guru, Sri Vethathiri Maharishi (1911-2003) was his spiritual mentor and guiding force. His Theory of Creation has been explained and compared with the creation theories of the modern day. Albert Einstein said “The most incomprehensible thing about the Universe is that it is comprehensible.” Sri Subramaniam, through the medium of this book, has made the Universe easily comprehensible to all of us who are keen to understand this difficult and profound subject. Sri Subramaniam has tried to achieve in this book, by his own admission, the saying in the Yajur Veda that one who acquires knowledge of the movements of planets and stars will lead an enjoyable and long life with good progeny. It is a book which should be kept in every school and college library to enable the minds of our youth to get ignited for their material and spiritual advancement.




This book is specially meant for those who suffer from pain and who are interested in knowing and understanding the major causes of pain. Contrary to the general conception of pain, the author Steven Ozanich explains what pain really is and that the causes of pain are rarely physical in origin. This is something very startling to the reader who always associates pain with physical causes. Ozanich has written from his personal experience of having gone through unsuccessful conventional treatments for back pain attributed to structural abnormalities of the spine and having seen his wife paralyzed due to an unnecessary invasive procedure. He was indeed very lucky to have been introduced to Dr John E Sarno’s book –“Healing Backpain-The Mind-Body Connection”. It was an eye-opener for him as he became aware of TMS (Tension Myoneural Syndrome) or The Mind-body Syndrome (TMS). His pain ceased once he accepted Dr Sarno’s diagnostic premises.

The author explores the area of mind-body medicine in this extensively and well researched book. There are very exhaustive reviews of mind-body causes and cures of TMS. Having suffered pain enormously for nearly thirty years due to incorrect diagnosis, the revelation to the author of the role of psychological factors in physical health brought about self-discovery and self-healing. Stress is often the only cause for a variety of unpleasant symptoms. Psychology affects physiology.

TMS concepts are applicable to patients of all ages. The author argues that though modern medicine has greatly improved our understanding of diseases and offers many fascinating therapeutic options, it has also created a myth to explain the reasons for so many aches and pains in the human body. Those professing alternative therapies like chiropractic, homeopathy, naturopathy etc. have done no better. Those people who do not find mainstream medicine as a cure for their problems have turned to these options for a permanent cure. Unfortunately, these branches also though may provide temporary relief, lack a proper understanding of human physiology. On the contrary, TMS offers simple knowledge. It is all about psychosomatic medicine or mind-body medicine.

Pain is seldom the result of structural abnormalities. Pain comes from a reduction in oxygen flow to the muscles and nerves due to unconscious tension as a result of unknown, unfelt and repressed anger. The author was repeatedly advised that to stop his back pain, he needed spinal surgery. Once he started following Dr Sarno’s advice and healing process, his pain started disappearing.

The book can be divided into three parts. The first part is about how the author fought his suffering and his ultimate victory. The second part starts with an excellent chapter on what you need to understand to heal and what is TMSing. It also narrates the actual experiences of some who suffered excruciating pain. The third and last part dwells on acting on the new knowledge gained and healing. Aptly titled as a philosophy on life, in this part, the author explains how one can free oneself from pain, the importance of setting of goals, visualizing and imagining being healed, communicating and laughing. There is a very useful TMS checklist in Appendix B of the book. Putting the knowledge into practice makes all the difference.

The book is highly recommended for those suffering from chronic pain. The system of healing recommended is not available in any other therapeutic technique. The author repeatedly articulates that pain has rarely anything to do with the structure of the body. Most of our health problems are due to hidden tensions within the mind-body due to various demands on our lives. It is a book which shows the path to healing without surgery, injections or drugs. It challenges our current beliefs on pain and formation of diseases. The medical profession only treats the effects and not the causes. The key to good health is understanding the mind-body connection. Once you make that connect, you become energized and revitalized.


Saturday, January 11, 2014

' a comma in a sentence '- Book Review

Book Review : “a comma in a sentence” : ‘ Extraordinary Change in an Ordinary Family over Six Generations ’ : R.Gopalakrishnan : RAINLIGHT RUPA : Pages : 164 : Price : Rs 295/-

"Back on its golden hinges
The gate of Memory swings,
And my heart goes into the garden
And walks with the olden things."- Ella Wheeler Wilcox
This is the author’s fourth book. The earlier three belonged to the management genre. In this book which is in the form of a narrative, it is a long walk down memory lane for author Gopalakrishnan who covers more than two hundred years of history of his family starting from early 19th century. His ancestors lived in Villakudi- a small village near Thanjavur, the rice bowl of South India. Known for his sharp intellect and perceptiveness, Gopalakrishnan shows another facet of his personality in this book- that of a person who is sentimental, emotional and one who attaches great importance to traditional values or ‘samskaras’ as he refers to them. Written lucidly with interesting and humorous anecdotes, the book though aimed essentially at the younger generation in the family, is outreaching and will surely attract readers of all age groups.

Starting with Ranganathan, the author’s great great grandfather, the author describes the setting at Villakudi, Ranganathan’s frugal life, his earnings arising out of the agricultural crops, the austere Brahminical way of living and community service in the form of conducting religious functions and also taking on the role of the ‘purohit’ of the Sri Kasturi Ranga temple of the village. Ranganathan and the other villagers lived happily in their own world of Villakudi almost totally insulated from the goings-on outside the village borders. It was a peaceful and contended life.

But then, there were sweeping changes which were taking place outside Villakudi. The Great Madras Famine of 1877, the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the introduction of trains powered by steam engines around the same time, the arrival of the vernacular newspaper and the beginning of the Indian Postal Service. These were far reaching changes; each change dramatically altering the existing scenario and impacting the ‘frog in the well’ approach adopted by the elders of the village. Winds of change leave behind a transformation in the social milieu and its impact can only be judged by future generations. Each generation was apprehensive of how the next generation would manage these major changes. The author assures the readers that the next generation did quite well in coping with the changes.

The author discusses the caste system in the then Madras Residency and how Brahmin hegemony was brought down by E V Ramaswami Naicker, founder of the Justice Party. He propagated the principles of self-respect and removal of the caste system. He also he espoused the cause of women’s rights and the principles of rationalism. He endorsed violence against Brahmins and under his leadership Brahmins were harassed and ridiculed for their rituals and their Gods. Naicker who preached atheism succeeded in marginalizing the Brahmin community. Young educated Brahmins started leaving the Madras Presidency in droves as they did not find job opportunities. It was an irony that Naicker’s anti-caste movement resulted in a different form of casteism which manifested among the non-Brahmins and got accentuated and failed to serve the purpose of equalizing the social status of all people as Naicker had visualised.

In this backdrop of sweeping changes, new pastures outside Madras Presidency had to be sought by the educated Brahmin youth. Three youngsters from the Ranganathan family decided to venture out and take advantage of the job opportunities which Calcutta as a mercantile city provided. The author’s father Rajam followed his two cousins with the blessings of the elders. To permit the younger generation to leave the village for employment outside was a great change in the mindset of Ranganathan. Calcutta with its bustling business activities provided the right stepping stone for a professional career. All the three took up low salary jobs in Calcutta, a city totally alien to their cultural background at low salaries and built up their professional careers and simultaneously saved money to send back home. Rajam’s children studied in Calcutta in the best schools and colleges and equipped themselves with sound education and good values which acted as a strong foundation for their professional careers.

The author remembers with humour and fondness many incidents during his formative years and in his career with Hindustan Lever where he rose from a management trainee to the Board level and later his career with the Tata group in its highest echelons. These nostalgic reminiscences and interactions with outstanding personalities make the book very valuable and fascinating.

The book is entertaining, educative, witty, insightful and written with a sense of values and in a thoroughly lively manner. The book is part history, part biography, part autobiography all effortlessly blended and elegantly crafted as a narrative to make it a compelling read. Any negatives? None whatsoever. Anything that could have been added? Yes. Pictures of Vellikudi, the photographs of the family deity and the Kasturi Ranga temple and some family pictures would have enhanced the attractiveness of the book and given it a more personal touch.

We have a rich heritage and culture and philosophy which is multi-millenial and there is no incongruency between scientific temper and our cultural moorings. Gopalakrishnan has finely balanced the clash between modernity, rational thinking and culture in his own personality and that is what the younger generation has to learn. While retaining the best of our traditions, the younger generation must learn to adapt to the changing situations in a fast moving world. ‘Sanskaras’ will undoubtedly help the younger generation as a sheet anchor in their quest for excellence in their chosen fields and to face the world with courage and equanimity.