Poetry Feedback

Funny how poetry evinces so much passion.  Did not realize.

Hi Shoba,

As a poetry junkie, loved your last column.  Would love to meet your father some day. Like your father,  I too “had to memorise” Abou Ben Adhem as a schoolboy! 

By the way,  if I am not mistaken, the correct verse is “An angel writing in a book of gold”  – and not “an angel writing in leaves of gold”.

Here’s the link to  a piece on Abou Ben Adhem and, incredibly, an obscure topic in the biological sciences.  It is by, who else, a South Indian Brahmin (Tam Brahm, perhaps) scientist based in the US!


I think you will like it. 

Best regards. Vivek

PS: Do let me know if the link does not open. 

Begin forwarded message:

From: Padi Moorthy <rangok@yahoo.co.in>

Subject: May the professor’s tribe increase

Date: November 16, 2015 at 9:15:13 PM GMT+5:30

To: Shoba Narayan <shoba@shobanarayan.com>, “shyam@peakalpha.com” <shyam@peakalpha.com>

My dear Shoba,

                         Read your piece on your father’s love for poetry

                         Well written.

                         You are lucky to have a father who remembers Abu Ben Adam.

                         He has the talent to remember lines and recite them

                         My memory is notorious

                         But of all poems I remember Casabianca !!

                        The boy stood on the burning deck whence all but he had fled

                        The flames that lit the battle wreck shone round him over the dead”                         

     In a school elocution competition I recited this poem with tears running down my cheek

    I got the first prize for CRYING

   When some one passes, I remember this dismal Tamil verse, not Kamban or Bharathi

Andandu thorum azuthu purandalum maandar varuvaro Manilatheer, Vendaam

Edu vazhiye naam pom alavum

Nammak Enna endru

Ittu, undu irrum.

Notice the emphasis on Ittu(Give first ,then eat and stay on)


PVK thatha

My book talk at the Indian Institute of Science

This Friday, September 4th at 4 PM.  Copies of my book will be available for sale. Please come if you can.  Click below for the formal invite.


The lecture will be held at the Centre for Contemporary Studies (CCS), IISc. It is located just next to the Health Centre of the institute. The “main gate” (opposite to BHEL office) near Prof. CNR Rao circle, on the CV Raman Road is the nearest entrance to CCS.  Please call the office (080-22932486/ 080-23606559) in case of difficulty in finding the venue.

Begin forwarded message:

From: Contemporary Studies IISc <ccs.iisc@gmail.com>

Subject: Invites you to a talk on “Storytelling: History, Techniques and Context”; 4 September 2015;4 pm

Date: August 31, 2015 at 10:09:08 AM GMT+5:30

To: Raghavendra Gadagkar <ragh@ces.iisc.ernet.in>

Dear All,


Invites you to a talk on:



Speaker: Shoba Narayan

Day and Date: Friday 4 September 2015

Time: 4.00 pm

Venue: CCS Seminar Hall, IISc

Tea/Coffee will be served at 3.30 pm

All are cordially invited


Abstract: Where do stories come from? What is their purpose? In this crazy busy world, is there a place for stories? Why tell stories? Is there a way that we can incorporate narrative into our current professional lives— whether we are in the sciences or the humanities; in a large corporation or a small start up; as entrepreneurs and individuals? Do stories have a place in our ecosystem? And how do you tell stories? Using words, gestures and objects, Shoba Narayan, will discuss the power of storytelling using her latest book, “Katha: tell a story; sell a dream,” as a broad template.


Centre for Contemporary Studies

Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore – 560012.

(Near Health Centre).

Phone: 91-80-2360 6559, 2293 2486

Chair: Prof. Raghavendra Gadagkar

email: ccs.iisc@gmail.com

URL: ces.iisc.ernet.in/hpg/ragh/ccs

Katha Review

Thank you Vijaya Pushkarna, for the generous review.  I am supposed to have a Twitter conversation with you or The Week tomorrow, August 5th from 4 to 5. Have never done this before.  Nervous.


Tales pitch

A STORY for every occasion. Anyone with such a repertoire would be much more than the life of a party, attracting people with their eyes and ears wide open. But how does one come by such a treasure?

Shoba Narayan says it is no big deal, and goes on to show it is QED―quite easily done―in her book. The book is about how storytelling could transform business and management. And she does tell a whole lot of stories on how to generate or source stories, when to tell them and how and with what consequence.

From simple and upfront selling of a product or service and breaking the ice at workplace to breaking bad news or sharing good tidings and for a million other things, simple anecdotes or even sentences can work wonders. Take, for instance, this anecdote about a guy trying to sell software. He begins with a dramatic description of his poor grandfather who died a broken man because he had to sell his Udupi hotel. Before the clients could wonder why, he got them hooked on to the product by saying the software could have saved the hotel.


Stories transmit mission statements and core values. They build teams and create a shared sense of purpose. There is also a chapter on eight ways to find stories in real life―get out, leave your cellphone and look around, cultivate skills and hobbies and read.

The book is a breezy story that even those who are not attempting to sell a dream or have anything to do with business would like to read. That is because Narayan makes you believe that storytelling is neither an art you have to be born with nor a craft difficult to learn.

Katha: Tell a Story, Sell a Dream

And, the best part―the book does not have a single word that a class five student will not know or that cannot be found in the Concise Oxford Dictionary. That, a former news editor would tell batch after batch of youth wanting to become journalists, is the hallmark of good storytelling. When that is married to the idea of selling dreams, making businesses grow and succeed, it is a book people will want to grab.

Katha: Tell a Story, Sell a Dream
By Shoba Narayan
Published by Maven Rupa
Pages 192; price Rs295

Eudaemonia, Rahul and Kejriwal

Rahul Gandhi, Kejriwal and eudaemonia

Rahul Gandhi could take a lesson from St Augustine of Hippo. Wait, before you roll your eyes, let me finish. St Augustine of Hippo was a remarkable man. Born a Berber, this Algerian-Roman philosopher began life as a pagan. His mother Monica, ordained a Catholic saint, entreated him to lead a life of virtue. In his youth, Augustine was anything but. He wined and dined, had a rollicking time, wavered between hobbies and passions, and had relationships with a series of women.

As he says in his book, Confessions, Augustine’s early life consisted of “being seduced and seducing, being deceived and deceiving”. There is something comforting about a saint who sinned as spectacularly as Augustine. There is hope for the rest of us.

When he turned 32, Augustine—in somewhat Bollywood fashion that involved his mother’s death and chance meetings—reformed himself. He turned to celibacy and priesthood as a way to reach God. This continued throughout his life and he was ordained the patron saint of printers, theologians and, appropriately, brewers. In philosophy, St Augustine is known for his deeply personal account of the Western philosophic concept of “eudaemonia”, or the good life.

Gandhi junior, back after a two-month break, has taken up his role again stridently. The question is whether his reformation is for real—this time; or whether he will waffle, yet again.

Years ago, Joseph Campbell, the mythologist, entreated people to “follow their bliss”. Greek philosophers, including Socrates, Plato and, most importantly, Aristotle, called it eudaemonia. It is often misrepresented as happiness—but has more to do with practising virtues in daily life.

Eudaemonia is about doing the right thing at the right time in the right way, about having the wisdom to resolve conflicts, something that Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal could learn. It is a robust, action-oriented philosophy that is somewhat akin to the Hindu notion of dharma. Eudaemonia marries the idea of dharma, or doing the right thing, with the tantric notion of sahaja, or spontaneous ease, as poet Kabir called it, in which the mind is returned to its own primal ecstasy without the help of external substances.

I like eudaemonia because I think an action-oriented philosophy shouldn’t be plodding and diligent and entirely about duty and morality. What is Gandhi’s duty? Quit the party? Bear the burden? Take on the mantle? What is Kejriwal afraid of? Why does he win an election and then self-combust?

Much of philosophy, both in the East and West, focuses on duty and morality. The problem with this approach is that it excludes ownership, passion and enjoyment. To have power, and to take pleasure from wielding it, should be part of the composite as well.

Eudaemonia celebrates happiness, and all those daily activities that lead to happiness. It wasn’t popular among philosophers, by the way. Immanuel Kant vociferously opposed it, and although he is a giant in Western philosophy, let me adopt the immortal words of Bertie Wooster and say that with respect to eudaemonia, Kant “was an ass”. Later philosophers—the existentialists, for example—also viewed eudaemonia as a shallow fantasy put forth by medieval philosophers and theologians who had no idea about the harsh realities of everyday moralities.

The same could be said of eudaemonia’s counterpart in India: tantric philosophy. Mention tantra, and the average person usually thinks of the Kama Sutra. Well, it is that; but it is also about beauty, colour and bliss. There is a lovely passage in Sudhir Kakar’s book, Shamans, Mystics And Doctors, that explains this. “The true tantrik is always in a state of non-suppression and enjoyment. The purpose of every moment of life is to experience ananda. Ananda is active enjoyment of everything that comes your way.” No quarrel there.

How can one experience ananda, or enjoyment? Or eudaemonia, or happiness? Well, the reason those Kantian moralists were against eudaemonia is because they believed that humans needed external objects in order to experience happiness. Well, that’s true. Hand me a bottle of Ruinart and I’ll be one happy person right now. People like Kant would belittle this approach, and so would a vast number of anti-consumerists. Kant believed that true happiness or contentment comes from performing virtuous actions for their own sake. You do the right thing and you are happy. If not, you are guilt-ridden and have to drown your sorrows in wine, women (or men) and song.

But what if you could adapt your desires to suit the situation? Bear with me here. Again, to quote Kakar: “A tantrik has only those desires which the environment is ready, willing and in a position to satisfy. This is not because he denies any of his wishes or rationalizes them later, but because he has developed his capacity for attention and is intensely aware of where he is and what he is doing at every single moment of time.”

Read the previous sentence. Twice. Insert your name. “Rahul/Arvind/Rishad (or female counterpart thereof) has only those desires which the environment is ready, willing and in a position to satisfy.” That makes sense to me. Essentially, it says that since you cannot control what the world throws at you, you control your reaction to the external stimuli. You prime yourself to be receptive to the world and learn how to enjoy each experience.

Let’s say that you are going to a really boring party. Instead of flagellating yourself for accepting that invitation, what if you become “intensely aware” of where you are, and figure out ways of having some fun, given the circumstances. Maybe you decide not to make small talk; maybe you dress differently; maybe you decide to sing. The point is to extend your bandwidth; increase your surface area with respect to what gives you pleasure.

The ancients called it eudaemonia, or sahaja. Kejriwal and Gandhi should try it—Kejriwal for the sake of Delhi; Gandhi for the sake of the Congress party; and for the sake of the people that walked before them and fought to get them where they are today.

Shoba Narayan alternates between Kantian guilt and eudaemonia. Write to her at thegoodlife @livemint.com