My latest Mint column

It started with children’s audiobooks—abundantly available on the Web. offers free pod casts, in which a chirpy woman named Natasha tells stories suitable for children aged 6-16. Try it when your children come home from school. Along with their tiffin, you can serve them up a story.

I have become hooked to podcasts. As someone who spends a lot of time staring at the computer, listening to stuff gives my eyes a rest and gets me moving. I wear my earphones as I walk my dog, or do chores. Here then are some of my recommendations— not objective, or comprehensive but interesting nevertheless. All are accessible by googling the title.

Tune in: Economist Dan Ariely (left) and Harvard professor Michael Sandel host excellent podcasts.
1. Arming the Donkeys: Behavioural economist Dan Ariely interviews scientists about one of their projects or studies and how it affects our lives. Its virtue is brevity. Each podcast is just 15 minutes and they touch on a variety of themes. One scientist talks about how the people we eat with will influence how much or how little we eat. Another talks about “what makes us happy”. Giving people hugs is one answer; as is writing a gratitude letter to someone who means something to you. We all knew this intuitively but it’s nice to hear it being scientifically proven.
2. Justice with Michael Sandel: Justice is Harvard University’s most popular class. I stumbled on it when I was searching the iTunes store for a jazz album whose name I didn’t know but whose tune I did. Is there an application where you can hum a song that’s in your head and it will magically tell you who sang it, which movie, and its provenance? That would be a useful app. In Justice, also available on YouTube, Prof. Sandel walks you through Western political philosophy in an engrossing, lively, interactive way. He starts with a story: would you kill five people or one, and takes it from there. It isn’t easy. You have to pay attention and many times, you have to listen to the same episode twice to get it. But I learnt a lot.

Also read | Shoba Narayan’s previous Lounge columns

I learnt, for instance, that Immanuel Kant, whom Sandel calls the greatest Western philosopher of our times, espouses a philosophy that is very similar to what we call dharma. I learned that Kant’s moral views are very similar to Vedanta. All of which led me to the next couple of podcasts.

3. Vedic Mythology, Music, and Mantras: There are a number of podcasts offering courses on Western philosophy. Yale University’s iTunes U section has a nice one on Western political philosophy as does Oxford University’s Marianne Talbot on critical reasoning, philosophy and logic. All these focus on Western philosophy but then I thought about Indian philosophy and began searching for podcasts on nyaya, Arthashastra, Manusmriti and jyothish. Very few exist but I came upon a couple. This one is at (it has a blog, horoscopes and other stuff too). I just listen to the podcast. It is hosted by Ben Collins. I have no idea who he is but to hear an American guy talk about rahu and ketu; about the dialogue between Gargi and Yajnavalkya from the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, is mind-bending. Collins connects current events, Western figures and Eastern philosophy in an accessible, chatty format. An example: When talking about rahu and ketu, the planets, and how they influence our lives, obsessions and careers, he says that Muhammad Ali, Martin Luther King and Jimmy Carter all had ketu’s influence in different “houses”, which took them to power and also hurt them. Collins is deeply knowledgeable about Hinduism. His podcast is quite simply the best there is on Hinduism. I am hooked.

4. Mahabharata Podcast, by Lawrence Manzo: Based in Felton, California, Manzo is a software developer by day and a podcast storyteller by night, it seems. I have just started listening to him and like the chatty tone. An example: Parikshit was “hanging out” in his ivory tower, pretty sure that no snake could get to him… Some of you will be put off by the wrong pronunciation of Sanskrit words and Indian names. I wasn’t. Both these American guys apologize in advance about it. And quite frankly, if you want free podcasts about Indian philosophy on the Internet, that’s all we have. The Art of Living Foundation has a series too but I didn’t download that.

5. The Great War of Mahabharata: Bheeshma Parva by Soota G. Kameshwar. The Charsur Arts Foundation does a lot of interesting things in audio recordings. Carnatic singer Sanjay Subrahmanyan, I think, collaborated with them for this podcast. In this paid audio series, either downloadable from Charsur or shipped to you as a CD—Kameshwar recites the Bheeshma Parvaas it was done by Indian storytellers of yore. The cadences of his voice, the music in between, are all Indian. The CD costs Rs500, and all the proceeds go to special-needs children. I think I paid with a credit card or bank transfer using and they shipped it to me. Buy it. Worth it.

6. Ted Talks, the audio version: ’Nuff said.7. 60-second mind:Latest scientific research in one minute. Got a minute?

8. The Psych Files: Each episode takes an hour and while the tone is chatty, it takes too long sometimes to get to the point. Listen to it only if you are interested in psychology. I like it a lot.

A columnist’s currency is the world of ideas. Podcasts are one way to get them. Happy listening.

Shoba Narayan has started enjoying mindless chores, just so she can listen to her podcasts. Write to her at [email protected]

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