Random Ramblings

#12 :Spirituality : My take


Spirituality is derived from the Latin word Spiritualis and according to Wikipedia, refers to a certain kind of activity through which a person seeks meaning, especially a “search for the sacred”.

At the very mention of words like ‘sacred’ and ‘spirituality’, people often mentally conjure up an image of religion. To me, religion and spirituality aren’t the same. Religion is just another way to satiate the human spirit.

That ladies and gentleman, is all I know about spirituality.

My education has conditioned me to think rationally and analyze logically. When I listen to people passionately talking about their experience of introspection or finding more about themselves or the larger truth as they call it, it baffles me to no end. I have never really done that. There came a time, when I had to. Below is an account of the same.

For some bizarre reason, people assume that I read a lot about spirituality given that I am a bibliophile. In fact, I vividly remember a conversation which sparked that want to do some soul searching. A random conversation with a writer sparked a train wreck of thoughts. We were talking about brutally honest reviews and the conversation veered to his book. He explained the theme of his book- The yearning for something more in spite of success – elaborated in the form of a spiritual release. He asked me to give his book a try. Given that I normally don’t read books belonging to such genre so I refused politely.  I reasoned with him that I hadn’t reached a level of mental make up wherein I could think about spirituality. That topic was simply beyond my level of comprehension. However, the writer in him went about marketing his book and convincing me as to why I should pick up his book. I had made up my mind already not to, after-all, that the subject was next to Greek for me. He is a writer who probably slogged hard to publish his book and now he was marketing it. I have encountered enough people who did their best to convenience me to buy their book. I’d do the same too if I were in their place. Normally, I would probably forget such conversations and move on with life.

Oddly, that conversation lingered on and I started introspecting. I shied away from picking up a book at the very mention of the word ‘spirituality’. When I could handle reading complex Turbo Machinery Control manuals, spirituality in English mingled with a romantic tale (His book) shouldn’t have ideally bothered me.

I was raised in a rather religious environment – I was taught to chant slokas and it was drilled into my head that a higher being with a name and form existed. It was instilled in me to put my faith on that higher being in times of turmoil. I was also conditioned that success or failure didn’t matter as it was all destined by that very higher being.

There came a time when what I experienced and read, forced me to question whatever I was taught. In fact, much to my own disbelief, I began to wonder if I was turning into an atheist. It wasn’t simply possible for someone who chanted all sorts of slokas for an hour daily to turn into an atheist overnight. There was obviously a rational explanation this shift in my thought process.

That is exactly when this conversation happened. I questioned my self as to why I chanted these slokas. I reasoned that the slokas had a rhythm and simply helped me slow down my thought process which was spinning out of control in times of tension and turmoil. It dawned to me that religion and spirituality weren’t same.  It made absolute sense when I realized that my religion and its practices were just another means to collect my thoughts and motivate myself to hang in there in spite of the storm in my life.

What did I do when I was worked up by negative events or thoughts? I held on to my faith and hoped for the best as I believed there was a higher power who would pick me up and straighten things out for me by my own actions. Not really rational is it? But it didn’t matter anymore. The rhythmic chanting I did daily probably zoned me out. Didn’t reading a good book do the same? Of course it did. Just that religion provided me one constant form to which I could have imaginary conversations without being judged. It got the better out of me. The whole activity made me think about the person that I am. It made me change gears, unburden and let go of my fears and worries. My very definition of happiness changed and so did that of success. Of course, that doesn’t imply that I can live life like a monk, just that I now have a balanced thought process.

I also realized I was wrong to think that I hadn’t reached that level of mental make up to read a story based on spirituality. What I read impacts the person I am. I’m pretty sure even a work of fiction with undercurrents of spirituality would leave footprints on my thought process. I’m hopeful to reach a metal set up where that footprint wouldn’t really matter any more. I’m diligently working on it.

Note : The folks at CBC are bloody good in running contests. They are bent on making me pen down things I wanted to actually write about, but simply forgot to.  This write up is for the contest hosted by CBC for Mr. Shashidar Sharma’s book launch @ Odyssey, Adyar on 24th of July at 6.30 PM.

Do visit CBC @ http://chennaibloggers.in/

To know more about Mr. Shashidar Sharma’s  book – Songs of Mist – do visit his page @ http://themonkkey.com/

PS. No prize for guessing. That writer mentioned in the above article is Mr.Shashidar. Sir,  if you are reading this, my heat-felt thanks to you for getting me to introspect.  I promise to pick up your book for sure. If not now, later hopefully. 

Random Ramblings

#11 : Of “Brutally Honest” Reviews

DISCLAIMER : The write up below is strictly my opinion on the matter of reviewing in the context of books. At the risk of sounding rude, if you have a problem with the following write up, please live with it. You are entitled to your opinions and so am I. Also, this is going to be one lengthy post. 1660 words long to be precise.

My tryst with writing book reviews began when I was in class 9. We were asked to write a 500 word review of the book we borrowed from the school library. Before embarking upon the process, our teacher gave us pointers on how to go about writing a balanced review. She elaborated on various aspects of the story we needed to focus on while writing. She also taught us why it is important to maintain a positive tone and be polite when criticizing. That activity left a lasting impact on me. Given that I was surrounded by book worms right from a very young age, book critiquing seemed a natural and effortless thing to do for me. 

Technological boom in the form of internet opened up a lot of doors for me. The very concept of blogging became a boon for people like me who loved to write about the books we read or other simple mundane things of our lives. I started blogging when I was in class 11. The blog however didn’t last long due my hectic schedule in college. Thankfully, four years of engineering passed in a blur and I joined my first job as an Automation application development engineer. With lot of free time in my hand, I started blogging again. That is when I discovered Goodreads. For fun, I entered a giveaway and won a book –  a book by a writer from USA, who shipped her book all the way to my house, here in India. I never gave serious thought about posting reviews in a public forum until I won that giveaway. 

On an impulse, I created a fresh new blog and wrote my first review – Sherrie Cronin’s X0 @ Readers’ Muse. I partnered with my best friend from school and started posting a ‘reported’ version of reviews which were actually conversations she and I had when we read books. Back then, I didn’t know what reviews meant to writers. For us, it was simply fun to write about books. It’s been 3 years, 1 month and 12 days since I published my first review and I have come a long way.

So here are few things I want to address, 

Reviewers get books for free so they end up giving a high rating – This was one accusation which was leveled against me by a writer and the CEO of a brand creation/valuation company.  

Yes, we get books for free. My inbox is filled with a minimum of 2 review requests per day. That’s close to 60 books per month. I have a day job and also have household chores to do. I turn down more requests than I accept. Plus I do have other books I wish to read.

No, I don’t give a high rating just because I got the book for free. I’ve been reading books since I was 6. I’ve been a member of the local library since I was 6. I’m 25 now. I’ve probably read close to 500 books ( as far as I can remember) with each book costing me anywhere between INR 20 to 25 plus a one time membership of INR 100.  Oh I forgot! I’ve also purchased some books. Do the math. I have absolutely no need to lust over free books by giving high ratings so that more writers approach me. 

Yet, I see more 4 star ratings on your reviews you ask? – Dig deeper. Read the actual review and re-read the first paragraph of this post. Who am I to “RATE” anybody’s work? I hate the very concept of rating. It was instilled in my mind from a young age not to “rate” a person’s literary work but rather only to comment on it. Thanks to publicity and money hungry sellers, the concept of ratings came into play.I give these ratings only for the sake of it. I give out a 3 or a 2 star rating ONLY if I really had tough time reading the book. 

You aren’t being brutally honest with your reviews. You sugarcoat and are diplomatic. – A fellow reviewer/writer said this to me, verbatim. 

What kind of criticism qualifies to being “brutally honest”? If it means to criticize the writer personally and write things like “hrrible buk.bad writin.don’t buy.writer is stpid”, I’m not a game for this. What does one accomplish by criticizing a fellow human? A sense of superiority may be? I criticize the writing and not the writer personally. What difference you ask? There is a world of a difference between the both. By criticizing the writing, you give a constructive opinion and feedback. By criticizing the writer, you simply end up assassinating the writer’s character.

As far the ‘being diplomatic and sugarcoating reviews’ allegation is concerned, I disagree. The English language is filled a lot of adjectives to describe things. Just because I choose to use polite and decent words to criticize, it doesn’t mean I am being diplomatic or sugarcoating. “Trashing” a story by using the choicest of expletives is easy to do. Mocking the story is easier to do. It takes real skill to give out a constructive and positive criticism. Try writing one! Of course, to me it is the only way to write a review. That’s how its been impressed on my mind from a very young age. 

It’s not my duty to dole out positive criticism or “help” writers promote their books – This wasn’t explicitly stated but was rather implied by a fellow reviewer. 

By writing a 250-500 word review you are not promoting a writer. There are plenty of books being published in a day. When you read and write a constructive review, you aren’t promoting the writer. You are making their book ‘visible’. Visibility and promotion are not the same. Promotion is when you full on recommend that the book is great and one must buy it. 

What do you stand to lose by giving out a constructive criticism?

or rephrasing it,

What do you stand to gain from trashing a book, describing it with horrendous adjectives? 

Cheap publicity. That’s all you gain. Trust me, that’s just impacting your own credibility and speaks volumes about the person you are. 

A writer once asked me what qualification I have to criticize his book. This very incident also happened to a fellow reviewer. The writer, in both the cases, had sent us their books. 

I don’t.I don’t have a fancy writing degree. In fact, I’m an Engineer by education and profession.Then what prompted you to send me your book? I’ve reviewed about 200 books on my blog, out of which 60% were books by people who sent me their books with a personal request. 40% were from blog tours. 120 people aren’t surely lunatics to spend money on shipping books to a reviewer who isn’t ‘qualified’ to review books. 

I could squarely end the debate by asking what qualification you have to write a book. I’m not here for verbal sparring. I’m not here to give a full length logical explanation to justify why I review. I’m rather good at debating. The accolades I have won so far for debating are testimony to it, but this is a debate I will refrain participating. You have a story to tell,so  you wrote a book. I have an opinion to tell about your book, so I put forth my opinions as a review. As simple as that. If you still want a proper justification, read the disclaimer at the top of this post. If you still don’t get it, may the lord show some mercy on you.

Why do you do video hangouts or spotlights with writers? You are just trying to gain publicity at the cost of the writer aren’t you? – Hasn’t been asked verbatim but indirectly.

When I started reading books, I badly wanted to meet the writers and ask them things about the stories they wrote. Back then, one could only write a snail mail and hope the writer answers.E-Mail was just catching up and most of us didn’t have computers only. Given that almost all books I read were either by writers who were from other part of the world or were dead, I was disappointed. 

Now that technology has crept in and made communication easier,writers are more accessible than ever. The first time I interacted with a writer online, I felt over the moon. Author Sherrie Cronin it was – It’s been 3 years since our first interaction, yet every time I talk to her about her books, it’s so heart-warming (Credit to her, she is an extremely nice person). Yes, the writer is just a human like me, yet the prospect of interacting and getting to know the person who created a whole world for me in the form of a story is more than just enticing. It’s an exhilarating experience. 

Why On Air Hangout instead of a private chat? There are surely people who feel the same. This is just for such people.

On Spotlights – There are people out there don’t know where to ‘discover’ books to read. This is for them. I post spotlights on my social media profiles only so my friends can try reading them. The author also benefits from this. It’s a win-win situation for all isn’t it? 

To sum up, reviewing is one activity which is close to my heart. I will continue doing it just the way I’ve always done. Negative criticism can’t really deter me from doing what I love. However, I’m always looking to improve in expressing myself. Constructive criticism is always welcome 🙂

PS. If you’ve read this post all the way through the end, please do leave a comment.I appreciate your patience, I just want to thank you for it 🙂 Thanks.