Best books I read this year

Lately, I managed, or better put, forced myself to find more time for reading. And not just some superficial online reading jumping from one blog post to another but some actual books. Here are a few I read this year which influenced me a lot:

1. Kafka on The Shore - Haruki Murakami

If you’ve been one of those people who have been around me in the last couple of months, you would have heard me rambling a lot about Murakami. He is quite simply one of the most magical writers I have come across. His brand of magical realism came to me at a time when I was just getting into parallel worlds as a concept. Hence, its effect was more profound. Even if you are not into that kind of stuff, his pure genius with play of words and the way he weaves his stories is incredible. In the past 2 months, I’ve read 4 of his books and all have left a deep impact on me.  And Kafka on the shore is the one I found the best. You can also read my review of the book here.

2. Illusions - Richard Bach

It is more like a journey, much less a book. In Richard Bach’s own words:

 ”I do not enjoy writing at all. If I can turn my back on an idea, out there in the dark, if I can avoid opening the door to it, I won’t even reach for a pencil. But once in a while there’s a great dynamite-burst of flying glass and brick and splinters through the front wall and somebody stalks over the rubble, seizes me by the throat and gently says, ‘I will not let you go until you set me, in words, on paper.’ That’s how I met Illusions.”

3. The Outsider - Albert Camus


Just finished reading two days back, the simple, honest writing is disarming. Camus’ afterword, where in just two pages he explains his intention with the book is equally brilliant. The protagonist isn’t saddened by the death of his mother and it comes as a surprise to the society at large. More so because he is absolutely honest and frank about his feelings. Thus in a way, the book is more about being honest to yourself or rather your own feelings even at the expense of pissing off a lot of other people in the process. 

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Simplifying decision making

Would it matter one year from now?

In times when you find yourself worried sick about something, ask yourself this question. Whatever you decide to do in a certain situation, would the choice matter so much one year from that moment?

Proving someone wrong at the cost of lost love, or all those extra hours in office at the cost of your health and relationships, or that party you regret not being a part of, or what you should wear on a particular evening- is it all really going to matter a year hence? Probably not. 

You could come back and tell me that this theory trivialises everything. Maybe it does. But, what is wrong with that? From my experience, I’ve found this exercise very liberating.

Asking myself this question has helped me in simplifying my life and I hope it helps you too.

Further reading: Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff - Richard Carlson

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Conspiracies of Life #37

You and I are projections of one single source. The universe is just a game someone is enjoying at our expense. We are not really alive because our lives exist only in the minds of some- or that- One.

All the code of how the game works is embedded into our brains. The brain is a powerful, all knowing bag of secrets. But, it can go rogue sometimes and spill out the secrets of the game, which the One doesn’t want. Thus it is kept shackled, under restraint. It is not allowed to explore a higher consciousness.

You know how people say that we use only about 5% of our minds and even the great thinkers that have come before have been known to use much more but just about 10% of their brain. Why so? What stops them? Answer: Our nerves - that connect everything and ‘control’ everything in our body. These are The One’s soldiers. The One is also known by philosophers as The Single Truth or by religion as God. These soldiers guard our brain, keep it in shackles. They don’t want us to realise our true potential or the truth behind all this because if we do, it will be the end of everything, of life as we know it.

People who do drugs, they talk about getting a ‘hit’. Here’s my definition of it: A hit is every time a nerve soldier dies. Think of it this way, when you take drugs, the ones which expand your mind and force you to think, you get ‘hits’. Every one of those hits, kills a nerve. The number of nerve soldiers constantly recedes as they keep getting hit. They are probably shouting ‘man down’ and are trying to scatter and run towards bomb shelters. So, when you are high, the guard is down and you experience different things and see a lot of stuff. But slowly the soldiers come back from their shelters with higher ammunition to protect ‘the truth’ from us. And we come back to our normal state. But, since the number of soldiers are lesser than it was before, some part of the brain is unprotected and we feel much more informed than before.

Sometimes people say, that they have a huge capacity for alcohol or drugs or whatever. It takes them longer and much higher quantities to get high. I think what they mean is that those remaining soldiers standing with higher firepower are better prepared this time. So the next time you take a hit, it takes longer for them to die.

The mystics and sadhus have been known to do it via meditation and sanyas. This higher state of consciousness is what we all seek. It comes in different forms. For some, it comes after a long run, or a good piece of music or a beautiful picture.

Opening up of our mind is what we constantly seek.

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Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness. 

Mark Twain

The 4-day trip to Kasol with a friend was meant as a stress-buster, to find new perspectives and to just BE. It turned out to be much more amazing than I had imagined. Listening to crazy stories of other travellers first hand had a huge impact. These stories are what made the trip memorable. So, instead of talking about the touristy stuff - what to do, what to see, where to eat, I would like to share with you, some of these very real and personal stories.

Ivan, pronounced Eevan was a storyteller. 40, divorced, father of a kid he had with a girl he married because he got her pregnant, Ivan is a traveller. He studies chess books and recreates moves between Kasparov & Kramnik but says he doesn’t understand why they made this move or that. He sailed from the Africas to the Carribbean with a friend and 2 other people he had just met. He comes from a country where he says “ Israelis have had the worst”, with his family moving from Bosnia after the 2nd world war because the forces wanted people to build houses and infrastructure. He got me into reading Osho books and says they are cinema for the mind.

Kent, a young South African, IT guy, travelling alone and with a crop of hair which would put David Luiz to shame. I asked him how he feels about travelling alone and if he ever gets bored. He said something which stayed with me till long after - “You have to like your own company. I like mine and so I enjoy travelling on my own”.

Zooey, British, still has her accent but doesn’t know it, left home when 18, fell in love with an Israeli in India. Travelled with him for two months, broke up, went to Cambodia and Vietnam to travel where she bumped into some people she met in Kasol. Now lives in Tel-Aviv a floor below a drug dealer and studies psychology. Talks fast, doesn’t care if someone’s listening or not.

One of our many Israeli neighbors was Shachar. During her time with the army, herresponsibility was to ring the alarm whenever Palestine shoots a missile towards Israel. Just 21, she dreams of having her own farm full of dogs and training them to be with and aid blind people. 

Another one of them was a dude whose name I forget. “I’ve had too many loves (sic), they all break my heart”, he tells us. Guitar strumming, didgiredoo playing, drum beating, ‘McShit’ tee-shirt wearing, with the most brilliant tattoo on his arm, he sits outside his room playing with the little kids. He was a very happy man.

The owner of the guesthouse we stayed at was a sweet lady with long dark hair and in the words of another person the ‘smile of a queen’. She sits with us listening to our stories and sharing her own while her two beautiful little daughters who played with us while we and the neighbors did you-know-what in Kasol.

Perhaps the most interesting character we met was a Baba, who called himself a Naga Sadhu. He wore aviators, grooved on ‘Badtameez Dil' listening to it on his high end phone, and wore a tiger skin print cloth around his waist.  Devotee of Lord Shiva, he told us of the number of years since he left home and now finds his residence in a cave high up in the mountains around the place. 


A couple of weeks back, I took a weekend trip to the pink city, Jaipur with a couple of my friends. It turned out to be one of the most relaxing and fulfilling trips I’ve had. And this was a sentiment shared by my friends as well. For a man who has lived in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi for the last 3 years, Jaipur’s slow pace was a breath of fresh air. The place seems relaxed, running at its own pace and has a nonchalant charm about it.  

This is a short account of what I experienced. All the information is based on what the locals there told me and intentionally not verified from any other source. Excuse the quality of pictures, the three of us are noob photographers. 

1. Jal Mahal, The Lake Palace:


This is a beautiful, glowing palace in the middle of a lake. What amazes me is that the place was so deserted. You know how many people were there except the three of us — 5. And three of them were street food and ice cream vendors. If  this was somewhere in Mumbai, it would be perennially crowded. Marine drive in South Bombay, for example, has a pretty similar feel minus the quiet. 

2. The climb up the hill 


Rajasthan is known for its forts. And jaipur being the capital at the time, has some of the most amazing ones. The route, like all hills, is pretty awesome and makes for a pretty comfortable ride. We stopped at a place on the way where we clicked this. The big glowing thing is the Lake Palace. And the best part, there was absolutely no one else there which is crazy and immensely relaxing. This lack of crowd and being able to just be was a constant theme on the trip. The peace and the quiet was almost overwhelming.

3. Nahargarh fort:


Goofy friends: Mohit and Nishit

On the way up the forts, we had an option of going to Amer or Nahargarh. We chose Nahargarh and man was it worth it. I was so surprised by the fact that the place was still open at night at 10. Again, there were not too many people, just one small group of 4. And guess what, the open air cafe served beer! For a token entry fees of 50 bucks, we got some refreshments as well. The whole city is obviously visible from the fort and looks beautiful.

4. Choolgiri, The Jain temple


View from the top

Most of the cities in Rajasthan are surrounded by mountains. So, the roads are often made by cutting out a part of the mountains as you can see in this. This place is a pretty steep climb with some sharp turns. And it is usually hot so even though you can walk, I’d recommend taking a car up to the temple. The temple itself is pretty much what you’d expect from a Jain temple if you’ve ever been to one.


Tunnels shaped in royal arches


New ride

5. Prem Pan Bhandar


Mouthful of happiness

The happiest guy you would see is right in that picture, behind the two of us in that photo frame. Who wouldn’t eat at that shop after that picture. This place had the most delicious paans ever and we made it a point to go there both the nights. 

 6. Lassiwala 


Out of stock at 3 in the afternoon

I wish I had a close up picture of this place. Lassiwala is supposed to be the best lassi place in Jaipur. When we arrived there at 3 in the afternoon, his stock had finished up, all the instruments packed and the shop owner was still sitting there doing absolutely nothing, smiling at us as if saying, “Yes, I am that good”. Like any good thing, this shop also has its share of copycats who have opened up shops next to it where we eventually had mediocre lassis. They still have to slog through the day while the guy next to them finishes up a day’s worth of business in the first few hours.

8. City Palace


The City Palace was an extensive tour of almost 3 hours. The yellowish palace is the actual current residence of the king who happens to be 15 years old and studies at Mayo. The flag hoisted is the official flag of the kingdom. Whenever the king is in the palace, an additional blue flag goes up. The rest of the place is open to public viewing. We got to see old pictures, robes, courtyards, weapons and lot of interesting stuff. The kings of Jaipur are called ‘Sawai’ - translated literally it means one and a half. They were known to be extremely strong and could take on more than one man in a duel, hence the name.

Other places we visited:

Food was a major part of the trip. Here are some other places we went to.

Rawat Kachoriwala - Started the trip with the must haves onion kachoris at probably the most popular mithai shop in Jaipur

Tapri: A very chilled out teafe serving good tea.

100% Rock: I wasn’t expecting much from Jaipur’s pubs which was a wise decision. This place played the same songs you’d hear over and over again in most places. And I think they were trying to copy Hard Rock Cafe but did so with much less taste - they had crappy pictures of guitars instead of real guitars hanging on the walls.

Laxmi Mishthan Bhandar:  Even though I am a Marwari, I am not a big fan of Dal Baati, unlike my friends. And according to them, the daal baatis they had here were some of the best.

Another kachori shop: They used to serve the kachoris in Raj Mandir,  Jaipur’s oldest movie theater.

Discouragement for future entrepreneurs

For those of you who are thinking of starting up your own company, know one thing — startups are incredibly difficult. Entrepreneurship is not exactly as romantic as it looks from the outside. Here are some of the things I have learnt from experiences of my own and of my entrepreneur friends.

1. Building a startup is a lot of hard work, much more than you would have ever imagined.

2. Your friends will get tired of asking you to come hang out with them and getting a ‘no’ all the time. Your ‘social’ circle will consist mostly of entrepreneurs.

3. Your conversations would revolve mostly around startups. Anything else would seem trivial to you. This will irritate you and your non-entrepreneur friends.

4. There’ll be times when you will feel lonely and disheartened. There’ll be days when it would get difficult for you to get out of bed. Here’s a great interview with AirBnB founder on this.

5. Your relationships with your loved ones will suffer. You will find much less time and put in much less effort to make them feel special.

6. Your parents won’t understand what you do. And when they ask you how much money you make or how much you save, you wouldn’t know what or how to answer it.

7. You will become very ambitious but you will get rejected over and over again.

8. After a point of time, your account balance will be low perennially.

9. Every press that your competitor gets will make you feel as if someone punched you in the stomach.

10. There’ll be doubters — a lot of them, even your friends, family and your loved ones.

11. At some point, the realities of life, like marriage, sickness, emergencies will come up and you will have to deal with it.

12. Your health and general fitness will deteriorate. You will stop taking care of yourself. You will eat shit food.

13. Those who believe in you will expect the world from you and when you fail, it is going to hurt.

14. You would wonder where the next month’s rent is going to come from. You will have to borrow money from friends and family.

15. You will go to a lot of meetings which you’d be excited about but they’d eventually come to nothing.

16. Your lifestyle will change - there’ll be much lesser drinking out or travelling out of station. Going out to watch movies would be a rare event.

17. You will spend your weekends at work.

18. You won’t get good sleep. Sometimes, you will lie awake in bed, thinking of all the stuff you have to do. One of my friends actually speaks Android code in his sleep.

19. There will be disputes between you and your co-founders, sometimes ugly ones.

I don’t want to tone down this post by saying that it is easy to handle these problems because these are very real things that might happen to you, so be prepared. This is not to discourage anyone but to warn people who are getting into it because they have a romantic notion of entrepreneurship in their head and are unaware of the challenges that come up.

Get into it only if you enjoy solving the problem you’ve taken up. Don’t do it unless you enjoy the whole drill, the extremes of emotions, the roller-coaster journey. Do it because you’d rather not do anything else.

I do it because this is what puts my heart at rest.

Additional reading:

The blood, sweat and tears of living the startup life

Romantic lies about passion and entrepreneurship

How we found our designer

And almost did not hire her:

One of my mentors once told me: “Good design is no longer a USP for internet products. It is table stakes”. We’ve believed in this all along and have wanted to build the best possible experience at Musicfellas. A major role in that has been of our designer, Sneha Patel. This is the story of how we found our designer and almost did not hire her.

It was a Saturday, the day of the monthly Startup Saturday meet. As a newly turned entrepreneur, I thought it would be wise to meet some of the people from the startup community. So, I went for what would be my first and only SS meet.

But before that, let’s turn the clock back a few hours: In the morning, I get a call from a newly opened Dentist chain called MyDentist. They offer me a free consultation. I decide to go because it happens to be close to the venue of the SS event as well. 

Back to the SS. I got late at the dentist’s and thus reached the event a little late. Sweating and panting, I signed up and paid the fees. Suddenly, someone asked for people who were going to make a presentation about their startups. I had no idea why, but I raised my hand.

The presentations began, and they were full blown powerpoint presentations. And I obviously didn’t have one. I just didn’t know that you were supposed to actually bring a proper presentation. So, I decided to just swing it.


I tore up two pieces of paper and wrote MUSICFELLAS across them. Holding it up in front of the audience, I spoke. I spoke about music. I spoke about the independent artists industry. And I spoke about design. I must have spoken a lot about design because at tea break, a girl I just said hello to said she was looking for me. I had no idea why. So, we just spoke a little bit about what we do, exchanged cards and bid goodbye. I did tell her that we were looking for a designer and she happened to be one. She was a self taught designer, who had just recently started out on her own and we would have probably been one of her first few clients.

A few days later, I got an email from her saying she would like to discuss where we left off. I checked her portfolio and honestly, I wasn’t impressed with the website designs she had done. What we were looking for at the time was a website designer but her expertise seemed to be in identity design, which by the way was pretty damn good. So, I told her so. And, that was that. 

A few days later I got an email from her with an attachment — Musicfellas — website design. And I was completely blown away. 

Musicfellas - Original website proposal

The rest, as they say is history.

Key Takeaway: Never discount first timers. Never take things at their face value. And most importantly, talk about your startup. And I mean really talk, communicate. Let your passion reach out and touch others. Because the best people see a good fit when they see one. You are the biggest evangelist of your startup, behave like one.

Oh and why the dentist story, later I got to know, that our designer was also the identity designer for my Dentist chain. Happy coincidences.

Pale Blue Dot

This is one of the most epic photographs I have ever seen. Have a look and take a guess what it could be.  


You know what this is? That tiny pale blue encircled dot - that’s you. And me. And everyone you ever loved. That dot is Earth. Yes, our Earth. 

This photograph was taken from space at a distance of about 6 billion kilometers from us. From that distance, we look like a tiny dot in the space. Our actions, what we do, what we don’t, what we worry about are all happening inside that blue dot. That’s all that there is. 

We are nothing but a tiny speck. Stardust in the sky. We are small, invisible and probably inconsequential in the grand cosmic scheme of things. There is no reason not to do what you love. Nobody’s keeping a score. It is you, at this moment that matters. Fear not the unknown, because there is very little that we know and much to learn and explore. Go out, find what puts our heart to rest. 

"To live in the hearts we leave behind is to never die" - Carl Sagan