India’s Bad Book Fetish

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You know at least a dozen people who’ve read some of these books. At least half of them have tried to convince you to read one of them.  Should you ?  Don’t bother, says  Samrat Chakrabarti

THE ALCHEMIST Paulo Coelho Life is a journey with a happy ending if only you follow your dreams into the great wide open where the universe conspires to help you. Coelho’s appeal in India is understandable given our love of fables, the early indoctrination into the mystical and a deep affinity for mind-over-matter philosophies. But a book that shies away from the unsettling and simplifies the world into a black-white dichotomy ends up appealing only to the naiveté in all of us.

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THE TAO OF PHYSICS Fritjof Capra Capra plays on accidents of language and coincidence to produce fluff that draws parallels between eastern mysticism and rigour-driven science that not just obfuscates, but also undermines the blood, sweat and heartache that is the story behind every scientifically established fact. To the Indian who is out to prove the ‘validity’ of the Vedas, this becomes an I-told-you-so favourite, confirming his notions and setting him back at least a few thousand years.

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MEIN KAMPF Adolf Hitler One of the last major hurdles to Indo- Germanic bonhomie is the visiting German repeatedly suffering awkward horror on encountering a well intentioned Indian who remarks, “Germany! Yes yes. Very nice country. Have you read Mein Kampf ?” Churchill held that Mein Kampf was an important book to read to understand the mind of one of the biggest villains in human history — a fair point but the biggest argument against Mein Kampf is the book itself. It’s merely the boring rantings and crude racism of a pedestrian brain.

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WHO MOVED MY CHEESE? Spencer Johnson Take a pedestrian metaphor, wage war on character development and write an executive summary on how to deal with change, keeping it simple enough for it to be turned into a five-minute corporate presentation. One of the things that differentiates a human brain from, say, an eggshell is the former’s ability to think. A book’s true reward is when it tickles the imagination and catalyses thought. The only imagination here was shown by the HR guy who handed out mass copies, on the eve of corporate restructuring.

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THE FOUNTAINHEAD Ayn Rand Memo to the young Indian — Ayn Rand is not a philosopher and The Fountainhead is not the philosophical El-dorado, in fact we are not sure there is one. People are not made of cardboard, a good argument needs rigour and philosophy begins with an acknowledgement both of the complex world we live in and the paradoxes of the human condition. Rape is not the same as passion, ambition is not the measure of man and an aggressive, no-holds-barred individualism as a personal philosophy is particularly attractive during years of heightened hormonal confusion.

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