“Elon Musk” by Ashlee Vance

Of course, I had heard of Elon Musk but I didn’t know much about him. I knew vaguely about the Tesla car and his space endeavors but not much else. It was only recently when we heard that he had put in a bid to buy Twitter for $ 44 billion that I became more curious and wondered who this man was. I knew that he had -and still was – creating big waves in the world of business. My son bought this book by Ashlee Vance for me, titled, “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and The Quest for a Fantastic Future”. This was first published by Ecco, an imprint of Harper Collins, in 2015 and soon became a best seller. I understand that over 2 million copies of this book have been sold.

Musk has been described as being the most daring entrepreneur of our time, as also being ” a modern alloy of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Howard Hughes, and Steve Jobs”. You can’t think of many entrepreneurs- if at all any- who have taken the high risks that he has.

Vance details the life of Elon Musk through the stories of some of his biggest and best known business ventures such as Tesla and SpaceX. The book traces Musk’s childhood in South Africa where he was born in 1971. Reading about the difficult childhood he had makes you admire the man who is today reputedly the richest individual in the world. He went to Canada for his matriculation, then crossed over to the United States, where he was always aiming to live and work. He got his BA and MS from the University of Pennsylvania, then moved to California to pursue his dreams of becoming an entrepreneur.

His first venture – a web software company called Zip2 was initially on shaky grounds but grew till it was acquired by Compaq for $307 million in 1999. Musk’s entrepreneurial journey had taken off- far better than he had imagined. After that came X.com and Space X, Tesla, SolarCity and other business ventures- each of which were incredibly daring and different in thought and business approach.

Naturally, life was not a bed of roses. The book covers his initial struggles and the difficulties he faced -in considerable detail. It takes you through the highs and lows in what was for Musk something like a high risk high reward roller coaster ride. What I liked best about Vance’ s book was his relentless endeavor to try to understand the enigmatic and maverick like Musk as an individual. We know from childhood he was quite different from most others. His experiences -then and later -fashioned his personality and life style. It determined the characteristics that set him apart from most other business leaders of his times.

In this book, we get to understand the very futuristic ideas Musk had and backed to the hilt. All his businesses had this aspect in common. They charted a new path. They dared to experiment and cope with expensive failures.

Ashlee Vance is a leading writer in the technology space with extensive knowledge of the world of start ups centered around Silicon Valley. Tony Fadell, creator of the iPad and the IPhone, now CEO of Nest Labs writes: ” Ashlee Vance offers a clear-eyed look at a man who has played the underdog again and again- challenging old thinking and changing the world. I dare anyone to read this book and not be inspired to set their sights a little higher.”

If you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, this book is for you. It gives you deep insights into the life and mind of a man, whom you cannot help admiring.

“A Higher Loyalty” by James Comey

For many in my generation, mention of the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation ( FBI) in the United States, brings memories of J Edgar Hoover. He was Mr FBI for citizens of the US and indeed many other parts of the world as he held that position from 1947 to 1972. After Hoover there have been many Directors of the FBI but I, and most others, don’t know much about them. In more recent times, a FBI Director who was very much in the news was James Comey. You may recall that he was fired by President Donald J Trump when he was the seventh Director of the FBI.

Mr Comey has written about his stint as the FBI Director and this incident in a book called, ” A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership “ published by Flatiron Books in April 2018. I read this book recently and found it quite interesting. The essence of the book is Mr Comey’s argument that those holding high office in the US Federal Government owe allegiance to that office and not to whoever happens to be the President of the United States at that point in time. He served as the FBI Director from 2013, when he was appointed to the post by President George W Bush till 2017 when he was unceremoniously fired by President Donald J Trump.

Comey was not a career FBI officer in that he did not start as a FBI Special Agent. He did his Masters in Law from the Chicago Law School then joined the Department of Justice as the US Assistant Attorney in New York. As US Attorney he successfully carried out many cases against organized crime in the New York area, including the dreaded Mafia. Apart from many years in Govt service, Comey also worked for private enterprises such as Lockheed Martin and Bridgewater Associates. He was selected by the Bush administration to become head of the FBI. He writes at length about the personalities he had to deal with during the Bush and the Obama administrations.

Before and during the 2016 Presidential election, Comey was investigating the Hillary Clinton emails case and came under criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike! The Republicans felt he was going soft on the Senator from New York and pressed hard for quicker action against her, while the Democrats felt he wasn’t aggressive enough in defending her in a case which was no longer relevant. Comey explains his role quite candidly and gives us more information than we knew before. Even to this day people believe this case did influence the outcome of the 2016 Presidential elections.

During the Trump Presidency, Comey felt he was being directed to be loyal to the President as an individual, which he could not bring himself to do. The book has Mr Comey’s lessons on ethics and leadership. It gives a comprehensive insight into the politics of high office, especially in such a sensitive role as Director of the FBI.

“Unaccustomed Earth” by Jhumpa Lahiri

Being an unabashed fan of Jhumpa Lahiri’s, I loved “Unaccustomed Earth” a collection of short stories, first published by Albert A. Knopf in 2008. I had the pleasure of reading this recently. Ms. Lahiri was not a new author for me as I had read her famous novel, “Namesake” in the past, as also her first anthology of short stories, called ” The Interpreter of Maladies” some years ago.

You may recall that at age 32, she gained immediate fame for the debut ” The Interpreter of Maladies” in 1999. This collection of short stories received popular acclaim. She received the coveted Pulitzer Prize and it was on the New York Times Best Sellers list for long. The stories were typically set in the East Coast of the United States. I guess all the stories had a common theme. They were about the lives of Indian Americans and the challenges faced by first generation immigrants. The author knew this part of the US the best having grown up there. Ms Lahiri’s parents migrated from India to the UK in the 1960’s and when she was three, moved to the US. She then grew up in the State of Rhode Island.

This collection of short stories, titled, “Unaccustomed Earth” coming as it does, about a decade later, shifts focus somewhat to the second generation of Indian American immigrants. Their lives have been vastly different from that of their parents. Their parents had to struggle to balance between two cultures, the Indian culture which they were born and brought up in, and the one they had voluntarily embraced with their new lives in a different country. For the second generation of Indian Americans, the issues were rather different. The ties with India were not so strong or fading away with time. They faced a new set of challenges being Americans -but of Indian origin.

As always, Ms Lahiri writes in a simple yet elegant manner. Her choice of words, and the descriptions of people and places are deft. They make her characters come alive to the reader. The book has eight short stories, each one more engaging than the other. They have a tinge of sadness that one has come to associate with many of Lahiri’s stories. As always, the characters are primarily Bengali though the stories are set in different places such as Seattle, and Cambridge in the US and London, Rome and Thailand outside of the US. Naturally, the Rumas, the Pranabs and Kaushiks of the stories belong to a world with which Lahiri is so familiar.

It is widely acknowledged that short stories are very difficult to write. Her mastery over this craft is so evident in her writing. Highly recommended for anybody who appreciates excellent writing. This is short story writing of the highest order.

“My Life In Full” by Indra Nooyi

I would recommend this book to every Indian student of business and practicing professionals as well for it was an absorbing read. The full title is “My Life in Full: Work, Family and Our Future” and it was first published by Portfolio in September 2021.

This is the story of Indra Krishnamurthy Nooyi – a middle class Tamil girl born in Chennai, India in 1955, who we now know for having been the CEO of PepsiCo– one of the largest business corporations in the world. There were many firsts in her career. Ms Nooyi was the first woman to become the CEO of PepsiCo , the first person of colour and an immigrant to reach the highest position in a Fortune 50 corporation. For many years, she featured in the list of The Most Powerful Women in the world.

Like most middle-class families in Chennai- if not everywhere in India- the focus of her early life was on attaining a good education. She says in her conservative Brahmin family, “education was everything”. Naturally, from a young age she was accustomed to striving for excellence- a high priority for her family. In her early life, she looked up to her paternal grandfather, apart from her parents, for guidance and support in all that she did.

Nooyi speaks at length about their house in Chennai. We get considerable detail about her life- growing up with her elder sister, younger brother, parents, and grandfather -in a large house where many traditions were followed. She shone in her studies at the Holy Angels Anglo Indian Higher Secondary School, run by Irish nuns, and later at the famous Madras Christian College. In both places, she was an excellent debater and took part in many extra-curricular activities. In those years, it was unheard of to have an all girls rock band but she was part of one!

She then did her Post Graduate Degree in Management from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta . Here she was one of the very few girls in the class, as also one of the few fresh graduates who did not have work experience. On graduation in 1976, she worked with Mettur Beardsell and Johnson & Johnson in India before leaving for the United States for a Master’s degree in Public and Private Management at the Yale University’s School of Management in 1978.

She was selected by the Boston Consulting Group in 1980. Even to this day she rates her experience there very highly. Then followed stints with progressively higher responsibilities at Motorola and Asea Brown Boveri, where again she achieved considerable professional success. She then joined PepsiCo in 1994. While still in her early 30s, she was in the Executive Group of a major US corporation. She became the President and Chief Financial Officer in 2001 and was appointed as the CEO in 2006. She held that high office till 2018. During her years at the helm of PepsiCo, the business revenues grew by 80 % to $ 63 billion. There were many strategic initiatives she introduced including her much admired Performance with Purpose program.

Ms. Nooyi is candid enough to admit that she had lucky breaks in her career. Fortunately for her, she had mentors who saw the potential in her and helped her develop skills by pushing her towards challenging assignments.

She got married in 1980 to Raj Nooyi. In the book, she writes at length about the struggles they had managing their careers and their growing family of two daughters. Here too she is quick to give credit to her support system by way of family, especially her mother, and other relatives from her husband’s family who pitched in to help them out. By the way, I never knew that Nooyi is a small village in the Dakshina Kannada district of my home state of Karnataka.

She is often asked about how it was to become a woman in the top echelons of corporate life. All over the world, the infamous glass ceiling frequently restricts women from progressing in their careers. Seldom do they reach the very pinnacle as Ms Nooyi did. In this book she shares her views and suggestions, based on her own experience and her observations after interacting with a wide cross section of women at work across all parts of the world.

Overall it was an interesting book. I admire Ms Nooyi for her candidness in describing her career, her family, and the organisations she worked for and led.

Her story is inspirational indeed!

“Humans of Bombay”

It’s been over a month since I had a blog post here. My apologies. We were busy getting ready for our trip to the United States in the third week of February 2022. You can imagine how much we were looking forward to this trip! After all, we had been largely at home for two years or more due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

So, here we are in San Francisco enjoying a vacation with our son. This reminded me of an earlier post of March 2019 in this blog on” Humans Of New York”. I had written about how much I enjoyed the book by Brandon Stanton. I had wished someday someone would start a similar initiative in India.

I didn’t know at that time that young Karishma Mehta had started “Humans of Bombay” on Facebook way back in 2014. She writes that she started with just 10 photographs in her bank . By the end of the first day, her Facebook Page had a thousand likes, which shot up to 10,000 in the first week. I see now that over 1.3 million people have liked the Facebook Page.

You will find much more information on the “Humans Of Bombay” initiative in their website . This includes links to their blog, press coverage, and how you can collaborate with them.

Recently reading the book – “Humans Of Bombay” – , first published by Popular Prakashan in 2017- was a truly delightful experience. The stories chosen for the book are interesting, touching, and heart warming. They are so easy to relate to for one who has lived a lifetime in India.

Special mention must be made of the photographs which accompany each story in the book. They greatly enhance the interest in the story. Most of the stories are short, a page at best. A small number of them spread over a few pages while a few are made up of just a few sentences! This adds to the charm of the compilation. You will notice that in most of the stories the identity of the person involved is not disclosed.

What makes the book fascinating is that the stories cover people of different ages, religions, and economic strata of society. Yet despite the wide diversity, the issues are real, and people speak from their hearts.

If you want to experience Bombay through the eyes of an interesting cross section of its inhabitants, read this book! As you might know, Bombay has been renamed Mumbai since 1996 but old timers like me are more accustomed to Bombay. As Karishma Mehta herself writes, ‘Read this book, the Bombay way. With some cutting chai and far from healthy vada pav, and if you are away from Bombay, salivate at the thought of it. But for now, allow me to welcome you to the city of dreams.”

Highly recommended.

“Navratri” ed. by Bibek Debroy and Anuradha Goyal

Growing up in the South of India, I knew about the practice of Kolu or Golu during the Navratri festival. In many houses in the locality where we lived, dolls were unpacked with care, arranged tastefully and exhibited for all to view and admire. This was called Bommai Kolu in Tamilnadu and Gombe Habba in Karnataka. The lady of the house often stood there proudly looking on with approval at the elaborate display. Later it became common to have some kind of theme built into the display of dolls.

When I visited Gujarat many years later, I saw an entirely different way of celebrating Navratri. This was through the Garba and “Dandiya Ras” with the ladies swaying to the beat in colorful costumes. I had never seen anything so vibrant and colorful in my life! Later, In West Bengal, I experienced the grandeur of the Durga Puja pandals and all the associated celebrations. Years have passed by, but the beat of the drums while the ladies performed the “Dhunuchi Naach” stays fresh in my mind.

These and more memories flooded my mind when I read the recently published book, ” Navaratri” edited by Bibek Debroy and Anuradha Goyal, published by Rupa Publications. “When Devi Comes Home” is the appropriate byline as we Hindus believe that it is during these nine days/nights that Devi visits us here on earth. The editors have assembled a collection of 16 articles which depict how Navaratri, one of the most important of festivals in Hinduism is celebrated in different parts of India. The descriptions cover not just the background of the festival in each region but the rituals most commonly practiced, along with the other associated elements including food, customs, and cultural events.

Amrita Chakravorty’s book cover design is captivating. It attracts you to read the contents. The book itself is written in fairly simple language and makes one marvel at the rich cultural heritage of our country. From Kashmir in the north to Kerala in the extreme south, from Gujarat in the west to West Bengal in the East, we are exposed to how the Navaratri festival is celebrated in each of the regions. Needless to say, though the festival of Navaratri has some common elements , it is interesting to note both the similarities and differences, explained in the articles. This diversity adds considerably to the charm of our customs.

As the editors explain, ” The common thread among all the Navaratri celebrations is the devotion to Devi, who is also the Prakriti or Nature manifested all around us, of which we are a small part.” The editors have arranged the book in 16 chapters which pretty much cover the entire country. I was happy to see that celebrations in places like Konkan and Assam -which tend to get ignored as compared to the bigger and more famous celebrations elsewhere- were also covered. There is a chapter too on Nepal, the only Hindu country in the old today.

In the nine days of Navaratri, Devi is worshipped in Her different forms. This book makes you feel as if you are physically there- in the midst of the frenzy that typifies community worship. So well are the rituals and cultural events described! You can sense the smells and sounds of the celebrations as if you are there in person to join the thousands of worshippers.

Congratulations to the editors for bringing this book to us. It is extremely informative about the origins of the Navaratri festival and explains why and how Devi came to be worshipped in a particular manner in one or the other region.

“Business as ‘Yajna'” : B Anantha Bhat & Team

Many of you will be familiar with quotations from the Bhagavad Gita, the timeless wisdom given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battle field of Kurukshetra. These have taught millions of Indians- and increasingly people of other countries all over the world- a set of principles to lead their lives. A kind of moral compass, if you will.

One of the most quoted is, “Do everything you have to do, but not with ego, not with lust, not with envy but with love, compassion, humility and devotion.” Judging by both his actions and words, I can think of few people who have followed this advice as effectively and successfully as Mr Yajna Narayana Kammaje, the Chairman and Managing Director of the privately-held Sona Group of Companies, headquartered in Bengaluru.

The book I review today – “Business As ‘Yajna'”– is about this gentleman. It tells us how he succeeded as a first generation entrepreneur. Apart from this, he positively impacted the lives of thousands of people, many of them from rural areas and from the economically lower strata of our society.

The title itself is quite intriguing. It combines two elements, Yajna Kammaje’s approach and thoughts about doing business and “Yajna” as a person- with a clever play of words. The book was recently released in Bengaluru and described as “Life Lessons from Industrialist: Yagna Narayana Kammaje.” The lead author is Mr B Anantha Bhat, who has worked in the VLSI/Semiconductor technology field for over 30 years in India and abroad. He is an entrepreneur himself. The key drivers of this initiative are some dedicated folks from the National Institute of Technology-Karnataka ( NIT-K)Alumni Association.

Yajna has close ties with this venerable institution which started as the Karnataka Regional Engineering College (KREC) at Surathkal, near Mangaluru in 1960. He did his B.Tech in Electrical Engineering in 1971 and M. Tech in Industrial Electronics in 1973 from this institution.

He was the President of the Alumni Association for many years. In this field too, he excelled. He did more than anybody else in recent times to build and nurture this body. It is now a vibrant alumni association with active members from all over the world.

The lessons from this book are really directed towards entrepreneurs and would be entrepreneurs. In the India of 2021, it is quite common- and indeed somewhat fashionable in some circles- to talk of entrepreneurs, start ups, venture funds and angel investing.

Things were vastly different in the 1970’s and the decades that followed. For most people a secure job was probably the most important thing in their lives. In such a milieu, Yajna, then a rising star of the famous HMT, who had rapidly grown to the position of Dy General Manager in the Watch Division and clearly ear marked for higher responsibilities chose to give it up and strike out on his own! Considerations that most people would have worried about like having a wife and two children and other family to support, did not come in the way of his dream to start and grow a business. Not just to make money for himself – though of course this was an important parameter – but to give back in good measure to society at large and the less affluent in particular. The second would have been the farthest in the thoughts of most people in such circumstances.

In this venture, immense credit is due to his wife Smt. Vasanthi Kammaje who stood by him like a rock through thick and thin. She has made very significant contributions towards his success as an entrepreneur and a philanthropist, since they began their entrepreneurial journey in 1987.

As a student of human behavior, I have seen that often when someone is in need, those with “less” are the first to give while those with “more” are the most reluctant. Likewise, as a proportion of what they have, those with less tend to be far more generous than those with more. Yajna, in my view, is an exception to this general rule. He gave in plenty when he didn’t have much and he continues to give in plenty as he became more wealthy. Charitable causes, religious causes, people in need, employees, vendors, budding entrepreneurs and many others have benefited from his generosity. Often they return with more than what they hoped for, if he thinks theirs is a right cause to support or their need for help is genuine.

What has shaped him to be what he is today? Clearly his disadvantaged start in life has. He came from humble economic origins and knows, more than most, what is means to tb economically disadvantaged. As a consequence, all his life he has worked hard, and worked smart. He has demonstrated his risk taking ability on many occasions- the true differentiator between a real entrepreneur and others who go by that name.

The book is made up of contributed articles by people who have known him and his work. They are too many to list here but they have impeccable reputations and records of distinction in their professional lives. It is written by his professional colleagues, friends and admirers and many who have benefitted from their association with him.

On a personal note, I am proud to know Yajna for a decade or more as we live in the same apartment complex in Bengaluru. Besides, he is from Siddakatte a small village in the Bantwal Taluk of the Dakshina Kannada District of Karnataka. And, I happen to belong to Bantwal! Shobana, and I were honoured to receive a copy of the book from Yajna recently.

“Business As ‘Yajna'” is printed and published by Tik-Talker & TradePost and can be ordered through Amazon. I would urge not just those who wish to become entrepreneurs but indeed any one in business to read this book. It is replete with lessons on how to conduct oneself with humility and consideration for others while being successful in business.

“Dark Horse” by Gen Larry O Spencer, USAF Retd

Some books are truly inspirational. That’s because the characters in them touch your heart and move you to action. I would rate “Dark Horse” by General Larry O. Spencer, USAF (Retd), as one such book. He came from fairly humble circumstances, being born in 1954 to a African-American family in a tough inner-city area called The Horseshoe in Washington DC. He enlisted in the United States Air Force at the lowest level as an airman. After 44 years of distinguished service he retired as a four-star General and the Vice Chief of the United States Air Force. He was only the ninth African-American to get four -star rank. His is an extraordinary story of grit, commitment to his profession and an ability to aim high and achieve his goals. He became and remained a top achiever despite many challenges that came his way.

General Spencer’s story is all the more remarkable because as a student he was considered a failure. The circumstances in which they lived didn’t help. His father was a US Army veteran who had an arm amputated following war wounds in the Korean War. He had to wear a prosthetic arm and was derisively called Captain Hook by the kids in the neighborhood. His mother wasn’t well-educated either having studied till the 10th grade. Theirs was a family with 6 growing children. His parents naturally faced a lot of hardship in making both ends meet, with his father working at two jobs to bring home enough to feed his family.

Larry Spencer, like most African-Americans of his background, thought the way to break away from poverty was to succeed in professional sport. He wanted to become a star football player. In 1971, he enlisted as an airman in the US Air Force as there was no assurance that he would succeed with a career in football. In the Air Force there was an opportunity for him to study and better his life. He served a stint in Taiwan and after his first spell in the USAF, he decided to re-enlist so that he could work towards becoming a graduate.

An encouraging supervisor suggested he try for Officer Training School after his graduation. He was selected and became the first person in his extended family to become a commissioned officer in 1980. Many of his family and friends were in the US Military but none of them were officers. He had broken a huge barrier.

Over the years, Spencer felt the hardships that commonly came the way of African-Americans in the 1970s and 1980s, even when he wore the uniform of the United States Air Force.

He was a committed professional, held himself and others to very high standards and worked with great passion for his profession. Perhaps because he was not a trained pilot but served in the financial management area of the USAF, his rise to higher positions saw him break more barriers.

General Spencer writes with a lot of candor on how he coped with difficult and challenging situations in his career. Needless to say, many of them were because he was an African-American.

More than the high command positions he held or his professional achievements, laudable as they may be, the book’s value lies in our understanding of General Spencer as a person. We see how he succeeded against the odds. We marvel at the way he emerged to be the dark horse in horse racing parlance. And, last but not the least, General Spencer leaves us with a crisp summary of his life lessons, which are invaluable.

Overall, an inspirational book about an officer and a gentleman.

“Lights! Wedding!Ludhiana” by Jas Kohli

It was a delight to read, “Lights! Wedding!Ludhiana!” by Jas Kohli, published by Rupa recently. I came to know that Jas Kohli is actually a well-known cosmetic surgeon who has written two novels earlier in the same vein as this one. They are titled, ” Lights, Scalpel, Romance” and ” Anything To Look Hot!” Judging by the book I just read, I think I must add the others by Dr Jas Kohli to my library list!!

The plot of his book is fairly straight forward. Kushal, an industrialist in Ludhiana who would love to be an activist to protect the environment more than anything else, is caught in a jam. His hyper active young son, Lakshya has discovered from his phone that he is getting messages from an old flame from his college days. Kunal’s wife, Reeti, a good looking free spending beauty is aghast, as are his parents. Dr Kohli covers what happens next in an interesting and entertaining manner.

The earthy language and slang used in Ludhiana, the social norms prevalent there, the hunger for fame, food and booze, are brought out extremely well in this book. We also come to know of the high expectations from Ludhiana society whenever a Big Fat Punjabi Wedding is planned and taking place!

What I liked best of all was the accurate characterization of the people involved. Apart from those already mentioned, we come across Kunal’s parents, Kimti and Tripta ( with their own stories to be told); his daughter Vanya, a typical teenager of today, and assorted others. On reading the book, we feel we know these people ourselves.

A typical Punjabi wedding with all the grandeur and the noise provides the backdrop to much of the story. Here again, the author’s description of people and their behavior demonstrate his skills in wielding the pen ( figuratively if not literally) as well as he does his scalpel.

All in all, a light read, and fun too! I am prompted to read Dr Jas Kohli’s other books having sampled this one.

“Reminiscence” by S G Gopinath

Let me start by saying that Sathavalli Govindarajulu Gopinath, or just Gopi to his friends all over the world, counts as being one of my oldest friends. He and I have been friends for many, many years now. Over 60 years to be precise. This clarification is necessary because once when I introduced someone as being my oldest friend, the person whom he was being introduced to said, ‘ Oldest friend? But he doesn’t look that old. In fact, you look older than him.”

Gopi joined The Lawrence School, Lovedale a year before I did. When I started there in the 3rd Standard in 1959, Gopi had already been there for a year having joined in the 2nd. Since we are talking about his book on his family, the story of how his Dad left him at the Prep School is still fresh in my mind. We studied together till we left School in 1967. He did his engineering at the famous old College of Engineering, Guindy, in Madras, following the footsteps of his father who studied there from 1941 to 1945. Gopi was the University topper, in 1973. He then went to the US to complete his MS from the University of California, Berkeley.

‘Reminiscence: A Journey Through Three Generations” is the history of his family.

Often people mix up the history of the family with family history. The two are not, I believe, interchangeable. “Family history” is more from the domain of medicine. ” Did one or both of your parents have diabetes?” ” Did your grandparents die due to heart ailments? ” are questions we are frequently asked as the doctor pieces together our family history to help her make a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan.

In India, it is not so common but in the United States many undertake, as Gopi did, to chart the history of their families and write about the larger family in the form of a book. Gopi has written a comprehensive and interesting account of his family focussing on three generations, his father’s, his, and his son’s. Gopi’s book therefore is in three sections: the first about his parents; the second about his own journey and the third and last about his children.

This book is, I understand, for a restricted audience and hence is more like a coffee table book. It has been produced quite tastefully, printed in expensive glossy paper and is replete with photographs from family albums. How Gopi found the time and energy to put them together like this is quite amazing. I would imagine that writing the history of one’s family can be most demanding, and often rather risky. The writer throws himself or herself open to criticism from uncles, aunts, cousins and other relatives, close and distant. They demand to know why you wrote something about them or why you did not write something else about them! I am sure Gopi has faced his challengers boldly with the School motto, ” Never Give In” being an inspiring force.

This history of his family starts with his grandparents and the first part is largely about his parents. His father, Mr S P Govindarajulu, worked for all his working life in the Military Engineering Service. He rose to become the Chief Engineer before he retired in 1981. This part of the book will bring back many memories for all of us, as the incidents described are evocative of one’s own childhood. In those days families were much bigger and tended to be more close knit than they are today. In any case, Gopi’s father had a larger than life personality and was universally popular. His mother was the ideal support for the family and was a big influence in Gopi’s life.

I naturally found the second part most interesting because it is about my friend and the School we went to. I feel honored that Gopi has a picture of me in his book. I think I made the cut because I edited, “Glimpses Of A Glorious Past: An Informal History of The Lawrence School, Lovedale”. The school stories brought back many memories. Gopi has been very candid and describes incidents which many would have quietly skirted away from, like how bunking from School lost him the definite probability of becoming a House Prefect in our final year. The book then covers his professional career and his growing family, and their lives in different parts of the world.

The last part is the most touching, and I think the reason why he wrote the book. It is about his son, Venkat (S G Venkatraj) whose promising career sadly came an end when he passed away while working in the United States. The book moves into a different plane in this section. One can feel the agony of Gopi and Beena, his wife, as they try to come to terms with a devastating blow to their lives. The years go past, as they will, but some memories stay forever. His daughters – Rohini and Rukmini- have contributed too by sharing events from their perspective.

I praise the book, not just because Gopi is an old friend, but because it has clearly been for him a labour of love. That is reflected in the writing, the design, and the overall get up of the book. Successive generations can read about the family legacy, and about the stalwarts who shaped their family culture and values. Indeed, it is a precious gift he has crafted for his daughters, and his grandchildren. Well done, Gopi! Take a bow!!