My Must-Read Book Collection: Spy Novels

I find it extremely difficult when people approach me and ask for a book recommendation. It’s an impossible task because the sheer number of books in each genre is mind-boggling! And to pick one at random and tell someone to read it is akin to a crime in my head.

So I’ve decided to share my must-read book collection with the world in a very methodical way. Every month, I will pick one category and share some of the best books I’ve read in that genre. So anytime you feel the craving to read a book and are looking for some help, you know where to find it!

And the category I’m going to start off with is: Spy Novels

Spy-Novels

A good spy novel is one which grips you from the get-go. A lot of writers have tried their hand at this genre but few manage to make a mark. The reason behind this is a good spy novel combines elements of heavy research, good story and solid characters. This combination takes a writer who is super-smart, tenacious and has a solid writing style.

Across the years, I have read a lot of spy novels which attempt to take the reader into the cloak and dagger world of espionage. But only the following novels managed to capture my entire attention and transport me to the realm of secrecy, shadows and suspense!

1. The Deceiver

The Deceiver

A classic spy novel by the legendary Frederick Forsyth. The Deceiver takes the reader into the life of a British Secret agent by the name of Sam McCready and his most successful missions.

This spy novel is a particular favorite of mine because the four missions of Sam in the book show the different skills and tactics required from an actual spy who works undercover. The author doesn’t mince words when describing the ethical dilemmas and the cold inhuman decisions which are a part and parcel of a spy’s life.

Another interesting theme described is the importance of relying on human intelligence as opposed to gadgets and drones. Sam in his various missions demonstrates how a superior human agent can always exploit the loopholes in technology and thereby makes a strong case for using humans in covert operations.

Rating: 4.5 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Fist of God , The Afghan )

2. The Matarese Circle

the-matarese-circle

The Matarese Circle by Robert Ludlum is a lesser known spy novel by the legendary author who created the Bourne series. This spy novel pits the protagonists Brandon Scofield (US Intelligence) and Vasili Taleniekov ( Soviet KGB) against a mysterious organization called Matarese.

Matarese is a dynasty which has it’s secret origins around 100 years back and is led by an evil mastermind. The natural enemy spies who hate each other must combine forces to save their respective nations from falling prey to Matarese!

I love this book because it is a solid example of spy fiction which transports you to the Cold-War era and the filled with suspicion and a wariness resulting from long battle. And it’s one of the few books which forces the natural enemies in the spy world to collaborate towards a common goal!

I remember losing all sense of time when reading this novel and having a grim look on my face till I reached the end of the novel. Action, superior intelligence strategies and amazing characters make this an unputdownable book!

PS: Ludlum is extra awesome because he follows this novel with a sequel called Matarese Countdown which is equally gripping with a CIA protagonist and a ruthless new villain!

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Ambler Warning, The Covert-One Series )

3. The Company

the-company robert littell

Don’t read this book unless you are a serious espionage fan and can spare a week. Because it’s extremely addictive and is a mammoth read (900 pages!) which can piss off your near and dear ones as they try to get your attention.

The Company is a definitive novel by Robert Littell about the infamous CIA(Central Intelligence Agency) which showcases its history from 1950 to 1995. This is a must-read for all those wanting to understand the dynamics of intelligence history and the moves of the big players following World War-II.

The CIA’s involvement in the defection of Burgess and MacLean from Britain to the Soviet Union(thus ending Britain as a superpower), the Suez Canal crisis, the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Cuban Missile Crisis are covered extremely well. Also the arming of rebels in Afghanistan to combat Russia and the Gulf War are featured with a very good amount of detail.

The best part of the novel is that you end up learning all these things without realizing them as you are caught in the gripping story-line and associate yourself with many characters as the novel progresses. You get to know a large number of young men and women recruited while still in college and their battle with themselves and the world as they rise through the ranks of the Company.

Don’t miss the character called The Sorcerer (Harvey Torretti), a heavy-drinking chief of the Berlin office in the early Cold War days. He re-defines the trope of badass spy who can be drunk as a fish while carrying out super-complicated covert operations.

Rating: 5 / 5 

 

4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

George Smiley: Short, fat and boring.

Atleast that’s what James Bond fans would call him. This John LeCarre novel is close to my heart because it sheds all the fancy glamorous bits of what we associate with the world of spies.

The hero of the novel is a disciplined intelligence professional who was forced to retire. He is called upon to hunt down a Soviet mole in the “Circus”, the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service.

This is not an easy book to read as you don’t have all the answers to the puzzle before the characters. The timeline is non-linear, and contains many subplots. As a reader, you will be left observing the actions of the characters and you must put together the pieces yourself!

But at the end of it, you’ll realize it’s totally worth it. You learn the psychological approaches to interrogation along with many intelligence operations details which other novels never capture. And of course you’ll fall in love with Smiley, the legendary spymaster as he battles his way through the darkness cast by the shadows of his enemies.

Rating: 4 / 5

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: The Honourable Schoolboy, Smiley’s People)

5. The Key to Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca

The Key To Rebecca is my most favorite Ken Follett book. The novel starts in 1942 as the World War II is raging, and the now legendary German general Erwin Rommel is having success after success with his famous Afrika Corps.

The Nazis are planning to invade Cairo and Rommel wishes to urgently hack into the British intelligence from their Headquarters in Cairo. So Rommel sends a master spy known only as the “Sphinx,”into British occupied Egypt. Then begins the roller coaster ride as the Sphinx tries to outwit his opponents and faces many obstacles.

I absolutely love this book because it was the first ever spy novel which kept me up all night! It’s a fantastic thriller which keeps you on edge as you start rooting for the anti-hero Sphinx as he devilishly wades through dangerous waters. A must, must-read indeed!

Rating:  4.5 /5 

(Other awesome spy novels by the same author: Eye of the Needle, Triple)

Over to You

Hope this post introduced you to some books which were new to you. Don’t forget to give them a try and let me know what you thought of them. And if you have any favorite spy novels which you think are a must-read, tell me about them in the comments!

Cheers!

How Smart People Remain Super-Effective at Work

“I work so hard all the time yet I’m unable to meet my goals!”

“There’s hardly any time for my personal life! Work takes up all my time!”

We hear such statements often at our workplace. Whether you are a beginner starting out in your professional life or a senior executive, you must have faced situations when work becomes so overwhelming that your productivity starts to erode.

In today’s era where your work-life and personal life end up becoming intertwined, it’s becoming extremely important to manage your time and energy in order to remain efficient and carry out your tasks effectively.

How Smart People Manage to Be Effective

The truly successful people understand the power of smart work and not just hard work. This smart working style gives them more time for themselves and their families without compromising on their professional success.

You too can adopt some of these simple and common-sense practices to make sure your effectiveness at work remains awesome. Are you ready to learn these smart practices?

Write Things Down

Writing Lists
PC: Toshiyuki IMAI via Flickr

This might seem like a very basic tip to follow. But the truth is, more than 80% of the people I know rarely bother writing stuff down when they are given tasks or when planning their day-to-day tasks.

I know the misfortune which befalls those who don’t write because I was one of them. I thought I had a great memory and could remember tasks which needed doing without much effort!

What usually happened was I would remember the unimportant tasks (as they ‘re easy to do) while forgetting the critical ones. Also, not writing down usually results in losing track of old activities which need follow-up as time goes by!

Write is Might

Don’t make this mistake anymore. Effectiveness is sometimes simply knowing what needs to be done and when to do it. These are enough to keep you focused and will limit your non-value adding activities to a minimum.

Smart people organize themselves very carefully when it comes to listing down tasks. They define their own way to categorize and prioritize the tasks which they are responsible for. Some of them use old diaries and notebooks while some leverage technology.

Writing tasks down gives you a reference point to track your progress. And with regular tracking and updating your task-sheet, your effectiveness is bound to increase!

Use the Power of Procrastination

Do Everything?
PC: john.schultz via Flickr

In case you’re wondering if I’ve lost my mind, hear me out fully. Procrastination is the trait which helps us to conveniently postpone work to some unseen time in the future. Usually seen in lazy people, this trait ruins their lives and makes them unproductive.

But procrastination can also be used as an effective tool to decide the tasks to do immediately and plan tasks which can be postponed to a later date! Smart people instinctively understand this and put it to deadly use.

Usually when we make our to-do lists for the day, we fill them with 80% of junk tasks which are neither urgent nor important. This always leads to excess energy and time wasted on tasks which never seem to end.

This sort of hyperactivity might make you seem busy and hardworking to others but in the long run, you’ll only end up fooling yourself! Don’t let your work routine make you mediocre!

(Suggested Read: 3 Destructive Habits Which Make You Mediocre)

Once you have your to-do list ready, eliminate half of the tasks which can wait and don’t need your urgent attention. You’ll be amazed to see 20 – 25% of these tasks will disappear on their own! (This usually happens because in a week, some of them would have lost their importance or would have resolved themselves)

Look at the Outcome and Not Time

Ripple Impact
PC: Scott Cresswell via Flickr

A lot of people make the classic mistake of judging effectiveness by counting the number of hours spent on a particular task. Unfortunately the tasks which involve a lot of grunt work end up taking more time than the ones which are short and powerful.

Learn to map the importance of tasks by their ability to impact your goals. By doing so, you will find that a lot of these time-consuming activities can be delegated to a later time when your energy levels are low.

The really smart people manage to combine their low-value tasks with some multi-tasking. This might involve listening to music or an audiobook! All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy after all!

Hobbies are your Best Friends

Hobby Reading
PC: Kamil Porembiński

If you look at the people who are incredibly effective at work, they usually have one or two hobbies which they are passionate about. Hobbies are a crucial component of our lives which rejuvenate us and make work less stressful.

Whether it be a game of tennis, reading or even a long walk, make sure you take some time off to do what you like! This helps you to relax and regroup your energies so you can give the best at your workplace the next day.

Breaks Destroy Monotony

Laugh away
PC: Ed Schipul

The best wisdom to remember is “Never let yourself become overwhelmed by work”

If you feel the strain is getting on your nerves, just drop the work for an hour and give yourself a much-needed break.

The super-effective people are the ones who take regular breaks to recharge themselves. They move around and talk to the people around them. They build connections and share stories. Sometimes this activity by itself opens up chances of collaborating with others and increasing effectiveness!

The famous Austrian endocrinologist Hans Selye told us: “It’s not stress that kills us. It’s our reaction to it”

So do the best you can and learn to let go. Wish you all a productive journey ahead!

Cheers!

What Master Influencers Do Differently


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When I was in the ninth grade, I picked up this book from my dad’s office library. The title read “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. I was super excited!

I had always dreamt of being one of those master influencers and speakers whom thousands of people listened to and sought advice from. Therefore I was naturally attracted to the book and ended up finishing it in a few days!

I thought I had discovered a great secret which very few people knew about!

You see I was pretty dumb back then (Sometimes I still am!). I forgot to notice the part on the front cover where it said ‘More than 15 million copies sold!’. It was a good thing I didn’t notice it. If I had, then I’d have assumed that more than half the world knew about influence and there was no great secret to it!

How-to-Win-Friends-and-Influence-people-Dale-Carnegie

So happily I set off putting the little tips mentioned in the book to use. I started to smile more, say thank you more and listen genuinely to people. The surprising part was it worked! I became more persuasive and assertive and before I knew it my confidence in my ability to influence peaked!

Later when I looked back, I realized though the book had sold so many copies, not even 10% of the people who had bought the book ever put it to use. They never bothered acting on all the golden advice given in the book! Had they tried even a little, it could have helped them become better influencers in life!

Most of the advice in the book is still pretty sound. But in today’s world, it takes more than just being nice and saying thank you to become a master influencer. These things might make you more likeable and get you more friends, but if you seek to influence people, you will have to learn from the best and start following them.

Whether you want to become a better Manager, Blogger or an Effective Leader in your field, you need to learn and master the art of influence. And who better to teach you influence than some of the most powerful influencers in the world!

What Master-Influencers Do Differently

After having studied the actions of many master influencers – old and new, I can say with a great degree of confidence that they all have some common characteristics which you and I can learn from. So what do they do differently which gives them the power to influence people around them?

Use The Power of Communication

The one thing which all influencers do with extreme efficiency is communication. If you wish to stand out from the pack and become a master at exerting influence, you need to understand the different forms of communication.

1. Verbal and Written Communication

Nadella Satya

The written and the spoken word. As an influencer you will have to choose words carefully when communicating to your target audience. Because once the words are written or spoken there is no way you can take them back.

Imagine an average manner of trying to communicate his vision to the team

“Team , we should achieve $xx million in the next 2 years and develop a product which will make us no 1 in the market!”

Motivating?  Maybe.  Powerful?  Not nearly enough.  Memorable? Hardly!

Now look at how Steve Jobs communicated his vision

“We are here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”

JObs Vision

Simple. Powerful. Profound.

Master Influencers understand this principle and put it to use. They choose their words carefully and ensure they carry maximum impact and benefit their audience. You too can follow their lead. Thinking for a few seconds before speaking/writing can produce wonderful results.

2. Non- Verbal and Para-Verbal Communication

luther

Non-Verbal communication constitutes a very important part of communication. In fact only 7 – 8% of your communication is verbal. Almost a majority of it is made up of things like your body language, posture and poise.

Para-Verbal communication is a lesser known and relatively ignored form of communication which the masters employ to their use. Para- verbal refers to how you put across your message. Sometimes the same words if conveyed with the right tone, pitch and cadence can have a deadly effect. Master Influencers also learn to use silence to communicate their intent.

So next time when you wish to communicate, keep these elements in the back of your mind. With gradual practice you will definitely be able to become a better communicator and an influencer.

Listen with Empathy

President-Bill-ClintonAll of us love to talk don’t we? But what about listening?

When was the last time you gave undivided attention to someone speaking to you?

Bill Clinton was the most charismatic person in any room not because he was a great speaker. It was because he was a listener who could make you feel as if you were the only person in the room! When he listened, he actually cared and made sure you understood that. This one quality alone made even his enemies admire him.

Listening is said to be a fast disappearing trait nowadays where all of us seem happy to be in our own worlds all the time. All it takes is to mute your internal noise and bring all your attention to the person in front of you. It’s not hard as you think! Next time when someone talks to you, try listening not just with your ears but your entire being and watch the magic unfold!

Are Not Afraid to Ask for Help 

Reach-out

Many people make the mistake of assuming that in order to influence, you always need to be in a position of power or superiority in a situation. And because of this convoluted thought process, they stay smug and aloof when it comes to asking for help.

Master-Influencers do the exact opposite.

Influence happens in equal measure when you are not afraid to ask for help and do so fearlessly. Because it tells the people around you that you are not someone who is arrogant and cocky but a level-headed individual who wants to learn from the people around.

Moreover this keeps your ego in check and teaches you how to harness the talent and skills of people around you! This in effect will make you a better leader and an influencer.

Over to You

Whether consciously or not, we are all trying to be Master Influencers in our own little worlds. But the trick is to realize that influence is not rocket science. And as long as influence is not used as a selfish tool for power but rather as a means to benefit those around you, you will thrive. 

Before I forget, I am planning to send a special Ebook to my subscribers next week. It contains some of the best advice from this amazing book you’ve never heard of. If you like what’s written here, I seriously suggest becoming a subscriber now!

So what are the other ways Master Influencers set themselves apart? Would love to know your thoughts…

Cheers!

What Stops Me From Achieving Goals?

Listen to this.

‘From the minute I set my goals, I have worked very hard. I did all the things which I felt would bring me closer to my goals. I have stuck them in a prominent place where I remind myself of them every day! But the more I keep pushing myself and trying to reach them, the more they seem elusive. What stops me from achieving my goals?’

‘What am I doing wrong??’

If you are someone who can relate to this, trust me you are not alone. These questions have haunted me too! I used to wonder what it was that I was doing wrong and after a long time, it struck me.  I almost always knew what I needed to do to achieve my goals. The problem was in the way I approached the process of achieving them.

In most of my failed goals, these were the traits which stood out.

Stress, Fatigue, Impulsive Action, Laziness, Impatience

What is common among these traits? They all represent extremes. This is the ugly truth about most of our goals. Either we are in too much of a hurry to achieve them. Or we try so hard that they cause burnout and we give up on them. Both of these extremes rarely yield results.

Watch out for these danger signs before you begin to chase your goals.

Instant Gratification

Instant Gratification
Photo by Sam Davis(Flickr)

“Setting a goal is not the main thing. It is deciding how you will go about achieving it and staying with that plan…”

Tom Landry

It is human nature to want things here and now. Especially in today’s age where internet is flooded with messages such as ‘Lose Weight in 15 days’, ‘Become a millionaire in a month’, it is hard to remain focused and persist with our action plan.

The reality is, anything worth achieving takes time and consistent effort. Most successful people treat their life as a marathon which consists of maintaining a long and steady rhythm in effort combined with a laser-like focus.

Your goals should reinforce your purpose and motivate you to go through the grind. If you start finding that instead of pushing you forward, they are compelling you to seek instant results and making you lose focus, it’s time to take a long hard look about whether they’re worth it.

Burn-out

Burnout Girl
PC: Helga Weber

“Great Work is not ordinarily done in busyness”

Elizabeth Skoglund

This is one of the extremes which you should be very careful about. Often people set over-arching goals which require them to stretch their limits all the time. As human beings, we are capable of achieving whatever we set our minds to. But this doesn’t mean we push ourselves so hard that we break.

When you try to achieve too many goals at once, the process will overwhelm you. Very soon, before you realize you will start getting frustrated with the lack of results. This often leads to becoming wary of your own efforts and the beginning of procrastination.

The end result? You will lose trust in the power of goals and become content with a complacent existence which may end up making you mediocre.

A better way is to plan goals in such a way that they remain aligned to your overall purpose in life. And smart people always set a limited number of goals which allow them to manage their energy levels without suffering burnout. Learn from them and remember the 80-20 rule. Focus 80% of your energy on the 20% of goals which will make a difference in your life!

Rewarding Yourself Too Early / Never Rewarding Yourself

Balance
Pc: WinnieFredxoxo

“Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance, order, rhythm and harmony”

Thomas Merton

For some of you, there will be an over-enthusiastic fellow waiting inside of you who will pounce at each small milestone and tempt you saying ‘Go on! You have already achieved this much! Go and celebrate! In fact celebrate double!!’

We all know how this usually ends. The celebration becomes a party and the party results in a bad hangover. By this time, all the momentum that had been built in you slowly dissipates bringing you to square one. Very few people recover from this temporary high and begin their uphill battle. Most just give up.

The opposite is equally true, if not more dangerous. Unless your goals have milestones where you stop and unwind, it will be very difficult to sustain the enthusiasm and keep going. Whenever you get the feeling you have been at it too long, give yourself a well-deserved break and swing back into action.

Remember the secret which will help you avoid both these extremes is balance.

Seeking Approval of Others

Disapproval
Pc: Daniela Vladimirova

“People striving for approval from others become phony”

Ichiro Suzuki

This behaviour is seen when you become obsessed with getting recognized by others for your goals. Or even worse, you start setting goals to please others and gain their approval.

It’s natural for us as social creatures to want to be recognized and accepted. Achievement and recognition are the pillars which drive all the successful people. But there is a subtle difference here.

The moment you let your goals be defined by other people’s standards, you begin to suffer. Because no matter how hard you try, others will always have their own opinion of how you ought to be doing things and what you need to be chasing in life.

An important component of achieving goals is the amount of control on your actions. As long as you are able to define your own standards and live upto them, you will succeed. But the moment you fall into the trap of pleasing others and begin to change your goals, you will be writing your own downfall.

Fear

Fear on dice

“Fear stifles our thinking and actions. It creates indecisiveness that results in stagnation. I have known talented people who procrastinate indefinitely rather than risk failure. Lost opportunities cause erosion of confidence, and the downward spiral begins”

Charles Stanley

Perhaps the biggest reason why goals fail is fear. It is also easy to succumb to your fears and convince yourself that you are not good enough or that you will try next year.

The funny thing about fear is it grows stronger every moment you allow it to live. It thrives on inaction and doubt and makes you begin to doubt your own potential.

Don’t fall for it.

If you have set goals which are ambitious, allow them to take you to paths unexplored. Remind yourself that the very reason you set such audacious goals is because you wanted to conquer fear and move past your limitations.

Don’t let your failure in the past or dread of the future prevent you from taking action. Take inspiration from the steady ant which marches carrying food weighing thousand times its weight. Observe how it moves with absolute focus and overcoming all obstacles to reach its destination.

Such an attitude of calm mindfulness and continuous determination will definitely make your goals a reality.

Over to You

I hope that this advice helps you in beating some of those obstacles which stop you from achieving your goals. Remember the acronym SMART of goal setting? It’s popular because it works! So keep your goals Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time Bound.

Doing that and avoiding the extremes mentioned here will ensure you achieve almost all of your goals!

Cheers!

Confessions of a Restless Soul: How I Became Good at Writing (And Eventually began Blogging)

Writing

I have a confession to make.

Contrary to what many may think, I wasn’t good at writing! In fact, as a kid, I usually got scolded for scribbling illegibly in my answer booklets at school. I was a lazy, arrogant and ignorant boy who usually lived in his head most of the time.

I am sure many of you remember the TV series House M.D. I remember watching an episode where one dialogue left an incredible impact on me.

House: “Are you going to base your life on who you got stuck in a room with?

Eve: “I’m going to base this moment on whom I’m stuck in a room with. That’s what life is. It’s a series of rooms, and who we get stuck in those rooms with adds up to what our lives are.” (emphasis is mine)

It made me think of all the people I got stuck with in various rooms. The diverse circumstances and places where I met them. How every interaction played a role in shaping my life. Today, I remembered the dialogue again.

A series of rooms are also the reason why I became a Blogger. And how I started my writing journey. I felt I had to share it with you. This is the story of how a 12 year-old fool fell in love with writing and eventually started using it to take him places.

It was the year 2000. While the whole world was talking about the dot-com bubble, I was grumbling about having to go to piano classes. Those were the days when almost every middle-class Indian parent made sure their kids attended camps, sports coaching or music classes of one form or another during the summer break.

 My dad was no exception. He had grown tired of me blowing his hard-earned money by spending time online (Remember the crazily expensive VSNL dial-up connections?). His company had an Officer’s Club where they had a summer camp arranged. Just to use up the remaining funds, they had called some dude to teach piano to all the employees’ kids.

 Dad asked me to make a decision. Either I attend the summer camp and weekend piano sessions. Or become a watchman guarding the apartments we lived in. So off I went to become the next Mozart!

The classes were held twice a week on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It was obvious to any ant, mosquito and human sitting in those piano classes that I had no talent for the instrument.  I usually ended up talking to the other sods and distracted them by telling them made-up stories about ghosts and scary places near their homes.  The piano teacher decided that I wasn’t worth his time, given the money he was being paid. So he decided to get rid of me and asked me to come that Saturday for some extra lessons. He told me I could leave home early if I wanted to.

I didn’t waste a second and ran home thinking I would bunk the weekend class and cover it up with a lie later. And just like a bad horror movie, my dad had arrived earlier than his usual time and was happily drinking tea. You can guess what happened later. I blurted out that we had all been left early and had an extra class on the weekend. He was obviously delighted at not having to deal with me on the weekend and made sure that I woke up on time that Saturday.

As I made my way to the Club, I noticed that there was a festive air. There were kids whom I’d never seen before, playing and jumping and falling like stupid kids usually do. The club was wrapped in cheap craft paper of various colors and there were parents anxiously guiding their little ones into different rooms.

“Bastard!” , I muttered to myself. The piano teacher had lied to me. He knew I stayed far from the club and had to walk 30 minutes to reach it. This was his cheap revenge. I was fuming. I said a mental goodbye to the club and started walking back.

“Oye, you’re Apasangi’s son right? Where are you going?”

I turned to see a friend of my dad standing there smiling at me. This day was going from bad to worse.

“Yes Uncle” I innocently replied, smiled and explained how I had arrived thinking there was some class and was heading back

“No problem, no problem!! Good you are here! We have special competitions arranged for all kids. I am sure there are some for your age group too. You will participate, no?”

This was the definition of a rhetorical question. If I had not said a Yes, then I would have to listen to my dad’s sermon later as to why I wasn’t going to be of any use to this planet or it’s citizens. So I resigned to my fate and went along with him as he made me sit next to an older girl who was busy writing something on a sheet of paper.

Great! I’m stuck in a room full of boring people’, I thought to myself.

“You ready for the essay competition? You must be in the 10-14 category right?” she asked.

I just stared. She was kind of good looking. I decided to say something awesomely intelligent

“Humm I grunted. I don’t know how that sound came out. I was pretty sure I had atleast 3 sentences planned as a reply.

 “Why don’t you give it a shot? For the 10-14 age group they have an essay writing topic too. Topics are put up outside. The winner gets a special prize! Go!” she smiled sweetly and went back to her writing.

I quietly went and saw a bunch of kids jostling each other to note down some topics. Since I was twice their height (only thing I was born with), I could see them easily.

The Board read:

Essay

A Bearded guy announced “Please go and be seated in Room B. The competition will start in 5 minutes!”

The entire crowd started moving towards a Room located in the interior part. I followed them to see what would happen. We were all asked to sit on the floor. I was given two blank sheets and a writing pad.

“Please write legibly. Extra points for using relevant examples” the bearded guy said. He looked at his watch.

“OK, it is 10:57 now. You have 3 minutes more before starting!” he shouted.

It was then I realized that most of the others in the room had prepared for this. Their eyes were half closed as if in a trance. They were bloody memorizing what to write. They had mugged up their essays and come to vomit it out. It was a no-brainer that most of them had been told beforehand what the topics were.

I suddenly became very angry. I don’t remember what triggered this anger. Was it the unfair competition? The piano master? Or the bearded guy’s face? I honestly can’t recollect. The only thing I remember now is being stuck in a room full of people I didn’t want to and a competition I hardly knew existed.

“Begin!”  the bearded man said and clapped.

I looked around as people around me were dumping text from their head to the paper in furious speeds. One girl was sweating and trying to wipe it off her nose with her hanky while writing non-stop.

All that anger made me focus. I thought about what I could write. The obvious choice was Pollution. It was easy, predictable and I had to only look around to find a relevant example as there was a lot of trash lying in the room. Also, I had written essays on pollution for the last three years.  (I don’t know how many of you know this. But Indian kids are made to write essays on Pollution from the age of 9 to 14. The other common thing being the life of B.R. Ambedkar :D)

But most people around me seemed to be writing about this. The guy sitting next to me had written half a page and was drawing some clouds. Guess he didn’t know what ‘essay’ meant. The next best option was writing about my career. At that time, I always imagined I would become a Private Detective. It felt stupid trying to convince a few grown-ups how I would do this. Especially when I had no clue myself. (Detective, Clue – Get it? He he….  Not funny? :( Anyways)

10 minutes remaining!” the beardy bellowed. He seemed to be enjoying this.

My sheet was still blank. So I started. Wrote the topic title ‘My Role Model’.

 And then it happened.

With hardly any pause, my mind started to produce words faster than I could write. I realized I’d started writing about Mahatma Gandhi and three important events which made him transform into the messenger of peace and non-violence. I wrote how his thoughts and actions inspired the country to achieve freedom. How his life made me decide to devote myself in whatever way possible to the service of others. And how this attitude would help bring peace to the world.

“Last One Minute!” the final warning was announced.

There was some space left under the Topic Title. I filled in “An Eye for an Eye makes the whole World Blind – M.K. Gandhi”

I swear to God. All I remember after that was handing the sheet over, eating some lunch and heading home as if in a daze. There was a wonderful sense of fulfillment and happiness I had never felt before in my life.

It never occurred to me to ask about the essay competition later. Writing itself seemed to be so wonderful that nothing else was needed as a reward for doing it. So a couple of weeks rolled on and I went back to being the random inhabitant of earth. It was a Thursday evening as Dad came home from his work with a huge smile on his face.

“Do you know what your son has done?” he asked Mom.

Mom gave me an ugly look and asked “What did he do now?”

“He has got the first place in Essay Competition. One of the judges works in my department and she was praising your son’s writing skills!”

He was damn happy. He came, thumped my back and said “Good! Keep it up!” and went to tell the news to my Grandmother and my baby sister. They were all ecstatic. It was an awesome day indeed.

And that’s how my writing journey began.

As I grew up, I started writing in every essay and literary competitions possible. I became part of College editorial boards, literary committees and debate clubs. I spent time in rooms and rooms of like-minded souls who loved writing and talking about Books, reading and writing. Before I knew it, I was getting by in my Management course just because of my ability to confuse the Profs with my mastery of the language.

My brush with Blogging began while I was pursuing Engineering. I did it occasionally (nikshepd.blogspot.in) and stopped after I got my first job. But as they say, your true passion calls out to you from even the netherworld at times. And I have realized writing through the medium of a Blog is what keeps me going.

So here I am. Writing this post and talking to you through it. This is what gives me peace of mind and true fulfilment. And I assure you it will only get better with time. I’ll try my best to add value to your lives but I hope you’ll forgive me if at times, my writing falls short of the ideal.

Be aware of the fact that the people you end up getting stuck with in rooms matter. Next time it happens, make sure you keep your eyes and ears open. For you never know when life will make you stumble upon your true purpose in life!

I hope your calling finds you soon. Keep Looking.

Cheers!