Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The copyrights of many books expire every year. Project Gutenberg is an initiative and website that offers such books for reading or downloading. I was lucky to come across it in college but was stupid enough to not read stuff from it for a long time. I only wish it had some works in Hindi, Punjabi and other Indian languages.

Recently, I went through the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. The guy was a writer, scientist, businessman, politician, diplomat and who knows what rolled into one. Like all of us, he too might have had a bad quality or three, but I think it is best to focus on the good.

I loved how the guy kept on working hard. Unlike most of us 'modern' work drones, he still had his entertainment: reading, writing and discussing stuff. He was also a keen learner and seemed to be to be interested in everything. I must mention here that I first read about him in a book called 'Mastery' by Robert Greene.

Here are a few quotes from the book.


Promises in this world and beyond
[Charles] Osborne went to the West Indies, where he became an eminent lawyer and made money, but died young. He and I had made a serious agreement, that the one who happen'd first to die should, if possible, make a friendly visit to the other, and acquaint him how he found things in that separate state. But he never fulfill'd his promise.

Finding that we are 'reasonable' creatures.

I believe I have omitted mentioning that, in my first voyage from Boston, being becalm'd off Block Island, our people set about catching cod, and hauled up a great many. Hitherto I had stuck to my resolution of not eating animal food, and on this occasion I consider'd, with my master Tryon, the taking every fish as a kind of unprovoked murder, since none of them had, or ever could do us any injury that might justify the slaughter. All this seemed very reasonable. But I had formerly been a great lover of fish, and, when this came hot out of the frying-pan, it smelt admirably well. I balanc'd some time between principle and inclination, till I recollected that, when the fish were opened, I saw smaller fish taken out of their stomachs; then thought I, "If you eat one another, I don't see why we mayn't eat you." So I din'd upon cod very heartily, and continued to eat with other people, returning only now and then occasionally to a vegetable diet. So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for everything one has a mind to do.

Arranged marriages were a norm in that time and place, with dowry and all. This means that there is some scope for both arranged marriages and dowry to cease in India.

Mrs. Godfrey projected a match for me with a relation's daughter, took opportunities of bringing us often together, till a serious courtship on my part ensu'd, the girl being in herself very deserving. The old folks encourag'd me by continual invitations to supper, and by leaving us together, till at length it was time to explain. Mrs. Godfrey manag'd our little treaty. I let her know that I expected as much money with their daughter as would pay off my remaining debt for the printing-house, which I believe was not then above a hundred pounds. She brought me word they had no such sum to spare; I said they might mortgage their house in the loan-office. The answer to this, after some days, was, that they did not approve the match; that, on inquiry of Bradford, they had been informed the printing business was not a profitable one; the types would soon be worn out, and more wanted; that S. Keimer and D. Harry had failed one after the other, and I should probably soon follow them; and, therefore, I was forbidden the house, and the daughter shut up.
Lessons from running a library

The objections and reluctances I met with in soliciting the subscriptions, made me soon feel the impropriety of presenting one's self as the proposer of any useful project, that might be suppos'd to raise one's reputation in the smallest degree above that of one's neighbours, when one has need of their assistance to accomplish that project. I therefore put myself as much as I could out of sight, and stated it as a scheme of a number of friends, who had requested me to go about and propose it to such as they thought lovers of reading. In this way my affair went on more smoothly, and I ever after practis'd it on such occasions; and, from my frequent successes, can heartily recommend it. The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid. If it remains a while uncertain to whom the merit belongs, someone more vain than yourself will be encouraged to claim it, and then even envy will be disposed to do you justice by plucking those assumed feathers, and restoring them to their right owner.

This library afforded me the means of improvement by constant study, for which I set apart an hour or two each day, and thus repair'd in some degree the loss of the learned education my father once intended for me. Reading was the only amusement I allow'd myself. I spent no time in taverns, games, or frolicks of any kind; and my industry in my business continu'd as indefatigable as it was necessary. I was indebted for my printing-house; I had a young family coming on to be educated, and I had to contend with for business two printers, who were established in the place before me. My circumstances, however, grew daily easier. My original habits of frugality continuing, and my father having, among his instructions to me when a boy, frequently repeated a proverb of Solomon, "Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men," I from thence considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction, which encourag'd me, tho' I did not think that I should ever literally stand before kings, which, however, has since happened; for I have stood before five, and even had the honor of sitting down with one, the King of Denmark, to dinner.

A new way to learn languages

I had begun in 1733 to study languages; I soon made myself so much a master of the French as to be able to read the books with ease. I then undertook the Italian. An acquaintance, who was also learning it, us'd often to tempt me to play chess with him. Finding this took up too much of the time I had to spare for study, I at length refus'd to play any more, unless on this condition, that the victor in every game should have a right to impose a task, either in parts of the grammar to be got by heart, or in translations, etc., which tasks the vanquish'd was to perform upon honour, before our next meeting. As we play'd pretty equally, we thus beat one another into that language. I afterwards with a little painstaking, acquir'd as much of the Spanish as to read their books also.

Learning to be humble

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix'd opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag'd in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos'd my opinions procur'd them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail'd with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.


Having the right priorities,and the right amount of wit as well :-)

Upon one of his arrivals from England at Boston, he wrote to me that he should come soon to Philadelphia, but knew not where he could lodge when there, as he understood his old friend and host, Mr. Benezet was removed to Germantown. My answer was, "You know my house; if you can make shift with its scanty accommodations, you will be most heartily welcome." He reply'd, that if I made that kind offer for Christ's sake, I should not miss of a reward. And I returned, "Don't let me be mistaken; it was not for Christ's sake, but for your sake." 


पैसा पैसे को खींचता है।  In other words, money begets money. Most things from that time seem true today.

My business was now continually augmenting, and my circumstances growing daily easier, my newspaper having become very profitable, as being for a time almost the only one in this and the neighbouring provinces. I experienced, too, the truth of the observation, "that after getting the first hundred pound, it is more easy to get the second," money itself being of a prolific nature.
After this, Franklin moved into more political and administrative stuff. This is when I decided to get off the book. Mostly because I personally am in the personal growth phase of my life rather than political or other-such-things stage. Hopefully someday I will get back to it.

I hope you liked it. If you wish to read something on Project Gutenberg and are not sure what, the Top 100 is a good place to start.

Any and all books of any kind that you would like to recommend are welcome!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Want some water? Or tea?

As children, we were taught to always offer water to anyone who comes to our home. Guests, friends, delivery persons, electricians, plumbers and so on and so forth.

My parents, especially my mother spent a lot of time and effort on this.

Now, one of my coworkers pointed out the other day that I was always asking people who came to our end of the office if they needed water to drink, or if they could spare a moment for some tea.  Some others too have noticed this. Since I have a rather sensitive bladder myself, I sometimes point visitors from outside the office to the toilet, albeit discreetly.

I am hoping that my coworker was not criticising me, and that she was not being sarcastic.  One of the lessons I have learnt in my quarter of a century in this world is that everything  is to be considered a compliment unless specified otherwise.

I haven't thanked my coworker for the compliment. Not yet.

But I did call my mother and told her this. After all, she started it. Even though I was neutral on the observation vs. compliment thing, she was happy. Or as happy as you can percieve someone to be on the phone.

I don't know why I wrote this post. Most likely because I have not written since some time.

Also, no idea why, I try not to start sentences with "I", but more often than not, this is what I end up doing. Hard to keep oneself happy all the time. Sufficiently satisfied is better than full on happiness. Or maybe ignorance is bliss. "I" will never know :-)

Monday, April 18, 2016

Dealing with emergencies

Someone I know had to be taken to the hospital for a surgery. Nothing major. Just a routine daycare thing.

On arrival, our guy was admitted and we were told the surgery would begin at 11:00 am. Somehow, 11:00 am came and went. Then, noon and 1:00 PM passed. We got a bit angry, but only enough to feel like idiots later.

What had happened in fact was that the doctor/surgeon was busy doing an emergency procedure. Around 01:40, hospital staff came to take our guy for the procedure.

This raised a question.

How to deal with emergencies?

Hospitals have emergency rooms. ICRs, IICRs, what have you.

Sports teams have more players than needed to play.

Most armed and paramilitary forces have "rear" and "reserve" units.

Most people try to save money for the proverbial rainy day. Some are able to invest in something as well.

What are some of your personal, organizational, or any other tips for dealing with emergencies?

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Age: just a number, until you want to "school" someone younger

So today at my workplace, something simmering for the last few months came to a head. Someone who had to do something with the simmering decided to consult a superior. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

The superior, Mr. S, duly pointed out that the whole thing was my fault. I do not agree, at least not completely.

But he might be right because I am an all round bad judge of people, situations, and of my and others' roles and responsibilities. Also, I completely adore the man as a professional and as a person and have no reasons to believe he said what he said without firmly believing it.

While discussing the matter, one of the things he mentioned was that Ms. So-And-So has probably been with the organisation since before I was born. I felt that this implied that I should not have taken the situation so far.

This logic does not feel right to me. Thinking of it, Adolf Hitler must be of the age of my great-grandmother, a lady I have never met. But this does not mean that I too should devise a Holocaust of my own. (Definitely not the best of examples here.)

What worries me is that I might have hurt and/or let down a few people, including but not limited to Mr. S and Ms. So-And-So. It is one thing to playfully tease your co-workers or to let things heat up on purpose, but having this happen when unintended is not right. Did I not mention I am more of a master of disaster?

I definitely need to be a bit more diplomatic and "positive".

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Honest Bribe

In the book Shantaram, there was a moment when comparing India with rest of the world, the character Didier told the protagonist about the way bribes in India work. One line stuck to my mind:

There is a difference between the dishonest bribe and the honest bribe. The dishonest bribe is the same in every country, but the honest bribe is India's alone. - Didier Levy
Since I have never left India, I have no idea about the way things work outside. But I saw a movie today, and a scene in that movie very clearly depicted what Didier must have meant when he said what he said.

The movie is Bajrangi Bhaijaan.
It was  the last (almost last?) scene, when people from both India and Pakistan were standing on the border. The policemen who were earlier torturing Bajrangi to confess being a spy were trying to convince the soldiers to open the gates. To this and the accompanying moral lecture, the Pakistani soldier answered to the policemen with something like, "we are a few, and you are a lot .... if you know what I mean..."

The soldiers on both sides then got a bit away from the gates. The people proceeded to break open the locks. And the rest is a great Bollywood ending.

Even though (1) this was just a movie, (2) technically, it did not happen in India, and, (3) no bribes were taken or given, this scene reminded me of Didier in Shantaram.

This movie was not the most plausible of stories, but I loved watching it. It showed a human side. Also, I felt the character Bajrangi/Pawan was Munnabhai of Munnabhai M.B.B.S. meeting Harold Crick of Stranger Than Fiction. I suppose each man is weird in his own way. I am not so sure about women, but I love both these movies.

Last but not the least, neither my employer nor my dog has anything to do with what I just wrote.