Books Roundup: Autobiographies

Do you read autobiographies?

तुमको देखा तुमको जाना, आइना अच्छा लगा
आज पहली बार मुझको भी खुदा अच्छा लगा

Tumko dekha, tumko jaana, aaina acha laga…
aaj pehli baar mujhko bhi khuda acha laga

(Meeting you, knowing you, I now appreciate the me some more
Today, for the first time, I, too, appreciate Him some more)

These days my love for autobiographies or self referential literature has grown. I am not exactly sure what exactly I look for in these books, whether I am moved by these stories, whether this fondness is reflective of my current life phase or if my quest for understanding myself has begun a little too late.

I have stared enjoying the tales that are not necessarily heroic, and describe flawed geniuses. They definitely help me understand my flaws better.. And maybe, someday, the cycle will eventually lead to my discovery of the genius within me. That’s optimistic though. The genius part.

My love for sports (watching/ following), on the other hand, has gone down. I still enjoy watching a game or two, cheering for something/ someone, posting status messages, getting into occasional debates. But the interest sustains only for a short while. After the previous world cup, and the wankhede moment, my interest in Cricket also has come down faster than the water slides at Water Kingdom.

Coming back to the books, in the last few months, I read four sports-autobiographical works. Playing It My Way by Sachin Tendulkar, Open by Andre Agassi, Rafa: My Story by Rafael Nadal and The Test of My Life by Yuvraj Singh. Unfortunately for everyone, Tendulkar’s book projects him as a genius, but an unflawed one. He is a well-cut diamond all through. The book is so polite that at the end of it, all you can eat is Parle-G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best by a margin is Open. Not for its literary quality, but for the openness with which Agassi bares his soul and his life. It tells you of the funny nature of his success and how his failures to come to terms with his personal life and aspirations occupy the top drawer. And also, his growth. I have been in the Pete Sampras camp all my life, and here I was, rooting for Andre well after his retirement. I relived many of those games, the rivalries, their importance or insignificance. And I learnt that the whiz kid of tennis wasn’t really in love with the game. Or, so it seemed. The book is also a very effective reminder of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

Rafa and Yuvi’s books have a few similarities. In pure literary terms, they both suck. And both of them pick a grand event as an anchor (the Wimbledon final vs the world cup) and run the book around that grand event. Those anchor events serve as benchmark of excellence that the world has come to know these two by. And yet, the preparation, the agony of successes and failures on that path, the physical beatdowns, the personal and the professional – they are fairly insightful. Yet, just to highlight the differences, Rafa’s book is a few miles ahead of Yuvi’s book in overall quality and impact terms. And a lot more honest also, I guess.

I have just about finished reading “The Hard Thing About Hard Things” by Ben Horowitz, and for a change, I did not feel like I was being preached to. What a brilliant book to come from a CEO (and not the investor). The book managed to put the mistakes of a decade long career in perspective, without, for a moment, reprimanding me. I strongly recommend the book to everyone out there. Even though most people will consider it a business book, I consider it fairly autobiographical. Especially those who aspire to become a good leader, a good CEO, or to have their own startup someday.

किताबों से कभी गुज़रो तो यूँ किरदार मिलते हैं
गए वक़्तों की ड्योढ़ी पे खड़े कुछ यार मिलते हैं

Kitabon se kabhie guzro to yoon kirdaar milte hain.
Gaye waqton ki dyodhi par khade kuch yaar milte hain

Travelling through books, these characters come and meet you so
In the bylanes of a time gone by, a few friends come and meet you so.

Book Review – The Test of My Life – From Cricket to Cancer and Back

the-test-of-my-life-from-cricket-to-cancer-and-back-hardcover-Have you ever started your day with an abrupt cough and vomiting attack? Imagine a tooth pain, can you? How does the drudgery of going to the office or college or school feel like on that day? Are you able to focus? Now multiply that discomfort several times over. And then, imagine trying to focus hard enough to win a world cup. And be the player of the tournament. Fathom the magnitude? That’s what Yuvraj did in 2012, as he overcame major personal odds to win the tournament. Yuvi pours out his heart in this chronicle of his fight against Cancer. Abruptly at times, incoherent at times, but with his heart in the right place most of the times.

This book is not exactly an inspirational book, like most such books are expected to be. It’s just a heartfelt chronicle. It starts with his denial of the disease, and ends with his eventually successful treatment of it. It is not a tale of heroism. It is not a glorification of how this victory was achieved. And thankfully, it gives credit where its due. The people around Yuvi who helped him wade through this journey. The resources he had at his disposal. And probably, most importantly, his mother.

The book was kind of personal to me. Over the last couple of years, we have gone through a similar journey, where sometimes the very act of living gets discounted by the fight for survival. Moving from a test to another, one opinion to another, one chemotherapy session to another. You know that you don’t have an option but to fight, but it becomes difficult every now and then. Somewhere when I was reading through the book, the book was an insight into how my dad might have felt over these months. We do not have the kind of resources that Yuvi might have had at his disposal, but I am sure the fight of mind over body does not become easier just because you have the best doctors looking at you. So, for that, I am glad that I read this book.

The book does not carry much of a literary value. Its language is unpolished, and fairly inconsistent. The timelines are fuzzy, and the editors have done a rushed job on the book. I would say that it’s a purely commercial act, and that ends up discounting Yuvi’s ordeal a fair bit. But thankfully, somewhat like Rafa’s sectional autobiography, the book has a very honest sound to it, and that’s what makes it an OK read. A somewhat more interesting story that runs parallel throughout is Yuvi’s relationship with his father. It makes you wonder if it was even a remotely healthy one or not. And how did such an unhealthy relationship become the foundation of such a promising sportsperson.

At this juncture, it’s difficult to say whether Yuvi will ever be a permanent fixture of the Indian Test team, but it suffices to say that several years back, when he opened the gates to the grand entrance, he almost blew them open. His talent is unquestionable, his work ethics has often been questioned, and his achievements do not stand true to his potential. Yet.

I think the true segment for this book is cricket lovers, and not people who are looking for an inspirational tale of fight-back. Someone who has no relation with the game may not even appreciate it. Not for cancer survivors really, because Lance Armstrong’s book is a better one for that. And I don’t enjoy the sports called cycling much.

And lastly, Dear Yuvi, you should not have used the book for such a heavy parading of your twitter presence and your charitable foundation. Seemed like an overdose by the end of it.

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