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25 July 2013

Book Review: Don't sprint the Marathon: Author: V Raghunathan

Take an idea. Expand on it liberally. Embellish it with selected set of examples and illustrations....

Bingo, you have a book !

This is what Mr.Raghunathan has done in his book 'Don't sprint the marathon'. The postulate is that life is more like a marathon - long term, contains uncertainties, the end goal is not clearly visible etc - than a sprint (Hence the title of the book). The author expounds that the approach of many parent to parenting is as if life is a sprint and that this approach will fail since the very nature of life is that of a marathon and the tools and techniques to handle marathon is different from those for sprint.

This is the only idea in this book. Believe me.

Having spent a chapter detailing the difference between sprint and marathon, the author gets into his core task - of admonishing, berating, cajoling and blaming the parents who, in his opinion, are treating life as if it is a sprint and transferring that paradigm to their children.

Having said 'Yes' to some of the questions that Mr.Nathan asked about my expectations from my son, I was made to feel guilty. The author ended up proving that I am not a well grounded parent...

That hurt.

Half way through the book, I got tired of the accusatory tone of this book and I almost wanted to give up reading the rest of the book. In a weird sort of way, that action (of me closing the book) would have reinforced my perception that I was a sprinter, and that was clearly not the place to be. Also I wanted to write this review. And to do that I have to read the book completely.

So I soldiered on...

I am glad that I did, because some of the stories and anecdotes in the second half of the book are delightful. By nature I am a very involved reader. I identify with the character of the book that I am reading. Reading about a 16 year old girl who got the portable rest room for the watchmen in her apartment complex, or about how Mr.GM Rao of GMR group overcame the trials and tribulations of his early years brought tears of happiness...

Talking about GMR, the author says that 'there is no awakening like self-awakening. So true.

One of the best chapters in this book is chapter 6,titled 'Can Ordinary Walkers Jog?'. The entire chapter is about ordinary people who did extra-ordinary stuff. Be it the story of...

---V Many who created SOCARE, an NGO taking care of children of life convicts in Bangalore, or,
---Subhash Bose who created Anubhav to help the runaway children found in the platform of Delihi railway station, or,
---Auto Raja who created 'New Arc Mission' to take care of people who are close to their death, or, 
---Kishore Rao, a successful corporate executive, who on his retirement created Karunashraya, a rest home facility for cancer patient, most of whom are in advanced stages with a life expectancy of less than a month, or,
---100% visually impaired Mahantesh G Kivadasannavar, who started the Samarthanam Trust for the disabled, who offer a range of educational and life-skill oriented programmes for children with disabilities, particularly from weaker socio-economic sections, or,
---Brilliant Ashish Goyal, who did his B Com from Mumbai, joined S P Jain Institute of Management for his MBA, worked in the treasury department of a Bank for 5 years, scored 760/800 in his GMAT (which placed him in the 99++ percentile, which meant that he scored better than 99.99% of the global population taking the test), got admission to Wharton and is working as an Investment Banker with one of the world's leading Investment Banking Firms

Wow !!

Ashish achieved all this while being 100% blind from the age of 21.

Wow ! Wow! again.

There is one chapter dedicated to the importance of reading (Chapter 9). The author discusses two questions that he faced on two separate occasions. The first question was for children of successful parents who did not have the reading habit. The question was 'If the parents were successful without reading habit, why should the children develop reading habits?'. The other question was ' How can the parents introduce reading habits among children?'. 

As an answer to the first question, the author goes on a discussion on the purpose of education. The author's answer to the second question is that parent should be role model. To put in simple terms the parents should be good readers !. Isn't hat like putting cart before the horse? If parents were 'Already' good readers, they would have probably figured out the answer to their question already !

Oh, the perils of circular reasoning !

Mr.Nathan brings out the perspectives of various leading luminaries to emphasise his points. He sites the example of Dr.Anji Reddy of Dr.Reddy's Lab, of Mr.Narayana Murti of Infosys, of the famous athlete Ashwini Nachappa (paradoxically a world class sprinter !), of Mr. G M Rao of GMR group etc. The interviews are excellent and bring out valuable perspectives.

Through 14 chapters, this book ends up making parents feel miserable for wanting the best for their children. The greatest paradox is that those parents who really need this book (the sprinters, the people who do not have the reading habits, the people who are so preoccupied in driving their kids) will have neither the inclination nor the time to read this book. Most of those who do read this book, won't be needing it.

Let me sign off with one of the vexing issues that I found in this book. Time after time the author makes statements followed by 'I don't have the facts' or 'In my opinion, though I have not verified it', or 'I think...' etc. For a book of non-fiction, written by a mathematically inclined Ex-IIM Professor, I thought a bit strange that assertions are being made without following up with facts or data. 

That is it. I am almost done. I had also read the book 'Games Indians Play' written by the same author. Being his first book, and it having been published around author's highly publicized shift from academia to corporate world, the book was well hyped up and was different in a way. Second books, especially of non-fiction, are different. Since you have probably disgorged all your ideas in the first book itself, to find good ideas to write on and to find good examples to embellish it with can be a problem for the author.

And for the reviewer, to review the second book as a 'Tabula Rasa', without being influenced by the contents of the first book is again a challenge.

Challenges, Challenges....

I will rate this book as 2/5. I will be a bit more circumspect in choosing the next book by the author.

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