A Piece of Mind – a Compilation of Random Thoughts (A Piece of Mind – a Compilation of Random Thoughts)
Author :
Ashutosh Agnihotri IAS
Category :
Pensive/ Thoughtful
Publisher :
Authorspress
Available On :
Available on- Amazon
Quote By Author :
“While I stands alone, 'you' and 'we' are not loners!!”
Publish Date :
04-Dec-2018


Review :

What adventure would it have been if life had been on the tracks of expected events? Boring, right? Along with the Earth’s rotation around its own axis and its revolution around the magnificent hot ball of fire, we also travel every second in and into our life. That’s how we reach our birthdays, right? Anyway, heading directly to the point, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that we gain and lose; fight and offer peace; learn and unlearn; love and hate; stay kind or kindle hatred; take it or quit; and in many other ways we live and lead the life. While being on this journey, either we keep our eyes open; dore (wall eye); or simply pose blind eyes. But in the same context, Ashutosh Agnihotri has gathered different pieces of his experiences and penned them down into 237 chapters of a book that speaks his mind, “A Piece of Mind – A Compilation of Random Thoughts.”

Craftsman of words, Ashutosh Agnihotri is an IAS officer of 1999 batch. He is a keen observer and listener, who gives value even to the waves that a silence creates apart from the sounds and sights surrounding him. This Piscean also has his interest vested in the science of astrology, cricket and creative writing. Virtually though, through this book, he can take you on a roller coaster ride into his mind, perceptions, and life with a lot of analogies, ironies, and idealism. Like a diary! Readers, you better get your seat belt tightened before you open the book.

Penning down one’s life isn’t easy as one single minute can create a chapter that may land us with more that fourteen hundred chapters a day. Huh! Calculations apart, we cannot deny that translating one’s own tale with honesty is also an act of bravery. Like collecting shells on the beach (the waters of which may wash away those shells that you have been eyeing on), he has gathered random thoughts that have been breathing within him, and has placed them in a 346-page-book.

A human mind is an ultimate resource of boundless avenues powered by imagination as well as reasoning. Its greatest weapon is a thought or imagination that travels faster than time. Within a fraction of a second, you can get to Antarctica watching polar bears running for a prey; dive into the waters of Maldives; take a camel ride in Dubai; pinch the tip of the Eiffel tower for a selfie pose or somewhere else – all without a ticket and visa. A mind can turn and travel the worlds, or even better- create a one. Here, the author has pulled different slices of his life enriched with his thoughts and feelings of that time, and tried to glue them together like independently existing chapters (and at times in sequels) of his daily diary. But when you finish reading the entire book, you would realize that to a greater extent you have actually read an unshaped or roughly shaped autobiography of the author.

This book is written in a narrative style and with a story-telling sort of approach where the author also goes deep into his thoughts, and developing some sort of not-so-clearly-demarcated monologues. Hence, the readers can literally feel the voice of author reaching them. They can relate well with his version of thinking.

Depicting different events of his life, one after another, the author extends his slant of comprehension of the same and the tactics of reasoning that can pass through a resonated and opaque situation. At times following the surreal world, his thoughts move from one world to another, including fairy tales. This book is divided into two categories: “Silence” and “Sounds”. “Silence”, with 101 chapters, proves that it is louder than the way it is perceived to be. On the other hand, “Sounds” nests 136 chapters in its tree. Each category is like a tree, which branches out with numerous approaches to a situation, place, experience, person….and to a life, altogether. Each chapter justifies its title towards the end.

Often, he goes back digging his past. One such instance can be found when he thinks of his ‘small room’ with a mezzanine floor and many books lying on it. He has indicated his small room as a warehouse of his past existence that has witnessed his desires, struggles, passion and dreams. He also takes this occasion of writing this book to thank Ms. Duru, who had taught him during his school days. She was caring and affectionate, but she passed away as she was terminally ill. Her statement (which is also an unchangeable fact) “Sorry doesn’t make a dead man alive!” has carved a place in the author’s heart for life long.

The author has positioned the chapter, “Strength of Institutions 02,” separately to underline his joy of finding the hand written letter that was acknowledged by UPSC and acted upon.  In another chapter he talks about the mystery of Netaji Subash Chandra Bose’s death. “The truth must indeed be complex and unpleasant, which is why those files were kept shrouded in secrecy. It is a bold and courageous decision to declassify then and to let the nation know whatever truth these files and papers may tell.”

In another instance, the author compares the charm of a television serial broadcasted by Doordarshan in 1988-99, namely, “Udaan,” with the present time’s serials. He misses the celebration of idealism that was prominent in the yester-decades’ serials. This serial, in particular, pulled the thread of inspiration for him. He still watches it on YouTube to relive his time, and awaken inspiration buds within him.

While citing his stay in different countries, the author has mentioned his experiences in London in 16 different chapters, while 3 different chapters dedicated to his stay in Paris; and 5 for Singapore. During the last leg of his stay in London, when he is already joined by his family, (in “London Feels Even Better”) he feels that London is much brighter and happier with stories buzzing around everywhere.
The theme and approach of this book is entirely different from the fourth studio album by Iron Maiden, (an English heavy metal band), but it strikes me as both share the same name. This was originally released in 1983 by EMI, and then by Capitol in Canada and the USA. However, I can also relate the author’s pieces of mind with another song. As the theme of this book seems to be ‘life and its shades,’ it sort of reminds me of the lyrics of the song written by Kehlani Parrish (again sharing the same name), “Piece of Mind”.

“…Tryna get back to all my old ways
Tryna get back to all the hobbies from my old days
(Gettin' back)
…..Said I'm tryna break off a piece of mind
A piece of mind, my heart's on my side
(My heart is on my side)…”

Drifting from the music mood to book, it seems apt that the author has an inclination towards the legendary Winston Churchill, whom he considers as a hero, talented writer, great politician and an exceptional orator. His words have deep impact on the author. In “Reading Winston Churchill 01,” you will realize that author was taking Churchill’s words as a sleeping-cum-motivational pill so he gets a better sleep and wakes up being positive, “Let us reconcile ourselves to the mysterious rhythm of our destinies. Let us treasure our joys but not bewail our sorrows….”

Gradually, he opens different facets of his persona that gradually evolve with the passage of time. You can witness the student version of the author; author as an officer; author as a father; as a thinker; as a wanderer;  as a spiritual person; and much more than what he is known as, to others (as a government officer) – glimpses of his real self. “It is indeed liberating to be with someone, who sees and accepts you the way you are and not how you are seen, perceived and known by others” - definition of “real self” by the author.

He also talks about his daughter who shares her twelfth birthday with Lord Krishna, and the double joys, his sons – Manu and Yashu. In the chapters, “My Princess”, “Happy Birthday – My Daughter” and “Happy Birthday - My Sons,” he expresses emotional state with all his heart, letting out the abundance of love flow that he has in him for his children. Almost like a letter from a father to a son, these short chapters of two pages hold a universe in itself. It sort of reminds of the letters that the first Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru used to send to his daughter, the first female Prime Minister of India, and till date the only female PM Indira Gandhi. However, love of one person and emotions can’t be compared with another’s, or judged. In “Happy Birthday - My Sons,” the author talks about the definition of success, which isn’t limited to getting what one wants, “but also realizing the blessings in what was wanted and never got.” He wants both to be “sensitive and compassionate, caring, kind and chivalrous, to be both gentle and manly, strong enough to support yourself when you trip and resolute enough to resume your run.”

One of the characteristics of the author’s writing style is to-the-point approach and brevity. Since all his thoughts evolve from a particular event or incident of his life, one can notice that much of his efforts are invested in describing the situation and its background, rather than describing an individual. Which situation led to what sort of thoughts, can be felt throughout. Without beating around the bush, the author comes directly to the situation and expresses himself there as if he is walking through different time zones to recall, open his heart and mind and share them. And at the same time, he maintains the quotient of succinctness.

Aphorism can also be seen in some of the chapters. “I have my moments of sadness and reflection. I have my share of agony and suffering. I also have my moments of joy and triumph. What appears arid from a distance is actually a small little patch, which turns green every time I nourish it with my blood and sweat and tears. My little patch is not lifeless. It is so fresh, so fragrant. And when I look at the dew soaked grass and the smiling flowers, I know that I am not insignificant. No l am not. I am a world unto myself. And I do not then ponder over the beginning or end of the universe.”

Author’s childhood memories contribute to a collective blend of his own perception and analysis. Further, it adds to our understanding about it. This reminds me of Sigmund Freud, the founding father of “Psychoanalysis,” who believed that the events in childhood have a significant amount of influence on our adult lives, in shaping our personality. Author has sprinkled some of the chapters with his childhood memories. He recalls: how his father lost his father (author’s grandpa) at the age of nine; and how despite of having hell lot of difficulties his father (author’s father) showers his son with unconditional love that is free from judgment, analysis, scrutiny, and expectations. “Childhood Memories” (chapter 6) is worth having a direct reference here, in addition to chapter 92, “Early Childhood”.

In the sound section, “Sound,” he has also penned down the sounds and music that festivals bring along. “This is the holy month of Ramadan...My father's close friend, whom we called Khwaja Uncle, would often visit us, and Uncle and Aunty would get some sweets, which invariably included different kinds of sewain (sweetened vermicelli). Even though my father was a regular visitor to their home, in a different locality, I remember having visited them only once or twice. Their home was in the older part of Kanpur, which was much more densely populated, and had a different feel, with narrower streets and a more vibrant market. There were shops of all kind near Khwaja Uncle's house, most of which sold delectable sweets. And respecting our being strict vegetarians, we were scrupulously served fruits dates and sewains, with the reassurance that they had been cooked separately, as Aunty herself largely eschewed meat.”

Another festival he has described, “The hearth is warm and so are the hearts. As the Sun enters Capricorn called Makara in India, there is a change, a transition, a movement. The change is auspicious and is supposed to signal the advent of spring. It also marks the culmination of efforts, perseverance and hard work. When honest labour yields a rich harvest, it calls for celebration, feast and merriment. Only differing in subtle form, these celebrations cheer and delight the countrymen in all parts, which echo the music of shared joy and prosperity.”

The element of festivity also has its strings attached with the chapter 89 of Silence, “Visualizing Durga Puja Back in India from London.” The author recalls, “….carrying the faith and devotion of countless people, who, in last few days, worshipped the Goddess of strength and valour, made beautiful idols of hers and kept her in beautifully decorated Pandals, with all love and dedication. Today, those idols have been immersed in the eternal flow of the river. I remember that as Deputy Commissioner, especially during my tenure in Guwahati, I would sit for hours together on the banks, watching the long and loud processions and men and women, deeply immersed in religious revelry. And while we remained anxious, hoping and expecting the event to pass off smoothly and peacefully, these men and women would be in a different state of mind, which was a heady mix of devotion, fervour, gaiety and abandon..… Today, I can only hear the distant drums in silent thoughts. But I feel that I am still sitting on the banks of the river Brahmaputra, watching the dark flow and the still sky.”

While indicating at the different festivals of different religions that he has observed and witnessed, he also looks at the sunny side – the dimension of equality. “The locality in which I stayed, had the same moon telling us about different festivals.” One can also see a glimpse of equality in the chapter, “Auroville”. “Auroville is a drop in the ocean of humanity… Auroville the "universal town”, has the purpose of realizing "human units.” “....The residents appear to be at peace. They are not divided by the boundaries of nationalities and bondages of creed and religion; they have the freedom and space to realize the purpose and possibilities of their being.”

I have mentioned that different facets of the author open up gradually. Here is a sight of optimistic version of the author. While others drown in the sadness of loss and troubles that any crisis-clad situation brings, the author defines it as a moment of momentum to discover a leader, and it all depends on the person how he or she takes it. “He would be either seen fighting, trying to tide over the crisis, or would be seen nowhere!!”

Now, let’s have a look at his sarcastic self and contradicting facts. (Chapter, “Freedom of Expression,”) “I had read a quote long back, which read, “Every sensible man is selfish.” Must be. We do not expect the world to be full of selfless souls.” “….we attach importance only to what is tangible…If you vow to destroy me or cut me into pieces, I may feel terribly scared and run for protection or invoke my manliness to counter your charge. If you do the same against some ideas and intangibles like love for the country or compassion for humanity, I shall have to respect your freedom of expression.”

Let’s have a glimpse of his patriotic and humane version. Pisceans are, anyway, known to be kind hearted. The chapter 52, “The Nation Shall Celebrate this Brave Soldier” is about a soldier, who was a part of the rescue operation. Situation: Hanumanthappa had braved the odds and was under intensive care.  

“The breath is faint and feeble, but strong enough to tell us about the endurance of a brave man... His wife has just seen a glimmer of joy in her eyes, which had dimmed after the news of the tragedy. His child is eager to hear the stories of his bravery directly from him. His parents, friends and family want him to hold the Indian flag again and march undaunted on the borders. Our heart goes out to those, who were not lucky enough to survive the assault and fury of nature. Our heartfelt condolences to their families. And to those, who carried out the rescue operation, fighting chill, frost and terrain, to the valiant men of Indian army, we can only give our undiluted love and respect. The nation waits to celebrate. The nation wants to celebrate.”

Have you checked his spiritual side ever? “My God existed peacefully in all forms in the little space that he was allocated in my home. We were expected to worship Him daily, after cleaning ourselves. But during winters, when the water would be too cold, I could dupe him by just putting some waer on my face and hair, and he would still not mind. He was always loving, always forgiving…….I am proud of my God. I am proud of my religion. I have never been told to follow one path. I have always been told that truth can be attained through several ways. I have also been told that what I know or would ever know is only a fraction of what could be known. My religion has taught me how to be curious. It has taught me how to be tolerant. It has given me the freedom to choose the way I worship. It has even given me the liberty not to worship. Whether I go to a temple or not, read a scripture or question it, believe in form or abstractness, I shall continue to be called a Hindu. And with great respect for the faith, tradition, scripture or God that others follow and hold sacred, I feel really proud of the way those sounds, images, fragrance and wisdom have shaped and defined me.”

In the chapter, “India Shall Live and Grow,” he has previewed his good wishes and hopefulness for the country. “Greatness survives, art endures, dream abides. “In the long run, we may all be dead”. Yes, we will. But India shall live, bigger and brighter. It shall always be timeless. Am I right that Keynes, whose words just got quoted died in 1946. But his words are not dead even today!”

A different-thinker-version of the author can be felt in Chapter 106 of Sounds section, where he mentions, “While I stands alone, 'you' and 'we' are not loners!!” – contouring the values of unity.

Our mind is complex, and produces complex products as well. It can work with a single satellite or multiple satellites hovering over it, receiving and giving out signals to different parts of the grey matter. Likewise, the life and thoughts of the author open up layer after layer, which is almost like reversing the process of making a cream roll. The only thing that could have lessened the confusion is that the approach towards addressing time or the period of time and presenting the situation. For example, while reading, “Here is wishing everyone a very happy, joyous and prosperous Bhogali Bihu, Lohri, Makar Sankranti and Pongal,” during the month of February, an immediate connect seems to be missing. And the presentation of situation could have been a bit more, maybe with the time period mentioned in the beginning in addition to the title. Nonetheless, we would definitely await the next edition.

However, undeniably the ornaments of this book are mini or micro dynamic themes (like birth, festivals, teachings of the legends, etc.) that collectively contribute to the making of his ultimate them i.e. “life”. Since it is an anthology of random thoughts, expecting a proper sequence wouldn’t absolutely justified, though the flow of the themes are smooth and sequential, mostly, but that’s the uniqueness of this book. That jump or switch from one to another theme gives a jolt and a new level of excitement. That’s the beauty! With the much debated word of the past, “intolerance,” the author has also been able to cuddle the topic, but with a twist. “Yes, I am an Indian and I have learned to be tolerant.”

In the chapter, “Treason and Tolerance,” he mentioned, “…While a brave soldier, armed with the prayers of his countless countrymen, fights death, there are few who continue to misuse their liberty to justify and celebrate treason in the name of freedom and dissent. Yes humanity should not be looked through the narrow prism of politics. The spectrum of colour gets absorbed in the embedded interests of caste, colour and community. What comes out is only a muddled steam of dark objectives. Yes, we should all be liberal, with large hearts and broad minds. The nation has moments of joy and sorrow, of triumph and despair... Treason cannot be tolerated. I say this even at the risk of being called intolerant!”
In some of the instances the author has triggered his poetic-self and whisked it well with the prose written by him.
(Dreams and Tomorrow – chapter 103) “Tomorrow shall not be gone with the wind.
Tomorrow shall not be just another day.
I am sure that tomorrow shall be different.”
(My Words – chapter 16) “…. They make me love, they make me long
They make me soar, they make me pray…”

The more you read, the more you discover beauty in its enigmatic state at times bloom in the mud like a lotus or shining bright with the heads up towards the sun like a tulip like a series of enlightenment– all of it embraced in the arms of his experiences; his thoughts that sprout from his experiences; and the imagination. Author’s way of sharing his story with simplicity (including simplicity in language) is another factor, why the chapters seem to get more interesting and proves that he has explored life in many versions and different beauties of life. Another thing that makes this book special is that the author has taken this book as an opportunity to pay tribute to brave soldiers of our country and the legends. Each category and the chapters accommodated in their womb are equally precious and distinct. Talking about all the chapters isn’t justify though, at the same time it is equally tough to not to do so. Hence, I would let the readers explore the rest of it.

This book is a must read. I already have my copy, do you have one? And, if you ask me to share my quick remarks about the book, then I would say that this book is an autobiography in the making.”


About the author:
Ashutosh Agnihotri is an IAS Officer of the 1999 Batch, presently serving as the Commissioner and Secretary to the Government of Assam in the Departments of Industries & Commerce, Transports, Sports & Youth Welfare, etc. Born on 11th March 1974 in the city of Kanpur, he completed his MA in English Literature before joining the Indian Administrative Service. He has also done MSc in Public Management & Governance from the prestigious London School of Economics. In his service career, he has served as the District Magistrates in a number of districts in Assam, as well as in different capacities in the Government of Assam, creating a distinct niche for himself.

 

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