Book Review: Zen Garden

Zen GardenIf you’ve followed some of the Zen Garden articles (in Forbes India) by Subroto Bagchi, a rather fine business person and a good storyteller, you would know what to expect from the book. You’re getting something a little better than that, by the way, in this compilation of his articles. Is there something new in the articles? No. Is there something more in the compilation? Yes.

For the unfamiliar, Zen Garden is a collection of Bagchi’s interactions with some of the finest business and social leaders, entrepreneurs and pathmakers, invited to the Zen garden, where they share their life stories, inflexion and tipping points, principles, driving forces, passion, and success mantras. The focus of Zen however is to find some peace. The book is less about mercenary success chronicling, but some of those interesting incidents and turning points along the way.

The book, additionally, catalogues the interactions by the central quality of those successes – qualities that were essential. Some are about determination, while others are about inspirational leadership, and so on. The simple act of cataloguing makes the book immensely more readable. Yet, the act of cataloguing does not make a particular interaction uni-dimensional. There are no obvious lessons, but there are pointers that you can look up to. The book need not be read in one or two sittings (which is what I did), but should be your go to book at the end of the day for a couple of chapters here and there. You don’t even need to follow an order. Pick a chapter, read it, reflect upon it. Think about how it affects you in your day to day professional life. The book tends to make you professorize a little about your life and your work. It comes in easy bite sized chapters – quick to read, great after-taste in most cases.

For instance, the story of Rajeev Samant, the man behind Sula Vineyards, the first interaction of the book, is a fine reminder of spotting opportunities (over a conversation, and on the back of his father about to sell off his land) and being determined enough to push through the challenges (failure in getting juice out of an alphonso/traditional agri business). So much so, that the end product seems a little too privileged to the outsider. On a side note, the first two chapters of the book are about Wine and Beer. Maybe Bagchi is trying to get us into an inebriated state 🙂

Some of the chapters that really stayed with me were Jimmy Wales (Wikipedia), Sanjana Kapoor (Prithvi Theater), Bijay Sharma (IPS Officer). Jimmy’s inspiration came from a doctor who treated his daughter. Sanjana’s love for the theatre far transcends her need to make money off it. Bijay, on the other hand, transformed an entire department by deciding to get an entire women police force trained at an air-hostess training academy. You also have stories from the marquee medical institutions of our country (Dr. Rao/ Dr. Sharan Patil, etc.) for the greater good, Dalai Lama for spirituality and altruism, and many others.

A lesson that really resonated well with me – do not think of entrepreneurship as an exercise in risk taking. Rather, think of it as an act of Courage.

Of course, with a book like this, a collection of many conversations, the chances that some of the stories would not work for you, or would come across as fillers, uninteresting or romanticized, is high. Sometimes, you may wonder about the dark side of all these goody-two-shoes people, but to bar knowledge just because you don’t like the source seems like a terrible waste of an opportunity. The book is a fine collection of multiple vantage points.

Zen Garden relevant for all professionals, not just entrepreneurs, comes in easy language and short chapters, well catalogued without being prescriptive, and is a great bed-time read. And also, while all the conversations may not strike home, at least a few would. It’s a pity that these are just starters, and the book never goes deep enough for a main course!

Title: Zen Garden – Conversations With Pathmakers
Author: Subroto Bagchi
Publisher/ Imprint: Penguin Books
Pages: 352
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Non-Fiction/ Motivational
Rating: 4.00 of 5
Reviewed for: Publisher

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