I first visited Singapore in the early nineties. At one of the bookshops on Orchard Street, while browsing through the various titles, I was quite pleased to see an Indian man popping out of a book-cover with a simple message – YOU CAN WIN. It must be a popular title, I thought to myself, given that it was overwhelming the bookstore not just positioned it prominently right there in the middle but also at the entry and at the cash counters.
?Who does not want to win in his twenties? I hastily extracted a few expensive Singapore dollars from my purse and walked away with the secret formula eager to reach my hotel room and discover it. In general, if a new author fails to catch my attention in the first three pages – he had lost me – and yet I gave this one about 50 pages to find nothing but meaningless and irrelevant quotes from dead philosophers, unbelievable personal accounts and a whole lot of garbage served shoddily. At the end of it, I felt like going back to the bookstore and filing a criminal complaint for the offense of conspiring with the author and misleading people into buying such trash. Since the author was a fellow Indian I let it go. When outside India – we are expected to support own countrymen and I decided to discharge my patriotic duty accordingly.?Several years later I found a pirated copy of the same book in a small town bookstore hanging amidst other titles like ‘Steamy Nights’ and ‘Come on Baby’ and at railway stations, bus stands, footpaths and traffic signals.
Dr Manmohan Singh had unleashed the Indian economy by then and India was winning and people did not want to remain behind. Such titles would be useful to win. Someone was staring at your face and saying YOU CAN WIN and making you feel stupid if you decided otherwise. Inspired by the success of the book – which by then had sold over a million copies, the author decided to stand for an election for Indian parliament. It must have shocked him when it was declared that he had polled less than 1000 votes in a constituency with over five hundred thousand votes. Having lost the election, he decided to write another book with some title that I have never cared to remember but shortly afterward he was sued for plagiarism (not just idea but sentences and paragraphs and chapters) and silently settled outside the court. YOU CAN SELL is his last book. It is selling well – although there is no evidence that people who have read this book have improved their sales performance. A decade later, he has graduated to ‘Leadership Training’ and ‘ Sales Courses’ . Businesses in India struggling to make ends meet are sending their unsuccessful and incompetent salesmen to his courses to learn selling techniques.
People who have WON – now want peace of mind and a youthful body. What better than an Indian doctor talking about Oriental Mysticism, Yoga, and Meditation as a way to keep your calm and reverse your ageing. Therefore he publishes a book called ‘Ageless Body – Timeless Mind’ . I am once again tempted by the title and I begin to read. This time, I am able to read considerably more pages. The American publishers make sure that the content is interesting enough even if it is all false. This author wrote many other books before writing a book on Family Values. His son – an aspiring writer it emerged, was suing him for stealing his ideas for his last book.?What do you do when you have made lots of easy money, married a beautiful wife and bought yourself a Ferrari? Another Indian pops up and tells you to leave your wife, sell your expensive car and Go to Tibet and Become a Monk. The idea of leaving such precious possessions and going to meditate is so intuitively appealing that I buy this book as well. The book is interesting and so is the author who is absolutely athletic. And so I read it over a weekend – plan my own journey to the Himalayas and do nothing about it and get back to work as usual. In time this author has become famous and he now lectures large corporates, groups and open audiences charging them a huge fee. A political party some time back brought him to Mauritius to help them enthuse its cadre and inspire its workers – it lost. The ‘greater fool’ principle assures that he will keep coming back to lecture many lazy people on the island and help them win and become hyper productive and super achievers and… awesome – without any visible success.
In the course of last two decades, I have had the chance of meeting all the three success teachers and what strikes me is their inability to engage in one-on-one discussions or an intense debate. The monologue they deliver to the masses is so straightforward, uncomplicated, obvious and innate that a free audience with your grandmother could be exceedingly more meaningful. Let us say, only fools (of which there are many according to Einstein) will buy such books – but what about the intelligent ones who pay over a thousand dollars each to digest such garbage. It is worse when the government subsidizes such crass lessons from public funds.?Recently, I asked a friend of mine who is a close friend to this author as to why people go to such wasteful lectures and workshops. He told me that this is like intellectual pornography – you know it is all fake but you want to enjoy it – want to feel gratified for that moment. The authors are there out on the stage playing your weaknesses, failures, unfulfilled desires and somehow telling you despite your own self-knowledge, your limitations and your own judicious awareness of your social and economic and situational constraints – that you can succeed. And you want desperately to believe in him.
I was told that something called a Leadership Summit with a Guru costs you about USD 12,000 and there is a huge waiting list for such events. Upon some calculation I discovered that this is enough money to buy entire philosophical works of Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Kant, Wittgenstein, Chekov, Schopenhauer, Heidegger, Tagore, Nietzsche, Dostoesvky, Baudelaire, Faulkner, Dante, Miller, Hesse, Houellebecq, Camus, Sartre and several others at prices ranging from less than a dollar to no more than five dollars each.?Here is a question.?When packaged wisdom is available over a weekend course- who has the time to spend a life acquiring it?