Chirdeep Malhotra . Updated: 2/27/2022 12:35:41 AM Books and Authors

Author Interview: Rajesh Talwar

Rajesh Talwar works as Deputy Legal Adviser to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan. He has written thirty-two books, which include novels, children’s books, plays, self-help books and non-fiction books covering issues in social justice, culture and law. He is a British Chevening scholar and the recipient of an Honorary Citizenship Certificate from the Mayor of Tulsa (Oklahoma). He has recently come out with the book “The Mantra and Meaning of Success”. In a candid chat with Chirdeep Malhotra, he talks about his latest book, his writing journey, the themes and topics that he has discussed in the book, and much more. Read on!

Could you tell us about your latest book “The Mantra and Meaning of Success”? How did the idea for it take shape?

As you may know, I have worked for the United Nations for many years across three continents in several countries. It has been a great learning experience working across different cultures. I met with many interesting and successful people along the way and developed thoughts on the mantras that are needed for success. And so, I decided to try my hand at writing a book on this. One of the things I realised was that most books on success purport to provide principles that can be universally applied, and that will succeed anywhere in the world, irrespective of political, religious or cultural context. A little reflection will show that this is unlikely – otherwise why would businessmen read books on how to operate in foreign cultures? The cultural context is different in the Middle East, different in Europe, different in Asia. The rules of success may need to be adapted to the cultural context.

The book draws important lessons from the lives of successful businessmen, innovators, writers, actors, artists and billionaires. Who all have you included in this book?

I wanted this book to be India-centric unlike most books on success which are authored by westerners. So, there is a fair sprinkling of Indian names. Among Indian billionaires I have met, there is Mr Ramesh Dua, the co-owner of Relaxo Footwears, and in the world of glamour there are references to Bollywood actors such as Shah Rukh Khan, Amitabh Bachchan and Deepika Padukone, and so on. I have also discussed the life stories of writers, artists and singers such as MF Hussain, Ruskin Bond and Leonard Cohen. I didn’t want the book to be too India focussed also, so when I discuss Arundhati Roy’s success, I also speak of the comparable success of novelists like Mario Puzo and Henry James. I speak of the Ambanis in the context of what I call ‘super-success’ but also discuss Mr Bill Gates and the Indian-American billionaire Manoj Bhargava. In this book, I ask questions that are rarely asked and almost never answered such as the following: Was Leonardo da Vinci brilliant at marketing? Is Bill Gates a success – in the world of charity? Is kindness important for success, or should one be ruthless? What does a person need to do to maintain his success? How important is creative expression relative to entrepreneurial skill? What is the difference between being successful and super-successful? And so on and so forth.

What are some of the themes and topics that you have delved into in this book?

In the course of the book, I discuss four different views of success. Most commonly we hear the saying ‘Nothing succeeds like success’, which is discussed in one of the initial chapters. While this is often quoted, the converse is less well recognised. A chance encounter with an old friend made me realise that the reverse of the proposition is also true. In other words, ‘Nothing fails like failure’ too. In one of his talks, the mystic Osho speaks on how ‘Nothing fails like success’ – the title of chapter 4. A person spends decades struggling and trying to achieve success, yet when one day he reaches his goal, his ‘success’ feels hollow and meaningless. At this point, the successful man realises that he has been chasing a mirage all the time. To complete the foursome, I speak in chapter 10 of how it can also be argued that sometimes nothing succeeds like failure.

What does the word ‘success’ mean to you?

There is an objective as well as a subjective dimension to success. According to Bob Dylan, if you get up in the morning and you spend the day doing whatever it is that you wish to do, that, for him, is ‘success’. With respect for the Nobel Laureate and singer, this is far too subjective a view of success. On the other hand, if your deepest desire is to be a singer, and you do have talent; but instead of working on your music, you spend your day running a business selling soaps, even if you end up making a lot of money, you will be successful only in the eyes of the world. It will be ‘success’ objectively speaking but not subjectively. Real success, according to me, is when the objective and the subjective merge.

Could you talk about your writing process for this book?

Aside from research, a great deal of thinking went into the writing of this book. I didn’t just want to put down a list of mantras on how to be successful. I wanted to write also about the meaning of success, so a fair degree of introspection was needed. So, to put it in sequence I would say, thinking, introspection, research, then writing and then rewriting. Incidentally, when I first conceived the idea of writing this book, the publisher I first approached suggested that I include the number seven in the title. That, he said, would help to push up sales. I was bewildered. How would the number seven help sales? Was this numerology? He explained to me that neuroscientists had discovered that most human beings could absorb only a limited number of ideas at a time. At any given point, it was difficult for them to digest more than seven ideas. If I wished to strengthen the chances of my book becoming a mass market success, I should include the number seven somewhere in the title. I was not convinced.
My problem was that I didn’t want to write a fake book on success. I didn’t want to promise my reader that success was guaranteed if only he bought my book and followed the principles that I spoke of. There are many such books in the market, including books on getting a woman into bed (seven ways?) – which incidentally are not only fake but also unethical.
I wanted to write a book that spoke of my own understanding, acquired over many years, of the factors that went into achieving success, but I also wanted to dwell on the meaning of success.

What kind of research did writing this book entail?

Some chapters required a fair amount of research. For instance, there is a section that discusses the potential link between success and depression. Now this is not something an author should talk or write about based only on his experience or intuition. Studies have been conducted on the subject and those need to be read, digested and analysed.

What were some of the challenges while writing this book?

I had decided to write a book that would not only be useful for those who were striving to be successful but also for those who were already successful. This made it all the more challenging. Successful people will learn how to better handle their success and also, how to become yet more successful. There are also people who are successful but never learn to enjoy that success. In a section titled ‘The Monk Who Bought a Ferrari’, I write about a billionaire who knew how to make money but who only learnt how to spend money from his wife!

What message would you like the readers to take away from this book?

Make a plan and have a strategy. There are many messages in the book but one of the important messages for both youngsters and their parents is that while it is perfectly all right to think of out-of-the-box careers, if you do that, you need to make a plan and have a strategy. I discuss success stories as well as failures in the context of unconventional careers.

What are you working on next? Any new literary projects that our readers should look out for?

Quite a lot, actually. I spent many years working for the United Nations in Afghanistan, so a book on the Taliban appears to be in order. In that book, I am hoping to combine a novella with a nonfiction narrative account. I have thus far written only a single children’s play, so this year I am planning to remedy that by writing a children’s play with Mr Babasaheb Ambedkar as the chief protagonist. It delves into his childhood and how his experiences as a child and then later as a young man shaped him. Working title for this project is ‘The Boy Who Wrote a Constitution’. Finally, I am planning on writing a book on Mahatma Gandhi. There is much that we need to learn from him, but at the same time there is also a great deal that we need to discard from his teachings, for instance, his views on machinery and vaccines. The problem is that most of the time people are either Gandhi lovers or Gandhi haters. I believe a more balanced, nuanced approach is in order and I will attempt something like this in a book I have planned for later in the year.

Can you share with our readers a motivational quote that keeps you going?

My all-time favourite motivational quote is from Oscar Wilde, who says: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’

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