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Books & Poems

Book Review: The Heart of the World

February 3, 2023
Heart of the World by Ian Baker

I read the pdf version of the book, but here’s the cover.


“How we view the world is a strange alchemy of cultural conditioning and personal choice.  One could cautiously avoid all geomorphic speculations or, like the Tibetans, allow the configurations of rock and water to guide one into more exalted thoughts and alternate ways of seeing.  As the Victorian poet Robert Browning wrote: “…a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.  Or what’s a heaven for?” – The Heart of the World by Ian Baker


I spent the last couple of days stealing bits of time here and there to finish reading ‘The Heart of the World’ by Ian Baker.  The book was on my radar for a while and was happy when my book club decided to read it.

‘The Heart of the World’ is really really long, but well written.  I felt the book took time to gain momentum.  It’s also challenging if you’re unfamiliar with the setting or the cultural context, because it makes it difficult to get immersed in the story.

I admit I hadn’t finished the book by the time the book club meeting happened.  But I’m glad I attended the meeting because I read the remainder of the book more intentionally.

Important Themes

Science vs Spirituality

The theme I most related to was the conflict between science and spirituality.  Baker is a highly accomplished scholar and mountaineer.  In some interviews I watched online, he speaks of the fact that his interest in Tibetan painting, Buddhism and philosophy preceded formal study on these topics.

I feel his background as a philosopher and his training as an academic is evident in the narrative where we see him trying to situate local beliefs against Westernised thought processes.  For instance, he refers to his quest sometimes as a journey and sometimes as a pilgrimage.  While he provides detailed descriptions of physical hardships, he also talks about dakinis, the anger of the Gods manifesting as turbulent weather, prayers and rituals to ensure success, not eating and drinking in houses of people thought to be dakinis so they don’t steal your soul etc.  Baker also mentions that in his meetings with the Dalai Lama he had understood how much the Dalai Lama was inspired by advances in science.  At this moment it seems that the narrator is either justifying his standpoint – perhaps to himself or perhaps to the reader.

The greatest example of this theme is towards the end of the book, when they are almost at their destination.  He takes a step back to evaluate his journey/pilgrimage.  He ruminates about whether he’s in search of the Falls or something beyond that transcends the physical.


Another important theme is literature.  Every now and then Baker inserts quotes from a wide array of books, authors, poems and philosophers.  This makes literature relevant to the journey, and also shows us that Baker’s interest in philosophy is wide ranging.  For instance when they find the Falls they need to measure the height of the water and Baker goes on a tangent about how to measure something that’s ever flowing and never still.  Thoughts like these give us insight into Ian Baker the philosopher rather than Ian Baker, explorer.  We realise his view is not narrow nor myopic – in fact it is informed by a wide range of cultures, travel, literature.  I personally felt that his references to different literature made the journey and the narrator somehow more relatable.


Another theme is sex.  There is a lot of sex interspersed in the narrative.  Baker talks about seduction, sexual revelry, his friend Hamid’s sexual exploits, sex as a challenge, sex as reward, sex as temptation and also sex as illusion.  There are anecdotes of local beliefs about sex throughout the story.  In fact, his journey is believed to be one to the innermost parts of Dorje Pagmo, the Tibetan goddess, so it’s unsurprising that sex forms an important theme in the book.

What I Liked the Most

I loved the descriptive narrative.  It could’ve been 500 pages about gnats and leeches, about injuries and hardships.  Instead we get a narrative replete with all the colors and shapes of rhododendrons, goddesses, prayer wheels and rituals, exotic animals, lush meadows, waterfalls and rivers.  The beauty in the narrative helped me understand why daredevils and explorers do what they do, and the hardships described in the story made me understand why I live in the comfort of a city.

Books & Poems Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy Travels & Other Escapades

Rubbing (Book) Shoulders With My Favs

August 22, 2019

My sister spotted my book at the Delhi International Airport.

Over breakfast with my boyfriend today I mentioned I have my book club meeting tomorrow evening. It got me thinking about reading and those who read. I said to him, “Reading is a bit strange. We all know how to read, but very few actually read.” Those who aren’t bitten by the reading bug as soon as they learn how to read, can never catch the reading disease. For them reading a book will depend on literary awards and bestseller lists. They will never know the pure joy of a juicy historical Walflowers romance followed by the heartbreak of a volume on partition and its consequences. They will never relate to, and therefore never benefit from the existential crisis of a desperate vampire. They won’t know the thrill of hours spent digging through piles of dust motes to unearth treasure in a second-hand bookstore. Their shelves will forever be prey to awards, notable mentions, even popular opinion.

I read ‘God of Small Things’ in high school. The book was one long beautiful breath-taking poem. Last year the magic reappeared in ‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’. To have my book next to hers is a little like being close to her energy.

I read a little known book called ‘The Gin Drinkers’ around the time I started college. I was smarting from culture shock, felt like a fish out of water on most days, wondered if things would ever get better and like most young people looked for familiarity that I never really found. (Have I found it now?). As clichèd as it sounds, I recognized a bit of myself in the characters of this book. When Sagarika Ghose spotted her book at the airport, I wonder if she registered the book next to her.

If you spot ‘Beyond Asanas‘ anywhere, do send me a picture!

Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy

Book Review – Indian Superfoods

September 7, 2016

Today was the first day I had an early morning session.  I’ve become used to waking up around 7, so 5 am was a challenge (funny how easy it is to get into the habit of waking up late).  I got ready quickly and hurried to the class.  As usual the class was full, even at that early hour.  We went through the usual rigmarole of standing poses, inversions etc.  Not much to report.   Except that I continue to read voraciously.

What I like about Rujuta’s books is that they are very relevant to our lives and times.  She talks about local food.  And essentially, she makes health and fitness accessible to the masses.  By masses, I don’t mean the vast majority of Indians who don’t have access to Acai seeds.  I mean those of us who are so busy with the mundanity of life, that we don’t have time to hunt down the best quality goji berries or chia seeds available to us.  So this book is a great resource for those who would like to eat well with the least hassle.  For me it was great because I believe in simple food and wholesome health.  To stay in  optimum health and shape is more a function of eating simple unadulterated food, instead of exotic produce and unpronounceable ingredients lists.  My idea is simple.  If you focus on quality, then the most commonly available ingredients will have you glowing a la lightbulb.  I believe this and try to eat like that, and I do enjoy good health for the most part.

In addition to this, Rujuta has also brought to light lots of fruits and vegetables from different regions in India.  It helps in us becoming curious and a bit more experimental with our food, and also inculcates a sense of awareness of the richness of what our land has to offer.  From ghee to something called the ambadi fruit, her book makes local produce come alive and become tempting.  This blog isn’t a summary of the book, but just a little bit of info.  The book has a lot more information to offer and I would really suggest that you read the book.  However, here is a little bit of information to pique your interest:

  1. Ghee – It’s a myth that ghee is fattening.  In fact, it is lipolytic, it breaks down fat.  So if you eat ghee you’re helping in breaking down stubborn fat.  Helpful advice that she gives for women:  If you get skin breakouts before or with every period eat ghee at least three times a day.  Plus she has a bonus recipe for how to make ghee.
  2. Kokum – this is a fruit I haven’t had, but I had a drink made out of this at Dastkaar.  Rub kokum butter on the soles of your feet right before you sleep and you will sleep deeply, regardless of how stressed and frazzled you are.  Definitely on my shopping list.
  3. Banana – here I have a banana before every class.  Actually, in Bangalore as well.  It’s a myth that bananas are fattening.  They are low on fat and in fact help in fat burning and in reducing cholesterol!
  4. Kaju – good to combat PCOD and hypothyroidism.  Prevents adult acne and improves fertility too!
  5. Ambadi – I’ve never had this plant nor heard about it.  Another item on my shopping list.  If you know how to pronounce this word, do let me know.  Interestingly, this local green (and other’s like it) are called ‘orphan crops’, crops that no one grows because there is no demand for them.  You can make it into a sabzi and get your iron, vit B and folic acid from it.  The stems of the Ambadi plant are used to make jhadoos and fabric.  I wonder if they make yoga mats out of this…
  6. Rice – prevents premature wrinkling and supports good hair growth.  Need I say more?
  7. Coconut – doesn’t contain cholesterol because it’s a plant based food.  Plus it actually helps in reducing ‘central adiposity’ (fat in the middle) and so helps in ensuring a slim waist.
  8. Aliv – used in laddoos!  Great for skin, it evens out skin tone, gets rid of patches and naturally brightens the complexion.  Wonder if Diwali laddoos contain this seed…
  9. Jackfruit – low in fat and rich in fibre, so it helps in reducing cholesterol levels.  Also, the fruit has a lot of anti-oxidants.
  10. Sugar – don’t replace with jaggery as both have different properties.  Jaggery adds heat to the body while sugar is a coolant.

If the above points were interesting, you should go out and get a copy of the book.  It does give you food for thought and even if you’re unable to apply everything she talks about into your life, it still helps to be aware of what we are eating and what are the food choices that are available to us.



Enquiries Into Yogic Philosophy

1 Book Review, 5 Useful Health Tips

April 27, 2014

Maybe it’s just me, but Rujuta Diwekar’s tone has become progressively snide and condescending with each book. She sounds like a school teacher – and your least favourite one at that.  So I picked up Don’t Lose Out, Work Out with a little trepidation.  (After all, I felt that using the words ‘Women’ ‘Weight Loss’ and ‘Tamasha’ in the same line is kind of derogatory to the despair that a lot of women go through because of their weight issues.  Lumping up the despair, the depression, the hopelessness, the tears, the dejection, the bleakness, the distress, the discouragement etc as ‘tamasha’ just didn’t seem right to me.) 

And frankly the book reads like a science textbook. I guess Rujuta was trying to convince readers that she actually knows what she’s talking about, and giving her readers scientific proof to back her claims.  What she forgets is that readers are buying her books because they instinctively trust her and her work.  But what Rujuta seems to be doing is, shoving science (or ‘sports science’ as she is quick to point out) down our throats in an attempt to prove to us that we know nothing, and neither does our trainer.  And for that matter neither does your dietician (unless, and this is pure conjecture, she’s Rujuta Diwekar), and alas, neither does your doctor.  Does Rujuta say this in so many words?  No.  She implies it.  Towards the end of the book she writes, “The trainer here is the person who spends the maximum time with you, often waiting…But he is on the fringes of an upcoming profession, either belongs to the middle or the lower middle class, hasn’t really studied beyond 10th or 12th and can barely speak English.  So he/she may know why you should do weight training, why weights will help you…But ask them to put those things in words and they mess up!  And how!”  I have a fundamental problem with this description of trainers…and also with the belief that if I have a trainer then he/she will fit the above description.  The fitness/health/wellness industry that Rujuta herself is a part of has come a long way since she wrote her first book, and so have trainers and trainees.

And I don’t get me started on her Yoga chapter…

However, there are some lessons to be learned (and retained for the future) from the book. Here are five of them:

  1. Walking twice a day will not help you lose real weight or burn more calories.  What a workout which happens twice a day lacks is proper recovery time.  When you’ve walked for an hour, you’ve put a lot of strain your joints, muscles, body chemistry (hormones, oxygen, glycogen etc) and even your breathing.  Rest is important for your body to recover and bounce back.  If your body doesn’t get adequate rest your immunity decreases and you’re more likely to get injured.
  2. There is nothing such as spot reduction.  As a yoga trainer and fitness enthusiast, people have told me countless times that ‘everything else is fine, just my tummy’ or ‘I’m happy with the rest of my body, just my arms’ or ‘the rest of my body looks like me, but my legs look like they are a sumo wrestler’s legs’.  Usually people work out targeting specific ‘problem areas’.  So they’ll do squats to target their butt and leg lifts to target stubborn belly fat.  Repetitions in your workout just help you to utilize the readily available free fatty acid cells (which are a source of energy) in the blood stream instead of targeting the fat residing in the muscles.  And what’s more, this kind of workout has no after-burn, so any calorie burn is only during the repetitions and very little post your workout.  So, if you want to lose your belly fat you will need to balance a workout comprising cardio and a high intensity interval training.
  3. Only increase one parameter of your workout at a time.  So if you’re running on the treadmill, increase only the incline or the speed at one time.  Doing both puts unnecessary strain on your bones.
  4. Plan your workouts in such a way that they never exceed 60 minutes, including your warm-up and cool down.  Chemically the body only has the fuel reserves to work out for 60 minutes.  In fact, for most people the fuel reserves run out after 30 minutes.
  5. Plan your post workout meals well.  45 minutes post your workout is the best time to push more nutrients into your muscles and for your body to use the available nutrients well and to recover from stress and strain so that your immunity doesn’t go down.  So drink a glass of water and eat something which has carbs, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals.  This sounds complicated, but a banana or potato sandwiches are good options.