Sunday, April 12, 2009

Born on a Blue Day - autobiography of Daniel Tammet

I was born on 31 january 1979 - a wednesday. I know it was a wednesday because the date is blue in my mind and wednesdays are always blue.

This is how Daniel Paul Tammet starts his autobiographical story. He suffers from a rare condition known as high-functioning autistic savant, like the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the film Rain Man. Tammet has synasesthesia and Asperger Syndrom and had suffered epilepsy seizures as a child. The result is that he has an extraordinary talent for numbers and languages.

He says, ¨Numbers are my friends and they are always around me. Nembers are my first language, one I often think and feel in. Each one is unique and has its own personality. The number 11 is friendly, 5 is loud, 4 is shy, 333 is beautiful, 25 is energetic, 37 is lumpy like porridge, 89 is like falling snow and 289 is ugly. This kind of visual and emotional experience of numbers is called as Synasesthesia. He feels excited and happy with certain numbers and is uncomfortable with other numbers such as 99. Whenever he is stressed, he calms himself by counting numbers. In his mind, he says, each integer up to 10,000 has its own unique shape, colour, texture and feel. He can intuitively "see" results of calculations as synasesthetic landscapes without using conscious mental effort, and can "sense" whether a number is prime or composite.

Tammet set a European record on March 14th 2004 when he recited the famous mathematical constant Pi (3.141...) to 22,514 decimal places from memory in a time of 5 hours, 9 minutes.

After this fantastic feat, he was asked why learn such a long, tedious and complicated number pi to so many decimals. His answer, ¨pi is for me an extremely beautiful and utterly unique thing , like the Mona Lisa or a Mozart symphony, pi is its own reason for loving it.¨

Tammet not only verbally describes these visions, but has also created artwork: including a watercolour painting of Pi. He has written a poem on Pi

Three, One, Four, One, Five, and On
The numbers recount their endless tale.
Three - Barefoot green, a silent voice.
White as hunger, One is twiceBright like babies’ eyes.
Four is timid, envious of E.
Five, Punctuation or a pregnant sigh
Precedes proud Nine, colour of falling night.
Two, an unfastened knot,
A wayward wind, the hollow of Six resounding.
Nearby, Eight, a cloud of fireflies above a lake
Over which I skim Sevens
Remembering that Zero is nothing but a circle.

Tammet says he speaks eleven languages including English, French, Finnish, German, Spanish, Lithuanian, Romanian, Estonian, Icelandic, Welsh, and Esperanto.He particularly likes Estonian, because it is rich in vowels.
Tammet can learn new languages very quickly. To prove this for a Channel Four documentary, Tammet was challenged to learn Icelandic in one week. Seven days later he appeared on Icelandic television conversing in Icelandic fluently.
Tammet is creating a new language called Mänti, which in Finnish means pine tree. Mänti has many features related to Finnish and Estonian, both of which are Finno-Ugric languages.

He perceives words also as colours. To him, Richard is red, John is yellow and Henry is white.

He describes his meeting with Kim Peek, upon whom Rain Man was based, as one of the happiest moments of his life. They connected when they asked each other date calculations based on their birth dates, and got the answers correct instantly. Kim has read more than 9000 books and can recall all their content.

Tammet was the first of nine children born to working-class parents in London. He and his family had a tough time because of his disability. He completed schooling but found the other children as objects to cope and contend with, to navigate around, rather than as individuals to get to know and to play with. Tammet is gay and lives with his partner.

Tammet has his own website , writes blogs and gives online courses for learning languages.

He has written another book, 'Embracing the Wide Sky: A Tour Across the Horizons of the Mind'. This book is about his personal and scientific exploration of how the brain works and the differences and similarities between savant and non-savant minds.

It is said that there are about 50 people in the world at present similiar to Tammet. But most of them suffer from a disability. They cannot communicate, connect or have feeling for others. They are unable to live independent lives. They cannot understand jokes and take everything literaly. For example if you tell them ¨take a seat ¨they will not understand that it means sit down. Tammet is lucky that he has the capacity to connect to the world, which he has also developed consciously by controlling and training himself. He is able to express himself as he has done clearly and eloquently in his book.

Tammet helps charities which work for people suffering from epilepsay and autism and has an inspiring message ¨My main message is that difference need not be disabling, that it's ok to be different and that everyone is unique in some way and should feel it possible to live out that uniqueness. When we do that, autistic or not, we give ourselves the chance of happiness.

His book is not just for curiosity. He has a point for people like us, who consider ourselves as normal. He does not see ordinary and extraordinary as totally different and unconnected. He sees a link. His own evolving life is proof of such connection. He, the extraordinary, is training himself to become ordinary. The reverse is also possible. Every one of us is unique and we may have talents, hidden inside ourselves. We can unlock them by conscious efforts in the same way as he has trained himself to be emotional and friendly to others. So, we the ordinary mortals, can look for and connect to the extraordinary things within ourselves and make our lives richer and happier for ourselves and others.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Imagining India - book by Nandan Nilekani

Nandan, who is self-effacing, in the typical Indian tradition, calls himself as an Accidental Enterpreneur. But I see him as one of the best example and role model of the New Age Business of India. He could have written , like many retired celebrities, his memoirs. Instead, he has chosen to write about the story of India in which he succeeded and the new India he is imagining. He has made very little reference to himself and his company in the book. He has a new approach to the growth story of india by talking about ideas.

He has categorised ideas into four kinds;
-ideas already arrived
These have already been accepted by consensus and have helped India to become what it is now,
-ideas in progress
There is consensus on these but implementation is slow and half-hearted
- ideas in battle
These still being hotly debated till the end of the world by the Argumentative Indians
- ideas to anticipate
These are needed to realise the promise and potential of India but still not in the agenda.

The ideas that have already arrived and shaped India are: demographic dividend, enterpreneurship, English language, Information Technology,urbanisation,democracy and role in globalisation.

In the past, there was a perception of horror about the immense and growing population of India. But today, the same issue of population is looked at positively as human capital and demographic dividend. India, with its young population, is going to benefit in the next four-five decades in which the developed world will be filled with more pensioners than young skilled and innovative people. What was seen earlier as a liability has now become an asset. India can leverage this demographic dividend to become a creative power and a centre for new knowledge and innovation.
The second paradigm shift is the Indian attitude to business. Earlier, the socialistic india looked at businessmen as greedy profit-seekers without social conscience. Now the enterpreneurs are recognised and admired as creators of jobs and wealth not only for themselves but for the society and the country.
The third fundamental change is the attitude to English. The newly idependent India was seeking to assert its identity through its native langauage and wanted to get rid of the colonial English. But now there is consensus that English is the key to unlock the opportuniies arising from globalisation and so even the poor people use their hard-earned savings to send their kids to private english medium schools.
Information Technology, which was feared as man-eaters in the eighties has now been accepted as an essential tool for business, jobs and development.

The ideas in progress are: school education, urban planning, infrastructure development and unified single market of India. On these issues, there is consensus on the urgent need for reforms and investment but the implementation is slow and ineffective.

Ideas in battle are in the fields of education and labour laws. On these issues the partisan and ideological debate goes on without end. Nandan says it is time we get out of the old mindset and act pragmatically. Here he quotes the example of Brazilian President Lula, who handles issues like a violin; He holds voters in his left hand and plays the government and business with his right hand. India is, however, stuck with its constituitional label of a socialistic republic and the consequent ideological trap. Election politics overrides reforms and long term policies. On education and employment, the governemnt policies and politics have got bogged down in quotas and divisions rather than creating more avenues.

Ideas to anticipate are in the areas of environment, energy, health and social security. According to Nandan, India has the advantage of starting now as a latecomer. We can study the experience of developed countries and learn from their mistakes and formulate better policies to suit our requirements.

Nandan has taken on the ambitious task of analysing the whole gamutof the issues of politics, economy and development and trying to suggest solutions to them. It is a formidable task. But Nandan admits that he is just an IIT nerd, having lived in a relatively privileged atmosphere and succeeded surfing on the wave of IT boom. To make up for his inadequate knowledge, understanding and experience,he has chosen to take the ideas of experts by interviewing sociologists, economists, politicians, civil servants and specialists in each field.

Nandan is objective, clinical and candid in his analysis and comments. But his exercise and intent are not academic or intellectual, but are practical and pragmatic. With his optimistic and positive approach, he has explored the possible and the doable, within the context of the realities and constraints of India.

Nandan is a posterboy of the success of India´s economic reforms and liberalisation.He is also the role model for future enterpreneurs of india, as a creator of wealth, jobs and opportunities for thousands of Indians. His company Infosys has set a benchmark for corporate culture and ethics. The Infosyians don’t believe in the greasy and greedy old world business practices of India. They will forego contracts rather than trying to get it through under the table means.

Nandan calls his generation as the ¨bridging generation¨connecting the old India with the emerging new one and that which straddles the divides and the ideas that separate the two.

He sees growth and prosperity for India through creation and facilitation of access to resources and opportunities. He see the problems and issues like a computer programmer and a business management expert. One cannot but agree with his analysis of the inherited and created obstacles for India´s progress. But the conclusion of Nandan is that India and the Indians have reached a stage when they don’t have to continue their ingrained habit of shrugging and stepping around potholes, without trying to repair it. He is convinced that Indians have arrived at a new stage with confidenc, competence, tools and ambience to solve problems in this life itself rather than wait for seven incarnations or letting things drift as karma.

In the democratic system of India, Nandan´s ideas need to be accepted by the political leaders who play the critical role in development. What was the reaction of a political leader to Nandan´s ideas. He simply dismissed Nandan saying ¨people like you are neither good for votes or notes ( money). This is the reality. Hold on..there is hope behind this reality. The politician will get kicked out of power if he does not align himself with the aspirations of the people who are now getting increasingly empowered through the Information and Communication revolutions brought about by Nandan and company.

I recommend this book especially for the younger generation who have a historic opportunity to realise the dreams of Nandan Nilekani and the bridging generation which includes me too.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dreams from my father – Obama autobiography

This book is a narrative of Obama´s quest to unravel the puzzle of being a black man. The personal pursuit took a public dimension when he forced himself to embrace the cause of the black community, starting from the time when he was a college student. He looked at himself, looked at the whites and analysed what passed in the looks between the whites and blacks. He dug deeper into the issue by introspection and reading. He heard the stories of discrimination and frustration from fellow blacks. Finally, he decided to contribute to the black cause in his own way by volunteering to become a community organiser. Many black leaders and intellectuals had gone through that, before Obama. But what makes the case of Obama different is that his story is not a typical, plain and simple black and white one. He did not inherit the rancour and resentment of the others with slave ancestry. Nor did he have to struggle to get out of a ghetto of poverty and crime. He was born to a middle class white American woman from Kansas and a black Kenyan who came to US for studies. But his father left for good the wife and the two year-old child in Hawai to pursue higher studies in Harvard and for further marriages and life in Kenya. He saw his father only one more time, in 1971, when Obama Sr. came to Hawaii for a month's visit. His mother remarried to an Indonesian and went to live there for a few years. Obama started his school in Jakarta and played with brown kids in mud and dirt. On his return to Hawai , he was brought up by his white grand parents. His enlightened mother and liberal grand parents gave him affection and education. Except for the occasional and unavoidable black treatment given by white police and folks, his life was made for success as a rich lawyer. But Obama did not follow the road travelled by others in his situation. He chose a cause and mission to work for the black community. He worked as a community organiser in the poor black neighbourhoods in Chicago.

Obama is caught between two worlds as a black man in colour with white man´s upbringing and thinking. He says he learned to slip back and forth between the black and white worlds, understanding that each possessed its own language, customs and structures of meaning, convinced that with a bit of translation on his part, the two worlds would eventually cohere. This is how he sets out the destiny of his journey. But in the beginning it was not easy. While he has the constant guidance and care of his white mother and grand parents, he preferred to take the side of the blacks. His stay in Indonesia and exposure to Indians in Kenya added brown colour to the black and white world of Obama.

From his college days, Obama was troubled and obsessed by his colour. He was trying to find his identity in the society where the blacks had to play according to the rules of the white man and that too in on the courts of the white man. He starts identifying himself with the rest of the black community. Realising that his insulated and protected life lacked the real life experience of the majority of the blacks in misery and poverty, he chooses to become a community organiser to fight for the causes of the black community in Chicago. There he sees the deprivation, discrimination and degradation. He finds the black withdrawal into coils of rage with the realisation that black meant only the knowledge of powerlessness and defeat. He is filled with the anguish and doubts which do not go away with any amount of intellect, humour or faith. He plunges earnestly into the job of community organiser trying to give hope, confidence and optimism to the blacks. He tries to get the black churches and community leaders together to fight for the rights of the black community to get their dues. He tries to achieve whatever is possible in a positive and pragmatic way. It is during this work that Audacity of Hope, begins to shape his personal and public life. From then on Obama becomes a man with a mission.

After understanding the reality of Afro Americans, Obama goes on to find the root of his troubles, to Kenya, his father´s country. It is a kind of pilgrimage. He meets his numerous half brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and relatives. His grandfather was a farmer and had earlier worked as a cook for the white colonial officials. Obama´s father was one of the many children born to one of the wives of his grand father. He gets to meet one of the grandmothers who narrates the story of the ancestry of the Obama family. The father of Obama, gets a break to study in Hawai where he meets a fellow white American student, marries her and Barak Obama is born to them. But the father, who was already married to a village girl, goes on to marry another white woman during his Harvard studies, who follows him to Kenya. Obama finds in Kenya that everyone was family.

In Kenya, he is finally in a country and community where colour is not an issue. He visits the village where his grand father lived. There, Barak Obama finds his identity and says ¨ Here the world was black and you were just you. You could discover all those things that were unique to your life without living a lie or commiting betrayal. I felt a sense that a circle was beginning to close, so that I might finally recognise myself as I was, here, now, in one place¨. Standing between the graves of his grand father and father in a Kenyan village, he says¨I realized that who I was, what I cared about, was no longer a matter of intellect or obligation, no longer a construct of words..All of it was connected with this small plot of earth an ocean away, connected by more than the accident of a name or the colour of my skin.¨

Did the land of his father become his destiny? Did his journey stop, on reaching the Promised Land? No, the reality of Africa torments him even more and gives rise to more questions than answers. The hopelessness of the black life in Kenya compounds the confusion and doubts within him. Africa turned out to be only another way point on his still unchartered journey. The discovery, satisfaction and fulfillment was only intellectual and romantic. He had to get back to the Land of Dreams where he would ultimately realise something undreamt by him and the black community.

The Kenyan historian in Nairobi tells Obama that Africa is not what the Afro Americans romanticise about. It is not pure, innocenet and noble as is dreamed by the American blacks for whom it had become an idea more than an actual place, a new promised land full of ancient wisdom and talking drums.

The unique personal situation of Obama makes him search for a definition of what is a family. This is understandable with his white American mother, black Kenyan father, Indonesian stepfater and step sister, and half-brothers and sisters from the different wives of his father. He asks ¨Is it ( family) just a genetic chain, parents and offspring, people like me. Or is it a social construct, an economic unit, optimal for child rearing and divisions of labour? Or is it something else entirely; a store of shared memories, say? An ambit of love? A reach across the void?¨

Obama's search for identity does not even spare the law he studied at Harvard. He says, ¨the law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience¨.

I was motivated to read this book after having read his other one, ¨Audacity of Hope¨. But this one is more powerful and compelling. It is full of the raw emotion of the angry young Obama. At the time of writing this book in 1995, he did not worry about the media or the political opponents. He was just a graduate from Harvard trying to decide his direction in the crossroads of personal choices. So Obama let himself go in articulating his anger, feelings, confusion and insecurities. He did not hold anything back. He is authentic, blunt and undiplomatic in expressing himself in the street language of the blacks. This is the period when we find the Iron personality of Obama going though the furnace to become Steel.

Even if Obama did not become famous as President, this book would have found its place on its own as an interesting and inspiring one for the Americans, black and white. It brings out the perennial racial issue in a new light with fresh insight. It is positive with the message¨yes, We can¨. While clinically and candidly analysing the issue, Obama chooses to focus on the possible. His approach is to find solutions in a positive and pragmatic way. He does not succumb to the temptation of blaming everything on the whites and setting the blacks against the whites in a confrontationist or polarising way. His message is non- threatening to the mainstream audience.
He has straddled both the sides of the divide with intellectual honesty and firm conviction. This approach enedeared him to the voters who have entrusted him with the task of managing the larger community of US as President.

Obama´s style of writing is appealing, like the way speaks. He has combined his cerebral and profound thoughts with easy and conversational expressions. The memoir reads like a novel with a powerfully moving story and suspense and thrill. Obama has spiced up his story with humour and wit.

I hope he writes more books after going through the third firewalk of his life as the President of the most powerful country in one of its worst moments in history.

The book is a useful read for the brown Indians , who are aspiring to add their colour to the new landscape of globalisation.

And there is a Latinamerican twist to the tale of Obama! His white mother was inspired by the Brazilian film ¨Black Orpheus¨, the first-ever film she saw alone as an adult at the impressionable age of sixteen. It was also the first foreign film she saw. She thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. The white girl from middle class Kansas should have been fascinated by the Brazilian black hero of the film which had possibly influenced her to fall in love with a black in real life. This romantic movie with Bossa Nova music set in the beautiful beaches of Copacabana and with the the colourful Carnival festival should have made a striking impact on the dreamy damsel.

So here is one more lifestory inspired by Latin America

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Audacity of Hope - book by Barak Obama

When I bought this book, it was with a bit of curiosity and lot of skepticism. I thought it should be the political manifesto of a Presidential candidate. I expected the book to be full of platitudes and campaign rhetoric. I expected him to be politically and boringly correct and careful, avoiding hard issues and hot topics. How wrong I was. The book brought out another side of Obama, I did not know or expect. He is a writer, thinker and intellectual. If he did not succeed in politics, he could have made a career out of writing. He writes in the same way as he speaks: direct and forthright. His ideas flow easily , logically and smoothly. He simplifies the issues, freeing them from rhetoric and outlines all the options to tackle them. And then he goes on to give his choice with a healthy respect for the choices which others might take. He has displayed breadth and depth in knowledge and wisdom.

The title of the book fits the man. Or, as they say, the man himself is the message. He took the title Audacity of hope from the sermon of his former pastor and delivered a speech with the same title at the Democratic convention in 2004 which propelled him to nation-wide fame. In his speech he talked about ¨ the hope of a skinny kid with a funny name who believes that America has a place for him, too. Hope in the face of difficulty. Hope in the face of uncertainty. The audacity of hope¨

Obama has practised and fulfilled his audacious hope by becoming the first black occupant of the white house, in a relativley short political career. He loses the election to the state legislature badly in 2000. He tries to gatecrash into the Democratic convention in LA in the same year without success. He was down with depression and denial. No one including himself could have even dreamed at that time that he would become the President. Disadvantaged as a black, with a funny name including a risky middle name as Hussein and without money or family background how did he hope to achieve what was considered as impossible just eight years back. That is precisely the Audacity of Hope. He gets a lucky break in 2004 Democratic Convention as a keynote speaker, makes use of it to attract national attention and goes on to win a senate seat. He decides to take on the formidable Clinton machine which was plotting for ten years and wins the election overwhelmingly to create history.

Obama has shown a remarkable and refreshing frankness and honesty while dealing with public and personal issues. He has shown exceptional courage in taking on controversial issues such as politics, race, religion, value system of the American society, Iraq war and American foreign policy. This was a dangerous exercise, while standing for the presidential election with thousands looking for slips and errors to pounce on him and bring him down. He has mentioned in this context the formidable power of the American media which can make or break carrers. He says, ¨ for the public I am what the media says I am. I say what they say. I become who they say i have become ¨. Still, he goes beyond political correctness , bares the facts and articulates his views fearlessly. He asserts that he is able to distinguish himself from the pack by this capacity to speak his mind on hard issues

He takes on the issue of race head on. He does not forgive the socity for what was done to his slave ancestors. He is not apologetic in demanding affirmative action. He is convinced that power would concede nothing without a fight. He recalls how white couple would toss the car keys to him outside restaurants, when he is waiting for the valet to bring his car.He chooses not to waste time by recounting the humiliations to which he was subjected as a black man. He takes it in his stride and sometimes with humour. When the girl friends of Michel consider him as cute, while he was dating her, he says it could have been because of the fact that any black man in a suit with a job would look cute. He says one is required to see America on a split screen, to maintain in sight an America that he wants while looking squarely at the America as it is, to acknowledge the sins of the past and the challenges of the present without becoming trapped in cynicism or despair. He talks about the dilemma of black politicians to gauge the right tone to take- too angry? not angry enough?. He says the black leaders should be conscious that rightly or wrongly, white guilt has largely exhausted itself.

On religion, Obama says he started off as an agnostic but later chose to get baptised. He explains why many Americans are, to the surprise of many foreigners, so religious. According to him, the Americans are not content with their work, possessions and busyness. They want a sense of purpose, a narrative arc to their lives that will lift them above the exhausting and relentless daily toll of life.

He has attacked in the book, the political partisanship and polarisation which have blocked solutions and progress of the country. Everyone knows it and criticises it. The difference is that he believes that it is possible to try and achieve bipartisanship by showing understanding and seeing the merits of the ideas of the other side. He says many American politicians and party cadres are consciously or unconsciously locked in ¨either/ or thinking¨. He not only believes but practises reaching out to the other side with conviction and profit. He differentiates value from ideology. He cautions against ideology which tend to override facts and makes one blind to the other side. Can the politician be honest in the scripted and often makebelieve world of American politics. He says yes and he has proven in his words and deeds. For example while refrring to the perennial American debate about big government or small he quotes Lincoln ¨that we will do collectively , through our government, only those things that we cannot do as well or at all individually and privately. His own quote, ¨we should be guided by what works¨.

Obama delves into the value system of the American society without fear. He dares to question the singular American pursuit of being rich, thin, young, famous, safe and entertained and the empathy defict to what happens outside these pursuits. He says we must test our own ideals, vision and values against realities by a constant process of information gathering, analysis and arguments.

Obama´s commentary on the American foreign policy is a reassurance to the rest of the world which had to suffer the freightening excesses of the neocons. While defending the right of US to uncompromising approach when it comes to its own national security, he is clear that the time has come for US to be sensitive to the concerns of other countries and work with them.

Obama has dealt with other issues such as education, healthcare, globalisation and terrorism, in the same sensitive and intelligent way.

In his analysis of power, he says it requires a certain megalomania to enter politics with the bilef that one has a unique qualification to speak on behalf of others and endure the harrowing and ridiculous process of campaigning. He also points out that while others can lick their wounds privately, the politican´s loss is on public display.He had gone through this feeling of repudiation with the word ¨loser¨flashing from the minds of all around him. He is candid about the shame of begging for campaign funds from the rich and corporates and being tied to the agenda of the givers.

He is frank about his role and guilt as a father and husband. He says that a disproportionate share of raising the kids fell on his wife´s shoulder, while he was relentlessly pursuing his own goals. Whenever he undertook to look after the children, he did it on his own terms and on his own schedule. He confesses how after years of marriage, he felt to be fully domesticated, soft and helpless in attending to even simple household work.

Obama is self-critical and does so with a sense of humour and humility. He mentions the incident when he is introduced by his teenage daughter to her friend. He goes forward to shake her hand. His daughter laughts at it and says" dad, you might not have noticed, but we are in 21st century ¨ . Taken aback, he asks what does one do in 21st century. She says shaking hands is outdated. One just says hai. Regarding his style of speech he says ¨it can be rambling, hesitant and overly verbose and might perhaps find sympathy in the literary class¨.

Of course, the book was also part of his political campaign. It shows in many parts of the book. It is preachy and pleading for votes. He had to write within the constraints of being part of the Democratic party and the need to please the voters and avoid displeasing any constituency.

I enjoyed the book thoroughly and have already ordered his previous book ¨Dreams from my father¨. Obama has been great in giving mesmerising speeches and writing profoundly. Can he deliver as President? Even if he does not succeed much, it is a new start for America. Atleast he has laid an intellectual benchmark. His Audacious Hope is the right message at this present moment of fear and uncertainty caused by the global crisis and job losses.

But the Indian business has gone even ahead of the Audacious Hope of Obama. Four years back I heard in the Indian corporate seminars the phrase ¨Audacious Ambition¨. This set some of the Indians on fire. Mittal took over Arcelor. Tata bought up Jaguar and Landrover. Indra Nooyi took over Pepsi.

Hope and Ambition have become audacious ...and colourful too. The Blacks and Browns add not only colour to America and the world ...but audacious colours....

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The various flavours of coffee - Novel of Anthony Capella

The name coffee in the title attracted me at first sight, since café is linked to Latin America , my passion. Cafe is an ingredient of the fascinating Latin America. Café con leche is how I describe the Brazilians. Café con visa is my brand. Café con Piernas is the Chilean brand. Hmmm… the title of my first ever story in the Latin American Affairs blog is cafe means more than coffee in latin america ( ). So it is no wonder I was drawn to the book like a magnet. And reading the book was indeed like enjoying an aromatic, tasty and rich cafe, sitting on the side walks of Buenos Aires, below the bluish violet Jacaranda flower trees.

The book is full of coffee all the way, describing its flavours, tastes and interpretations by lovers, African tribes and the London housewives. The author connects the coffee to love in every possible opportunity . He says love is a mixture of any number of feelings; infatuation, idealism, tenderness, lust, the urge to protect or be protected, the desire to ravish, comradeship, friendship, aesthetic appreciation and a thousand more besides. The author has brewed the coffee with passion and added love and sensuality like sugar and milk. He touches every sense and nerve exploring the sensual world of love fully and ardently.

This is the story of a Victorian- era young and idle Englishman Robert Wallis whose life was changed by a cup of coffee, and a cup of very bad coffee at that. The would-be poet and bohemian is sitting in a London coffee house contemplating an uncertain future. He comments to the waiter the bad taste of the coffee. Samuel Pinker, a coffee importer, who is on the next table hears the comments and offers to Wallis the very last thing he could want: a job. But the job Wallis is offered - composing a "vocabulary of coffees" that captures their many subtle and elusive flavours - is the beginning of an extraordinary adventure. Wallis falls in love with Emily his emplyer´s idealistic daughter. Despite their differences, they soon discover that you cannot interrogate one set of senses without awakening others. They become engaged.

Then Wallis is dispatched to Africa in search of the source of the legendary Arabic mocca. As he travels to coffee's birthplace - and sees the conditions in which the crop is actually grown - he meets Fikre, the African slave girl of a powerful merchant, who makes him coffee in the traditional Abyssinian coffee ceremony. And when Fikre dares to slip Wallis a single coffee bean, everything he thought he knew – about coffee, about love, about himself – starts to unravel….. She seduces him with coffee and coffee beans. He discovers the divine combination of love, sex, sensuality and happiness. It was a new revelation for him, although he is a connoisseur of the pleasure houses of London. Robert discovers during the high point of his ecstacy that he was being used by Fikre who disappears suddenly.
He returns to London,after his failed business venture and devastated by the trauma of deceived love. By this time. Emily is married off to a politician, after she received a letter from Robert breaking his engagement and confessing his love of Fikre and begging her forgiveness. He finds Emily taking up the cause of voting right for women while struggling to maintain her free spirit in a troubled marriage. She dies for the cause eventually after confessing to Robert her hidden love for him, which she never expressed while alive.
Around this story of love, lust and passion the author has narrated the story of coffee politics and market. His writing is delightful with the unique British suble humour and understatements. Having been born in Uganda, he has shown a passion for Africa. He has brought in Brazil briefly on the politics and markets of coffee. Pity, he did not make use of the café con leche country, its people , their passions and culture, which would have enriched the coffee book.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

- A well made cup of coffee is the proper beginning to an idle day. Its aroma is beguiling, its taste is sweet; yet it leaves behind only bitterness and regret. In that it resembles, surely, the pleasures of love.....
- She smelled of coffee: there was the taste of it in every kiss; her hands were coffee; her lips were coffee, it was there in the taste her skin and the glistening clear liquid in the corner of her eyes. This reminds me of the Colombian soap opera called as ¨mujer con aroma de café¨- means woman with the aroma of coffee.
- What does a woman want? – asks the African tribal chief to which his wife replies¨¨Never to be asked what she wants.
- How easy it is to mistake attention for interest.
- He discovered that he had loved Fikre with an absolute physical passion and even something a bit more besides. For him it was new territory to be marked in full on the hitherto blank atlas of the heart.
- He had experienced in his life a desire for many women; tenderness for some ; affection and admiration for a few. There were some who were a challenge, some a diversion and others for whom his lust itself was a kind of sweet ecstatic torment.

This is the first novel of Anthony Capella I have read. I am tempted to read his other book the Food of Love.