An author who is likened to the greats such as Dale Carnegie and Thomas Friedman, Virender Kapoor wears prestigious titles of an Educationist, a Thinker, and an Inspirational Guru, among others. He talks to StoryMirror in an exclusive interview about his books, inspirations and his latest release, Winning The Chanakya Way.
StoryMirror: Winning The Chanakya Way forms another addition to your series “Life Lessons from Luminaries.” Considering that the teachings of Chanakya are over 2000 years ago, do you think these can be applied to an entirely different world today? Do you think it would re-establish the belief that teachings about human character and emotions are eternal and can never be irrelevant, or is there a possibility of them becoming obsolete one day?
Virender: Human nature to my mind can never change. Emotional Intelligence is a relatively new spin that has been given to age old wisdom, for example. Emotional Intelligence for instance talks about bouncing back after failure, empathy, managing anger, managing your own emotions, handling a crisis effectively and such things. There is nothing new in this. These were the ways of life from, god alone knows, since when. It is old wine in a new bottle. Yes, the packaging of the ideas has been done according to the modern life style. Also, it is, in a way, revisiting and revitalising the old wisdom.
Therefore, what Chanakya said more than 2000 years ago about human nature, interpersonal skills and intrapersonal skills is very much relevant today. In fact, I feel these are needed more than ever before as our society in the quest of success - which most people don’t even know what success means - is going crazy. People have probably got disconnected from the basic issues. They are running fast, but don’t know where to. Deceit, cheating, hate, are at an all time high and Chanakya has addressed all these. I have culled out all those Ideas of Chanakya which will put some sense into our present and the next generations. If you notice, the second chapter is ‘Philosophy of success’, which redefines success itself.
StoryMirror: The book is based on your research on ‘Sutras’ in Chanakya Neeti. How much influence would you say they’ve had on yourself?
Virender: This is the first book on Chanakya that is a self help book for all age groups and deals with very basics of human interaction. These are timeless nuggets of wisdom. Of course, I learnt a lot from it while writing the book. One thing was so evident - ‘Oh my god how accurate this wise man was in putting things in perspective.’ This was the biggest take away, and also, that we as Indians do not give enough credence to our own craft or our own wisdom. Most of the things are so simple that we feel we know them, but over a period of time we forget these or we stop using these. I have learnt a lot from his sutras. In fact, I read all of his sutras, more than 400 of them and carried only a select few in the book and that is why author always learns more than the reader.
Let me tell you a couple of things which I liked the most and which would stay with me. One is the point Chanakya makes about honour being the main craving for the noble ones. This has been a great take away for me.
Money and material matter, but up to an extent. What is the difference in the quality of life of a person who has 100 crores and the other one who has 10,000 crores? It will be zilch. Both can live a life of comfort and have whatever they want. They both have best cars, best restaurants to go to, best food, best health care, best travel and fun. So what is the difference? I don’t want to make my life hell to earn those extra 9900 crores. If along with 100 crores I have name fame and honour, nothing could be better than that. Most Industrialists have more money than Amitabh Bachchan, but he has more than enough to live well and has so much of respect in the industry and amongst all the people in the world. I would envy him than an industrialist. This is one of the things I learnt from this book. There are several others too.
All these thoughts started coming back to me because of this book.
StoryMirror: You’ve produced Value Education books for children, what do you think of the necessity of reading Literature since a young age?
Virender: Albert Einstein said, ‘if you want your children to become intelligent, read them stories and if you want them to be very intelligent read them more stories.’ Reading helps you to improve not only your vocabulary but also helps you express yourself better. You can articulate and put your point across in a better way. I feel reading habits need to be formed when you are young. If you read from an early age it becomes an addiction, an addiction which is very good. My books are on Values to be inculcated in school children from class 1 to 8 which is a target group from 6 years to 15 years. The USP of these books is that they have lots of stories through which I take children into a different world and they can connect with what is being conveyed. It becomes convincing and that is the main aim as an author - to convince the readers.
Unfortunately, I have seen students preparing for competitive exams scrambling for reading books only after they graduate, and have just six months to prepare. This won’t do, you should have started reading much earlier, and those who did are definitely at an advantage.
StoryMirror: Talking of importance of reading, which kind of books would be suitable for a young impressionable mind. According to you, are there any “right” books?
Virender: All books are ‘right’. In every book you get to see a different style of writing as authors have distinct styles. You learn different ways of expressing the same thing and that is important. I always advise people to pick up something they like. Don’t go for heavy stuff initially. For those who are uninitiated to reading, they can start with comics, short stories and light fluffy stuff. Then go for thrillers, suspense or bigger plots, in case you like those. If you are done with these then go for heavier stuff like Dan Brown, Tagore, Paulo Coelho and Ayn Rand. If you start with these in the beginning, you may end up feeling frustrated and more likely to start detesting books. Go slow and steady, at your own pace. Gradually you will find your likes and dislikes and automatically find your flow as water does.
StoryMirror: As an Educationist, what would you say about the role of teachers and emphasis on Formal education? What are your thoughts on apparent commercialisation of education?
Virender: Let me say that education has two components. Hardware that is the infrastructure and second is the software which is the teachers. Government run educational institutes, schools and colleges both have great infrastructure and sprawling campuses, but they usually do not have good teachers. The attitude of a teacher out there is not to deliver but to get an assured salary, a typical sarkari attitude. There is no hire and fire but ‘hire and carry me forever’ kind of environment.
Private educational Institutes have to cater to the students in the best way they can because if they don’t deliver no one will come to them.
Look at Stanford in the US, it was started by Mr. and Mrs. Stanford in the memory of their child. It is a private institute and now one of the best in the world. It is not cheap to study in any of the private colleges in the US or anywhere else in the world. Government in India spends money on education in a big way and that money belongs to taxpayers, so all of us are contributing to the Sarkari education - which may or may not be good. Private colleges in India fend for themselves and have to run everything by funding it from the fees of students. Remember education is not cheap, that is why private colleges are expensive. Let me give an example. IITs get only 26% of what they spend on a student per year. Rest 74% is paid by the govt. A few years ago, fee was hiked to 90,000 Rs. from 50,000 Rs. per annum and college spent 3.4 lacks per year on a student.
Therefore, quality education is expensive and people who do not make into premiere govt institutes have to pay for a better education. It will be wrong to say that there is commercialisation of education. Yes, when you pay to private institution, you must choose the college wisely, so you get what you pay for.
StoryMirror: You’ve written inspirational books on things varied, like, success and leadership and you’ve put emphasis on morals. How do you intend or hope to instil this hope? Do you think people would reciprocate? Would you like to comment on Materialism and Hedonism of today’s society?
Virender: As authors, parents and teachers, we all make efforts to give best ‘sanskars’. As authors we do it with our writings which are one of the most powerful mediums to influence. But I believe in a dictum, ‘I give you good sanskars but what do I do if you do not take those good sanskars?’ This is a Catch 22 situation.
Ok let me give an example, if there are four siblings in a family, they all have same parents, same home, same school, same college and same treatment in terms of upbringing by parents. Then why one son becomes a doctor, the other joins Police, another the Army and the fourth becomes a drug peddler? How do you explain this? The answer is it depends on an individual as to how much he gets influenced. Some people turned around totally after reading one book of Swami Vivekanand and some read ten and still didn’t change. I feel that even if an author or a teacher can influence 20% people, it is a victory. If you can do better, then it is all the better. I have hope that people will change, and books do impact the readers. That is why I do not use Jargon, or preach, I converse with my readers. My examples are very simple, and people can relate to them. As I said my job is to convince before I can influence.
There is no doubt that today, because of the availability of things and erosion of morals it has become difficult for teachers and even parents to get hold of their children. Yes, I blame it on materialism and hedonism. Personal comfort, freedom and liberty have taken over the feeling of collective good. We keep trying to put sense into nonsense. Let us not give up.
StoryMirror: Would you propose that Media could have a significant role as well? What would you say of the effect of role models, influential people or celebrities on morality of the society?
Virender: Of course media has a very important role which includes cinema. I feel they are pushing the boundaries too far under the garb of freedom of creativity and expression. We as Indians must learn where to draw the line. You can’t leave this dirty job to the censor board. Everyone knows what is right and wrong, but you can’t play to the gallery all the time to fetch you business or TRPs. Media also doesn’t know where to draw the line and many times go overboard with reporting. They want to sensationalise every issue. Something that can be on the third page is splattered on the front page to create unnecessary noise and hype.
Same is with celebrities. They also want more popularity and don’t mind saying something bizarre or even stupid or vulgar to get trolled – many like to get trolled and trending. Your aim is to become instant hero. All this at the cost of influencing the psych of the youth negatively. You may protest but not against morals and not at all against the national interest.
There are good role models but we don’t talk about them. I, for instance, in my schoolbooks on Value education have used visible role models. Amitabh Bachchan is not only a good actor but look at the punctuality and hard work, professionalism he displays. I have done a book on him too in these series titled Excellence the Amitabh Bachchan way. Same is with Akshay Kumar. These are the role models youngsters should emulate and not the ones who are making senseless statements. It also depends on an individual whom to follow. We can only show the right ones.
StoryMirror: Today, accomplishment, achievement and success are all an individual is crazed for. Does the book attempt to clear the perception of success, which appears to be vague and diverse? What do you aim to achieve on sharing your thoughts on success?
Virender: There is a full chapter on redefining success. Success is like a Kaleidoscope, it means different things to different people. It is dynamic and never static. A student passing out of B school defines success as getting a good placement in a good company. He is the happiest with that. After 5 years he is looking for a big house, a car and foreign travel - goal post has shifted. This keeps moving nonstop as long as you live. Idea is, whether you are happy with your lot, and Chanakya talks about this too. Most people don’t know what they want and that becomes a very important peg for you to decide. Are you doing what you wanted to do or are you working only for a salary? These are discussed at length in this book. I have linked Chanakya Neeti to modern day Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to put things in correct perspective so that younger generation can relate to it.
StoryMirror: In the second last chapter of the book titled “Role of Destiny in Success”, you’ve dwelt on things like Destiny, Fate, Karma…do you think these play a factor, or is it the idea that it all depends on an individual?
Virender: Of course, hard work matters but luck plays an important part - a very important part in success. For instance, role of destiny is very important, and one cannot discount that in modern life at all. Time, place and person are important for success. Luck is important; your being born in a particular home is luck too. You get a different platform as a rich dad’s son which a poor boy does not have. Yes, he can also work hard and with some luck he can be better than you.
Geeta also says ‘karm kar paar phal ki aasha maat kar,’ why? If I work hard, I must get results. But many times it does not work that way. Here it links with your past karma and one way to call that is luck, chance, or destiny, or fate. I feel man has yet to find one simple answer to this. That is why people have God to depend on.
Let me give an example. Very recently Renu Mondal a poor woman hoping for people to give her some money, was singing Lata Mangeshkar’s song on a railway station in West Bengal and her 2-minute video was made and uploaded by a passerby. It went viral and she got calls from Bollywood reality shows. She was given a makeover and Himesh Reshammiya noticed her and gave her a chance to sing a song. Her daughter came back to her, Salman Khan gifted her 55 lack rupees flat in Mumbai. If this is not luck than what is? Reminds me of an old song
‘Bade pyar se milna subse, Na jane kis Bheis mein bhaiyya mil jaye bhagwan re.’
StoryMirror: You’ve been compared with Thomas Friedman, Dale Carnegie, and the likes. How do you feel about that?
Virender: Of course, it feels good when you are compared to the best in the field. The biggest satisfaction you get is that you are on the right track and people appreciate your work and, as I mentioned earlier, honour is more important than anything else. Writing is also a bit of a show business where you are exposed to the entire world. People read your books and if you get a resounding thumbs up from readers and media then what could be better than that? Media has been very kind to me and appreciated my work a lot. This gives encouragement to set new benchmark for yourself.
I feel Indian authors a decade ago didn’t get a good platform to market. Today, thanks to portals like Amazon, which have my books all across the world on all their portals. I am also lucky that my books are now also in several regional and foreign languages.
My books have been in a list of recommended books for competitive exams where authors like CSR Rao, Shashi Tharoor, Raghuram Rajan, CNR Rao, Shiv Shankar Menon, Karan Johar, Amritya Sen, Tavleen Singh, Arundhati Roy, Amitav Ghosh, Jairam Ramesh, Ramchandra Guha, Sudha Murthi, Aishwarya Rai, Ex Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan also are there.
StoryMirror: Your writings talk of a better world by being a better, able human being. But personally, would you consider yourself to be an Idealist or a realist?
Virender: I feel I am more of a realist because I believe in what I say and say only in what I believe- and I do that to a large extent. I practice what I preach. Yes there can be a few aberrations here and there but then no one is perfect. As long as you do good, think good for others, help others when are in a position to do so and abide by rules as a good citizen, I feel it makes you a good human being. We all falter sometimes but that is with everyone.
StoryMirror: Whom do you consider to be your personal inspiration as a Luminaire? What makes them that?
Virender: There are several people who influence you. These could be people whom you have interacted with in real life or read about them or they could be authors you read.
For Instance, there are two books by late Lee Iacocca who was fired from Ford and was taken by Chrysler and he turned around that company. He is so very straightforward and no-nonsense man that one can’t help but admire him and would like to emulate him - in fact, I did. I still remember one sentence from his book talking straight - “If a CEO cannot write his turnaround plan on one page, he needs to be fired.’ How true. You need to be brief, precise and should know exactly what you want and what you will do to make that happen. I have followed this all my life and that has helped me do things much more efficiently.
The other person is our PM Mr. Modi, I also wrote a book on him about his oratory skills “Speaking the Modi Way”.
This man is so much committed, wears his heart on his sleeve and is very courageous. He will not worry whether the decision will harm him politically or not. For him the national interest is of paramount importance. He has helped none of his relatives or friends and is clean like a whistle.
You can’t find any blemish against him. Most importantly he is absolutely clear-headed, works with absolute Common Sense and takes the bull by the horns and he does what he says. He is the man who every youth must aspire to be - at least to some extent. No wonder he has raised the respect of our nation manifold in the International arena. People say, why should you wear patriotism on your sleeve? I say, ‘why not?’ You must be a patriot and you must demonstrate you are one. Why all Americans are proud of flying their flag in front of their home? It is demonstrative patriotism.
StoryMirror: If you were to suggest some books in the self-help genre or any other genre, what would they be? Which books act as an inspiration to yourself, and which ones are your favourite as a piece of Literature?
Virender: As I mentioned, one is “Talking Straight’ by Lee Iacocca, which is inspirational. Read a couple of them of Dale Carnegie. I love reading Sidney Sheldon, read one book of Dan Brown, almost all of Ayn Rynd, Alistair MacLean, Durbar by Tavleen Singh, Danielle Steel, William L. Shirer, Agatha Christie and Leon Uris. I love reading contemporary history and about second world war. I am not much into literature, but I find books like Exodus and Mila 18 very touching
Grew up on comics, cartoons and James Hadley Chase and some old westerns.
StoryMirror: This is the sixth book of the series. You’ve mentioned that you intend to create a Life Skills Granth. Talking about these “luminaries”, can we expect more books in the series? Who do you have in mind?
Virender: As I mentioned earlier, I am doing a series of at least twenty ‘personality based, motivational and wisdom-oriented books.’ Each one will be a short classic and will talk about what you can learn from such luminaries from present and past.
My next book- seventh one- is on Stephen Hawking which talks about his brilliant achievements despite his failing health. It is unimaginable that a man could do all that with ALS right from the age of 21. Third book in the series is on Albert Einstein. These two were the greatest scientists of the world.
Resilience, the Hawking Way is slated to be released in October this year. I am sure that once these twenty books are there they will become ‘encyclopaedia of rich wisdom and a motivational content’ that will turn around every individual who goes through these. These could be kept as a prized possession on your personal book shelf. All these are coming in Marathi almost simultaneously. We are looking at Hindi and some other languages too. These will remain active for posterity.
I am currently working on Walt Disney and this should be out next year first quarter. Another master of his craft who will floor you with his work and dedication.
StoryMirror: What would be your message to the readers of this book?
Virender: This book is for you, regardless of whatever you do for living. Today, attention span has considerably reduced and therefore all the books in these series are between 140 to 200 pages. You should read this book slowly and if required mark your notes with pencil on the side of the page. Every chapter at the end has a chapter summary in a nutshell. Do read this to have a quick recap. I am of the opinion that if you can pick up ten good points from a book and implement seven out of them, you are sorted. You have got your money back - bang on perfect ROI. Read with an open mind and enjoy every word of it. You will love this because it has no jargons or jingoism but it is straight from my heart. I can promise that.
Cheers and happy reading.
You can find his works on various platforms. Here’s how you can grab his latest book, Winning The Chanakya Way: https://amzn.to/2Q1OI1B