Dylan Won!

Iconic singer, songwriter, artist, and most importantly, writer, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday. The honour, for “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition,” seemed to have created divided opinions.

Whilst there is no dearth of people ecstatic at the news of Dylan winning the Nobel, there are also many who are beyond annoyed that the Committee has extended the literature category this year to include songwriting, which I believe is indeed a brilliant form of art in its own right.

The Nobel Committee has clearly understood the phenomenon that is Bob Dylan. His work is prescient – addressing opening political and social issues. By bringing attention to his work now, the Committee has encouraged a whole new generation to listen to his powerful opinions especially at a time when the current world scenario indicates a perilous rise of racist, misogynist, and to an extent fascist forces, especially in the United States of America.

The truth is, most song lyrics don’t really hold up without the music simply because they are not supposed to but Bob Dylan is one of those few songwriters whose lyrics are just as magical on paper as they are when accompanied with the harmonica, guitar and of course, his distinctive voice.

Anyone who doubts that Dylan is not a writer or that songwriting is not a form of art should read his memoir, “Chronicles”, which proves that he is indeed a scholar and master of multiple genres.

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Favourite songs!

Lastly, for those who still believe Bob Dylan didn’t deserve the honor, perhaps “the times they are a-changing.”

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Vande Mataram

On 18 July  2016, I had the distinct privilege of meeting Mr. Pranab Mukherjee, President of the Republic of India.

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Humbled to be standing beside the First Citizen of India

My meeting with the President was with regard to the work I had done with little children in the India-Bangladesh border and a couple of other community service initiatives taken up by me.

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Presenting the President with the details of the work done by me

Stepping inside the magnificent edifice of the Rashtrapati Bhavan – the official residence of the President was absolutely surreal. Walking through the hallowed corridors of the Rashtrapati Bhavan with paintings of great Indian men and women like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Sarojini Naidu adorning the walls, stepping into rooms named after patriotic Indians like Tagore and Vivekananda, and standing before the mighty Indian Flag in the President’s office instilled in me a sense of patriotism that had perhaps become slightly rusty over the years.

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Rashtrapati Bhavan in all its glory

Over the years, I had spent so much time focusing on all that my country was failing to achieve that I had completely neglected to appreciate all that it had achieved over the course of the last seventy years. Despite the disadvantages we started with, we have emerged as a force to be reckoned with. Whether it is in the field of science where India has made its mark through the various ISRO projects, in the field of arts where personalities like Satyajit Ray and Ravi Shankar have earned global recognition or in the field of sports where India has produced athletes like Sachin Tendulkar and Deepa Karmakar, who is currently making us very proud in the Rio Olympics. As other nations are only just opening up to the idea of female leaders and politicians, India stands proud having had both a female President and Prime Minister. We are now on our way to become the world’s third largest economy and if we have been able to do that in just seventy years, I cannot possibly fathom what more we can achieve in the next seventy or even thirty-five years.

I sincerely appeal to all fellow Indians, especially the youth to not idle away this day. We should remember that we are enjoying the fruits of the seeds sown by our forefathers – people who sacrificed their lives fighting for us. So, let us strive to be Indians worth fighting for. Be proud of who you are, not just for today. Make every day that you call this country your home count.

Arabic Zeal

It had to be a vacation with an aftertaste that would linger for long; so, for some much needed sand and saltwater therapy, I decided to vacation at Abu Dhabi earlier this month. My flight landed at 1 AM and by the time I reached the hotel, all my preconceived notions about this city had been annihilated. The airport was not swarming with people; the airport staff was extremely helpful (my luggage had been accidentally put on its merry way to Cairo), the streets were not buzzing with cars and the people were not noisily chatting in the hotel lobby! It was indeed a pleasant surprise since I was convinced that Abu Dhabi was going to be Dubai’s twin-alive, noisy and bustling 24×7.

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Abu Dhabi-Sparkling with all its enchantment 

Abu Dhabi was nothing like Dubai; it was warm and amicable. One could strike up a conversation with just about anybody- whether it was the hotel employee Waheeda, a South African, who shared with me her dream of setting up a salon back home or Mohammad, a Pakistani taxi driver, who told me just how excited he was to return home later this year to meet his family.

Whilst it was very hard to pull myself away from the beach, there was so much to see and do in Abu Dhabi that the five days I had were just not enough. Of course I visited the “must see” places at Abu Dhabi- Ferrari World, the beautiful Sheikh Zayed Mosque, where I had to put on an abaya in order to be appropriately dressed to visit the mosque and the Zayed National Museum, where I saw the works of some phenomenal photographers.

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At the Sheikh Zayed Mosque

But whenever I do visit a new place, I like to discover the obscure places-those that are never mentioned when you Google “places to visit in x” or “things to do in x” like this fascinating bookshop called Thrift Books off Hamdan Street, where one could find just about every book under the sun or this little gaming arcade called Fun Times located along the Corniche.

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Jackpot!

I am afraid I didn’t have enough time to discover all the secrets of Abu Dhabi but I shall definitely discover them all the next time I am there.

If you have any questions about Abu Dhabi or my holiday, shoot me an email at rucheka.blog@gmail.com. I’ll be happy to answer your questions.

 

This Mission is Possible

I was elected as the Student Ambassador for the World Federation of United Nations Associations (WFUNA) late last year. After a lot of paperwork and emails galore explaining my responsibilities to me, I was given my first couple of assignments in February.

Owing to this new responsibility bestowed upon me, I found myself in Sreenidhi International School, Hyderabad in the second week of April. The school was participating in WFUNA’S semester-long program for high schools interested in global citizenship-Mission Possible. All of us think about doing something for our community at one time or the other-organizing a cleanliness drive, educating the underprivileged and so on and so forth but Mission Possible actually helps students to implement their ideas so that they can play their part in making this world a better place.

In the two-day conference that we had organized in Hyderabad, we saw students passionately discussing their project ideas with each other. They talked about the obstacles that stood in their way and how they could overcome them. Intense and fruitful discussions on how each group could truly make a difference were carried out.

From the students of Gitanjali who wanted to establish libraries in government schools to the students of Meridian Madhavpur who had started an anti-bullying campaign in their school, each one of them made me believe that the world envisaged by the 2030 Agenda for Change is not a far-off dream anymore.

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With the Treasurer of WFUNA, Organizers and Students

By the end of April I found myself in Agra for what has turned out to be my favorite event of the year-WFUNA’S International Model United Nations (WIMUN).

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There is nothing I can say about WIMUN that I haven’t already said before. Whether I attend the conference as a delegate or as the President of the General Assembly, it always gives me that same sense of belonging. It is WIMUN that gives me the opportunity to have conversations with Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations and Dr. Kiran Bedi, Former Director General of Police in India, Social Activist and Politician. It is WIMUN that always leaves me with an unparalleled sense of gratitude-gratitude for the experience I have had, people I have met and the lessons I have learnt. Lastly, it is WIMUN that gives me hope-hope that as long as we all have a common goal, we can master it.

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With Dr. Kiran Bedi, Former Director General of Police in India, Social Activist and Politician

Serving as the Student Ambassador for WFUNA allows me to be a small part of an organization whose purpose I so strongly believe in and with the help of individuals who share our dream of a better, more peaceful world, this Mission is indeed Possible.

I am currently on a summer break from school and will be heading to my holiday destination in a couple of days. I look forward to meeting new people, having fascinating conversations and telling you all about it. Until next time!

 

Fighting the Blank Page

As an absolute workaholic, my transformation into a complete procrastinator whilst I am trying to write has always bemused me. In the course of writing this one blog post, I have checked my e-mail approximately 150 times, refilled my coffee cup thrice, contemplated flying to the States to give Mr. Trump the swift kick that he has been so ardently asking for, replied to texts that I had no intention of replying to and had a full fledged conversation with Siri on the meaning of life.

Most people procrastinate but it is a more common phenomenon as far as writers are concerned. It is peculiar too because unlike those people who may not like the work they are doing, we writers love our work-we love to write, which is what makes our urge to procrastinate so outlandish.

After much thought (and procrastination), I have reached a conclusion with some help from David Ulin as to why we writers tend to procrastinate: it’s the stress of having to fill up a blank page or a blank Microsoft document-it’s the stress of having to create something from scratch.

“It’s folly, what we do, if you think about it-to make something out of nothing, to spin a story or an argument, to ask a reader to give up his or her time and share with us a fantasy, a dream, a conversation, to seize the moment (for a moment) and try to hold it before it slips away”.

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Fighting the glaring blank page.

Hence, instead of putting ourselves through the misery mentioned above, we seek refuge in procrastination and although, non-writers will most definitely find my next comment absolutely bizarre, writers often get inspired whilst procrastinating. It is only when we are cleaning our bookshelves or admiring our vinyl collection that we are greeted by the inspiration we were so desperately looking for.

At the cost of sounding like I am advocating the act of procrastination, we hardly ever find inspiration when we’re looking for it. Inspiration has a way of sneaking up on us and catching us off guard and I guess that’s the beauty of it.

There’s Still Hope

Model United Nations is one activity that has grown massively in scale since its inception more than 70 years ago. Over 200,000 students around the world are a part of the Model United Nations community primarily because they believe that the United Nations is our one great hope for a peaceful and free world. As a student who yearns for peace and believes in all that the United Nations does, WFUNA International Model United Nations 2015 was indeed a life changing experience.

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For me, the thrill of it all was being inside the United Nations Headquarters-inside the General Assembly-a place where history is made everyday. Sure I was enthusiastic to meet like-minded people from around the world and debate over issues I am passionate about but my enthusiasm to see all the UN officials inside the UNHQ was unparalleled.

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Inside the United Nations Headquarters, General Assembly, New York.

Being in the same room as Cristina Gallach, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information and Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, made me realize that the United Nations is still the best instrument for making the world less fragile.

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With the United Nations Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, WFUNA staff and UNDPI officials.

From workshops conducted by UNDPI officials we had prior to the committee sessions that annihilated our misconceptions about Model United Nations to the committee sessions aimed at achieving consensus, WIMUN’15 redefined Model United Nations for the 700 students present at the conference.

Although, visiting New York and meeting incredible people from around the world are some of the reasons that made WIMUN’15 unforgettable, the primary reason why I will never stop ranting about these five days of my life is because these five days have made me realize that there is still hope. Even in the midst of terrorism, discrimination and all things bad, there is still hope. When I was inside the General Assembly in the United Nations Headquarters, I looked around me and realized that more than ever before in human history, the youth of the world shared a common goal-the goal to truly “heal the world and make it a better place”. WIMUN’15 made me realize that if like-minded people from around the world unite, wonderful things can and will happen.

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With the Secretary and fellow delegates. “As long as we all have a common goal, there is still hope.”

 

Oh, New York!

Among the many interesting things that happened this November, my visit to New York was definitely the highlight. Since, I was in New York to attend the World Federation of United Nations Association’s (WFUNA’s) flagship Model United Nations, the original plan was to write about my experience at the conference but one doesn’t simply visit New York and then not write an entire blog post on the city that never sleeps.

The duration of my journey from India to New York was a good 19 hours. I had mentally prepared myself for the worst jetlag of my life and was set to hit the hay the second I checked in to the hotel. But the ride from JFK to Grand Central Station was enough to get rid of any jetlag. The city was bustling and alive even at midnight-doing its own thing and striving for perfection, surprisingly just the way it is portrayed in films. When you’re in a city like that, sleep packs its bags and leaves.

The thing is, there is something in the air of this concrete jungle that makes sleep useless. There is something in the air of New York City that make you want to achieve whatever it is that you want to. It simply stuns you and leaves you thinking and wondering for hours.

Perhaps, it is the nonchalance of this city and its people, or the fact that every single person here is looking for something-love, success, action, the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie or themselves and is willing to do whatever it takes to find it.

Or perhaps, it is simply the indifference and cruelty of this city-something you realize the minute you step foot on the soil of New York. She is not hospitable; her arms won’t reach out to comfort you. She is unsympathetic. She may come across as lively, but that’s merely a façade. She is simply noisy, bustling and ambitious. She is ugly, the climate is a nightmare and the competition is murderous. But despite that, one loves her. One loves New York just the way she is; it is as simple and as complicated as that.

Why, you might ask, will one love someone so unfeeling?

Perhaps, it’s the sense of belonging she unknowingly gives everybody irrespective of whether you’ve been here five minutes or five years. She makes us realize that we are not alone in our quest for whatever it is that we are looking for.

Perhaps, it’s because one belongs to New York instantly.

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I will be writing about my very exciting WFUNA International Model United Nation’s experience in the next post. Stay tuned for it!

Photo credits to the incredible Renee Fostiropoulos!

Kolkata’s Passions and their Legacy

For years Kolkata’s origin has been associated with Job Charnock, the East India Company trader who arrived on the banks of River Hooghly in 1690 and bought the three villages Gobindapur, Sutanuti and Kalikata and merged them together to form “Calcutta”.

Kolkata, previously known as Calcutta is a city that spells dichotomy-loved by some and dismissed by others. You may call it a dying city but there are others who label it the “City of Joy”. This city has an aura of its own and no matter which part of the world you belong to, this city and its people with their unmatchable warmth will make you feel at home.

Even after having lived in this city for a little more than a decade, I am still intrigued by its beauty. It remains an enigma to me till date. It puzzles newcomers and arouses an abiding nostalgia in the minds of those who have been here. This city is alive and throbbing. The people are passionate about everything. This city has an undying legacy and there is so much to be said about this place that a couple hundred words are just not enough but I will try my best.

Here’s an A to Z (literally) of Kolkata’s very own passions and legacies.

A-Adda. There is no substitute for the word “adda” in English or any other language perhaps. Or even if there is, I am not sure it would convey the essence of the word. A quintessential Kolkatan loves adda and engages in it every now and then, the time constraint of modern times notwithstanding. A person visiting Kolkata will go back with this word added to his/her limited Bangla vocabulary and several cups of tea that his digestive system would have had to bear while engaging in adda.

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B-Books. It would be an understatement to say that this city has a passion for the written word. Boi Mela or Book Fair is in every aspect a festival. Even though books sales are dipping due to Internet accessibility, the old and the young flock there to leaf through books and soak in its intoxicating smell. And yes, for the round-the-year book fair, one has only to go to the bookstalls that dot on the College Street pavement where they may chance upon a rare book and if you are really lucky, it may also come at half the price since it’s second hand!

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C-Coffee House. Coffee House exists in College Street although “Coffee House shei adda ta ar nei” (Adda at Coffee House is no more). For the uninitiated, this is a famous song by Manna Dey in which he speaks of his nostalgic adda at the Coffee House.

Trivia 1: The two floors at Coffee House are fondly referred to as House of Commons and House of Lords.

Trivia 2: Several Presidency College luminaries initiated their intellectual meanderings at a corner table here.

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D-Durga Pujo. One just cannot take away the spirit of pujo from the Kolkatans. With shopping to do, pandals to hop and competitions to participate in, every Kolkatan looks forward to this time of the year for their very own reason.

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E-Eggroll or paneer roll? Nowhere else in the country can you get a sumptuous “maida” wrapped roll at a price point of maximum Rs. 35/- Young Kolkatans are also releasing healthy varieties of the same replacing “maida” with wholegrain.

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F- Football is a passion of every Kolkatan. Supporters of Mohan Bagan and East Bengal still clash over their matches and leave many injured. In fact, a football match has the potential to bring about major law and order problems!

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G-Ghats. Kolkata is truly the City of Ghats. Although, all the ghats are not as beautiful as one would like them to be, a stroll by the ghats of Hooghly make you see the real Kolkata as if insulated from all the trappings of modern life.

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H-Howrah Bridge. One can go on and on about this majestic bridge that is considered to be one of the busiest in the world.

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I-Ilish or Chingri? Fish fry of which shop is the best in Kolkata can trigger off a verbal duel!

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J-Jhalmuri. I am perfectly convinced that Jhalmuri (savory puffed rice) was discovered by accident. I mean, how could a rational mind think that mixing chopped vegetables, peanuts, spices, sprouts and a lot of puffed rice would produce one of the most decdent snacks ever?

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K-Kumartuli is not only the abode of artisans making clay models of various Gods and Goddesses but also an interesting place which has been extensively photographed by veterans like Raghu Rai to budding amateurs.

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L-Langcha. This sweetmeat is something every Kolkatan has craved at least once in their lifetime.

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M-Mother Teresa is Kolkata’s pride. But if there is a Mother Teresa, there is also a Sarada Ma, wife of Ramakrishna for the larger number of devotees.

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Mother Teresa (left) and Sarada Ma

N-Nandan-the cultural hub in the heart of the city with its auditoriums and venues for film festivals draws large crowds and displays a Kolkatan’s passion for films.

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O-Occasions. It is said that Bengali’s have “Baro mase tero parbon” (Thirteen festivals in twelve months.) All the Kolkatan’s need is an excuse to celebrate!

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P-Phuchka. This is what a Kolkatan craves on a hot summer day, a rainy day, a gloomy day, basically any day! Mind you, this is not the same as pani puri or any other attempted variant across the country!

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Q-Quest. It seems as though a Kolkatan is always on a quest for more knowledge. They’re on a quest to learn more and take in everything that this world has to offer.

R-Rabindranath Tagore abounds everywhere. Kolkatans swear by him and he is fondly called “Gurudev”. He is not just Kolkata’s obsession; he is the nation’s obsession.

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S-Singing. This is something every Kolkatan is fond of regardless of whether he/she can sing or not but a majority of Kolkatans do have the gift of voice since birth. In fact, if you go about visiting houses in Kolkata, you will find that there is an aspiring singer in almost every house!

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T-Trams. Yes, there are still people who favor this slow moving transport. Senior citizens particularly prefer this and promptly veto its withdrawal.

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U-Uttam Kumar-the man widely regarded as the greatest actor of Bengali cinema.

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V-Victoria Memorial is an instance of the city’s colonial past. The city’s colonial past is lamented by every Kolkatan but Kolkata being the ardent lover of art and culture, never fails to appreciate the beauty of the Victoria Memorial.

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W-Water logging and wading through water has been a routine feature in the monsoons since time immemorial.

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X-*X-mas on Park Street. This street is lit up and men in red coats and hats with white beards are seen everywhere and the sound of carols fill the air. This street that will never fail to give one a glimpse of the British times, acquires an uninterrupted festive mood.

*Christmas. Desperate need to fill in something in for the letter X compelled me to say X-mas. Sincere apologies.

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Y-Yesterday’s Capital. This glorious city is not only a favorite today but also was a favorite back in 1793.

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Z-Zoo. The zoo, particularly in winters, between Christmas and New Year draws enthusiastic crowds from all over the country. 04272010115536

At the end of the day, as cliché as this may sound, it is true that you can take a Kolkatan out of Kolkata, but you can never take Kolkata out of that person.

“If you want a city with a soul, come to Kolkata.”

Disclaimer: The pictures used are not mine. Credits go to their respective owners.

Tennis Starts With Love

I am an athlete and my sport is tennis. For me this sport isn’t about swinging a racquet with all my strength to get a ball on my opponent’s side of the court. It is about the person it has shaped me into. This sport has taught me that at the end of the day, I’m on my own. When I am exhausted, I won’t have anybody to fall back on. There is nobody who can make up for the mistakes I’ve made. No one is going to push me when all I want to do is stop. It is all up to me.

Every athlete needs someone to inspire him/her and as a tennis player, who better to look up to for inspiration than the legendary Roger Federer. The man, who has taken tennis to a whole new level, holds seventeen Grand Slam titles, seven Wimbledon titles and has ranked World No. 1 for 302 weeks. But there is more to him than his trophies and mere numbers. Roger Federer is the man who has an exceptional conduct both on and off the court. He is a compassionate philanthropist. He epitomizes the words humility and graceful. This man “fears no one and respects everyone”. He is an inspiration to millions around the world including myself.

I strive to be more like him every day and every day my love and respect for this sport increases. This sport has constantly pushed me past my mental and physical limits and has helped me achieve what I never thought I could. This sport has become a part of my life and it’s impossible to imagine life without it.

This is why even when I am running around from one corner of the court to the other, completely out of breath, I hit the ball with all the strength I can muster. My love for this glorious sport is why I hit those down the line passing shots even when the sweat is pouring into my eyes and the sun is glaring down and burning my skin, why I wake up for those early morning winter practices, why I hit cross court passing shots until the blisters in my hand bleed, why I run laps even after training for hours, why I hit baskets of serves until my shoulder begs me to stop, why the voice in my head constantly says “One More” and why I oblige.

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Book Review in One Blog Post

“The bad economist sees only what immediately strikes the eye; the good economist also looks beyond. The bad economist sees only the direct consequences of a proposed course; the good economist looks also at the longer and indirect consequences. The bad economist sees only what the effect of a given policy has been or will be on one particular group; the good economist inquires also what the effect of the policy will be on all groups.”

These few lines, taught me more about the “good economist” that any other article, blog post or book ever has and Henry Hazlitt does have a way of simplifying the most complicated things.

Abbreviated review: Please stop reading my book review, and go read “Economics in One Lesson” instead.

I have read a number of books on Economics but nothing compares to Henry Hazlitt’s “Economics in One Lesson: The Shortest & Surest Way to Understand Basic Economics” and the title of this book is anything but misleading.

Now, I will not lie to you and say that Economics is an easy subject. It’s not. But I have never found Economics easier than I now do. Hard facts, solid research, multiple viewpoints and well-written examples combined with Hazlitt’s way of simplifying the most complicated Economic theories, makes this book a tour de force.

“Economics is haunted by more fallacies than any other study known to man”, said Hazlitt and I couldn’t agree more. In his book, he takes up one fallacy after the other and annihilates the hollow foundation on which it rests. He does this, not with the help of elaborate examples or complicated theories but through the use of sheer logic. His witty remarks can make one “laugh out loud”. Literally.

For a book that was written in 1946, it is astonishingly relevant in today’s world. Without giving much away, I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in knowing more about the subject and if you are an Economics student and plan on reading just one book this year, make sure it’s this one.

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Disclaimer: The picture used is not mine and the credit goes to the respective owner.