Friday, April 06, 2012

The Difficulty of Being Good by Gurcharan Das - Book Review

After a long time spent in reading mediocre books, I was searching for an ideal book to revive my reading habit. This fantastic book, "The Difficulty of Being Good - On the Subtle Art of Dharma" by Gurcharan Das, was recently released as a part of low-priced popular Penguin initiative. Gurcharan Das was an Ex-CEO of Procter & Gamble India. He took an early retirement to concentrate more on his literary contributions. He is mostly known for his other famous book called "India Unbound" which promotes capitalistic ideals of modern India. Though I started reading "India Unbound" inspired by his book on Dharma, it did not impress me much.

The book, "The Difficulty of Being Good", landed me in a whole new world of Dharma (being good or perfect, roughly) and its various implications as suggested through various incidents in the Indian epic Mahabharata. After 6 years of research reading Mahabharata, Gurcharan Das has indeed delivered a masterpiece. Though there are various versions of Mahabharata and its commentary are prevalent, I have never seen such an in-depth analysis of the major incidents of Mahabharata. I was not mature enough to understand the epic completely when it was shown in Doordarshan long back.

The beauty of this book is that one can directly read this book without having ever come close to hearing about this Indian epic. Gurcharan Das, in particular focuses on 2 types of Dharma in the epic called 'Sva-Dharma' (perfectness based on oneself and his/her tradition) and 'Sadharana Dharma' (perfectness which is universally accepted). Different Mahabharata characters like Yudhishtra, Arjuna, Karna, Krishna, Duryodhana, Dhridharashtra, Drowpadi, etc. are used as tools to explain the intricacies of the Dharma. It might be a spoiler, but I can't resist admiring how Das primarily employs Yudhishtra to explain the different phases of Dharma one has to go through in real life.

Even a person well versed with Mahabharata will find this book full of wisdom he/she has never learnt before. I am amazed how the tricky incidents of Mahabharata are being repeated in various forms often in this modern world. Another extra-ordinary attempt by Das is that he does not view this epic as a Hindu religious book, thereby avoiding biased religious views from affecting the perfect understanding of the Dharma as illustrated in the Mahabharata. I strongly recommend this book for anyone in this world who would like to delve into the world of Dharma and the practice of it in everyday life. I enjoyed every page of this book thoroughly. A Must Read.


gayatri said...

Would you recommend having read the Mahabharata before reading this book ?

Shanmuganathan Raman said...

@gayatri No need. This book itself provides a synopsis of Mahabharata.

Eswaran said...

I am currently reading this book,as you rightly said there is no previous reading of the epic is required and infact it is helpful in understanding Mahabharatha having not read earlier.However I find the book more bulky,and may not be of interest to lukewarm reader.

bhaumik shiroya said...

Recently i finished this book. I must tell you that everyone has read this book once a time, so that possiblity is that like no need to read "BHAGAVAT GITA". Next day i'll going to give a presentaion on this book at my collage.

M Ghalib said...

The book is written in the fashion of a treatise, researched, and with relevant references, to improve the reading experience. It is not a start-to-end un-put-down-able book. It takes a while for the finer aspects and details to sink in. So do not try to breeze thru trying to cull information, as bullet-points of learning. This is not a book meant for the Blackberry and Galaxy Tab generation, whose knowledge of theology, and adherence to customs and traditions, is as superficial as dew on blades of grass.
Absorb the essence of the book, and let it be a reference point for why we have 3G and internet, but very shallow personal communication. We have choice to include everyone in the mailing list but hardly any team-spirit in projects. This book will show you that the reasons were expressed half-a-million years ago, but we still lack its inclusion in our approach to daily life.

Anu Anand said...

Hi Shanmuga, was going through your blog..insightful book reviews. However I don't see much activity lately related to book reviews. Would like to have couple of our books reviewed..would you be interested?

Anu Anand
Wisdom Village

Rahul said...

In this world of Kaliyuga,the author shows and asks us through the Mahabharata that what is dhrma nad why be good.The research and content are very good.Some words and lines just strike the heart of thought.That is a rare thing today.Hats off to Gurucharan Das for showing the new India what it has forgotten.