Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov and Indecision

“Now or never” … ‘To be or not to be!'”—Oblomov raised himself from his chair a little, but failing to find his slippers with his feet at once, sat down again.”

― Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov

Ivan Goncharov was Russian novelist. He is known for his novels-  A Common Story, Oblomov, The Precipice etc.

Goncharov lived in era prior to Russian revolution. His was Russia of Tsars, noblemen and wealthy. But he was also critical of how wealthy Russians were living their lives. With plenty of serfs to do manual work, they just wasted life doing nothing.

“When you don’t know what you’re living for, you don’t care how you live from one day to the next. You’re happy the day has passed and the night has come, and in your sleep you bury the tedious question of what you lived for that day and what you’re going to live for tomorrow.”

― Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov

Goncharov describes one such wealthy but lazy landlord in this novel “Oblomov”. It is story of Ilya Ilyich Oblomov wealthy, lazy and indecisive landlord. Having lived a pampered life with dozens of servants to serve him, he loves to spend most of his time in bed, the laziness also makes his indecisive.

Due to his laziness and indecisiveness he starts losing his wealth to cheats like Taranteyev. His indecisiveness results in him losing Olga, a woman who loves him. His friend Andrey Stoltz ( who marries Olga) makes attempts to bring him into action mode, but Oblomov refuses to act.

To maintain status quo and to continue leading a lazy, inactive life he marries his landlady Agafia Pshenitsina, who takes care of him like a child. Finally, Oblomov dies in sleep.

Many CEOs suffer from Oblomovism, they don’t wish to disturb status quo, even when they feel like taking action, lethargy prevent them from doing anything.

“I once asked JRD why, when he was so tough on Air India, he did nothing about the abysmal standards at the Taj. “Because I would not know where to begin!” JRD replied.”

Bobby Kooka, Commercial Director, Air India

Even legends like JRD Tata had their Oblomov moments. For many years he did nothing about falling standards of Taj Hotel. When asked why he was not acting, he was candid enough to admit that he did not know where to begin. Later JRD Tata hired a manager called Ajit Kerker who transformed hotel and created world class chain of hotels.



Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and War Paint

“One was a Canadian who professed to be an American aristocrat. The other was a Jew from Krakow who professed to be lost Bohemian royalty. They both wanted a place in the American mythology of success.”

-Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune

Helena Rubinstein (born Chaja Rubinstein) was born in Karkow, Poland. To earn money, she left Poland and went to Australia. Women in Australia were impressed with her complexion and asked about what cream she used. Helena was born entrepreneur, she sold cream she had brought from Poland, and ordered some more from Poland. With this small beginning, she built cosmetics empire. She expanded her empire to USA. There she met her competitor Elizabeth Arden.

Elizabeth Arden (born Florence Nightingale Arden) , like Helena, belonged to a lower middle-class family. She was born in Woodbridge, Canada. Through sheer hard work she also built cosmetic empire.

“There are no ugly women, only lazy ones.”

 — Helena Rubinstein

 “Repetition makes reputation and reputation makes customers.”

– Elizabeth Arden

Both Helena and Elizabeth never met each other in life, but were competitors and competition was anything but healthy. They poached each other’s employees.

The eccentric cosmetics entrepreneur Helena Rubinstein once said of her rival, Elizabeth Arden, “With her packaging and my product, we could have ruled the world.”

Both wanted to get rid of their humble background, for this Helena married a poor Russian prince who was 23 years younger than her. Due to this marriage Helena could now use royal title. This made Elizabeth jealous she too married a person who claimed to be from royal family, but he turned out to be a fake prince.

“Royalty?  Chaja Rubinstein?  Her father pulled an egg car to the slums of Krakow!”

-Elizabeth Arden

Both were ruthless, ambitious and hardworking and created revolution in cosmetic industry.

“The best antidote to worry, I have always believed, is work and more work …”

— Helena Rubinstein

“I only want people around me who can do the impossible.”

– Elizabeth Arden

Lindy Woodhead a book on this rivalry called “War Paint”. This was converted into musical by Doug Wright, music by Scott Frankel, and lyrics by Michael Korie.

“Rubinstein died first, at ninety-three, in 1965; Arden followed, eighteen months later, at eighty-seven. For once…Elizabeth was happy to come in second.”

-Lindy Woodhead, author War Paint



Korean War, Cultural Revolution and Films

In each country, there are events that have significant impact of lives of its citizens ex. partition of India, Korean War, Chinese revolution etc.

Korea was ruled by Japan. After World War II both USSR and USA partitioned Korea and divided Korea into North Korea and South Korea. Just like partition of India it split families with some members in North Korea and rest in South Korea. Just like India and Pakistan, both the Koreas are sworn enemies of each other, making exchange of family members difficult.

One such film on partition of Korea is Ode to My Father.

Family of Deok-soo gets split during evacuation at Hungnam. While his father and his lost sister remain in North Korea, he with his mother and remaining siblings goes to South Korean city of Busan.

He works hard in South Korea, Germany and Vietnam to finance his brother’s education and sister’s marriage, and also to save his aunt’s shop. In Germany, he falls in love with a nurse Young-ja. They subsequently get married.

“Audiences who lived around the era in which Deok-soo lived will feel like that the movie is an ode to themselves and feel nostalgic and comfort.”

– Critic Kim Hyung-seok

Some years later he is able to meet his lost sister, who was adopted by American family, but he is never able to meet his father (once in TV program he gets chance to meet a person from North Korea, who like him was from Hungnam and who he feels could be his father, but when they meet they realise that they are not father and son.)

Finally, he decides to sell his aunt’s shop (the place where his father had promised to meet him when he joins them at Busan) as he is convinced that by now his father may not be alive.

“My father passed away when I was in college and I didn’t have a chance to say thank you. I hope the film serves as the channel for communication between the old and young generation.”

– Yoon Je-kyoon, director of Ode to My Father

Similarly, in China during Mao’s regime three significant events were – Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

Hundred flowers campaign started with giving freedom of speech to party members to speak about status of communist party, but ended with persecution of members who were critical of party.

The Great Leap Forward was supposed to make China a prosperous country, but it failed and resulted in great famine that killed millions of people. While cultural revolution resulted formation of Red Army consisting of young communist party members, who got rid of people who were critical of Mao.

Chinese film Blue Kite captures all these events. Blue Kite is about a boy Tietou and how these events impact his father, uncle and step father. Tietou is given a blue kite by his father, which in this film is metaphor for better days.

During Hundred Flowers Campaign, his father Lin Shaolong is betrayed by his colleagues and is declared rightist, he is sent to work camp, later his wife Chen Shujuan gets a letter that Lin got killed by falling tree.

His mother then marries his father’s colleague Li. Li feels guilty about betraying Lin and takes care of Tietou. Li’s health suffers due to scarcity of food during famine that results from Great Leap and he dies.

To survive Tietou’s mother marries a person called Lao Wu. But during cultural revolution, the Red Army attacks his family, in which Teitou is badly beaten by Red Army. While he is lying in pool of blood, it is told that his father died of heart failure, Chen Shujuan is sent to work camp while fate of Tietou is not known.

The film won awards, but it is banned in China.

“The stories in the film are real, and they are related with total sincerity. What worries me is that it is precisely a fear of reality and sincerity that has led to the ban on such stories being told.”

— Director of Blue Kite Tian Zhuangzhuang,

Lao She, Rickshaw Boy and Cultural Revolution

” Every cent he saved brought him that much closer to his goal of buying a new rickshaw. Not buying one was unthinkable, even if it was taken away from him the day after he got it. It was his ideal, his aspiration, almost his religion. He had no reason to live if he could not pull his own rickshaw . . . His talent was in pulling a rickshaw . . . not to do so would have been a disgrace.”

-Rickshaw Boy

Lao She (real name – Shu Qingchun) was Beijing born Chinese author. During his stay in England he was influenced by novel of Charles Dickens. His best-selling novel in western countries is “The Rickshaw Boy”. (original name of novel was Luotuo Xiangzi i.e. Xiangzi the Camel). Lao She was supporter of Chinese Communist Party. He tried to influence Chinese intellectuals against Japanese during Sino Japanese War.

“He wept silently. A rickshaw, a rickshaw had been his rice bowl. He’d bought one and lost it. He’d bought another and sold it. Time and again he’d reached up only to be thrown back, as by a ghostly apparition that forever eluded his grasp. He’d suffered so many hardships and wrongs, and yet had come up empty.”

-Rickshaw Boy

Rikshaw boy is story of rickshaw puller Xiangzi, who leaves his village to live in city of Beijing. He works for a man, Old Liu, who rents rickshaws. He also works privately for Chinese families, in one family the members compete with each other to exploit him, while other family of Confucius scholar Mr. Cao treats him well.

Story is set in period prior to communist China, during that period, China was in control of warlords. Xiangzi works hard to earn enough to buy rickshaw of his own, but when he buys his own rickshaw, he loses it to soldiers of warlord. But he escapes and takes with him 3 camels, which he sells to get money for rickshaw (hence the title-. Xiangzi the Camel).

Meanwhile he gets married to Liu’s daughter Hu Nui, but Hu Nui dies due to childbirth complications, he faces some more tragedies like getting his money confiscated, he falls in love with a prostitute Xiao Fuzi and wants to use money he has saved to rescue her, but before he can do that, she commits suicide.

“We sell our sweat,” an old rickshaw puller tells Xiangzi, “and our women have to sell their bodies.”

Circumstances make hardworking optimist Xiangzi a depressed, pessimistic individual.

While Lao She like Dickens he describes dark side of city life, unlike Dickens his novel doesn’t have a happy ending.

Coming back to Lao She, he was committed to communist ideology. But sometime during mid-sixties, Mao felt that this position was threatened. His attempts to improve agricultural and industrial economy of China had failed (called Great Leap Froward).

Mao lost his Mojo. To gain his Mojo, he first attacked India. India then under Nehru was committed to non-violence and its military was very weak. Secondly Nehru never thought that his “brothers” Chinese will attack India. War resulted in humiliating defeat for India and loss of territory.

Secondly, he asked committed workers to attack those who were enemies of communism. These workers formed Red Army and took law in its own hands. They attacked who they disliked, humiliated them, killed them, destroyed their property etc. Unfortunately, Lao She was labelled as traitor and attacked by Red Army, they publicly beat him. Unable to bear humiliation, Lao She committed suicide by drowning himself in a lake in Beijing.

Lao She was not only one to face humiliation, there were thousands of such Lao Shes. One such author was Ding Ling. One of the Ding Ling’s famous novel is  The Sun Shines Over Sanggan River. It is about bringing land reforms in village in North China. Novel won Stalin Prize.

Ding Ling was critical of how women were treated in communist party.  She wrote that Women were ridiculed if they focused on household duties, but also became the target of gossip and rumours if they remained unmarried and worked in the public sphere. Housewives were labelled as backward and were divorced by male cadres.

“When will it no longer be necessary to attach special weight to the word ‘woman’ and raise it specially?”

-Ding Ling

Mao did not like Ding Ling’s views and censured her. She was labelled as “rightist” and sent for forced labour during cultural revolution.



Karpman Triangle, Tehmina Durrani and Fakhra Younus

“I obeyed, but my crime was that I did not look obedient.”

― Tehmina Durrani, My Feudal Lord

Long long ago, in India, there existed a kingdom called Patiala. It was ruled by King Bhupinder Singh. He had many cars, many wives and concubines and had 88 children. This king had a prime minister called Liaqat Hayat Khan, who started his career as police officer in Patiala and later became head of police and subsequently prime minister. Post partition of India, he settled down in Pakistan.

His daughter Samina was married to a banker Shahkir Ullah Durrani, from whom she had a daughter called Tehmina.

“I found an inner strength to fight for myself. It was clear that nobody else would.”

― Tehmina Durrani, My Feudal Lord

Just like Bhupinder, on Pakistani side of Punjab there was a leader called Ghulam Mustafa Kar, who was called “Lion of Punjab”. Like Bhupinder he too married many times and has many children. One of his many wives was Tehmina.

Karpman triangle is interaction among victim, persecutor and rescuer. Roles are dynamic and keep changing as per the situation ex. victim may become persecutor.

Ghulam was a disciplined guy, so used to beat up his wives if they showed any sign of inefficiency. Tehmina too got sound thrashing from him whenever she made any mistake. After many thrashings and pregnancies, she decided to leave Ghulam and write her autobiography called “My Feudal Lord”.

“Mr Sethi continued to take all the earnings from my life story while I brought up five children without any financial support from their father.”

-Tehmina Durrani

So we had persecutor ( Ghulam) and victim ( Tehmina), the rescuer came in form of journalist Najam Sethi and his wife Jugnu Mohsin. Since Ghulam was a powerful guy, no publisher in Pakistan wanted to take risk of publishing the book. Najam and Jugnu owned publishing company called Vanguard books, they published My Feudal Lord. In her agreement with Jugnu, Tehmina promised her 50% share of foreign royalties.

“His ( Najam) actions were an even bigger case of hypocrisy than my experience with the feudal system”.

-Tehmina Durrani

But later there was dispute between Tehmina and Jugnu. Tehmina accused Jugnu of stealing her earnings from book, so now rescuer became persecutor. Finally an out of court settlement was made and it was later revealed that Najam and Jugnu were actually victims and accusations made by Tehmina were false.

Now coming back to Ghulam, he has son called Bilal Khar (one of his many children). Bilal fell in love with a girl called Fakhra Yonus and married her. Here history repeats itself, Bilal the persecutor started thrashing his wife Fakhra (victim), he then poured acid over her face. Rescuer came in form of his step mother Tehmina. Tehmina decided to help Fakhra and send her to Italy for treatment, Fakhra later committed suicide. Meanwhile no evidence was found against Bilal, so currently he is roaming free.

As an Indian, this does not shock me at all, I had read about many such cases of acid attack in India. Like Pakistan, India too has its share of Bilals and Fakhras.

He ( Nawaz) was heeding to “the most mediocre advisers” a leader could have chosen.

-Tehmina Durrani in her tweet

Meanwhile, Tehmina married politician Shahbaz Sharif. Shahbaz’s brother Nawaz was prime minister of Pakistan, but had to resign because of financial scandal. Tehmina was confident that Shahbaz will become next prime minister, but against fate put her in victim slot. Nawaz, the persecutor, made SK Abbasi next prime minister. Tehmina now has to wait for a rescuer.


Positive Psychology, Resilience and Daruma Doll

“If you’ve suffered a major failure, take the sage advice given by psychologist Martin Seligman in the HBR article “Building Resilience.” Talk to yourself. Give yourself a cognitive intervention and counter defeatist thinking with an optimistic attitude. Challenge your downbeat thinking and replace it with a positive outlook…

…What about bouncing back from the more frequent annoying screwups, minor setbacks and irritating upsets that are routine in any leader’s life? Resilience is, again, the answer”

-Daniel Goleman, expert on Emotional Intelligence

Martin Seligman, father of positive psychology gives an interesting example of two individuals who lost their jobs, but their response to job loss was different. One was resilient and worked hard to find another job, while other wallowed in self pity and did nothing about it.

Douglas and Walter, two University of Pennsylvania MBA graduates, were laid off by their Wall Street companies 18 months ago. Both went into a tailspin: They were sad, listless, indecisive, and anxious about the future. For Douglas, the mood was transient. After two weeks he told himself, “It’s not you; it’s the economy going through a bad patch. I’m good at what I do, and there will be a market for my skills.” He updated his résumé and sent it to a dozen New York firms, all of which rejected him. He then tried six companies in his Ohio hometown and eventually landed a position. Walter, by contrast, spiraled into hopelessness: “I got fired because I can’t perform under pressure,” he thought. “I’m not cut out for finance. The economy will take years to recover.” Even as the market improved, he didn’t look for another job; he ended up moving back in with his parents.

-Martin Seligman in HBR

Resilience plays a great role in bouncing back from failure. Psychology was earlier associated finding solution to those who suffered from mental problems. Later psychology got linked to success and thus emerged positive psychology. Martin Seligman, Daniel Goleman, Shelly Gable etc. have done lot of work in this area.

Shelly Gable has come up with framework on how one reacts to news- reaction could be constructive or destruction on one axis and passive or active on another axis.

Resilient are those who react to news with constructive and active framework. They appreciate success of others and what to know more on how they succeeded.

Those who are constructive and passive are laconic and have low energy level.

Those who are destructive and active try to dismiss efforts of others and spread negative energy, while those who are destructive and passive try to ignore and move to irrelevant topic.

In Japan, there is a toy called Daruma Doll, even when you try to knock it down repeatedly it will stand up every time. It is good metaphor for resilience.

“Nana korobi yaoki” (“fall down seven times, get up eight.”)

-Japanese saying