Alum Authors: An Atheist Gets The Gita – Rahul Singh, PGP 2015

Some books just make for a good read and some make you take a pause and ponder, Rahul Singh’s book An Atheist Gets The Gita is one such similar creation. Some call it beginners Gita and some call it Gita for the modern world with practical illustrations. I am rather sold to the author’s proposition of “change the way one looks at happiness” because as awakened beings we are vouching for happiness after all.

In conversation with Rahul Singh, where he talks about his journey as an author and gives us a glimpse into his world of books.

Please tell us something about yourself.

I am an author, advisor, and community builder. With the vision of connecting the 3Is – ideas, insights, and individuals, I initiated Gyanalogy – a platform to democratize wisdom. I am also serving as the current Principal of Corporate Advisory Group in IIM Udaipur, President of IIMB Alumni Association in Singapore, and Academic Council member at Jaipuria Institute of Management. Hailing from Ayodhya and brought up in Lucknow, I received a full scholarship to study B.Eng. (Honors) at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Singapore and later did my MBA from IIM Bangalore. I am deeply passionate about helping people find purpose, advocating conscious capitalism, and promoting cross-cultural understanding. I have authored several books on the purpose of life such as “You know the glory, not the story“, “From Engineering to Ikigai” and “An Atheist gets the Gita“.

Can you please tell us about your latest book – An Atheist Gets the Gita.

Will I be happy?

The answer to this question perhaps lies in the Bhagavad Gita. The ancient wisdom in the Bhagavad Gita touches upon many philosophical as well as management concepts that have been re-discovered independently much later in a piece-meal approach by several Western thinkers – from 18th century Kantian ethics to 20th century Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to 21st  century John Mackey’s Conscious Capitalism. An Atheist gets the Gita is an attempt to demystify the wisdom in the timeless text of Bhagavad Gita. The book presents rigorous and logical arguments on the expanse and limitations of science, definition of proofs, the dilemma of ethics, and finally what everlasting happiness means. The book delves into the essence of 𝑑ℎ𝑎𝑟𝑚𝑎, 𝑎𝑡𝑚𝑎, 𝑘𝑎𝑟𝑚𝑎, & 𝑦𝑜𝑔𝑎 with crystal clarity on their application in the modern world.

The book’s title is very interesting. What prompted you to write on this?

An Atheist gets the Gita is positioned as a dialogue between 25-year-old IIM MBA graduate Anveshak Jigyanshu, an investment banker in Singapore, as he meets his two-decade senior Charan Saket. Their conversation reminds the reader of the dialogue between Arjuna and Krishna. Anveshak, a self-proclaimed atheist, is mesmerized by the compelling arguments put forth by Charan as they both explore the world of science and its limitations, what proof means, the dilemma of ethics and finally, what real and everlasting happiness is. In a way, Charan explains the essence of the Bhagavad Gita. Slowly turning from a disbeliever to one who accepts logic, Anveshak discovers the key to his question. In a tightly gripping narrative, the authors gently persuade the reader to relook and understand the essence of the Bhagavad Gita in the modern world. Anveshak represents the modern intellectual who seeks happiness but does not want to follow anything blindly. This book will change the way one looks at happiness.

Who is this book for? What key takeaways can a reader take from this book?

The book is written for modern minds educated in the western Euro-centric pedagogy. Such a person while well versed in the scientific methods of logic and management frameworks tools is very unlikely to pick up the wisdom in ancient Indian scriptures.

Towards the end of the book, Gita reveals itself as the instructional manual for life explaining how a 𝑗𝑖𝑣𝑎’𝑠 (living entity) interaction with 𝑝𝑟𝑎𝑘𝑟𝑖𝑡𝑖 (material nature) in 𝑘𝑎𝑙𝑎 (time) is governed by the 𝑙𝑎𝑤𝑠 𝑜𝑓 𝑘𝑎𝑟𝑚𝑎 (causal law) designed by 𝐼𝑠ℎ𝑣𝑎𝑟𝑎 (Supreme Controller).

With 3 books published and some on the way, it wouldn’t be wrong to call you a serial author. How did you get into writing? What sparked the writing bug?

As with everything in life, it was a journey. In Feb 2019, I felt I should write on topics that concern Millennials. I didn’t know of any other platform so I began writing weekly on LinkedIn. My first article got about 300 views, the second article got a thousand views, and before I reached my 10th article I was getting 30,000-40,000 views per post. My articles got picked up by management institutions which began calling me for guest lectures and seminars. This gave me confidence that what I write is of value to readers. Writing books came as a natural progression.

What’s your favourite written work and why?

An Atheist gets the Gita. This book is a culmination of all that I have learnt and experienced so far! In fact, it seems my whole life has conspired in such a way that I was destined to write this book – be it my love for physics, becoming an accidental banker, or meeting the people I did in my life. Despite hailing from Ayodhya, I had never opened any Indian scripture in India. On contrary, my co-author Dr. Galyna Kogut, despite being born in an officially atheist country USSR chanced upon a photocopy of a smuggled underground typewritten crudely translated Bhagavad Gita in her quest for “Who am I, why am I here, what is the purpose of this life”. Independent of this, my own interest in the Bhagavad Gita stemmed after my MBA, in looking for ethical ways of doing business that doesn’t destroy the planet or bring despair to people in pursuit of profit. Despite very different journeys, one stemming from self-enquiry and the other from economic-enquiry, our paths crossed in Singapore and An Atheist gets the Gita was born.  

I had known Dr. Kogut for more than a decade when a serendipitous discussion on karma led to us collaborating on a series of lectures on the Bhagavad Gita. These lectures later culminated into the book. As luck would have it, incidentally I had been married to Dr. Galyna Kogut for 10 years blatantly unaware of the Indian scriptures she had translated from English to Eastern European languages. Talk of darkness under the lamp!

What have been your learnings from, your experience, as a writer/ author?

कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन । मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥

I had submitted the manuscript to the publisher in November 2020. I was promised the book would come out in April 2021. Then came the second wave of COVID and I was told it is pushed to July. Then I was told it will be out in Deepavali. Deepavali came and went. This ever-changing date made me imbibe Bhagavad Gita 2.47 कर्मण्येवाधिकारस्ते मा फलेषु कदाचन । मा कर्मफलहेतुर्भूर्मा ते सङ्गोऽस्त्वकर्मणि ॥ – you are only entitled to your effort, you don’t know when or if at all the efforts will bear fruits, hence focus on the effort. Together with Dr. Galyna Kogut, I wrote the book but seeing it published was not in our control. Most of the time in life, we worry too much about the things we can’t control while totally ignoring the things we can influence. One can influence effort but one cannot control the result. While setting a goal is important, once the goal is set one needs to focus on the process. Abhyasa with a total bairaga to the result is the key to happiness.

What other interests do you pursue in your free time?

Besides writing, I enjoy reading encyclopedias, and love meeting people. If I had all the time in the world, I would meet all the 7.9 billion people in the world to see how our lives are so connected to each other.

Any memories or instances at IIMB you would like to share.

As an international student at IIM Bangalore away from my family, my MBA journey was tough. When I was studying PGP at IIM Bangalore, my wife was enrolled in Ph.D. at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, and our 10-month-old son was in Ukraine with his grandparents. My son never visited the campus but my wife came down to see me in IIM Bangalore between my Term 2 and Term 3 break of the PGP course in December 2013. That was sweet. We both then continued our onwards journey to meet our son in Ukraine. One day we hope to return to campus with the entire family.