Johnny George is eating lunch in an upmarket Deira hotel and discussing how, at the age of 70, he’s written and self-published a book which he hopes will eventually propel him into the minds of a wide audience.
George hails from Kerala and moved to Dubai in 1985, witnessing the city’s growth from camels to crowded city of the future. Now he’s using his past experiences as the inspiration for his self-published self-help book.
He runs an advertising, marketing and publishing business, Admas, that used to put out International Malayali or IM magazine – a monthly publication written by and produced for Keralans around the GCC – before, as he puts it, "the recession did for it". IM hasn't been discontinued, he later clarifies, rather it has merely been "suspended" until more favourable conditions return to the economy. For the moment he is concentrating on promoting his debut book and preparing to write several more.
You Are Worth Less Than Your Car, published via his own Johnny George Publishing imprint, was three years in the writing ("It was easy in the end, in the beginning it was hard," he says of the process) and arrives with the words "this book will change your life and the way you think" confidently emblazoned on its stark black back cover. The book is accompanied by a website of the same name.
The general point that Lexus RX330-driving George seeks to make in his pages is that many of us fret over any problem that manifests itself in the car we drive and will rush to get it fixed. Yet we are often unlikely or reluctant to consult a doctor when our own bodies throw up similar maintenance issues.
“You take your car for regular check-ups. It is cleaned regularly. You want others to admire your car. Can you say this about your body?”
Continuing the analogy, George says that “the fact of the matter is we don’t pay the same attention to our car as to ourselves”. If your car gets scratched in a car park, he says, then one is likely to get annoyed and get it fixed, while if you suddenly develop a small ache or pain in your body, the chances are you’ll ignore it and hope it goes away.
“After a certain age,” he says “we are all supposed to see a physician every six months, but how many people do that? We don’t, and we don’t maintain our bodies as well as our cars.”
This line of argument is largely secondary to the book’s central suggestion that our brains are like PCs equipped with “incomparable power”. But, and there is a but, “like your PC, viruses constantly attack your brain. These viruses encroach upon the areas of the pre-loaded softwares [in your brain], and reduce their power”.
What sort of viruses? “Depression. Laziness. Fear or lack of confidence. Lethargy. Worry. Anxiety. Jealousy. Negative thoughts. Various kinds of phobias. Frustration. Disappointments. Arrogance. Lies. Insecurity. Egotism. Deception. Procrastination. Absent-mindedness,” he writes in the book. But the principal “virus” he identifies is anger.
Diagnosis is only half the battle. George’s prescription is for each one of us to put anger into a mental folder and delete it.
“We are all so quick to anger,” he tells me calmly. “I say just delete that feeling. It happens. Why do you have to suffer for someone else’s actions?”
George unravels this argument over more than 200 pages using an occasionally charming narrative format of a father offering his son the benefits of his acquired wisdom (the author is the father of two grown-up sons).
His chapters drip with pithy, preppy one-liners like “the brain can make miracles happen if you want to” and “the best way to predict your future is to create it”.
In one scenario he talks about what to do with a grumpy boss, a situation most inhabitants of the modern workplace will be familiar with.
“Avoid him for a couple of hours, if you can,” he writes. “You have a powerful brain. Mentally delete him and block his thoughts. And see how good you feel.”
If this particular passage is more about telling than showing – as indeed large parts of the book are – then it does make the point that “quite often we are dependent on others for our happiness. If you are depending on others to make you happy, they can also make you unhappy … happiness is a mental process. It emanates from your brain. So why go elsewhere? Command your brain to make you happy.”
George says he has long been practising what he preaches, commanding and controlling his brain, "especially about deleting anger, and I have been very, very successful". Expanding on this theme, George says he rarely gets angry now, swapping that emotion for indifference. His journey from businessman to published author follows a path familiar to many.
“I always wanted to write,” he says. “I had written short stories when I was in college, but I wasn’t confident enough I could express myself. Then I had this idea about brain power.” On such a notion, his book sprang into life.
Years in the making, he started looking for a literary agent as soon as he'd completed the manuscript for You Are Worth Less Than Your Car. He sent countless emails without catching anyone's eye: "Some replied, some were polite, some were rude," he says, before citing John Grisham and J?K Rowling as two examples of best-selling authors who endured rejection only to later enjoy worldwide success.
He also forwarded copies of the book to a host of publishers. Again, he failed to garner any serious interest.
Battered but not bruised, George decided to self-publish and despite these rejections his enthusiasm for life and his literary creation are undimmed.
“I am 70,” he says, “I still feel like I am 22,” a twinkle evident in his eyes.
“In my younger days, 50 or 55 was retiring age. Now 90 is considered old. Times have changed,” he says, deleting another negative virus in the process.
• You Are Worth Less Than Your Car by Johnny George is available via johnnygeorge@johnny georgepublishing.com with a cover price of US$8.99 (Dh33)
Nick March is editor of The Review.