Dice, Idleness and Coffins @ BYOB Party in October 2019 (Part 5)

Sandeep read Dice Man by George Cockroft, who used the pseudonym Luke Rhinehart. The premise of the story is fascinating. A psychologist decides to make life decisions by casting dice, thus changing his life from a predictable one to a game of chance. The book has had its share of controversy as it encourages a permissive mentality and the protagonist had disturbing similarities to the author himself. The premise of the book reminded one of the readers of what he called the monkey syndrome, an actual study conducted where a blindfolded monkey throws darts at a newspaper’s financial pages to select a portfolio. Don’t be surprised that the monkey does about as well as an expert.  The best book to read on randomness has to be The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

Shravani enjoyed reading the very humorous book Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow: A Book for an Idle Holiday by Jerome K. Jerome. This is an old book, published in the nineteenth century and is available at Gutenberg.org. Yet it is fun to read and whimsical in content. “I found this book on one of my tours to Sikkim. I picked up the book at an obscure cafe and what really hit me was this line-‘It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do.’  The essayist talks about a host of topics from weather to babies. The idea of witticisms led to a short detour on the writings of Mirza Ghalib and Hazari Prasad Dwivedi.

Apurba picked up the conscientious writing of Nobel Prize Winner Svetlana Alexievich. Boys in Zinc is set in the background of the decade when the Soviet troops engaged in war in Afghanistan. The peace mission had turned ghastly as more and more Russian soldiers, young men, who went to Afghanistan with noble ideals and came back in coffins.

“The book teaches you the nature of war. War is not just soldiers being sent. It’s about young men (many of them during Brezhnev’s premiership didn’t have adequate military training), who went as soldiers, clerks, part of the medical contingent, etc, and the women who were mostly exploited.  The book was a revelation to me. There are things that the interviewees (the book itself is a series of interviews) say, mostly mothers, things like people should not go to war at the drop of a hat- think of the blood, sweat and tears it takes to birth a child. The situation was so pathetic that soldiers were ill-equipped and fought with old weapons and even ate the food that was available to them from the rations of WWII.

“People on the ground did not understand what was happening. There was a lot of deception- when the coffins came in, people were declared dead, not that they had been killed. How could healthy young soldiers just fall down and die? When we are young, we are taught to die for the nation but war is senseless,” Apurba said.

Svetlana Alexeivich’s Nobel Lecture is one to read. Check it out.

The general consensus was that war could only be fought by those who were heavily invested in the geographical place in question.  While war is senseless and endlessly repetitive as lessons are never learnt, one way of implementing systemic change would be to make sure that kingmakers do not shy away from the war effort. On a completely tangential note, the Kerala government school system has succeeded because teachers send their own children to these schools and hence invest heavily in teaching well.

More books in Part 6.

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