Reader Interview of Apurba (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in August 2019

We got to speak to Apurba yet again. And this time she told us quite a bit about her book journey.

How did your love affair with books begin?

My parents read a lot and it must have rubbed off. They also used to read to me, both of them. My mom would read to me in the afternoons and my dad would read me a bedtime story every day. For the first twelve years of my life, I read only Bengali literature and Bengali children’s books and magazines like Sandesh that the entire Ray family wrote for are quite amazing.

Favorite children’s book author?

Satyajit Ray. Everyone knows him as a filmmaker but he wrote amazing stories.  Even the story of ET started with Ray’s screenplay called The Alien. [Check out this link to know more]. Ray also did his own illustrations. Reading this multi-talented author was my first brush with sci-fi. I particularly loved one of his characters -Professor Shonku, a mad scientist who lived in Giridi, Jharkhand. In his story Ek Shringo Abhijan,  the professor goes to Tibet to find out about a Unicorn. In the process he discovers Utopia.  [Check out The Incredible Adventures of Professor Shonku, the English version.]

Reading Ray built my interest in geography and history. Another detective series for adolescents was the Feluda series. Being a  Probashi Bengali, Ray’s work was an eye-opener for me and an introduction to Bengali culture and food. I learned so much about Calcutta as he weaves in so much background into the stories he writes.

[Watch this interview with Satyajit Ray]

What about Tagore?

More difficult.

English fiction?

I started late, so I’ve hardly read any of the popular children’s books like Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, etc. Harry Potter is what got me started. My school had a good library and as was typical of schools, the library was the last place that the other students chose to visit., so the library became my private paradise. I read Indian authors who wrote in English as it was easier for me to identify with them and my interest in places made me consciously try to read a lot more historical fiction.

Favorite Indian writer?

Amitav Ghosh. He writes in all genres: historical fiction, fiction, magical realism….

And Shadow Lines…have you read that?

No, it was one of those books that I started and left midway. It’s happened to me with many books and I think it just means that it is not the right time to read that book. Ghosh has also written a sci-fi book called The Calcutta Chromosome but I like other books by him- especially the Ibis trilogy. I lived in Kolkata for a while and I liked to visit all the places that Ghosh talked about in his books.  His books throw light on the opium trade (even the Tagores invested in the opium trade) and the indentured laborers who traveled to Mauritius and Fiji.

Any other authors you love?

Most of the authors I love are from Asia. So I really love Mohammed Hanif, Mohsin Hamid, Daniyal Mueenuddin, Tahmima Anam….A lot of writers from South Asia talk about partition and how it has shaped our psyche. I also love authors who have shaped my understanding of history like Gary J. Bass who wrote The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and a Forgotten Genocide and everything by William Dalrymple.  I also enjoy reading Manu Pillai’s writing.

History has to be presented in a way that can be digested as it is in William Dalrymple’s books. When I moved to Delhi, the first thing I did was pick up City of Djinns. Even when my dad got transferred to Dehradun, I read up my Ruskin Bond. It was so realistic- the hills he described resembled the hills behind my own home.

In fact, this was a tradition I stuck to. Whenever I moved, I would read up and soak myself in the history of that place. I’ve read books about Delhi, Ahmedabad and so many cities as the history of cities interests me.

Any book about Bengaluru that you enjoyed?

Aditi De’s book on Bangalore called Multiple City.

Print books, eBooks or audiobooks?

I don’t have a Kindle and I do find it difficult to manage books as I move around a lot. I’ve started exchanging books instead of buying them.  I’m a little wary of going digital with my reading habit. Anyway, I spend way too much on twitter anyway.

Thanks for talking to us Apurba! Was a pleasure talking to you as usual:)

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on Oct 26, 2019 (Saturday)

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

RSVP on Meetup OR Register on Eventbrite

BYOB Party is back at Pothi.com’s office this time and on a Saturday.

Have you read a book that you are craving to chitchat about with someone? Have a favorite book that you think everyone would love, if only they knew about it? Want to see what others are reading and have interesting conversations beyond weather, traffic, and real estate?

Then come to the BYOB party on Oct 26and talk away! Try to avoid a bestseller and if you have a copy, bring it along and read us a passage. All languages are welcome.

There will be refreshments and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue:  #634 (Ground Floor), 5th Main, Indiranagar 2nd Stage · Bangalore

FAQs

So, what really happens at a BYOB Party?

Everyone brings a book and talks about it. Conversations follow and they are good. So are the refreshments!

You can take a look at what happened in some of our earlier parties here:

Do I have to be there for the entire duration of four hours?

We aren’t closing doors or locking you in. But the party is best enjoyed if you are there for the entire duration and listen to people talk about a variety of books. Trust us, you won’t know how time flew.

Do I have to bring anything?

Nothing really. But if you have a copy of the book you want to talk about, you might want to bring it in. Other attendees might want to have a look, or you might want to read a paragraph from it.

I am an author. Can I bring a book written by me?

A good writer should be a voracious reader. It would be preferable if you brought a book you really like written by someone else.

Who are the organizers?

Worth a Read.

I have more questions. Who do I contact?

Shoot an e-mail to jayajha@instascribe.com

Okay! I am ready to come. What do I do?

Join our meetup groupRSVP, and come over!

If you are not on meetup, you can also register on Eventbrite.

Reader Interview of Akanksha (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in August 2019

We spoke to Akanksha about her love for books.

Tell us about your book journey.

I started reading books when I was very young. It was my go-to thing.  Even as a child, I would pick up whatever book I found interesting that was lying around the house. My parents also encouraged me as they knew about my interest in books.  I practically grew up in libraries.

English or vernacular?

I primarily read English- very little Gujarati though I was intrigued by the poetry of the land, particularly the poetry from the Bhakti era. I come from a remote area and got to see many performances by Dayro. They enacted a story as plays and musicals. Some of my favorite poets include the Gujarati Vaishnavite fifteenth-century poet Narsinh Mehta and twentieth-century social reformer poet Jhaverchand Meghani.

Fiction or poetry?

Oh, I read a combination of both.  Though I don’t read much English poetry, lately, I’ve started reading David Whyte’s poetry. I connect with his style– his poems are conversational, emotional,  intimate and personal.

Do books help you professionally?

Since I work on documentation, reading helps.

Any favorite author?

Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I even started an online reading group featuring her book Women Who Run With the Wolves. We deal with the book sequentially. First we pick a chapter and a story and then discuss. You must watch this YouTube video with the power-packed ladies Toni Morrison, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Maya Angelou and Jessye Norman chatting about the making of woman.life.song.

Is it books that led you to feminism?

I don’t think so. Many things could lead you to feminism – injustice, abandonment, a sense of belonging or not….

Which writer would you recommend for readers who would like to understand more about feminism?

Toni Morrison.

Which book format do you like the most?

All of them- I’ve been reading print books the longest time but I also like the emotional intimacy of the audiobook. Right now I’m listening to the works of Robert Augustus Masters. Soothing stuff!

Thanks Akanksha! It was great talking to you. The books and videos you recommended were fantastic.

Parenting, Explosions and Democracy @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 7)

A book that one of the readers at the BYOB party discussed was Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children by Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson. The book focuses on transactional analyses evolved as a therapeutic process and offers guidance on improved parenting practices. “The line that got me hooked was how the author talked about how I need to love myself first. That will help my child to love himself. This is a totally unique way of looking at love and compassion. Instead of focusing on lack, it is more helpful to be compassionate and look for alternative views of the past.”

Guru, an ex-navy officer and a self-confessed bibiophile spoke at great length about A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif. This tragic and satirical story talks about Zia ul Haq’s death in an air crash.  The Pakistani President, the US ambassador and a handful of officers died in the crash, the cause of which remains an unsolved mystery to this day. Hanif tried to get past the conspiracy theories but hit a brick wall every time. He decided to use satire and create his own answers- a kind of ‘journalistic revenge’. “I enjoyed the way Hanif recreates Zia’s character. His sudden religiousness, the comedy with the doctor, the curse of a woman who was sentenced to death by stoning…all these instances turn the novel into a laugh riot. Hanif is a non-establishment man as all journalists usually are,” Guru said.

“Wish that was always the case,” one of our readers said.

Watch this interview of the author and read this.

Jaya has been following Gautam Bhatia’s legal tweets because they are so decipherable. His book The Transformative Constitution is unlike like his tweets and is very academic. “I put up with it because of the content it addresses,” Jaya said, “And I’m glad I did. Now I’m hoping that a more popular version comes out. The book addresses many questions like the establishment of the republic and constitution, individual cases. legal precedents. The  issues discussed were relevant and even though it was a difficult read it was well worth reading.”

Jaya read out a piece from the book: “Political democracy can not last unless there lies at the base of it social democracy. What does democracy mean? It means a way of life that recognizes that liberty, equality and fraternity are the principles of life. The principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are not to be treated as separate items in a trinity. They form a union of trinity. Liberty cannot be divorced from equality. Equality can not be divorced from liberty, nor liberty and equality be divorced from fraternity. Without equality, liberty would create the supremacy of the few over the many. Equality without liberty will kill individual initiative and without fraternity, liberty and equality would not become the natural course of things. It would require constantly to enforce them.”

And with that, we come to the end of the BYOB Party held at INTACH. Coming up interviews with some of our readers!

Archaeology, Parichay and Bangalore @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 6)

Image result for The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named amazonSince the BYOB Party theme this time was on the lines of all things historical (since we were hosting the event at INTACH), Abhaya spoke about John Keay’s books, particularly The Great Arc: The Dramatic Tale of How India was Mapped and Everest was Named.

“When we studied history, we covered a fair amount of things but we were never taught the historiographical aspect. Keay is a good storyteller with his eye on the sources. I enjoyed reading about the decipherment of the Brahmi script, a language that completely changed over time. The book also touches upon how the Archaeological Survey of India was born,” Abhaya said.

This was followed by an interesting discussion on the use and misuse of the word ‘decipherment’, the difference between The Asiatic Society and The Archaeological Survey of India, followed by an introduction to Romila Thapar’s works that can provide a broader picture of the Indian past- Shakuntala and Somnatha.

Akanksha spoke about how a book on feminism from the 1970s changed her own views and challenged her beliefs. “I liked how the book prodded me to look at feminism singularly and connect it with older cultures. I especially liked that the book made me question my own understanding.” Akanksha also mentioned how beneficial the walks conducted by INTACH around the city were. “I like to know about where I live and walks like these give a context to my interaction.”

Image result for Bangalore Peter Colaco amazonA reader who was tired of Netflix viewing told us how he delves into travel books and books about cities. Since he lived in the Old Cantonment Area in Bangalore, he was pleasantly surprised when he found a book called Bangalore: A Century of Tales from City and Cantonment by Peter Colaco. “I always talk to people to find out more about where the old theaters and food stalls and buildings have disappeared to. People are surprised when I ask them but they tell me that multistorey buildings have altered the landscape I remember. This is why I enjoyed reading Peter Colaco’s book. He is humorous and delves into facts. Take the detailed way in which he writes about monkey tops- ‘a monkey top is a pointed hood over the upper part of a window. The front of the hood contains a screen of closely spaced narrow vertical slabs. The bottom half of the screen is in the shape of a curve marked by a row of small knobs’…..you get my drift. The illustrations are lovely too.”

More books in Part 7.

 

The Mahakavi, Darkness and Less @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 5)

Image result for mahaprasthanam amazonSwarup spoke about his experience reading the Telugu  anthology of poems Mahaprasthanam by the Mahakavi or the bard Srirangam Srinivasarao.  This work took the Telugu literary world by storm. Unfortunately, there is not enough data out there about this book for non-Telugu readers who may want to know more about this epic work.

Another book of poems that Swarup opined about was Songs of Innocence and  of Experience Image result for songs of innocence and of experience amazonby William Blake. Blake’s unearthly poetry and illustrations examine the innocence of childhood and the sin of industrialization that swept over England at the time. He examines the  mind-forged manacles that mankind has made his destiny.  “Have you read Kafka’s short story A Hunger Artist?” Swarup asked. “I would advice you to read it.” He ended his book sojourn with a dramatic recital of a Telugu poem.

Image result for darkness at noon amazonAbhaya spoke about Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. This is a must-read political fiction, an elaboration of the Great Purge that claimed the lives of many Old Bolsheviks during the Stalin era. “The book is amazing,” Abhaya said, ” The most interesting thing is that you get to see impact of the Revolution from someone who believed in its core principles and was let down in the end.” Read the author’s afterword to get a sense of the motive behind writing this book and a deconstruction of Koestler here.

Image result for less amazonI spoke about the book Less by the Pulitzer Prize Winner, Andrew Greer. It’s a love story with a twist and a travelog all rolled in one. “It’s a beautiful book with beautiful sentences,” was as much as I was able to convey about the elegance of Greer’s prose. Less was more than I had expected…

More books in Part 6.

 

Bali and the Brahmin @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for Bali Karnad book amazonOur host at INTACH, Meera Iyer spoke to us about a moving tribute to Girish Karnad at Rangashankara. Sixteen of his plays were featured and read in English, Kannada and Hindi. “We came back home with editions of most of his works,” she said. ” I was particularly impressed by Bali, the Sacrifice. Like many of his plays this is based on poetry and lore. The story is set in Hassan where Jainism was the dominant religion. A king converts to Jainism and this act changes the very way he views violence. Questions like whether the thought of violence is the same as violence and whether we should pick up the sword at all are asked. These questions about religion and violence are extremely pertinent. Another thing I liked was his strong female characters who did not apologize for their sexuality.” A rare sentiment, even today.

Apurba, our regular visitor, spoke about The Courtesan, the Mahatma and the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History by Manu S. Pillai. The book is divided into three parts which covers the Raj before and after. More than chronology, Manu S. Pillai provides a pan Indian version of history with a broad focus on gender, caste and interesting characters from courtesans to Maharanis. You must watch the author’s interview where he goes into great depth about a colorful India, where men and women create a delightful tapestry rich with culture, polemical thought and change. “It’s an amazing book that features India’s immense diversity. I knew some of the stories but the rendition was so interesting that I finished the book in just about a week. The only thread I  observed was of the Peshwas and a lot about casteism as well,” Apurba said.

Watch this delightful interview with the author himself.

An interesting feature about this book is that it is an illustrated non-fiction book, quite a rare phenomenon in India. You can check out the illustrator Priya Kuriyan’s interview here.

Apurba also read out a poem from Agha Shahid Ali’s The Country Without a Post Office

‘I will die, in autumn, in Kashmir,
and the shadowed routine of each vein
will almost be news, the blood censored,
for the Saffron Sun and the Times of Rain…’

More books in Part 5.

High School, Africa and Omens @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 3)

Image result for perks of being a wallflower bookSanchit spoke about how difficult and traumatic it had been to read Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead. “I only wanted a light read,” he said. “But all that romanticism and capitalism blew my mind away and not in a good way. I needed a break from it.” That’s why he ended up picking up the book The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. “The movie is good too. You know the one starring the Percy Jackson guy and Emma Stone?”

The novel is written in a series of diary entries (what is known as the epistolary novel) by an introvert high school boy called Charlie. Charlie’s letters are thoughtful and his rambling entries talk about the suicide of his friend and the death of his aunt.  Charlie’s life changes when he befriends Patrick and his sister Sam. “I could identify with Charlie as I was shy too,” Sanchit said. The novel talks about love, drama, emotion and friendship.

“I just love the way he describes simple things like Sam’s eyes: “Sam has brown hair and very, very pretty green eyes. The kind of green that doesn’t make a big deal about itself.  Isn’t that amazing?”

Incidentally, in case anyone is still filled with trepidation at the thought of Ayn Rand, it would be a good idea to check out an Introduction to Objectivism and books that are far lighter than Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, some of which have been added to this Ayn Rand book list.

Anand spoke about several books. Although he thought about mentioning Italo Calvino literature, he had second thoughts and read to the group instead two passages, one from the incredibly original short story writer Lydia Davis and the other from the marvelous Ben Okri.

Image result for lydia davis collected storiesExcerpt from The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis:

If you ask her what is a favorite story she has written, she will hesitate for a long time and then say it may be this story that she read in a book once: an English-language teacher in China asked his Chinese student to say what was the happiest moment in his life. The student hesitated for a long time. At last, he smiled with embarrassment and said that his wife had once gone to Beijing and eaten duck there, and she often told him about it, and he would have to say the happiest moment of his life was her trip, and the eating of the duck.

Image result for the famished road amazonExcerpt from The Famished Road by Ben Okri

In the beginning there was a river. The river became a road and the road branched out to the whole world. And because the road was once a river it was always hungry. In that land of beginnings spirits mingled with the unborn. We could assume numerous forms. Many of us were birds. We knew no boundaries. There was much feasting, playing and sorrowing. We feasted much because of the beautiful terrors of eternity. We played much because we were free. And we borrowed much because there were always those amongst us who had just returned from the world of the living. They had returned inconsolable for all the love they had left behind, all the suffering they hadn’t redeemed, all that they hadn’t understood, and for all that they had barely begun to learn before they were drawn back to the land of origins.

They had returned inconsolable for all the love they had left behind, all the suffering they hadn’t redeemed, all that they hadn’t understood, and for all that they had barely begun to learn before they were drawn back to the land of origins.

Image result for things fall apart amazonGeorge has always been impressed by Chinua Achebe’s masterpiece Things Fall Apart. It was the first book he chose as reading material for a two-person long-distance book club. Things fall apart for the great wrestler Okonkwo when he kills a man and goes into exile. On his return, however, his world has changed. Christianity had entered his community and the world as he knew it had fallen on its head with this clash of civilizations. “Reading this book was like drinking a glass of extremely pure water. Pristine,” George said.

You must watch the stalwart Chinua Achebe speak about his book here.

Image result for good omens book amazon“A lighter book I picked up was Good Omens,” George said, “the result of a collaboration between Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. What started as a short story by Gaiman was later expanded upon by Terry Pratchett resulting in a spoof of the horror movie Omen with its delightful casting of angels and demons, agents on Earth replicating a Cold War situation leading up to the last days on Earth.”

I found a delightful article on how Neil Gaiman collaborated with Terry Pratchett. Read it!

More books in Part 4.

Love, War, Gore and Utopia @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 2)

Image result for bitter honeymoon amazonWe started the BYOB Party talking about whether the drives within us to succeed are to be harnessed and overcome or fulfilled. Ayush moved on to the realm of romance. A friend challenged him to write a humorous love story, and during his research he realized that most love stories were badly written, displaying sexism and a very black and white unrealistic understanding of characters. Except for one book which was hidden at the end of a shelf.

Bitter Honeymoon and Other Stories by Alberto Moravia was one such book. The book talks about the need for physical intimacy for love to happen and also how this very same intimacy can lead to problems in love. “I enjoyed the intelligent exposition of love,” Ayush said.

Image result for monarch in the glen comptonTo understand more about writing humor, Ayush picked up a book called Monarch in the Glen by Compton Mackenzie, a British novelist who wrote over a hundred novels, plays, and biographies. The story chronicles the evils of capitalism and revolves around Chester Royde, an American millionaire who goes to Scotland and an ensuing war declared on a bunch of hikers. The hilarious laugh riot has been adapted into a TV series as well.

Image result for dr jekyll and mr hyde amazon bookPrerana is no fan of classics but she took a chance with the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson and she did not regret it. The author explores the notion of the double,  a popular theme in the nineteenth century (take Dostoevsky’s The Double and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein). Stevenson explored the theme of the Victorian gentleman’s split personality. Stevenson speaks about the life of a doctor in those times and the ills of the society that drove him into personality disorder. Someone in the group reminisced that the story resembled that of the Incredible Hulk and mentioned the Lucifer effect, a psychological term that explains how good people turn evil. You might want to know more about William Brodie who inspired this tale.

Image result for seeking begumpura amazon bookPriya spoke about an interesting book called Seeking Begumpura: The Social Vision of Anticaste Intellectuals by Gail Omvedt. This book features versions of the Indian utopia. It was a bhakti radical called Ravidas, a tanner, who envisioned a place called Begumpura, a casteless city. Omvedt brings to light progressive voices from medieval India like Chokhamela, Janabai, Kabir, Ravidas, Tukaram, the Kartabhajas, Phule, Iyothee Thass, Pandita Ramabai, Periyar and Ambedkar.

Image result for time traveler's wife amazon book

Priya returned to the love story theme when she mentioned a chronological tale called The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. The story revolves around a strange relationship where the husband is able to travel through time since he suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically adjusts itself, causing him to go to the past or the future. You can watch Niffenegger speak about her book in interviews Part 1 and Part 2.

More books in Part 3 next week.

Rest and Leisure @ BYOB Party in August 2019 (Part 1)

This time, we hosted the BYOB Party with Meera Iyer at The Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH), a non-profit organization set up in 1984 with a mandate to protect and conserve India’s vast natural, built and cultural heritage.

Image result for alex kim restSamarth kicked off the BYOB Party with a much-needed book called Rest. In times like these when our overworked burnt-out lives are governed by timetables, schedules, logbooks and to-do lists, Rest, a book by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a Silicon Valley consultant, helps us understand that work and rest are equal partners in the success of an individual.  Leisure is underrated and ‘Deliberate rest’ is the keyword if you want to achieve more. Children and adults should learn the pleasures that come with being unplugged and simple delights such as napping, walking and playing should be the norm, not the exception.

Samarth had a lot to say about this gem. The book revolves around the single theme of high-performing individuals and what sets them apart. You all know how Malcolm Gladwell talked about the 10,000-hr Rule in his book Outliers. Pang describes how concerted effort and non-effort can actually get you to a more successful zone. The role of leisure in high performing individuals is often ignored. We worry more about the absence of work and underestimate how vital leisure can be to the creative process. We generally squeeze as much time out of leisure as possible in the name of career advancement and consider leisure to be a time-consuming nuisance. This rationing of leisure would have cost us great achievers like Darwin, Stephen King, Da Vinci and Newton. For them, work and play were complementary.  Leisure gave deep satisfaction and they partook of it in the form of long walks and socializing. They made great contributions not in spite of leisure but because of it. The long hours they spent in silent contemplation were vital to their creative breakthroughs.

The book also focuses on research done by prominent people about the creative process, incorporating inputs from experimental psychology, neuroscience, philosophical theorizing, etc.  Says Samarth, “It’s wrong to say that high achieving individuals run on hormones and drive alone. They know when to stop and take rest. Pang touches on ordinary people like us too. How do we handle long hours in bureaucratic settings and the threat of being relegated to low-paying jobs and underemployment if we have underperformed? The book offers no prescriptions. It’s not a self-help book but it is helpful in the goal to help us lead a good life.”

Check out this website for interviews with Alex Pang and more about Deliberate rest.

More books coming up in Part 2.