Robots and Literature@ BYOB Party in April (Part 4)

Have you been reading about the BYOB Party in April?

Rise of the RobotsRalph, who is a regular BYOB-er, talked about an exciting new book called  Rise of the Robots: Technology an Threat of a Jobless Future by Martin Ford. This book was chosen the FT Best Business Book of the year award 2015. We are all excited about technology, but how technology can we afford to have? Ford looks at a world where robots are a better economic alternative. Already factories are doing more today with technology and a same sized labor force than it did in the last century.

Umakant Soni pondered on this idea too. ” Creating intelligence is dangerous, as we can never tell how long we can stay secure. During the Industrial Revolution, children were sent to school so that they could be supervised. The same could happen to adults whose jobs have been taken over by the robot workforce. What will adults do if they are unemployed and what about income?”

Jaya proceeded to discuss her ideas on the value of Universal Basic Income. You can read more about her ideas here:

Another book that Ralph read was by the very eclectic Anita Nair, a book called Goodnight and God Bless. This book is about writerly stuff- books, book events, anecdotes and literary trivia. It’s a refreshing read and a change Ralph thought from his usual penchant for serious books. A good change at that.

Anvita Bajpai, author of a sort story collection Life, Odds and Ends, found a book called The Holy Indian Cow and Other Stories by Tarun Chopra, a book replete with pictures and altogether a fun reading experience.

What have you been reading?

Kaizen, Suitable Boys and Stories of Sikkim @ BYOB Party in April (Part 3)

Have you read Parts 1 and 2 yet?

One-Small-Step-Can-Change-Your-Life-The-Kaizen-Way-by-Robert-Maurer-Ph.DOne Small Step can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way by Robert Maurer is the book Himanshu Shah, an author himself, talked about. This book deals with the concept kaizen- the art of making  lasting change by taking small steps towards that direction. The book helps in all areas including getting fit or gaining vocabulary. The seven steps include Think Small Thoughts, Take Small Actions, Solve Small Problems, etc.
Vinod Pathangay got the book A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. This enormous tome still awaits a sequel ‘A Suitable Girl’, on which Seth is still working. For Vinod the book has been a challenge as he hasn’t managed to complete it; yet the depiction of life in the northern part of India holds great appeal for this Chennaite. “Even the Table of contents of the book is a poem,” he said when describing why the book appealed to him. The problem with the book is the elaborate genealogy which forces you to reread the family connections before the book so that you understand the plot better. The story primarily revolves around how Lata tries to find a suitable match. The era the book is set in is the 1950s and deals with the multitude of prejudices and etiquette of Indian society.

Jaya was fascinated by The King’s Harvest by Chethan Raj Shrestha. She speaks about the book in her Short Book Review at Worth a Read Blog. Here’s an excerpt:

The book contains two novellas An Open-and-Shut Case and the eponymous The King’s Harvest. Don’t look at the hype and the sales numbers and this is easily one of the best English-language books to come out of India. The writing is adroit, literary merit of the text considerable and the juxtaposition of the dark and the criminal with the innocent and the straightforward is hair-raising and heart-tugging at the same time. The vivid elucidation of not just what is picturesque about Sikkim, but also of its towns and villages, police stations and homes, people and their ambiguous characters and moralities is the cherry on the top. While it is unambiguously a “book from Sikkim”, the last one makes it relatable to all, especially those who have grown up in small places.

You can read and understand the stories in many ways. Since that is one of the charms of the books, I am not going to tell you what all I read in the book. I must confess I felt overwhelmed at times. But you must read it and decide for yourself!

The hardcover edition that I read has also been produced beautifully. The cover is bewitchingly beautiful and interiors are well-done too.” You can read more here.

More books shared at the BYOB Party next week.


Spirituality and the Poetry of Bachchan the Bard @ BYOB Party in April (Part 2)

Have you read Part 1 yet? Lots of Indian writers featured at the BYOB Party this time.

Vijay brought along a book from the  SriRamachandra mission series called Heart to Heart. The book is for the spiritually inclined and deals with the nuances of Raja Yoga. Through a series of discourses, the author talks about his own his dilemmas and revelations during his travels to foreign shores. It makes you think about the lives of spiritual masters. Discussion around this book led to the mention of an interesting book about spiritual dilemmas that is also linked to mythology- The Importance of Being Good by Gurucharan Das.

bachchanTwo Harivansh Rai Bachchan books were on the cards this BYOB Party. Harivansh Rai Bachchan is the author of the most  famous Hindi book, in fact, the fastest selling Hindi book on e-commerce sites, Madhushala which translates as House of Wine. The book Arisudan got is called Meri Shresht Kavithaein, an anthology of some the best poems written by Bachchan,which he himself has selected. This part of the BYOB Party was poetry heaven for Hindi poetry lovers as Arisudan read out some beautiful stanzas and Jaya went on to talk about the nuances of his poetry, including the inconsistency of his message. When Bachchan was inspired, he wrote inspiring poetry and when he was in a dark place, his poems reflected this. Though he wrote about wine, he was a teetotaller and wine was a metaphor he used to convey his philosophy.

bachchan 2Umakant Soni, the owner of Artwist where the BYOB Party was held, got a Hindi book called Dashdvar Se Sopan Tak. This book is fourth in a series of Bachchan’s autobiographical works. The series describe the poet’s journey and how the poet’s life and experiences shaped his poetry. Soni mentioned how not many people know that Hindi words like Doordarshan and Aakashvani have his signature behind them.


More in Part 3.

Dalit Literature and the Problem of Revealing True Identity@ BYOB Party, April, 2016 (Part 1)

The seventh BYOB Party was held in collaboration with Artwist, which believes in whole brained education.  Umakant Soni who runs Artwist says, “Learning is not only through books; it’s an experiential process.”  At Artwist kids, parents and senior citizens learn through play.

joothanAbhaya started the session with Joothan, an autobiography by one of the most important voices in Hindi Dalit literature.  “This book is very similar to Lakshman Mane’s Apara.  The story starts with a childhood spent in utter poverty and misery in rural areas and an inclination for education which helped the author break out of surroundings and connect with the growing Dalit(Untouchable) movement in cities. More than incidents of outright violence, the most heart wrenching incidents are those where initial affection and cordiality are shattered once the author reveals caste.” Abhaya found this part of the book as a revelation, “Consider the eternal suspicion that lurks in the mind of a Dalit—he expects that he will be treated badly.  The question he asks himself continuously is whether the other person is nice because he does not actually care about caste or has he misunderstood?”

Abhaya cites that this question is relevant in India today. “A large number of people claim that they are caste blind, because they do not know the caste of their friends and colleagues. They might spare their friends a great deal of internal turmoil if they acted as they did in spite of knowing their caste.”

The author’s surname, Valmiki, confused those around him. Many people mistook him to be an upper caste and treated him with respect, only to pull the rug from under his feet when his true caste is revealed. People are forced to lead a double life and move to cities to conceal the identity that others disrespect.

This is definitely a relevant book in these times when discrimination is rampant. Have you read any books that deal with discrimination or racism? Tell us about it.

Maple Syrup, Talent and the Joy of Cleaning@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 4)

There were many non-fiction books that readers discussed besides the classics and fiction discussed (Check Parts 1, 2 and 3)


Sudharsan read War Plan Red by Kevin Lippert, a book that begins with British rule in Canada.The book is about the secret cold war between the United States and Canada. Some motives for the plan: capturing all the world’s supply of maple syrup, ice hockey players and natural resources. Conversation veered to the upcoming elections in the US.

little book of talentMadhu Sagar talked about a non-fiction book by US journalist Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving your skills. This book takes you all around the world in search of the greatest talent.  It’s a manual in a world where performance is rated highly and it’s not self-help. The handbook contains scientifically proven methods that can help improve the skills of a child and an organization.

There are two kinds of skills- hard skills are acquired by repitive practise and soft talent is more organic and fluid. Madhu read out a couple of tips to us. For instance, if you want to have a genius in your home, you don’t need to get the child air conditioning. Spartan existence is conducive to innovation as necessity is the mother of invention. So we have thinkers like Ramanujan who wrote reams of theorums in his head because of an acute shortage of paper. And Russian coders who coded in their head. Watch Hackers wanted to understand this better.

RomanAjay got a biography titled Roman by Roman Polanski. The world famous director of great movies like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown vindicates himself by writing his side of the story.  “Polanski writes in a very mater of fact style and there’s absolutely no self-pity,” Ajay says. He went on to narrate how Roman the boy who lived in Poland lost his mother and sister to the extermination camps. He survived as did his father with whom he reunited much later. But tragedy followed him even later when he was a director in the US. His wife and unborn child were murdered by the grusesome serial killer Charles Manson. Polanski later was charged with stauotory rape and he fled the country. If you are a fan of this controversial director and want to hear his side of the story, this book is a must read.

the hard thing about hard thingsNilesh picked up The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs. This book is based on his popular blog and talks about the stuff that business school won’t teach you. In the book, Horowitz shares insights and anecdotes about the problems running a startup involves.

“I completely agreed with author when he says that most of the advice that we get is not applicable. Horowitz provides simple solutions that are really not simple. For example, there is a misconception in companies that if you come to the manager with a problem, you need to bring in a solution as well. This makes absolutely no sense,” Nilesh said.

That was the business book of this BYOB party.

spark joy

Sumaa went by the recommendations of her friends and chose a highly unconventional  bestseller book called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. This illustrated version of the KonMari method deconstructs the cleaning process with how to clean everything from folding socks to organizing pictures.” What worked for me as that the book is not preachy. It doesn’t touch on over-consumption, feng shui or spirituality. For Kondo, cleaning should create joy. You keep only what you need and what gives you joy. She also traces the emotional journey of many of her clients.It’s an unusual book and inspiring.”

What a list of books! Can’t wait for the next BYOB Party…..what are you reading now?

Sci-fi– Hard wired and Emotionally charged @ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 3)

This BYOB Party (Part 1 and Part 2) had no mention of the Mahabharata. Instead there was a great deal of sci-fi.

manhattan in reverseAkshay is an avid sci-fi reader. When he was done with his share of Clarks and Asimovs, he came across Hamilton. The book he talked about was Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton, a book of nine stories. For sci-fi geeks Hamilton’s work provides all the delightful details of time travel, memory manipulation, planetary inequality, inter-galactic wars, and rejuvenation technology.

“When it comes to Hamilton’s series,  as characters don’t die,  there is scope for continuity and evolution. “

In the sci-fi mode, Jaya advised us to watch a short movie available on Youtube- Man from Earth. The conversation moved on to how the social context would change if human beings did not die at all. While on one hand, there would be more Mondays, on the other, there would be less inequality as only those who had the means to live forever would be around anyway. The predominant theme of sci-fi was debated upon- is it human expansion or space operas? A science fiction writer who was recommended was Cyril Kornbluth.

Never Let me GoPiya Bose has read her share of sci-fi as well. What she’s now looking for is a sci-fi heavier on emotional quotient. She found this in Never Let Me Go by Booker Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Three children Kathy, Ruth and Tommy study at Hallsham in an imaginary set-up in the 1990s. Although the narration is straight forward, there is an eeriness and strangeness in the novel that turns it into a mystery.  Ishiguro speaks about how science without ethics is detrimental to society.

“The vagueness of the writer is a style shared by Murakami too,” Piya said. Everyone agreed unanimously that there were two kinds of readers and you would know who would prefer an Ishiguro and a Murakami as opposed to those who wouldn’t.

More in Part 4.

Libraries, Fashion and Dysfunctional Families@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 2)

At our sixth BYOB Party, we had a large collection of books to discuss.

This is not the end of the book

Sreeraj got a book  This is not the end of the book by Umberto Eco and his fellow raconteur Jean-Claude Carriere. What happens when two bibilophiles get together? You will have a long discussion about your personal libraries, the fate of these libraries when the owner dies, interesting authors and translations, eBooks and papyrus manuscripts, etc. Jaya also mentioned that Umberto Eco’s famous book Name of the Rose revolved around manuscripts and libraries. It is only natural that his love for books extends itself into books that he wrote.

The Devil Wears Pradathe devil wears prada by Lauren Weisberger was the book Shruti Garodia talked about. It’s a book she repeatedly goes back to, a light-hearted read with a pertinent message. “Over time, I think the relevance of the message of the book has become a little outdated,” Shruti said. “It’s one of the few books that has worked so well as a movie.”

The story is about an unfashional lady Andrea Sachs who lands a job in a very prestigious fashion magazine. Little does she know that her boss is a diabolical woman who expects a slave, more than an assistant.

The illicit happiness of other peopleAvnish found Manu Joseph’s writing to be quite entertaining. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is the story of a dysfunctional family headed by Ousep Chacko, a journalist and failed novelist. His wife has psychological issues. One of their sons has died and it is hard to say whether it was suicide or a mere accident.

“Manu Joseph’s characters are three dimensional and wonderful to read about,” Shruti said.

Has anyone reading this post read Serious Men by the same author?

More in Part 3.

Classics, Beauty and Paranoia@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 1)

We held the sixth BYOB at Muffets and Tuffets, a café at Koramangala.

jane eyreSunny started the session with the first book he had ever read. Jane Eyre, a classic by Charlotte Bronte, was gifted to him one Christmas by a friend. He has read it more than once since then and found this book too to be light, not overly philosophical, and extremely readable. Jane Eyre is a crowd puller and has a whole lot of elements including madness, disability and a dash of gothic. In the Victorian era, women novelists were not a particular favorite and their aesthetic sensibilities were often at the receiving end, yet the Bronte sisters ended up churning classics.

This was a book that one of our guests, Piya Bose had read while in school. “It’s an extremely positive and feminist book that illustrates the story of a woman’s quest for independence. It’s set at a time when religon played centre stage in the lives of the people.  So besides being a story of an individual, it is a story of the times as well.”

There are some French sentences in the book. Meticulous readers can find translations online and eBook versions usually have translations added to them.

Abhaya mentioned a book by Jean Rhys that was modeled on Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea  is the story of the passionate young woman whom Rochester had locked up. Since Charlotte Bronte never explored this woman entirely, Rhys gave a feminist aspect to the lunatic in the room and exposed gender constraints.

kunderaAnother classic we encountered was Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book Madhu talked about. We’ve featured one of Kundera’s books called  Ignorance during one of our Talking Terrace Book Club meets. So we looked forward to hearing one of Kundera’s enlightening passages and were glad when Madhu read it out:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

What would you choose? I would choose Kundera.

Kundera is an extremely sophisticated writer you can keep going back to and gleaning meaning from. In this classic, he charts the life of  a young woman in love with a man who is a womanizer as well. It is hard to capture the essence of relationships and this is what Kundera does with breathless accuracy.

PulpStill on the subject of great writers and their books, Karan had a book by a celebrated author.

“I was going through a low phase in my life when I came across this book,“ Karan said about Pulp, a book by the one and only Charles Bukowski. This literary work of paranoia features an unreliable narrator Nick Belane, a very profane detective in his fifties. He’s a catastrophe formala- low on luck when it comes to his profession and women. If you want to start reading Bukowski, this book is the last place to start as this is his last book. You start Bukowski with his poems and then graduate to this short stories and novels.

More fiction in Part 2.

The Mahabharata, Leela and the Hunchback @ BYOB Party in Feb, 2016 (Part 3)

jaya-mahabharatSince we can’t have a BYOB Party without the Mahabharata, let’s have a look at what Anshuman Mishra, founder of Mercadeo Education Tech, was reading. This book has been featured here before Devadutt Pattanaik’s Jaya: An illustrated retelling of the Mahabharata .  Anshuman finds the current mythical spurt either too Amishesque or way too Sankritized.  The book begins in the final throes of the Mahabharata. In the epics, we have two heavens, one is Swarga, the abode of the Gods,  and the other Vaikuntha, the abode of  God. One of the protagonists of the epic, the eldest Pandava, Yudhishtar can not understand why it is that he has not been sent to heaven at all.  Anshuman finds Pattanaik’s exploration of the many existential questions that arise in the Mahabharata very lucid and rational.

Aditya Sengupta, an avid reader of the various interpretations of the Mahabharata, begs to differ. He believes that Pattanaik makes things a little too simplistic and that the Mahabharata is devoid of any such judgement.  When Yudhishtir asks this question, he throws the dice to answer what dharma is. There is no answer. What is justice? No answer, either. There is far too much grey, and no amount of thinking can take a prince out of his hellish destiny if he must endure it.

leelaThat was without a doubt a heavy interpretation. Neha who works in The IT industry prefers to read books that are refreshing and in more of the ‘light reading’ category. She hopes that this BYOB Party inspires her to read more, a habit that is hard to sustain in such busy times. She talked about her experience reading a book called Leela: A Patchwork Life. Leela was once voted as one of the five most beautiful women in the world and has served as a muse to many a famous icon. “What I liked about the book were the little windows we got to witness the actress’s life through. There was a light-hearted segment about her experience at an uptown resturant where the toothpicks were made of porcupine quills. This is something that is hard to forget!”

the hunchback of notre dame

Sunny, who is a reader of classics, found the first 150 pages of Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre-Dame tedious. “Once I got past the descriptions of medieval France in the 1400s, it was smooth sailing and to top it off this is a love story with the protagonist, an underdog, the hunchback Quasimodo,  who ends up being the hero of a love story.”

difficult pleasuresPiya Bose, HR Professional, has been reading every Indian author she can find and she feels that there are not too many good ones. There seem to be quite a few in the market, but not many have caught her fancy. Either the stories do not suit her taste or she finds the editorial errors too glaring to ignore. One writer she particularly has taken a fancy to is Anjum Hasan. Her book Difficult Pleasures is a book of well-written riveting short stories that all deal with the paradox that pleasure is not an easy thing to find .

my husband and other animals_Soumya Ravindranath, independent consultant, came across a light read My husband and other animals by Janaki Lenin. The story is about being married to herpetologist and wildlife conservationist. “The takeaway from the book is how there is so much than conventional urban life. We are missing so much; even the kind of thoughts we have when we are in contact with wildlife don’t occur when we live in an urban space. When I read My family and other animals by Gerald Durrell, I understood that there are better alternatives like homeschooling. This book gives you that same freshness and throws nature’s doors wide open. You must read it.”

The music room

Aditya Sengupta read a completely different sort of book that describes Hindustani music. The Music Room by Namita Devidayal is the story of her music teacher Dhondutai, who was the disciple of renown teachers, Alladiya Khan and Kesarbai Kerkar. Devidayal ended up writing but music never left her and she dissects the various aspects of the Jaipur Gharaana. For a music lover who wants to read lucid prose about Indian classical music, this is the best book to start.

That was a lovely spread of books. What have you been reading?


Istanbul, Rumi and the Gods @ BYOB Party in February, 2016 (Part 2)

A question that lay heavy in the minds of the readers this BYOB party(see Part 1) was the idea of light reading vs heavy reading. Does light reading define the book or the person reading it? What one calls light may be another person’s heavy. Tastes differ. The reads below wouldn’t classify as light.

a strangeness in my mind

Sumaa Tekur loves to read while she commutes. It was on one of those commutes in Mumbai that she came across a book called Strangeness in My Mind  by Orhan Pamuk, a writer with an extreme sense of his own geography and who seems to be writing the same story over and over again, as Abhaya observed, though each time as beautifully as the next. The protagonist of almost all Pamuk’s books is Istanbul itself. The book  takes us on a journey through the protagonist Mevlut’s life. Mevlut has a small trade and encounters his own miracles; through his story, Istanbul unravels itself in all its dusty dynamism.



Chandru, writer and researcher at Around io., finds the idea of discussing books at a  BYOB party interesting.  He was a regular reader and a huge fan of Sidney Sheldon, until spirituality kindled his interest. Farukh Dhondy’s Rumi: A New Translation reflects this fascination. Jalaluddin Rumi’s poems negotiate the divine and  not so divine with a panache that no poet since has been able to imitate. Dhondy engages in a challenging feat when he translates the untranslatable as magic is hard to replicate.

the age of deception

Ralph encouraged everyone in the group to pick up Mohamed ElBaradei’s The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times.  ElBaradei was Director of the UN’s International Energy Agency and he and his agency were recipients of the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.

“It’s important to read books like these so that we get a clearer picture of the world. The message of the book is simple- intimidation and humiliation are not the best tactics to succeed in any conflict,” says Ralph.

chariots of the gods


Arisudan Yadav, Project Manager at Wipro, read a semi scientific drama called the Chariots of the Gods. The hypothesis of this book is that many of civilization’s achievements were bestowed upon us by aliens we saw as Gods. What happens when posterity arrives at an uncivilized place?  Whether it’s the pyramids in Egypt or the bizarre runways in Latin America, there seems to be something at work, call it aliens, call it Gods, the choice is yours. As the conversation progressed, a questioned arose whether humans are necessary at all. As a species we are redundant, came one comment. To put things in perspective domesticated animals could not survive without us, said another.

Still in the sci-fi mindset, Abhaya mentioned that E.M.Forster’s story The Machine Stops has a visionary quality about in that it predicts instant messaging. Does the past indeed have all the answers?  The conversation deepened and reference was made to the ancient epic Mahabharata.

We simply cannot have a BYOB party without any mention of the Mahabharata. More in Part 3.