Slums, Swans and the story of Dr. Sen @ BYOB Party in February, 2016 (Part 1)

It was the eighth anniversary of Pothi.com, the company that Jaya and Abhaya first founded. Last year at approximately the same time, we had our very first book party. The rules are still the same. Unlike conventional book club meets, we don’t discuss only one book. Everyone who comes over talks about a book that they like, and if it’s fiction no spoliers please!

ravan and eddieShruti Garodia, a content writer who has frequented several of our parties, talked about Jaya’s favorite author Kiran Nagarkar’s books.  Ravan and Eddie is a book that she really liked. This book has two sequels: The Extras and Rest in Peace.  Nagarkar explores the lives of slum dwellers, and goes beyond the stereotype. “What’s amazing is how he sustains his idea throughout all his volumes. He understands the essence of people who live in the slums. They are not appalled by their lives as we would be by bad sanitation and lack of basic things. There are no existential questions for them,” Shruti said.

life is an attitudeBaraa Al Mansour, a writer from Syria, who is also doing her PhD in horticulture, likes books that explore philosophy. Life is an Attitude-How to grow forever Better is a book that helped her understand more about the power of self-observation. “When we observe our thoughts, we gain control over our lives and we can separate ourselves from external circumstances.” This statement led to a debate on the efficacy of mindfulness. Have the experts got it wrong again?

notes from undergroundNitin Shukla works as  Application Developer at Maxim Integrated Inc.  He used to live in Delhi and has now moved to Bangalore where books have turned out to be his best friend.  A book that influnced him greatly was Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. “ The book is all about finding patterns and it urges you to go after reasons,intuition, cause and effect.” Another writer he discovered who used the premise of reason excessively well was Dostoevsky. He had been reading Notes from Underground. Jaya advised him to read another reason-obsessed Russian writer, Tolstoy’s  War and Peace. The conversation meandered to Kabir, the Periodic Table and the Russian book festival in Jaipur, with a treasure trove of great science books, a reason for many to celebrate at the party.

the curious case of binayak senSudharsan from Vantage Circle  read The Curious Case of Dr. Binayak Sen by Dilip D Souza, award winning writer and journalist. The book shocked Sudharshan and he recommended that everyone who had a conscience read it.  The book is about Dr, Binayak Sen who is a pediatrician, public health activist  and civil rights activist. He has been accused of sedition and is currently under life imprisonment. Dilip D’Souza has charted out the trajectory of the fall of an individual and the failure of the system. The questions that were discussed were existential in nature. Why is taking a stand wrong? What is the plight of a journalist who dares to tell the truth? Why should one have to take sides when it is impossible and is there more grey than black and white? Why has sensationalism and propoganda replaced the obvious truth?

More books and their readers in Part 2.

Tragic Heroes and Time @ BYOB Party in November (Part 4)

So here we are at the last leg of the BYOB Party. If you haven’t read the rest of parts- here they are again– Parts 1 2  and 3

mrityunjayaUmakant Soni, Director at Science Incorporated, read Mrityunjaya, by an Indian author Shivaji Sawant, and was quite taken by his very sensitive rendition of Karna of the Mahabharat epic. (Myths can never be excluded from a BYOB party) Karna is one of those tragic heroes who readers and listeners alike can never sympathize with enough. The quintessential outsider, Karna was abandoned by his own mother and raised by a charioteer- he’s a hero without the halo of caste and privilege to protect him. Sawant explores the epic through this hero’s eyes;  renditions of the epics will be woven as long as story telling is loved.

 

einsteins dreamsAbhaya read an interesting book called Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. The author writes about worlds where time behaves differently than time in our plant – in one it runs backwards; in another it runs at different speeds in different parts of the world; in yet another, people live forever.

“I found the book to be a mixed bag. Some of the worlds are very intriguing and provide lot to think about while others seem forced. I also think that some of the worlds are repetitive but perhaps there are subtle differences that I have missed out on.”

a tale for the time beingJust when I thought that all the books discussed were utterly disconnected, Sanjana Kumar, an endodontist, talked about book called A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, where time was the essential theme. It’s a fantastic tale that touches on a variety of ideas- from the ills of bullying in Japanese schools to the tsunami that could wash up a young girl’s diary in to the hands of a writer suffering from writer’s block on a distant Canadian shore. This is a rich book that is filled with so much knowing that at the end of the book you feel like you have gone on a journey through time and back.

A young visitor Aanya told us about her favorite book called The journey to Atlantis,  one of Thea Stilton’s popular books of the Geronimo Stilton series. And with that this BYOB journey comes to an end.

Tell us what books you liked in the BYOB series of November and what books you are reading now.

Cricket, Kites and Detectives @ BYOB in November (Part 3)

Have you read Parts 1 and 2 yet? This time I noticed that the books diverged a great deal and so finding a common thread was difficult.

a history of indian cricketJ Vignesh,  journalist from The Economic Times,  held a precious book of a genre we have so far never come across in our BYOB Parties or Talking Terrace Book Club meets– A History of Indian Cricket by Mihir Bose. The very enunciation of the word ‘cricket’ enunciated a collective gasp from our readers. The book, which he got for a steal from a flea market in Chennai talks about the pre-Sachin Tendulkar cricketing era. It starts at the very beginning in one of the first recorded games in India in 1721. A must read for any die-hard cricket enthusiast.
thekiterunnerShruti Garodia, a content writer, spoke about Khaled Hosseini’s books- The Kite Runner and And the Mountains echoed.  “There is a simplicity about Hosseini’s writing that remains imprinted on your memory. Take this line: Children aren’t coloring books. You don’t get to fill them with your favorite colors. This is such a simple idea but it remains with me. This is one writer who keeps getting better and better with each book.”

Writers also seem to keep writing the same books over and over again. Hosseini deals with the theme of exile. The Kite Runner interestingly deals with the migration of a father and son from war torn Afghanistan. “Taken in the backdrop of what is happening today, the book deals with a very important theme. The problem with Hosseini’s work would be that his books are more about the migration as it is about to happen and the story after the migration. Today this interim gap is what we are witnessing; he never talks about the trauma a refugee goes through to reach the promised land.”

byomkeshSudharshan Narayanan from Vantage Circle delved into the mystery genre this time and he enjoyed The Menagerie and other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Saradindu Bandyopadhyay, translated by Sreejata Guha. “The protagonist of this book, Byomkesh Bakshi, is far better than Sherlock Holmes, at least to me. I can relate to the characters better as the stories are set in India and also because Byomkesh the detective is flawed and he’s married. Not many married detectives in this genre. The female characters are unforgettable and very strong. Byomkesh’s motto is Satya ki Khoj or the search for truth- an ideal motto for any detective.”

More books from the BYOB Party coming up soon!

Peaches and Sci-fi @ BYOB Party in November (Part 2)

Tangential talk is the best part about sharing books- one writer leads to a story to another writer to another story. There’s a randomness that happens when each person in a group talks about a book that has affected him.

We saw in Part 1 that expert advice could go wrong. In fact data interpretation is the challenge of the hour. Something as elusive as an observation can affect the outcome. “That’s kind of like science fiction.” Sudharshan from Vantage Circle opined.

Which brings us to the science fiction read of the party.

Kumar. S, Architect at IBM, believes that as far as science fiction goes the most challenging book of all has to be the Neuromancer, compared to which a movie like Matrix is simple fare.

The MartianHe came upon a book called The Martian, a 2011 science fiction novel by Andy Weir, also adapted as a movie starring Matt Damon. “It’s pure science fiction, but what I couldn’t understand is how the protagonist handled loneliness. There’s no mention of this challenge in the book at all.”

Loneliness is not to be taken lightly. Ralph talked about how there were so many nonagenrians who were too healthy to die but wanted to nonetheless. Umakant mentioned that this would be the next biggest challenge of growing life expectancy. Machines would be the new solace- science fiction is already posed to become a part of the everyday life of the old and the ignored.

CharlieHarris Ibrahim K.V, Python Tamer at Eventifier, delighted in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. He found the poetry in the book delightful and quite a departure from the sombre horror of Dahl’s short stories. Dahl’s reputation is colorful to say the least. He served in the Royal Air Force during World War and even worked as a spy. You might want to have a look at this.

Unfortunately the movie failed to move him,as movies often fail their book counterparts. “If there is a movie that does justice to the books, it must be The Lord of the Rings.” But here again, some readers debated over the genuineness of Aragon being lost on the silver screen.

james and the giant peach“Not to mention how deeply hurt I was by Voldemort of the Harry Potter series. The sense of doom about him was absent- he was almost (dare I say it?) comic,” Abhaya said.

Harris Ibrahim was not the only one who read Dahl. A young reader, Eshwar, spoke about James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl that he considered the best book he had ever read. The story line is so tempting- a boy loses his idylllic existence and escapes from the tyranny of his evil aunts with fruitly intervention-  you want to read it straight away.

More books were shared. We’ll talk about these in Part 3.

Self-Help and NaNoWriMo @ BYOB Party in November (Part 1)

zenpencilsThis time, the BYOB party welcomed an overwhelmingly large number of individuals who work in the software space.

Nilesh Trivedi the engineer who has made it to all our BYOB Parties so far, talked about Zen Pencils, a departure from the usual heavy stuff he reads like philosophy. He showed me a couple of panels that reflect the writer’s conundrum. Gavin Aung Than, the creator of this comic strip, used to read biographies of of people whom he thought had more interesting lives than he did; this inspired him to use his flair for cartooning to illustrate quotes from the greats. His story is very interesting. Read it here.

the apple revolutionRalph A decided to skip the self-help and talk about a very tech book called The Apple Revolution: Steve Jobs, the counterculture and how the crazy ones took over the world by Luke Dormehl. It’s a non-ficional account of how the hipster hackers of the 1970s generation in California mastered capitalism. Ralph reads extensively and he felt lucky that he fell upon this little known book, a relatively new one at that, published in 2012. A movie Abhaya watched called Pirates of the Silicon Valley explains the Microsoft and Apple story too, in case you are interested.

becomign a writerI talked about Dorothea Brande’s book Becoming a Writer, which I reviewed for our Review and a Half Segment(Parts 1 and 2 here). It seemed like a good choice considering it was NaNoWriMo month. Is a book that does not advocate MFAs and rather helps the writer deconstuct herself close to self-help? The question arose. Brande mentions many interesting tips like writing every day at a prescribed time, completing a short story, meditating on the character and plot (it helps!). I agreed with her assertions- a writer must learn when to be an uncensored writer and when to be a very ruthless critic of her own work. But does this book help with the malaise of the age that a writer faces the most? No, distraction is a recent issue and no book has yet been written that can distract the writer from social media entirely.

The Last LectureJaseem Abid, a platform engineer at Fybr, talked about his taste for more simple books. He read the Lord of the Rings in a month dedicated exclusively to fantasy bingeing. He finds the classics impossible to read, though he is reading Lolita. Inevitably, he arrived at a book he really liked, a self-help book called The Last Lecture, which is more the wisdom of one’s last moments than a self-help book though it is a work that teaches you to value the small things with immense effect. He is not a fan of self-help books and was unhappy that Steve Jobs recommended a book such as Autobiography of a Yogi, an autobiography of Paramahansa Yogananda, a spiritual book with an element of the self-help quotient.

WrongTo end the debate, Abhaya mentioned a book called Wrong: Why experts keep failing us–and how to know when not to trust them. In a world where the flow of information is dictated by gurus of all kinds from the science, finance and health sectors, there is still immense lack of perfection and even fraudulence. Self-help books written in the dozen can not help people; even experts fail us. Solutions are the need of the hour but these elude as constantly.

In a world where self-help is looked upon with increasing skepticism, this was an illuminating session.

Slang and the Yak @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 5)

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“Neelima found a book that she thought I’d like,” said Srishti.

This is how you lose her is by Junot Diaz is the kind of book that Srishti would like as it doesn’t have pages and pages about the curtains. Plus Diaz makes his characters talk crass. ” Diaz’s characters have no filter and you cringe at the kind of slang he uses. For instance, the word nigger shows up repeatedly.”

The central theme is about a womanizer and relationships, in the context of Hispanic day to day struggles in the U.S. “It’s a bunch of short stories that are all connected in the end. “The first chapter was sappy.  But then it got interesting. Junot Diaz talks about many social issues like women who always have to work harder  and the idea of male privilege.”

I liked the way this story continued what Shyamala Rao talked about when she discussed her book Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. In This is how you lose her , there are many sad immigrants’ tales in this book– the story of a useless teenager who doesn’t help his mom in any way, the story of a guy who leaves his family behind, and the awful living conditions of women in who live in small spaces, cramped together, saving for a better future.” This story is very different from the kind of immigrants Jhumpa Lahiri talks about. They are a more privileged class and they don’t face the kind of problems that Diaz talks about. Junot Diaz uses crass language to reflect the reality of the world inhabited by his characters,” Shyamala said.


“If you want crass writing from India, I suggest you read Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English August,” Arun said. “It’s the story of an IAS officer in a small town, whose life is a series of very ‘colorful’ vocabulary, if you get my point.”

Vaishali agreed, “It was impossible to enjoy the book the first time round, but I enjoyed reading it much later.”

The story of crass vocabulary reflecting dire circumstances relates to the theme of the book party we had in September. Some people like Sonya Sotomayor rise above their circumstances, some people never get out of the rut as in Junot Diaz’s book, some have no hope as we saw in the bleak book White Tiger, and some no longer understand what their parents and grandparents fought for. One such book was Pema and the Yak by Siofran O’ Donovan; the story of the displaced community is one filled with grief, hope and a kind of futility.

“What matters most is home, ” said Baara Al Mansour, the Syrian writer.

On that note, we wound up a long party (Read Parts  1, 23, and if you haven’t already) one of the best yet. The next time you read a book, why not discuss it
with a friend? You never know where books will lead you.

Dragons, Fish and White Tigers @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 4)

This is turning out to be one long book party!

earthseaIn my quest for the perfect fantasy novel, I chanced upon Ursula Le Guin’sEarthsea. She is a magician, I think. Fantasy writing is very challenging- the characters need to have magical qualities and achieve magical feats. Le Guin’s character Sparrowhawk’s rites of passage is a coming of age story of a boy who becomes a wizard. So he has all the qualities that a wizard needs except that he is ambitious and extremely human. Le Guin’s craft lies in how she makes words magical as well and she gives a premise for the entire world that she creates. It is not just a make-believe world- the logic of all magic lies in the True Speech, the basic words that give the one who utters them great power. I particularly enjoyed the Dragon of Pendor; what is a fantasy without dragons?

Jaya has been reading a couple of not-so fantasy novels, but novels that deal with the unreal all the same like the Game of Thrones series and the irresistible Harry Potter, though after reading Le Guin, it feels like you’ve been through all the sorcerer apprentice adventure stories created.”I don’t know if   Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy counts, but it was an other-wordly book!” said Jaya.

“No one beats Terri Pratchetts’s Discworld series,” Veena said, “If you want to explore the fantasy genre, start there.”

“And Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card if you want a dash of military sci-fi,” Abhaya said.

The_White_TigerDone with dragons, we moved to a much darker terrain of poverty in a book called The White Tiger that Anil, the software engineer, was reading. Since the book was a Booker winner, he thought he’d have a go with it. It was the first serious piece of literature that he had tackled and it wasn’t exactly the right choice. The White Tiger has many admirers and many detractors as well. Some criticized it for its rawness and treatment of extreme poverty. Some praised his effort to translate something so stark and bleak. It’s not that literature has never mentioned poverty- take Charles Dickens, but Dickens was an optimist and Adiga can not sugarcoat his voice.

There are parallels to Slumdog Millionaire. It isn’t a question of why India is depicted as poor, but how the depiction has been done in the first place.Phanishwar Nath Renu is a writer who tells reality as it is but he is an insider to the grim reality, so his voice is authentic,” Jaya said. “It’s not the depiction of unpleasantness that is jarring, it’s how it is depicted.”

“So a book like Em and the Big Hoom is a sad book but Jerry Pinto’s treatment is so touching, he changes your perception of the subject matter,” Arun said, “In fact, we interviewed many authors and to our surprise we found that most authors write without keeping an audience in mind.”

Baraa Al Manour, the Syrian writer, agreed,” If you think of what others want to hear, you will not write.There would be just one book, if we focused only on the reader.”

Dragons and white tigers later, Abhaya talked about his journey with Samanth Subramanium’s book called Following Fish. Being a fishitarian, the book was enlightening. “Subramanium  takes us along the edge of the peninsula in nine essays and explores not just fish as cuisine but fish as industry. He talks about the bar food in Kerala, the different kinds of cuisines in Mumbai and the very secretive angling community in Goa.”

What you eat says a lot, doesn’t it? What are you reading today?

Flying kites and the Language of Poetry @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 3)

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Vaishali, who co-hosted the party with us, was in search of August, the Month of Winds(Translated from the Russian by Raissa Bobrova). It was a book that she read when she was young, the kind of story that makes an imprint on you, one so deep, that when she spoke of the blind boy in a serious story for children it was almost as though she were flying a kite of her imagination and the story though unavailable to her any longer as a physical copy was forever accessible in a single heart.

Language has a remarkable ability to transport one elsewhere, even in translation. Baraa Al Mansour, a Syrian writer of a book called Look Around You spoke about how Arabic is a language of emotion. “Once  when I was in China,” she said “I saw and beautiful girl and told her that she was beautiful like the moon. That was a little too much, I later understood.” Although she writes in English, her sentiment translates another language.

Shyamala, the wildlife artist, agreed that Arabic was more like French. “May Sarton, a French writer,  preferred to write poetry in French as poetry was too easy. The craft came to her in English”

Baraa expressed how translation could create a distance from true meaning, but even awkward literal translations worked better sometimes as it was closer home to the real thing.
My_Story_Kamala_DasAbhaya who is an ardent reader of Hindi poetry prefers raw untranslated mother tongue as far as poetry goes, “Nothing beats Braj Bhasha poetry,” he said bringing up the true Hindi speech which has ever since been diluted by multiple tongues. He found the case of Kamala Das intriguing. She wrote a great deal of  poetry in English and prose in Malayalam, her mother tongue, Malayalam, a language of southern India as well. The book that Abhaya was reading at the time was a translated version of her prose called My Story, a controversial book. “Perhaps she was able to say things in English poetry that she couldn’t express in Malayalam,” he mused.

“Well as they, you can speak French to your lover, English to an accountant and German to your horse,” Shyamala said. In terms of precision, there is no better language than German as the adage goes.

Cover of In one of the books I had got to the party How to Read a Book (by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren), there was a section about how to read poetry.  I’ve talked about this book earlier at the InstaScribe blog— it’s a mandatory read for readers of books, as so many times we read books in a hurry and words are lost on us.  Instead of reading becoming an exercise in futility, it is best if we pay attention when we are reading by using a highlighter or a pencil.

When you read a poem, it is best to read it aloud (even plays should be read, Abhaya added). What sounds like gobbledygook makes sense when you listen to the rhythm of the words. A poet wouldn’t necessarily want to make sense in a rational way, so she must be read and listened to with an open mind. Incidentally Shyamala mentioned a book by Adler which focused on how to listen. The book is called How to Speak How to Listen. The interesting thing about listening is how it can be an exercise in formulating your own response rather than paying attention to what the other person is saying.

Attentive listening reaps rewards. The post script to this party was that Nilesh dug up August, The Month of Winds, a book that Vaishali so much craved.

Have you had any happy book surprises you want to share?

Mentors and the Tragedy of the commons @ the BYOB Party in September (Part 2)

You can read Part 1 here. In this section, we steer away from epics in our conversation.

Shyamala Rao, a wildlife artist, talked about her journey reading an incredible book called Sonia Sotomayor: Supreme Court Justice by Carmen T. Bernier-Grand. This biography features  Sonia Sotomayor, the U.S. Supreme Court’s first Hispanic justice and the third woman to serve the Court. Many of us in the group didn’t know that judges fought elections in the U.S as this is not the case in India.

Sotomayor’s story has some parallels with Leila Seth’s autobiography On Balance, a story of the making of a judge against various odds. However, the challenges are different.

Sonia“It’s hard for someone of Hispanic origin in the U.S  and no connections to reach the level Sotomayor reached,” Shyamala said. Sotomayor’s is a story of battling the odds. As a young girl of eight, she had juvenile diabetes. Since her mother was out most of the time trying to make ends meet, she had to sterilize her syringes on her own. In spite of her medical condition and her economic limitations, Sotomayor was no whiner. She observed her situation and assessed how she could move ahead.

“This is a rare quality,” Shyamala told us. Which adolescent understands how to fit in and uses observation as a tool not just to fit in, but to excel? As she was bright, Sotomayor was admitted to a posh school, the kind of place where a book like Alice in Wonderland was common fare, a book she hadn’t even heard about. Instead of cringing in shame, she decided to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. She decided to find mentors.

“We can only prepare kids for the world they will know,” Shyamala said as she stressed how important it is that children find mentors wherever they go; parents can’t be mentors in all fields.

Without mentorship, the student is most likely to be ignored right at the time when he needs peers, even in old boys’ club institutions like Ivy League School. But Sotomayor was resilient and for a Supreme Court Justice, she’s full of fun too, considering she got the other Justices to try their foot at salsa.

Arun who hosted the party along with Vaishali mused on the theme of growing up and finding mentors. He talked about his yearly excursions to bookshops as those books sustained him during the long vacatioin. He learnt English from his experience at convent schools and it was when he went to college that he was advised to stick with the English speaking group if he wanted to get ahead in life.

What gets you ahead in the U.S may not necessarily get you ahead in other parts of the world. Everyone seemed to agree that in India merit counted more than it did once, especially in IT companies. In any part of the world, how far you get ahead all comes down to how well you can play the game. “There may be a glass ceiling, but all glass ceilings disappear when people start demanding excellence.”

Excellence is again debatable. There is disgruntlement at the idea of merit being replaced by dynasty. “Yet there is no debating that if you grow up exposed to say film or politics or whatever else, you will end up being good at it, by virtue of swimming in the same ocean,” Jaya said. “Not all of us are fortunate. It will not serve as a reason not to try to succeed.”

Which is why mentoring makes sense.

Arun spoke about how important it is to network and be in the right place at the right if you want to make it in India. It is a contentious issue but being well-versed in your native language is not always enough.  There’s a huge disconnect between the English speaking and non-English speaking community, or what Veena, author of Beyond the Call of Duty, called the Pizza Hut vs Darshini culture in India.

“There was a pre-globalization period in India when people grew up the same and dressed pretty much alike. It was hard to make out who was richer than the other. There were just about three brands of cars.   We’ve adopted all the wrong things from the US. Competitons for post birthday return gifts. Beauty treatment for young kids.” Shyamala said.

“It was a culture shock,” said Arun who grew up in post independence India,” We were taught about sacrifice but today brands matter.”

“Not to mention what music are you listening to,” said Srishti.

games indians playSpeaking of mentors and role models, Veena talked about her co-writer Raghunathan’s book called  Games Indians Play. Raghunathan is an economist and he uses game theory and economics to understand for instance why Indians in general have a tendency to litter. Veena finds his criticism constructive, though some readers have expressed outrage at how he has painted Indians as privately smart(yes, they clean their own houses) and publicly dumb(they sometimes do litter outside their houses).

“This could be the tragedy of the commons,” Nilesh said. Poverty can aggravate the problem.

Veena disputes this, “Raghunathan didn’t sit on a pedestal and give his advice. He stated the facts and the bottom line is that we all need to be nice and care about our environment.”

Do we care enough to become mentors to the new generation? Look at where talking about books can lead you.

Epic Memories and Philosophical Ruminations @BYOB Party in September (Part 1)

This time we chose a different venue for the BYOB Party. We co-hosted this quaint book party with Reading Hour and it took as an hour to get to the venue- a quiet house filled with the warmth of book loving souls Vaishali and Arun Khandekar.

indian-philosophy-volume-1-400x400-imad8zmdnhyxq4vuNilesh Trivedi has a penchant for challenging books in a previous BYOB Party. He found Indian Philosophy by S.Radhakrishnan quite riveting. Though the book is written in English for western readers, it is a starting point for a seeker of knowledge when it comes to such an inaccessible subject like philosophy. While Bertrand Russell and Will Durant have succeeded in making the  polarities of Western philosophies far more accessible, S. Radhakrishnan has veered away from the mystical and provided a serious analysis of Indian philosophy, of which there are several parts.

The German philosopher Schopenhauer’s dictum of never reading commentaries was a strong motivator for Nilesh to chose this book. Summaries may seem appalling to a fiction lover like Vaishali (how can you read a summary of a fiction?) but reading summaries is one way of tackling the mountainous number of non-fiction books out there.

As is the case with book parties, one reader is magically connected to the next by an invisible thread called taste. Arun Khandekar spoke at great length about his experiences reading the philosophical works of Swami Vivekanada and Ramakrishna Paramahmsa.

“It is strange how Vivekananda uttered such difficult truths in his time. He believed in the agency of the mind and finding things out on your own.”  Arun believes that this freedom of thought and expression seems to be a thing of the past.

The Great Indian Novel“In fact The Great Indian Novel  written by Shashi Tharoor and published in the 90’s interprets the Mahabharata in a way that can not be envisioned being done now.”

Arun told us how Tharoor eloquently clothed epic characters in contemporary light, reflecting the Indian public’s fascination with this story.  Abhaya confessed to his addiction of the Mahabharata series that he watched on YouTube several times over and Arun spoke of the pre-internet, pre-TV days when he relied heavily on Amar Chitra Katha to feed his Mahabharata compulsions.

“In hindsight, in post independence India, it was stories like Harishchandra that got more leeway and now we see a renewed interest in the epics,” Arun mused.

Even if you did not know the nitty-gritty of the epic, the rivalry between the righteous Pandavas and the tainted Kauravas have lodged themselves in the Indian psyche.

“There is a Shakuni in every household,” Veena Prasad, a writer, summed it up nicely.

DuryodhanaThe mythical theme continued in Veena’s description of her co-writer Raghunathan’s book called Duryodhana, a book she confessed to reading in one sitting. “It’s a book from the villain’s point of view. Only here, the villain questions the reader. He speaks from the other side and his monologues are a social commentary on hypocrisies and double standards that existed in Hastinapur.”

The defining line from the book Veena cites is when Duryodhana says, “I had evil thoughts, and so have they”. The story of the Mahabharata never runs dry, does it?

More coming up…in 2,3,4, and 5….