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.

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!