Scale, the Gut, Tissues and Travel @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 8)

Have you heard of the Super Commander Dhruv series? I hadn’t until I was at this BYOB Party!

Image result for scale amazon geoffrey westA non-fiction book that provoked some discussion was Scale by Geoffrey West. This transdisciplinary book is a must-read if you want to understand how systems and networks work. Beneath the complicated exterior of living systems from bodies and cities to businesses, there are simple home truths that can be measured and that are common to all.

Image result for gut endersAnother interesting non-fiction that was discussed was Gut by Giulia Enders. The book talks about how the most under-appreciated organ in the human body deserves much more recognition. Enders talks about variety of issues including digestive issues like acid reflux and lactose intolerance. She talks about how the gut deals with trillion microorganisms and how your gut feeling is a true indication of the link between metabolism and the mind. A good book to digest.

Image result for the art of travel alain de bottonAbhaya talked about The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton. He picked up the book as he has been traveling more of late and the question often came up about why anyone would travel at all, considering the amount of resources and experiences available online. Discovery of nations is long done. Almost every culture has been explored. The book contains around eight essays each of which explores a different aspect of travel. On the whole, he found the experience of reading the book very satisfying and recommends it to everyone who has caught the wanderlust bug.  You might want to sample a bit of Alain de Botton by checking out his Youtube channel.

 

Image result for a thousand splendid sunsBoth Rakesh and Sunny got the well-known book by Khalid Hosseini. Hosseini is quite a staple at the BYOB Parties. We’ve all talked about Kiterunner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. The latter is a historical fiction that tells the story of two women, Mariam and Laila,  who live through different realities imposed in Afghanistan. Khalid gets you at the pulse and this book is at par with The Kite Runner. A Hosseini fan at the BYOB Party recommended that Hosseini’s book be accompanied by a wad of tissues as tearing up was inevitable when you read his work. Sunny loved the way the story seemed to unfold before his eyes as he read. he warned us not to get too attached to the characters so that the book would remain light, Sunny style, and not be overly heavy with emotion. Here’s an excerpt from the novel:

“Women have always had it hard in this country, Laila, but they’re probably more free now, under the communists, and have more rights than they’ve ever had before, Babi said, always lowering his voice, aware of how intolerant Mammy was of even remotely positive talk of the communists. But it’s true, Babi said, it’s a good time to be a woman in Afghanistan. And you can take advantage of that, Laila”

You can watch Hosseini’s interview here.

Abhaya spoke about a Bengali book called Kabulliwale ki Bengali Bao where the author Sushmita Banerjee narrates her own experience of marrying an Afghani businessman, only to realize that his family was regressive. Unable to handle the culture of purdah, she ran away. The story is unbelievable but true as real life can sometimes be. Sushmita Bannerjee was later abducted by the Taliban and shot when she returned to Afghanistan to get back her adopted child.

As the BYOB Party at IISc had a special slant toward poetry, Jaya wrapped up the session with a poem by Gulzar. Listen to the poem here. The raffle prize for the reader who got a book on poetry went to Megha who spoke about Maithili Sharan Gupt’s classic work Saket.

On the whole, this BYOB Party had the highest attendance so far but there was one glitch. The cupcakes we got for the after-party disappeared. “May the bookworm bite the cupcake hoarders!” Abhaya said and with that, we wrap up the BYOB Party at IISc.

Politics, Children and the Time Machine @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 7)

Lalita talked about a Pulitzer Prize-winning political fiction that was published sometime in the 1930s.  Advise and Consent by Allen Drury is a great read to date as it tells the tale of an American president, a topic of increased relevance today. Lalita first picked up this book during the Emergency in India; she reread it many years later after finding it at a books-by-weight sale in Bangalore. The first time she read it, she got a clear picture of how the federal government worked in the US and when she reread it, she was amazed by how little political systems had changed and how much political decisions are often the product of petty jealousies, opportunism, smear campaigns and sometimes even principles, all of which Drury has managed to capture. “Although the political landscape is unlikely to change, there was a greater moral fiber in those times that makes this book read more like a fiction than fact,” Lalita said.

Awanish talked about Manu Josephs’s book Miss Laila, Armed and Dangerous. Unlike Manu Joseph’s  other two books, this one is more plot-oriented, a thriller that examines the political and social system in India. A discussion ensued about Manu Joseph’s acerbic and satirical writing. Some readers find his work too scathing while others think that missing the humor goes against everything the author has been trying to achieve.

Image result for lord of the flies amazonAnother book that was discussed was Lord of the Flies by Nobel Prize-winning author, William Golding. The story revolves around a group of British boys who are stranded on an island after a plane crash. In the beginning, the boys relish their freedom from adults but gradually they begin to take on roles and end up being murderous and savage. What would have happened if there were girls in this group? There was a conversation about a film that would change the way the story ended, had the crash survivors been girls.

Rahman talked about a sci-fi book called The Time Machine by H. G. Wells which tells the story of a time traveler and his machine, now the stuff of legend. Authors of sci-fi like Wells, Isaac Asimov, Jules Verne and Ray Bradbury display prophetic technique, some readers said before we went on to talk about more books, which will be featured in Part 8.

Wonder, Queerness and the Mind @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 6)

Pratibha discovered a book called Wonder by R. J. Palacio(based on a true story), much before it became the famous book that inspired the Choose Kind movement and a movie starring Julia Roberts. The story is moving, about a ten-year-old boy called August who has a facial difference. When he joins a new school, he has no friends but he is used to being ignored and gradually things change. The message in the story is given the choice of being right or kind, choose kindness. Although the story is about August, the perspective also shifts to other characters around him and on the whole, a great deal of empathy makes this book work.  Pratibha wished that she had read this book when she was much younger as children’s experiences are very different and they can be extremely cruel, yet they can also easily forget.

Abhaya mentioned the Pickle Yolk Imprint, a children’s books imprint, which deals with difficult issues that children face like death, loss, being transgender, and being embarrassed. Children’s literature is thriving in India as never before.

Priya is a biologist and since she studies about the diversity of genders and transgender animals, she was intrigued by a book by Devdutt Pattanaik called Shikhandi: And Other ‘Queer’ Tales They Don’t Tell You,  a collection of short stories from Indian mythology, particularly the Mahabharat, that represent a queer perspective. She observed that the book did not have explicitly gay or lesbian stories but dealt with the fluidity of gender in general. She particularly found the footnotes at the end of each story valuable as there the author explored the queer angle of the story in much detail. She read to us the story of Aravan, Arjuna’s son who married none other than Krishna who had taken on the appearance of Mohini. Once he was sacrificed for the greater good, it is said that no widow ever wept for her husband as she.

Nandini spoke about a book called Mind without Measure by J Krishnamurti. The book deals with very important ideas like how the mind, though important, creates problems on which it thrives. A simple example that Nandini mentioned was how we see polarities in everything, rather than seeing things as they are. This book does not seem to be in stock right now, at least in India, but you can read some of his teachings here.

More books in Part 7.

XKCD, Ice9 and the Dust Bowl @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 5)

Image result for What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions amazonAkshay Arora got a comic book in the last BYOB Party and he read it out. He did the same with  XKCD: What if? by Randall Munroe. He describes the XKCD series as nerdy but deep, particularly with the way the author handles disease with humor. Munroe’s also nerdy…take his revelations on Coding Quality and Bobby Tables.

Image result for cat's cradle book amazonLike Akshay, Aditi did not get a translation. She had a go at Kurt Vonnegut’s famous satire Cat’s Cradle. Unlike Kshitija’s book that lacked chapters, the slim 200-page book has 127 chapters, which makes it a fast read but Aditi finds that the chapters end too soon and serve no purpose. The book was written keeping in mind the Cuban Missile Crises and so the character is a kind of Oppenheimer but his name is Felix Hoenikker and he is the founder of Ice9, a dangerous chemical that can eliminate water. Since Aditi is an astrophysicist herself, she enjoyed the scientific pitch in the book and reflected on how science could go rogue. She loved the apocalyptic vision, the imaginary island dictatorship and the religion called Boskonism.  Anyone who wants to know about this ground-breaking novel that was written in indignant response to the irresponsibility that science made possible should check this link.

Image result for grapes of wrath amazonNomaan was impressed by John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer prize-winning book about the Great Depression: Grapes of Wrath. The story chronicles the migration of the Joad family from Oklahoma to California. Steinbeck chronicles the divide between the haves and have-nots, differences that still exist everywhere in the world.  Ma is the character he admired most, so he read out something she said, “We’re Joads. We don’t look up to nobody. Grampa’s grampa, he fit in the Revolution. We was farm people till the debt. And then—them people. They done somepin to us. Ever’ time they come seemed like they was a-whippin’ me—all of us. An’ in Needles, that police. He done somepin to me, made me feel mean. Made me feel ashamed. An’ now I ain’t ashamed. These folks is our folks—is our folks. An’ that manager, he come an’ set an’ drank coffee, an’ he says, ‘Mrs. Joad’ this, an’ ‘Mrs. Joad’ that—an’ ‘How you getting’ on, Mrs. Joad?’” She stopped and sighed. “Why, I feel like people again.”

More books in Part 6.

Translations and Twins @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 4)

Sonali was entranced by Chitra Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions, yet another retelling of the Mahabharat epic, this time through Panchali’s eyes. We are led through Panchali’s relationships with her brother,  Krishna and her husbands. Like Helen of Troy, Panchali’s role in the epic Mahabharat is crucial. Her decisions were instrumental in the unfolding of the war that would eventually decimate the Kauravas.  These lines summed up the whole experience for Sonali: “Perhaps that is the miracle of stories. They make us realize that we’re not alone in our folly and our suffering.”

For those who are interested in reading more about Panchali’s point of view, Apurba advised to pick up a copy of Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray, a book that won the Sahitya Akademi Prize, translated from Oriya. Typically books which win the Sahitya Akademi are translated into twelve or more Indian languages.

At the BYOB Party, there is a huge spread of books by diverse authors and many translations are mentioned. Kshitija who had got a translated book for the last BYOB Party got a book called One Out of Two translated from Spanish by the Mexican writer Daniel Sada. The story is delightful and revolves around twin sister spinsters and their competitive streak. Kshitija enjoyed how the author has pictured sibling dynamics and though the translation can be jarring initially, particularly because Sada uses the stream of consciousness technique, once you persist, the reading experience is worth it.

More books in Part 5.

Wodehouse and the Sailor @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 2)

The BYOB Party at IISc started on a serious note with the discussion of the surreal Partition. Srikanth lightened the mood with a light read by the jolly good Wodehouse called  Joy in the Morning, a good book to start the Wodehouse series of 96 books with and a good writer to alleviate depression. He talks about aristocratic bumblings in the quaint English countryside. The title is from an English

translation of Psalms 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

“You either live Wodehouse or you don’t,” Srikanth said. He was delighted by the social commentary, gags and one-liners, similies, metaphors and slang. “Phrases like God’s gift to the gastric juices,” mentioned another reader, “are the reason why we love this author.” He’s also one of the few writers who has given golf such prominence in some of his books.

Listen to Stephen Fry talk about Wodehouse here. The irony lies in how a man with such a sense of humor was misunderstood to have Nazi leanings. Read this to understand Wodehouse as a social commentator and this essay by Orwell defending Wodehouse.

Milind got an inspirational book called The First Indian by Commander Dilip Donde, who was the first Indian to complete a solo circumnavigation under sail in an Indian built boat.The decision to embark on such a journey was done on a whim. The entire exercise was ‘made in India’- the boat was made, provisions arranged, the bureaucracy managed and then he sailed solo.  It was inspiring to know that one of the readers in the group, Nandini, had attempted to climb Mount Everest twice!

Bring Your Own Book (BYOB) Party on March 24, 2018 (Saturday)

  RSVP on Meetup OR RSVP on Explara

RSVP on Meetup OR RSVP on Explara

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 January 20th and 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. This time, there is a raffle prize for those who talk about poetry books – the winner takes a book home!

There will be refreshment and swags courtesy Worth A Read.

Venue: #634 (Ground Floor), 5th Main, Indiranagar, 2nd Stage, Bangalore-560038

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?

Hosted by  Worth a Read.

Co-hosted by The Poetry & Storytelling Team at IISc and Ranade Library.

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 RSVP on Explara.

Sleep Burglars, Flying Lizards and Myth – Diving into the Vernacular @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 3)

This time vernacular books were high on the list of favorites. The idea behind this BYOB Party was to encourage readers to share their favorite poetry books. Amit who heads the Poetry & Storytelling club at IISc spoke about Gulzar’s translation of two of Tagore’s books, Baaghbaan and  Nindiya Chor. Gulzar is one of India’s finest poets and lyricists. There is a story about how the first book he officially stole from a library was Tagore’s. The poems that he has translated are a compilation from some of Tagore’s collections including ChitraKshanikaSonar Tari, Shishu. The books are bi-lingual and so the reader benefits if he or she knows both Bangla and Hindi. Amit read us the poem Nindiya Chor, a delightful lullaby that shows a mother who worries about who has stolen her baby’s sleep. If you want to listen to Gulzar himself recite it, you may want to head to this Youtube link.

Amit explained how translations often put him in a dilemma. How could a translator remain true to the original? Was this even possible? In this case, instead of losing the essence, the book has only gained, as Lalita said: ” Gulzar has only added ornaments to this work.” There then ensued a discussion on the merits and demerits of translation. On the one hand, translation can ruin the experience of the book and on the other as Jaya mentioned, referring to Sheldon Pollock’s championing of that one rare translator who could get the meaning right, translation is essential as it gives writers more mileage and readers more opportunity to read. How would any of us could enjoy writers like Tolstoy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Elena Ferrante otherwise? Priya mentioned how besides translation, even reinvention of the epics (she talked about Joan Roughgarden’s sci-fi version of the Ramayan) only adds to the beauty of the existing story.

4116AKqJ3qL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (319×499)Megha spoke about Maithili Sharan Gupt’s classic work Saket (Saket means Ayodhya-vasi or one who lives in Ayodhya). In this rendition of the Ramayan, he speaks from Lakshmana’s perspective and portrays his wife’s Urmila’s resilience and poetically renders the pain of separation that she must endure. Maithili Sharan Gupt was a proponent of plain dialect poetry and he was a recipient of many awards including that of Rashtra Kavi; he is most loved for the way he deals with his female protagonists as he was progressive for the time. Another writer who empathized with the female was Tamil poet laureate Subramaniam Bharati in whose famous work Panchali Sapatham compares Panchali to India (Bharat Mata).

English somehow doesn’t seem to be the right vehicle for Indian mythology, some readers opined unless you are fond of Amish Tripathi’s trilogy. So much of what vernacular writers have succeeded in doing is lost when translated into English. “What we need is more translations from one Indian language to the other,” Jaya said, “That way we can preserve the cultural nuances of these works.”  Abhaya spoke about a three-part series based in Benares by a writer called Shiv Prasad Singh, “Such details are impossible to find in English,” he said. Even then, Jaya emphasized the usefulness of footnotes in such cases.  Translation is slowly catching on- check out the Murty Classical Library.

“I can only learn two or three Indian languages,” Abhaya explained,”and so for someone like me a translated work is essential.”

51QON2i2lxL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (338×499)Maanasa who heads the Ranade Library at IISc also got a vernacular book, a Kannada novella called Karvaalo by Poornachandra Tejaswi, Kuvempu’s son and one of Karnataka’s favorite writers. The story is a surprising example of what sounded like an ecological thriller. The book is set in the 90s and tells the adventure of how four very different sorts of people–a scientist, photographer, farmer, village boy with a keen sense of observation–go out in search of a rare species of flying lizard. The scientist eventually transforms into a Seer. This is a book that Maanasa finds hard to get out of her head. Since she herself from Malanadu in Karnataka where the book is set, she identified with the humor and later on as she reread it, she was amazed by the depth and relevance of the story. There is an English translation of this book as well: Carvalho.

More books in Part 4.

Partition and the Woman @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2018 (Part 1)

We hosted the first BYOB Party of the year with the IISc Poetry & Storytelling club and Ranade Library at the IISc campus. The venue was beautiful — the highlight being a tree where paper letters were hung with string, beneath which readers talked about the books they were reading.

Apurba has attended several of our parties. She discussed the book The Other side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia, founder of Zubaan Books. The book is considered to be one of the most influential books in South Asian Studies and has won the Oral History Book Association Award in 2001. Partition is a grim subject and though Apurba found the book repetitive, she thinks this is an important book to read, considering how little we choose to know about this massive event in human history. Within two months, 12 million people were displaced and 75000 women were abducted and raped. Butalia was surprised by the statistics that emerged when she did her research. In spite of having first-hand experience of partition in her own family (her uncle lived in Lahore and converted to Islam), she knew little about the details of the events of those chaotic times. When she talked to individuals, she realized that it was the men who voiced their stories; women needed to be prodded much more.

She spoke about several horrific incidents that Butalia has described such as the way a Sikh father killed his daughter with a kripan. The stigma of rape and the consequent loss of purity led fathers and brothers to protect their women by killing them. Even men suffered. Butalia’s uncle had turned to a persona non-grata as far as his family was concerned but even though he lived in Pakistan, his heart lay in India.

“There ought to be more partition stories about Bengal as well,” Apurba rued. She was grateful for learning about state-sponsored training centers and hostels for women in places like Jalandhar and Ambala. “The Jewish people have documented their struggles but I’m afraid we haven’t done a good job. There is a partition museum in Amritsar though.”

A discussion ensued about why these atrocities remain unrecorded. Some believe that people remain insecure and afraid and so do not wish to tackle the subject head on, preferring to brush it all under the carpet. Others feel that no one owed anyone their personal stories as even these stories would not change the way people conducted themselves. Then there is the idea of social tragedy vs personal tragedy. For many people who suffered during the partition and after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, their suffering was their own and they preferred to let those unreal truths remain unspoken as they had the right not to reveal what had happened to them. “In case of the Holocaust, there is a strong sense of good vs evil but in case of the breakup of a country, who is really at fault?” Abhaya asked.

You can read an excerpt of the book here and listen to the author speak about the book on Youtube.

More books in Part 2.

Dragons, AI and the Nobel @ BYOB Party in November 2017 (Part 7)

Ravi talked about Eldest by Christopher Paolini, the second book in the four-book series The Inheritance Cycle. The story is a mature fantasy based on the adventures of Eragon and his dragon Saphira. Other fantasies that were mentioned were the Kingkiller Chronicle, a fantasy series by Patrick Rothfuss and The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan.

Bhargavi spoke about how Homo Deus was the most depressing book she had ever read. While Yuval Harari’s Sapiens is a mega-favorite, this book chronicles an eerie future for the human race, a future where Artificial Intelligence will pull strings and shove humans off of the pedestal they have lurched themselves precariously on. If you are in the mood for some science fiction reading, you may want to try reading Asimov’s short story.

 

The 2017 Nobel Prize for literature went to Kazuo Ishiguro and what better way to end the year then a mention of his book, Remains of the Day, a book that Ishiguro wrote in four weeks! The story is written in the perspective of a butler. The narrative contains diary entries and the story veers on the relationship that Stevens shares with Miss Kenton, the housekeeper. The book won the Man Booker Prize for Fiction in 1989 and was adapted into a Hollywood film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Piya spoke about how enamored she was by the way Ishiguro would make the reader arrive at the place he wanted them to arrive at, no mean feat and the sign of a skilled craftsman.

And with that we end our round-up of books for 2017!