Dystopia and Young Adult Fiction @ BYOB Party in IIIT-Delhi in September 2016 (Part 2)

I had read an article recently about the secret appeal to teenagers that lies in George Orwell’s dystopia 1984 and sure enough Orwell was not excluded from this gathering. Animal Farm that describes the secret ministrations of hierarchy was mentioned. “It’s not just a parody of communism, but a parody of any system, even the corporate world.”

if-tomorrow-comesRamya, an ardent Sidney Sheldon fan, talked about If tomorrow comes, Tell me your dreams and Master of the game. What the students surmised from reading these books was that the books revolved around a central female and ideas about the inherent power struggle in a man’s world remains a relevant topic even today. Turns out adolescents like dark fiction. You can read more about this here: http://time.com/3697845/if-i-stay-gayle-forman-young-adult-i-was-here/

da-vinci-codeIf there is a Sidney Sheldon, then a discussion about Jeffrey Archer cannot be far behind. The all time favorite seemed to be Kane and Abel and The Prodigal Daughter. Dan Brown was another favorite, with students heatedly arguing over whether Inferno had the edge over Da Vinci Code. Incidentally, there is an illustrated version of Da Vinci Code as well.

Lectures and Love @ BYOB Party in IIIT-Delhi in September 2016 (Part 1)

LitSoc, whose coordinators were Vrinda and Taneea, co-hosted the BYOB Party at IIIT-Delhi. It was Professor Dheeraj Sanghi who facilitated it. The party threw light on what twenty first century teenagers read in Indian cities these days. There is a strong feeling among youngsters today that reading books is an inevitable part of success and this is good news for publishers everywhere.

if-this-isnt-nice-what-isWisdom was a theme. The party kick started with a book that Vrinda got by Kurt Vonnegut called If this isn’t nice, what is? The book is a collection of self-deprecating funny commencement speeches that are inspiring for students. Not surprisingly,Vonnegut was a speaker much in demand in his time. He was one of those writers who achieved success later in life. Some of his humor can be lost on you if you don’t understand the milieu in which he wrote, but most of what he says can be understood and enjoyed.

You can listen to him here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9Toxp0OJNc


Katyayani spoke about The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. If you want to get teary eyed about a man who has six months to live and who comes up on the podium of Carnegie Mellon to speak, think again. His last lecture is filled with humor and practical wisdom about how to achieve your childhood dream.

Here’s a snippet of the poignant lecture:

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

Here’s the link to his lecture which is long and worth your time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ji5_MqicxSo.

me-before-youTaneea read another book with life’s philosophy entrenched called Me Before You. It’s the story of how love can help you overcome something as devastating as paralysis and the joylessness that ensues from losing a part of you.

More books in Part 2.

Books based on Gandhi



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Closed Doors and Serial Killers @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 5)

Now for some non-fiction.

behind-closed-doorPujan got a non-fiction book called WWII Behind Closed Doors by Laurence Rees. For a war buff, this book is a treasure trove as the author delves into classified data with panache. The choices made by leaders like Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin are unraveled. While the war was being fought and soldiers world over sacrificed their lives, the political games leaders played catered to a very different reality. Roosevelt, for instance, was not overly fond of the idea of the British Empire and minced no words with Stalin about this. To understand more about those troubled times, check this out: http://documentaryheaven.com/world-war-ii-behind-closed-doors/

The conversation veered to the whole idea of empire and whether the British leaving India twenty years later, had Churchill stayed on, would have made any difference. The book Farthest Field  by Raghu Karnad was mentioned. The Indian army was the largest volunteer army that fought the World War and now their service is an embarrassing memory for both sides.

Sankharshan was immersed deep in the work in progress of a friend that revolves around the Indian constitution. He came across some interesting discoveries. It’s easier to get books about Ambedkar the man than writings by him. The conversation moved to politics in the US and the impressive political TV series Veep.

serial-killersSunny, the host of the party, got a book called World Famous Serial Killers by Colin Wilson and Damon Wilson that delves into the psychology of serial killers. The book has been written by two police officers who present various case studies in an objective manner. Sunny spoke about many horrific cases of unsuspecting murderers, including a child murderer. The descriptions were scintillating for Criminal Minds fans but disturbing for others. A brilliant book Lolita was mentioned. The strange thing about the book is that the writer Nabokov’s first person narrative is so bewitching that the reader so easily slips on the shoes of the wrong doer and forgets the criminality of the protagonist.

On that dark note, the party came to an end.

Luck and Objectivism @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 4)

At the BYOB Party in September, we dealt with autobiography and sci-fi. Now for a bit of self-help and fiction.

13-steps-to-bloody-good-luckRajeev Moothedath is an HR professional and author of the book Straight from the Heart. The book he talked about is Ashwin Sanghi’s first non-fiction book 13 Steps to Bloody Good Luck. Sanghi believes that there is one percent of what is called bloody luck and it turns out that luck is created by other factors like recognition and response. Sanghi has a business background himself and probably did not anticipate being a bestseller author in India. His book is a collection of anecdotes and some simple guidelines in the line of self-help.

Pramit Pratim Ghosh who holds the distinction of having been president of Toastmaster’s International had a tough time choosing between two books that he wanted to talk about. He finally settled on Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand.

atlas-shruggedThe book was Ayn Rand’s last book and her longest. This story is set in the US in an unspecified future time. The protagonist Danny Taggart is the Operating VP of a railway company. Rearden is a steel magnate and John Galt, Taggart’s love interest and the hero of the book.

“There are two kinds of people- the capable ones or the prime movers and those who are not capable but get ahead by treading on other’s toes,” Pratim said. In the story, corruption prevents any real progress. When skillful people disappear one by one, Danny Taggart goes in search of them only to find herself in a utopia where creativity is rewarded and not shunned. This book expands on Ayn Rand’s own philosophy of Objectivism where Rand promotes selfishness as a virtue and calls altruism evil. If everyone works towards their own benefit, the world would be a happier place. Her work is a Bible for Capitalists. To understand her philosophy, a visit to this link would be a good idea: https://www.aynrand.org/ideas/overview.

the-light-of-his-clanJaya got a book called The Light of his Clan by a contemporary author Chetan Raj Shrestha. The story is about Kuldeep Chandanth, an ex-Minister of the Sikkim government, whose power is fast becoming a thing of the past.  The narration is matter of fact  and tongue in cheek. The sense of entitlement that Chandanth has and the subtle satire that runs throughout the book makes it worth a read.  The beauty of the book lies in the fact that Sikkim is the backdrop, without any obvious saying so. The journey traced is one of every politician from the heyday of his power to the unpleasantness of  fading away.

Some books about politics like P.V.Narasimha Rao’s The Insider and Through the Corridors of Power by P.C.Alexander also came to mind.

More books in Part 5.

The Extraterrestrial and Time @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 3)

Science was not far behind in the BYOB Party this time.

threebody-problemSudharsan read the book The Three Body Problem by Chinese author Cixin Liu . It’s sci-fi or end of the world dystopian fiction, part philosophy, part fantasy, he decides. The book deals with the ultimate sci-fi question: What happens when humans come into contact with the extraterrestrial or the opposite. What happens when extraterrestrials come in contact with humans? The primary characters in the book are Ye Wenjie, who has a haunted past, and Wang Miao who is swept into a virtual reality online game. The book requires a lot of focus but once you get into the flow of things, it becomes a compulsive read. It has been translated by Ken Liu, a writer of a popular book series himself.

a-brief-history-of-timeChaitanya brought along the bestseller A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, a bestseller science book that has sold nine million copies and been translated into forty languages. This book also has the dubious distinction of being one of the books that everyone starts and no one finishes.

This book introduces the reader to the theory of relativity, quantum physics, particle physics, gravity and the fourth dimension. He also explores how  Einstein’s ideas changed physics forever. The book is written very simply, Chaitanya confirmed, and there are no equations to put off the mathematically uninclined. The book brought alive a discussion about the Matrix and the role of man in a world where he is merely a pawn.

Shantaram and A Street Cat @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 2)

openIn Part 1, the discussion involved Intellectual Property and plagiarism.  The discussion also  meandered to ghost writers. Usually autobiographies of celebrities have a ghost writer author. This may or may not be the case with the book Open by the tennis player Andre Agassi. Supriya loved the book and felt it read like a breezy love story.

“Whatever one’s public persona is, the personal insecurities are the same, irrespective of perception,” she said. Agassi was a tennis player whom everyone admired in his day. “Even if the book is ghost written, what does it matter?” Rajeev said. “Some stories have to be told.”

The book describes Agassi’s training as a child, his adolescence in a Florida tennis camp, his rebellious nature and raw talent. He talks about important matches, relationships, physical pain and true love.

Other sports persons’ biographies discussed were Sachin’s biography and an upcoming movie called M.S.Dhoni: The Untold Story.

shantaramThere were quite a few biographies at this BYOB Party. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is no different. Chaitanya found this book riveting and , of course, it really needs no introduction. The novel spans the real events in the life of the author. Roberts is convicted to a nineteen year imprisonment in Australia but he escapes to Mumbai. There he begins a new life, makes new friends, works with the socially downtrodden, and eventually finds his way back into the criminal circuit. There is a saving grace at the end of the novel.

“Even if we remove the protagonist from the book, Mumbai would stand out as the strongest protagonist,” Chaitanya said. Undoubtedly. Shantaram is said to have done a lot for Mumbai tourism as well. Consider the Shantaram Walking tour.

Speaking of books about Mumbai, there are many others like Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City and City Adrift by Naresh Fernandes.

a-street-cat-named-bob_Piya got a light book in the true sense.  “You can read it any difficult street junction; it takes just two hours.” The book called A Street cat named Bob by James Bowen tells his own tale. He is a recovering drug addict, homeless and penniless. He’s pretty much at the end of it all, when he meets Bob who turns things around for him. From that moment of nursing the sick cat to health, Bowen’s experiences as a busker change for the better.

Just as Shantaram depicts Mumbai, A Street Cat named Bob shows the London of the streets. No manicured gardens for you. The book has sold one million copies in the UK and is now being adapted into a motion picture.

the-ditchdiggers-daughtersNeha got a book called The Ditch Digger’s Daughters . A write-up in The Reader’s Digest caught her eye when she was young and Neha was pleased to finally get to read the book she so coveted. It did not disappoint. The story is set in East Harlem in the US and tells the story of a father with six daughters during the Great Depression. He is an ambitious man and wants all his daughters to become doctors. He goes to great length to achieve this, even cordoning them off from other kids who could be potential bad influences. Even when his daughters created a successful band, he frowned upon the frivolities of a short-term success. “What stood out for me was the Maslow’s hierarchy imprinted in the Father’s head. He chose the security of his daughters above all else,” Neha said.

“Do we have an Indian equivalent to this?” Ralph said.

The discussion then went around to the dearth of such stories in a country where there are only such stories. Everyone could identify with the Father’s struggle in the book. Some books like Kalam’s Wings of Fire and Karmayogi about E. Sreedharan came to mind, but there doesn’t seem to be a book that chronicles the true life of an utterly downtrodden person in popular memory. Websites like Upworthy and Humans of Mumbai/New York are alternatives.

And on a lighter note for individual stories, Goats of Bangladesh.

3-word Sentences and Intellectual Property @ BYOB Party in September 2016 (Part 1)

This time the BYOB Party was hosted with Sunny at his office in Bangalore. The spirit of the party was more in lines with autobiography, though we start with a different kind of reading material.

Ralph talked about Philosophy of Intellectual Property by Peter Drahos.  The hard cover version  is available at Amazon. This is a downloadable book and as such Ralph does not recommend downloading books as it is an overly strenuous exercise and should be avoided in light of practical difficulties. The sentences are very long, ’23 word sentences’, as he puts it and one must read slowly if one is to assimilate. The treatise as such is extremely topical and relevant, and the gist of it would be  that as far as copyright goes, Drahos argues for instrumentalism as opposed to proprietorism.

Jaya broke it down for us. The idea of copyright itself is a relatively new idea, maybe a century old. The idea behind copyright, contrary to the belief prevalent right now, was to incentivize creation to enhance the greater good. What has happened now is that proprietorism or ownership is given leverage and the reason that copyright came into being in the first place has been forgotten.

She pointed out about the recent High Court ruling in India that enabled teachers and students to  photocopy textbooks prescribed by an educational institution. Already libraries are doing this, but this ruling is a blow to academic publishers. The conversation meandered to citations, very different from plagiarism, and stayed on plagiarism cited in a First Lady aspirant’s speech and  long passages plagiarized in a book called How Opal Mehta got Kissed. Another aspect of book-related ethics discussed was book packaging and ghost writing.

More on that in Part 2.

5 Indian Authors in English You Should Read

We all know our Vikram Seth and Amitav Ghosh, but there are some Indian authors who seem to have escaped the limelight in spite of being great writers. We hunted down a few authors on Worth a Read’s(WaR) recommendations list.

kiran_nagarkar1) Kiran Nagarkar is surprisingly not read to the extent to which he should be. Nagarkar is an Indian novelist, drama and film critic and screenwriter. Plus he is bilingual- he writes in both Marathi and English. He has been awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, described as the ‘highest tribute Germany can pay to individuals’.

He has also been awarded India’s most prestigious literary award, the Sahitya Akademi Award for the novel Cuckold. This book set in the early sixteenth century in the Rajput kingdom of Mewar is a story about battles, feudalism and love.

A book of his that was featured on WaR recommendations was God’s Little Soldier, a saga sprawling from Mumbai to California. Nagarkar takes fundamentalism by the bones and creates a timely epic that leaves you breathless. Read a detailed review here: https://wortharead.pub/2015/04/01/book-of-the-month-gods-little-soldier-by-kiran-nagarkar/

Nagarkar dabbles in a variety of genres and there seems to be no topic he is unable to address. Take his humor driven Ravan and Eddie and The Extras.


2) Chetan Raj Shrestha is an architect. He lives in Sydney. His debut work of fiction, The King’s Harvest, won the Tata Literature Live! First Book Award 2013.

The King’s Harvest is a beautifully created book and the novellas in the book revolve around Sikkim. One story An Open-and-Shut Case is a thriller. A woman has hacked her husband into forty seven pieces and confesses at the station. It’s a pretty simple case to shut, but there is more to it than meets the eye. The King’s Harvest is a different kind of story about a man who journeys to visit his king to give him a share of his harvest. Shrestha’s writing is magical and literary. Read the review of the book here: https://wortharead.pub/2016/04/11/book-of-the-month-the-kings-harvest-by-chetan-raj-shreshtha/


3) Manu Joseph is becoming a fast favorite in reader circles in India. Former editor of OPEN magazine and columnist for The International New York Times and The Hindustan Times, this Chevening scholar from Kerala raced into the literary scene with his book Serious Men, a witty and comic take on a father-son adventure.

His second novel The Illicit Happiness of Other People is again a look at the father-son relationship. This time a father tries to understand why his son committed suicide. The book deals with many ideas, the thin line between clarity and sanity and the juxtaposition of homor and tragedy, being some of them. Read the exhaustive review here: https://wortharead.pub/2016/08/23/book-of-the-month-the-illicit-happiness-of-other-people-by-manu-joseph/


4) Upamanyu Chatterjee is an Indian Civil Servant from Bengal who weaves in his fiction and essays literary prose that is reminsiscent of authors like Kafka and Camus and a keen observation of present day India. Chatterjee has produced noteable short stories. His best selling work which catapulted him to the hall of fame was English, August, published in 1988.  The book can evoke a variety of reactions- you could hate the protagonist, a drunk, stoned Westernized individual stuck in rural India or you could pity him. A detailed review here: https://wortharead.pub/2016/02/04/book-of-the-month-english-august-by-upamanyu-chatterjee/

In 2009, he was awarded Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in recognition of his ‘exemplary contribution to contemporary literature’. He has also been awarded the Sahitya Akademi Award for The Mammaries of the Welfare State. His novel Way To Go was shortlisted for The Hindu Best Fiction Award in 2010.


5) Perumal Murugan is a Tamil writer and scholar but some of his works are available in translation. Murugan was in the news last year as he was under attack for the publication of his novel Madhurobhagan, later translated as One Part Woman. An emotional Murugan promised not to wield his pen henceforth. In 2016, the Madras High Court quashed those charges and the writer has decided to write again.

The controversial story centers on the need to have children and how a couple go to great length to fulfill this need.  They find solace in a deity but part of their solace lies in having consensual sex with another partner in order to conceive. The story touches on marriage, social taboos and sexual mores, and though it is set in a distant past, it tells a story still very relevant in India now.

Read the review here: https://wortharead.pub/2016/06/17/book-of-the-month-one-part-woman-by-perumal-murugan/

Drive, Revolution and Diplomacy @ BYOB Party in July 2016 (Part 6)

driveRahul bought along the book by Daniel H.Pink called Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. This fairly recent book is a must read if you want to understand what motivates the person, the student, the child, the employee, etc. Motivation comes across as a very scientific concept. The kind of incentives that work for a twenty something employee would not work for an employee nearing her forties. The author explains how driving factors today include: autonomy, mastery, and a sense of purpose. He peppers the book with examples of companies who are trying newer models to motivate their staff. Rahul recommends this refreshing assessment of very relevant subject matter and told us about the Japanese concept called Ikigai or the reason for being.

the fourth industrial revolution

Ari talked about a brand new book called Fourth Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab, founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum. Schwab talks about the new automated future. The technological revolution of this day and age has led to more and more people losing their jobs to bots. Yet he believes that there is an answer to this conundrum- re-skilling. By re-skilling, human beings have a better chance. Comparisons were made to the computerization of railways and banks in India. At the time, people were threatened by the all pervasive influence of technology. Paranoia when it comes to change is quite common. There was some optimism in the group. While change can be threatening, there are simultaneous checks and balances happening in parallel.

Some, however, felt that scare mongering was valid. In India particularly, the percentage of people who could re-skill is very limited, so succeeding in a digital economy becomes suspect. While in many countries print is dying, in India it thrives, so the Fourth Industrial Revolution has a long way to go, geographically at least.

engaging indiaAditya Sengupta spoke about a book that he picked up a long time ago called Engaging India: Diplomacy, Democracy, and the Bomb by Strobe Talbott. This non-fiction revolves around the diplomatic events that surrounded a very crucial time in India’s military history. In 1998, three nuclear devices exploded under the Thar Desert. This led to a US-India standoff. Strobe Talbott, the Deputy Secretary of State, and Jaswant Singh, the Ministry of External Affairs, engaged in serious talks for almost two years and this opened a new chapter in Indo-US relations ever since. Aditya found the Indian viewpoint told through the US viewpoint interesting. If you are interested in the Talbott-Singh dialogues, watch this: https://www.c-span.org/video/?195227-1/usindia-relations

With that we wrap up the BYOB Party episodes of July!