Misleading Positivity, Mahabharata and Morrie @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 8)

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Abhinay spoke about The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, a self-help book with a difference. Mark Manson believes that positivity is over-rated and he believes that accepting our follies and faults and the uncertainties of life is the first step toward becoming more responsible citizens. His arguments are backed by academic research.

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Aparna added a mythical twist to the BYOB Party with her book titled The Kaunteyas by Madhavi S. Mahadevan. The Mahabharata can never become redundant as more and more authors in India are exploring varying points of view and in almost every BYOB Party at one point in time, a Mahabharat-based book or discussion was common fare. In this book, it is Kunti’s destiny that is explored. She leads a normal life until she misuses the boon Durvasav gave her. Her life is a series of obstacles; her husband Pandu loses the throne to Dhritarashtra and dies once the Pandavas are born. To complicate the inheritance battle, she is mother to an illegitimate child, Karna. “While Draupadi’s suffering is more graphic, Kunti’s is more bearable,” Aparna said.

Image result for tuesdays with morriesPriya swears by Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The book talks about getting a second chance with your mentor. The author meets his long-lost mentor, Morrie who is dying of ALS and every Tuesday, he learns the lessons he thought he had lost.

Here’s an interview with Mitch Albom.

And with that, we come to the end of one very enlightening BYOB Party.

Communication, Everyday India and Matrimonial Ads @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 7)

Image result for transactional analysis amazonAnish Nair emphasizes that if there are two books you need to understand how better to communicate in the world today, read Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman and Transactional Analysis in Psychotherapy by Eric Berne.

Dr. Eric Berne has been credited with developing one of the most innovative approaches to psychotherapy. “The book is not technical and so it is easy to read. In everyone, there is a child and a parent and our responses to people come from these residues within us. So when I talk to my child, I may be imitating my own parents and if I instinctively dislike someone that is the child in me reacting to the parent in the person I dislike. A book you must read to understand how best to communicate with others,” Anish said.

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Ashu talked about a delightful non-fiction called Mother Pious Lady: Making Sense of Everyday India (the term Mother Pious Lady is liberally used in matrimonial adverts), a compilation of Monday columns by social commentator Santosh Desai. Desai likes to examine all the idiosyncrasies of Indian life be it antakshari or auto rickshaws. Get a feel of his style:

The auto is the urban rat: a wily, crafty creature that wriggles its way through the urban sewer. The auto deals with the road on a second-by-second basis, recognizing that the Indian town is the abode of the Constantly Changing Circumstance. Twisting and turning constantly, the auto dribbles its way through traffic, mankind and chaos in no particular order. Every inch of territory is fought for using not courage but guile. The auto defies the idea that the road is a straight line but sees it as a chessboard, contemplating the next move as if a world of options is open to it.

In many ways, the auto is perfectly at home with twisty by-lanes, gullies and mohallas and mimics their lack of linearity. In fact, even on a straight road, the auto contrives somehow to avoid linearity as it zigzags its way out of sheet habit. The auto, like so many other things in India, almost actively seeks to subvert order by insinuating itself wherever it can. It brings to us a vastly enhanced sense of sub-atomic distances by intruding so close into the vehicle just ahead that distance becomes a state of mind rather than a state of being.

The auto is the one vehicle that moves in three-dimensional space, spending as much time off the road as it does on it. This it owes to the nature of Indian roads as much to its own design. This results in a unique ability to transfer the topography of the road into the passengers’ innards, converting road bumps into digestive experience.

The key to understanding the auto is to understand its design. The principle governing its design is perhaps a world view that celebrates compromise not as a “lesser choice” but as “inevitable, and eventually, the only sustainable choice”.

Take, for instance, the speed at which the auto is capable of travelling at. It is significantly faster than a cycle and much slower than a car but looked at from the reality of Indian roads, it travels at the ideal speed. Any slower and cycles would zip past, any faster is not possible given the nature of the traffic and the quality of the roads. Its suspension too is self-limiting, being designed for its speed; the moment the auto begins to travel faster, one’s insides mimic those of a food processor’s. The auto represents the ideal of personal transportation, but barely so. It is a shanty-on-wheels, offering just about adequate protection against the elements, which it more-or-less keeps out, without offering any real guarantees.

Image result for Lokayata/Carvaka: A Philosophical EnquiryThe conversation about distinctly South Asian quirks led to the mention of a controversial matrimonial ad for the elite. While marriage evokes homogenous sentiments in Indian in general, there are some who like to oppose the trend. Sowmya spoke about the author of Carvaka,  Prof Gokhale, a brahmin who wished to marry a non-Brahmin. In his book, Prof Gokhlae speaks about a purely secular and rational exercise within the Indian philosophical traditions—the Lokāyata/Cārvāka school of philosophy.

More books in Part 8.

Short Book Review: The Liberation of Sita by Volga

SBR: The Liberation of Sita, translated from Telugu, is a revision of Ramayana through the stories of marginal female characters of the original like Ahalya, Renuka, Shurpanakha, and Urmila. This is unlike the stories of the neglected characters written by writers like Maithili Sharan Gupt which don’t challenge the main narrative, just highlight the ignored one. This book is a subversive, feminist revision of the epic. It’s not the misery of these women that is the point here. It’s their breaking the bonds of patriarchy. The liberation here is not something bestowed on Sita by a man. Her liberation here is from the patriarchy itself.

To read or not to read: Yes, please do.

Eyesores, Desire and Renunciation @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 6)

A couple of gems sparkled: Chokher Bali by Tagore (Tagore adorns the posters of The Takshashila Institution), Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup and Siddhartha by Herman Hesse.

Image result for chokher bali amazon bookLakshmi spoke about the unputdownable Chokher Bali (translated as eyesore), a powerfully written emotional narrative. This fast-paced love triangle captures the protagonist Mahendra’s quandary as he is besotted with his wife Ashalata but Binodini, a young widow, also captivates him. Tagore is a master of depicting human emotion and the complicated structures of human relationships. There’s a version on the Epic channel in Netflix too though Lakshmi emphasizes that nothing can beat the book as Tagore’s writing is subtle and more focused on undercurrents than any melodrama or stereotype. Farewell my friend is another book by Tagore that was rated highly during this BYOB party.

Image result for latitudes of longingIndira Vijaysimha was enamored by Latitudes of Longing by Shubhangi Swarup. This series of lyrical love stories brings together geologists, clairvoyants, turtles and a yeti and spans across the emotional and geographical faultlines of the Andamans, Myanmar and the Himalayas. “The book feels like a response to Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement and it reminds me of Dorris Lessing’s trilogy in terms of the scale of things. Life is so fragile, one moment a mountain stands tall and the next moment, it falls into the sea,” she said.

Click on this link to read a very interesting interview with the author.

You can read an excerpt of the story here.

Image result for siddhartha hermann hesse amazonSajal Raj Gautam talked about the classic quest novel Siddhartha. The book talks about how Siddhartha leaves a life of privilege to discover himself – the classic enlightenment story. More about Herman Hesse, the Nobel Prize winner for Literature in 1946 here: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1946/hesse/auto-biography/

More books in Part 7.

Short Book Review: Pyre by Perumal Murugan

Pyre by Perumal MuruganSBR: My feelings for Pyre by Perumal Murugan fall somewhere in between those for One Part Woman and Poonachi by the same author. One Part Woman was a revelation, Poonachi was a bit of disappointment. Pyre was a pleasure to read, but the story doesn’t tell you anything new. It reveals the characters and the society beautifully and conveys the pathos of the situation young lovers across the caste boundaries find themselves in very well. You can feel a small, but bustling, town and an isolated village with equal ease around you. And you can identify with the couple’s optimism and despair both.

The translation is well-done and even the translator’s note is worth reading.

To read or not to read: Yes, although no need to move it to the top of your To-be-read pile.

Confessions, Feminists and Talking Points @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 5)

Samarth talked about some high philosophy when he got the book The Confessions of Saint Augustine by Augustine, Edward B Pusey (Translator), a spiritual self-examination originally written in Latin and traces Augustine’s restless youth and his spiritual voyage. Augustine was one of the most important exponents of Christianity. The School of Life showcases his work here, good if you are looking for an overview. Samarth talked about the time-space continuum and the principle of singularity that Augustine espoused. Unlike the Greeks who believed in nothingness, Augustine believed that God existed out of time and space and therefore there is no ‘before’ God.  He is believed to have sown the seeds of the autobiography genre.

The book is available on Gutenberg as well. If you want an Existential Comics approach to Augustine, check this out.

Image result for why we should all be feminists amazonSmitha came upon a podcast by Chimamanda Adichie on Why We Should All be Feminists. She was impressed by Adichie’s words:

I would like to ask that we begin to dream about and plan for a different world. A fairer world. A world of happier men and happier women who are truer to themselves. And this is how to start: we must raise our daughters differently. We must also raise our sons differently…

The book adapted from this TEDx talk is a twenty-first take on feminism and contemporary sexual politics. Here’s an excerpt from the book: https://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/adichie.html

When the dangerous waters of feminism led to the inevitable gender debate, Abhaya recommended reading Nivedita Menon’s Seeing Like a Feminist, a history of feminism in an Indian context.

Image result for sapiens amazonSowmya, our host at Takshashila, talked about the inescapable Sapiens by Yuval Harari, such a favorite non-fiction. “For me, there is life Before Sapiens and life After Sapiens,” she said. Harari has covered civilization fairly accurately, she says. Some readers did not see eye-to-eye on some of Harari’s claims, particularly the idyllic life of the hunter-gatherer. This is a myth as survival was not a question of luxury; it was hard work and painful and often a losing battle. Almost every reader in the group had an interesting takeaway from this book. It’s become the talking point of 2018.

More books in Part 6.

Short Book Review: Justice by Michael J. Sandel

SBR: Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? is a book for our times. It isn’t a self-improvement text about what an individual should be doing, as people sometimes tend to infer from its subtitle. It is about what a just society should look like. In addressing that question, the author draws on ancient to current (western) philosophical thoughts, current and recent (mostly American) political discourses and many legal battles that bring some difficult questions about right and wrong to the fore. If you identify yourself as a liberal in political and social thoughts (like me),  it is easy to start believing that in espousing freedom, individual dignity and correction of systemic biases, you have covered all the issues of morality, justice, and social cohesion. But it isn’t so easy. And this book does a good job of making you realize that and to help you question more. If you find liberalism to be just gibberish and think that some good, old values you have learned from tradition are what makes a good society, then you definitely need some of these questions in your life. The limitation of the book for an Indian audience is that it focuses on Western philosophy and American society. But that affects relatability, not the relevance of the book. The book is also immensely readable.

To read or not to read: Yes.

Bastar and Holocausts @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 4)

Image result for the burning forest amazonKrishna had intended to talk about My World and Welcome to it by good old James Thurber, humorous writer and illustrator extraordinaire but he decided that a discussion on The Burning Forest by Nandini Sundar was more important instead. The book talks about the loss of lives of security forces, Maoists, human rights activists, lawyers and ordinary people in Bastar. The story of Bastar is unknown to most people and this book is an eye-opener if you want to know more about the history of the Salwa Judum. Newton, a movie that has delved into this subject, was mentioned. There was disagreement about state property and double standards when it came to tribals. Another book about Bastar that was discussed was Woodsmoke and Leafcups: Autobiographical Footnotes to the Anthropology of the Durwa People by Madhu Ramnath. Here the author focuses on the communal narrative of the Durwa people. Sometimes you need to step out of the world you know to understand that there are many worlds outside the narrative that don’t need to go extinct.

Image result for the boy in the striped pajamas amazonAda talked about a well-known YA Holocaust fiction called The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. The story revolves around Bruno and his newfound friendship in devastating times. “We don’t have YA books that explore complex subjects this way in India,” Ada said. The mention of the Holocaust sparked off an intense debate on the many pogroms that have affected so many parts of the world. Be it Auschwitz where even the bravest soldier feel the shivers or the mass graves at Cambodia, be it the slaughter of the Native Americans or the Armenians or the eradication of aborigines across the world, human atrocities are common fare. “It’s just a question of who markets their stories better,” a reader said wryly.

This is a link I stumbled on while writing this post. It’s an interview with Lang Leav, who was born to Cambodian parents who were on the run from the Khmer Rouge. Worth a listen.

More books in Part 5.

 

Reader Traits and 4 Red Cars @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 3)

Image result for the uncommon reader amazonAnuradha, a voracious reader, enjoyed reading The Uncommon Reader: A Novella by Alan Bennett. The premise of the book is adorable- what happens when a monarch becomes a book addict? There will be consequences, of course. With unmistakable British humor, Bennett traces the lifecycle of the reader. A reader is consumed by a book and utterly changed by the time the book is digested. “Consciously and unconsciously, books shape the voice in your head. It changes the way you perceive reality. In this case, the Queen ignores her royal duties and I am sure many of us have ignored our duties as well, especially when we are caught up in a book!” Anuradha said.

The readers in the room sighed in collective agreement.

Image result for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time amazonManya spoke about the bestselling book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. The story revolves around Christopher John Francis Boone, a boy who knows his facts and has a photographic memory but can not comprehend emotion. “The plot changes every 50 pages and is readable in one sitting,” Manya said.  She also read out a delightful passage from the book:

“The psychologist at school once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 4 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks. He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn’t very logical. I said that I liked things to be in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order.”

Check out 20 questions with Mark Haddon and watch him speak on YouTube here.

More books in Part 4.

Short Book Review: The Myth of the Holy Cow by D. N. Jha

SBR: The Myth of the Holy Cow is a book that should not surprise anyone who has made any sincere attempts to understand the history of our country a little bit. But if you encounter those who think that “cow has been sacrosanct since Vedas/forever” or if you are one of those, this book will come in handy. Tracing the literary sources starting from Rigveda, the author clearly and firmly establishes that our ancestors, for a long time, were clearly beef eaters (not just meat eaters) and there was no inherent sacredness to a cow over other animals. The book is particularly relevant in the current times when the efforts to ossify a Hindu, even Indian, identity in terms of narrow dietary and moral preferences are at an all-time high and which tend to stop at nothing in silencing any hints of a complicated and nuanced cultural past.

To read or not to read: Yes, please. In today’s times, you either need to read it for yourself or be armed with arguments presented here to ward off nonsensical claims of others.