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.

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.

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.

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.

Investment and Inequality @ BYOB Party at the Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for Investment Philosophies aswathRalph spoke economics at the BYOB Party this time. The book he focused on this time was Investment Philosophies by Aswath Damodaran, a well-known academic and practitioner in finance.

It’s a very interesting book, a reference textbook for management students too. There are some very descriptive exercises which I didn’t do as I was intimidated by the prospect. It’s the perfect guide for investors who want a better understanding of investment strategies including indexing, passive and activist value investing, growth investing, chart/technical analysis, market timing, arbitrage, etc. It’s no book for a novice and is based entirely on empirical studies. No gut feel or magic wand here.

You can follow Damodaran’s YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCLvnJL8htRR1T9cbSccaoVw

Image result for The Price of Inequality amazonThe economics trend continued with Devanshu who talked about The Price of Inequality by Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. Turns out inequality doesn’t help the privileged either in the long run. Stiglitz does an in-depth study of what leads to inequality- unpredictable markets and faulty political systems. Adam Smith was discussed as is the case when economics is brought up. Indira mentioned an insightful book called The Growth Delusion by David Pilling, a revelatory and entertaining book about the pitfalls of how we measure our economy and how to correct them. If you are looking for the equivalent of Strunk and White of Economics, look no further than the book Economics in one Lesson by Henry Hazlitt- another good book to understand the economy. To understand the story of runaway capitalism, watch The Lorax.

More books in Part 3.

The Jewel in the Crown and the India Unknown @ BYOB Party at The Takshashila Institution in Nov 2018 (Part 1)

This November, we hosted the BYOB Party along with The Takshashila Institution at Church Street in Bangalore. The ambience of the Institution was perfect for heated book discussions.

Image result for Plain Tales From The Raj: Images of British India in the 20th CenturyImage result for  Plain Tales from the HillsApurba kicked off the BYOB Party with a book by Charles Allen called Plain Tales From The Raj: Images of British India in the 20th Century. Apurba identified with Allen’s book as the book spoke about British cantonments, the kind where she had grown up with clubs where seating arrangements were hierarchical. This oral history of the British Raj threw light on the Anglo-Indian community inIndia and the prejudices they faced.

Another book, Apurba picked up was Plain Tales from the Hills by Rudyard Kipling. It’s available on gutenberg.org as well. Apurba enjoyed Kipling’s observations on life in colonial times. These musings were of a time gone by with rulers who have shed their crown. One must read it keeping this in mind, says Apurba. She added as an aside that there is a park called the Kanha National Park where everything is named after Kipling. You can read more about this park where Jungle Book comes to life here.

Image result for zorami amazonM.N Rajeev continued with the theme of the India that remains unknown to Indians when he spoke about a book called Zorami- A Redemption Song by Malasawmi Jacob. This is the first novel ever written by a Mizo (a tribal community in North East India) writer in English. The book tells the  story of Zorami the protagonist in the unfolding context of Mizo history, particularly the Mizo Uprising. So little is known about the roots of the Mizo tribe and its history (including that of the uprising in the famine) and strangely there is very little curiosity about this part of the world. The book opened up a region in Indian geography that most Indian readers confine to a single phrase in a textbook. The book is an interesting piece of what could be called faction, an intricate mixture of facts and fiction, the most ideal way to understand history. M.N. Rajeev read out an intriguing excerpt from the book.

Chapter 29: A burned-out stub

“Dinpui, Dinpui, min lo nghak rawh!  Min kalsan suh!  Wait for me.  Don’t leave me!” Sanga mumbles.

 A startled Zorami puts down the book she has been reading and gazes at her sleeping husband.

She sits up and shakes him awake. “U Sang, what is it?  Who are you calling?”

He sits up and rubs his eyes.  She puts a hand on his shoulder and asks, “What is troubling you?”

“A sad dream.”

“Who is Dinpuii?”

After a long silence he tells her.

Dinpuii is the girl he loved.  He can’t forget her, though he has tried.

Zorami feels like she’s hurling down into a black abyss.

And then she feels nothing.  No anger, no grief, no emotion at all.  Only a heavy deadness.  “No wonder there’s no spark of romance in our life together.  He’s only a burned out stub, poor guy!” she thinks.

At last, in a flat, lifeless voice she manages to ask, “Where is she now?”            

“Dead.”

More books in Part 2.

Reader Interview of Varun (The Newbie) @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018

We talked books with bibliophile Varun.

Tell us about your reading journey.

I picked up reading because of my mother. She’s from a Hindi medium school but she ended up doing a Ph.D. in botany in English. Overcoming the Hindi to English barrier was difficult for her as she came from a family where education was promoted but getting into an English medium school was not that easy. She was a completely self-taught reader.

My most vivid memory of childhood was of her cooking while I stood at the door reading and listening while she corrected the words. It is very similar with how my wife and I spend time with our daughter. Over the last few years, we have spent a lot of time reading to her. We don’t have a television at home and it does get depressing at times but we’ve stuck with this schedule. In the US, the library culture is pretty good. My daughter ended up reading one thousand books at a young age.

Have you read as many children’s books when you were young?

No, but my grandfather had a kirana store with a library next door, so I had the privilege of borrowing books whenever I pleased. I read a lot until I was sixteen, after which the pressure to focus on academics was high. There are many voracious readers in my family and I’ve seen the benefits and perils of reading too much, so I have tried to maintain a balance at home. I buy less books now and focus more on my daughter’s reading.

Tell us about your online reading habits.

I’ve moved to reading blogs where I can get piecemeal information. Audiobooks are extremely useful but I’m too stretched for time. I really enjoy podcasts, which veer to the non-fiction side, though the podcast scenario in India is non-existent almost.  I enjoy fiction but there is not enough time to invest in it. I divide my time between digital vs physical books. If the book is small, I prefer ebooks. If it’s fiction, I prefer the hard copy.

Any book or author you would recommend?

I love Ayn Rand’s books as I’ve found them eye-opening and introspective. I’m slightly dissatisfied by the new breed of Indian writer like Chetan Bhagat though he does appeal to many people, even my wife. I wouldn’t say all commercial writers are not good enough. I quite enjoy reading writers like Vikram Chandra.

What’s your take on Book Clubs and BYOB Parties such as these?

I used to be one of the organizers of the Bangalore Book Club, so I really enjoy book gatherings, this one included.

Since you were in the US, tell us about whether the reading habits of both communities are different.

Well compared to the urban middle class in the US, the high-income group in India reads a lot less. Post academia, people just drop off and talking about books is a faux pas. Netflix is a much better conversation starter.

Thanks, Varun for talking about books with us!

 

Reader Interview of Anshuman (The Regular) @ BYOB Party in Sep, 2018

We spoke to Anshuman about his readerly experiences.

Tell us about your book journey.

I started young. Somewhere along the way, I started collecting comic books in Hindi and English. When it got too far, my parents had to put their foot down as too much reading was affecting my studies. At IIT Kharagpur, we had an immense library with some 25,000 books. I became addicted.  Now with office hours that drain my time, it is harder to read at the speed I once did. I’ve only managed to read two books since the last BYOB Party I attended.

Is technology helping when it comes to pursuing reading or is it a deterrent?

Kindle has helped me as I can carry it everywhere- at the office, the station, the airport…. Flipside- I’m uncomfortable with the format. I love the feel of the page much more.

What about the reading habits of your children? You had brought them here the last time.

My daughter especially loves listening to stories. I keep encouraging her to read every day. I try to stop my son now as he reads copiously and he has his lessons to focus on. Gaming has affected his reading but we keep strict curfew hours.

Are you into fiction and non-fiction?

Totally into fiction- especially historical fiction like Empire by Devi Yashodharan, Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin and Our Moon has Blood Clots by Rahul Pandita. Although I love facts and figures, my reading is more inclined toward story-telling.

What about internet reading or listening to podcasts? 

No way. No blogs, facebook. And though I have listened to podcasts, the tech-phobic reader in me doesn’t enjoy it.

Favorite book?

(Laughs) Never can be a favorite though I do keep going back to the Mahabharat in all its versions. LOTR, Asterix and Tin Tin are my comfort reads.

Thanks Anshuman. It was great talking to you!