Dharma and Dresden @ BYOB Party in Sep 2018 (Part 2)

Image result for the difficulty of being good amazonAkshay spoke about The Difficulty of Being Good, a book by Gurucharan Das. If there is an epic that probes into life’s difficult questions, it is the Mahabharat and Das goes back to the epic to look for answers to the problems that we face today. How can the dharma be enacted when the odds are against the good? Interestingly, he looks at other epics including the Homeric ones and compares how wrong done is not pondered on; from the Mahabharat came the Bhagavad Gita, a mature philosophical treatise that weighs the pros and cons of to be and not to be. “The characters in the Mahabharat are gray. The Pandavas may have Krishna on their side but still they are fallible and even use unfair means to win,” Akshay said. “So goodness is not absolute and one does act for the sake of dharma, one acts because one must.”

Image result for slaughterhouse 5 amazonSrikanth had read Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut. The book is becoming a regular topic of discussion at our BYOB Parties and it makes sense as it is an anti-war book. Vonnegut focuses the book on the World War II bombing of Dresden. The book is part sci-fi (reminiscent of the movies Arrival and Interstellar), part memoir and was a hard book to write. Srikanth was impressed by the way Vonnegut wrote about the phenomenon of being unstuck in time- so the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is a pilgrim of sorts traversing the world and galaxies and for him, time is not linear; it’s a series of peaks and troughs. The book is very philosophical, besides being humorous. You could listen to the entire book here.

Abhaya mentioned how Shashi Deshpande played with the idea of time in her book That Long Silence. The conversations in the book seem to between different aspects of the same person. Other books about time that cropped up were The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

More books in Part 3.

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.

Unstuck Time and Ender @ BYOB Party in December 2016 (Part 5)

There was a dash of sci-fi at the BYOB Party this time.

slaughterhouse-5Adi read the famous satirical novel Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. The protagonist Billy Pilgrim is the ultimate time traveler. Vonnegut himself was part of the military at Dresden during WWII and the book focuses on the fire bombing there, only to have the protagonist abducted by aliens. The prisoner of war enters another dimension where ‘all moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist.’ Time is unstuck and the narrative is fluid moving through different moments in time in no particular order. In the world Pilgrim inhabits free will is a myth. The idea of the fourth dimension is a well spring for fiction, philosophy, sci-fi and mathematics. It’s the blind spot that can’t be seen and so from a void comes interpretation.

The idea of aliens led to a discussion on the Sapir Whorf Hypothesis (The hypothesis states that the way people think is strongly affected by their native languages. It is a controversial theory championed by linguist Edward Sapir and his student Benjamin Whorf), the movie Arrival, the reasons behind the ancient Aboriginal individual’s innate sense of direction, Richard Feynman’s experiments, an app for the hearing impaired and language as a means to lie and obfuscate.

Speaking of dimensions, Akshay spoke about a book available online, one called Flatland by Edwin A. Abott. Check out the movie trailer here.

speaker-for-the-deadDinesh got a sci-fi book by Orson Scott Card called Speaker for the Dead. This is the sequel to the famed Ender’s Game, a book that attained cult status in the US (take the song: Ender will save us all) and was even studied to understand classic military strategy. In the second installment, a second alien race has been discovered and only Ender remains to confront the truth. This book is the winner of the 1986 Nebula Award for Best Novel and won the 1987 Hugo Award for Best Novel. But it hasn’t been all rosy for Orson Scott Card. Read more about the controversy he has been mired in here.

More books in Part 6.

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.