Gender, Identity and Fishermen @ BYOB Party in May 2018 (Part 9)

Image result for shikhandi devdutt amazonBhavish spoke about Shikhandi by Devdutt Pattanaik. This book has been the subject of a couple of our previous BYOB Parties. Bhavish appreciated the way Pattanaik explored queerness in Indian mythology, revealing how Indians were remarkably casual about gender fluidity and the entire spectrum of gender at one time. The book is a series of short chapters with an explanation that follows and illustrations to match. A lot of accepted norms have been shattered. Take the story of the king who refused to heed his wife’s advice and realized later that he accepted her advice when she had taken a hermit’s form, the moral being that the source of wisdom is not necessarily reserved for one gender only. The conversation veered to Section 377, Victorian ethics and people’s complete ignorance of examples of queerness within their own culture. “Perhaps it was glossed over as the primary narrators of the great epics that explored queerness as well were our grandparents,” Bhavish said.

Image result for identity kundera amazonSunil spoke about a book called Identity by Milan Kundera. Unlike Kundera’s usual flamboyant books, Identity is a surprisingly compact book. “To speak about this book, you need to speak about the author first,” Sunil said, “Kundera talks about abstract, disparate and paradoxical ideas like identity, philosophy, perception and friendship. He reminds you of Camus for the simple reason of what reading his books does to you. It shakes you. Take the example of friendship, for instance. Aren’t friends just a mirror? A measure of where you stand when you reminisce upon your place in the world?”

Makes you want to read the book, doesn’t it?

Image result for the fishermen book amazonI added to the list of sad and powerful books by talking about The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma. Compared to none other than Chinua Achebe, Obioma is a master craftsman who does a good job of exploring the Nigerian cultural landscape using the lens of one family in particular. Benjamin narrates the story of his mother, father who is always away and his three brothers. The story speaks about a country broken into two because of staunch belief systems- one of Christianity and the other the shamanistic reality that pervades all of Africa. When the children visit the forbidden river, they meet a shaman who predicts a horrible death for one of the brothers. This self-fulfilling prophecy is enacted on the pages with so much life force. Obiama combines African folklore and regular prose effortlessly. Read it.

And with that, we finally come to the end of the BYOB Party in May 2018.

Classics, Beauty and Paranoia@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 1)

We held the sixth BYOB at Muffets and Tuffets, a café at Koramangala.

jane eyreSunny started the session with the first book he had ever read. Jane Eyre, a classic by Charlotte Bronte, was gifted to him one Christmas by a friend. He has read it more than once since then and found this book too to be light, not overly philosophical, and extremely readable. Jane Eyre is a crowd puller and has a whole lot of elements including madness, disability and a dash of gothic. In the Victorian era, women novelists were not a particular favorite and their aesthetic sensibilities were often at the receiving end, yet the Bronte sisters ended up churning classics.

This was a book that one of our guests, Piya Bose had read while in school. “It’s an extremely positive and feminist book that illustrates the story of a woman’s quest for independence. It’s set at a time when religon played centre stage in the lives of the people.  So besides being a story of an individual, it is a story of the times as well.”

There are some French sentences in the book. Meticulous readers can find translations online and eBook versions usually have translations added to them.

Abhaya mentioned a book by Jean Rhys that was modeled on Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea  is the story of the passionate young woman whom Rochester had locked up. Since Charlotte Bronte never explored this woman entirely, Rhys gave a feminist aspect to the lunatic in the room and exposed gender constraints.

kunderaAnother classic we encountered was Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a book Madhu talked about. We’ve featured one of Kundera’s books called  Ignorance during one of our Talking Terrace Book Club meets. So we looked forward to hearing one of Kundera’s enlightening passages and were glad when Madhu read it out:

“The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man’s body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?”

What would you choose? I would choose Kundera.

Kundera is an extremely sophisticated writer you can keep going back to and gleaning meaning from. In this classic, he charts the life of  a young woman in love with a man who is a womanizer as well. It is hard to capture the essence of relationships and this is what Kundera does with breathless accuracy.

PulpStill on the subject of great writers and their books, Karan had a book by a celebrated author.

“I was going through a low phase in my life when I came across this book,“ Karan said about Pulp, a book by the one and only Charles Bukowski. This literary work of paranoia features an unreliable narrator Nick Belane, a very profane detective in his fifties. He’s a catastrophe formala- low on luck when it comes to his profession and women. If you want to start reading Bukowski, this book is the last place to start as this is his last book. You start Bukowski with his poems and then graduate to this short stories and novels.

More fiction in Part 2.