Buttons and Robots @ the BYOB Party in June (Part 2)

In the first session of the BYOB Party, we had talked about myth and its role in Indian writing, not just in the past but more so now when there is so much room for retelling and reinterpretation.

Post myth, the world turns into a very pragmatic place.

Manish  Mittal, who works in the finance sector, had read a very different kind of book. All fairy tales were fractured at the The Art of Thinking Clearlymention of the book that he had picked up when he was in Berlin. The Art of Thinking Clearly is a massively popular book in a practical country like ours. I had tried reading it but it was a book that saddened me as synchronicity was redefined as delusion. It worked for Manish. “Many of us hold on to irrational decisions for the simple reason that we made those decisions. It’s best to stop before it is too late.”

Being pragmatic is a good thing but sometimes ignorance is bliss. “One good advice in this book is to stop reading the paper,” Abhaya said. “Or stop watching Goswami,” someone added ironically, referring to the angry iconic newreader on TV Channel Times Now.

Shraddha U, a layout engineer with KarMic, talked about Good Omens– there’s a whiff of the weird and the humourous again when Terry Pratchett teams up with guess who? Neil Gaiman. It’s a humorous twist of the Apocalypse. Looks like contemporary writing is about fracturing the norm and literature is seen as a threat by some, mainly because of the subversive trait that reversing plot is.

Napolean's ButtonsSudharsan Narayanan, who works as Partnerships Head at Vantage Circle, has read the entire Discworld series, “Pratchett writes science fiction in ways that no one else does.” He had got a very different kind of book called Napolean’s Buttons: How Seventeen Molecules Changed History— a book for all lovers of interesting trivia. Take the case of tin. It is said that the tin buttons that fell off of coats during the Russian winter may have just cost Napolean the war. Not to forget the spice economy that changed the course of history. “These are the kinds of books that I love,” said Sudharsan, “Like Bryson’s books- have you read Home and A Short History of Nearly Everything?”

em-and-the-big-hoomShruti Garodia, a Content Writer, plunged into author Jerry Pinto’s world.  Em and the Big Hoom is a book that has received much appreciation and is an autobiographical story of building a life when your mother is mentally ill.  Shruti has attended Pinto’s workshops and is a fan of his engaging writing style. “The amazing thing about the book is that it takes a dark subject and fills it with triumph. The book could be very depressing, with its mention of medicine and disease, but you don’t get bogged down by it all.”

Shalini Nahata is the founder of Baltendu Educations and also does reading parties for children. She recommended a book something-happened-on-the-way-to-heaven-700x700-imae2ttnzjejczgfedited by Sudha Murthy called Something Happened on the Way to Heaven. “Many people shared their stories for a contest run by Penguin,” said Shalini, “Sudha Murthy handpicked the stories from thousands of entries. You should read this book as all the stories are about loving life, very uplifting.”

The highlight of the party was when Shalini’s son, Arhaan, read out his favorite book and as it is with children, when they say favorite, they mean it. Arhaan knows Ricky Ricotta’s Giant Robot by Dav Pilkey and he knows it verbatim.

giant robot

More BYOB Party conversations coming up in Part 3.

Myths and Fractured Fairytales @ the BYOB Party in June (Part 1)

At Worth A Read, we love books and what better way to celebrate than chat about books? The book scene in India is robust and bursting at the seams with possibilities and books are now a huge part of the Great Indian Conversation.

The idea behind the Bring Your Own Book(BYOB) party is to get people from various walks of life to talk about their favorite books. While last time round, we had a variety of books on various topics as diverse as shipping containers and historical fiction, this time we had a few binding threads. One was myth.

We’ve been talking about myth a great deal lately. The problem with myth is that it is prone to reinterpretation and is thereby  misunderstood. Aditi  Kulothungan, a children’s book specialist and a book marketing expert from Book Sense, believes that what is most important is that myths are taken in context, “There was magic in the lives of those people that is absent to day. This is the Kali Yuga! We have our god men, but I’m afraid the magic stops there.”

The word myth is a magic spell though- the discussion veered to Devdutt Pattanaik’s Business Sutras and Irawati Karwe’s yuganta-cYuganta. Aditya Sengupta, a biologist, who spoke about science the last time round was armed with his favorite epic interpretation. “The Mahabharata is one of those epics that you can’t really call heroic. Unlike the Ramayana, the characters are grey; no character is truly impeccable. In Yuganta, Irawati Karve treats the epic in a very non-religious way. She was a sociologist in Pune and the first edition of the book came out in the 1950s. Her daughter translated it in the 1960s but I must tell you that some of her observations would be unthinkable today. Most of the retellings that you hear about are from her observations- it is surprising how much of a  bedrock she is to Indian mythological retelling and how little acknowledgement she is given.”

sita-s-sister-400x400-imaefcmzkgctvhuxThere are many retellings indeed- Karna’s Wife and Sita’s Sister by Kavita Kane were mentioned by software engineer Kanica Jindal.  These were similar to a book that Jaya talked about called Mahabharati- which is a Hindi retelling of Draupadi’s point of view. Now Draupadi is a representative of polyandry in a society. Though she was wedded to the five Panadava brothers because they had to share whatever they received as per their mother’s dictum, her heart was only with one man, Arjuna. “Incidentally Karwe talks about how Arjuna was more in love with himself, and the man who truly loved Draupadi was Bhima,” said Sengupta. This is in a nutshell the story of the acclaimed Malayalam classic Randammoozham by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.

Fairy tales did not fall far behind during the discussion. While once fairy tales summoned names like Grimm’s and Hans Sleeper-spindle-coverChristian Anderson, today the word fairy tale translates into Neil Gaiman. Aditi was spellbound by the twisted fairytale of Snow White meets Sleeping Beauty in the The Sleeper and the Spindle, and the characteristic metal ink illustrations by Chris Riddell. If you really want to start with Gaiman and you don’t know where to begin, Aditi advises to start with Corraline, of course the entire Sandman Series.

Fractured fairytales make interesting conversation. In a way the fairy tales started out as dark, I’m guessing they were scary tactics to get unruly kids to behave. Now fairy tales have been sanitized and you don’t want your children to be exposed to the horrid wolf or child molester in Little Red Riding Hood or the terrifying Baba Yaga of Russian folklore.  But reversing the story entirely by making the three little pigs evil and the wolf good or throwing the truth at the kids the way Lan Smith does in The Stinky Cheese Man is outright hilarious. Some fractured tales reviewed here.

Shruti Garodia, a content writer, had an interesting take on how to tell your children stories if you didn’t want to frighten them. “You could contextualize the stories and customize it depending on how old they are. So as they grow older, you keep twisting the tale. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn are books that have dark echoes to them and they seemed so much more different when I read them when I was older.”

“I remember how upsetting the real version of the Little Match Girl was,” said Aditi,” but that’s the story I would want to share with my children. Children should know the truth as they are exposed to so much.”

And that’s the kind of story kids want to listen today. “Imagine a book like The Fault in our Stars. We have two dying protagonists,” said Aditi. There are many more where that came from- Dorothy must Die, Love Letters to the Dead, The Perks of being a Wallflower (which did you like-the movie or the book?)

Sick lit is the in-thing now, especially for the younger generation, while myth has floored older folk. Have you been reading anything on these lines this week? Tell us about it.