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Dalit Literature and the Problem of Revealing True Identity@ BYOB Party, April, 2016 (Part 1)

The seventh BYOB Party was held in collaboration with Artwist, which believes in whole brained education.  Umakant Soni who runs Artwist says, “Learning is not only through books; it’s an experiential process.”  At Artwist kids, parents and senior citizens learn through play.

joothanAbhaya started the session with Joothan, an autobiography by one of the most important voices in Marathi Dalit literature.  “This book is very similar to Lakshman Mane’s Apara.  The story starts with a childhood spent in utter poverty and misery in rural areas and an inclination for education which helped the author break out of surroundings and connect with the growing Dalit(Untouchable) movement in cities. More than incidents of outright violence, the most heart wrenching incidents are those where initial affection and cordiality are shattered once the author reveals caste.” Abhaya found this part of the book as a revelation, “Consider the eternal suspicion that lurks in the mind of a Dalit—he expects that he will be treated badly.  The question he asks himself continuously is whether the other person is nice because he does not actually care about caste or has he misunderstood?”

Abhaya cites that this question is relevant in India today. “A large number of people claim that they are caste blind, because they do not know the caste of their friends and colleagues. They might spare their friends a great deal of internal turmoil if they acted as they did in spite of knowing their caste.”

The author’s surname, Valmiki, confused those around them. Many people mistook him to be an upper caste and treated him with respect, only to pull the rug from under his feet when his true caste is revealed. People are forced to lead a double life and move to cities to conceal the identity that others disrespect.

This is definitely a relevant book in these times when discrimination is rampant. Have you read any books that deal with discrimination or racism? Tell us about it.

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Jane Eyre and the Selfie@ Link Wanderlust

Karen Swallow Prior celebrates a book about selfhood in her essay Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self  in The Atlantic. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre already, it is well worth your while. A book primarily read by school children and considered as a classic, it has so ubiquitous a presence that if you haven’t read it, you may already know about the terrible childhood of Jane Eyre and how she climbs out of her destitution through sheer willpower. Jane Eyre’s story is Charlotte Bronte’s articulation of the self, the idea of selfhood we now see versions of in the selfie.

“But before the selfie came “the self,” or the fairly modern concept of the independent “individual.” The now-ubiquitous selfie expresses in miniature the seismic conceptual shift that came about centuries ago, spurred in part by advances in printing technology and new ways of thinking in philosophy. It’s not that the self didn’t exist in pre-modern cultures: Rather, the emphasis the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century placed on personal will, conscience, and understanding—rather than tradition and authority—in matters of faith spilled over the bounds of religious experience into all of life. Perhaps the first novel to best express the modern idea of the self was Jane Eyre, written in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë, born 200 years ago this year.”


This book has laid the foundation for the first person narrator. It was written in 1847 and was a by-product of people now were forced to interpret religion and their circumstance for themselves. No preacher could change Jane Eyre’s position, and she alone was responsible for her destiny.  Considering that this month witnessed Charlotte Bronte’s bicentenary, this looked like a good link for Link Wanderlust. Which Bronte sister’s work do you most love?


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Maple Syrup, Talent and the Joy of Cleaning@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 4)

There were many non-fiction books that readers discussed besides the classics and fiction discussed (Check Parts 1, 2 and 3)


Sudharsan read War Plan Red by Kevin Lippert, a book that begins with British rule in Canada.The book is about the secret cold war between the United States and Canada. Some motives for the plan: capturing all the world’s supply of maple syrup, ice hockey players and natural resources. Conversation veered to the upcoming elections in the US.


little book of talentMadhu Sagar talked about a non-fiction book by US journalist Daniel Coyle. The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving your skills. This book takes you all around the world in search of the greatest talent.  It’s a manual in a world where performance is rated highly and it’s not self-help. The handbook contains scientifically proven methods that can help improve the skills of a child and an organization.

There are two kinds of skills- hard skills are acquired by repitive practise and soft talent is more organic and fluid. Madhu read out a couple of tips to us. For instance, if you want to have a genius in your home, you don’t need to get the child air conditioning. Spartan existence is conducive to innovation as necessity is the mother of invention. So we have thinkers like Ramanujan who wrote reams of theorums in his head because of an acute shortage of paper. And Russian coders who coded in their head. Watch Hackers wanted to understand this better.

RomanAjay got a biography titled Roman by Roman Polanski. The world famous director of great movies like Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown vindicates himself by writing his side of the story.  “Polanski writes in a very mater of fact style and there’s absolutely no self-pity,” Ajay says. He went on to narrate how Roman the boy who lived in Poland lost his mother and sister to the extermination camps. He survived as did his father with whom he reunited much later. But tragedy followed him even later when he was a director in the US. His wife and unborn child were murdered by the grusesome serial killer Charles Manson. Polanski later was charged with stauotory rape and he fled the country. If you are a fan of this controversial director and want to hear his side of the story, this book is a must read.

the hard thing about hard thingsNilesh picked up The Hard Thing about Hard Things by Ben Horowitz, one of Silicon Valley’s top entrepreneurs. This book is based on his popular blog and talks about the stuff that business school won’t teach you. In the book, Horowitz shares insights and anecdotes about the problems running a startup involves.

“I completely agreed with author when he says that most of the advice that we get is not applicable. Horowitz provides simple solutions that are really not simple. For example, there is a misconception in companies that if you come to the manager with a problem, you need to bring in a solution as well. This makes absolutely no sense,” Nilesh said.

That was the business book of this BYOB party.

spark joy

Sumaa went by the recommendations of her friends and chose a highly unconventional  bestseller book called Spark Joy by Marie Kondo. This illustrated version of the KonMari method deconstructs the cleaning process with how to clean everything from folding socks to organizing pictures.” What worked for me as that the book is not preachy. It doesn’t touch on over-consumption, feng shui or spirituality. For Kondo, cleaning should create joy. You keep only what you need and what gives you joy. She also traces the emotional journey of many of her clients.It’s an unusual book and inspiring.”

What a list of books! Can’t wait for the next BYOB Party…..what are you reading now?

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Reading and Writing as Women @Link Wanderlust

Has anyone asked you: “Do your parents know what you are reading?”

Soniah Kamal has been asked this question and she recreates the experience of reading forbidden books in her essay Girls from Good Families. Reading used to be an act of rebellion and still is in some parts of the world.

One day in the late 1990s after I’d married and moved to the U.S., I was reading a short story in a literary journal when I came upon the word “vagina.” I slammed the journal down. My stomach churned, my cheeks flushed, I was dizzy. My reaction perplexed me. After all, a vagina is simply a female body part, so why was I mortified? Iqbal’s genie, who I’d thought long excised, seemed to have only been buried and now leapt to life. I decided I was going to write through my discomfort and shame and battle both the genie’s censorship as well as my self-censorship by writing a story with “vagina” in the very first sentence. And so was birthed Papa’s Girl, a story set in the brothels of Bangkok, where a young boy is witness to his father’s dallying with a child prostitute and is consequently traumatized for life. It eventually appeared in the anthology A Letter from India.

If reading is an evil, then what of writing? It definitely is if you are writing about sex. Kamal’s story makes you think about women the trophies and the honor of their families vs the women who sit down at their table to write chic lit, dick lit or quick lit. Writing in that sense becomes a political act as not every woman can click her keys like E.L.James. Many times women have to agonize over writing about home truths. It may be the twenty first century in some parts of the world, but darkness looms where women play mute spectator more often than not.


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Sci-fi– Hard wired and Emotionally charged @ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 3)

This BYOB Party (Part 1 and Part 2) had no mention of the Mahabharata. Instead there was a great deal of sci-fi.

manhattan in reverseAkshay is an avid sci-fi reader. When he was done with his share of Clarks and Asimovs, he came across Hamilton. The book he talked about was Manhattan in Reverse by Peter F. Hamilton, a book of nine stories. For sci-fi geeks Hamilton’s work provides all the delightful details of time travel, memory manipulation, planetary inequality, inter-galactic wars, and rejuvenation technology.

“When it comes to Hamilton’s series,  as characters don’t die,  there is scope for continuity and evolution. “

In the sci-fi mode, Jaya advised us to watch a short movie available on Youtube- Man from Earth. The conversation moved on to how the social context would change if human beings did not die at all. While on one hand, there would be more Mondays, on the other, there would be less inequality as only those who had the means to live forever would be around anyway. The predominant theme of sci-fi was debated upon- is it human expansion or space operas? A science fiction writer who was recommended was Cyril Kornbluth.


Never Let me GoPiya Bose has read her share of sci-fi as well. What she’s now looking for is a sci-fi heavier on emotional quotient. She found this in Never Let Me Go by Booker Prize winning author Kazuo Ishiguro. Three children Kathy, Ruth and Tommy study at Hallsham in an imaginary set-up in the 1990s. Although the narration is straight forward, there is an eeriness and strangeness in the novel that turns it into a mystery.  Ishiguro speaks about how science without ethics is detrimental to society.

“The vagueness of the writer is a style shared by Murakami too,” Piya said. Everyone agreed unanimously that there were two kinds of readers and you would know who would prefer an Ishiguro and a Murakami as opposed to those who wouldn’t.

More in Part 4.

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Writer’s Block and Mom Monologues@ Link Wanderlust

Maria Konnikova’s essay How to Beat Writer’s Block in The New Yorker is an analysis of the dreaded formless disease/condition/diagnosis called Writer’s Block. Many writers have faced this block at some point in their lives. Even Graham faced the empty page. He did battle it though, with a dream journal.

Writer’s Block is officially recognized as a problem, and not some kind of laziness or lack. It can be psychoanalysed and even treated:

“Blocked writers were unhappy. Symptoms of depression and anxiety, including increased self-criticism and reduced excitement and pride at work, were elevated in the blocked group; symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder, such as repetition, self-doubt, procrastination, and perfectionism, also appeared, as did feelings of helplessness and “aversion to solitude”—a major problem, since writing usually requires time alone.”

The best part about this history of the invisible condition is that a writer can cure herself by resorting to the one thing she can not do any more- write. Knowing that creativity is creativity’s only vaccine gives hope.


In her story Writing my Context at The Rumpus, Lyz Lenz writes about how motherhood unblocked her. She wrote continuously in spite of life and she got published especially because of her life: “So I wrote more, enjoying the publication but resenting that I had to use my uterus to get there.”

Having kids changed the trajectory of her output and her readers liked her the more for it.


Parenting books tell me that I ought to draw healthy boundaries between myself and my children. But I once read that cells from the fetus stay inside the mother long after the child is born. Scientists don’t know what those cells do to the mother exactly, but they do know they linger forever in her heart and in her head. These cells make a mother a chimera—a mythical creature composed of disparate parts. But how can they be disparate when they are part of who you are? I also read that my children have my cells in them too. We are all chimeras.

Have you tried to write your context? Have you felt hindered in some way or do you feel more voluble?

mother and child

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Libraries, Fashion and Dysfunctional Families@ BYOB Party in March, 2016 (Part 2)

At our sixth BYOB Party, we had a large collection of books to discuss.

This is not the end of the book

Sreeraj got a book  This is not the end of the book by Umberto Eco and his fellow raconteur Jean-Claude Carriere. What happens when two bibilophiles get together? You will have a long discussion about your personal libraries, the fate of these libraries when the owner dies, interesting authors and translations, eBooks and papyrus manuscripts, etc. Jaya also mentioned that Umberto Eco’s famous book Name of the Rose revolved around manuscripts and libraries. It is only natural that his love for books extends itself into books that he wrote.


The Devil Wears Pradathe devil wears prada by Lauren Weisberger was the book Shruti Garodia talked about. It’s a book she repeatedly goes back to, a light-hearted read with a pertinent message. “Over time, I think the relevance of the message of the book has become a little outdated,” Shruti said. “It’s one of the few books that has worked so well as a movie.”

The story is about an unfashionable lady Andrea Sachs who lands a job in a very prestigious fashion magazine. Little does she know that her boss is a diabolical woman who expects a slave, more than an assistant.


The illicit happiness of other peopleAvnish found Manu Joseph’s writing to be quite entertaining. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is the story of a dysfunctional family headed by Ousep Chacko, a journalist and failed novelist. His wife has psychological issues. One of their sons has died and it is hard to say whether it was suicide or a mere accident.

“Manu Joseph’s characters are three dimensional and wonderful to read about,” Shruti said.

Has anyone reading this post read Serious Men by the same author?


More in Part 3.

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Anxiety and Bus Theory@ Link Wanderlust

Jessie Burton writes in her article Success, Creativity and the Anxious space about how 2015 was probably the best year of her life. A million copies of her book The Miniaturist were sold. For any aspiring writer, this sounds like the pinnacle of achievement.

But this was exactly the time when she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Burton then chronicles the story of her mind- a mercurial thing like all minds out there. The problem with writing a book and one that flies off of the shelves at that is the anxiety that you may never be able to write another word again. Success is impossible to handle when you are used to failure.

“When something you have made in private is mass-consumed, the irony is that the magnifying glass burns even brighter on you as an individual. Who you are, where you come from, how you make your work. And if you do not have immediate answers to this, because let’s face it, who truly does, then boy, are you in for a bumpy ride. When something like this happens to you, however minor it might be in the great scheme of fame, you never know what’s waiting in your personal wings. You never, ever know how the spotlight on your identity is going to make you feel. You may hypothesize that you’d be really good at dealing with it, but forgive me that I beg to disagree.”

The success of her book led her to dark spells that she coped with and wrote out. Reading her story gives you an insight into the working of a writer’s mind, or even the mind of someone who works entirely on his or her own. Writing a book can turn you into an overnight success; it can wear you down as well. Looks like ups and downs go hand in hand.


So how do you reach there at the pinnacle of success?  I found an article about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory in an article by James Clear called Stay on the bus. The idea is that you could be working on the same idea for years but it’s reworking it and sticking with it that brings the real breakthrough. So if you are stuck on a manuscript, it will begin to work only once you start reworking it.

Have you ever been stuck with your writing?

I liked the common sense no-nonsense approach of this article and the possibility of inserting the picture of a bus in this blog post was too tempting to miss.