February 20, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 172 (14-Feb to 20-Feb)

1. ‘Hurtful’ Harper Lee and Mark Twain dropped from Minnesota curriculum

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2. The publishing company that’s only publishing female authors in 2018

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3. Ban Ki-moon memoir to John Murray

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4. Two children’s authors dropped by agents amid claims of sexual harassment

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5.Golden Man Booker prize launched to find the best ever winner

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February 19, 2018
by Neelima

Translations and Twins @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2017 (Part 4)

Sonali was entranced by Chitra Divakaruni’s The Palace of Illusions, yet another retelling of the Mahabharat epic, this time through Panchali’s eyes. We are led through Panchali’s relationships with her brother,  Krishna and her husbands. Like Helen of Troy, Panchali’s role in the epic Mahabharat is crucial. Her decisions were instrumental in the unfolding of the war that would eventually decimate the Kauravas.  These lines summed up the whole experience for Sonali: “Perhaps that is the miracle of stories. They make us realize that we’re not alone in our folly and our suffering.”

For those who are interested in reading more about Panchali’s point of view, Apurba advised to pick up a copy of Yajnaseni by Pratibha Ray, a book that won the Sahitya Akademi Prize, translated from Oriya. Typically books which win the Sahitya Akademi are translated into twelve or more Indian languages.

At the BYOB Party, there is a huge spread of books by diverse authors and many translations are mentioned. Kshitija who had got a translated book for the last BYOB Party got a book called One Out of Two translated from Spanish by the Mexican writer Daniel Sada. The story is delightful and revolves around twin sister spinsters and their competitive streak. Kshitija enjoyed how the author has pictured sibling dynamics and though the translation can be jarring initially, particularly because Sada uses the stream of consciousness technique, once you persist, the reading experience is worth it.

More books in Part 5.



February 15, 2018
by Neelima

Whistling Languages @ Link Wanderlust

It was a surprise to read Sarah Souli’s piece on a unique language called Sfyria in the small village of Antia in Greece. It’s a speech registrar that uses whistling as a means of communication. Though we are familiar with whistling when it comes to training pets, music or the wolf-whistle, whistling as a language was unknown to me, Apparently, whistling communities exist in other parts of the world as well, particularly where climatic conditions are adverse and the terrain dense.

“It’s the same as modern Greek — the grammar, vocabulary, and sentence structure all remain intact — but the sounds come out in high-pitched musical notes. Each letter of the alphabet is individually whistled (alpha, beta, gamma), and strung together to create an ariose warble.”

The interesting part about whistling is that it’s an effective means of communicating across distances as the whistle is shrill and can move up to four kms unlike when you shout. You also need strong teeth to whistle! However, Sfyria is a dying language, like many rare languages in the world and that’s a shame. It started dying because of the various means of communication that emerged, particularly the telephone.

Read Here they be Whistlers.

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February 13, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 171 (7-Feb to 13-Feb)

1. Prince William launches poetry competition to find a Wilfred Owen for new generation

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2. Russian kids top reading poll as children’s books grow 12%

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3. Publishers call on Man Booker prize to drop American authors

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4. The US National Book Awards Go International With a Translation Prize

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5. Google Play Launches Audiobooks

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February 12, 2018
by Neelima

Sleep Burglars, Flying Lizards and Myth – Diving into the Vernacular @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2017 (Part 3)

This time vernacular books were high on the list of favorites. The idea behind this BYOB Party was to encourage readers to share their favorite poetry books. Amit who heads the Poetry & Storytelling club at IISc spoke about Gulzar’s translation of two of Tagore’s books, Baaghbaan and  Nindiya Chor. Gulzar is one of India’s finest poets and lyricists. There is a story about how the first book he officially stole from a library was Tagore’s. The poems that he has translated are a compilation from some of Tagore’s collections including Chitra, KshanikaSonar Tari, Shishu. The books are bi-lingual and so the reader benefits if he or she knows both Bangla and Hindi. Amit read us the poem Nindiya Chor, a delightful lullaby that shows a mother who worries about who has stolen her baby’s sleep. If you want to listen to Gulzar himself recite it, you may want to head to this Youtube link.

Amit explained how translations often put him in a dilemma. How could a translator remain true to the original? Was this even possible? In this case, instead of losing the essence, the book has only gained, as Lalita said: ” Gulzar has only added ornaments to this work.” There then ensued a discussion on the merits and demerits of translation. On the one hand, translation can ruin the experience of the book and on the other as Jaya mentioned, referring to Sheldon Pollock’s championing of that one rare translator who could get the meaning right, translation is essential as it gives writers more mileage and readers more opportunity to read. How would any of us could enjoy writers like Tolstoy, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Elena Ferrante otherwise? Priya mentioned how besides translation, even reinvention of the epics (she talked about Joan Roughgarden’s sci-fi version of the Ramayan) only adds to the beauty of the existing story.

4116AKqJ3qL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (319×499)Megha spoke about Maithili Sharan Gupt’s classic work Saket (Saket means Ayodhya-vasi or one who lives in Ayodhya). In this rendition of the Ramayan, he speaks from Lakshmana’s perspective and portrays his wife’s Urmila’s resilience and poetically renders the pain of separation that she must endure. Maithili Sharan Gupt was a proponent of plain dialect poetry and he was a recipient of many awards including that of Rashtra Kavi; he is most loved for the way he deals with his female protagonists as he was progressive for the time. Another writer who empathized with the female was Tamil poet laureate Subramaniam Bharati in whose famous work Panchali Sapatham compares Panchali to India (Bharat Mata).

English somehow doesn’t seem to be the right vehicle for Indian mythology, some readers opined unless you are fond of Amish Tripathi’s trilogy. So much of what vernacular writers have succeeded in doing is lost when translated into English. “What we need is more translations from one Indian language to the other,” Jaya said, “That way we can preserve the cultural nuances of these works.”  Abhaya spoke about a three-part series based in Benares by a writer called Shiv Prasad Singh, “Such details are impossible to find in English,” he said. Even then, Jaya emphasized the usefulness of footnotes in such cases.  Translation is slowly catching on- check out the Murty Classical Library.

“I can only learn two or three Indian languages,” Abhaya explained,”and so for someone like me a translated work is essential.”

51QON2i2lxL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg (338×499)Maanasa who heads the Ranade Library at IISc also got a vernacular book, a Kannada novella called Karvaalo by Poornachandra Tejaswi, Kuvempu’s son and one of Karnataka’s favorite writers. The story is a surprising example of what sounded like an ecological thriller. The book is set in the 90s and tells the adventure of how four very different sorts of people–a scientist, photographer, farmer, village boy with a keen sense of observation–go out in search of a rare species of flying lizard. The scientist eventually transforms into a Seer. This is a book that Maanasa finds hard to get out of her head. Since she herself from Malanadu in Karnataka where the book is set, she identified with the humor and later on as she reread it, she was amazed by the depth and relevance of the story. There is an English translation of this book as well: Carvalho.

More books in Part 4.

Visual Friday: Some Books to Read During Black History Month

February 9, 2018 by Neelima | 0 comments

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February 8, 2018
by Neelima

Identity and Surviving Abuse @ Link Wanderlust

Identity dominates conversation these days. And yet when women like Leila Slimani, author of the bestseller Lullaby, and Afua Hirsch, author of Brit(ish), talk about racial prejudice, they are described as encouraging what is called ‘victim status among minorities’. Slimani has inverted the narrative in her book so that the employer is Moroccan and the nanny is white. Hirsch talks about how people of color have to grapple with the idea of acceptance when they live in Europe or predominantly white nations. Reading this conversation is important as the world is post-racial in name only; a person from Morocco or Afghanistan or India could face the question of where he or she is really from. They never truly belong in the only place they know. Will this change? Not very soon. Read ‘People have a cliched way of looking at race’.

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Another article I read speaks about abuse. April Ayers Lawson speaks candidly about how she was raped as a child and how it was a book she received called Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work by Louise DeSalvo that changed the way she understood what had really happened to her. She describes how the victims of such tragedies are often blamed and even made to question themselves as Virginia Woolf herself was. Could the rape have been a fantasy?, she must have been asked. Abuse, Silence and the light that Virginia Woolf switched on is a must-read.


February 6, 2018
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 170 (31-Jan to 6-Feb)

1. The Google Assistant can now read you audiobooks from Google Play

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2.Chilean poet and physicist Nicanor Parra dies at 103

3. 2018 International Dylan Thomas Prize Longlist Announced

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4. Margaret Atwood says Handmaid’s Tale TV show profits went to MGM, not her

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5. Gui Minhai awarded 2018 IPA Prix Voltaire

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February 5, 2018
by Neelima

Wodehouse and the Sailor @ BYOB Party at IISc in January 2017 (Part 2)

The BYOB Party at IISc started on a serious note with the discussion of the surreal Partition. Srikanth lightened the mood with a light read by the jolly good Wodehouse called  Joy in the Morning, a good book to start the Wodehouse series of 96 books with and a good writer to alleviate depression. He talks about aristocratic bumblings in the quaint English countryside. The title is from an English translation of Psalms 30:5: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

“You either live Wodehouse or you don’t,” Srikanth said. He was delighted by the social commentary, gags and one-liners, similies, metaphors and slang. “Phrases like God’s gift to the gastric juices,” mentioned another reader, “are the reason why we love this author.” He’s also one of the few writers who has given golf such prominence in some of his books.

Listen to Stephen Fry talk about Wodehouse here. The irony lies in how a man with such a sense of humor was misunderstood to have Nazi leanings. Read this to understand Wodehouse as a social commentator and this essay by Orwell defending Wodehouse.


Milind got an inspirational book called The First Indian by Commander Dilip Donde, who was the first Indian to complete a solo circumnavigation under sail in an Indian built boat.The decision to embark on such a journey was done on a whim. The entire exercise was ‘made in India’- the boat was made, provisions arranged, the bureaucracy managed and then he sailed solo.  It was inspiring to know that one of the readers in the group, Nandini, had attempted to climb Mount Everest twice!