June 24, 2019
by Neelima

Orphan Trains, Wars and Atheism @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 5)

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We got talking about the bestselling book Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. The book talks about the real life orphan trains that ran between 1854 and 1929.  These train carried destitute children from the east coast to the midwest where they would be put up for adoption. The story chronicles a ninety-one-year-old protagonist with a hidden past. Kline explores the many dynamics of adoption and foster care in the early twenty-first century. The book was Kline’s fifth and a book that took the book club world by storm.

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Another interesting book discussed was The Forever War by Hugo, Nebula and Locus Award winner and MIT faculty Joe Haldeman. It’s an interesting sci-fi book that explores the premise of what the US would do if it picked a never-ending war with aliens. A conscript from Vietnam himself, Haldeman chronicles the story of Private William Mandella who is to fight in a thousand-year conflict. Time dilation causes a strange predicament for when Private Mandella returns the Earth will have aged far more than he has.

Listen to Joe Haldeman here.

Image result for hitch 22 amazonJoshua expounded on a memoir called Hitch 22 by the renowned atheist and philosopher Christopher Hitchens. “He’s the kind of writer whom you want to emulate as he is so erudite. He inspires you to read as he is well-read himself. He wrote Hitch 22 after he was diagnosed with Stage 4, esophageal cancer. He has touched on some controversies like support for  America’s actions in Iraq, something he regretted later on. The reason for his support could be that wanted an end to fanaticism and since he visited all the conflict zones he talked about, he wasn’t just intellectualizing about crucial policy issues. He was against totalitarianism in any form.”

Joshua advised us to savor the poetry and philosophy of Hitchen’s many debates, especially this one with Stephen Fry. Hitchens was also an ardent supporter and friend of Salman Rushdie.

In the memoir, Hitchens speaks effortlessly about his childhood, the relationship he had with his mother, his philosophies and misgivings. It is a book that offers much.

The subject of atheism led to the idea of a new kind of World Order, a world with new Gods. The book American Gods by Neil Gaiman came to mind.

More books in Part 6.


June 21, 2019
by Neelima

Visual Friday: Diverse Women Writers – Jhumpa Lahiri

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June 20, 2019
by Neelima

The Teller and the Tale @ Link Wanderlust

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Found this speech by the late Girish Karnad, theater colossus– the First A.K. Ramanujan Memorial Lecture. He speaks about the litterateur and translator AK Ramanujan himself.

“He was among the first of Indian thinkers to take a serious look at oral tales, lullabies, proverbs, songs, in fact, at the richness of the world of women. He was a much-acclaimed translator from Tamil and Kannada”.

Karnad speaks about the Ramanjuma the collector of oral folklore, the translator and ethnographer. He collected Kannada proverbs and swear words and he translated Vachanas, poems composed by eleventh-century poets. It was while he was studying abroad that he realized that Indian folklore had such deep roots.

“Oral tales are narrated on different occasions in different contexts, but the context that had been totally ignored even by Indian scholars until then was the kitchen.”

This is such a delightful read! Karnad talks about the kitchen where the women weaved their stories for children of different age groups. He talks about folktales as symbolic of women’s agency, something that was lost in translation and in prose. Reading this story was the highlight of this speech for me….

“A housewife knew a story. She also knew a song. But she kept them to herself, never told anyone the story or sung the song.

Imprisoned within her, the story and the song were feeling choked. They wanted release, wanted to run away. One day, when she was sleeping with her mouth open, the story escaped, fell out of her, took the shape of a pair of shoes and sat outside the house. The song also escaped, took the shape of something like a man’s coat, and hung on a peg.

The woman’s husband came home, looked at the coat and the shoes, and asked her, ‘Who is visiting?’

‘No one,’ she said.

‘But whose coat and shoes are those?’

‘I don’t know,’ she replied.

He wasn’t satisfied with her answer. [So they had a fight.] The husband flew into a rage, picked up his blanket and went to the Monkey God’s temple to sleep……

All the lamp flames of the town, once they were put out, used to come to the Monkey God’s temple and spend the night there, gossiping. On this night, all the lamps of all the houses were represented there—except one, which came late.

The others asked the latecomer, ‘Why are you so late tonight?’ ‘At our house, the couple quarreled late into the night,’ said the flame.

‘Why did they quarrel?’

‘When the husband wasn’t home, a pair of shoes came onto the verandah, and a man’s coat somehow got on to a peg. The husband asked her whose they were. The wife said she didn’t know. So they quarreled.’

‘Where did the coat and shoes come from?’

‘The lady of our house knows a story and a song. She never tells the story, and has never sung the song to anyone. The story and the song got suffocated inside; so they got out and have turned into a coat and a pair of shoes. They took revenge. The woman doesn’t even know.’ The husband, lying under the blanket in the temple, heard the lamp’s explanation. His suspicions were cleared. When he went home, it was dawn. He asked his wife about her story and her song. But she had forgotten both of them. ‘What story, what song?’ she said.”

–The Flowering Tree by AK Ramanujan

Reading this lecture is a cathartic experience.


June 19, 2019
by Neelima

That’s the Word For it: Spelunker

A spelunker is a Latin sounding term for caver. According to Merriam Webster, the word came into adventure sport lingo because of the author and outdoorsman Clair Willard Perry.

The word seems to be used a great deal in literature:

“I have no special desire to go crawl around in caves, but I really like the word [spelunking] and want to use it in conversation. I do a lot of things just to use words I like.”
― Evan Mandery, First Contact-Or, It’s Later Than You Think

“I love vocab. It’s like spelunking in a cave you’ve been in your whole life and discovering a thousand new tunnels.”
― A.S. King, Please Ignore Vera Dietz

June 18, 2019
by Neelima

Readers can’t Digest-Week 235 (12-June to 18-June)

1. Alexander wins Macmillan Prize for Illustration

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2. Emily Ruskovich’s Idaho lands the €100,000 International Dublin literary award

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3. Naomi Wolf faces ‘new questions’ as US publisher postpones latest book

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4. Pokemon manga ebooks arrive on OverDrive for libraries and schools

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5.  Robertson wins Walter Scott Prize for The Long Take 

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June 17, 2019
by Neelima

India and World War II @ BYOB Party in May 2019 (Part 4)

Image result for farthest fieldApurba enjoyed reading Farthest Field, a book by Raghu Karnad, Girish Karnad’s son. Incidentally, Girish Karnad the veteran writer passed away today as I write this post.

Farthest Field is a nonfiction epic that tells the little known story of India’s role in WWII. There were over 2.5 million men who served in the Indian Army and though the war in Europe was fought on principles like freedom, there was a lot of hypocrisy on show. The Indian soldier who laid down his life was given a raw deal. Raghu Karnad had dismissed the pictures of three soldiers that hung on the wall of his ancestral house. It was only after his grandmother, a potential source of narration, had passed away that he learned about the lives of the characters, Manek, Ganny and Bobby, within that frame. The stories of these characters also weave the stories of Europe, North Africa, West Asia and Indo-China in those heady days of war.

“I couldn’t help thinking about the Bengal Famine too, in around the 1940s, and the discrimination that soldiers of color faced in the American army,” Apurba said about the marginalization that was the norm back in those days. She also advised us to go on historical walks like the Bangalore walks.

Watch Raghu Karnad speak about his book here.

Another book that was mentioned in connection with the war was Panther Red One: The Memoirs of a Fighter Pilot by Air Marshal S. Raghavendran, a member of the small group of future fighter pilots who joined the Indian Air Force in 1947. Jaya spoke about a book called The Raj at War: A People’s History of India’s Second World War by Dr. Yasmin Khan., again a book about the largest volunteer army in history, the Indian army in pre-independent India. In this book, the reader learns about how the world war created seismic changes in the subcontinent. Another book this reminded me of was Narrow Road to the Deep North, a horrifying story of the building of an impossible railroad.

Image result for 84 charing cross road bookDiwakar was particularly impressed by the sweet book 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff, a memoir detailing twenty years of correspondence between the author from New York and Frankie, a bookseller in London. In days like these when writing letters is almost impossible and postal services, which were once reliable, have now fallen into disuse in many parts of the world, a book about letters has its charm. Shanina mentioned how she writes letters to her little niece as their own secret way of communication, a charming story in its own right.

Helene Hanff was a scriptwriter with financial problems. She started writing letters to Frank in her quest for antiquarian books. It was the post World War scenario and UK was battling food shortages. Hanff began sending food packets to her new found friends. The letters are unique as they move from the breezy American style to the formal British one. The book was wildly popular and Hanff made a fortune when her book was adapted to radio, theater and a movie. It was her royalties from the book that helped her visit the UK for the first time. She has chronicled this in her second book- The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

Sticking to the World War II theme, Diwakar spoke about another interesting book that gave a new perspective of the war. Most books feature the Allied perspective and this one called First and the Last by Adolf Galland is a book from the Axis point of view. In a very dry and meticulous manner, Galland talks about war as nothing but statistics being raked up. Even personal loss means just another number in the war. Galland looks at how genius war strategy went horribly wrong.

Image result for seven years in tibet amazon bookSushmith spoke the book Seven Years in Tibet, a memoir by Heinrich Harrer about his brilliant escape across the Himalayas and into Tibet. He was in the Himalayas when World War II broke out and then he was imprisoned by the British. He fled to Lhasa, the forbidden city and became friend and guide to the Dalai Lama who was then just a child. The book has been adapted into a movie too.

Read more about this unique friendship here: https://tricycle.org/magazine/born-tibet/


June 14, 2019
by Neelima

Visual Friday: Diverse Women Writers – Bernardine Evaristo

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June 13, 2019
by Neelima

Writing Workshops @ Link Wanderlust

Creative writing workshops can be strenuous for writers. Imagine sitting in a closed room with your work being put out there for display. You could clamp down shut, get nervous or lose your train of thought.

We are told that this is how workshop goes: praise and critique, praise and critique. Throughout, the student who is “up” for workshop sits in silence.

Beth Nguyen thinks that this format has done its time. As she is a writer of Asian descent writing about characters set in South East Asia, she’s had her share of being misunderstood by her fellow Western workshop mates. She uses that experience now that she is the creative writing space. Instead of passing judgments on writing, she invites the writer’s opinions on the piece. By allowing the writers to explain themselves, you give them a voice and more clarity on what they are writing. Workshoppers would do well to consider this essay before they embark on teaching students how to write.
Saint Jerome Writing, c.1605 - Caravaggio

Wikiart: Saint Jerome Writing, c.1605 – Caravaggio


June 12, 2019
by Neelima

That’s the Word for It: Matutolypea

Matutolypea is the scientific equivalent of getting up from the wrong side of bed. It’s the grumpy cat syndrome that happens when you wake up. The word hasn’t yet entered mainstream dictionaries but it’s one of those obscure words that has gained some popularity on the internet.

This word doesn’t seem to be very popular on any writer’s list. Managed to locate just one usage:

“Well,” Opal said. “I put the pamphlet up because it felt better than doing nothing. We’ll see.”

I nodded, but perhaps not brightly enough.

“Oh my,” she said. “I thought I cheered you up, but I still see a glum expression. Is this a case of matutolypea?”


Now, now–the English teacher! Surely you know what that means? Or are you having a case of the mubble-fubbles?”

Gillian Roberts, All’s Well That Ends