July 3, 2017
by Neelima

Damascus and Dalrymple @ BYOB Party in June 2017 (Part 1)

This time Meera Iyer co-hosted the BYOB Party with us. Meera is the Co-convener of INTACH Bangalore and Co-founder of Carnelian, a company that specializes in heritage tours. We traveled to her home in the quaint Uttarahalli, a suburb in Bangalore. True to the spirit of heritage, the BYOB Party kicked off with some history.

Apurba couldn’t resist picking up a book by Dalrymple from Blossom Book House on Church Street (if you live in Bangalore and you love books, this is where you would go). In his book, From the Holy Mountain: A Journey In The Shadow of Byzantium, Dalrymple speaks about countries with glorious histories, now under the siege of war. With a historian’s eye for detail and a storyteller’s wit, Dalrymple takes the reader on a journey through the Byzantine world, following in the footsteps of a monk called John Moschos who had written a book called Spiritual Meadow. Dalrymple has written In Xanadu using a similar premise, following the footsteps of Marco Polo. Moschos’s grand spiritual project involved saving the wisdom of the sages. Islam was making its inroads and Christianity was subtly fleeing the Middle East. It was a revelation to Apurba that Christianity was as eastern a religion as Islam and Judaism.

Dalrymple writes a detailed account of the civil war in Turkey, the ruins of war in Beirut and the tension in the West Bank. He starts in Anatolia in Turkey, travels through Syria and finally arrives at Jerusalem.


“Nobody knows these things,” Apurba said. “Even friends who have visited Turkey do not know about the Armenian Genocide in 1915.” Dalrymple describes how unIslamic architecture has systematically lost out to competition. Anyone interested in the Byzantine Empire, its past and present, will love this book.

You might like this video where Dalrymple talks about his earlier travels through these regions.

Jaya mentioned a book called Three Daughters by Consuelo Saah Baehr, a fictional saga of the loves and lives of three generations of Palestinian Christian women. The book was eye-opening as it revealed the fact that Arab identity was not necessarily always Islamic.


June 29, 2017
by Neelima

Author Pictures and the Reader @ Link Wanderlust

Just when you think that nothing more could be written about books, you find a story called How Author Photos Change the Way we Read. This story by Dustin Illingworth speaks about a habit that all readers have of glancing at the dust jacket of a book in search of the author’s face. If you love the writing, that face speaks to you more and you feel a strange longing, as though by looking at the author’s face, you own the book a new way.

So Illingworth speaks of famous authors whose photos have captivated the world. Take Virginia Woolf, Kafka, Plath, Kerouac, and so many others.

“But when we let our gaze linger on the photographed faces of our literary heroes, how much of what we feel can be attributed to readerly intuition—and how much to fantasy? Affixed to the backs of book jackets, touched and smudged and gazed at longingly (or enviously, as it were), the image of the author has become an underappreciated accessory to the ritual of modern reading. These photographs, with the drama inherent to a human face, offer up a kind of ready-made narrative potential that we seize on, often before we’ve read a single page. We take in the glowing eyes, the spectral hands, the starched collar, the frozen smile, and in that encounter a feeling—a story—begins to unspool in our minds. That reflexive flash becomes a kind of echo that stays with us when the actual reading begins, a conversation between text and image, image and text. If ours is a culture of visual primacy, is it any wonder the photos of our authors come to inhabit the texts they write?

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June 26, 2017
by Neelima

Vultures and Feminism @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 8)

Sudharsan spoke about Joby Josephs’ Feast of Vultures: The Hidden Business of Democracy in India. The writer is an investigative journalist and the book is an expose of the famous business houses of the country, for which the author is facing some legal flak. The story is about how corruption is an integral thread of the economy in India and how fixers make things possible in spite of the red tape. This is a blessing and a curse at the same time. So while big businesses flourish in the nation, something is rotten in the system. The book is an important read for those who want to understand how India works today and how much needs to be changed, going ahead.

Abhaya read Seeing like a Feminist by Nivedita Menon, a professor at JNU. He found this read at Zubaan Books. He believes that book is a more systematic Indian rendition of what feminism really means here and how it changed from being about the victim to being about agents of change. The book talks about a variety of things including the history of feminism in India, surrogacy, LGBT rights, sexual violence and lactating fathers.

Some essential feminist reads were discussed including The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir and the Golden Notebook by Dorris Lessing. Mention was made of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s Malayalam novel Nalukettua novel that is set within the matrilineal confines of Nair society. The prospect of property being passed on from mother to daughter seemed unusual to the readers at the group. though it was concluded that though the matrilineal system has created a more emancipated concept of womanhood in Kerala, male domination is no alien concept there.

And with that, we come to the end of this session.




June 22, 2017
by Neelima

Is English Normal? @ Link Wanderlust

Have you ever thought that English is not a normal language? John McWhorter, professor of linguistics and American studies at Columbia University, seems to think so. He comes to this conclusion by comparing the Anglo-Saxon language with other languages.

Some reasons that make English so odd are that it excludes many features that language usually displays like applying gender to nouns, third person singular present tense peculiarities,  the usage of ‘do’ which is actually very Celtic, and the fact that it has accommodated thousands of loan words from various languages. The essay is humorous and written with the understanding and insight of a linguist. For instance, McWhorter is able to identify how the Scandinavians actually spoiled Old English and in the process made the language easier.

“Thus the story of English, from when it hit British shores 1,600 years ago to today, is that of a language becoming delightfully odd. Much more has happened to it in that time than to any of its relatives, or to most languages on Earth.”

It’s not often that you get to read a humorous piece on the history of the English language. Don’t miss reading this one! Here it is: English is not Normal.

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June 19, 2017
by Neelima

Light and Letters @ BYOB Party in April 2017 (Part 7)

Shruti continued with the Jerry Pinto theme. She spoke about Em and the Big Hoom at one of the BYOB Parties. She then found another book on mental health issues compiled by Pinto called A Book of Light: When a Loved One Has a Different Mind. He wrote the foreword for the book as well. What he found difficult about the process was getting the stories right. It’s one thing to tell a story and quite another to put these painful real-life incidents into print. So he kept checking the facts, making sure that the people whose stories were published did not have to compromise with their emotions. So there was a very human side to the making of this book.  Even arriving at the title was extremely difficult. Shruti outlined many painful incidents in the book. Reading the stories of those whose family members faced mental health crises, she was inspired to appreciate her every day as for some people the every day is filled with impossible battles that can not be won, just endured. It is difficult to read this book in a stretch, she says, and also a tad disturbing.

Arup got a book called Letters to a Young Poet by the renown poet, Rainer Maria Rilke. The book comprises ten letters Rilke wrote to Franz Xaver Kappus, a 19-year-old officer cadet at the Theresian Military Academy in Wiener Neustadt. The duo corresponded about all matters poetry and it Kappus who eventually compiled and published the letters three years after Rilke died of leukemia.

Here is the content of one letter:

You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself.

More letters here and more books in Part 8.