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Reading for our times

Reading for our times

By Usha Raman
A podcast that celebrates books and reading and the beauty of the written word--spoken out loud.
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HLF Unmuted #2: A dash of Hyderabadi flavour
The Hyderabad Literary Festival is a truly local mela, mixed in with the flavours of other regions of the country and of course the world. In this episode, we speak to some of the many who have participated in the festival in different ways, from organizing it to funding it to bringing in the books and art and discussion, to simply reveling in it. Featured in the episode are: Jayesh Ranjan, Festival Director and Principal Secretary, Industries & Commerce and Information Technology, Government of Telangana Sadhana Ramchander, Editor, and Founder, Blue Pencil Infodesign Kalpana Kannabiran, Sociologist and Legal Scholar, Director, Central for Social Development Aparna Rayaprol, Professor, Department of Sociology and Trustee, Rayaprol Literary Trust Seetha Anand Vaidyam, Early Childhood Educator Serish Nanisetti, Journalist and Author Uday Rao, Orient Blackswan Limited You can find all the sessions of HLF2021 on the YouTube channel:
January 23, 2021
Hyderabad Literary Festival 2021: Behind the Scenes
Every year in the last week of January, Hyderabad hosts its own literary festival, a variegated celebration of books, cinema, art, theatre, short, all things cultural. But not just cultural. There’s also a good dose of environment, civic discourse, and of course, street food and Irani chai. This year, though, the festival will be online, and while we will of course miss the charm of sitting under the trees and spending three days basking in the pleasures of literature and the imagination, the show will go on. In this special episode of Reading for Our Times, I speak with the four directors of the Hyderabad Literary Festival about the 2021 iteration—the challenges it brings, and the promise it still has to create “social togetherness” not just for those in the city, but everywhere on the Internet where there is a love of culture. For more information on HLF2021, visit the website: and follow the festival on YouTube over the three days of the festival (January 22-24) and beyond!
January 17, 2021
Our Year in Reading--Wrapping up 2020
In all the uncertainty and anxiety  of 2020, we continued to find sustenance, refuge, learning and enjoyment in books. On walls, they lent gravitas to Zoom calls, and contributed to year-end Christmas cheer as they danced into tree-like piles. But most of all, they lent warmth to the hands and delight to the eyes and mind, whether on the backlit screens of kindles or in varied font on creamy rag. In this special episode of Reading for our Times, a few readers look back at their year in books—what they meant, what they gave, and why reading is for all time. Here’s a list of books featured in the episode: A Memory of Light (Book 11 in The Wheel of Time Series) by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson The Goldfinch by Donna Tart Good Morning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton To the Lake by Kapka Kassabova Home by Marilynne Robinson Beastly Tales from Here and There by Vikram Seth A Beginner’s Guide to Japan by Pico Iyer Vesper Flights by Helen McDonald Farthest Field by Raghu Karnad The Spirit of Indian Painting by B N Goswami The Odyssey by Homer, translated by Emily Wilson If you’re ever short of book recommendations, you may wish to check out Suroor Ali Khan’s blog, which has a wealth of reviews, posted weekly: Talking About Books
December 25, 2020
Sports off the field
This episode takes us on a sporting journey—on and off the field and track, inside the minds and lives of athletes known and unknown, as well as those who write about them. We have a great cast of readers, many of whom are rather well known sports writers and sports persons, people who have been immersed in the field. This genre, I’m discovering, is as much about the magic of what happens in formal and informal arenas as about the dynamics—the politics--that permeate broader social and cultural life. The readings offer some glimpses into the breadth of this genre. Books featured in this episode: Born to Run: the hidden tribe, the ultra runners and the greatest race the world has never seen by Christopher Mcdougall (read by Karunya Keshav) Ten for Sixty Six and all that by Arthur Mailey (read by S Giridhar) Playing with Fire by Nasser Hussain (read by Ananya Upendran) The Test by Nathan Leamon (read by Shikha Pandey) What’s my Name, Fool? Sports and Resistance in the United States by David Zirin (read by Sharda Ugra) My Way: a biography of M L Jaisimha by A Joseph Anthony and Jayanthi Jaisimha (read by Agnes George The Wit of Cricket by Brian Johnston (read by S Upendran) You can also check out these books by our some of the readers in this episode: The Fire Burns Blue by Siddhantha Pattnaik and Karunya Keshav From Mumbai to Durban by S Giridhar
August 01, 2020
Formative Passages
Books have a way of getting into our DNA, burrowing deep into the way we see the world, our place in it, and the possibilities of change or the complexities of acceptance. In this episode, writer and media analyst Achala Upendran curates a set of readings that were chosen because of their formative role in one's worldview, or because they opened up a different way of seeing. Books featured in the episode: 1. Matilda, Roald Dahl (read by Anuja Vaidya) 2. A Little Princess, Francis Hodgson Burnett (read by Priyanka Mookerjee) 3. The Giver, Lois Lowry (read by Shreya Jindal) 4. The Book of Lost Things, John Connolly (read by Achala Upendran) 5. A Two Toned Tale, Bonophool (read by Ramona Sen) 7. The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, Haruki Murakami (read by Neha Vaddadi) 8. If This is a Man, Primo Levi (read by Tarini Mookerjee) Some of the readers are writers too! Do check out their books: Hedon by Priyanka Mookerjee (Penguin, 2016) Simply Complicated and Another Chance at Life by Shreya Jindal (Penguin Metro Reads) Crème Brulee by Ramona Sen (Rupa, 2016) The Sultanpur Chronicles: The Shadowed City by Achala Upendran (Hachette, 2018)
July 25, 2020
Einstein's Dreams: A Conversation with Alan Lightman
This week’s episode features an interview with the writer Alan Lightman and a short reading from his book, Einstein’s Dreams. Alan Lightman is the author of several books that traverse the spaces of science fiction, spiritualism and philosophy, and the conversation reflects his journey across these domains. The interview was first aired as part of a series called "Caught in Passing" on the University of Hyderabad's Campus Community Radio station, Bol Hyderabad, in 2017. It’s a few years on, and in the intervening period Alan has written a few more books, including, in 2018, In Praise of Wasting Time, something that is particularly relevant to our modern overworked, overscheduled lives, thrown into such disarray by the pandemic and the resulting lockdown. Books by Alan Lightman mentioned in the episode Einstein’s Dreams (2004, Vintage) Song of Two Worlds (2017, Red Hen Press) In Praise of Wasting Time (2018, TED Books) The Diagnosis (2002, Vintage) You can find the essay in Nautilus here: The clip of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is from Wikimedia’s open access library: 
July 18, 2020
The Classic Case
In today’s episode we bring you extracts from a clutch of works that may be called classics. Some for the sheer power of their words and their layered depiction of humanity. Others because they’ve provoked us to discomfort—with ourselves and the social order. The six readings presented today come from very personal choices picked from the large ocean of what we may call classic literature. And from very personal definitions of the classic. We have Marlowe and Bronte, Nobokov and Sreelal Shukla, Ray Bradbury and James Baldwin—the last a searing epistle that seems particularly relevant today. Work featured in the episode: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (read by Anjali Lal Gupta) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (read by Usha Raman) Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (read by Ram Ramaswamy) Raag Darbari by Shrilal Shukla (read by Varsha Tiwari) Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (read by Rebecca Mathai) My Dungeon Shook by James Baldwin (read by Sita Reddy) The episode was co-curated by Sita Reddy. Music from the track “To be Inspired” by Andrew, made available on The sound of pages turning from
July 12, 2020
Into the wild: readings on nature for children
Books are a great way to introduce children to the wonders and wealth of nature. In this episode of the show Sadhana Ramchander curates a delightful set of readings that will surely be enjoyed by the children in your lives—and the child in you. Sadhana Ramchander reads two poems by Shel Silverstein: Zebra question' and 'The toad and the kangaroo Kobita Dass Kolli reads Ruskin Bond’s Henry  the chameleon Suchitra Shenoy introduces us to the life of the remarkable Jane Goodall, from the book Fantastically great women  who saved the planet'by Kate Pankhurst Divya Mukpalkar reads Ma Ganga and the razai box by Geeta Dharmarajan  Tara Jayarao reads Fussing around insects a translation from a Tamizh story by Salai Selvam from the book 'Mother steals a bicycle' Malini Siruguri reads an extract from The Lorax by Dr Seuss A Giridhar Rao reads Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree
July 04, 2020
Bookshelf favourites
In this episode, we have a selection of old favourites—pieces we return to time and again, when the mood takes us. Words that we pull off our shelves—or out of our memories—just because we want to feel something again, to know something again, to return to a moment of excitement or awe or insight that has shifted something inside us. Books/work featured in the episode Testimonio by Brian Doyle, from the collection One Long River of Song (read by Aasheesh Pittie) Standing up by Tomas Transtromer (read by Malini Waghray) 90 Minutes to Entebbe by William Stevenson (read by Divya Bharath) Black Dogs and Enduring Love by Ian McEwan (read by Usha Raman) For whom the bell tolls by John Donne (read by Amita Desai)
June 27, 2020
Let's laugh a little
There’s humour to be found in so much literature. And then there’s humour that is literature. This episode, curated by Kaivalya Dasu, brings together a set of readings that will remind us that literature is not just for quietly sinking into with our minds, but also for diving into joyously so that we can bubble up with laughter, or float back up to the surface with a smile. Books featured in this episode: Cocktail Time by P G Wodehouse (read by Kaivalya Dasu) The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 ¾ by Sue Townsend (read by Maya Bhagat) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (read by Aniruddha Dasu) Brisingr by Christopher Paolini (read by Pakhee Jha) The original piece featured in the episode was written and read by Fleurette Modica
June 20, 2020
Reading around the world
In this episode, Suroor Alikhan, host of the blog Talking about Books, takes us on a global reading tour. The six excerpts featured in the episode are by writers  from different regions of the world, from Argentina to Angola, from Jamaica to Poland, opening the page to very different literary traditions. The books featured in this episode are: Drive your plow over the bones of the dead by Olga Tokarczuk (Poland) Go went Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck (Germany) Bestiarios by Julio Cortazar (Argentina) The Lunatic by Anthony C Winkler (Jamaica) The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa (Angola) The Book of Masks by Hwan Sun-won (South Korea) If you’d like some reading recommendations, take a look at Suroor’s blog:
June 13, 2020
Children's Voices, Set 3
A group of enthusiastic young readers share some of their favourite moments from some of their favourite books, ranging from folk tales by A K Ramanujam to good old Ruskin Bond, and even a bit of Shakespeare. The books/stories featured in this episode include: Folk Tales from India by A K Ramanujam The Enormous Turnip by Alexei Tolstoy The Wizard’s Wand by Geronimo Stilton Basava and the Dots of Fire by Radhika Chadha Farida plans a Feast by Maegan Dobson Sippy Coming Round the Mountain by Ruskin Bond Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, children’s abridged edition The Little Bird in the Big Mountains by Pari Rana
June 06, 2020
Recreating the Dutch Golden Age
In a slight departure from our usual format, four students of art history take us through the lives of four individuals who inhabit different roles during the period known as the Dutch Golden Age, spanning the 17th century in Holland, and give us a sense of what it might have been like to have been an artists--or live on the edges of the art establishment--during this time. If you'd like to learn more about the Dutch Golden Age, Shreya Subramanyam suggests these readings:Schama, Simon. The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987 Sutton, Elizabeth, ed. Women Artists and Patrons in the Netherlands, 1500 - 1700: Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2019 Hofrichter, Frima Fox. Judith Leyster: A Woman-Painter in Holland’s Golden Age. Texas: Davaco, 1989. Prak, Maarten. “Guilds and the Development of the Art Market during the Dutch Golden Age” Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 30, no. 3/4 (2003) 236 - 251 Kirby, Jo. “The Painter’s Trade in the Seventeenth Century: Theory and Practice” National Gallery Technical Bulletin 20, Painting in Antwerp and London: Rubens and van Dyck (1999) 5 - 49 Dash, Mike. Tulipomania: The Story of the World’s Most Coveted Flower and the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. New York: Crown Publishers, 1999. Alpers, Svetlana, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983 Moggach, Deborah. Tulip Fever. Canada: Dial Press Trade Paperback, 2001
May 30, 2020
This episode, Banned! opens the covers of some proscribed books—works of both fiction and non-fiction that have been banned or simply taken out of circulation, in India. The episode has been put together by Hyderabad-based art historian, anthropologist and curator Sita Reddy, and features readings from A K Ramanujan's 300 Ramayanas, Wendy Doniger's The Hindus, Perumal Murugan's One Part Woman, and Anand Teltumbde's Republic of Caste, among others.
May 23, 2020
On love and loss
Drawing from writers as far apart in time as Ismat Chugtai and Arundhati Roy, and as distant in location as Elif Shafak and bell hooks, our young readers sample work on emotions and experiences that are specific yet universal. How do we think of love--as a noun or a verb? What is the content of grief? And how do we recover...and remember?
May 16, 2020
Pandemic Preoccupations
In the weeks and months since the Covid-19 pandemic locked us down and stilled the streets, we have all had to deal with a variety of challenges--some large, some small, but all to some degree forcing us to re-evaluate our relationships with each other, with nature, and the world. In this episode, we bring you a set of reflections, combing some original writing mixed in with extracts from work that "speaks" to us in specific yet somehow universal ways. 
May 09, 2020
Writing from South Asia
This episode features six works by writers from the South Asian subcontinent--well, mostly India, with a touch of Pakistan. Included are well known names like Amitav Ghosh and Kamila Shamsie, but also authors in translation, Ambai and a selection from Terigatha, a collection of Pali Buddhist poems by women monks.
May 02, 2020
Reading for our Times-Children's Voices Part 2
Six children between the ages of 8 and 10 read from their favourite books, including selections from the Harry Potter series, Fancy Nancy and The Penderwicks.
April 25, 2020
Reading for our times--Children's Voices Part 1
Children read from some of their favourite work--mythology, adventure, humour and more!
April 21, 2020
Reading for Our Times: Episodes 1 and 2
Books are an escape, but they are also an inspiration, a comfort, and a space for learning in the broadest way possible. In this series, we pick out some of our favourite bits from some of our favourite books. 
April 21, 2020