Late Post: Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2015

Thanks to the ‘intolerati’ among the literati, the Bangalore Lit Festival 2015 (Dec 5 and 6 2015) almost came a cropper. It took some gutsy individuals like the festival organisers, historian Ramachandra Guha, author Shashi Deshpande and of course ex-Festival Director Vikram Sampath to prevent the event from becoming a no-show.

The festival had already lost some sheen after being reduced to a 2-day affair from the customary 3-day show. Also, it was held rather late this year. The lawns at this year’s venue The Royal Orchid Hotel weren’t as expansive as the lawns of the Crowne Plaza, the festival venue during the last two editions. They could barely accommodate two stages. To add to that the crowds were larger this time leaving hardly any space to move around comfortably. However, The Royal Plaza Hotel is much closer home than the Crowne Plaza which made it that much easier for me to travel to and fro.

Day 1


Unlike the last two editions of the fest, I reached the venue late. I missed the inaugural function   :( Shashi Deshpande had already begun her keynote address. In a power-packed speech that defied her fragile personality, Shashi spoke about all the controversies that dogged the fest from the authors’ boycotts to the intolerance brigade; and  Prof. Kalburgi’s death (Shashi hails from the same part of the state as Prof. Kalburgi and hence for her his death was a personal loss.) She compared the multiple boycotts as one spark igniting another. She lamented that authors have lost the status they once enjoyed. Recent events have only caused polarisation of authors. She expressed concern over media drowning the voices of writers. She added that no nation can be called civilised if it did not respect its writers. While she did not hold anything against authors who returned their awards because they were returning it for a cause and that most of these authors were very senior and respected, she said that the actual reason for returning the awards was lost because of all the brouhaha these actions generated.

As I had reached the venue late I did not explore the place which is why I missed the discussion between Upamanyu Chatterjee and Zac O’Yeah that happened at the other stage. I missed the discussions that happened right after Shashi Deshpande’s address as I had to leave the venue to attend to some personal work.


When I walked in an hour later, the discussion ‘Rebooting India’ was about to start. I sat through this session. It featured Nandan Nilekani, Viral Shah and Samar Halarnkar. Not surprisingly, Nandan Nilekani was bombarded by questions on Aadhaar. Nilekani spoke of how he had to network with politicians and bureaucracy, his visiting all the Chief Ministers and how his sales background helped him in going about the task. He had to convince them all about the advantages of Aadhar and how it is a win-win for them. Also, building his team was critical. One of the team members was fellow panellist Viral Shah who actually came to renew his visa but decided to stay back and work for Nilekani. Viral narrated his experiences working with Nilekani.

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Romance took centrestage in the next discussion called ‘The New-Age Romantic’ featuring Durjoy Dutta, Preeti Shenoy, Ravinder Singh and Nandita Bose. Nandita with her flawless diction turned out to be an excellent moderator. Preeti grabbed eyeballs with her impeccable fashion sense and won the hearts of the audience when she said she was against infidelity of all sorts. Durjoy was bold enough to admit that he always been into screwed-up relationships and that for many years his morbid obesity (he is anything but obese now) came in the way of his getting into a relationship. This prompted someone in the audience to ask how significant looks are in a relationship. Pat came the reply from Preeti that she is married to a handsome man. And she went on to add, “Love lasts forever but sometimes the partner changes”. When it came to the question of marriage, Preeti Shenoy was of the view that young people don’t see any reason to get married. Nandita Bose seconded her viewpoint, “The social structure and geography of love and marriage no longer hold”.

Durjoy sprang a surprise when he expressed his wish to have a big fat wedding. One of the speakers said that human beings are evolving and so are relationships. The audience couldn’t agree more. Durjoy had everyone in splits when he said that though all his works have elements of infidelity, he is a nice guy. The claps from the audience only got louder.

He compared speaker Ravinder Singh to Ram because like Ram he would follow his love to the grave. All the speakers agreed that new-age love was heavily influenced by technology (read as mobile phones) and that physical attraction dies fast.


The discussion “Confessions of a Biographer”, moderated by noted journalist Sunil Sethi, had authors who had come out with biographical works recently. Sunil Sethi with his flawless language and diction and the wealth of journalistic experience behind him not surprisingly turned out to be a fantastic moderator. Co-incidentally, all the guests on the panel had come with biographies on women. Yatindra Mishra who had written about Lata Mangeshkar’s musical journey was the first to speak.

One of the speakers said that no biography is a complete bio. It is partly history and partly the writer’s imagination. Now that was a surprise revelation!

Jaishree Mishra lamented that one of the setbacks she encountered when penning ‘Rani’, the biography of the Rani of Jhansi Lakshmibhai was that primary sources were very thin. Moreover, the Rani’s private desk had disappeared! It would have been like a tinderbox had it been found. The absence of records compelled Jaishree to use a lot of her imagination.

Sunil Sethi bought in a naughty twist to the discussion when he stated what good is a biography without bedroom scenes! Emily Holeman said that her work on Cleopatra has plenty of text on the Egyptian queen’s private life. Most of the information derived for the work on the Egyptian seductress were from Roman records.


The session “Cracking the Bollywood Code” with Ayushmann Khurrana and his wife Tahira Kahsyap turned out to be a crowd puller. I made it to this session a tad late because I was picking up books at the festival book stall. The seats were all occupied and even the turf! From where I stood, I could hardly hear anything because the speakers’ voices were drowned by loud cheering and whistles. Once again, Bollywood scored over all others at the Bangalore Lit Fest.

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Even as the effect of the Bollywood magic died down after the cine personalities left, the new session began. “It’s an Ad, Ad World” featured ad-guru Piyush Pandey in conversation with Ganga Ganapathi. Piyush Pandey, ad man extraordinaire, is the man behind most of the popular ads on television. The creative genius had everyone baffled when he said that he never followed process instead he loved chaos. He grew up amidst chaos because he was the eighth among nine children and there was always noise around. Singer Ila Arun is his sister.

During the tete-a-tete, he mentioned that his ads are inspired by life and cartoonists. The 1994 ad featuring a girl dancing on the cricket field was extremely popular and made him a force to reckon with in the ad world. He was inspired into making this ad by a real-life incident involving cricketer Brijesh Patel who was hugged on the cricket field by a female fan. Not many would know that Piyush Pandey was a first-class cricketer himself and played in Ranji Trophy matches.

The man who grew up amidst chaos and who loves chaos has come up with a book aptly titled ‘Pande-monium’ (Only an ad-man can come up with a title like this! What say?).


The last session of the day had noted historian Ramachandra Guha talk on “Eight Threats to Freedom of Expression”. The powerful speech which lasted almost two hours proved to be fitting finale for Day 1. The livewire historian elaborated on the following:

1. A government that seeks to control minds is oppressive.
2. The imperfections in judiciary especially the lower courts
– 99% of petitions are illegal
3. Rise of identity politics which continues to grow and has negative impact on freedom of expression.
4. Behaviour of police force.
5. Sheer malevolence of politicians.
6. Dependence of media on government advertisements.
7. Dependence of media on commercial advertisements.
8. Ideologically driven writers
– Writers should be free of political ideals.

He ended his speech by calling India a 40:60 democracy.

Day 2


Like on Day 1, I couldn’t make it on time on Day 2 too   :( The second session at the stage on the Right Wing had already started. The discussion on “Today’s cinema and children” featured Sandalwood actresses Malavika Avinash and Ramya, theatre person Prakash Belawadi and was moderated by Darius Sunawala. The highly animated discussion had the panellists discussing among other things parents taking unfair advantage of children, children watching films and TV shows which are not suitable for them and sans any parental guidance, depiction of children in ads, and exploitation of child actresses who are under 18. During the Q & A session, some of the questions asked were off the topic. A young man without doubt a fan of Ramya asked the actress what she felt about acting with Shivraj Kumar (  🙂  :)). When a young thing all of 16 told the panel that changing partners was cool it was greeted by pin-drop silence by the audience. The remark reminded me so much of what a speaker had said in an earlier discussion that human beings are evolving and so are relationships.


The talk on “Challenges to Modernity” by MJ Akbar went over my head. I was too sleepy to comprehend anything and had to head to the food counter for a cuppa. It was one of those occasions were being a night bird does not help.

After a cup of tea and a bird’s lunch (there weren’t many items on the menu and whatever was available was quite expensive), I again headed to the book stall and picked up a couple of books.
The next session I attended was “A World Undone: 100 Years of World War 1”. The session moderated by Sunil Sethi had Elke Falat, Julia Tieke, Steffen Kopetzky and Vedica Kant on the panel. The discussion was information-packed. Here are a few facts:
– A lot of Indian soldiers lost their lives during World War 1 fighting for the Ottoman Empire – around 1.5 million most of them belonging to poor strata of society and almost all of them were illiterate. Deaths occurred in the Middle East wars. Any sort of communication between the Indians and their families was censored by the British. This Indian connect with World War 1 was established from sound recordings at prisons. The recordings had Indian folk songs. These recordings are kept at the Lautarchiv of Humboldt University Berlin.
– Apparently, the Germans tried to use the notion of Jihad against its enemies. The first mosque in Germany was built in POW area to enable the prisoners to worship.
– The Germans had a lot of Indian soldiers in their ranks. The soldiers were sent by the Nizam of Hyderabad. The Teen Murti memorial marks the contribution of Indians to the German army.
Post this discussion, I headed for an exhibition at the venue that was related to this discussion and browsed through the various exhibits.
It was around 3pm. The sleepy head that is me badly wanted to catch up with some sleep. I left for home and came back late in the evening. When I returned around 5.30pm, the discussion “Who does the writer write for” was drawing to its end.
If Ramachandra Guha’s fiery speech proved to a fitting dessert to the literary feast on Day 1, a fast-paced and animated discussion on the subject “Are we heading towards an intolerant India today?” proved to be a fitting dessert to the feast on offer on Day 2.

Kiran Majumdar exclaimed that politicians and people should make sure the intolerance debate be brought out in the open and not crushed. Another speaker mentioned the acute embarrassment the word ‘intolerance’ was creating abroad and tarnishing the country’s image. The unnecessary hoopla that had resulted because of intolerance had scared the Egyptian president out of his wits.

To those who condoned the current government’s actions, Padma Rao Sundarji spoke of how the Congress government manipulated news coverage on Doordarshan in 1984 by completely masking the atrocities committed against Sikhs in the wake of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination. Congress politician Dinesh Gundu Rao replied by saying that all parties have faults and that Sikh riots should not be mentioned without a mention of the Babri Masjid and added that these days Muslims were finding it difficult to get accommodation everywhere.

Another speaker mentioned that intolerance was more of a Left vs. Right issue and that Indians as a whole should not be demeaned.

A panellist mentioned that while Nayantara Sehgal had ignited a controversy by returning her award, why was she silent when thousands of Kashmiri Pandits were forced to flee their own home state in the wake of terrorist attacks.

When the discussion started taking a political note and more of a war of words between the BJP and Congress, some of the speakers raised an alarm. At the end of it all, only the oratory and debating skills of the speakers stood out. BJP spokesman Sambit Patra got a lot of claps thanks to his gift of the gab. Siddarth Dhanvant Shangvi’s cool as a cucumber persona was commendable.

Everyone in the audience wanted Vikram Sampath back as the festival director. Author Siddarth Dhanvant Shanghvi made a personal request to Vikram and asked him to change his mind. Vikram quipped that he would think about it.

And thus curtains came down on the Bangalore Lit Fest 2015.