Lost amidst all the pink

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Blooming time is the most romantic time in the Garden City. There are quite a few blooming times in the year, my favourite being late February/early March when the Tabebuia argentea or the Tree of Gold is in full bloom. Just being in the midst of these yellow canopies makes you feel intoxicated with the feeling of being in heaven. It gives you a heady feeling of divinity unparalleled to anything else. Not far behind the Tabebuia argentea blooms are the purplish-pink blooms of the Tabebuia impetiginosa and the light pink blooms of the Tabebuia rosea. Clusters of flowering trees add to the joyful experience.

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Despite being a tad busy this November, I managed to squeeze in time for a visit to Cubbon Park where there are a lot of Tabebuia impetiginosa trees. It was on a Sunday. I actually wanted to head there in the morning but overslept and had to postpone my trip to the evening hours. Things were moving at such a slow pace that I almost missed going in the evening too. Luckily, I got a bus in the nick of time and reached the Corporation Side Gate of Cubbon Park at around a quarter past 5. It was a Sunday evening and needless to say, the park was crowded with a lot of couples, families, groups of young men and women and the regular Cubbon Park walkers and joggers. There were a lot of cyclists too zigzagging through the crowd. Amidst all the brouhaha, it felt nice to hear the caws of crows and chirps of so many other birds.

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I weaved through the sea of humanity. Strangely, the Aswath Katte near the Corporation Gate entrance wore a deserted look with only one man on a seat lost in thoughts. I still have not been able to lay my hands on the history of this katte.

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As I walked on, I spotted the first beauty and lost no time in taking a picture of her canopy. I was happy the blooms were still there. The flowers were still young. Once these trees bloom it is not long before the flowers fall off. The reasons are many. Many get vandalised and then there are many which fall off due to natural factors like wind and ageing.

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IMG_7172Despite Sunday being a no-traffic day at Cubbon Park, the traffic lights were on. The evening was wearing on, the street lights were on. I had to hurry up with my pictures before dusk enveloped the place. I had to make the best of the short time I had. In a way, it was a blessing in disguise to be late because the blooms look even more beautiful with a fully-lit street light in the foreground.

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A few steps later, I reached the heavenly spot where you can find the majority of Tabebuia impetiginosas.

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People were having a whale of a time under the pink canopies. Many were picnicking, children were playing, and a lot of people were trying out different selfie poses. Balloon and peanut sellers were making brisk business. And I went into a clicking frenzy. I tried to work some magic with my mobile too but it did not work out. The light was low.
It wasn’t long before I decided to call it quits and march out. It felt nice that I got to spend one hour amidst the splendid purplish-pink blooms.

As I walked on out of the MG Road gate of the park, I could not resist taking a picture of the magnificent St Mark’s Cathedral.

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Notes from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2018 – Day 2

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Shashi Tharoor at the Bangalore Lit Fest 2019.

Unlike the previous day when I got late to the fest and missed the first event of the day, I did not want to get late on Day 2. I started from home at 8.30am and got a bus though not a direct one within minutes. It was five stops later that I realised to my dismay that I had kept my camera battery for charging and had not inserted it back in my camera. I re-checked my camera battery cabinet and lo it was empty! I got angry with myself for being so absent-minded and for a moment wondered whether I should go back home and insert the battery or else take photos with my smartphone. So lost was I in this battle that was taking place in my mind that I forgot about the bus which had almost started moving from the fifth stop. I had to literally jump off a moving bus! The next thing I did was take an auto back home and as my luck would have it the driver was one of those types who fleeces commuters. I jumped off the auto no sooner had it reached my destination and and ran out as fast I entered it, this time with the battery inserted in the camera. I had no time to even answer my bewildered father who could not figure out what was happening. Two of my cats who were watching all the action gave me a puzzled look. The time was 9.10am and I realised that the only way I could reach the venue by 10am was in an auto or cab. I flagged down an auto and headed to the venue. There were jams galore all along the way including one in front of the venue. The time was almost 10am. I raced to the ‘Adjust Maadi’ stage as soon as I aligthed from the auto. To my utter disappointment, not only were all the seats occupied, even the turf around the seating arena was occupied by visitors. When I somehow managed to get a wee bit of space to sit on the turf, one of the volunteers asked me to get up and directed me to go right behind those who were standing. How disheartening! It was well past 10am when Shashi Tharoor arrived to release and speak about his book “The Paradoxical Prime Minister”. Apparently, the wordsmith too had got stuck in the jam.

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Shashi Tharoor displays a copy of his latest book as emcee Darius Sunawala looks on.

Clad in a blue suit with a sleeveless coat, Shashi Tharoor, I must say, made some sort a fashion statement. We must give it to the man, for walking straight out of his car and onto the stage without even bothering to cool his heels. The organisers were even willing to swap his talk with the second event so that he gets a much-needed rest. When the emcee Darius Sunawala announced his arrival, the crowd erupted with applause. I couldn’t take down notes as Shashi Tharoor spoke because I was struggling to stand comfortably. I barely managed to take a picture of him. He spoke in length about his book which was about the current Prime Minister. The book profiles Narendra Modi, and has sections called Moditva and Modinomics, which has a large portion devoted to the demonetisation policy. The speaker wowed the audience with his exemplary English, sense of humour and oratorial capabilities. It didn’t appear that there were many Narendra Modi fans in the audience because the number of cheers drowned the jeers if any. His famous (infamous to Modi fans) ‘Scorpio on the Shiva Linga’ statement which went on to become controversial after it appeared on the dailies the next day got him plaudits at the fest. For most part of this session, like many in the crowd, I found it difficult to balance myself and had to strain my neck on numerous occasions.

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Easterine Kire reads out her poems to the strums of Bharat Nair’s guitar.

After the drama that prevailed during the Shashi Tharoor session came to an end, the stage was taken over by poetess Easterine Kire who eloquently read out poems penned by her to the strums of the guitar being played by musician Bharat Nair. The poems centred among other things on women, romance, Nagaland from where the poetess hails, and the landscapes of Norway.

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Sarika in conversation with Sadhana Rao.

After the soothing music and poetry, the next set of speakers took the stage. The panellists for the discussion titled, “Child Star to Her Own Woman”, included Bollywood actress Sarika who lit up film screens at the tender age of four, and Sadhana Rao. Sarika was also known for her beauty during her halcyon days. Sadly, age seems to have taken a toll on her looks. She also seems to have put on lot of weight. The voluminous Anarkali she wore that day made her look fatter. Clippings from her various films shown in chronological order preceded the conversation. As the conversation started, Sarika mentioned that she had never attended school and is self-taught in reading and writing. She used and still uses the dictionary extensively. She considers the dictionary her lifeline, her school and college. The studio was her school, the directors her teachers, scripts her syllabus. She never got trained in acting. On the sets, late actor Sanjeev Kumar gave her tips in acting. Contrary to what many of us think, she never enjoyed playing the role of a boy as she found wearing wigs very annoying  and the varying tense in the script would often be confusing. She considers herself blessed as she got to work with such acclaimed directors like BR Chopra and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. Her most memorable film was ‘Griha Pravesh’. She went on to state that she is disappointed with the current TV scenario. There are many good actors but hardly any good scripts. Sarika wears many hats. Besides acting, she dabbles with production but is not thinking of direction as of now.

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As she descended the stage after the conversation, Sarika was mobbed by the young and the old for selfies and she obliged many.

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Arundhati Rao reads out a passage from Girish Karnad’s play “Rakshasa Tangidi”.

After the culmination of the conversation featuring Sarika, I moved across to the ‘Naale Baa’ stage which had a galaxy of big names on the panel for the conversation “Crossing to Hampi: A Dramatic Exploration of the Vijayanagara Catastrophe”. The seats were occupied; the conversation had begun 15 minutes back. Girish Karnad was among the speakers, braving illness, his movements and speech being restricted by a nose cannula. He was seated on a wheel-chair. Theatre and film personality Arundhati Nag was reading a passage from the play “Rakshasa Tangidi” written by Girish Karnad on the subject of the discussion. Rakshasa Rangidi’s plot related to the invasion of the prosperous Vijayanagara kingdom by five Muslim rulers. I was in awe with her style of rendition of the dialogues. It was simply superb and did full justice to the work of the writer. The last to speak was Prof. CN Ramachandran who gave his take on the play and was all praise for the script and the research that went into writing it.

I next headed for lunch and for the second day in a row had Bhel Puri.

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Barkha Dutt shares her views on “Women in Conflict Zones”.

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(L-R): Jasmina Tesanovic, Humra Qureshi, Rashmi Saksena and Paro Anand.

I headed to the ‘Naale Baa’ stage to listen to the discussion “Women In Conflict Zones” which had as panellists noted journalist Barkha Dutt, the multi-faceted Jasmina Tesanovic, writer Paro Anand, journalist Rashmi Saksena and writer Humra Quraishi. Ironically, Barkha Dutt’s mother Prabha Dutt was India’s first female journalist who reported from a conflict zone. Unfortunately, Prabha Dutt died very young. Being in a warzone is no easy task especially for women one main reason being the absence of toilets. The speakers agreed when someone said that in a warzone, victims are not just victims but also participants. Jasmina Tesanovic added that in Serbia, only men were enrolled to fight, women did not count. Among the men who were recruited, 80% turned out to be war deserters. Most of them were traumatised. Life was difficult with no food and medicine. Rashmi Saksena’s new book, “She Goes to War: Women Militants of India” which inspired this conversation mentioned how surprised she was at the spate of incidents involving women as perpetrators in conflict zones. In most cases, women become violent when their men get brutalized in the war. Many become carriers of weapons and find their way out of ticklish situations. Writer Paro Anand mentioned that in the early 1980s and ‘90s, when she worked with children and youth, no women and children were for violence. Now the increase in the number of conflict zones has become a matter of concern.

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Vijay Seshadri (L) and Chidanand Rajghatta (R).

I next headed to the ‘Adjust Maadi’ stage where the topic of discussion was “Trumpian Times” that had journalist Chidanand Rajghatta in conversation with poet Vijay Seshadri. The conversation turned out to be very light-hearted and gained momentum after Seshadri took time to settle down with the topic. He had the audience in guffaws when he stated that he is not interested in Trump and that it is better to deprive him of oxygen so that he can be left gasping. He added that it is very interesting to note that Trump has supporters. When asked where he was when Trump was elected President, Seshadri replied that he was en route to Singapore to take part in the Singapore Lit Fest. At Singapore, he was taken aback when he saw the headlines “Trump elected President”. He was surprised to hear that Hillary had conceded defeat. He laughingly added, “His luck is amazing”.

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Robert Dessaix and Shobhaa De share a lighter moment.

A discussion, “Seventy…And to Hell With It” originally scheduled to take place on the ‘Naale Baa’ stage at 10.15am got postponed to 2.45pm in the afternoon and was instead held on the ‘Adjust Maadi’ stage. The conversation had noted novelist Shobhaa De in conversation with Aussie journalist Robert Dessaix. Shobhaa De has always had good words to say about the Bangalore Literature Festival. This time too she did not hide her happiness at being in the Garden City, “I am happy to see Bangaloreans give so much importance to writers”. The conversation was inspired by the Indian author having turned 70 recently. It goes to Shobhaa’s credit that she looks anything but a septuagenarian and she was beaming positivity. “Seventy is not the end of the road”, she exulted even as the audience cheered and went on to add that she has never felt so unshackled. She said that she has started liking herself more and never felt so terrified of herself as she was in her 30s and proudly exclaimed that she belongs to the first generation of working grandmothers. According to her, contrary to popular belief, the loneliest people are the young and not the old. Now that calls for a lot of reflection.
Not sure of which talk to attend next, I continued to sit on the same chair.

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Kiran Manral (L) and Shaili Chopra.

The next session centred on the topic “Feminist Rani” on a book of the same name recently penned by Shaili Chopra and Meghna Pant. The discussion featured an interview with the striking looking Shaili Chopra by Kiran Manral. “The book was written with an objective to break the notion that in India feminism is a notion borrowed from the West”, said Shaili. Incidentally, the release of the book coincided with the #MeToo movement. Shaili added that “feminism can be perceived differently by different individuals”. “Feminist Rani” is a compilation of stories which are narrated from real life. Featured in the book are such names like Kalki Koechlin and Gul Panag.

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The discussion that followed on the ‘Adjust Maadi’ stage was the one which many were waiting for. “Mard Ko Dard Hoga: #MeToo” had Barkha Dutt in conversation with Sandhya Menon, Sister Jesme, Tushita Patel and Vinta Nanda all of whom as many of us know survived atrocities by men. Television producer Vinta Nanda who has levelled rape charges against actor Alok Nath was the first one to speak. Vinta who took the nation by surprise by making sexual assault allegations against the much respected actor was the first to speak. The incident took place in the 1990s and Vinta first reported the incident to Bombay Mirror back then but everyone was mum. The allegations proved costly as her shows got pulled down one by one. This was clearly an abuse of power. The influential actor got his way. In the interests of her career, Vinta went back to the concerned actor a second time. She directed him even after he raped her and he continued misbehaving.

Sister Jesme who left the congregation of nuns a decade back out of frustration was the next to speak. She was the first to document cases of sexual harassment against nuns much before they were taken seriously. You can find them in her book “Amen – The Autobiography of a Nun”. She had always nursed a desire to become a nun. When she joined the congregation, everything looked good. Later, she found that the system was fake. She mentioned an incident when a priest asked her to strip and told her that if she didn’t he would do it himself. He sexually abused her and then asked her to confess to him! He then told her not to speak about the incident to anyone. She went on the serve the church for 33 long years. Most abused nuns she says lack the courage to speak up about the crime as they lack support and are quite sure that their families will not take them back.

Former journalist Sandhya Menon spoke of how she endured sexual harassment by her boss Gautam Adhikari who behaved inappropriately with her in a car. The man in question told her not to speak about the incident to anybody. He later started starving her of work. Sandhya ultimately quit and decided to never ever go back to journalism.

Tushita Patel spoke of the torment she had to undergo when working with the ‘Asian Age’ under noted journalist MJ Akbar. He once opened the door for her in his underwear!

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(L-R): Janice Pariat, Kiran Manral and Preeti Shenoy.

I then moved to the ‘Naale Ba’ stage to listen to the discussion “Lives of Girls and Women” which had authors Janice Pariat and Preeti Shenoy in conversation with journalist and moderator Kiran Manral. What struck me most in this conversation was Janice Pariat. She is so pretty, elegant, has a voice of a cuckoo and her diction is flawless. Preeti Shenoy like always was dressed impeccably and I must say has an aura of sophistication about her. When Kiran Manral asked the ladies, “Are books that are centred on women taken less seriously?”, Preeti replied with a big “no” because otherwise her books which are mostly on women would never have become best-sellers. Surprisingly, Janice has never thought of writing about women. Preeti spoke of the raw deal most women get in life. They are are married off even before they put in place their dreams and aspirations. Forty-four per cent of women in the country are married off before they are 18. Her latest book “The Rule Breakers” is the story of a woman as seen in the eyes of the protagonist Veda. For a woman, it is important to follow a career and gain financial independence. With independence comes power.

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Janice Pariat reads a passage from her book.

Janice read some passages from her book “The Nine-Chambered Heart” with eloquence. Interestingly, the protagonist in her book is described through different gazes of her lovers.

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(L-R): Kartik Shanker, Krithi Karanth, Janaki Lenin and Stephen Alter.

By the end of this discussion, I was terribly tired and was contemplating going home. But the topic of the next discussion “My Family and Other Animals” was too enticing to let go. I thought I will attend this one last discussion and leave. The discussion with Kartik Shanker as moderator had in the panel Krithi Karanth, Janaki Lenin and Stephen Alter. Although Krithi was introduced to the wilderness by her father, the famous wildlife expert Dr Ulhas Karanth, it was only later in life that she developed an afinity to wildlife. Janaki Lenin too had her first wildlife experience when she was in her early 20s. Mussoorie-born Stephen Alter spoke among other things of his life in the border of the town and his visits to Corbett National Park along with his family. The after effects of my three-hour sleep the previous night began telling on me and I just stayed glued to my chair till the conversation ended. Honestly, I was hardly there during this conversation. With that I called it a day and this time I was sure I wanted to go home as I just did not have it in me to listen to any more discussions.

Notes from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2018 – Day 1

The 2018 edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival (27 and 28 October)  turned out to be a colourful affair. I missed going to the last edition of the fest but fortunately was able to make it to this one. Like last year, the literary feast was held at The Lalit Ashok, which I must say turned out to be just the right place for a soiree like this one. The sprawling lawns of one of The Garden City’s oldest five-star hotels accommodated five stages for the event which made it that much easier for the organisers and the visitors. There was so much space for everyone to move around and the sunny weather added to the warmth. The atmosphere was vibrant and happy, one reason being the plethora of children’s events that were introduced in this edition. There were a lot of children prancing around. The food stalls were making brisk business despite the items being overpriced. A few stages were set around the hotel’s swimming pool adding to the visual quotient of the feast.

Day 1

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Professor Velchuru Narayana Rao

I couldn’t make it for the first event of the day as I reached late. I headed for The Red Couch as soon as I reached the hotel at around 10.40 am. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Vijay Seshadri was almost midway through his talk. I did not pay much attention and dabbled with my camera settings instead. At around 11 am, Telugu scholar Velchuru Narayana Rao took the stage to speak on ‘Translating Classics’. The talk turned out to be quite informative. Narayana Rao started by speaking about the importance of translation. In a country like India which is multi-lingual, it is important that works of authors are translated otherwise literature cannot survive.

When translating, a lot of factors have to be taken into account. For example, English and Telugu are poles apart syntactically, semantically and culturally. When translating works from Telugu to English, it is important to explain the origins of the work, what the content is all about and also what to expect. It is important to tell something about the Indian culture to the Westerners. It is important to avoid translating compound sentences. Such sentences should be broken up. Compound sentences have always been a challenge for translators. Translators should also avoid making the translation sound like the language it is translated from. When translating poems, skilled translators find a poem within a poem.

Poetry is also written in pictorial formats and these are categorised into different types: (1) Cow’s urination pattern which is zig-zag; (2) snake’s posture (all intertwined) are two such types.

When translating, it is important not to attempt translating all the text. It is next to impossible.

The English language is the doorway to the entire world. Hence, it was imperative that works from other languages are translated into English. The greatness of Indian poets like Kalidasa would not have been known outside India had their works not been translated into English.

Certain poems carry a double meaning. In such cases, the translator comes out with two versions of the translation. Different people translate poems in their own unique style.

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Shoba Narayan (right) in conversation with Rashmi Menon (left)

The next discussion on The Red Couch had author Shoba Narayan in conversation with Rashmi Menon. The conversation ‘The Cows of Bangalore’ had to do with a book of the same name by Shoba Narayan who also happens to own a cow and chases cows off road-dividers. Every region has a spirit animal. In the North-East, the hornbills are revered, in Karnataka, it is the tiger and in entire India, it is the cow. The book was inspired by a real-life incident when Shoba bumped into Sarala, a lady who owns cows and supplies milk, in her apartment lift. Sarala requested her for a loan and told her that it was for a cow. When asked how much she wanted she said 40,000 rupees. When asked how she would repay such a big sum, Sarala told her that she would supply milk to her free till she clears the amount, Shoba agreed but on condition that she will accompany her to buy the cow. The search for a perfect cow took some time. After a cow was finally selected, Shoba was assigned the honour of naming her. The process of naming turned out to be a not-so-easy process. Tradition required that the cow’s name end with Lakshmi. Of the names available, there were none that could be used because one among Sarala’s cows already had that name. Finally, the ladies arrived on the name Anandalakshmi. During the course of the discussion, Shobha mentioned that male calves are not wanted in the urban eco-farm and usually end up getting slaughtered. She went on to add that she has steered clear of cow politics in her book. The book is not only about cows but Indian society too. The book celebrates Indianness. A takeaway from the book is the emphasis on Indian cows and the need to buy desi cow’s milk like the milk of the Halekar cows, Amrit Mahal cows and the short-legged Malnad Giddu cows. Desi cow milk is less diabetogenic. Cows feed on 30 varieties of grass. When someone in the audience asked the author for her view on cows eating from dustbins she said that the owners of the cows have a romantic view about that. The cows they believe eat only the healthy stuff from the muck!

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Janaki Lenin (left) in conversation with Romulus Whitaker (right)

The next discussion ‘Things We Do’ was one which I was waiting for. On the panel was The Snake Man of India, Romulus Whitaker, in conversation with his film-maker and writer wife Janaki Lenin. I had grown up hearing the name of Romulus Whitaker and the pioneering work he was doing towards conservation of snakes and crocodiles. It felt great seeing such an iconic figure in the flesh. The conversation between the husband and wife duo started on a very light note. Janki humoured the audience when she said that Romulus was always a security threat at the airport as he would be caught carrying a snake or crocodile or something live in his baggage. Romulus Whitaker as everyone knows has always been obsessed with snakes unlike many of us who dread being in the midst of one. Romulus spoke of his early days when he came to India after his mother re-married. His step-father was Indian. He was all of seven when he set foot in the country and had his schooling at the Kodai International School. He spent two years serving the US Army. He came back to India as his heart was in India. His love for snakes and crocodiles saw him set up the Madras Snake Park and the Madras Crocodile Park Trust. He mentioned his memorable stints with the UN at Ethiopia and other African countries. He spoke of near-death encounters he had in Africa when he actually went around on a helicopter collecting crocodile nests by dodging crocodiles and hippos in the dead of the night. The crocodile skin industry in Africa is a million dollar industry. Romulus Whitaker helped set up village co-operatives in Africa to prevent mass slaughter of crocodiles for their skin. When asked what was his scariest experience he mentioned an incident in the tiger-infested Sunderbans when he was working on a project on saltwater crocodiles. He was accompanied by security guards carrying old guns. He was more worried about the old guns going off than the appearance of a tiger; his heart was thumping. When asked about his memorable experiences, he spoke about setting up a research station at the Agumbe Rainforest famous for the King Cobra. His documentary on the King Cobra won him an Emmy much to his surprise. Janaki spoke about female King Cobras entering people’s houses before laying eggs and housing themselves in bathrooms and toilets for days and weeks. During that period, the residents of the house would use their neighbour’s toilet. Romulus Whitaker was instrumental in helping the Irula tribes who once earned their livelihood selling snakes. When the ban on snake skin trade came into force, Whitaker used their services for extracting venom and in this way fetched them an alternative livelihood.

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Samit Ghosh (left) and Subir Roy (right)

After the discussion, for some reason I felt disinclined to get up from my seat and check out other events happening at the other stages. The discussion that followed was one on finance for which I have absolutely no flair. The discussion ‘Ujjivan: Small Loans Transforming Lives’ had Samit Ghosh, Founder of Ujjivan Financial Services, in conversation with journalist Subir Roy. Samit Ghosh spoke on the significance of micro-finance. It is all about giving loans to poor people, without security. The name micro-finance is synonymous with Mohammed Yunus who started the concept in Bangladesh and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for the innovative idea. According to the speakers, the concept was born in India before Mohammed Yunus introduced it and the person behind it was Ela Bhatt. The speakers were in full praise of the Aadhar card and that it turned out to be a boon for micro-finance. Giving away loans involved lesser paper work because of Aadhar. The procedure involved carrying hand-held devices to the doorstep which made things that much more easy. Compared to the middle-class and the rich, the poorer sections were more open to technological advances as it made their lives easier because they are toiling whole day. Also, micro-finance in a large way got rid of dubious chit-fund schemes.

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Nandita Bose (left) and Sujatha Parashar (right)

The discussion that followed, ‘In Search of Wacky Female Characters’ had best-selling author Sujata Parashar in conversation with Nandita Bose. Among other things, Parashar spoke about her debut novel, ‘In Pursuit of Infidelity’ in which she has modelled the protagonist, a female, after Madame Bovary. She is disillusioned with her marriage and is neglected by her husband who is busy with his work. ‘Temple Bar Woman’, one of her other works is a Bollywood-like story about a woman who is brutalised.

After the culmination of this discussion, I decided to take a break. I first checked out the books at the Atta Galatta bookstore which was adjacent to the stage. I couldn’t buy any books as I was broke and I had just enough money for grub and travelling back home. I then headed to the food court and realised the only thing I could afford with my current budget was a ‘chaat’ and opted to have ‘Bhel Puri’. Chaats are usually very light on the tummy but I must say this plate of ‘Bhel Puri’ was quite filling and didn’t taste bad. After finishing off all that was on my platter and downing them with a glass of water, I decided to move to the ‘Naale Baa’ stage to listen to the discussion ‘Fashion: The Seamly and The Unseamly’ that was scheduled to start at 2.30pm. It was only 2.15pm and ‘Naale Baa’ was filled to the brim. An ongoing talk on narrative non-fiction had attracted a huge crowd. This meant I had to wait for this talk to get over and for some members of the audience to disperse. It was then that I ran into my school classmate Anand aka ‘Puppy’, the class jester. What a surprise! Someone like Puppy is a very unlikely visitor to a Lit Fest. I felt very amused seeing him. Puppy was very pleased with the goings-on at the fest and couldn’t contain his happiness. After a quick chat, he headed for the food stalls and I to the front of the ‘Naale Baa’ stage. The stage was huge and it was important that I get the front seat as it would be more convenient to take pictures. Luckily, quite a lot of the audience dispersed and I found a comfortable place to sit right in the front row. The discussion that revolved around fashion had former model and Miss India Shvetha Jaishankar (who was once married to tennis ace Mahesh Bhupathi) and writer-activist Manjima Bhattacharjya in conversation with Susan Thomas.

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Susan Thomas (centre) in conversation with Shvetha Jaishankar (left) and Manjima Bhattacharjya)

Manjima spoke in length about the seamier side of the fashion industry, the pains small-town girls go through to shine on the ramp and make a mark on the modelling scene. She also mentioned that when it comes to work, India has the worst female work participation in India. Leggy beauty Shvetha who looked stunning in a blue a-line dress agreed that modelling is not easy money. She left modelling early as it is a short career defined by age and beauty. She went on to add, “If you want to fight it, you will be fighting against you”. Her book “Gorgeous : Eat Well, Look Great”, was one of Amazon’s memorable books of 2016. She wrote the book to dispel some wrong notions about food. The book features recipes from models and Bollywood personalities. Manjima said that feminism has become more reflective now. Feminists have become fashionable. Fashion industry has created a body image picture on the Internet and it is influencing feminists. Shvetha commented that models should not be deified nor should they be villified. She went on to add that social media is a good tool in spite of the trolling. And most importantly, she has faced more prejudices in the corporate world than as a model.

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Aparna Raman (left), Rhea Saran (centre) and Dan Morrison (right)

The talk on the fashion industry was followed by a discussion titled, “Intrepid Travellers: Strangers in a Strange Land” which had as panellists former New York Times crime reporter Dan Morrison, journalist Rhea Saran and Aparna Raman. Dan described his days as a reporter in Afghanistan during a not-so-bad phase and confessed it was just the right job for a (in his own words) “knucklehead” like him. Rhea admitted that the days when people preferred safety are gone. In fact, everyone prefers being adventurous and wants transformative travel. She spoke of how she drove through unlit streets in Havana and ate alone at restaurants. It is not only conflict zones that one should be scared of. Dan mentioned that when travelling in alien lands, he does not rely on translators. All his writings are heavily contextualised ad he has written keeping the layman in mind. Rhea is of the opinion that people who read online are different from those who read printed magazines. She was in the Middle-East for five years and said that people’s perspectives towards travelling are changing. Dan admitted her prefers places where he can leave his belongings safely. On the other hand, Rhea mentioned that she prefers going to unfamiliar places.

Owing to some last-minute re-scheduling, The New India Foundation Awards originally scheduled for 4.45pm on the Naale Baa stage was preponed to 3.30pm. The newly instituted awards saw Ramachandra Guha, Nandan Nilekani, Manish Sabharwal, Yelchuru Narayana Rao and Srinath Raghavan take the stage to honour the winner. The authors were judged on their writings on India. Milan Vaishnav became the first winner of the award named after Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. He won it for his book, “When Crime Pays”.

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Ravi Shankar Etteth (left), Ponnappa (centre) and Bachi Karkeria (right)

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IMG_20181027_175012After hanging around for a good one hour at the bookstore, I headed for the Adjust Maadi stage to be audience to the talk “Pencils Drawn: Cartooning in Trying Times”. The speakers were noted cartoonists Ponnappa and Ravi Shankar Etteth and the moderator was noted journalist and author Bachi Karkeria. In between lamenting about the step-motherly treatment meted out to cartoonists, the low pay scale, and the risks entailed with their sketching political cartoons, Ponnappa and Etteth enthralled the audience with their drawing skills and their sense of humour. When asked to sketch a political cartoon in trend with the times, Ponnappa drew one that was based on the Sabarimala temple controversy that had the audience in guffaws. The cartoonist was quite sure that this cartoon would not have got accepted had he sent it to any daily. Ravi Shankar Etteth mentioned that cartoonists had better prospects with vernacular dailies than the English ones. The vernacular dailies were more flexible with their choice of subjects than English dailies.

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I decided to listen to one last talk before heading home. As it was the end of the day, and had barely slept the last night, I was feeling awfully sleepy. Star speaker Ramachandra Guha’s talk was scheduled next. His topic of discussion was “Is There an Indian Road to Equality”. He started his speech by saying that in a perfect world all will be equal. He had everyone in splits when he stated, “In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it is the other way round.” He spoke of the significance of employment and the necessity of every other person having decent employment.

He emphasised on the equality of caste and gender. Over here, he mentioned that Dalits and women were the most oppressed classes in India. It was important that this kind of oppression be overpowered. He added that discrimination of Dalits was intrinsic to Hindu culture. Dalits were not allowed in temples and walk in front of upper castes. Mahatma Gandhi tried to bring in a lot of reforms. Unfortunately, not all were a success as some of the Hindu religious leaders were against such reforms.

He mentioned that such caste-based discrimination did not exist within Hindus alone. Muslims from Central Asia also thought they were a superior race. Christians and Sikhs also allowed caste-based discrimination. He slammed pernicious practices like child marriages. Although, there were many Hindu female dieties, Hindu men married multiple times time till the 1950s. Muslims discriminated against women by bringing in the purdah rule. In comparison, Muslim and Sikh women were less ostracised. He lamented that Hinduism is historically disfigured because of oppression against women and caste. Indians did not deserve freedom because of this. Because of this oppression, Gandhi was fighting Britain and India at the same time. The battle against this inequality was the core of India’s freedom struggle. When he said he was all for the #MeToo movement, females in the audience applauded him. However, his support for allowing women in the Sabarimala shrine got a mixed response.

After listening to the electrifying talk by Ramachandra Guha, I headed home hurriedly as I had to attend the lit fest the next day and had to be there by 10am to attend the first session of the day featuring Shashi Tharoor.