I consider myself fortunate to have made it to the eighth edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival. Out of the eight literature festivals held over the last eight years, I missed only one. Like last year and the year before the last, the organisers of this crowd-funded literature fest chose to hold it at The Lalit Ashok, one of the city’s oldest five-star hotels. Earlier editions were held at The Jayamahal Palace Hotel (in 2012), The Crowne Plaza Hotel (2013 and 2014), The Royal Orchid on Old Airport Road (2015 and 2016) and as I mentioned earlier The Lalit Ashok (2017 and 2018). The Lalit Ashok with its endless green canopies, large open spaces and strategic location proved to be an apt location for a festival of this kind. Bibliophiles, literati, and book lovers from all over the city made a beeline to the fest to listen to great minds who conversed on the podium over various subjects ranging from history, politics, fashion, sports, crime and more. Like always, the children-friendly fest had a lot of educational events and games lined up for school-goers as well. The bookstore at the event had a wide range of books on sale most of which were new releases. A lot of these new releases took place at the festival and those who bought them had the privilege of getting their copies signed by the authors themselves. A lot of visitors were even able to get selfies with some of the popular authors.
Day 1 – 9 November 2019
After a hectic Friday and hardly enough sleep, I was wondering whether to attend the festival on the first day. When I woke up at the break of dawn on Saturday, I was extremely groggy and disoriented. I felt like going back to sleep. And the motivation was just not there. But better sense prevailed and I told myself I must go.
For more reasons than one, I couldn’t make it to the venue by 10am which is when all the events start. It must have been close to noon when I finally arrived at the venue. I missed a lot of good discussions, including one which featured the launch of actor Pankaj Kapur’s book ‘Dopehri’ and another on the late polymath Girish Karnad whose absence was sorely felt at the fest. As a tribute to Girish Karnad, who took part in last year’s fest as well as some of the earlier editions, two of the three stages were named after his popular plays Tughlaq and Yayati. A third stage, the smallest of the three, was named The Red Couch. There were three stages for the children’s events too.
I wasted no time in getting hold of a copy of the schedule and dashed to The Red Couch after I noticed the next event there was ’99 Not Out’ because the topic sounded as if it was centred around the game the nation is crazy about. Yes! I am talking about cricket. The panellists were Sujata Kelkar Shetty and Namu Kini. Namu Kini (short for Namrata Kini) is a familiar name to me. She runs the Kynkyny Art Gallery in the city. Sujata is a well-known name is wellness circles with 10 years experience in the field. Contrary to what I thought, the talk was around a wellness book of the same name by Sujata Kelkar Shetty. According to Dr Shetty, the content in the book is an amalgam of 27 wellness principles. Increasing cases of depression and diabetes striking younger individuals is a cause of alarm and an indication of early stages of ageing. Her book is a way to good health and the reader can choose ways to getting fitter according to what he or she is most comfortable with and what works best for him or her. She propagates the significance of self-compassion and kindness. Being kind to others makes the giver happy and happiness plays a key role in one’s well-being. She cited the example of her son who revels in going to an animal shelter to play with stray dogs. It is important to inculcate good values and lead a disciplined life.
Good habits are critical for self-development. It is never too late to lead a good life and the book has sections on it. A good part of the book also speaks of the significant role played by the vagus nerve in the human body. It ensures that all our organs function properly and plays a key role in gut-brain communication and mind-body connection. Singing, having a cold shower, yoga and meditation do wonders for the vagus nerve.
A section of the book talks of the importance of a good night’s sleep. While a good sleep pattern is conserved across the animal kingdom the same is not the case with humans. Sleep is crucial for the brain, for memory and emotional health. Lack of sleep can result in irritability.
Part of the book revolves around friendship. Having friends help ward off loneliness. Loneliness affects one’s health and it is not a good idea to let loneliness creep in.
Fit as a fiddle, tall and elegant Sujata Kelkar Shetty looked every inch an ambassador of good health. The long silky mane completed her look. Namu Kini made a fashion statement in a blue asymmetric outfit and grey streaks on her hair.
After this conversation ended, I browsed through the schedule and chose to attend ‘Namdu K Kannad Gothilla Ki Ki’ which would be a comic take on the language of Bangalore. The time was 12.30pm and the conversation which I wished to attend would start at 1.45pm at the Tughlaq stage. I had a good one hour and 15 minutes to indulge in some other activity. I headed to the Atta Galatta Book Store. There were quite a few classics on sale and some memorabilia. I grabbed a copy of ‘Heidi’, and a book on Amrita Sher-Gill. To carry them home, I picked up a backpack endorsed by the Paapa project (an initiative to save the slender loris). And I couldn’t resist buying a large women’s floral floppy hat.
As I had some more time left, I headed for lunch. When I glanced through the menu, I realised that the items were a tad overpriced, not surprising as the venue was a five-star hotel. I opted for Veg Biriyani and a cup of tea. The Veg Biriyani accompanied by a green dip turned out to be yummy. As I had to wait for the food in a long queue, I ended up reaching the Tughlaq stage after the event started. It turned out to be a promo for an upcoming Kannada film which is a humorous take on the Kannada language as non-Kannadigas see it. The film is being made to encourage people staying in Karnataka to learn the language and features a song by Raghu Dixit.
The next event lined up on the Tughlaq stage was a talk by Nidhi Chaphekar on the ordeal she had to go through during the terrorist attack at the Brussels airport in 2016. In a rhetoric-packed talk which Nidhi delivered standing, the former flight attendant with Jet Air went into graphic details of what she went through. She incidentally saw the suicide bomber. The intensity and heat of the attack was such that it sent a vibration into her ears. At one point, she thought she lost both her legs. The attack burnt her clothes and they got stuck to her body. It was then that someone clicked her picture and it went on to become the face of the Brussels attack. It wasn’t until three hours that she reached the hospital. Her injuries were so bad that she had to be put under induced coma. Years after the incident, she still has some metal pieces embedded in her body. During the induced coma, her health changed for the worse. She had to go under the knife two dozen times. Doctors gave up on her because of the extent of her injuries and expected her to die anytime due to multi-organ failure. It was a miracle she pulled through. During her recovery, she thought she will never walk again. Her family stood by her during the traumatic phase. She has now put all those nightmarish years behind her and is back on her feet.
The ensuing discussion on the Tughlaq stage ‘No Nation For Women – Narratives of Violence’ turned out to be a woman-centric one and a pretty serious one at that. On the panel were Ashok Alexander, who has done yeoman work for women and child welfare, and runs an NGO called Antara, in conversation with dancer Manjari Chaturvedi, journalist Priyanka Dubey, and Tania Singh. The talk centred on a book titled “No Nation for Women: Reportage on Rape from India, World’s Largest Democracy” authored by Priyanka Dubey who was inspired into writing the book owing to tremendous dearth of work on crimes against women in India. The moderator of the conversation was Tania Singh, who is the CEO of Make Love Not Scars, a non-profit organisation that works towards rehabilitating acid attack survivors. Ashok Alexander had a lot to say during the course of the talk because of his wide experience in working towards the rehabilitation of victims of sexual violence especially in Rajasthan which has over the years reported many crimes against women. All the speakers agreed that the average attitude in India towards women is hypocritical. The hypocrisy has existed from the days of the courtesans who were looked down upon and referred as ‘tawaifs’ while the men who were guilty of exploiting these women would be addressed with respect as ‘ustads’. Even the children of the ‘tawaifs’ were not spared from exploitation. Ashok added that any society that does not treat its women properly is a failed society.
The conversation was followed by a lively talk titled ‘बार बार देखो – Unraveling a Hit’ featuring popular film critic Bhawana Somaaya, actress Supriya Pathak, producer Manish Mundra and entrepreneur Sultan Ahmed. Bhawana Somaaya had the audience in splits when she said that after a critical review of the movie ‘Housefull 4’ she did not want to give the flick even one star and questioned why she has to go through the ordeal of reviewing such movies. Supriya Pathak mentioned that for a movie to become a hit luck matters because so many meaningful and well-made movies crash at the box-office. It is important that the director is happy with the end product. A movie cannot be judged by how it fares at the box office. Manish Mundra listed out factors that he considers before funding a movie. Some of the deciding factors include the cost, the economics and the story. Over here, it is important that the movie touches a chord with the audience and preferably have Indian values. When jokingly quizzed whether she has been offered goodies in order to give more stars for a movie, Bhawana replied in the negative. On a lighter vein, she spoke of the conflict she goes through on deciding about giving an additional half star for a flick. She went on to add that there is no magic formula to make a hit movie. According to Supriya Pathak, media has changed over the years and she feels it is a change for the good provided there is no misuse.
I wound up Day 1 at the Bangalore Literature Festival by attending the discussion “Wake Up, Life is Calling” that had techie-turned-author Vani Mahesh in conversation with best-selling author and fashionista Preeti Shenoy on her book of the same name. The book which is a sequel to her best-seller “Life is What You Make It” is centred on the travails of a young girl battling bipolar disorder. Preeti talked about the immense effort she had to put in this book and added that she would never pen a book on mental health again. It helped that her children had started their college education and that most of the writing happened in England where there is no dearth of good libraries. She also connected with artists with bipolar disorder and gathered a lot of useful inputs. Likewise, inputs from Bangalore’s NIMHANS Vellore’s CMC helped her get into the skin of the character. In the midst of the conversation, Preeti read out a passage from the book. On a lighter vein, Preeti mentioned that she is a very private person and is an ardent animal lover. She spoke of the deep anguish she goes through after seeing posts on animal cruelty on Facebook.
Before heading homewards, I dropped in at next door Chitrakala Parishath. A handicraft fair was on but there were surprisingly very little visitors. On quizzing a seller, I was told that this was because of the Ayodhya verdict which was announced on the same day. People preferred staying within the safe confines of their homes as there was every chance of trouble breaking out in certain pockets of the city. After shopping for some trinkets I left the place only to realise that buses were few obviously because of the Ayodhya verdict. Even getting an auto proved to be difficult. On earlier occasions, I would have been inundated with calls from my father not this time. He was fast asleep. Age was catching up with him, his health wasn’t very good. At that time, little did I realise that he won’t be alive after another two weeks. He fell very ill when I started writing this blog and completing it a few months after he passed away turned out to be a painful exercise.