Book Review: What Mina Did

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Relationships, deceit and lies form the crux of debutant author Geetha Menon’s book ‘What Mina Did’ and has been inspired by her own traumatic life experience. Set in the late 1990s and at the turn of the millennium, the novel exposes the ordeals people in love go through in conservative Indian families where love is still a dirty word. Despite the percolation of Western culture in Indian lifestyles, certain relationships are still not acceptable in the Indian milieu.

The life stories of the protagonist Mina and her childhood friend Neelu are a study in contrast but the strength of their friendship is so deep that it comes to their rescue when all else fails. One of the messages, the book conveys is the power of friendship. It also depicts the role relationships play in shaping one’s life. While on one hand, a strong relationship can make your life, a bad one can even break the strongest of individuals leading him or her to take extreme steps.  Readers also get a peek into the lives of Indians living in the United States.

The author has a flair for story-telling. She has taken great pain to go into the minutest details in her narration and at the same time has been careful enough to not miss out on vital details. The story movies seamlessly from chapter to chapter and all the details remain etched in your mind. So you will hardly find the need to move pages backward to check out for things you have forgotten especially a grizzly murder that is mentioned in the early part of the book and the events that led to it.

‘What Mina Did’ is one of those books that you can read fast and finish in one or two sittings.

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Excerpt from the book

When he left, Neelu sighed heavily. ‘No, Mina, he’s not a Hindu. His name is John …’ She stopped, sighed again. ‘Okay, there’s no good way to say this, so I’ll just spit it out. John’s not Indian. He’s from Boston. And he’s African-American.’

Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2019 – Day 1

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

 

Book Review: The Boss Calls The Shots

boss calls the shots

 

The first-time book by a Kargil War hero is a humorous take on the lighter side of life at military spaces in India. It is a compilation of true-life stories and anecdotes with some drama and humour added to them.
For those unexposed to life in military campuses there are surprises galore. For one, life here is colourful and not pedantic that most of us imagine it to be. As expected, fitness is an important keyword in some of the stories. If you thought bulging bellies are non-existent in army ranks you couldn’t be more wrong. Unhealthy eating is a malady even amongst army personnel. And believe it or not, sycophancy is at large even in the army. Flattering a boss is a way up the ladder in military ranks just like in government offices and private companies.
To give a romantic twist to the content of the book are a couple of Bollywood-like flings and quickies that could give some a culture shock and make them exclaim, “What!!”
The author has taken great pain not to miss out on minute details. He seems to be blessed with an elephant’s memory and has translated that gift of recollection into a collection of stories that is delightful, well-selected and nicely edited. Look out for South vs. North verbal duels among army wives, top-notch officers and their “gaandus”, and get acquainted with the “Murgah” pose. The book is a quick-read and one of those that can be finished in one sitting. Definitely worth buying and reading!

 

 

 

Late Post: Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2016 (Day 2)

I started off a little late on Day 2 (Dec 18) of the Bangalore Lit Fest 2016. So I missed a major chunk of the conversation “A Good Night’s Sleep” between Sumant Batra and Dr Manvir Bhatia. Keeping in mind the erratic hours I keep I guess I shouldn’t have missed this one.

 

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(L-R): Alan Johnson, Carlo Pizzati, Claus Heimes, Sally Breen, Roswitha Joshi and Manjari Joshi.

The next lecture on the #beda stage “Living In Other Lands” had the participation of a dozen expats. There were authors Alan Johnson, Carlo Pizzati, Roswitha Joshi, Goethe-Institut Director Claus Heimes, author and film-maker Manjari Prabhu in conversation with author Sally Breen.

 

Manjari Prabhu was the first to speak. She shared her experience of staying in Austria at a location which was used for the shooting of the epoch-making musical “The Sound Of Music”.

Roswitha Joshi mentioned that most of her works are based on her stay in other lands.  She recalled her first feelings she experienced in India.  It was like a chicken on its way to the oven. Her book “Life Is Precious” is based on incidents that she perceives as art and explores relationships in India. Another book is on the breaking down of values in Germany. “Fool’s Paradise” is on experiences some of them scary about her experiences in India. Her most recent book “Indian Dreams and Trapped in Want and Wonder” is totally based on India.

Claus Heimes’ work has taken him to various lands. Every time he is transferred to a new place, he goes about exploring it in order to satiate his curiosity.

Carlo Pizzati said that he is fascinated by the idea of knowledge one gets from travelling.  It is also like being in contact with something that is alien. He has written novels on his travels.

Alan Johnson mentioned that though he is an American by origin and born and brought up in India, he feels homesick when he is not in India.

Carlo Pizzati then went on to add that he is always drawn to fiction in order to narrate the truth something he could not do in his earlier job as a journalist. The character names in his book are all anagrams of his name.

Manjari spoke about how she mixed history with a contemporary plot in her novel which is set in Austria and has its characters various monuments.

Roswitha shared some colourful experiences she had at Vankaneya  in Gujarat where the camels for the Republic Day parade come from and the painted ‘havelis’ of Mandwa which have all been converted to resorts by erstwhile royals after the abolishment of the privy purse.

One of the speakers said that staying in a new land calls for transition both inside and outside. Claus Heimes interjected to say that in China one can never become an insider much to the amusement of the audience. Manjari remarked that the time period plays an important part in becoming an insider. Claus remarked that to know about a country it is better to read a book on a country written by a foreigner. To know about India it would be a good idea to read books by William Darlymple.

Alan Johnson then went on to add about his memorable school days at a school in India surrounded by nature because of which he perceived life as one surrounded by endless nature.  To which Roswitha then remarked that home is just not a location, it has an emotional tie.

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After the talk, I headed to the #beku stage where a large audience was in attendance at the talk “Ooh n’ Aah: Talking Erotica”. There was this one unoccupied chair just outside the shamiana where I decided to rest my weary feet. It was quite sunny but it felt nice having a sun bath.  The conversation seemed to be heading to an end so I let my thoughts wander. I dreamt of backpacking to far away Italy zeroing in on beautiful Tuscany.  I had just listened to an Italian speak perhaps this day dream was an after effect of that.

 

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(L-R): Sajita Nair, Jane De Suza, Rachna Singh, Kiran Manra and Andaleeb Wajid

 

My trek through lush green Tuscany abruptly ended when the audience started clapping. The talk on erotica had ended and a lot of people where making their way out. I kept my trip to Tuscany on hold and grabbed a convenient seat. The next discussion, “Badass Women: Changing The World” had authors Jane De Suza, Kiran Manral, Rachna Singh and Sajita Nair in conversation with author Andaleeb Wajid.

Kiran Manral opened the discussion by saying “Badass means coming into your own”. Rachna Singh elaborated on Kiran’s statement, “It means living life on your own terms and doing what you want”.

Jane De Suza whose latest book, “The Spy Who Lost Her Head” is based on Gulabi, a badass woman from the cow belt said that her experience with women from that part of the country inspired her to write her book. The women there have a sense of humour and she wanted to bring that out.

Sajita Nair, an ex-army officer, whose maiden book, “She’s A Jolly Good Fellow” is based on her tenure in the army and of women breaking stereotypes said that women in the army are definitely badass.

Rachna spoke of Binny, the 20-year-old protagonist of one of her novels who is badass because she does not visit soothsayers or gurus for answers. When asked what price does a woman pay for being badass, Rachna  said that initially it raises eyebrows but later things tone down. Kiran quipped that badass is usually attributed to independent women.

Sajita reminisced about her army days. A buddy system is in place right from the days at the Officers’ Training Academy and when one gets posted he or she gets posted with a buddy. She added that although she is no longer in the army, she is still in touch with her buddies.

The conversation largely centred on the badass women in each of the authors’ books.

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The next talk that I attended had journalist Premila Paul in conversation with Aishwaryaa Rajanikanth Dhanush, daughter of megastar Rajanikanth and wife of superstar Dhanush. Not surprisingly, the talk had an exceptionally large audience thanks to the immense popularity of the brand name Rajanikanth.  The discussion was in the wake of the release of the star daughter’s book “Standing On An Apple Box” which has a foreword by Shweta Bachchan.

The debut author said that contrary to what many thought, writing was easy but promoting it was tough. The book covers among other things, pages from her diaries, her growing up days, myths about celebrity kids, expressions and memories, and anecdotes about her dad who has been an integral part of her life. The content in the book has tonal variations.

When asked why she chose to write an autobiographical narrative at such an early age, Aishwaryaa said that there was not much effort involved and that she just wanted to make it simple and readable. When Premila quizzed her about the overuse of the word blessings in her book, Aishwaryaa said that the book was like a count your blessings kind of narrative.

Being a star kid comes with its share of disadvantages. Aishwaryaa was not allowed to do sleepovers like her other classmates because her mother was overprotective. In fact, her mother is like a CCTV camera and always has her eyes on her daughters.

Coming to her marriage, Aishwaryaa said that the decision to hold the ceremony at home was hers because she did not want it to be held in a hall where things would be so impersonal.

When someone asked what Dhanush thinks of her she said that he thinks that she is simpler than Rajanikanth. But then Rajanikanth is supposed to be the embodiment of simplicity. Can anything be simpler than simplicity? What say?

Aishwaryaa maintained that she has no plans to direct her father in the near future.

In a lighter vein, Premila asked Aishwaryaa about the many similarities between her and the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister late Jayalalithaa who was also her neighbour at Poes Garden. Both their names end with double a’s and they love the colour green. Aishwaryaa had only good words for her famous neighbour and spoke about the healthy relationship her family shared with the grand dame of Tamil Nadu politics.

Aishwaryaa then spoke about her Cinema Veeran Project aimed at the welfare and recognition of stuntmen and junior artistes in the film industry. She had approached the Information Ministry in this regard. She is also putting up a YouTube channel to serve as a platform for aspiring film-makers to showcase their works.

 

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(L-R): Suresh Hinduja, Sanjeev Kapoor, Manu Chandra and Antoine Lewis.

 

The Aishwaryaa Rajanikanth session clashed with another session that I wanted to so badly attend. “What’s Cooking? The Future of Indian Food” had noted chefs Sanjeev Kapoor and Manu Chandra,  and food writer Antoine Lewis in conversation with Suresh Hinduja, Founder of GourmetIndia.com. I raced my way from the #beda stage to the #beku stage only to discover that the session with the culinary gurus was drawing to an end.

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After a quick bite at the food court, I made my way to the #beku stage for the conversation “Swimmer Among The Stars”, which had journalist G. Sampath in conversation with Kanishk Tharoor. The discussion revolved around Tharoor’s debut book of the same name and had many members of his family in attendance including his famous dad. The book of short stories is based on stories that the young author heard during his childhood many of which were told to him by his grandmother. Kanishk mentioned that all the stories have a diplomatic touch.

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The next discussion on the #beku stage had journalist and author Raghu Karnad in conversation with photographer and film -maker Ryan Lobo. The discussion centred on Lobo’s debut book “Mr Iyer Goes To War” that he said was inspired by the popular literary character Don Quixote and set in the backdrop of the city of Varanasi. Like Kanishk, Ryan had a large number of his family members in the stands including his mother Dr Aloma Lobo and his brother. The Q&A session that followed the discussion had only one question from a member of the audience. Ryan made light of the moment by saying, “That dude in a white shirt has a question for me”. He pointed out to an angelic looking young man in a snow-white shirt who bowed down his head bashfully.  Ryan chuckled and said, “He is my brother”. Well! So much of sibling love! Ryan, his brother and mother painted a very cute family picture.

 

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(L-R): Prasanna Viswanathan, Ramya, Harish Bijoor, Mihir Sharma and Aakar Patel.

 

I then made my way to the #beda stage to attend the discussion “Contrarian Views” that had on the panel,  writer Aakar Patel, entrepreneur Prasanna Viswanathan, actress Ramya and journalist Mihir Sharma (a last minute replacement for Delhi student leader Kanhaiya Kumar who did not turn up) and of course the co-ordinator Harish Bijoor.  Harish prefixed all the keywords in the conversation with a hashtag and brought in a tech flavour to this penultimate discussion  at the literature festival which he coined as Bangalore Literature Festival Version 5. He asked each of the panellists to define #contrarian. Aakar: “Something which defies public opinion”; Prasanna: “Anything against the establishment”; Ramya: “Anything that goes against public opinion”. I couldn’t hear Mihir Sharma. From #contrarian, the conversation geared into #sedition, #nationalism, #food _jingoism, #demonetisation, #Parliament_disruption, #populism, #divide_and_rule, #desi_movements, and #tolerance. Each term was followed by hundreds of mini discussions among the audience. #noise reached an all-time high and my urge to take down notes simply vanished save for the keywords.

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The much-awaited last session of the day “Anything But Khamosh” featuring yesteryears’ Bollywood star Shatrughan Sinha in conversation with his biographer Bharathi Pradhan and publisher Ajay Mago had the biggest audience. When the actor arrived in what I would call typical Bihari colours with the customary shawl thrown over his right shoulder there were deafening cheers. He greeted his fans with an endearing ‘Namaste’. IMG_3654

This happened to be star’s first appearance in a lit fest and he was here to promote his biography “Anything But Khamosh”. He was at his humorous best right from the beginning of the discussion.  There were peals of laughter when he said, “Man can either be happy or married” and said that he has bared it all in his biography.

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When asked what his biggest achievement was he quipped, “Quitting smoking” and from then on he has been in the forefront of the anti-tobacco campaign.

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If ever a biopic was made on him he would want his character to be portrayed by Ranvir Singh.

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There were many requests by fans and his biographer to mouth out popular dialogues from his films and the affable actor did not disappoint them.  He mouthed them with ease and his baritone voice carried to the end of the arena. Lit fest attendees; chefs, waiters and bartenders from Royal Orchid; and security guards were all there to give him a standing ovation.

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Shatrughan Sinha’s booming voice and dialogues would have been playing on in everyone’s minds even as the multifaceted Piyush Mishra performed in what was the last event of the festival.  True to say the Bangalore Literature Festival 2017 ended on a Bollywood note and how!