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!

 

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Late Post: Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2016 (Day 1)

Bangalore Lit Fest (Version 5.0) (as Brand Guru Harish Bijoor aptly put it) turned out be one helluva vibrant affair with some of the who’s who of the Indian literati and glitterati in attendance. The three stages where the fest was being held #beda, #beku and The Red Couch were adorned with hilarious caricatures of Bangalore by Paul Fernandes, the noted Bangalore cartoonist.

 

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Prof. K. V. Tirumalesh

 

 

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Shashi Deshpande

 

 

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Sudha Murthy

 

On a bright sunny Saturday morning (17 December), noted authors Sudha Murthy, Shashi Deshpande and Prof. K. V. Tirumalesh lit the lamp to inaugurate the literary soiree. Speaking on the occasion, the Hyderabad-based Kannada writer Prof. Tirumalesh confessed that he had a lot of misgivings about literary festivals and had come here to check out how things function. I am sure he would have gone home happy as he was in attendance at most discussions on both the days.  Shashi Deshpande got a loud applause from the gathering when she said that the biggest celebrity at any literature festival is the book. Books take you to a different world. She also commended readers because without readers things would have been different. In a short and crisp speech, Shashi Deshpande also eulogized the 26 letters of the English alphabet without which it would have not been possible to pen stories. Sudha Murthy said that as of now she is concentrating on children’s literature.  She seems to have been inspired by her little grand-daughter Krishna who twisted the story of Krishna hiding the robes of gopikas by narrating her own anglicized contemporary version of the story substituting the river with a swimming pool.  In her story, the gopikas slip into bikinis in the swimming pool locker rooms. Krishna manages to get hold of the keys and hides their garments. The gopikas threaten to sue him which is when he relents and hands over their clothes.

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Minutes after Sudha Murthy’s speech, an immaculately dressed Shashi Tharoor walked in with his son Kanishk. The first session of the Bangalore Lit Fest had him in conversation with Sanjeev Sanyal. The topic of discussion was “Inglorious Empire: The Reality of the British Raj” which centred on Tharoor’s latest book “An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India”.  After settling down for the discussion, the charismatic MP had a good word for the audience. He was happy to see such a large turnout in spite of the city’s traffic.

When asked why he chose to write a book on India during the British Raaj, 70 years after her independence, Tharoor quickly replied that many Indians either did not know history or had got the country’s history completely wrong. He admitted that he carried out a lot of research on the subject and took the help of a lot of researchers and stored all the data on Google Drive. The book was a result of a lot of hard work. Although he felt, 80-90% of Indians would already know of what he wrote in the book that was not the case. “If we do not know where we came from then how will we know where we are heading”.  Now that is reason enough to buy the book. When interviewer Sanjeev Sanyal said that Indians welcome the Western perspectives of our history, Tharoor jokingly replied that we Indians are a very forgiving people. He cited the example of former British premier Winston Churchill who nursed profound rancour towards the country. Many Indians do not know of the kind of bitterness he nursed towards their brethren. Churchill himself was surprised by the characteristic forgiving attitude of Indians. This is exemplified in a question he asked Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru who was quite nice to him in spite of being sent to jail before Independence during his tenure. When asked if the British were totally bad he replied in the negative. Drawing comparison to the Portuguese rule in Goa, Tharoor was of the view that while the British were no doubt more racist than the Portuguese, the Portuguese massacred locals in larger numbers than the British. The Portuguese persecuted Jews and Syrian Christians. Nobody was entirely good or bad. The British fermented Hindu-Muslim divide. Caste segregation took a turn for the worse during the British Raaj and also animosity between Shias and Sunnis began during this time.

In the midst of the conversation, a plane flew over the venue drowning the voices of the speakers, Sanyal joked that this was definitely a conspiracy theory hatched by the British Airways. The light-hearted remarks sent the audience into guffaws.

Tharoor said that in spite of his patriotic zeal, Bhagat Singh was a misguided young man. He gained precious little by losing his life so early. If it wasn’t for his mercenary act, Bhagat Singh would have lived longer and served the nation more because he was highly intelligent for his age.

Among the many topics that were discussed were the infamous Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the Bengal famine where the British did nothing for the affected people and punished anyone who tried to help.  There are still people alive who witnessed the atrocities of the famine especially the incident where Churchill refused to give permission to download sacks of wheat from a ship that was anchored in the vicinity of the affected regions.

Before the British came to India, the country had the highest GDP but when they left the country was the poorest in the world. The British could seek atonement by tendering an apology to India a la Willy Brandt’s apology to Poland on behalf of his fellow countrymen for the atrocities carried out by the Nazis or else grant a monetary compensation.

Tharoor also lamented about several shortcomings in the Indian education system which among other things did not include Mahabharata, Ramayana, the works of Kalidasa and many other renowned Indian poets in the curriculum. Also some of the great men of India were not given their due. A good example is Sushrutha who was credited with being the first physician to have performed plastic surgery and Aryabhatta who discovered zero. Unfortunately, their achievements have either not been documented comprehensively or have been lost.

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The next discussion on the #beda stage (the main stage) between Sudha Murty and best-selling author Chetan Bhagat on the topic “Having It All: The New Indian Girl” in the wake of the release of Bhagat’s book “One Indian Girl” turned out to be very lively with both the interviewer and the interviewee entertaining the audience with their wit and candour. Sudha Murty took the stage first  and welcomed Bhagat in comic style by saying that he is her Hrithik Roshan. The author was quick to reply, “Shall I take off my shirt?” to which Murty laughingly replied, “You are not Salman Khan”.  The audience reacted with peals of laughter. Some simple questions followed:  Q. How long do you take to write a book? A. Roughly, a year. Q. Do you type or write? A. I type on my laptop.

Like most authors, Chetan Bhagat mentioned he cuts off completely from his family when in the midst of a book and he gets into the character of his book even if it is a girl. Sometimes, he gets into the character so much that he addresses his wife by the name of the character. Somewhere in the midst of the conversation, Bhagat said that he once offended his wife when he told her that he wanted a mother-in-law like Sudha Murty. Why?  “Because she is a millionaire!” He said that with such a straight face that initially everyone thought he is serious.

When asked about the raunchy and bold content in parts of the book, Bhagat said the idea was to convey to men about a woman’s sexuality. He also intended to stop guys especially from rural areas from visiting the Net and searching for porn sites.  Bhagat said that it was the Mughals and British who messed up our perspective of sex. Proof of ancient Indians’ open-minded approach towards sex lies in the umpteen erotic sculptures seen in century-old temples. Taboo towards sex only results in people seeking information in questionable ways.

When asked how the writing bug bit him, Bhagat had a most interesting reply.  He had a very bad boss. People who weren’t half as competent as him walked away with promotions while he was denied his due. He then decided to employ the LBDN principle (Look Busy Do Nothing). He began writing during office time. Thereafter, there was no looking back.

Bhagat conveyed to the crowd the importance of teaching a child to read instead of letting them spend time in front of the iPad.

He lamented about his rough childhood and admitted he pulled through because of his mother.  Speaking about life’s problems, Bhagat opined that humour helps cope with them in a large way. (I wholeheartedly agree!)

Although his books are often criticised, Bhagat said they are easy to read and are given to patients in hospital when they are depressed. It lifts their spirits especially the intimate scenes.

Writing humour is very difficult and an author needs to have a positive side.  Talking of his own writing, Bhagat conceded that contrary to what many thought, his engineering background helped him when writing. He went on to add that things should affect a person only then can he or she write.

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After the two animated conversations, I thought of taking a break. Just when I was toying with the options of having grub or visiting the bookstore I heard a familiar voice coming from the #beku stage. It was that of Margaret Alva, one of the high priestesses of Indian politics. The interviewer was her daughter-in-law author Anuja Chauhan. Both the ladies were impeccably dressed. Alva looked elegant in a lovely brocaded saree with leaf prints all over. She matched it with pearl jewellery and a lux white handbag. Anuja was a designer’s delight in golden strapped high heels, an itsy-bitsy choli, an ethnic cotton saree, a sling bag with elaborate work and attractive jewellery. I particularly liked her neckpiece. It looked very much tribal. Wow! Anuja looked oh-so-comfortable interviewing her more famous mother-in-law and sat comfortably ensconced on the roomy sofa with both legs folded and resting on the cushion. By doing so, her lovely high-heeled wedges attracted more attention. Wonder whether she was endorsing them (*wink wink*).

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The discussion revolved around Alva’s book “Courage and Commitment” which is based on her 41-year-old political career all of which has been with the Congress party. She mentioned an anecdote about former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao who was heading a minority government then confidently telling her that he would finish his full-term in spite of being in a minority government and despite the Gandhis.

Although Bangalore gave her the first opening in politics, it was the capital that beckoned. As General Secretary, she looked after eight states while on the other hand she was always sidelined in Karnataka.

Talking of the present state of affairs in the Congress party, Margaret Alva says the party needs to recast itself and that she has made it clear to Sonia Gandhi. It is living too much in the past. Young people of today do not want to live in the past. Moreover, youth constitute 60% of the voters. Alva who sounded too energetic for her 74 years said that unless the Congress party makes amends it will have to continue taking a backseat.

Among other things, Alva spoke of living in a cashless economy and how she had to deploy majority of her staff to get cash from ATMs. She also spoke of her tenure as governor of three states together – Goa, Gujarat and Rajasthan.

She lamented that elections have become dirty now. Even trusted people stab you in the back. She’s glad that she’s out of it all.

 

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(L-R): Prof. K. E. Radhakrishna, Vasanthi Hariprakash, Naresh Narasimhan and V. Ravichander.

 

Another absolutely engrossing conversation “Askew: A Short Biography” based on T.J.S. George’s recently released book of the same name followed on the #beku stage this one moderated by popular Bangalore emcee Vasanthi Hariprakash. The panellists obviously all of them long-time inhabitants of the garden city included architect Naresh Narasimhan, educationist Prof. K. E. Radhakrishna and V. Ravichander.  Unlike, the earlier discussions, this one did not have the author on the dais. He was part of the audience!

Vasanthi proudly announced that she was glad to be moderating a discussion on a book written by one of her earliest bosses. The book captures 500 years of the city’s history.  All the panellists recalled some of their delightful memories of old Bangalore. Ravichander turned the clock back to 1967 when as a 12 year old he cycled to Majestic from Chamrajpet to watch movies. The city was obviously a paradise for cyclists back then. Ravichander went on to say that Bangalore was the perfect place everybody wanted to live in till the mid-1980s after which things began to change for the worse. Naresh Narasimhan spoke next and said that this was his 50th year in the city. He recalled that back in 1965 which is when he has the earliest memories of the city; it had the look and weather of a hill-station like Kodaikanal.  And he too has a lot of cycling memories. Back in 1974 he and his gang of friends would have contests. One of them was to count the number of cars as they cycled. He won it because he spotted 7 cars! Naresh said that while the levels of materialism have gone up , mental health has gone down.  Prof. Radhakrishnan had some beautiful memories to share. His first experience of the garden city was way back in 1961 when he had come down all the way from Mercara with his friends.  He was in high school and 12 or 13 years old then.  This was the time the good old red buses were just introduced. But the gang preferred to ride on Mysore Jatakas. Unfortunately, the group lost their way. A good Samaritan put them up in a hostel. They were all served tomato saru. He went to speak about Central College which he called beautiful and had the most beautiful girls. Vasanthi jokingly remarked if that was the reason he chose to become an educationist.

Ravichander, himself an IT man, agreed that the IT boom had a mixed effect on Bangalore. While it created jobs it destroyed the city. Naresh said that he is not anti-development but definitely anti-destruction. For the majority of contractors in Bangalore, solving traffic problems means taking it to a higher level (raising his hand) [read as constructing a flyover]. Visitors think highly of Bangalore when they come out of the international airport but their opinion blows on their face when they reach Esteem Mall. Prof. Radhakrishna fondly talks of the time Basavanagudi was referred to as Sahitya Gudi, Sanskritiya Gudi, Sanskritiya Rajya Gudi. It was home to literary greats like DVG, Masti Venkatesha Iyengar and Kailasam. And he also spoke of the annual Ramotsava.

Naresh Narasimhan spoke of a proposal to have the road from Tipu Palace to Bangalore Palace to be renamed Swarna Marga or Golden Mile considering the fact that there are 150 heritage buildings along this road  that need to be preserved for posterity. Hope the plan works!

After a grub break, I browsed through the umpteen books at the festival book stall and ended up buying a few titles and in the process increased my baggage.  Not quite a good idea keeping in mind I was carrying a camera and had to keep writing.  But then what if those books disappear from the shelves? I thought I had better shoulder a bigger load than end up getting disappointed later.

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I next attended the discussion “Mukhamukham: Face to Face with Adoor” that had author, curator, film theoretician and historian Amrit Gangar in conversation with noted Malayalam film-maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan. The celebrated film-maker spoke of his 50 year journey in films emphasising the strong connection between literature and films. For a long time, cinema had no status but today things are different. Here, he added the huge role played by the films made by Satyajit Ray. Satyajit Ray was a trend-setter of sorts. Cinema in its purest form is an art. He expressed his happiness that the Bangalore Literature Festival had dedicated a section to films. In fact, most literature festivals have started having a section on films. Jadavpur University has introduced a course on cinema.

He recalled the time he started working. It was as a statistical investigator and he got to interact with various classes of people. He got bored with it. He was already into writing plays.  He took the entrance exam at the Film and Television Institute at Pune and stood first. He went on to do the course and received a sum of Rs. 75 every month, a big sum those days. The days that followed his graduation from the Institute were tough because of the financial aspects involved in film-making. So he started working as an assistant. When he eventually took the plunge into film-making, it took him a good 7 years. He needed Rs. 1 lakh and managed to get a loan of Rs. 5000. When he finally finished the film and it released in theatres it did not do well.  To add to that people wrote its obituary in no time. Public opinion was that it did not have songs and the comedian Adoor Bhasi was not in the cast. Things took a turn when the same film did exceptionally well at the National Film Awards bagging awards for Best Film, Best Director and Best Actor. He released the film again. This time every show ran houseful and what is more he managed to get back the money he spent in making it and return the loan. By returning he created history because till then no film-maker had returned a loan. And from the profits he earned, the talented film-maker bought equipment from Madras. And because he made off-beat films on shoestring budget, he had to double up as a camera man too.

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He had an amusing anecdote to share with the audience. When he cast actor Gopi as the hero in one of his films he was asked by producers why he chose a bald man as the hero and refused to buy it fearing that no one would watch it. Ultimately, his detractors were all proved wrong because the film ran for 145 days!

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The next discussion on the #beku stage titled “The Many Roles We Play” had versatile actor Ashish Vidyarthi in a candid conversation with author-publisher Ashok Chopra. In addition to being an excellent actor, Vidyarthi came across as an authority on the English language with diction as flawless as can be.  And oh yes, another plus was his booming voice.  Among other things, Vidyarthi jokingly remarked that many people judge him by the roles he plays (mostly that of a villain). He recalled how someone once told him, “Why are you here? You don’t even look good.” Stating that he is very obsessed with Hindi, he added that obsession is something one can put at stake and one should always have the obsession to excel. In order to exert ourselves, we have to be excited about life. Actors have to continuously learn from their surroundings. An actor needn’t be bothered about being mocked about. For him, the fear of failure has always been a driving force. His father was also a powerful driving force. He confessed that stardom when it comes is difficult to handle. Actors are an insecure lot. And insecurity always keeps one arrogant!

 

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(L-R): Manu Pillai, Aakar Patel, Sumant Batra and Mini Menon.

 

I then made my way to the #beda stage to be an audience to the discussion “Culture Wars: Narratives of Left, Right and Twitter” which had writers Aakar Patel and Manu Pillai, polymath Sumant Batra, TV personality Mini Menon and moderator Saikat Majumdar in conversation.   As the talk started, I started feeling sleepy.  I simply couldn’t comprehend what was going on.  I had to sleep through this one.

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My sleepiness was a cause for worry. I badly wanted to listen to the last talk of the day (“On A Different Pitch: Five Forms Of Cricketing Partisanship” by Ramachandra Guha). When the suit-clad historian walked in he was greeted by loud cheers. Clearly, Guha was one of the crowd favourites. No sooner did he start talking, every trace of sleep disappeared from within me. Even a cup of tea would not have had such an effect on me. Ramachandra Guha is the best speaker I have ever come across besides of course the inimitable Mr Allan Wood, my English Literature teacher at school.

He started off his light-hearted talk by explaining why he made an appearance in a suit. The reason surprised many. He wanted to prove his loyalty to his club The Friends Union Cricket Club (FUCC for short). This was news! I never knew that he is so closely associated with the willow game. In the audience, were Guha’s uncle and aunty. His uncle was a first-class cricketer whose career was cut short by a niggling injury.

Guha introduced himself as a fourth –generation Tamilian Brahmin of Bangalore and jokingly remarked that Tam Brams like Gujaratis in the Garden City feel that they belong to the city although they do not. His earliest cricketing memories date back to the time he was five. He would play cricket with his father, an enthusiastic cricketer. For a long time, he nursed dreams of becoming an international cricketer.  When he moved to Delhi, and was an undergraduate student at St Stephen’s, he represented the college team which boasted of players like Arun Lal and Kirti Azad, both of whom went on to wear Indian colours. The two were also his classmates. The team also had Piyush Pandey, the ad guru.

Putting aside his disappointment at not making to the national team, the acclaimed historian continued humouring the audience. “Behind every literary critic is a failed novelist. And behind every cricket writer is a failed cricketer.”

He then began talking about the Five Forms Of Cricketing Partisanship:

1. Be loyal to your club.

He spoke of his cricketing days in the 1980s when he represented the FUCC which had in its ranks some of the best cricketers that the state has seen. VM Muddaiah was the first FUCCian who went on to play for India in 1959.

2. Be loyal to your generation.

“There are no cricketers like those seen by a 12 year old.” He recalled the time he shook hands with his cricketing idol GR Viswanath when he was a 11 year old. He jokingly remarked that those days, cricketers rode on two wheeler s while their fans travelled by car. At that time, The Little Master (the sobriquet given to Vishwanath) was riding a scooter. He went on to recollect the fond memories he had of watching top cricketers in action at the YMCA in the 1970s. His uncle would take him there. He mentioned the names of Prasanna , Vishwanath, Chandrashekhar and Deshpande who played for 5 states during his career. Eight years later, Guha himself went on to play for St Stephen’s. When staying in Delhi, he recalls the moment Viv Richards hit a six. The ball which was hit from New Delhi landed in Old Delhi!  West Indies won the test. India levelled the series in the next match with GR Vishwanath hitting a century.

3. Be loyal to your state.

He was confused as to which state to support. He was born in Dehradun and spent his formative years there. But the state (UP) had the worst team.  Tamil Nadu is the land of his forefathers but he chose to show his loyalty to Karnataka where he had lived from 1967 to 1973. Karnataka in spite of having a strong team always ended up losing to Bombay in the Ranji trophy. For 16 years in a row, Bombay remained unbeaten. But in one particular final, Karnataka won. Karnataka did not win but Bombay lost. The turning points were Captain Ajit Wadekar’s run out and Vishwanath not being given out for what was a clear lbw. Much later, when Guha reminded Wadekar of his getting out, Wadekar said the cause of the run out were his new shoes. And Ganguly, the umpire who officiated in the match went on to brag to the Bengal team that he had achieved what none of them had achieved all these years. Beating Bombay (with the wrong lbw decision)!

4. Celebrate bowlers more than batsmen

Bowlers are an underappreciated lot.  In a 50 overs’ match while bowlers are restricted to bowling 10 overs, there are no restrictions on batsmen.

5. Favour test cricket

Guha likens test cricket to single malt whisky, one-day cricket to India-made foreign liquor; and T20 cricket to local hooge. 20-20 matches have only led to vulgarisation of the gentleman’s game. IPL has brought out the corruption in the Indian system. Creditable companies are not among the frontrunners and most of the high-profile individuals involved in it are controversial.

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The first day of the literary soiree ended on a musical note with songs of Bob Dylan rendered by Guru Rewben Mashangva.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Late Post: Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 2015

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

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

Day 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Summer Moonshine

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‘Summer Moonshine’ is a delectable cocktail of humour, love, confusion and funny characters. Like any other PG Wodehouse novel, this one too will have you chuckling every now and then.

At the centre of the laugh riot are the Vanringham brothers Tubby and Joe. Tubby who is slightly on the heavier side falls in and out of love often while fit-as-a-fiddle Joe is a combination of intelligence and humour. Then there is their obnoxious stepmom Princess Von und zu Dwornitzchek who as Joe aptly describes is “the sand in Civilization’s spinach”. The wealthy heiress is engaged to marry Adrian Peake who is young enough to be her son and unknown to her is also engaged to young Jane Abott. The girls who the brothers are in love with are a study in contrast. Joe is smitten by the tomboyish Jane Abott and Tubby is in and out of love with Prudence Whittaker who has a very funny way of pronouncing words and is the secretary of  Jane’s father Sir Buckstone Abott. Baronet Sir Buckstone Abott is near bankrupt and managing to keep the wolf from the door by renting out rooms in his country house Walsingford Hall to paying guests. Princess Dwornitzchek is all set to relieve the poor baronet of bankruptcy by buying Walsingford Hall. Giving the poor Sir Buckstone Abott a run for his money is his brother-in-law Samuel Bulpitt who is a plasterer with a soft spot for lovers.

Do the Vanringham brothers succeed in marrying the women they love? Does Sir Buckstone Abott manage to get Walsingford Hall off his back? Grab a copy and find out.

Excerpt:

“Although her voice had been audible through the woodwork, it had, of course, been impossible for Mr Bulpitt to watch the play of expression on the face of his visitor during this conversation. Had he been able to do so, he would have observed that his request that she purloin clothes belonging to Sir Buckstone Abott had not been well received by Miss Whittaker. Her eyebrows had risen and she had pursed her lips. A well-trained secretary does not rifle her employer’s wardrobe, and the suggestion had frankly shocked the girl.”

Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest – what I saw and heard on Days 1 and 3

Day 1

Like last year I was in two minds about attending the Bangalore Lit Fest because the venue Crowne Plaza @ Velankani Park is way too far from my home and the road to Electronic City is always congested in spite of the elevated express highway. While I was lucky enough to get a drop to the venue last year, this year I had to travel by bus. Thankfully this year, the organizers had put up a list of bus routes on the festival website. I boarded a G3 bus from Brigade Road around quarter past eight in the morning. This is only the second time I am travelling by a G-series bus and I must say these buses are a very economic and a convenient mode of travel. Unlike other buses they don’t seem to get crowded.

The drive to Crowne Plaza from Brigade Road by bus takes around 1 and a half to 2 or more hours depending on the traffic. I reached the venue around 9.45 am.  I could only spot the organizers and a whole lot of young volunteers running around here and there to give finishing touches to the arrangements. The sound engineers were going crazy trying to fix the mikes. Very few people had arrived.  I guess most of them were held up because of heavy traffic.

Though the inauguration was scheduled to start at 10am it was only after a good 30 minutes that attendees started trickling in giving me ample time to find myself a comfortable seat and fix my camera settings.

The fest started on a vibrant and colourful note with a Kamsale performance. Kamsale is quite unique because part of the performers only sing and the remaining others sing and also dance. There is one main dancer who is attired differently. A highlight of this dance form is that the dancers also form a high pyramid even as they sing and clash the kamsale (a kind of cymbals). Now that looked quite amazing! The dancers who perform Kamsale are all devotees of Lord Shiva.

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The Kamsale performance was followed by the lighting of the lamp. On the dais were the who’s who of the Indian literary scene all of them elegantly dressed for the occasion. Famous litterateur and actor Girish Karnad made his debut at the Bangalore Lit Fest. He had not taken part in the last two editions. Others on the stage were Shobhaa De, Dr Chandrashekhara Kambhara, Chetan Bhagat, Binalakshmi Nepram and of course Festival Director Vikram Sampath. While each of them had nice words to say about the fest and their participation, surprisingly Girish Karnad chose not to say anything because he hadn’t experienced the fest as yet. Shobhaa De expressed her happiness about the complete absence of sponsors (the fest is community funded by the friends of Bangalore Literature Festival). Chetan Bhagat tickled everyone’s funny bone when he said that he had his own apprehensions about such a fest being held in Bangalore as he like many thought that the city is full of nerds and an Android festival or a Java weekend would have sounded more appropriate here. Binalakshmi Nepram said that Chetan Bhagat is wrong and was bitter about the city hosting arms-making firms during the air-shows in the wake of insurgency in the north-eastern states. She spoke about how unsafe the Eight Sisters of India had become and that people live in fear because of the shoot-at-sight orders. Vikram Sampath among other things mentioned about the year being a sad one for the arts scene with so many deaths – Khushwant Singh, Prof. U. Ananthamurthy, Mandolin Srinivas, and Maya Rao passed away recently. While this year’s fest was dedicated to noted Kannada writer and poet Prof. U. Ananthamurthy (the three stages at the fest were named after his works – Samskara, Suragi and Bharathipura) , the festival also focussed on the Eight Sisters (north-eastern states) of India. A couple of years back, people from the North-eastern states residing in the city had a trying time and many of them went back home in the face of rumours and threats to their lives.

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The event also saw the launch of the festival edition of Beantown, BLF’s magazine.

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After the launch, the programme ‘Shraddhanjali’ featured a documentary on Prof. UA. In a panel discussion that followed, Girish Karnad called the documentary as rubbish ( :-O ) and that it showed only one side of Prof. UA. Girish Karnad said that we should also look at the darker side of a person only then can we understand the complexity of his or her personality. He also opined that the portrayal of Hinduism in Prof. UA’s novel ‘Samskara’ is wrong and baseless. (Ironically, Girish Karnad enacted the role of the story’s key character Praneshcharya in ‘Samskara’.) Incidentally, AK Ramanujan’s English translation of ‘Samskara’ greatly influenced many an American’s idea of India. In fact, Girish Karnad mentioned how much of an influence ‘Samskara’ was on his life. Among other things, Girish Karnad also said that after ‘Samskara’, Prof. UA hasn’t written anything significant. He felt that Prof. UA was more of a short story writer than a novelist and that his writing should be gauged from his collection of short stories. All his stories were influenced by life in his village.

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On a lighter vein, Girish Karnad mentioned how badly Prof. UA wanted a Rajya Sabha seat but never managed to get it. Calling UA a great friend, Girish Karnad said that he misses him. Prof. UA never hesitated taking a stand on many causes and was a staunch fighter for rights. He created a tradition that writers shouldn’t confine themselves to a corner. Girish Karnad went on to add that Prof. UA was a great teacher and created an intellectual atmosphere around him. He always accepted his mistakes. His joie de vivre was amazing even when he was very ill. He was however not a great thinker and his ideas were borrowed. Artist SG Vasudev who was the art director of ‘Samskara’ recalled how Prof. UA threw the saligrama into the river and cut his sacred thread because he had married a Christian.

The bookstore at the fest had an endless array of books by Indian authors and an exhibition of rare photos of Prof. U. Ananthamurthy.

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“From full wives to Half-Girlfriend – The Women in Chetan Bhagat’s novels” which featured the author in conversation with Shinie Anthony turned out be a laugh riot. The techie turned author was humility personified when he confessed that though he is not the best of authors he definitely is a best-selling one. He attributes this to his marketing skills. When asked if he was a ladies’ man he said he wasn’t. He went on to add that every successful man has hordes of female admirers especially in India because of the sexist attitude that prevails and the same was the case with him. And yeah he believes his good looks have a lot to do with his popularity. He also admitted to having girlfriends and half-girlfriends (LOL) before marriage but they didn’t think of themselves as his girlfriend. He has always been turned on by smart, successful, and driven women and it was these very characteristics that attracted him to his wife Anusha and also the fact that she cleared CAT in the first attempt. He then went on to humor the crowd with anecdotes aplenty on how he shocked his conservative Tamil Brahmin in-laws with his marriage proposal and Punjabi lifestyle and disposition. He was full of praise for his wife and the way the Tamil Brahmin in her managed their kids and didn’t let his popularity affect them. He then went on to add that no women in his novels were props and that they were all women of substance. The female character in the movie ‘Kai Po Che!’ is incidentally named after Vidya Balan as a token of appreciation to her for helping make a movie of his book ‘3 Idiots’. When asked if he was a Bollywood groupie (a couple of selfies of him with Alia Bhatt and Jacqueline Fernandes were shown on the giant screen) he replied he wasn’t and if at all he was in any way attracted to Bollywood actresses it was because of the scarcity of women in engineering college during his student days. And so what if his IIT and IIM classmates were making big bucks; he could always show them his selfie with Alia Bhatt and ask them “Ab Bholo”. Though he has a lot fans, many in the literary circles have criticized his writing with some even asking if he knows English. Even before it was published ‘Half-Girlfriend’ had drawn a lot of flak with a slew of hate Tweets doing the rounds. Chetan Bhagat said that he reacts to criticism in the same manner as he reacts to praises; he takes them both in his stride.

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The ensuing session featuring actress ‘Queen of Hearts’ Rani Mukerji in conversation with Bhavana Somaya in the wake of the release of her film ‘Mardaani’ where she enacts the role of a tough cop turned out to be the most popular session of the day drawing the biggest crowd. The actress was barely recognisable in her girl-next-door avatar (jeans and a pink top teamed with a white stole around her shoulders). Bhavana Somaya later commented that Rani sported spectacles to wear an intellectual look ( 😎 ). -Among other things, the actress spoke about the importance of martial art training for young girls and the necessity for women to maintain a tough exterior when mingling with men. The Q&A session provided a couple of fans with opportunities that they till then had just dreamt about. One guy got to shake hands with her and another gifted the recently married actress a wedding present. Rani Mukerji just rocked!

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Thanks to heavy traffic and jams galore the journey back home was a nightmare. The bus ride to Brigade Road alone took two and a half hours and (phew!) I was drained. I decided to skip Day 2 and instead attended Day 3.

Day 3

Day 3 being a Sunday, it took me barely an hour and a half to reach the venue. And I reached a good half an hour before the first sessions started. I chose to attend the session ‘With Malice towards One and All: Celebrating Khushwant Singh’ which had author Humra Qureshi and actress Tisca Chopra in conversation about the celebrated writer who passed away recently. While Humra has worked closed with Khuswant Singh, Tisca Chopra is his grand-niece. Tisca looked elegant in a lovely ethnic printed gown and accessorised it with chunky oxidised jewellery. She sported a hairdo that went perfectly with the outfit.  Both Humra and Tisca had anecdotes aplenty to relate about his life and their personal interactions. Tisca spoke at length about how Khushwant Singh was regarded by many of his relatives as a dirty old man and girls were asked to stay away from him. He was however her inspiration to write. On the contrary, Humra Qureshi had only sweet things to say about him. She said that there was an unmistakable innocence about him. Khushwant Singh revered Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa and was struck by the strength of their character. Tisca narrated a humorous incident when she and her husband (who had then just begun to write) went to meet Khushwant Singh. He offered them a drink but from his body language he seemed to be very protective about his single-malt whiskey. For Khushwant Singh, drinking was a daily ritual.

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After this lively session on Khushwant Singh at the Bharatipura stage, I proceeded to the Samskara stage which had Arun Shourie in conversation with Madhu Trehan and I must confess that I just couldn’t get a hang of what was happening. Everything went over my head! The launch of Natwar Singh’s book Ek Hi Zindagi Kaafi Nahi was cancelled owing to the author’s ill-health. In place of that there was a conversation between Arun Shourie and Shekhar Gupta which again was something I couldn’t comprehend. Politics is just not my cup of tea! I left the session to have a cup of coffee. The serpentine queue at the food counter prompted me to have my lunch too.

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I next attended the session ‘Ocean to Ocean’ which had Sathya Saran in conversation with Sushmit Sen, former member of the music band ‘Indian Ocean’. I thoroughly enjoyed the discussion which had Sushmit describe his experience with Indian Ocean especially an anecdote where after recording their first number with HMV, they travelled by train and composed another number late in the night when all the other passengers on the train were fast asleep. In the midst of all this there was a knock on the door and it turned out to be the TT. Far from reprimanding the musicians, the TT who was a music aficionado actually soaked in the musical reverie and bought them tea and coffee when the train stopped at the other stations. The duo also discussed Saran’s book ‘Sun Mere Bandhu Re’ on noted music director SD Burman who in spite of his musical prowess was known to pick up a fight at the drop of a hat. He was the godfather to a lot of Bollywood and music personalities – Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Hariprasad Chaurasia, Geeta Dutt, Asha Bhosle to name a few. The session ended on an enthralling note with Sushmit Sen strumming his guitar much to the delight of the audience.

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The following session ‘My Life, My Work’ had Girish Karnad in conversation with Arshia Sattar  had the audience spellbound. The discussion had Girish Karnad reminisce about his life’s journey especially the making of Yayati and Tughlaq and his dreams of winning the Nobel Prize.  Arshia Sattar was simply fabulous as the moderator. Girish Karnad had the audience in splits when he spoke about the songs in his play ‘Hayavadana’ all of which were composed by him. He remarked that the songs were all written by him when he was in love. Not wanting to waste them he decided to feature them all in ‘Hayavadana’.  When talking about his other notable play ‘Tughlaq’, Karnad was all praise for Mohammad bin Tughlaq who he said had a very broadminded outlook. It was from noted poet AK Ramanujan that he had come to know that Tipu Sultan used to keep a dream diary. Karnad’s play ‘Tippuvina Kanasugalu’ is based on the diary.

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The penultimate session at the Samskara stage featured former Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh High Court Leila Seth in conversation with popular journo and emcee Vasanthi Hariprakash. Leila Seth touched a chord with the audience when she said that she is scared of rats and bats and would climb her cot at the sight of a rat and scream out to the servants. She was all praise for her husband Premo who inspired her to take up law and transformed her from a shy and timid Indian girl to a smart and successful woman. She admitted that she and husband went through a trying phase when they found out that their son Vikram (Vikram Seth of ‘The Suitable Boy’ fame) is bisexual. There was a time when the family was a butt of jokes and gossip. This was because while Leila and Premo had 9 to 5 jobs, all their 3 well-educated children would always be at home. While Vikram appeared to be scribbling on paper all the time, her second son Shantum who embraced Buddhism stayed in a mud hut adjacent to the house and daughter Aradhana, a Bollywood film-maker, would always be on the phone. All these anecdotes and more can be found in her memoirs titled ‘On Balance’. She has also authored a book, ‘We, The Children of India’ for very young children. I wanted to buy a copy of one of the books and get it signed by her unfortunately the copies were sold out.

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I had to skip the last session of the day ‘A Country Gagged & Bound’ as it was getting too late and also there was a possibility of a downpour. Luckily, thanks to less traffic the journey back home was smooth and quick and (yay!) I reached before the downpour.

Book Review: A Twist in the Tale

A twist in the tale

A Twist in the Tale is Jeffrey Archer’s fantastic story-telling prowess brought to you in 12 absorbing stories. There’s never a dull moment in any of the tales. And at the end of each you will be flummoxed because the ending will not be what you imagined it to be.

Have you ever been at the wrong place and at the wrong time? Well, you’d better not be. You’ll know why after you read ‘The Perfect Murder’.

Is opening an account in a Swiss bank in your bucket list? Yes? You could take cues from ‘Clean Sweep Ignatius’.

You must have heard that marriages are made in heaven. Well, I think careers are made in heaven too! Read ‘A La Carte’ and you will agree with me.

You never know how helping someone can change your world. ‘Colonel Bullfrog’ will drive you to tears.

A Rabbi has been reading his son’s letters every day for the last 10 years but why? ‘Christina Rosenthal’ is what true love is all about.

‘Just Good Friends’ is so funny that I don’t even want to get started on it! And I don’t even want to get started on the other six stories. Grab a copy of the book and enjoy a journey of surprises!