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.

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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!

 

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.