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