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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Late Post: Snippets from the Bangalore Lit Fest 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.