Litfests: 12 or more and Counting


By Sunil Kumar

Litfests: 12 Or More And Counting

So; this week I attended the 6th Times of India Mumbai Litfest; bringing my grand count to around 12; 4 in Jaipur-2012,13,15,17 and 1 in Delhi. Before memory fades; I guess need to pen down an account of the salient features of this event. Read and linger on later for some time.

There’s a mix of profundity, reality and exasperation whenever I attend these events. Sometimes marvelling at the range of ideas on offer; and at others disgusted at the sheer obduracy, pomposity and biases of the so-called “liberal” fascists on display.

By now; I’ve realized that it’s a smooth marketing ploy for the authors; and they are not the struggling artistes formerly in public imagination. Being a writer myself; this thing is encouraging and disappointing at the same time due to the fact that apart from a few conversations and some interesting ideas; I gain practically nothing.

Flashback Day 1: Friday 15th December

After Uber picks up some out-of-towners who’re debating whether to have lunch or attend the festival blissfully unaware that I’m going to the same destination. After a few introductions and conversation about Chandigarh, Khushwant Singh, Ruskin Bond and the hills; I make my way to the venue; Mehboob Studios where the only change I notice immediately is the names of the sponsors.

The first session I attend is “Tell a story to hook the brain” with Amish Tripathi, Angela Saini and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni.

Some useless blah-blah on feminism aside; the only quote I can recall is Tripathi praising me for knowing the real name of Veda Vyasa aka Krishna Dvaipayana and his quote on the freedom of Indian thought quoting the Nasadiya Sukta; exempifying skepticism and agnosticism in some of the earliest examples of Vedic civilization.

To keep the women happy; Tripathi mentioned Gargi; Indrani and the dialogue between Yajnavalkya and Maitreyi. His theory on Suryvanshis being the dutiful, male version of Indian culture and Chandravanshis being the feminine, creative one was novel but obviously did not elicit any reaction from the ladies.

Also some mention of Dharmpal and his survey of the state of Indian education and women enrolled pre-British Raj.I found a link here;

If anybody watched Benegal’s “Bharat Ek Khoj” or “Discovery of India”; the whole song/hymn will embedded somewhere in your subconscious. Admittedly; never heard of Angela Saini before; maybe attended one of her sessions before; but she was prettier than the Banerjee. Interesting snippet from the conversation: Allow the characters to come alive; everything depends on relatibility in my opinion.

One of the Feminist rants from these women left behind, I move on to the next session 14.45-15.45 by Sunil Khilnani, Robert Seatter and Rajesh Tahil. Talking about podcasts; Seatter, Tahil and Khilnani discuss different genres including history; farmer’s issues, cooking and mythology.

Khilnani’s mish-mash of English and Indian accents; Seatter’s quiet but understated British inputs and Tahil’s perspective was an interesting insight into the developing world of new media.

Podcasts according to them depend more on an interior narrative and the listener’s imagination rather than the seduction of Television and the moving image; where all the work has been done for the viewer. To become appealing and carve a niche requires depth and intensity.

Examples given were the Intersection podcast on Audiomatic with Seatter mentioning David Attenborough’s “Blue Planet” as one of the most successful podcasts in Britain recently building on the strength of the TV program. Khilnani mentioned the particular challenges in writing for radio.

My first question of the day was before this in the TIM Delhi Airport hall in a discussion between Indrani Bagchi, Swagato Ganguly and Manoj Joshi on the China-Pakistan nexus. I’ve read Bagchi’s articles more often than Ganguly and Joshi who I was just vaguely aware of.

So was happy that my first query for the day was very decently addressed by Indrani Bagchi. The exact context was how India with its open democratic debate; dissent and multiple internal enemies could counter the challenge from two monolithic societies such as China and the “murderous” republic of Pakistan.

Bagchi replied with a slew of statistics and facts mentioning that even many Gulf nations like Kuwait were closing their doors to their nationals.

However; it was apparent to me that the actions of Pakistanis themselves might have led to this; rather than any concerted effort by the Indian diplomatic core; which I must admit has been more active than the Congress regime; where it seemed that Indian diplomacy was perhaps only wine and dine; and strategic self-goals.

After the podcast session; moved into the Aditya Birla Hall for the session on the Folks who introduced Hampi to the world. Historian George Michell; art patron and industrialist wife Sangita Jindal along with moderator Bharath Ramamrutham served up Hampi as a delightful exotic haven describing the multiple challenges regarding preservation over the past decades.

Jindal described her experience with the place starting with a trip in the early 90s. Apparently she was bored when somebody suggested the ruins. From her description; it was clear that Jindal as a group has contributed significantly to the upkeep of the place. Am glad that some industries take this up as a genuine concern. More big Indian privates with funds should take care of old Hindu, Buddhist, Jain shrines as the governments have obviously faltered big-time.

A short while later; in the same hall listened to Victor Mallet; a British journalist in conversation with a pretentious Indian Bengali ass. Mallet seemed genuine in his concern over the state of the Ganga but apparently could not shed his Euro-Centric biases.

Narrating his slow sojourn down the Ganges; Mallet described the strange confluence of modernity and irrationality that confronts everybody in India. Being a Hindu; I can obviously understand the sentiments of some people regarding the Ganga; but rationally keeping the river clean would be good; in both religious and normal “living” terms.

A few more factoids from Mallet’s discussion: Apparently there was a Defence services sailing club in 60s Delhi when the water in the Yamuna was plentiful. Also; the Indus in present-day rogue state Pakistan is even filthier than Indian rivers and the attempts by the present BJP government which are definitely more than lax Congress administrations; but ultimately have led to much ado about nothing.

My question to him was about how he viewed developments such as the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad and other attempts at beautification. Mallet replied that he did not consider them to be bad but they were not comprehensive attempts by state and central administrations.

A useful point from the discussion was the author’s observation that local civic bodies are not empowered enough to take quick action to resolve the problem.

My opinion: nearly everybody in India knows that this is a very big ask from any administration in India; and only a very strong concerted effort will make a difference. We should give some and only some credit to this administration as opposed to the humongous mess India has been subjected to over 70 years for actually giving it a thought. Well begun may sometimes be half-done.

I began this post in 2017; and a few days of 2018 have passed. Sadly; a big Dalit agitation brought the entire financial capital to a standstill and wreaked havoc. It is a perverse reflection of the multiple Indias that exist at the same time. In this vein; the second-last session that I attended on the first day.

A conversation moderated by economic commentator S. Aiyar with another Bengali boor K. Basu and a Dalit activist Sujatha. Now; the lady was firebrand enough to give these two old Brahmins a stick; but she struck me as being fiercely opinionated, a tad false and overwrought just like other “so-called” OBCs and backward castes in India. Many Dalit activists are markedly worse.

The men were merely mouthing platitudes and indulging in sentimental appeasement. For all purposes; in urban India; discrimination is practically non-existent and the upper castes now have to bear the brunt of a hackneyed reservation system which is becoming progressively worse.

Also; an interesting observation was made that caste does not matter; and money does which is very true at a fundamental level but does not cover the entire spectrum of opinion.

I appreciated her remark that reservation was a ship with a thousand holes and asked a question on how it could be overhauled. My very practical point was that no self-interested political party in India is ever going to stop milking its constituencies by ending reservation.

A prescient observation in the light of recent events was the arson in our streets following a Maoist idiom which has been abandoned by our clever rogue neighbour to the East, China to bask in the positive light of capitalism.

But try telling this to the morons in the media and on the streets most weeks of the year; and will be greeted with indifference; violence or a retort on freedom of expression.

People protesting intolerance are themselves proponents of the art. Gidla responded by mentioning that she never said to overhaul the system; but scrap it all together. I had already anticipated this and came up with the counter that no party would ever give the noose of reservation up. To sum up; the most serious session in the whole first day which led to some amount of reflection

Before exiting the place; I wandered into some mentalist Karan’s session; found it boring and prepared to leave for home. Will update every experience on this site shortly.

A few photos from the day;

A little later;












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