Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

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Jan 17, 2015

HINDU LIT FOR LIFE - Day 1: A Walk Among the Galaxy of Stars

From the sidelines of the best literary festival down south - Day 1

The Hindu has been doing a great service to the literary inclined Chennaites for last five years and each year has seen it grow in its stature and quality. This year with 100% growth in the registrations, the curator, Ms. Nirmala Lakshman (Director – The Hindu Group), along with Programme Director Ms. Rachna Singh Davidar and consultant Ms. Prasanna Ramaswamy and the team, has made this event, one of the best Lit Fest in India, by bringing some of the brightest minds of our times to the forum.

After the ritual lighting of the lamp, the event started on a somber note as Nayantara Sahgal remarked remembering the ‘silencing’ of Tamil writer Perumal Murugan…

“An important writer has been silenced. If this kind of things goes on, there will be no more festivals like this (in future)”.
Nayantara Sahgal

The first session with the youngest ever recipient of Man Booker Prize (2013) Eleanor Catton for her book ‘The Luminaries’ in discussion with Artist Parvathi Nayar. She took us on an interesting journey from her book ‘The Rehearsal’ to ‘The Luminaries’ with fresh insight on becoming and growing as an author. In the beginning, she did not allow her family to read her book till it was published as she believed that they were quite personal. ‘Books are very much like relationship; a love affair’. She remarked about the changes she perceived in herself as a young author. “It is like the times, when one reaches puberty, one becomes one’s own audience. Curious thing about writers is that you grow older but books don’t. The gap is ever widening, hence I don’t revisit my earlier books in critical sense. So when a director requested to make a movie on Rehearsal, I let it go and not involved in the process at all”

To a question about spirituality and the intelligent design, she said, “Why we (The Western world) became so scornful of the idea that there’s a larger consciousness above all”. Finally she had the most important advise to the aspiring authors like me and probably the best one of the season, for writing a great book…

Writing to satisfy two different people, in your mind, does the trick – One who knows all about the things that you are writing about and the other one who does not know anything about it at all” - Eleanor Catton

Then there was an interesting session on ‘The First Firangis’ by Jonathan Gill Harris, where he took us on a
journey scouring the early invasion of Firangs (The Foreigners) even before India was invaded. Stories of people like Patri Guru (The Guru of Coconut leaves) writing Pailam and Krista Purana on the lines of old puranas who was a great evangelist for Nariyal paani and Marathi Language. Hakim Nikolo, a teenage runaway from Venice who became a medicine man in old Chennai and the Portuguese slave girl from Hooghly, in the harem of Shah Alam, who later on became his political advisor.

The discussion on ‘The Feminine Form: Site of Violence’ with Ammu Joseph, Prabha Sridevan, Ramesh Gopalkrishnan and U Vasuki, went along the similar lines of proposing to do things that will highlight and prevent incidents of sexual abuse, domestic violence and oppression of women in India, but falling short of any concrete steps to be taken. The panelist agreed that the incidents of rapes etc. still has heightened sense of stigma and honor attached to it in India. Most of the crimes against women does not get reported in India hence WHO’s reports on the same falls short of the highlighting the enormous decay in social structure. Ms. U Vasuki’s raised an important question for the people who talk, ‘She was wearing this dress, that dress so got raped’. “Well she was wearing a dress, right? Then what’s your problem? And what actually is a Rape Resistant Dress?

Going by the difficulty, me and my friend Rajesh had in finding a seat in the auditorium, probably "Good Governance' was the most awaited discussion of the day, where Sashi Kumar engaged the eminent panelists like Rajdeep Sardesai, Dr. Sanjay Baru and Vinod Rai which started with a frank admission by Sanjay Baru, “Yes UPA-II was a disaster” and later on added that the people of this country have enormous tolerance for corruption.

Rajdeep Sardesai though cornered on the question of ‘Good Governance’ in the Media, being the only panelist from the field, put his candid thoughts on the table with observations like….

We believe that we represent the nation, but we don’t…. Media activism tends to focus too much on the man and on an individual to hang a story (in order to bring it to the forefront public attention)… We are not really the watchdogs in the true sense of the words too

He was concerned that ‘The surround sound (of High Decibel media attention) is delaying the decision making’ too. But then there is a gap. India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi will allow ‘selfies’ but not questions. So where does the media go for the required answers on politics, policies and governance… Media has, kind of, took over the executive space of the governance as there was a void that needed to be filled, because as he said, “India wants  to know”…

At the end, Dr. Sanjay Baru emphasized that the Media today is in governance crisis and Rajdeep Sardesai said, ‘Yes, we have lost our moral compass and a system of good governance in media is required which can be done through a) Independent regulatory system, b) Self regulation.

The next session with Jung Chang on ‘The Birth of Modern China’ was an interesting journey through China’s
rich cultural history and her personal experiences in the times when Mao has proclaimed, “More books you read, more stupid you become” and displayed the shoe of her grandmother to highlight the torturous custom of making the feet smaller, which eventually breaks the bones of the feet. Please note the size of shoe she displayed compared to a full grown adult’s. In her book 'Emperor Dowager Cixi - The concubine who launched Modern China" one of the steps listed as 'Cixi' took is to ban this custom. More such interesting stories are in the book, that she shared with us in her illustrated presentation, so do read it.

Before I get on to the ‘Speaking Songs’ along with 80 year old Carnatic music stalwart T V Gopalakrishnan, who still looked young for his age, and Prince Rama Varma, I will move on to the most awaited session of the day – ‘Half Girlfriend: Chetan Bhagat in conversation with Karthik Kumar. It was a fun filled discussion with trademark one-liners from Chetan which reminded me his last event, I have had seen – ‘The Comedy Night With Kapil’. My respect for Chetan Bhagat grew from the start as he confronted ‘the elephant in the room’ head on. He put up a specially prepared video of the widespread criticism on his literary style. Instead of talking about a very engaged conversation, aptly handled by Karthik Kumar I will let the readers experience the event through some of the one-liners of Chetan Bhagat from the event….

"Mr. P Murugan, I'm with you. Now is the time to write. DON'T STOP WRITING"

"First book I wrote in kind of earnest that I cant repeat It's like losing virginity"

"If criticism is affecting me, I don't write for a while"

On essentials of his books…
“It has to be...
1) About India
2) Rooted in reality
3) Exciting…”

"Change will happen but it can't be shoved down the throat of Indian youth as gyan (Preaching)"

"KICK is Salman Khan's movie not my book. A movie, which Salman could only carry"

"I am so irreverent, I say foolish things everyday, so I can't be a politician"

"I don't want to be remembered, I want to be missed"

Finally, I leave you with two interesting quotes from very humble vocalists Prince Rama Varma and Sh. T V Gopalakrishnan and end with one of the ‘Speaking Songs’ as they explained the nuances of Carnatic music in the session.
My friend Vaishnavi's Mother sorting out music glitch on the stage
Prince Rama Varma with T V Gopalakrishnan

“(While living) I don’t compose, when I die, I decompose” – Prince Rama Varma.

“For any long cherished music, it has to have notes, rhythm, words and creativity” – T V Gopalakrishnan

नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya
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