So, I’ve been on a high, literally. My team in office disowned me, for I chose a certain octogenarian instead of them. But then, when the choice is between an eclectic mix of people like Ramachandra Guha, William Dalrymple, K, Satchidanandan, Shoba De, Prasoon Joshi, Farhan Akhtar, and most importantly the said octogenarian – the great and my all time favorite Gulzar sab – and a weekend in Chikmaglur , is that even a choice, I ask. If I attempt to chronicle all that I saw and heard in those three days in a literary heaven, it would take me more than a few days. So, here are some bits of conversations, snippets from here and there , gathered from the three venues and in between.
Had a glimpse of Sri Sri Ravi Sankar who is called H.H – his holiness or his highness, I am not sure. His followers, please pardon me, but somehow he came across as not so genuine, skillfully avoiding some questions with some very vague answers that sounded quite high brow.
Bollywood kept up its reputation, by being late by almost an hour The exception was its veteran, who waited patiently in the audience. The topic was ‘Has Indian cinema finally woken up to bio-pics?’ A huge crowd had gathered from the nearby tech park to see the ‘star’ Farhan Akhtar. He was accompanied by the director Rakeysh Mehra and the screen writer Prasoon Joshi. Junior Akhtar spoke like a true star, Rakeysh Mehra spoke as mature as he looks and I was floored by Mr. Joshi. Calling himself a boy from the hiils, he came across as a very genuine person. As expected, someone from the audience asked the cliched question, “Why do you have songs and dance in your movies? Look at Hollywood and even Indian movies like ‘Lunch Box'”. Farhan Akhtar was very diplomatic in his answer saying Milkha Singh himself was a person who loved to sing and dance. Rakesh Mehra agreed, but conditionally, when he said. “yes, you are right. it doesn’t look good or right when a police man or even a goonda dances.” It was Prasoon Joshi who clinched it, ” I love songs and dance. And I will have songs and dances in all the movies that I make. You have the freedom not to watch it.” Again, as expected, most of the audience disappeared after Mr. Farhan did his ‘Rock On’ bit. I know, I know, , it is a literary fest!
Anita Nair, Madhulika Liddle and Nilanjan Roy were ‘partners in crime’ with Sumeet Shetty discussing Crime and Fantasy. Don’t ask me who they are, even I didn’t know anyone other than my one of my favorite authors Ms.Nair. But, who cares about that when the conversation is lively, witty and totally engaging. What Anita Nair mentioned about Sherlock Holmes had me chuckling, “I think the endurance of the Holmes series is the character more than the stories. How many of us actually remember the names of more than a couple of his stories? One story that I will never forget is the Hound of Baskervilles. And the fact that I had a dog who used to be called by this name by my friends has nothing to do with it. And, by the way, my father’s name is Bhaskaran.” Is it any wonder her tales are loved by so many? Madhulika’s favorite crime fiction series from her childhood? Don’t laugh, it is Enid Blyton. Come to think of it, isn’t that how many of us were initiated into the world of crime and fiction? Anita’s was Earl Stanley Gardner, because her elder brother used to read. Whatever the brother read, the sister just had to, as well.
The never ending discussion and a question that may never get answered , ‘Is Bhasha being subsumed by English?’ The schedule said Ashok Vajpey, Gulzar, U.R. Ananthamurthy and Ramakanth Rath moderated by K. Satchidanandan (ok let me throw some weight, his elder daughter is a very close friend). I was disappointed when they announced Mr. Murthy could not make it due to ill health. But, Nabneeta Deb Sen more than compensated for him and Mr.Rath. Everyone other than Gulzar waxed eloquent for about twenty minutes on how today’s generation is killing the languages and so on and so forth. Then the maestro took the mike in his hands and asked in ‘shudh’ hindustani , “Is there anyone here who cannot understand me?” My translation is a pathetically poor reproduction of what he said. Boy, how he floors you with his words and the words that he uses, it turns into honey as it comes out of his mouth. Without even understanding much of it, you ‘wah! wah!’ spontaneously. Again, in that language only he can speak, “English is a beautiful language with an excellent history of its own. So is Hindi. Aap ise Hinglish math banaayiye.” He went on to say that the lament that vernacular language is dying is really a myth, referring to literary festivals in Hindi and Bengali attracting huge crowds and doingcrores of business in a few days. The need for good translations from vernacular to English was discussed and rued. But all were unanimous in their opinion of how ‘bhasha’ cannot be separated from the culture that it comes from. It was again Gulzar saab who drew some interesting observations, “Mulk Raj Anand wrote in English, but what he wrote was Hindi. So is the case with R.K. Narayan”. This was a discussion that I wished would go on for some more time, one hour was too short.
Gita Aravamudan, Kiswar Desai and Shobaa De talked about ‘Endangered Gender’. What stood out in the discussion was Gita’s experiences during her research for ‘Disappearing Daughters : The Tragedy of Female Infaniticide‘ She was so distressed by the real life stories that she encountered that she had to write another book to get over it – ‘Unbound: Indian Women @ Work‘ that talked about women who fought against the odds and succeeded. Kiswar Desai sounded a little artificial , but then , I could be wrong, I haven’t read any of her books. Ms.De was a little sundued, I thought.
‘Princes and Painters of Mughal Delhi‘ who else but the charming William Dalrymple could talk about this? It was like attending a history session by your favorite professor in college. He had slides of each painting, giving a small description of what the picture was about, who painted it, what era and the like with some interesting bits like ‘imagine, having yourself painted while in the sack’. His love for the Mughals was very evident in the passionate manner that he talked about them. I felt the session was a bit hurried , though. He came across as a very down to earth person with absolutely no airs, as he patiently answered people, posed for photographs and signed the books for his fans.
That brought me to the end of day one. One person who came down more than a few notches in my esteem was Farhan Akhtar. He somehow came across as a performer. But then, why am I surprised at that ?
To be continued…..
pictures courtesy – https://www.facebook.com/BlrLitFest