There was a mischievous twinkle in his eyes as the husband commented, “looks as though you are rushing for a university youth festival.” “Well, what do you expect when you have two sessions of Gulzar saab and Prasoon Joshi, one with Dalrymple , another one with Shobaa De, Shashi Deshpande and V.K.Karthika, then Ramachandra Guha and finally a concert by Pandit Chaurasia?” He decided not to retort, and wisely too, I should say 🙂
Daughter had decided to join me in all enthusiasm as she looked forward to the children’s story sessions. The instruction to her was clear and strict, “Keep absolutely quiet for the first one hour, then I will do whatever you want.” She nodded in all seriousness.
Almost all the front seats and those in the shade were already occupied by the time we reached. “So what,” I muttered and went ahead and plonked myself on the lawns right in front of the stage. After a few minutes, the white kurta – pyjama clad smiling genius walked in holding on to the hands of young lyricist and poet Prasoon Joshi. When he has time after writing film lyrics, screen plays and poems, Joshi leads the worldwide creative council of McCann Erickson, is the winner of more than 400 national and international awards, third Asian to head the Cannes jury, only Indian to be the part of the Titanium and Integrated Cannes jury and has been designated a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. The citations seemed endless and Gulzar saab’s quip was instantaneous, “boy, you are giving me a complex,” and that set the tone to more than an hour of heart warming conversations and delightful prose and poetry.
The session started off in a casual manner as if they were continuing a conversation that they were having on the way. Gulzar sab’s love and admiration for the young man was so evident not just in his words, but his smiles , the way he was patting his hands, even holding on to it at times and the adoring look in his eyes as Prasoon Joshi read out some of his poems. He prodded on Joshi, “that poem you read out at the Jaipur Festival, lets hear it.” Prasoon Joshi’s verses are simple and speaks straight to your heart, I specially loved the one about sisters, how they remain ‘bade’ even though younger in age, the only moment you feel bigger than them is the moment they tie a rakhi on your hands.Then, he actually sang one of his songs and boy, what a voice, he could sing and how! “Yeh to mujhe aur bhi complex de raha hein” was Gulzar sab’s response.
If Prasoon Joshi speaks to your heart, Gulzar’s words converse with your heart, soul and mind, in fact, your whole being. Like a true magician, he takes a word and weaves a mountain of magic out of it. Unlike last year, where it was Guzar sab throughout, this time it was as if he was passing on his mantle to a young protege`. As was the norm, the presenter asked whether there were any questions from the audience or would they want to continue to listen to him. The response was thunderous, “no questions, more poetry”. One hour was too short, alas! Forget about heart’s content, this would have hardly filled the lower part of ventricle or whatever that part of heart is called.
Meanwhile, daughter had found her own source of entertainment.So I stayed put for the next session. ‘The Anatomy of Literature Festivals‘ that had William Dalrymple, Anjum Katyal(editor, writer, translator and critic) from Kolkata and Nirmala Lakshman(journalist and Director of The Hindu group) from Chennai, moderated by Vikram Sampath, author and one of the founders of BLF. The discussion naturally centered around the most famous and reportedly the largest Literary Festival in Asia Pacific,’the Kumbh Mela’ of authors, the Jaipur Literature Festival. Dalrymple spoke at length about how the festival has grown from its humble beginning about six years ago when they had about 200 participants to a two hundred and fifty thousand last year. There was the inevitable reference to the Salman Rushdie controversy last year and Dalrymple cleared the air on the why and how. Apparently the first time Rushdie attended the fest a few years ago, the organizers had kept it under wraps and he was presented as a sort of surprise. The plan was similar last year as well, but for reasons best known to him, the author wanted his name to be published before hand and the rest, as they see is history. The other two speakers did not have much to say. Anjum mentioned about how there were few open spaces in Kolkata where such an event could be held and that sounded true. However, when Ms.Nirmala echoed the words saying Chennai does not have even one good book shop or open spaces, I felt like booing her. Dalrymple ruled the stage and rightly so, with his huge array of anecdotes and observations. On being asked about the glamour quotient of the festivals, he rued the fact that popular newspapers like TOI covered such events mostly on their page 3 and for obvious reasons. He admitted that , the gossips and glamour were an unavoidable part the festival and there are people who come only for that, however that is but a very small part of what happens there.
One event that I really looked forward to for the daughter turned out to be one of most and maybe the only, utterly disorganized event in all three days – the children’s session by Gulzar and Prasoon Joshi. There was the launch of a children’s book by Gulzar, published by Scholastic and their officials and family lorded over the stage. The displeasure was evident on both the participant’s faces. Gulzar said he’d rather talk to the parents than the kids,
“parents complain to me that their kids are glued to the TV. I ask them, what do you do when your kids refuse to have food, don’t you switch on the TV and feed them in front of that mindless entertainment? You have no right to complain. Leave your kids free, let them not have any inhibitions, let them talk, dance, sing, let them be free.”
Prasoon Joshi added ,
“I grew up in the mountains, in the evenings we would sit around a fire and naani would tell us stories about chudels. Each one of us had a different image of the witch. Today, we show them the chudels on TV and sadly all of them have the same size and shape.”
One parent asked him, “Aren’t our kids growing up with a deformed view of mythology watching Chota Bheem and Bal Ganesh?” Given a chance I would have given him a at least a tight hug , if not a huge kiss, as he answered, “So, what are you doing as a parent?”
The rest of the children’s session was a bit of a let down. Daughter was not too keen on continuing after the first session. Missed out an interesting discussion on ‘Urban Writing‘ in between. Heard a few snippets from the discussion on ‘The Novel and the People: Is Indian Fiction Moving Away from Indian Reality?’ Govind Mishra , winner of prestigious Hindi award Vyasa Samman and Sahitya Akademi award, endeared himself to many a woman in the audience when he said,
“today’s woman has to deal with stress at work, bring up the kids, take care of their studies, be a home maker , take care of the in-laws and on top of all that, pamper that egoistic, non-compromising monster at home called her husband. This is today’s reality and many are writing about this reality.”
‘Are we becoming a Bestseller generation?’ deserves a post of its own. For now, I’ll just mention that the panel comprised of Shashi Deshpande, Shobaa De, Ashwin Sanghi and Ian Jack, moderated by V.K. Karthika of Harper Collins.
The last session for the day was Ramachandra Guha’s ‘Is History literature or social science?‘ Had to leave after a few minutes of his interesting speech, took pity on a poor six year old who was an angel throughout the day. Missed Pandit Chaurasia as well, his session was postponed by two hours.
Eye candies seen around the festival grounds – Anita Ratnam and Vasundhara Das
End of day 2
to be continued….
pictures courtesy – https://www.facebook.com/BlrLitFest