Long-time readers of this blog probably know by now that I’m a writer. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a couple of winters may also remember that, come autumn, and when India’s 70-odd literary festivals swing into action, I generally end up going to one of these dos. I must admit to being no good when it comes to networking, and I’m usually so busy with my writing that I can’t spare the time to frequent lit fests. But if I’m invited, I will go.
This year, it was Literati, the Chandigarh Literary Society’s literary festival. 2015 was the third year the society organised the function, and I was invited for two sessions, both on the 7th of November, which was the second day of the festival (which was inaugurated on the 6th and ended on the 8th).
Since I, practically speaking, was there for less than half the event, I can’t say much about everything that it encompassed – but what I did attend was, all at the same time, fascinating, insightful, entertaining – and more. Some of the highlights, for me:
1. Kiran Nagarkar’s keynote address at the inauguration, which was one of those instances of a writer who not only writes well, but speaks well too. Mr Nagarkar spoke forcefully of what ails India (and the world) today, of how things change and yet don’t, of how his play, Bedtime Story, written during the Emergency, was initially cleared by the Censor Board with 78 cuts and has only now been finally published in its complete form.
2. Nayantara Sahgal talking of her writing, her returning of the Sahitya Akademi award, and other things – among them Gandhiji. She spoke of how Gandhiji had been invited to her parents’ wedding, and, having blessed the newlyweds, went on to give them a long homily on celibacy. “My mother was very outspoken,” Ms Sahgal said. “She said, ‘Gandhiji, thank you, but I love my husband a lot, so I’m not going to practise that!’”
(Gandhiji got a rap on the knuckles, so to say, from the daughter too, years later: a four-year old Nayantara, asked to hand a bouquet of flowers to Gandhiji when he held a prayer meeting at their house, declined, saying, “I won’t! He’s so ugly!”)
3. My first session, which was called ‘Potpourri’ was pretty much that: a mishmash of genres and writing, with three of us – Ratna Vira (whose book, Daughter by Court Order, explores the concept of ‘the personal is political’), poet and dancer Tishani Doshi; and yours truly. Very different voices, but we somehow managed to get through the sessions, with book readings and some discussions.
4. My second session, ‘Whodunit’, in which another writer of somewhat offbeat detective fiction – Jane De Suza, author of The Spy Who Lost her Head – and I were in conversation with Aradhika Sharma. This one promised to be a damp squib: we reached the venue (the side lawns at the Sukhna Lake Club) and hung around, waiting for an audience. And hung around. And hung around, getting excited at anybody we saw approaching (they turned out – by turn – to be people wanting to get a closer look at the lake; people under the mistaken impression that this was a session with extremely popular writer Ravinder Singh; and others, none of them eager to attend our session). Eventually, at Jane’s suggestion (and what a good one that turned out to be!), we decided we’d sit down with the sole audience member, in a circle of chairs, instead of up on the dais – and soon, there was an audience of about ten or twelve. Small, yes (woefully so), but we had an enjoyable time.
Aradhika had some great questions for us (including a rapid fire round: “Hitchcock: yes or no? Why?”, “Most hated detective?” “Describe Poirot in one word?” “If a Muzaffar Jang book were to be made into a film, whom would you want cast as Muzaffar?” (That last question is one that has been put to me several times, and I’ve always had the same answer: Hrithik Roshan. This time, a friend in the audience—who cheerfully admits that she has a crush on Muzaffar—piped up: “Nooo! How can you? Irfan! It has to be him!”)
But, all said and done, a happy (if tiring) half-day or so of all things literary. I enjoyed myself, and I came away the richer, for a few reasons.
1. I made the acquaintance of Naman Ahuja, an art historian who’s also a Professor of Art and Architecture at JNU, and is the man who curated one of the best art exhibitions I have ever had the pleasure of viewing, the brilliant The Body in Indian Art, held at the National Museum last year. I had the good fortune to be sitting next to Naman on the Delhi-Chandigarh train, and so got to spend plenty of time chatting with him and learning about everything from the birth legend of Karthikeya, to how the Portuguese commissioned luxury goods in Mughal India, to how Gandhiji was so adamant about getting the erotic sculptures at the Khajuraho Temples covered up with cement that truckloads of material was sent to the town, and stood by for a fortnight while activists struggled to convince Gandhi otherwise.
And yes, Naman even showed me a delightful photograph of a pair of jamawar gloves that had been especially woven for one of the Governors General of India!
2. I got to catch up with an old friend, the wonderfully adventurous Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu, who debuted as a writer around the same time as I did. Puneetinder writes for Lonely Planet, has a fascinating travel blog, and told me about a book she’s writing which I can’t wait to read.
3. And I have Jane De Suza’s book to read. I read a lot of crime fiction, but much of it is singularly lacking in humour, so this is something I’m really looking forward to reading.
So yes, all in all: a short but fruitful and thoroughly enjoyable trip.