Real people, real narratives

Amidst the chirping of birds in an open air theatre, a voice rings out, sharing contours of the history of the quaint, sleepy town of Hoshangabad. Located on the banks of river Narmada, Hoshangabad, which borrows its name from a sultan, stands at the cusp of a change in nomenclature owing to an excavation around it.

Interestingly, the ‘politics’ behind the change in nomenclature was one amongst the buzzing themes dominating the Delhi edition of India Non Fiction Festival. The recently held two-day event saw a surfeit of interesting sessions with well known Delhizens like Rajmohan Gandhi, Hartosh Singh Bal, Dipankar Gupta, Jitendra Bhargava, Kiran Karnik, General VP Malik, amongst many others, who kept the audience suitably engaged with their postulations.

Dotted with book stalls featuring new collections of non-fiction writing, the festival brought together eminent personalities and writers to discuss the burning issues of the day. With a constant flow of anecdotes from new books, passages from history, panel discussions and counter questions from audience, the energy in the amphitheatre seemed to be growing by the hour.

Moderating the session, ‘India: The past is present-how we got here, politics and culture’, writer and journalist Hartosh Singh Bal traced the story of the traditional pilgrimage around river Narmada, giving an idea of how with time certain mythologies and connections get attached to a place and it is upon us to pick out our own variation of the past to thinkof how we want our present to be.

Leading the discussion, Rajmohan Gandhi took the audience back to the partition of Punjab and the infamous Radcliffe line. Quoting from British poet WH Auden’s famous poem, He got down to work, to the task of settling the fate of millions. The maps at his disposal were out of date, to capture the emotion around the division of Punjab, Rajmohan said, “How Radcliffe divided Punjab is a small part of the truth as he chaired a five-member commission, including Indian counterparts, to reach a consensus. While we blame him, we forget that the Indian judges were not able to sit together and evolve a consensus. I mention this with respect to the disputes in Andhra and other States. There are lessons to be learnt from the tragedies of Punjab.” His argument draws to attention how comprehending our past in the right way can help us in understanding
our present.

Held at India Habitat Centre, the two-day festival was a cerebral treat, sprinkled with no-holds- barred panel discussions on subjects ranging from elections, politics, governance and leadership, security and terrorism, foreign policy to media, travel, development, India – history and future, women empowerment, etc.  In most of the sessions, panelists clearly pointed out that India’s lack of leadership in governance has affected its growth and led to a severe. 

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