The lit weekend that it was

The literature festival saw prominent writers and Bollywood celebrities

People of all age-groups and ethnicities were part of the eighth edition of Bangalore Literature Festival that was held over the weekend.

The weekend saw celebrated authors, upcoming writers and book lovers thronging the lawn of The LaLiT Ashok Bangalore, which was the venue for the eighth edition of Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF).

The two-day celebration of literature and art is the largest community-funded event in the city. This year too, local, national and international authors came under one roof and shared their work with readers.

The BLF 2019 celebrated the life and work of Kannada writer and playwright Girish Karnad’s work and life, who passed away earlier this year. In his honour, two of the stages at the festival were named after the plays ‘Yayati’ and ‘Tughlaq’, and there was an interactive session, ‘Writer, playwright, humanist: The Life and Work of Girish Karnad’ by noted Kannada author Jayanth Kaikini, theatre actress B Jayashree and writer K Marulasiddappa, dedicated to the Jnanpith awardee. The session was moderated by Preethi Nagaraj.  

Apart from the sessions that ran parallel to one another on various stages, there was a street performance group, ‘BLRBusking’, dedicatedly customising and composing poems for interested visitors, interactive literary installations and a bookstore set up by Atta Galata.

Unlike earlier editions, there was a better system in place for garbage disposal, this time. The festival also a plastic-free event.

On Saturday, the festival opened with acclaimed Indian theatre, television and film actor Pankaj Kapur doing a dramatised reading of his debut novella ‘Dopehri’.

Before starting his reading, Kapur highlighted two issues that bothers him — environment and religion.

“Although there are many issues in this world, there are two problems that disturb me immensely – environment and religion. The rapid pace at which we have been destroying our land and homes, scares me... The universe is shocked seeing how easily and shamelessly a few are misusing their power of intellect — the greatest gift to mankind,” said Kapur.

“...If a person feels insecure, it is our duty to make them feel comfortable instead of intimidating them. It is important to make them feel equal...” he said.

Kapur’s reading of his story, about an old and lonely woman who lives in a ‘haveli’ in Lucknow, kept the audience hooked, and they could be seen nodding in appreciation and occasional bursts of laughter.

Answering a question on whether the process of filmmaking, acting and scripting influenced him as a writer, he said, “The book is written as a film. When people read it, they can visually see it. It was printed many years ago in a magazine called ‘Sakshatkar’ and then it became a stage show, where I read the book to my audiences.” 

Putting Kerala on the literary map

Journalist and author CK Meena moderated the discussion on Malayalam literature with authors Johny Miranda and Unni R.

“At first, I was a little annoyed at the title of the panel. Was this a way of saying we were never on the literary map? Of course, we were, we invented the bloody literary map,” said Meena, who has not written any literature in Malayalam herself.

Then she asked Unni about his thoughts on the question of inter-language translation.

“There’s a large history of translation in Kerala. (Franz) Kafka was translated into Malayalam in the 1930s itself. In fact, the first Indian language (Karl) Marx’s Das Kapital was translated into was Malayalam,” said Unni.

He said that it was very rare for Malayalam books to be translated into other languages, thus limiting their space on the “literary map”.

“In what you can call the postmodern era, many prominent publishers like Westland and Penguin are picking up books by young writers like us,” continues Unni. 

“Now, many publishers are looking at the quality of the stories
rather than the status of the authors and how many awards they’ve won. This is pushing Malayalam literature forward,” Johny said.  

Putting the ‘science’ in Science Fiction

The discussion between Sri Lankan science fiction writer, Navin Weerarante and the award-winning playwright Thomas Manuel revolved around ‘hard’ science fiction.

Navin got into hard science fiction when he was nine years old.

“My father had given me a Star Wars picture book the previous year and I though science fiction had lasers and lightsabers and things that didn’t make sense because why not, that’s fun. Then my dad gave me an Odyssey book, the third book of the series — a book with no pictures, no guns and no clear bad guy. It was taking place in Europa, a moon of Jupiter.” 

This piqued his curiosity and he delved into the moons of Jupiter, the worlds around us, ice worlds and aliens. “I’m reading something about the future that could be possible, it may even be probable. And that is what is interesting to me about hard science fiction. It’s where you make sure your facts are right and the more correct your science, the more useful your writing becomes as a possible predictive tool,” says Navin.

Thomas does not see hard science fiction and science in terms of their usefulness.

“Hard science fiction to me is interesting because science is cool. It’s one of the few ways that we have of knowing, it is the language of learning and being curious,” he says.

He compares picking a favourite genre to picking an aesthetic.

“You might like space or medieval history, but essentially, they are all stories of people and emotion, of struggles and loss,” he says, “we come for the robots, but we stay for the humanity.”

Navin says that if you remove science from a science fiction story and it still works as a story, then it wasn’t a science fiction story to begin with. “He has a very strict definition that I don’t,” says Thomas.

The session ended with Navin saying that one should never let gatekeepers stop your dreams of writing. Self-publish and share your work on Facebook groups, let your readers decide if you’re good.

When science fiction became fact

‘The Land Ironclads’ by HG Wells was a short science fiction story that led to the invention of tanks. He imagined what the world would look like in war and when soldiers would hide in trenches, that’s where the ‘land ironclad’ comes in.

Winston Churchill read this story and he ordered the making of these devices and called them tanks.

That’s how HG Wells, a pacifist, became the creator of tanks.

Story of the Brussels terror attack survivor

As the weather got hot and sweaty by the afternoon, people sought shade in the vast and colourfully decorated lawn. However, this didn’t stop visitors from attending one of the most talked-about sessions, ‘Surviving A Terror Attack’ by Nidhi Chaphekar.

Soon after the Brussels Airport bombing, a picture of a shocked and bloodied woman sitting on a chair surfaced on newspapers and channels across the globe. That was the first time the world saw Nidhi Chaphekar, a Jet Airways flight attendant who survived the attacks.

Today, she is a motivational speaker. After three years, Nidhi gathered the strength to pen down her memories from that day and publish a book about it called ‘Unbroken’.

“On March 22, I was to travel from Brussels to Newark. I was at the airport departure, when I saw the first human suicide bomb attack, just a few metres away from me. By the time I could make sense, I saw another suicide bomber standing right next to me. I tried to run but it was too late. I was lucky enough to survive. He pressed the detonator and I was thrown 20 metres away,” she said.  

“I wanted to run, but I felt numb and thought I lost my limbs. No one around me had survived and I was lying in a pool of blood, trying to seek help. Over 20 per cent of my body was burnt and I still don’t have my heel bone” she said. She was in a coma for 23 days and was told she will never be able to walk. But she never gave up on life, with courage and determination, she walked again.

‘Music a complete language’

On a parallel session, widely-acclaimed Hindustani classical vocalist Shubha Madgal discussed her book, a collection of short stories, ‘Looking for Miss Sargam: Stories of Music and Misadventure’. The session was moderated by Abu Dhabi-based author Deepak Unnikrishnan.

She began the session by defining music, which to her is a “complete language”. She said that over the years, music has also helped her become a “good listener”.

“My ear picks up a lot of things, be it conversations, accents or inflections; but I also discovered that since my ear is so keen, sometimes, I don’t notice various things happening around me. I try to take back the visual memories of the things that happened around me and during the process of writing, I try to draw on them,” she said.

Subha also spoke about the commercialisation of music and threw light on musicians who carry a great deal of wisdom in their work but aren’t often recorded enough by the mainstream music industry.

Shubha also caught up with Metrolife for a quick chat after her session and spoke about her book and more.

How difficult is it to write fiction about musicians, especially since they are known to be hypersensitive and may take offence if they see even a remote resemblance to their lives?

It is difficult to write, especially for a musician (laughs). I am not a writer so I had to do a lot of ‘riyaaz’ for that as well. I continue to try and improve my writing slowly.

Having said that, its fiction, so it is really not based on any particular person or incident. Otherwise, I could have written memoirs, then that would have been a problem. These are characters that I have created and if there are any similarities, they are accidental.

Why is writing on music, fiction and non fiction so niche? Are any writers writing music for non-musicians?

When you write a book, it is for everyone, even if you write an academic book. There is no limit to the number it can reach. I don’t think when you write, you target a particular person, you write a book because you feel the need to write a book.

You write a column on classical music. What are the challenges of communicating musicological ideas to a non-expert readership?

The stories had a lot of details that I had mentioned, whether it is about people or situations. But at the same time, I had to be careful that the details were not overdone, not to the point that they clog the narrative. I had to work on that in quite a detail.

How has the response to ‘Looking for Miss Sargam’ been like?

It’s been a pleasure. I haven’t really published a book before this, so for me, it has been quite exciting to find a literary agent who has been enthusiastic and encouraging and publisher who has been supportive.

I have got some good reviews and that’s been really encouraging. In fact, I have another non-fiction book in the pipeline.

A book on Sunanda Pushkar

The second session in the Tughlaq stage was called ‘The life and death of Sunanda Pushkar’. Journalist and author of ‘The Extraordinary Life and Death of Sunanda Pushkar’, Sunanda Mehta, spoke about her schoolmate whom she shared a name with.

She was in conversation with author Ravi Subramaniam. He began the panel with the questions on everyone’s minds — “Was it a suicide or was it not? Did he do it or did he not?”

 “Apart from the Delhi police, no one believes it was a suicide,” Mehta said, adding that Pushkar was not “that kind of a woman”.

Mehta spoke extensively to Pushkar’s family to find out what she was like. “She was like a kaleidoscope. Everyone who saw her saw a different colour to her. She’s been described as warm and generous but also as a social climber and gold digger. I think she was all of that, but if I had to cut down to a few adjectives I’d say she was emotional — a woman whose heart ruled her head — and a fabulous mother,” says Mehta. 

Although she was friends with the young Pushkar, Mehta says she wrote the book as a journalist to remain “objective”.

She felt Pushkar’s life was defined for the larger public by just the three years she spent as Shashi Tharoor’s wife and was too harshly judged by that. “I think people needed the context of her life to understand her in death, the mystery of which still remains unsolved,” she says.

The ‘Bad Man’

It was a full-house at the ‘Tughlaq’ stage sharp at 11.45 am as the crowd waited to get a glimpse of one of the most popular villains of Indian cinema — Gulshan Grover. As he made his way to the stage, the crowd went berserk. Having acted in over 400 films in 39 years, Grover has earned the title ‘Bad Man of Bollywood’ thanks to his villanious characters. 

Grover has now turned author and penned down his autobiography, ‘Bad Man’ with Roshmila Bhattacharya. He charmed the audience at BLF with his witty way of interaction as he spoke about his book and his career in great detail. The discussion was moderated by Roshni Dadlani, the editor of Penguin Random House, India. 

The book largely talks about his journey from the outskirts of Delhi, living in terrible economic circumstances and fighting all odds to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. 

It also talks about his conscious choice to opt for villainous roles and the challenges it carries with it. 

After establishing himself as the first commercial Indian actor to make a successful transition from Bollywood to Hollywood, he went on to experiment with different kinds of films across the world and today, he is the first Indian actor to work in Polish, Malaysian, and Iranian films.   

“Over the years, I have seen that actors who played the roles of antagonists were all truly wonderful people and fantastic actors. It requires a good actor to play the villain... with good looks and average acting, you can become a hero,” he said. 

“Today, I have made a mud path between the two industries and I am proud of the fact that it has been cemented and followed by actors like Priyanka Chopra, Deepika Padukone, Irrfan Khan, Amitabh Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Anil Kapoor and many others.”  

Talking about his intent behind writing the book, he explains that people should write their story when they are relevant.  “I say I am relevant even today because when the “Bad Man” is sort of buried, I am the only “Bad Man” who has three biggest films in hand, ‘Sooryavanshi’, ‘Sadak 2’ and ‘Mumbai Saga’,” he said.

“Moreover, my management is in conversation with the next James Bond. I am the first Indian actor to be in a Polish film, a Malaysian film, and an Iranian film. All these are very relevant for an actor, so, I thought it was a great time to write the autobiography,” he continued.  He believes that his story will inspire youngsters to dream big. “Today, young people are getting scared to dream. My story is about an average, regular, poor person who had faith in education and hard work and who didn’t get scared by others who had more means than him. This story is to inspire people to dream big,” he said.

 

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