Monday, November 3, 2014

An Amazing Weekend at the TATA Lit Fest!

IMG_20141101_122005TATA Literature Live, one of Mumbai’s foremost literary events went bigger this year and in addition to NCPA (its regular venue), this time it was held at Prithvi Theatre as well! With the venue so close to my house, I was definitely not going to miss it! The star studded line up (see schedule) was also a big draw.

The first session that I attended was The Changing Idea of Romance in India at Prithvi Theatre, where Astha Atray Banan who has authored a Mills and Boon novel and Sathnam Sanghera (British Writer famous for his novel Marriage Material) were joined by Ashish Shakya of All India Bakchod. I honestly didn't expect much realism from a panel discussion on romance but what ensued was a really interesting and pragmatic discussion. Surprisingly enough an author of a Mills and Boon novel was convinced that romance was on the decline while the guy from Britain was making the case about how arranged marriages could be a good idea after all! The discussion veered between various issues ranging from the influence of the internet, moral policing, influence of Bollywood and the changing mindsets of the youth, to much more serious issues such as the institution of marriage, sexism in romance writing/movies and eve teasing. As you would expect when one of the panellists is from All India Bakchod, the discussion was interspersed with great dollops of humour.

IMG_20141101_150534A big fan of military history myself, the session that I was looking forward to the most at Tata Lit Live was ‘An Indian Army in Afghanistan’, a talk by William Dalrymple. The great historian is also a master storyteller who effortlessly transported us back to the 1837 and the first Anglo Afghan war. The talk was his short retelling of the story of his book ‘Return of a King’. He manages to weave together into his story-telling the big macro events such as the backdrop of the Great Game and also funny tales of the vanity of the British Army generals who while trekking 4000 miles across the subcontinent, had 40 camels carrying their wines and liqour. In his crisp voice he managed to hold the attention of the crowd and an hour felt like ten mins. While the story was indeed fascinating, his descriptions of his process of research were also interesting and to an extent, even thought provoking. Dalrymple has gone beyond the British accounts while researching for the book and has delved extensively into the Afghan accounts. He spoke at length about his research and travels into the heart of Taliban controlled Afghan countryside where ordinary people were well versed with the history of the Anglo-Afghan war which they had received orally from their elders. On of the most interesting things about the ‘Return of a King’ is how Dalrymple manages to draw parallels between the Anglo-Afghan conflict and the modern day US led invasion – “It is always possible to conquer Afghanistan but difficult to finance a continuing occupation.”

Dalrymple also emphasised how for several centuries in India including some periods of Maratha rule as well, ‘Persian’ was the language of administration. He expressed his dismay at the fact that very few Indians know about this and that today only a handful of persons who can read and write Persian, survive today in India. He urged the amateur and aspiring historians in the audience (and I am sure that after his talk, many were considering it) to not restrict themselves to colonial historical accounts in English but to read local primary source materials as well! While he was signing his books for fans, I managed to ask him regarding his next project and it is a topic that Indians shall be even more interested in – The East India Company. In hindsight I could have guessed it myself because even while talking about the last book and the story of the Anglo Afghan War, Darlymple who now must be well into his research about the East India Company, could not help himself from making repeated references about the marvel that the company was and how it was a astounding and absurd phenomenon that the fate of a subcontinent was in the hands of a public corporation run for the shareholders’ interests from a single block in London. All in all, it was an amazing session, the only negative point about which was that the venue, Prithvi House was so small that several people had to be turned away

IMG_20141102_111020The following morning, I turned up two hours early at Prithvi to ensure that I got a pass for the most awaited panel discussion of Tata Lit Live – “Gone with the Gandhis- Will the defeat in the 2014 elections leave an impact on dynasty politics in the Congress”. The panellists were Shashi Tharoor, Pranay Gupte and Shekhar Gupta in conversation with Barkha Dutt. I had expected the panel to express significant agreement with the motion express but surprisingly enough it was a rather balanced discussion. Shashi Tharoor began by rightly pointing out that we also see a dynasty effect not only in other political parties but also in other walks of life such as Bollywood (and even the legal profession). The other panellists also for a while seemed to suggest that dynasty is a media favourite hyped issue which doesn’t matter much. They seemed to all agree that the performance of a candidate matters much more to a voter than the candidate’s dynasty. However Barkha and Shekhar Gupta were also quick to point out how Congress is especially addicted to the family and there was a funny moment when upon being asked by Shekhar Gupta, Shashi Tharoor had to admit that he did not know all the members of the Congress Working Committee. While Shashi Tharoor was eloquent as always despite having the unenviable task of having to defend the dynasty as the rightful head of the Congress, it was Shekhar Gupta who really brought the house down with his jokes and very quirky anecdotes about everything. My descriptions really cannot do any justice to how amazing this session was. I just hope everyone gets the chance of hearing these great folks talk atleast once in a lifetime!

While I spent the weekend at the TATA Lit Live’s Prithvi events, there were also a lot of great sessions happening at the NCPA which culminated with the annual TATA Lit Live Awards. This year, ‘Arctic Summer’ by Damon Galgut bagged the Book of the Year Award for fiction writing while ‘Capital - The Eruption Of Delhi’ by Rana Dasgupta won the prize for non-fiction. What I particularly like about the TATA Lit Live is that they also have a Best Debut Award to encourage new writers. The Smoke Is Rising by Mahesh Rao was adjudged to be the best fiction debut while in the non-fiction category it was  ‘A Southern Music: The Karnatik Story’ by TM Krishna.

I hope I shall be able to participate for the all four days next year! Hope it remains as awesome!

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