Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A festival of people and literature

Part I

The Hyderabad Literary Festival has been the undoubted highlight of 2016 so far for me, yet I have taken over two months since my return from the city to post this note. The explanation is simple: I plunged into work, which has included at least three major events I was involved in. This is the first breather I have had in a long while.
It was a memorable experience, even if my own panel discussion, ostensibly centred around my book Third Man was a bit of a damp squib. I’ll come to that later, after I try to recapitulate my many enjoyable moments between 7th and 10th January, especially the wonderful interactions with other participants famous and not so famous.

My discovery of the festival was the delightful Nayantara Sahgal, gentle, vulnerable and friendly, not at all like the firebrand I expected, especially after the way she has critiqued the Indira Gandhi family over the last few years, and her crime of returning the Sahitya Akademi award in protest against the fundamentalist violence unleashed against writers and thinkers in the recent past. Her speech at the opening ceremony on the 7th was a well reasoned plea to all of us, especially writers, to beware of the rising tide of intolerance in the country and resist it with all our might.ESL Narasimhan, the governor of AP and Telangana, spoke like a leader of the Sangh parivar, lambasting Sahgal in words that can only be described as unchivalrous. Over the next few days Sahgal was to frequently tell us how scared she was of the general violence in the air, but how impelled to speak her mind nevertheless for the sake of all of us who wish to safeguard our freedom. Kiran Nagarkar, with Nayantara Sahgal my breakfast mate on a couple of occasions, echoed this fear of Sahgal during his talk at one of the sessions. The theatre and film actor Dr Mohan Agashe had a slightly different say in the matter: he demanded of artists that they deal with threats to freedom through subtlety and circumvention. Both Sahgal and Nagarkar had to deal with rabble rousers apparently planted in their sessions. Nagarkar fielded some of the bullets deftly by declaring his love of our epics, which however did not mean he had to support fundamentalist stances by our politicians and their less cultured allies.

Now to come to my own panel discussion on cricket writing, it became a session about my khadoos Mumbaiyya-Hyderabadi former teammate Vijay Mohan Raj—who came to the organisers’ rescue by filling in for the absent Vijay Lokapally, my would-be fellow panelist—decided the whole hour belonged to him and hogged the strike, not forgetting to deliver a homily on ethics to me and the audience. Poor anchor Harimohan Paruvu, who had worked hard to persuade the festival authorities to invite me as a delegate, was denied the strike for far too long to score. I think I made the best of a bad bargain. At least one member of the audience—Jonathan Gil Harris, distinguished author of The First Firangis—seemed to agree. 

The casualty was my book Third Man, which I was forced to wave frantically at the audience—some of them disappointed stragglers from the next tent where the actor Shriya Saran failed to turn up—to let them know I had actually written a book.
I was not unduly disappointed, because I thoroughly enjoyed the many brilliant lectures and interactions I attended and the wonderful warmth of everyone I met—the organizers, the audience and the delegates. (To be continued)

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