Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tata Litlive 2015 - the Best of Its Kind, Well, So Far!

It was great connecting with writer friends at Litlive 2015 at the NCPA, which was sixth edition of this redoubtable literary meet. I have been a steady presence in their scheme of things right from the start. This edition was resplendent in that it has grown into a lot more than just literature: plays, performance poetry, literature about politics, mime-drama, etc. The range and variety was, what to say, mind numbing. I couldn’t attend all the events and had as companion my childhood-friend Gangadharan Menon, whom I had persuaded to attend, and who, later took a keen interest in all the programmes. Gangadharan is the author of Evergreen Leaves (published by Partridge Press) which is all about his escapades into Indian Nature Parks, which you may want to have a look in. He was nearly gored to death by an elephant in a jungle in Kerala. As events turned out, he developed into a festival junkie, showing more enthusiastic than me to attend all the good programmes. He has an advantage in that he lives in Chembur and by car it’s only twelve minutes from the centre of South Bombay, yes, we counted, twelve minutes.

That’s a great advantage. In my earlier days of working I used to commute from Chembur to VT, which took me an hour. Now it takes only twelve minutes by road. Isn’t that wonderful? How much time could I have saved if I had lived in the present and been able to take advantage of this new freeway? I could have written more poems and short stories, read more books, and met more friends. Now what’s the use of remembering all these things? A sense that things could have been better pervades. But, then I could also have been better.

A hello was said to the talented writer Annie Zaidi, maverick Dan Husain (redoubtable poet and writer, whose play “Ek Punjab Yeh Bhi” is being staged at the Prithvi. Dan recently returned his Sahitya Akademi award in protest against the climate of growing intolerance in the country. Writer Maya Sriram (who is working on her second novel after her first one “Bitch Goddess for Dummies”) was also there with her now grown up daughter, whom I had seen as a small girl. Well, there were writers who didn’t say hello, which doesn’t matter, to me, at least.

There were an aging population of Bombay, the NCPA types, present in strength. I meet Usha Sheth, daughter of K.D.Malaviya, one of the first ministers in Nehru’s cabinet. She asks me about Kamala Das, but I was not part of the literary scene in those days. Ganga was. So, I divert her to him. There was an artistic-looking person carrying a sketch book looking remarkably like cartoonist R.K.Laxman. He went around caricaturing people and then getting them signed by his subjects. Ganga said it had to be R.K.Laxman’s son: the looks, the conservative dress confirmed my feeling that it was him. “Laxman lived to be ninety-something and if he had a son at age 30, it has to be him.” That’s Ganga for you. I know that Laxman has a son, who is a journalist, and maybe, it’s him. I had met him some time ago when he was covering aviation-related subjects for the Times of India. But, then I lost track.

As usual with anything worth attending in India there were queues and skirmishes for tickets for the events. But Ganga ensured that he drove to NCPA in the morning on the Eastern Freeway to collect passes for me and him. So I got to see Astad Deboo’s pirouetting performance in Rivers Run Deep (he rotated Dervish-style for fifteen minutes), which made us wonder how he did it at his age. It was a beautifully choreographed performance, one that would be truly representative of the new India. The dance was well orchestrated, great music, and Tata Theatre is the best in terms of sound. The Manipuri dancers rhythmically jumped and danced while playing the drums on stage. Ganga said this is the only percussion instrument in the world playing which a drummer can also dance. I agree.

There was this performance poetry by Hannah Silva in which she tears the novel Fifty Shades of Grey with her mouth, as the preamble to the performance. She combined elements of poetry, deaf-mute-sign language, performance poetry so wonderfully that the audience was spell bound. I wonder why Brits are such good performers. They aren’t amateurish in the least and have a good command over their material.

Chacha Pe Charcha (Discussion on Chaha Nehru)

I sat through this discussion on Chacha Nehru, which had Vir Sanghvi (journalist), Nayantara Sehgal (Nehru’s niece), Anil Dharkar (Director, Litlive), and Arun Maira (former member of Planning Commission) holding forth.

Vir Sanghvi sand that Nehru downplayed the need for individual freedoms vis-a-vis freedoms of communities, e.g., in the first amendment.  True, in the first amendment (apart from the freedom of expression clause) clauses were introduced to prevent “misuse of freedom of expression”, which in later days was open to misuse. This, it seems, have curtailed freedom of expression even more. Do we, in this country, have something like “original intent” which the US has? If so, I feel all these clauses in the amendment would not have been required.

Moving on, Sehgal opined that secularism was (still is) the bedrock of the Indian freedom movement. The freedom movement cut across religions, caste, and ideology to create a new state based on freedom for all. So why are we discussing “secularism” as a concept so late in our democracy? It’s an integral part of our constitution. Moreover Nehru was an agnostic and didn’t believe in any religion in particular. He may have performed certain rituals, but he was a true-blue secularist.

Overall, it was agreed that India didn’t choose to be a Hindu nation. It has been seen as the only democracy in a sea of autocracies, dictatorships and, authoritarian regimes. Now, even that attribute seems to be besmirched by the Hindutvavadis, out to create a fanciful Hindu state.

The Play “Ila”

There was a huge crowd waiting patiently in queue for this play and I wanted to see what it was all about. Ganga had a pass which he misplaced. We decided to take a chance and queued up for half hour to get in. Luckily we managed to gain entry, into the sunken garden which chock-a-block full. Since Ganga has a back problem I gave him my seat – the only one available – and said I will sit on the mattress on the floor. I also have a back problem, but, I know Ganga’s problem is bigger than mine. But, no one, no one including the youngsters, would offer their seats to us, old beggars.

The story is by Devdutt Pattanaik and is about a king who wanders into a forest and is cursed to become a woman when the moon changes phases. To his own surprise, the king, in his female avatar, becomes pregnant. The story is told on the background of train journeys on Bombay’s western railway between Virar and Churchgate, and this being the best part, shows the little politics of the women in the ladies’ compartment. I love the part when all of them in a co-ordinated move mimic the violent swaying of a compartment. Delicious! Delectable! The play is produced by Patchwork Ensemble and in the cast I espy my friend Mukul Chedda, who is a model and competent actor. He plays the role of king Ila in his male form.

Anyway, a geat time was had, though the commute to the venue proved to be a bit hectic for me, what with my health issues. 

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