Jaipur: The fourth day of the festival happened to fall on a Sunday, and was expecting more footfalls. Although the crowd did not exceed the numbers in comparison to the first three days of the festival, the numbers did not decrease either. Besides the brisk discussions held by various known literary heavy weights, the book launch of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan by Rajasthan tourism minister Bina Kak saw a huge gathering, which was followed by a beautiful musical performance by Ayaan and Amaan Ali Khan which was a major crowd puller. Here’s a dekko at some of the highlights of the festival.
By Anjan Sundaram, Jason Burke, Lucy Morgan Edwards and Edward Girardet in conversation with Madhu Trehan
In this talk, five different journalists shared their experiences about reporting from war zones, and discussed about differences between writing journalism and writing a book. Jason Burke said his book has given him more space to explore and expand on his own experiences, in contrast to an investigative report which is more of a ‘collective enterprise,’ outside of his editorial control. Edward Girardet, who has been reporting since the 1980s, spoke about his recently released book called ‘Killing the Cranes’, which he wrote in the first person because it made it much more honest: “A reporter can’t be objective; rather he should try to be honest and accountable”. He added that “a book allows a person to take a position that journalism does not”. Anjan Sundaram, whose new book will be released in February, talked of his experience of living in Rwanda. Sundaram requested that someone take him to interview a powerful and violent militant in Rwanda but everyone refused except for the Punjabi man who was hosting him and nonchalantly agreed to take him, since he was the militant’s supplier of arms. This episode was not something that he could have easily written into a journalistic article; however, it made sense to include it in a book.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel- Deborah Moggach introduced by Monisha Rajesh
Britain-born journalist Monisha Rajesh introduced novelist Deborah Moggach as the author of 17 novels, short stories and innumerable screenplays for television and films including ‘Pride and Prejudice’, starring Kiera Knightley. Moggach’s ‘The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’ has been made into a film starring a distinguished and talented cast including Judi Dench. When asked about her inspiration for writing the book, she joked that she had been annoyed by the number of “people in their mid 70s and 80s, striding around the world, eating their children’s inheritance”, vacationing “hand in hand, deeply tanned”. She also said that she loved India because of how warm, ‘wonderfully cheap’ it was and how it had “huge respect for the elderly”. She liked that Brits and Indians together make “a big ensemble piece” and specifically chose Bangalore as the locale for the film because it was an “intrinsically funny place” with a lot of call centres, and the outsourcing of services from the UK was an issue she wanted to address. She conceded that presenting Bangalore whilst knowing very little about it was a “very liberating process”, but she also apologised for it. She chose to set the story in a hotel because of their anonymity: “You can be yourself or somebody else. Nobody judges you in a hotel.”
Whose Land is it Anyway?
By Shoma Chaudhary, HM Nerurkar, Tarun Das and Kota Neelima with John Elliot
John Elliot introduced the session as a moderator by saying, “This session is really about the future of India, because the land lies at the centre of a lot that is wrong and a lot that`s right with India.”
The issues discussed ranged from displacement, mining, roads, city planning, rural migration and real estate, to corruption and crime. The panel discussed whether land was everyone`s responsibility since it belonged to everyone. Managing Editor of Telheka, Shoma Chaudhary, argued that the land belongs to the people but “unfortunately the development model we are following doesn`t reflect that.” She urged for India to stop `panicking` about industrializing the country too quickly, since it leads to prioritising convenience over correctness.
Choudhary cited Tata Steel as `a great example of what is going wrong with the development in India,` because of the lack of consent and consultation in the land acquisition movement in India. HM Nerurkar, MD of Tata Steel discussed the challenges facing industry and development, saying that Tata Steel had learned the hard way, the necessity of consultation and communication with locals in proposed areas of development, particularly those at risk of displacement. He argued that India needed to continue to rapidly industrialise if it was to move out of poverty and maximise its future growth, but that social and economic factors had to be considered in that process.
Nerurkar said India was changing from an agrarian society anyway, with increased rural migration, which had implications for people`s changing roles in society, especially for women. Businessman Tarun Das questioned why it was always agricultural land that was used for development, and urged corporations to negotiate with owners of fallow factories, the railways, and the defence forces who have 18 lakh acres of land.
Das and Choudhary pointed out that India needed to conserve its agricultural land and improve services in those areas, as protect its resources, if it was to maintain a long term sustainable future in term of food and energy security. All the panellists agreed that industrialisation was a good thing for India, but that it was the process by which it happened that was crucial. Das said the corporate sector had to be looked at with concern: `We need to handle this whole issue much more respectfully.`
Shoma Choudhary warned about corruption and urged that agriculture and industry go forward together as equal partners, since “one half of all land deals feel they are not getting a fair deal: that is the heart of it.” Author Kota Neelima highlighted that relief, rehabilitation, consent and consultation were the core issues to be taken over in the Parliament, but doubted whether or not the government will be able to handle these issues well.
Sunset on Empire – A talk on rise and fall of empires
By David Gilmore, Ian Buruma, Pavan Varma, Charles Allen and Kwasi Kwarteng in conversation with Swapan Dasgupta
Swapan Dasgupta questioned whether the British came to India with colonial intent. Specialist on British Raj, writer David Gilmore responded that the British had “no real colonial intent other than making money.” He said the there was even a time when the British saw Indian culture on equal terms in pre-colonial India.
The discussion moved to talking about issues of cultural up-rootedness post colonialism in India. Dasgupta commented that, “Even though the princely states of Bengal and Madras were ruled for the longest time, their sense of cultural identity is strongly intact,” and questioned, “whether this idea of cultural up rootedness is a more predominant problem in North India.”
Author-Diplomat Pavan Varma talked about the importance of language as a link to culture. He said that in India “there has been a recent drift from the mother tongue.” He said that English is a language of global relevance, but when “children start singing ‘Ba Ba Black Sheep’ in the primary school, it’s a national disaster.”