Literary Musings in the Bay
It’s been some time now that literary festivals and cultural events have become a part of the DNA of Mumbai. There has been a sort of desensitisation among the attendees and the overall response a tad unenthusiastic. The speakers are more or less the same, and the discussions not as stimulating; partly because one has already read about the content on social media. This session of the Tata Literature Live! brought some of the sanctity back for us. The overall impact of the festival was not as great as desired, but we managed to catch a few magical moments at the event.
We reached NCPA just as the Tharoor-Ghosh session was winding up. Each one dutifully queued up for the next panel on literature’s power of healing chaired by Indira Chandrasekhar with Frank Moorhouse, Yonatan Berg, and Nicholas Shakespeare. A convenor who had her panellists talking only after a precious 15 minutes were spent on a lengthy and tad unnecessary introduction, preceded a moderate panel. Moorhouse pointed out the irony of the matter that much literary work was penned by troubled souls such as Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, and Poe, while Shakespeare emphasised that one of the by-products of reading is empathy. Each was asked why he was considered to be a part of this talk. Amidst much red-faced pondering, Shakespeare shot back that it was because he refused to be involved in anything to do with one of the greatest writers the world has seen (and his namesake) – William Shakespeare. Berg, a writer and bibliotherapist spoke of the literal power that poetry had of healing, and how it helped him live his patient’s conflict.
In medias res didn’t seem like the best idea until Prasoon Joshi, Simon Armitage and Martin Amis took over with The Verse Case Scenario. Chaired by Paromita Vohra, this was an insightful discussion with the panellists divided on their views of the overlapping of the forms of poetry and song. The recent controversy of Bob Dylan winning the Nobel prize for literature spearheaded this conversation with Armitage opining that in the Venn diagram of poetry and song, there was only a very tiny midground where both converged. Prasoon Joshi fiercely advocated for the blurring of lines between both forms, with a plea to abolish classism in art (since poetry is generally considered a higher form). The evening also brought a tribute to Roald Dahl which saw many fans line up for a place in the compact Godrej Theatre. A reading and enactment of Dahl’s macabre poetry and stories put some of his darker work in focus.
Another key session was Chairman Maa with Margaret Alva, Shabana Azmi, and Ma Thida at Prithvi Theatre. Anil Dharker chaired this session about South Asian women in politics. A feisty and fulfilling panel with strong voices brought the sorry situation to light – women are not given a chance to be a part of the political framework of a country. As Alva pointed out, even Gandhi mobilised women to march shoulder to shoulder with men during the freedom struggle, but the Parliament was formed with only four percent of women. Ma Thida lamented that women’s rights were often referred to as ‘wife’s rights’ when men would have their wives contest elections all for the power of an extra seat. Azmi, true to her profession, did a delightful act about men and their inherent ability to occupy space, whereas women were asked to ‘sit like a girl’ and reduce the amount of space they filled. The engaging session gave way to Karsh Kale and Sam Cutler’s conversation about a tour manager’s life on the road. Interesting anecdotes laced the talk, which led to the next one – an underprepared discussion on writing in the conflict zone.
The evening ended on a high for us, as we were privy to The Ballads of Bant Singh. The man in focus, a brave heart who was instrumental in getting the voice of the dalits heard in Punjab, was present there with his biographer Nirupama Dutt and daughter Baljit. She, who was raped as a minor, right before her wedding. Singh was later attacked and maimed by the rapists (and their supporters), who left him permanently without his arms and a leg. Both sat there facing an audience that was awed by their story. It was truly a privilege to hear the pair sing.