BLF2020 | Tracking the New Girl – Andaleeb Wajid and Milan Vohra with Krishna Manavalli

The Day-2 evening session had a discussion on girls as primary characters in books and what it takes from writers to create such stories. The panel had Andaleeb Wajid and Milan Vohra in conversation with Krishna Manavalli. The session reflected the journey of women’s evolution in all the fields. Women aren’t just confined to stay between four walls; they are capable and succeed in every work they take up. Though we are in the 21st century, the discrimination between a man and a woman continues. The session included narratives around these ideas.

The session started with Krishna quoting Behind every successful man is a woman. The evolution of the female hero in Indian writing being the main talking point for this discussion, Krishna said that from the times of Draupadi to Kamala Das from the earlier generation, we had fierce and bold women. Also, she pointed out the differences between the lives of women then and now.

Andaleeb Wajid is the author of 26 published novels and she writes across different genres such as romance, young adult, and horror. Milan Vohra is best known as India’s first Mills & Boon author. Her first book ‘The Love Asana’ was an international bestseller. These two women have inspired many other women out there to break the norms and superstitious beliefs through their empowering writing.

The two authors were asked to talk about the evolution of women in their books and share their experiences on the writer’s life they have chosen. Milan Vohra said we evolve as much as the women we write about. She stepped into writing accidentally and one of her works made her win a competition, that was how she started writing characters that reflected the reality. Writing is a form of expression to me and what I wrote was felt by my characters and my feelings were conveyed to the world through books, said Andaleeb Wajid. The common point in both these authors’ writing was women evolving story by story.

Krishna asked the two authors on whom do they look up to as the model to build inspiring female characters in their books? According to Milan, she does not write with a model in mind, she writes the story that she believes in and which is relatable. Andaleeb builds empowering female protagonists by looking into society and the normal way of women’s lifestyle. The session was then followed by the narrations from the works of respective authors. After the narration, the authors gave a quick brief on the plot they read.

When asked about setting a male hero or a billionaire in a story to engage the plot, Milan said she always sets the protagonists equally as both men and women are an important part of society and one can’t do without another. On the other hand, Andaleeb said there is nothing to do with the hero and she preferably opts for a relatable protagonist. Also, the status doesn’t attract the plot, said Andaleeb. The authors also shared their opinions on other characters from other books.

About the Author: Bhuvanashree Manjunath is a freelance writer and a poet, currently pursuing Civil Engineering in Bengaluru. Being an avid reader and book lover, she enjoys working as a Book Reviewer. Apart from literature, her fields of interest include painting, photography, music and teaching. She finds solace in writing poems and blogs. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Permanent Address – Aruna Nambiar, Usha Ananda Krishna and Usha KR with Zac O’Yeah

The conversation began with Zac, who resides in Bangalore, narrating an incident in which he stopped a man trying to throw garbage into Sankey tank. He was rebuked on being a foreigner who cannot question a native of Bangalore. This led to the first question.

What defines a permanent resident of a place?

Usha Ananda Krishna mentioned that it is only something which we currently think is permanent, a ‘permanent address’ column in a visa form. Usha KR added that the idea of impermanence is built into how a government perceives its citizens, referring to the ‘present nationality’ and ‘original nationality’ columns in a visa form. Home is a place of comfort; however, it is a bubble we leave as we grow up and venture out. According to Aruna, home is a place of belonging, where you are accepted for what you are. She grew up in Bombay and has now moved to Bangalore. She relates to Bangalore as her home now; she cheered for her ‘home’ team RCB in a match against Mumbai Indians and can relate to native jokes.  She referred to Robert Frost’s quote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”.

Zac compared Bangalore with Shanghai and Athens and mentioned that this is a city where a lot of people from other states and even foreigners stay, it is also multi-lingual and very homely where your landlady gives you ‘idlis’ when you are unwell.

Discovering your Home

Zac spoke of how Gandhi discovered how Indian he was when he lived abroad; Usha Ananda Krishna and Usha KR agreed with him. Aruna had a slightly different perspective and mentioned that, for teens, the first home outside the parental home represents freedom and a first sense of individuality.

Usha KR felt that an essential part of growing up is to experience other cultures – language, music, food, art, literature. Aruna’s book, Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth, draws inspiration from her summer vacations at her ancestral home. Cousins from various cities used to converge at their grandparents’ big home and transition from bland, urban kids to discover a different version of themselves.

Usha Ananda Krishna remarked, “I thought your house was a place to park your soul”.

Usha KR spoke about one of her characters, a boy brought up in a cocoon who falls in love with an unsuitable girl. His family comes down hard on him for this; he realizes that home is comfort only if he plays by the rules. Zac narrated about how Lord Buddha was constantly travelling once he stepped out of home, headed back to his parental home when he became 80, only to die of food poisoning on the way.

“Bangalore is a setting, organic to my novels”, remarked Usha KR. She referred to how changes in the city influences the character, as in her novel, Monkey Man. It said it brings out the transition of Bangalore from a pensioner’s paradise to India’s Silicon Valley; some people feel they are losing out in the race, while others like the transition.

Are you a rooted writer?

Zac posed this question to each of the panelists. Usha Ananda Krishna is not; for her, home is wherever you think you are stimulated and hence can change.

Aruna, on the other hand, said she is rooted. Home for her is a mixed bag of laughter, conflicts, and sorrow. She referred to her book, Monsters Still Lurk – wherein home becomes a place of sorrow for the professor when his wife falls sick and he stays in office.

Usha Ananda Krishna’s response was – “…you can have a home yet be homeless, if you don’t identify with the values”. She went to remark that not all of us want a home, we are wanderlusts.

Usha KR took this perspective further to say that the concept of home changes as you grow. Aruna elaborated – “first it is your parental home, then the home you share with your partner, later your parents come and live with you and finally you go live with your children.”

Fictional Homes!

Zac spoke about how his quest ended once he read R. K. Narayan’s Malgudi Days. Through fiction, he realized that he belonged in Bangalore. Aruna reminisced about the fictional home in Enid Blyton’s books, how she yearned to know what ginger ale was.

Jane Austen, with social concerns and humor in her books is the inspiration for Aruna KR. She also spoke of a book that has inspired her, Penguin’s Song by Hassan Daoud. The book is set during a war in Lebanon yet does not get into a description of the war. It is about a deformed man who watches the city changing. Something that is understated draws her attention, she said.

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog, talks about her experiences in her YouTube channel Usha’s LENS and puts up photos on Instagram. She is also a software professional and a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Saturday Philosophy Club- Alexander McCall Smith with Zac O’Yeah

This session was as heartwarming and delightful as Alexander McCall Smith’s books and the characters in them! Alexander joined remotely from Edinburgh and had a radiant smile and warm demeanor throughout the conversation. Zack O’Yeah made it further interesting with his insightful questions. The session commenced by Alexander showing around his study, a cozy setup filled with books! He said that he writes not just in his study but finds it inspiring and stimulating to write in different circumstances. 

Zack asked him if he ever gets bored with the characters in his books year on year?

Alexander quoted the example of the two principal characters in his series No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. He said that he feels that he knows them and looks forward to sitting down with these characters and catching up on what they have been up to.

He also added that since he has 6 or 7 series of different books, it gives a relief from monotony. Zack then asked about his new book How to raise an elephant? from the same series.

Alexander explained that Indian elephants are easily tamable while African ones are not. He spoke about the inspiration of the book which came from an interesting and moving story of how African elephants become attached to their keepers. In this book, Mma Ramotswe becomes involved with someone who raises an elephant. The key insight that the book brings is the fundamentals of love and affection needed while raising any creature.

Zack, himself being a Swedish, was curious to know about Alexander’s stint with Nordic crime series. Alexander said that it is interesting to speculate the complex answer to why the interest in crime series in these setups. He explained his view that Sweden is internationally represented as an ideal society. People were attracted to this idea, that in the middle of this well-behaved culture, there could be dangerous things going on.

He created a character Ulf, a Swedish detective. Alexander’s take on this series is that people enjoy reading uncomplicated unthreatening stories. He believes that crime are examples of slight misbehaviors which is also the case in real life.

When asked about being influenced by RK Narayan, an Indian author, Alexander openly confessed being a huge fan of ‘Malgudi Days’ series and profound influence on his works. He went ahead saying that if there was ever a Nobel prize in this space, RK Narayan must get it. He reminisced about his days of meeting RK Narayan’s family. He also spoke about how he loved RK Narayan’s vision, style, the ordinariness of small-town life and the wonderful humanity that the books touch.

Alexander warmly spoke about how the art of conversation is still alive and cultivated in India. On a lighter note Zack then named him ‘The RK Narayan of Scotland’, which resulted in a good laugh amongst the audience. When asked if he ever thought of writing a novel set in India, Alexander humbly explained that while he did not think he knows India enough to write with credibility. He did mention that in his recent short stories “Tiny Tales”, one story is set in Mumbai.

Zack then asked about his favorite character, to which Alexander said the question seems like asking a parent for his favorite child. He mentioned the character Bertie from his series 44 Scotland Street.

When asked if Bertie was a younger version of Alexander, he said that he does see some instances of his young boy life when he felt similar situations. Zack then moved the question to his philosophical writing The Sunday Philosophy Club and asked why should someone be interested in that?

Alexander explained that he feels that everyone is interested in the fundamental questions of life. And how, even if people did not read philosophy formally, they are doing philosophy in day-to-day life and are confronted with moral issues. He wanted to reflect on all of this in his fiction. He mentioned that he has written 14 books in this series. He spoke about the protagonist Isabel Dalhousie, a moral philosopher.

Seeing Alexander in all his humility, the next question was on what keeps him grounded. Alexander responded that one has to remember that fate might have made success possible, but as a writer you have to remember, there are many others equally or more capable who did not make it to success.

Alexander concluded with an insightful message to those seeking inspiration, that they must persist and write from the heart and should try to make their writing universal. The session was then opened to Q&A and he was equally warm with the audiences.

It indeed felt like attending a Saturday light-hearted philosophy club discussion!

About the Author: Neha Agrawal carries a spirit of positivism and a smile that emanates from the heart and wants to reach out to the world. She dreams to make this world an inclusive one. She works as a strategic leader heading multiple areas like inclusion & diversity, corporate social responsibility and organization culture. She is a public speaker and an influencer. She loves travelling, especially to the mountains. She writes poetry under the handle #fursatkealfaaz on Instagram, enjoys reading and having conversations. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | One Arranged Murder – Chetan Bhagat with Shrabonti Bagchi

This conversation on Chetan’s recent murder mystery started on a light banter between Chetan (who joined virtually from Delhi) and Shrabonti, who, Chetan remarked, has done too many interviews of him; he feels she is his therapist!


From Love Stories to Murder Mysteries

Shrabonti quizzed Chetan on the setting of his book and his transition to writing mysteries. Chetan started by saying that he wrote love stories for 12 years and is now moving into murder. His previous novel, ‘The Girl in Room 105’ was an initial part of the transition. This latest book, ‘One Arranged Murder’, is set in a Punjabi family about a murder that happens on the night of the ‘Karva Chauth’ festival.

How challenging is it to write a murder mystery?

Shrabonti added that alibis must be created, the murderer’s identity should not be given away till the end. Chetan responded that it is a different ballgame to write a good mystery, there is a lot of craft in it. He studies authors such as Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock to get various techniques for use in his stories. To that, he adds in Indian flavors, since readers want to relate to the Indian middle-class context.

Chetan referred to a ‘nerd-like precision’ he aims to bring into his stories; his background in engineering and banking is helping here. Chetan revealed an interesting trivia – that he uses spreadsheets to write! This helps him bring in precise endings.

Shrabonti digged into why Chetan chose this festival as the setting for the murder. Chetan referred to a newspaper article he read about a lady at Gurgaon who was pushed to death from her roof on ‘Karva Chauth’. He also said that a beginning which makes us ask, “How did it even happen?”, “Why did it happen?” forms an amazing start to the story. It sets the stage for an intriguing murder plot.

The ex-banker revealed that he brings in a number into each book title – e.g. ‘2 States’, ‘Revolution 2020’. He considered having ‘Chauth’ (the 4th day of the moon) in this title, however dropped the idea since this festival is not celebrated in all parts of India.

Shrabonti spoke about how protective Indian families are; which makes a family member an unlikely murderer. Chetan replied that it is a façade. He referred to how people put up only happy and good pictures on Instagram; the not-good moments are hidden away.

Chetan added that he aims to give his readers insights into the Indian family system, not just a murder puzzle. Shrabonti commented on how people related his murder plot to Sushant’s case since the book was released around the same time as Sushant’s death.

Chetan clarified that he wrote the book last year; its launch got delayed due to Corona and it so happened that the book’s publicity period was in August when Sushant’s case was in the news. The case was so gripping that he was quizzed on it during every interview and every channel projected only those responses.

He opined that, given the right mystery, India can get gripped; hence he believes he made the right switch from romance to murder.

Shrabonti pondered on whether the obsession with unexplained death is manufactured by media.

Chetan referred to it as ‘drama’ and went to say that drama is what engages people. He expressed his concern that news channels often cross the line while looking for drama to compete for viewers’ attention; “this is dangerous for the country”, he added. He also questioned why viewers should look for drama in the news and said, “this is a reflection of who we are as people”.

His take on ‘Love Jihad’

Chetan said that the term, ‘Love Jihad’, is a terrible term, since currently, ‘Jihad’ is a term that one closely associates with terrorism. He questioned why it was finding resonance among people.

He went on to talk about conversions. He said that conversion should not be done under duress and said, “I don’t know if conversion is a great recipe for harmony”. Chetan stressed on the need to have a proper discussion on conversion between various religions instead of ultra-right or ultra-left debates.

Q&A

The first question from the audience was on his path to transition from romance to murder. Chetan responded that it was a big challenge; a murder plot needs a lot more structure to make the suspense satisfying. The second question dwelt on politics – “Should we discuss politics at home?”. Chetan quipped that WhatsApp groups are the worst place to discuss politics. He explained that most people get emotional and hurt in such conversations, hence it is not wise to discuss political topics on such a forum. He observed that the politicians of opposing parties do not fight; in fact, they wish each other on their birthdays!

About the Author: Usha Ramaswamy craves to get more creative in addition to being an avid reader, traveller, vlogger, marketer of events, mobile photographer. One day, she wants to write a book but for now, she pens her reflections at her blog, talks about her experiences in her YouTube channel Usha’s LENS and puts up photos on Instagram. She is also a software professional and a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Avasthe – Chandan Gowda, Deepa Ganesh and N Manu Chakravarthy with Indira Chandrasekhar

UR Ananthamurthy (URA) was a contemporary writer and critic in Kannada language. He is considered to be one of the pioneers of a new modernist school of writing called Navya. Ananthamurthy’s works have been translated into several Indian and European languages. His popular works include Prashne, Akasha Mattu Bekku, Samskara & Bharathipura. His work deals with the psychological aspects of people from different times and circumstances. 

The session opened up with the discussion on URA’s popular book ‘Avasthe’ which relies heavily on his skills as a thinker and writer. Ananthamurthy explored the possibilities of socialism in post-independent India through the life of Krishnappa Gowda. Popular translator Chandan Gowda claims Avasthe as a critically important book.

Chandan is not only a translator, as an actor he acted in a TV serial Bharathipura representing the character Jagannatha which was written by URA in 1973. A Life in the World, a book of autobiographical interviews with Ananthamurthy was published a year ago. Chandan says Avasthe clearly indicates the political ideology of URA. Casteism is considered as the underlying aspect of this novel. It mainly speaks about the struggles with corruption of human values representing a character Krishnappa Gowda, who goes on to become a revolutionary leader among workers with his conscience. In Ananthamurthy’s work, life’s cruel contradictions, caste, poverty are intricately balanced. 

“Ananthamurthy’s ‘Avasthe’ is not merely a political novel,” says Deepa Ganesh who worked in the translation of Avasthe from Kannada to English. Her book A Life in Three Octaves has been published by Three Essays. Her translation of UR Ananthamurthy’s short stories won the Sahitya Akademi award. She shared her thoughts on the richness of the book and social thinking of URA. Characters in Avasthe resemble many politicians in real life. It reflects the state of politics and the state of mind of the particular community. Ananthamurthy maps 30 years of post independent Indian in three novels.

Another panel member in the discussion Manu Chakravarthy who knew the pulse of Ananthamurthy’s writings revealed the integrity in his books Samskara, Bara, Bharathipura Avasthe etc. URA’s way of writing involves discussion with his students to craft the book. Among them, Avasthe is mainly focused on rural culture and builds a character that has integral sense even after 40 years of its release and continues to create impact on the society.

About the Author: Bharath Srivatsav is a student of Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore. He dreams of building a career in cinema and literature. Some of his hobbies are reading books, travelling places, and blogging about films. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Body and Soul – Vasudhendra with Rheea Mukherjee

The title ‘Body and Soul’ sets us off on our own accord of a journey of questioning and wondering about the entire interpretation of life and afterward. The writers present on stage, Vasudhendra and Rheea, have also had their share of conquest regarding the same and is reflective in their works.

Vasudhendra is a well-known Kannada author with more than 50 publications and 60+ awards to his credit. The publications include short stories, a collection of essays, novels, and translations. And Rheea Mukherjee is the author of The Body Myth and was shortlisted for the TATA Literature Live First Book Award 2019. Her work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, BuzzFeed, Scroll.in, Electric Literature, Out of Print Magazine, and Southern Humanities Review among others.

Rheea started the conversation by admitting that she was quite confused about putting into words the body and soul and how to pull off an entire discussion on it! However, Vasudhendra came to her aid and presented his idea about body and soul with an analogy. It goes like this; he said that the soul is like the stones of a Hoysala temple that make up the entire temple. And just like the whole temple collapses when a single stone moves, the body is non-existent without the soul, is what he exclaims, to which Rheea agrees.

Vasudhendra further added that people will connect with friends and society when they have conversations beyond just a body’s structure. He gives an instance from his life. Community and the family questioned his body language and conduct because he was more on the feminine side. He said that it was instilled in him to like girls and walk in a masculine way. After years he realized it was so wrong to force the body in a way it does not want to behave. He addresses his body as another identity and says that it does not like to be subdued by the people’s norms. And that, people who love will always look beyond the body, that is, the soul.

To which, Rheea added that as a girl, she was always taught to cover her chest while stepping outside and she subconsciously carries the thought even now. She pointed out that just like a woman’s chest is objectified, many other things regarding the body are.

The conversation next steered towards the subject of freedom to express sexual desires. Vasudhendra points out a courtesan in Tanjore by the name of ‘Muddupalani.’ Muddupalani wrote a poem called ‘Radhika Santvana’ (in Telugu) where a woman’s sexual desires are expressed. This work was later republished and was banned for being vulgar during the British reign. Vasudhendra expressed his concern about how was expressing one’s desire vulgar? It’s just the needs of a person which is beautiful in its own way.

A lot of Vasudhendra’s work revolves around the LGBT community, and while he was writing his work, he found it extremely difficult to find English equivalent words in regional languages. Rheea wonders why is it so? Vasudhendra says that transgender people have been addressed in history because the community was aware that they existed. But gay/lesbian related words do not exist because society did not know their existence until two years from now! He admits to having used a term equivalent to ‘queer,’ which is not a very respectable one.

Rheea added to the point, saying that families work in a role-based way. Like, the husband is the provider, and the wife is the caretaker. Such predefined notions have made society very rigid and have assigned duties even before they realize their identity. These things have led us as a community to not see beyond the horizon.

They concluded on a note that nobody needs to change to fit in. And we can be anything when we step out of a certain mindset and set ourselves free. Vasudhendra quoted this as his concluding line of the conversation, “If I can understand Shakespeare, you can understand me as well.”

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Last White Hunter – Joshua Mathew with Tony V Francis

This session was with Joshua Matthew, who penned down The Last White Hunter: Reminiscences of a Colonial Shikari, the biography of Donald Anderson, son of author and hunter Kenneth Anderson. Tony V Francis, a novelist and Media & Broadcasting professional with over 19 years of experience in the Indian Media industry, was very curious about knowing Joshua’s experiences throughout the journey of writing the book.

Joshua Matthew said the idea behind this book was to tell the extraordinary story of Donald and capture the changes in the jungles of South India and Bangalore during his lifetime. He wanted to shine a light on lesser-known aspects of Donald and the city’s past. He mentioned that all he had was Don’s story and his purpose was to tell it exactly the way it was, without any filters.

When Tony asked Joshua about his thought process when he started this project and how difficult it was for him to publish the book, Joshua talked about how he met Donald and accompanied him to his favourite jungles. He said he knew Don for 6 years, and during those years, Don gave him a fantastic collection of photographs and negatives starting from the late 1800s to the modern day. “I realized that nobody would be interested if I had just published the photographs. So I decided to tell his fascinating story and make the photographs a part of it.”, Joshua added. 

Speaking about the struggles of getting his book published, Joshua mentioned that the title and the story made it very challenging for him to find publishers. He said whenever he approached a publisher, it was always about the left and right way. The right side was about focusing on the right things like story and content. The left side was actually about building an audience for this book. So, he used to tell the publishers that if they would care about the publishing, he would take care of the selling. “The book took me 6 years because of Don’s health and other issues. So, I thought when the book was ready, I would already have an audience ready.” He added.

Later, the discussion revolved around Joshua sharing his experiences and conversations with Donald Anderson. He pointed out that his discussions with Don never really went in the way he wanted. He said he understood that a systematic or structured approach of asking questions and getting answers from Don wouldn’t work well. “It was difficult to get better insights from him before he got friendly with us. He wasn’t very open to talk and explain things. So we used to record his words secretly.” Joshua recalled.

Tony also shared some compelling lines from the forward of the book where T.N.A. Perumal, a wildlife photographer from Bangalore mentioned “Don and I are very similar. We are naturalists and the only difference was that I picked up a camera while he picked up a gun.” Joshua responded to this by quoting a few other words of Perumal where the latter once said whether it was hunting or photography, one had to understand and track the animals’ behaviour in the same way.

Towards the end, Tony emphasized the role of Aaya (Domestic help) who supported Don and mentioned that the stories she told were a big influence on his life. Joshua also talked about a few more interesting things about Don, and the colonial life in Bangalore during those times.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the Lights Within Us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Mythology via Women – Madhavi S Mahadevan, Rashmi Terdal and Samhita Arni with Mani Rao

Mythology is long-lived, and its retelling is spread across in various formats, from poems to fictional novels. It’s the second day of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020, and we had a panel of women writers who have written around mythical characters and stories.

Mani Rao, an author who featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry, was the moderator. In the panel, we had Madhavi; she’s a book critic and writer of children’s stories and short stories. She has written two books based on the characters of the Mahabharata. Next, we had Samhita Arni, known for her books ‘Sita’s Ramayana’ and ‘The Prince.’  Then we had Rashmi Terdal, journalist and writer, well known for her translation of ‘Uttara Kaanda’ by S. L. Bhyrappa.

Mani began the conversation by asking the ladies what led them towards writing around mythology and mythical characters.

Madhavi responded that she had heard the stories since her childhood, but it’s only now she realizes how bleak they are. She feels these tales not only need a retelling but a reinvention from a women’s perspective because the role of the women is undermined in the epics. She gives an instance from one of her books, the central character named Madhavi is a surrogate mother. And this story dates back to the Mahabharata times. It was an incident of commercial surrogacy, which is a huge business now.

Samhita shared her view that she had always heard mythical stories that glorify only men’s achievements. If we want to challenge our system for a change, both men and women should join hands and not just either of us. Thus, it is essential to bring forth victories and stories of women from the legacy to influence the future and current generations.

Rashmi said that the versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata that she had read were abbreviated and subdued from a women’s perspective. The female voice is kept submissive and mellow, whereas the men’s heroics are glorified. These things drew her towards writing on the mythical stories from the perspective of the women characters.

Mani asked the panel if their being women influenced their writing and if it would be different for a male writer?

Madhavi said that her being a woman has definitely helped her get to know her book’s character, ‘Madhavi’ more precisely. Samhita said that she was subconsciously driven since she is a woman even though she never wanted her gender to be influential. Rashmi adds to her previous point that Ramayan has always been obsessed with the duties bestowed upon women. She gives an instance where king Dasharatha reminds Kaushalya of her priorities (husband, children, and kinsmen). Then she jumps to another example where Sita leaves the Dharma-Sabha where her exile’s decision took place. Ram was disturbed after Sita left and expressed his concern to his minister, which is highlighted in the book ‘Uttara Kaanda’. She appreciates the writer for giving Sita the voice she deserved and that we need more such writing.

“A woman rejected by a man can cross oceans, but a man rejected by a woman cannot do anything.” – Ram’s words to his minister from the book ‘Uttara Kaanda.’

They concluded the session with a note that Sita was liberated when she left the Dharma-Sabha, and this is just one character from the mythology. There are great stories of women who rose above everything that needed to be told and written about.

About the Author: Puja Ambalgekar is an IT employee who finds writing, reading, and books in general as an outer space experience. She believes that words have the power to make the difference you intend to. She likes writing poetry, mythology, and technology. You can find her here. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | When the Headline Is the Story – Amandeep Sandhu, Neena Gopal and Nirmala Govindrajan With Aruna Nambiar

Writer and editor, Aruna Nambiar was in conversation with Neena Gopal, Amandeep Sahu and Nirmala Govindraj. A journalist for thirty-seven years, Neena Gopal is also the author of ‘The Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi’. Amandeep Sahu has authored two novels, of which ‘Roll of Honour’ was nominated for The Hindu Prize 2013. Journalist and social sector documentarian Nirmala Govindarajan’s new novel ‘Taboo’ has been shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize, 2020. As Aruna pointed out, the one common thing among these three authors was that their books were all inspired from their real life experiences and the subject of their books have been burning the headlines for months together. 

The three authors then spoke of their experiences that shaped their lives and writing.

Neena Gopal went on to talk about the persona of Rajiv Gandhi, his last interview with her and the happenings of the day when he was assassinated. She also briefed on consequences that followed. Aruna also asked her of the various conspiracy theories around Rajiv’s assassination. Neena thought that although the blame was pinned on the LTTE there was more to it than what met the eye. She spoke of how Rajiv overturned every decision that was made by Indira Gandhi and how it was a grave mistake to send Indian troops to Sri Lanka. She also opined that Rajiv was probably tricked by Jayewardene who used Indian forces for his own political ambitions. She mentioned how all information about LTTE’s role in the assassination of Rajiv came from Ranasinghe Premadasa and SITs mess up with Sivanesan’s arrest in Bangalore. She also spoke of Rajiv’s meeting with General Zia, the back-channeled peace talk with Pakistan and that Mossad and CIA did not see India as a friendly nation. Speaking of Rahul Gandhi, she said he has a long way to go and agrees with Aruna that he shouldn’t be referred to as a ‘young’ leader anymore. 

Amandeep Sahu spoke of Punjab, his family, his personal experiences as a boy in the midst of a political hellfire.When asked about how some paint him as a supporter of the Khalistani movement, Amandeep explained that it’s the work of trolls. Amandeep has been very vocal in his support for the ongoing farmers protest and that has irked some right wing supporters who call him pro-Khalistani. However, the translation of his novel ‘Roll of Honour’ in Punjabi titled ‘Gwah De Fanah Hon Ton Pehlan’ has been received well by all factions of Punjab. This is despite the fact that  the book is critical of the political machinery and various religious institutions of that state. Speaking of the farmers’ protest, Amandeep says that it has brought Haryana and Punjab along with the various ideologies within Punjab. He also went on to explain how the centre cannot arbitrate on a state subject. Amandeep insisted how with his writings he wanted to change the current political narrative that demonizes Punjab.

Nirmala then spoke of how she first came across child labour, sex trafficking in Odisha and rural Jharkhand and how that changed her life for ever. She also spoke of her experience with young women in Ooty and Kolkata who were rescued from sex trade, the developmental work being done by various NGOs in these region and how the individuals she met in these places inspired  her work. According to her no political party stepped into these areas and the plight of the tribal people she worked with had changed her opinion about reservation.

Aruna who had recently read Nirmala’s Taboo said she expected the book to be sombre and bleak given the seriousness of the subject. She was surprised to find it rather whimsical and that it made her smile. Nirmala in response said that the idea of writing fiction is to move away from reality to create the alternate reality. Also in her opinion, these girls and women, despite being survivors exude so much positivity that one can write nothing but a whimsical tale of them. When asked about how some of her characters seemed to have been inspired from the current political landscape, Nirmala said that her writings and creations are reflections of what she sees across the country. So her work is a satire on the political state of the country and not merely on sex trafficking. Nirmala also mentioned that her next  book is also a women-centric subject.Her advice for anyone who aspires to write such sensitive subjects is that they must feel strongly about it to be able to talk about it.

BLF2020 | Language, Literature and Translation – Vivek Shanbhag with Karthik Venkatesh

Language and literature are common to everyone, and yet they stand out in the multitude of forms they come in. The session with Vivek Shanbhag and Karthik Venkatesh is a beautiful dissection of language, content and the magic it brings to its audience.

Vivek Shanbhag is a popular Kannada writer who has published five short story collections, three novels and two plays. Vivek also engrosses himself in translation, and editing. Moderating this session with Vivek is Karthik Venkatesh, a writer whose work lies in the realms of history, language, literature, and education.

Going all the way to the beginning, Karthik nudges Vivek to share how it all began. “Fond memories of his grandfather, a teacher, and Yakshagana”, Vivek says. Vivek began his literary exploration when he was a teenager, with Kannada. His reading habits panned magazines, and often brought out many questions from an inquisitive young Vivek. The second one of course, was Yakshagana. Vivek’s thought processes and influence on his literary interests were pretty much shaped by the art form which typically uses stories from mythology. Yakshagana trained Vivek to look at it as art, as one that describes and helps one imagine a complete scene around a lone dancer on stage. The avatars, and the artistes, though finite, the stories that Yakshagana brought to life were aplenty! The same story, every time that it was retold, brought in a very different depiction of the episode, akin to his grand-aunt’s storytelling, Vivek recounts. How the same story begins at a kitchen, when in a kitchen, or someone’s broken ankle intrigued Vivek.

Although educated to be an Engineer, Vivek’s interests still lay with literature, he answers Karthik. May be a page or two for writers today to relate, a day job as an engineer frees the writer in him. There are no rules, or deadlines, or pressure that a literary career may bring, but is used more like a release.

Karthik’s next question in tow was on the long-standing debate of how non-English speakers could write in English. Although Vivek writes in Kannada, a similar logic applies here, since Vivek comes from a household that speaks Konkani. A polyglot himself, Vivek attributes his ability to write in Kannada since he studied it as his first language in school. He brings it back to his reference of Yakshagana, and how every writer is at awe at what is written only after the deed, and the surprises are what keep it going. He acknowledges how all this is possible only when the writer knows the language, the ebb and flow of emotions and language is only possible when there is a strong hold on vocabulary. He also talks about how, vernacular language writing stands an advantage over English, since it is a language that the common person would understand. English, even today, is not universal in its use, or even in its unity with the daily life of a stranger, and therefore, may not do much justice. The usage of ‘paroksha’, a metaphor, could be extremely local to the culture that may get lost in translation.

While Vivek justifies this, he also recounts how a translated material from early in his career seemed to nullify its purpose. Using words that meant ‘training’ or ‘machinery’ in Kannada, when the experience associated with it was in English, sound superficial, or even artificial, he says. Not just the vocabulary of a language, but also the experience within that makes writing more personal and relatable.

Speaking of such experiences, Karthik brings to the fore the kind of literary movements that have taken place in the past. He recounts that nothing of the sort has happened in the recent past and questions if such a need arises today. Vivek believes that a movement may be helpful to pan the spotlight over to a certain direction, and yet, it remains a spotlight. The presence of the movement, as seen in the past, may throw relevant, brilliant writing into a dark corner while the focus only stays on some.

Karthik throws light on one such movement, ‘Nayiwali Hindi’, where the focus is on the ‘Hinglish’ writing today. Could there be a similar one for Kannada? Vivek negates it. A language like Kannada has seen a very successful amalgamation of languages in its literary history. In the works of legendary writers like Da Ra Bendre, we see Marathi words, and in some others, we see a whole different dialect! That, he says, is what makes it unique. The experience and exposure of a writer to a language is what makes a writing of a certain kind, and that, is no issue at all.

As an editor, Vivek says, that it excites him to be the first to read many different works. It also brings to him a new age of young writers. Yet, but not with much remorse, he comments on the lack of time.

Literature and translations, have humbled him. To work on a translation means going through multiple works in languages he had once thought he’d known, and that adds to the whole experience and the magic that writing brings him.

About the Author: A believer in the subtlety of magic in everyday living, and Shobhana seeks the same from the books she reads, and the poetry she writes. Immerses herself in music, literature, art, and looking out the window with some coffee. She curates her poetry, and occasional verses in her blog Thinking; inking. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | The Zoo in My Backyard – Usha Rajagopalan with Tony V Francis

Keshava the Monkey, The Devil Family, and an exciting world of animals made up the conversation for this illuminating session. Usha Rajagopalan is a Bangalore based author who spoke passionately about the contents of her recent book, The Zoo in My Backyard.

Tony Francis interviewed Rajagopalan in this fun session. He began the session by commenting on how this book would make him a better father if his kids read them. He asked Rajagopalan to enlighten the audience about her life.

Rajagopalan had five siblings and belonged to a South Indian joint family. Her father had served in the IFS. He would bring back injured animals home, and Usha and her siblings would wait eagerly for him to return. Every time he came home, he’d surprise them with a new animal. Usha hadn’t realised that her family was unique until her friends pointed it out to her when they recalled seeing her in her backyard with a Black Monkey on their shoulders.

Usha had written this book to thank her father. She used to, initially, write for the Deccan Herald, about trysts she had with the animals she was brought up with. While looking back at her upbringing for her write-ups, it was then that she realised the unique upbringing her father had brought her up in. When Puttenahalli lake, a lake close to Usha’s house, was going extinct, her father’s voice in her head encouraged her to gather people and attempt to save the lake.

Tony Francis asked Usha why her family was called the “Devil Family”. Phantom comics was the inspiration behind this. One of the author’s brothers wanted a pet wolf, and her father instead, brought home a Rajapalayam Hound. She then recalled instances of other engagements with animals that seemed to have given her family the title of the ‘Devil Family’. Once she had gone to a party, where a little girl had yelled out loud to her mother, “Amma look, the devil family has come!”

Usha Rajagopalan then read an excerpt from her book. Her voice was sweet and she used different tones to suit the light-heartedness of her book. Listening to Usha’s narration of her book, Tony Francis marvelled that Usha has the mind of a child. Usha, responded excitedly, saying that she likes going into the world of her characters. Characters like the bear, whom Usha thought was grumpy, and Keshava the monkey help give her novel an anthropomorphic element. Her story-telling humanises the animals she grew up with, making her story more charismatic.

“How do you deal with attachment to pets, especially knowing that they’ll go away from your life eventually?” asked Francis. A lot of families choose to not have pets because of the potential for heartbreak. But as a parent, Usha realised, keeping pets helps gave children a sense of responsibility. We love our parents too, even when we know they’ll not be a part of our life anymore. Having a pet is just like that.

Usha recited another excerpt from her book, that brought our attention to Usha’s personality as a child. She was very argumentative as a child, and the paragraph she reads out brought out this trait of hers. Growing up, she learned a lot of bird calls. She has learnt different styles of “Kooos” to communicate with birds. She read out another excerpt from her book, that highlighted how she learned to communicate with a Cuckoo bird in her backyard.

Usha’s books have received praise from children of age seven to adults who are 80 years of age. Francis called the book a classic, and remarked on its timelessness. The session was quite heart-warming and made one think of their own childhood experiences with pets and animals.

About the Author: Anusha is a final year undergraduate student pursuing English Hons at Christ University. She can usually be found expressing her thoughts in the genres of social concerns and satires, often accompanied with a cup of chai. She currently writes for TheSeer.

BLF2020 | Grandparents’ Bag of Stories – Sudha Murty with Andaleeb Wajid

“I don’t write to please somebody. I write because I enjoy it” says Sudha Murty, an engineer, social worker, and one of the most prominent writers of India.

The first session of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020 witnessed an interesting conversation between Sudha Murty and Andaleeb Wajid. Andaleeb Wajid is a Bangalore-based writer whose famous works include The Tamanna Trilogy, The Crunch Factor, My Brother’s Wedding, and More Than Just Biryani.

The session circled around Sudha Murty’s latest book, Grandparents’ bag of stories. Andaleeb started the discussion by asking about the inspiration behind writing this book. Sudha Murty said, when the covid lockdown began in March, she was wondering what she would have done during this pandemic if she was a kid. Because she grew up in a village, she thought of her grandparents and how they would have told her a lot of stories. “I remembered I wrote a book ‘Grandma’s Bag of Stories’, and thought why don’t I write a sequel to it!” she recollected.

She pointed out that it took just 2-3 weeks to finish the book. While expressing her love towards the book, she compared its stories with pearls in a necklace and grandparents to the thread that holds the pearls together. She also added that she cherishes writing for children and young adults and recalled the sweetest comments she received from children.

When Andaleeb asked Sudha about her favourite choice between writing fiction and writing non-fiction, Sudha replied “When I was young, I used to enjoy fiction. Now, I don’t. For children, it has to be fiction. But for young adults, I prefer non-fiction as I always feel that life is stranger than fiction. In fiction, you imagine certain things, and it is directly proportional to the capacity of your imagination. When it comes to non-fiction, there are so many things that you cannot even imagine. There are no limits. Also, one can learn a lot from non-fiction and real life.”

Sudha threw some light on the kind of books she read in her childhood. She said she did not have much choice as there was no electricity or television in her village. Reading was the only entertainment in those times. She said she was more into epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata, further acknowledging that it helped her in writing mythology in later years.

Speaking about current generation kids, Sudha said, making their reading sessions more interactive is the best advice she could give to make them enjoy literature.

When she was asked about the closest book to her, Sudha mentioned that “House of cards” could be the closest one as she spent 15 years thinking about it and was not easily convinced with the output. “I write until I convince myself with my work” she added.

The session ended with Sudha Murty announcing her upcoming work which is going to be the second book of The Gopi Diaries Series. She plans to release it in January 2021.

About the Author: Sai Pradeep is an aspiring writer from Visakhapatnam who recently published his first collection of poetry, All the lights within us. He is working as a content writer in Bangalore. He currently writes for TheSeer.