BLF2020 | Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions – Sundeep Khanna and Varun Sood with Pankaj Mishra

This was a powerhouse of a conversation, in which Pankaj Mishra quizzed Sundeep and Varun, the authors of the book Azim Premji: The Man Beyond the Billions.

Azim Premji, the man beyond the book – what is it that Sundeep and Varun could not cover?  

Sundeep responded with a tinge of regret that they could not meet Premji or his family, as a result they could not get aspects such as his family’s reaction when he decided to give up 90% of his wealth to philanthropy. Though they got to speak with the Board and CEOs, Premji’s inputs would have enriched the book.

What defined who he is, what he could not become?  

Sundeep described the pivotal moment in the first years of this century for Premji as a business leader. After Wipro’s listing on the New York Stock Exchange, Wipro started losing steam. Pre-2000, Premji had not been hands-on in IT; later, when he did become hands-on, Wipro became a laggard compared to others like TCS and HCL, with margins slipping. This was pivotal since Premji got more into philanthropy.

Varun narrated how Premji wrote a ten-page letter to Welch on why the GE team should come to India and give Wipro a fair chance. He reflected on the irony that people in the industry greatly respect Premji, yet he had difficulty in finding CEOs (Wipro saw eight CEOs in the last two decades).

What will be his legacy?  

Varun spoke about the Wipro values that Premji created way back in 1971, which Indian IT companies are inspired by today – respect for customers, respect for employees, do business in the only way of doing it correctly.

Sundeep added that Premji has shown that path which is now a part of the DNA of the Indian IT industry – make money the right way, then give to society.

If you meet Premji, what questions would you ask him directly?  

Sundeep immediately responded, “At 75, what next?”. He wondered whether Premji would get deeper into philanthropy or take up any new projects in the offing. He would also ask Premji, if not IT, any other business he would have gotten into, and among competitors, who did he consider the fiercest.

Varun had a slightly more personal set of questions – what makes Premji happy? His perspective on the state of affairs in the country?

How would you compare Premji with other business leaders?  

Pankaj’s poser was not restricted to either business or philanthropy, but through multiple lenses of Premji as a personality. Sundeep responded that each leader has different perspectives, priorities,  and ambitions. Premji was a limited business leader compared to others because he chose to keep his ambitions checked. His vision for philanthropy makes him among the best in the world.

Pankaj had a comment on how Premji used to be vocal earlier, e.g. coming out about bad roads in Bangalore; however, during the past decade he has become a recluse. Sundeep remarked that Premji is who he is; he does not do anything to please anybody.

Managing Succession – Comparing Wipro and Infosys  

Pankaj got into further comparison and asked, “How do you compare Wipro and Infy on managing succession?”

Both Varun and Sundeep agreed that succession is better handled at Wipro. Varun reflected on how Rishabh went through a proper grooming and moved from ground up, which was planned and noiseless. Though Premji did overstay for a couple of years. Sundeep added that when Murthy brought in his son, there were murmurs. That said, he felt there are many factors which go into managing succession, hence they might not be the right people to comment on it from outside.

Q&A from Audience  

The first question from the audience was whether it is the culture in Bangalore that drives philanthropy. Sundeep called it ‘Serendipity’. Bangalore has become a hub for philanthropists, an ecosystem has been created with Murthy and Premji being role models. Varun’s take was that Bangalore is a young city with a diverse set of people and this drives philanthropy. Pankaj had a differing opinion – he said that the buck has stopped, the next generation of taking it forward is non-existent, which is a worrying sign.

The last poser was on the extent to which philanthropists impact policy. Varun disagreed to the premise and mentioned that philanthropists give away their money not to gain something from it, Sundeep added, “If someone was looking for power, they would keep the money, not give it away”. Pankaj gave a twist to the tale by saying that philanthropists do want to shape policy, since the future of their philanthropy depends on it, it is important to bring about an outcome.

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 | Crime and the City – Rachna Singh, V Sanjay Kumar and Zac O’Yeah with Krishna Udayasankar

The moderator for the session Crime and the city was Krishna Udayasankar who is known for her amazing works like The Aryavata Chronicles, Immortal, and Objects of affection. The panel included Rachna Singh, V. Sanjay Kumar, and Zach O’Yeah. Rachna Singh is a humour writer who was born and brought up in Allahabad. Her debut “Dating, Diapers and Denial” has earned good reviews from readers across the globe. V. Sanjay Kumar, is a Bangalore-based writer. His works include The Third Squad, Virgin Gingelly, and Artist, Undone. Zach O’Yeah is a crime novelist who has published 18 books of which many are bestsellers. He is also a literary critic, playwright, performer, director, and musician.

The session kick-started with Krishna Udayasankar asking “Why the city or place plays a major role in crime writing?” Sanjay Kumar has brilliantly answered it by sharing his first memory of the crime and his experiences related to white-collared crimes in Mumbai. Zach O’Yeah felt that sometimes it’s difficult to translate crime writings from one language to another language as the nature of crime differs from one place to another place and he strongly stated that the city plays a major role in shaping crimes and criminals. He said that the cultural aspects of India set it apart from other countries. He believes that every writing reflects a particular culture and because of those cultural differences, there cannot be a generic city. He further added that because of all these factors, ‘where the plot is set’ is as important as the plot itself in a crime novel. Following up on the conversation, Rachna Singh shared her views about the same by sharing her thoughts on cities like Allahabad and Mumbai.

According to Sanjay Kumar, the most important part of crime writing is not just describing the city but it’s more about the set of characters the city creates. He shared some interesting things about a few characters from his previous books to give some insights into how the city plays a crucial role in building the mindsets of individuals. Making the conversation more interesting, Zach O’Yeah shared about his travel writing job, mentioning how he enjoys exploring different cities and writing about them. He especially talked about how amused he was while travelling in Bangalore and getting to know a wide range of fascinating things about it. He made a valuable point by saying “When it comes to novels, it’s different. It’s not like ‘my city’ I am talking about in my writings but I am talking about a city from the point of view of the person in the book. It is what makes things more challenging as a fiction writer; the need to write from a general perspective. Also, what defines a city is how comfortable it is for other people, the ones who are not as privileged as you are. We should think with intellectual empathy.”

The session had its fair share of laughter when Krishna Udayasankar asked everyone to describe different cities in a single word. All the panel members displayed a great sense of humor and came up with the funniest responses.

The next part of the session saw Sanjay Kumar reading an excerpt from his latest book and expressing his thoughts about it. Later, Zach O’Yeah pointed out that there are neither completely black characters nor completely white characters in his books; it’s always a mixture of them, all characters are grey.

The session ended with panel members discussing contemporary crimes and the way they affect the style of crime writing.

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 | The Story of My Captivity, Survival and Freedom – Hamid Ansari and Geeta Mohan with Chandan Gowda

Chandan Gowda is a professor at Azim Premji University and moderated the session. Geeta Mohan is a foreign affairs editor at India Today TV Network and covers international relations and diplomacy. She met with Hamid Ansari at his house’s basement, to work on the book – The Story of My Captivity, Survival and Freedom. Hamid Ansari has previously worked with the Rotary club and has volunteered at the UN. He is presently a visiting faculty at a Mumbai college and is a motivational speaker.

Hamid Ansari had gone to Pakistan to help out a young girl who was struggling to live in a conservative household. The two had met online and Fiza had revealed to Hamid about her painful life. She had begun to see suicide as her only option to get out of her tragic life and Hamid upon realising this wanted to help her out. After reaching out to various NGOs, he decided to go to Pakistan and help her out in person. It is when he reached Pakistan, that his life completely changed. The Pakistani guards suspected him as an Indian spy and put him in solitary confinement at Peshawar. He was at that solitary confinement for six whole years and later was shifted to civil jail. A long and hard battle was fought for him by his mother, and it was because of her efforts, and a few others that he could return back to India. The book was written when Hamid’s case was brought to light, and Hamid’s lawyers had asked him to start journaling his experience at the Pakistani holding.

When Hamid came to India, he was taken aback by the efforts taken by people back at home. He realised that his capture was only half of the story. There was another narrative critical to the story- that of his mother and Zeenat, who went to great lengths to bring him back. Pakistani officials denied Hamid’s capture and his existence on the Pakistani soil. It was his mother’s relentless efforts to keep finding a way out of this horrific mess that had saved his life.

Geeta talked about how establishing the construct of the book was a tough job. The story wouldn’t strike someone if it had not been written in first person. Reader’s needed to know, how each individual was involved in bringing Hamid Ansari back. Hamid Ansari’s life in the solitary confinement facilities in Pakistan brought up a lot of discussions. Hamid explained what his life was like in the cell. For six years, he was alone and without any communication. Hamid attributed the divine power and faith in God to his motivation to keep going. Every time he prayed; Hamid coincidentally received answers from the officials.

His case took more and more shape as he prayed. It was his faith, Hamid said that helped him stay alive. Writing the book was difficult for him because it constantly brought back repressed memories of his mental health in the holding. He started to fight back with the Pakistani officials, when they told him that his words hurt their sentiments. Geeta was very happy with how their book was received. Journalists who’ve read the book have remarked how it was very nuanced in how Hamid’s case was handled. It also reflected India-Pakistan relationship. Even when Hamid faced tremendous torturous situations, in the book, he is very humble about his interactions with Pakistani civilians. People have cried reading the book, which meant that it touched them. This, Hamid thought, was the mark of a successful narrative.

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.

Like what you just read? Become TheSeer Insider. You will be receiving one letter from us every Friday to help you spend a more mindful day and make the best of your weekend. Enter your email id below and click on subscribe. We won’t spam you, ever!

BLF2020 | Writing Satire – Moni Mohsin with Milan Vohra

This Day 2 session between the two authors was filled with lighter moments and narratives. Moni Mohsin, one of the wittiest Pakistani writers, currently in London, joined remotely. Milan Vohra, known as India’s first Mills & Boon author, was the moderator.

Milan asked Moni if there is a lot of pressure to be funny in real life? Moni confessed that sometimes there is. She quoted a funny incidence and said that she does disappoint people some time and is taken aback too with their candour.

Milan asked about her journey from the early writings of the satirical column “The Diary of a Social Butterfly” in The Friday times to the book by the same name. Moni explained that earlier the column was her own journey. Later she wanted to write about women’s issues on a lighter note. Her inspiration came by another daily life instance when she heard two women talking. That was how the butterfly was born.

Moni then narrated a piece she had written recently regarding the second spite of COVID. This was about a woman who is stuck at home and goes on with a monologue. The way Moni narrated the entire piece was hysterical and fun to hear. Milan asked if Moni’s humour affects her real-life relationships. Moni said that it does not. She also confirmed that most people do not place themselves in her satire.

The next question was if westerners identify with the characters in Moni’s book. To this, Moni said that while the language and cadences are specific to India and Pakistan, the overall essence of the butterfly character is universal. Her publisher’s view is that living in a bubble of entitlement and privileged is the theme of the butterfly. One finds butterflies in all parts of the world where there are inequality and injustice.

Milan also raised her doubts on the difficulties of using humour in written words without phonetics. But in Moni’s writing, they are enunciated very beautifully. Moni said that her inspiration is fellow Lahoris and Indians she even now meets in London. She spoke about how her mind records everything she observes and sees around.

Milan’s next question was on how Moni knows if her readers will get it since satire is one of the toughest genres. Moni confessed that sometimes writing satire is difficult as readers don’t get it. She quoted Animal Farm as an example. She said that it was an easy journey to convert it into a book, as she already had characters, the plot, the world they operated in, so finding a story was not difficult.

Milan’s next set of questions were on whether being an outsider helped? Did it juxtapose bringing insider view of the character? Moni confirmed that in contrast, it gave a greater perspective when one is removed from a situation. It emboldens and permeates your own consciousness enabling you to write with free stance.

When asked on how does Moni balance the zoomed-in and out perspective, she confessed that she herself is the butterfly. This brought some laughter. She went on explaining that she is an outsider because she is sitting outside. But an insider because she was born and brought up in that class. The class where everyone is worried about their image and appearances.  She tries to bring all of that in the butterfly. She can access their interiorities and see them from outside.

Milan asked if it was a struggle to explain too much to westerners sometimes. Moni agreed on this aspect. She elaborated that westerners mostly want books on deeper topics about terrorism, war, etc. from our subcontinents. They do not want humour. She also said that to carry this responsibility of explaining your society is huge and difficult.

Milan then asked if satire could be non-political. Moni’s views on this were that while there is a social satire, she thought everything in life is political in nature, whether with the capital ‘P’ or not.

Milan also questioned Moni’s view on satire involving betrayal. To this Moni explained that to write satire successfully, one must expose hypocrisy or injustice or something that you know of and that comes from a place of your close experience. In that way, one betrays one’s circle. But most authors write composite characters that are not recognizable. Moni also said that most successful satires are cruel. She quoted an example of her favourite book Handful of Dust.

Milan then asked about differences in satire, sarcasm, and parody. Moni explained that sarcasm is a cheap shot. It does not require imaginative feat. Parody is a take on book or film. Milan asked about the new book The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R. Moni said the new book was a racy mix of love and politics.

The session ended on a lighter note with Moni mimicking while answering Milan’s lighter questions.

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 | Art at Stages, Salons, Streets and Stories – Bruce Guthrie, Lynne Fernandez, Tim Brinkman and Varun Gupta with Sadhana Rao

In the times of Covid-19, the new “normal” has found an evolving meaning. Earlier, one could very easily find themselves at any theatre, enjoying live performances and consuming art. Today, these performances have found a platform away from the usual theatres. They are digitalized, and anybody can attend them from their phones, or an electronic device. The panel for this discussion deliberated on just that- the nuances of art finding a path on a digital platform.

The session had three segments and began with the speakers introducing themselves. Tim Brinkman joined the panel from Mumbai, where he is working on a project to establish an art centre. This project is under the banner of the Ambani industries.

Lynne Fernandez has been leading Nrityagram, situated in Bangalore, for the past 20 to 30 years. Nrityagram offers dance programs, to both professional and for non-professional dancers.

Bruce introduced himself by reflecting on all the odd jobs he did at the start of his career. He has been living in Mumbai for 15 months, and has been engaged with the art sector for several years.

Varun Gupta showed his work to the audience through slides of different exhibitions he had conducted. The styles of his art exhibitions were especially interesting. His exhibitions were physical art installations, set up at public places. The placement of these exhibitions is what caught the eye of the audience- they were put up at places which a common person would usually walk past. They were set up in unique positions, and were filled with meaning.

The second segment of the discussion went into a more detailed conversation about each of the panelist’s work and how they manage their respective artistic inclinations.

Lynne spoke about her involvement with Nrityagram. She was brought into Nrityagram by Protima, who was the main head behind the project. Nostalgically, she spoke about Vasanta Hubba, a free festival, that was used to invite a big audience from all kinds of backgrounds. Nrityagram developed in three ways- through community building, by teaching courses in dance, and by having an ensemble that performs around the town to help earn money.

Bruce worked with the National Institute of the Performing Arts and talked about the corner stones of his involvement. Art, Bruce said, should be inclusive for all. Currently, he is working to help enable people to be a part of artistic platforms in the best way possible.

Varun explained how he got into his artistic endeavours and distinctive exhibitions. He started playing with his ideas in 2010, when he took over train stations and exhibited art there. Inclusivity in art, Varun said, was through the eyes of children and their perception.

Tim spoke about digital relationships. Artists cannot be kept in a box, and the pandemic has proved just that. Artists have started to perform digitally. Art will definitely see more growth in this platform.

In the final segment, Sadhana asked the panelists about the future mapping of art. It was surprising how every speaker agreed with Tim when he made an argument about theatres and the live experience of performances. Art may have shifted online, but it does not become a performance without a live audience getting moved by it. When people finally come back to the theatres, it is going to be great. Lynne was grateful that the pandemic happened at a time when we can afford to be digitalized.

It might be safe to say, that after attending a virtual session, everyone is extremely nostalgic about live theatre!

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 | A Literary Decade: Out of Print – Jahnavi Barua, Raza Naeem, Rheea Mukherjee, Samhita Arni, Tanuj Solanki, Vasudhendra and Zui Kumar-Reddy with Indira Chandrasekhar

The session consisted of writers and editors for the literary magazine ‘Out of Print’. These panelists included Raza Naeem, Rheea Mukherjee, Samhita Arni, Tanuj Solanki, Vasudhendra, and Zui Kumar-Reddy. The panelists joined in to celebrate the release of the book published by Out of Print which consists of numerous short stories from around the country.

What role did Out of Print play in your literary journey?

This was the question posed by Indira Chandrasekhar, the moderator, and the founding editor, to the panelists. Raza Naeem, a translator, shared his experience with this literary magazine which started about 4 years ago. He spoke about his journey as an Urdu translator and how Out of Print nurtured his passion and interest in translating. Chandrasekhar even described him as a bridge between them and the 20th century Urdu literature.

Next, Rheea Mukherjee, a writer, took us through her journey as a diasporic writer who moved to the US and moved back here. She spoke about the connections she built, other magazines she engaged with, and the people she met thanks to Out of Print. Her talk was followed by Vasudhendra, a writer who too shared his experience with Out of Print as a Kannada writer who got his works translated and published in their literary magazine. He briefly spoke about Kannada literature and then about the quality of translation and editing work that was done.

Zui Kumar-Reddy, a writer, told the audience about her thoughts on the kind of works that Out of Print publishes, which she deemed to be like a library of ideas. She admired the concise nature of the short stories they publish. She also spoke about how it helped her grow as a writer. Tanuj, a writer, was up next. He revealed how in 2010 he was flirting with the idea of writing and stumbled upon Out of Print. After three rejections, he finally got published for the first time which was the start of his journey with this magazine. He spoke very affectionately about how much this platform helped him grow as a writer and the special place it holds in his journey of writing.

Samhita Arin, an editor, came next to share her journey with Out of Print which she experienced from the very beginning of its birth. She spoke about the community of writers that she had joined and her experience in editing so many inspiring works. After this, a few  editors of this magazine joined the session virtually, which included Vandana Devi, Mira Brunner, Leela Levitt, and Ram Sadasiv. They shared their joy about the release of the anthology ‘A Literary Decade’. The session was wrapped up with a very interactive question-answer round which nudged Chandrasekhar to talk about the start of this magazine, the process of curation, the voice it gave to the marginalized communities, and so much more.

About the Author: Immersed in the process of unlearning and relearning different values and ideas, Nanditha Murali chooses writing as her medium to approach the world. She is currently pursuing her English (Honours) degree at Christ University, Bangalore. She currently writes for TheSeer.

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.