As feminism is finding strong ground today, it is nothing but essential to look into the past and realise the importance of women who were as much a part of mythology as their male counterparts.With this idea, on the bright Sunday morning of Day 2 of Bangalore Literature Festival, Ira Mukhoty and Kavita Kane sat with Reena Puri.
RBI, Government & Individuals: It’s Complicated
While most expect a dry little discussion when it comes to economics or the Reserve Bank of India, the session with MS Sriram, YV Reddy, and TCS Srinivasa Raghavan broke all those assumptions hands down! With wit, humour, and extensive knowledge coming together, 45 minutes flew by in a bunch of laughs, and many, many head nods. YV Reddy served as the Governor of the RBI between September 2003 and 2008 and has also held various positions of high importance. He is also an eminent writer on economic issues, with his latest book being ‘Advice & Dissent: My Life in Public Service’. TCS Srinivasa Raghavan’s experience is also extremely vast. He’s the General Editor of RBI History, VOLUME 3, and a Consultant to RBI History, Volume 4.
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Women Travelling Alone
Chhimi Tenduf-La, a promising new author with immaculate sense of humor, shared the couch with Meenal Baghel, Editor of Mumbai Mirror; Pilar Maria, a prominent architect; and Jessy James, a traveling poet and a hip hop artist for an interesting conversation about women travelling alone.
The Way I see It
It has been barely two months since the journalist Gauri Lankesh died. Yet her murder still sends chills down our spines when we think of it. Gauri Lankesh was shot in cold blood by unknown assailants, presumably for taking on religious fundamentalists. In the spirit of remembering and celebrating all she stood for, ‘The Way I see It—A Gauri Lankesh Reader’ was launched at the Bangalore Literature Festival today. ‘The Way I see It—A Gauri Lankesh Reader’ is a compilation of her writings. The book has been edited by Chandan Gowda, and the foreword has been written by Paul Zacharia.
Chandan Gowda, Paul Zacharia, and Kanhaiya Kumar launched ‘The Way I see It—A Gauri Lankesh Reader.’ Each of them received a copy of the book from Gauri Lankesh’s mother, Mrs Indira Lankesh. Seeing her fight tears while presenting a copy of the book to each panelist was a painful sight to behold.
Chandan Gowda gave everyone a small brief about the book’s contents, which consists of her early essays and news articles. Then Paul Zacharia reminded us of the inclement conditions that journalists have to face while reporting the truth. Gauri paid with her life for being a decent human being. If such is the state of modern Indian society, then the India where one could be fearless is gone.
However, it was Kanhaiya Kumar’s rousing tribute to Gauri Lankesh that touched minds and hearts. Kanhaiya Kumar confessed that he had been approached to write for the book, but couldn’t because he found it extremely difficult, to sum up his friendship with Gauri Lankesh in a few words. It was Gauri who had been a genuine friend during the hard days he had faced in jail. Gauri had nurtured him and cared for him like a mother, and she often visited him in jail.
According to Kanhaiya, she was extremely dedicated to her work, yet happy and free-spirited. She loved her family and had deep respect for her parents. Kanhaiya was particularly touched by her acknowledgement of her mother’s contribution towards her upbringing.
Gauri was a journalist with great integrity. Her newspaper did not have any advertisements— such was her commitment to quality and impartiality. She was critical of various political ideologies, yet accommodative towards them at the same time. When asked if she was afraid, Gauri told Kanhaiya, “If my fear of death increases, my will to fight decreases.” Such was the strength of her fighting spirit
Kanhaiya urged us to keep Gauri’s memory alive by taking the fight forwards and being courageous. He urged us to derive strength for taking on the establishment, from our love and grief.
About the Author – Madhumati is an avid reader who dabbles in poetry every now and then.Her poems can be found at It Can get Verse. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.
The Sanitization of Women in Indian History
Ira Mukhoty’s session on ‘The Sanitization of Women in Indian History’ was an eye-opener. In the duration of about half an hour, all the one-dimensional narratives surrounding a few historical and mythological women came tumbling down. The complexities of these women’s characters emerged, instead.
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The Writer’s Role in Speaking Out
As it is said often, the pen is mightier than the sword. According to the Malayalam short-story writer Paul Zacharia, it is the duty of writers to speak out because they are the wielders of the pen. Writers should confront vested interests in the government, the political system, religious organizations, and businesses. However, confronting these vested interests is not easy because they have the power and the heft to manipulate the psyche of all those within their reach, even writers.
Chasing Bin Laden
In an interview with author Rohini Mohan, Adrian Levy, an investigative journalist for 20 years, shared his thoughts about his explosive new book, The Exile, an insider look at Osama bin Laden and the workings of Al-Qaida. The book was written like a spy thriller that travels through every corner of the living rooms of Bin Laden, his family and Pakistan/Afghanistan generals to clear the preconceived notions about Al-Qaida members in hiding in Pakistan and Iran between 2001 and 2011.
Blogging Podcasting Anyone?
In India, blogging became a widespread hit when it first came into being. It is easy to write a blog, it is mostly free, and it is fun. For today’s everyday netizens, especially for those who like to read and write a bit, blogging has always been a huge getaway and has remained omnipresent in their daily lives of for the past decade or so. It pretty much still is, right? Hold on to that thought for a while.
On the second day of Bangalore Literature Festival, Amit Varma – a very popular and established novelist based in Mumbai – gave a short speech on the current state of blogging and podcasting and then had a detailed Q&A session with the audience. Amit strongly believes blogging has shaped the way modern-day netizens think or communicate. A blog could transcend geographical and cultural boundaries and could create disruption, and challenge the status quo.
Blogging checked and challenged the main-stream media in a way nothing had ever done before. People were no longer dependent on mainstream media for information or perspective. On the other hand, creative content writers could set aside rules and restrictions that come attached with the mainstream and could enjoy this new found freedom to express their wish & will, without anything to worry about. Blogging simply meant better writing or reading experience. It meant freedom.
But according to Amit, the likes of social media giants such as Facebook & Twitter have unfortunately and unknowingly killed blogging. To easily reach audiences, and to get quicker response and feedback on creative content, most of the blogging lot has shifted to mainstream social media. There are niche blogs for specific content like technology or Photography, but the core essence of blogging, when anybody could open up his or her PC and write his or her mind out without caring for who is going to read or comment, is missing. In today’s social media, writing a speech is easy and making a mockery out of something or somebody is even easier. Notwithstanding the benefits of social media, it does create polarization.
Blogging indeed is a bit passive, whereas, on social media, everything is instant and real-time, and hence the shift. Instant gratification as some might call it. Somebody could argue that social media makes it easier to get audiences, but the whole point of blogging was to not care for audiences! The author also argued that social media gave rise to fake news and confirmation bias i.e. the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one’s existing beliefs or theories. “People believe what they want to believe” – said Amit in a pessimistic tone, and pointed out to the market for fake news. There is a ton of unverified information on social media and based on that same information, people are getting divided and polarized every day. Creating social unrest at such a huge scale was never so easy.
So what can we do, except turning a blind eye?
Some people are actually doing something about this. Amit mentioned of Pratik Sinha’s Alt News – an anti-propaganda and fact-checking website. Their job is to fish through the internet for fake news and expose the truth. But thanks to social media, the sort of scale at which fake news works in present India, more such people and websites are needed and hopefully, they will come.
Amit went on to talk about how nascent is podcasting in India and there is a lot of scope for such a culturally new concept. But according to him, creating content for a podcast – an episodic series of digital audio or video is a more serious business than casual blogging.
When asked about the future of podcasts in India, the novelist said that the key lies in the quality of content and the overall presentation. Working on these two parameters will drive growth and help create such an eco-system.
Finally, the author finished mentioning that the advances in technology are a huge relief. Even though present-day governments are deploying more restrictions, and can try to control and monitor our everyday lives in future, we can use technology to pass on the right information to people and empower them. But whether they will make the ‘right’ choices, is something the author seemed surprisingly pessimistic about. Maybe he wants us, the netizens, to answer that question for him.
About the Author: Soumik Seth is an avid follower of music, current affairs, stock market, economy, and filmography. He currently writes for Bookstalkist.
Separated at Birth – India & Pakistan at 70
The realization of true ramifications of the partition of India would be perhaps an ever-developing phenomenon and the people of the divided regions would have to look back at the tragic beginnings of the process every once in awhile. When we stand at a distance of about 70 years from the partition, it would serve us well to look back and measure our progress in all the years in between then and now. The session ‘Separated at Birth – India & Pakistan at 70’ was aimed at such an introspection and a measured reflection of the ever vacillating fortunes of the two countries.
Journalist and filmmaker Adrian Levy, Lt. General Kamal Davar who has written ‘Tryst With Perfidy – Pakistan and its Deep State’, Former IFS officer and Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan (2013-15) TCA Raghavan, and feminist publisher and writer who has authored ‘Borders & Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition’ formed the panel with Nitin Pai, the co-founder and director of the Takshashila Institution playing the moderator. Nitin Pai brought in Bangladesh too to the equation and asked Raghavan about what Pakistan got right in the last 70 years. Raghavan began by explaining how the partition was an event that affected not only India and Pakistan but there were about three to four more partitions that took place at the same time. With India and Pakistan, Punjab was divided and also Bengal was divided. The Pathans were divided by the Durand line between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Apart from these, the Muslim community itself got divided. This partition did cast a shadow that continues to live till today. Coming to the question of what Pakistan had done right, Raghavan quoted a South Korean Ambassador who once told him that he envied our relationship with Pakistan pertaining to the shared lifestyle and choices. This was because we are doing just fine when compared to South Korea – North Korea. Pakistan and India also worked together on the complex issue of the Indus water sharing.
Pai asked Davar if the Indian army had an admiration for the Pakistani army. Davar admitted that both the armies shared a common root and hence there is a sense of admiration but the attitude from the other side had been myopic and they have harboured a pathological and obsessive hatred towards India. In the same breath, he also appealed to all the political parties that when it came to the issues of national security, they must not politicize them.
At this point, Ritu was invited to bring in the Bangladesh angle by the moderator. Ritu said that she was essentially a partition family and life had become a before and post-partition phenomenon in her growing up years. “The partition was being lived by the divided families and not by the army or the government.”, said Ritu. Ritu explained that she had started studying the partition from all the three perspectives of India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and found out that the partition study was essentially a preoccupation of the Indians. While Pakistan developed a new nation narrative and Bangladesh developed a revolution centric narrative, they never had a desire to look back at partition. Ritu lamented the absence of any kind of historiography of Pakistan and Bangladesh partition. For her, the partition has remained an unfinished business for all the three countries. “Even for the partition of Bengal in 1905 and 1911, no one really knows anything.”, added Ritu.
Adrian joined the discussion from a traveller’s perspective. Since he has travelled extensively on both sides of the border and has not been tainted by diplomacy, he has seen a struggle for democracy in both the countries. He spoke of successive failures of democracy in Pakistan, Nawaz Sharif’s ouster being the latest, and how this was a bad thing for India. On a euphemistic tone, Adrian told the audience that Imran Khan who calls himself a crusader for freedom of speech and democratic values, owns the largest residential property in the protected green belt of Islamabad and the wastewater from his wash dumps into the reservoir that supplies water to the city implying that Imran Khan was perhaps doing the same to the country. Adrian also spoke about the role of China and Iran in the equation.
While Dawar admitted being an unabashed admirer of Indira Gandhi for her role in one of the most crucial victories of the Indian military, Raghavan said that leaders like Indira Gandhi or Bhutto in Pakistan had a deeply divided legacy. However, it was also true that the democratic institutions of India have always set a benchmark for the neighbouring countries.
The panellists mutually agreed that India has at times exaggerated its role in Pakistan and Bangladesh. Raghavan said, “Pakistan has 200 million people and is nuclear-armed. What India can do to foster democracy in Pakistan is a superficial question. It is for the people of Pakistan to do it. All we can do is play immediate neighbours.”
“Twinkle Twinkle little star
I am going to hit you with a car.”
Yes, Twinkle Khanna did say that, very eloquently in fact. To an unfortunate man in the audience who drew her ire by cracking jokes on her name, she responded in her funny fashion (no pun intended). Welcome to the session reigned by Mrs. Funnybones. The one takeaway from this session was that Twinkle Khanna is funny not only in her name, Funnybones (not Twinkle, please note) but also in her persona. Oh, I almost forgot to mention that she also agreed to endorse an audience’s book on Motherhood. We hope you haven’t forgotten it, Twinkle Khanna, because we haven’t.
Twinkle Khanna’s Legend of Lakshmi Prasad won the popular choice award for the best book that was given by Atta Galatta. Her acceptance speech highlighted how this award might go a long way in allaying the guilt that every mother has when they devote even a nanosecond to any pursuit other than family. Her guilt and her wish for multiple hands were actually one that helped to see her as a woman like any of us. It also led me to think that maybe the reason why some Indian Goddess have multiple hands is that like Twinkle they might have needed it to sauté the chicken with one hand, feed the children with one hand, and pour the gin to their husband by another.
During the session, Darius Sunawala was ever ready with his wittiest questions to draw out her humorous self. I particularly liked her honesty when she said the primary reason she will always treasure this award given by Atta Galatta is that she got it after beating 5 other popular male authors. She also later clarified that she would love to be known primarily as an author, not just as a ‘female’ author. This shows how the issue of the label is something that even an empowered women like her struggle to shed every day.
Her anecdotes about her family were well appreciated by the audience. She narrated how she used to write poetry on madness when she was a child, which her mother has blissfully forgotten now and romanticizes it by saying that Twinkle used to write poetry on mangoes, not madness. In another instance in her speech, Twinkle narrated what happened when she scored 97 in mathematics. Her mother responded to it by saying that her marks now match her weight. All these anecdotes did seem funny at first, but when I reflect on them, they seem a little sad. However, her other lines like ‘equality was a right with which she grew up and not a privilege’, sheds another light on her. She herself admitted that it was only when she was 35 that it dawned on her that not all women see equality as a right.
The session always showed a facet of her that most audiences did not know. It is a widely known fact that Twinkle Khanna herself did not like her acting. How much she disliked the same became clear when someone from the audience complimented her on her acting skills. Twinkle Khanna adamantly refused. It was actually very funny when they went back and forth, the person in the audience refusing to admit that Twinkle is a bad actress and Twinkle Khanna not backing out in her attempt to make that fact clear. However, when Twinkle Khanna admitted that she started acting because it was the easiest way to ease the burden on her mother, all of us in the audience finally understood her.
Her views on BJP regime is not something that we are unaware of. When asked about where she gets her sense of humour, Twinkle replied that she got it from her Gujarati grandfather. She was quick to add that Gujaratis actually have a sense of humour, which people might not believe looking at the BJP there. At another point in the session when prodded by Darius Sunawala to comment on the state of the present government, Twinkle’s reply was that if Asian Paint launches new paints according to seasons, then in this season orange would be the new black!
The session saw a large audience, even sitting down or standing sandwiched between people. I even had to brave the crowd pushing me north, east, and west while I was running to attend her session. The main reason people and I love her is because she refuses to play safe. In a country where writers are silenced just for speaking up, I hope she triumphs. In that triumph, many more writers will take birth. That’s the beauty an empowered woman writer can bring about.
About the Author: Vibhuthi Viswanathan is a Potterhead and chocoholic.Curling up with the ‘Balabhumi’ and spinning out tales from its illustrations to her little brother was her first interactions with a book. Although she has moved on from good old BalaBhumi, she still hasn’t stopped twirling words and pauses. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.
Aadhaar – Dystopia or Utopia
The title can be simplified to ask if Aadhaar is slavery or not but this is not how our moderator Charles Assisi decided to put the topic into discussion, he said that when Henry Ford created a motorcar, the pertinent question was ‘do you create a motorcar first or do you create roads first?’.
Mr.Jairam Ramesh, former Minister of Rural Development, answered directly and said that he was part of the team which initially conceptualised Aadhaar. It was basically used to establish one’s identity. This meant Aadhaar’s work was limited to only tell you who you were and not to tell you what benefits you were entitled to. It was a technological tool to help government cut out duplication but everything changed after 2014 (when BJP came into power) to which the moderator questioned his pro-aadhaar stand in 2009 and Jairam Ramesh explained it as a beginning and not as a solution to solve exclusion errors of government schemes. To quote him “I believed in a different Aadhaar which was Aadhaar 1.0’’.
Commenting on the technology behind Aadhaar, Mr.Arun Maira who was closely linked with the issue, initially said that Aadhaar is a fine technology and like any other technology, this too had its own loopholes and if one looks at the global picture everyone is facing the backlashes of technology. Privacy of data needs to be given its due importance and all the countries are suffering and trying to come up with regulations for it. Jairam Ramesh responded to this saying that in 2010, a bill came in the parliament which asked to govern the use of Aadhaar but it was rejected lock, stock, and barrel. Had this bill been into the picture then, much of the atrocities which are happening currently could have been avoided. Sanjay Jain, who was the Director of this program said about the technology that it was very flexible when it was implemented. This meant any old person was exempted and given Aadhaar card if the person’s fingerprints are not identifiable. But as in India things get lost in translation from source to beneficiaries, this same happened for Aadhaar. Thus, this issue is not a conflict of purpose but of execution of multiple complex data.
Jairam Ramesh ended by presenting two oppositions to Aadhaar, the first was the larger exclusion done by Aadhaar and secondly the expansion of Aadhaar to large number of areas without consent. His advice then to those in power is to not oversell Aadhaar but rather try to take a precautionary approach to the matter. One can identify sitting in a minister’s session if there are theatrical bits involved. In this session, Ramesh tried to bring consensus against Aadhaar by voting through raising of hands.
About the Author – Kalpita is a Bachelor in English Literature. Her ultimate goal is to fulfill the romantic notion of changing the world for better and she is pursuing MA in Development from Azim Premji University, Bangalore. She currently writes for Bookstalkist.
Literary Fiction – An Endangered Species?
The evening session started with Italo Calvino’s words for classics ‘books that are treasured by the readers who loved it and also for the first first time readers, those books are classics.’ Imraan Coovadia asked about the relevance of classics to all the three writers who were from very different backgrounds – one writer Lu Jingjie was from China whereas Rajorshi Chakraborti is an Indian writer living in New Zealand, and we had Ambai, a senior writer from Tamil Nadu.
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