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.

I’m OK, You’re OK – Exploring Mental Landscapes

The biggest panel of Bengaluru Literature Festival focused on breaking mental health barriers and was moderated by Amandeep Sandhu, author of the novel ‘Sepia Leaves’.

The conversation involved remarkable writers and pioneers of mental health awareness. Amandeep started the session by sharing his views about mental illness and asked each of the panelists the same. 

 

According to him, it is a double-edged sword where the victim suffers alone. Contradictorily, he mentioned his third book titled ‘Journeys Through Fault Lines’, wherein he found peace in the visits of Punjab’s mental asylums. The recipient of RK Narayan award, Gayathri Prabhu put across the answer highlighting her journey that led to ‘Memoir If I Had To Tell It Again’ which was not only the outcome of the unfinished conversation with her father who passed away but also a zeal to share her story. 

 

As a professor at Manipal Institute, Karnataka, she was inspired to provide resources for the student community who shared their stories about mental illness. She shed light on the importance of her journey of 3 years as a writer, teacher, counselor, and advocate.

 

 

Himanjali Sankar, a Young Adult genre author, shared her fascination as a reader of books involving marginalized characters. She commented that her works were blurred lines between reality and fiction. Himanjali said that her teen novel ‘The Lies We Tell’ was more research-based than her personal story, as it is about a 17-year-old boy suffering from depression. Another novel ‘Mrs. C remembers’ was closely tied to her life involving a fictionalized character based on her mother suffering from Alzheimer’s. 

 

Psychiatrist Dr. Shyam Bhat’s take on mental illness was that it is difficult to describe, as it has been used as a tool for oppression throughout the history of psychiatry. Most geniuses like Galileo were labeled insane. Although we are getting better at defining mental illness, we tend to define a person’s condition in terms of words. He felt that the narrative plays an important role, reducing a person to their diagnosis makes them lose their individuality. 

As a writer, Shyam emphasized fiction having an upper hand with the power of describing mental illness and the nature of the sufferer’s emotions.

 

Bangalore based novelist Roshan Ali said the idea behind his debut novel ‘Ib’s Endless Search for Satisfaction’ was solely just writing a book, suffering from depression and anxiety impacted the storyline of the book. Jerry Pinto shared his experience editing and translating ‘A Book Of Light’ which made him understand the true sense of a writer and people with mental disorders. 

 

Columnist and Chairperson of the Board of trustees at TLLLF, Anna Chandy highlighted that she would call a person approaching her for therapy as a client rather than a patient, the reason being empathizing with their narrative. 

 

The session was informative, insightful, and also humourous. An audience member asked a question as to why genius is often confused as insanity. Jerry and Shyam had different perspectives. The former felt that when insanity can make money then it’s genius, with an example Merda d’artista faeces of an artist sold for 87,000 euros. Moderator Amandeep concluded the session appreciating the efforts of the six speakers who found themselves suffering or their closed ones fighting mental illness and shared their narratives to the world. 

 

 

 

About the Author: Ayesha is a student pursuing Media Studies, Psychology, and English. She is an appreciator of new things, places and people. She believes good food and a trip to a beach can heal the soul. Her personal blog covers themes such as mental health and travelling. She currently writes for TheSeer. Instagram handle – gudiyaaa_