BLF2020 | New Age Archer – Jeffrey Archer with Nirmala Govindarajan

Jeffrey misses being in India – this was the note with which he opened this very lively session. He was in conversation with Nirmala Govindarajan, whose new novel, Taboo, has been shortlisted for the Rabindranath Tagore Literary Prize and nominated for the Atta Galatta Awards 2020.

The Inside Story of Creating William Warwick

Nirmala started by probing Jeffrey on how he created William Warwick. Jeffrey referred to Harry Clifton, the character in Clifton Chronicles who is a famous writer and wrote about William Warwick. Jeffrey envisions this as a five-part series through Warwick’s career trajectory:

  1. A young constable on beat (Nothing Ventured)
  2. A Detective Sergeant who investigates the doings of a drug lord (Hidden in Plain Sight)
  3. Detective Inspector who unravels police corruption (Turn a Blind eye – releasing in 2021)
  4. Chief Inspector who investigates murder and
  5. Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

Jeffrey hopes he will survive to complete the series.

The Art of Staying Young as a Writer

“Energy and youth are God-given”, said Jeffrey who remarked that he enjoys every single day of his writing. He remarked that age is not a barrier and revealed that his wife is also busy as the Chairman of the Science museum of Great Britain.

Children’s Books

Nirmala showed some of the children’s books that Jeffrey had written and was curious to know when he had written those. Jeffrey narrated the story of how he wrote those for his children, who were 6 and 8; his publishers in India published them with remarkable illustrations. He is delighted with the popularity; however, does not plan to write more of those.

What He is Proud of

Jeffrey mentioned that he is proud to have run for Great Britain and that around 320 million of his books have been sold. He loves being a charity auctioneer; he has raised around sixty million.

Writing about India

Nirmala mentioned that Jeffrey has referred to Bombay in some of his books, asked whether he would like to write more about India. Jeffrey responded that he is circumspect about writing on India since he is afraid of getting it wrong.

Jeffrey’s Favourite Writer 

Jeffrey lauded R. K. Narayan as a genius, a great storyteller who writes about something simple and makes us want to turn the page. He told a story of one day when he was in the Tower Hotel at Bangalore, sitting with the literary editor of the Times of India. Jeffrey asked her who he should be reading. She immediately said, “Forget the sacred cows of India and read R. K. Narayan”.

How does his plot evolve?

Nirmala was curious to know if he has a secret sauce for forming his plot. Jeffrey just said that he gets up every morning, prays, takes up the pen and it moves across the paper every single day. He does not plan the plot. He said he was lucky to have this God-given gift.

His Message Based on Lockdown Experience

Jeffrey feels privileged that, locked down for 144 days at Cambridge, he was able to write a lot of Warwick. He feels saddened that his friends (one who owns a restaurant industry, an owner of a cruise liner, a conference organizer) have become nearly bankrupt during this time. He also feels sorry for young people who are locked in a room and cannot go out.

Questions from the Audience

The audience wanted to know about the many letters he gets from readers. Jeffrey replied that he gets hundreds of letters, goes through them all since he is flattered that anybody reads his books.

“Will Warwick find out the source of the Coronavirus”, was the next interesting question. Jeffrey replied in the negative, declaring that he is not a scientist. However, he did imagine a start for a story thus: a race decided the way to rule the world was to create Covid, distribute it around the world while isolating themselves…

In response to a question on whether he paints a picture in storytelling, Jeffrey said that he tries not to pontificate and tell the reader what to do; he focuses on taking the story forward.

“What keeps you 80 years young?”. In response to this question, Jeffrey reminisced on his early days when his first book, ‘Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less’, was turned down by 16 publishers. His breakthrough came only in his third book, ‘Kane and Abel’. His message was to keep going.

Jeffrey spoke about his routine, a day in his life: he writes from 6 to 8 am, takes a two-hour break, again writes from 10 am to 12 noon and so on, till 8 pm. He writes by hand, then his secretary types it out. He hands in his 14th or 15th draft to his publisher!

His favourite cricketers? Jeffrey spoke of the late Nawab Pataudi and Sunil Gavaskar with great regard. He also spoke about great friendships with V. V. S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble.

Has Jeffrey faced a writer’s block? On a lighter note, Jeffrey said that, though his home is named ‘Writer’s Block’; he has not experienced a block; however, he has got stuck in a storyline without knowing the best way to take it to a conclusion. He referred to the storyline of ‘As the Crow flies’ and said that it took three days to get the solution.

“Awards don’t matter, it matters to be Jeffrey Archer, the most loved author in India”, was the concluding note from Nirmala. Jeffrey had the last word by saying, “I love India, look forward to when I can get back to coming to you and you to me”.

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.

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BLF2020 | The Nine Lives of Pakistan

Neena Gopal, former editor of the Bangalore edition of the Deccan Chronicle, interviewed Declan Walsh, a foreign correspondent reporter who was formerly the Pakistan bureau chief for the New York Times. His book, The Nine Lives of Pakistan, is based on the people he had interacted with while reporting from Pakistan.

Neena Gopal begins by asking Declan Walsh about how he felt when he was ordered to leave Pakistan.

“The story started just before the elections in Islamabad” began Walsh, as he explained how he received a letter at midnight, that ordered him to leave the country. His visa was cancelled, and he was given just 12 hours to leave. Later, when he went to London, he attempted to come back to Pakistan. His inability to come back was the starting point of his book. He asked himself how he could narrate the story of what he’d seen- and came upon the inspiration of writing the book.

Neena went on to ask, “Did you feel like you’ve crossed a line?” in reference to his exile from Pakistan

Journalism, Walsh stated, had always been restricted in Pakistan. He reflected, in a detailed manner, on his adventures at Balochistan, and what he learnt about the culture of journalism there. Sensitive topics are often not covered by the local press and the publication of stories in world-renowned newspapers such as The Guardian, where Walsh previously worked, helped break the stigma surrounding these stories. He had never seen the expulsion coming. “They felt I’d overstayed my welcome.”

Neena proceeded to ask him about one of the chapters she’d found interesting- that of Azma Jahangir.

“Azma was undoubtedly impressive”. Azma Jahangir was one of the leading women in Pakistan, to raise her voice against the discriminations they faced. She led the resistance against the Pakistani restrictions. Walsh goes on to explain how Azma was particularly impressive as she used her privilege as a weapon. People viewed Azma as a traitor of her class and her place as a woman in society. Walsh chose to focus an entire chapter on Azma as he has considered her to be the best example. Azma Jahangir stood for diagnosing a problem when the state doesn’t act as neutral territory.

Neena Gopal, particularly interested in the relationship shared between Benazir Bhutto and Azma Jahangir, asked Walsh what his thoughts were about the same.

“Benazir and Azma had so much in common”, reflected Walsh very enthusiastically. Before Benazir Bhutto passed away, Azma Jahangir had a talk on a public forum, where she spoke about her relationship with Bhutto. Both Bhutto, as well as Azma, have criticised each other publicly and privately too. They shared a strange relationship that was bound by a common belief- a belief about what Pakistan would become. In the broader fight against the Pakistani military, Benazir had prepared to contest Musharraf. Azma, at the same time, was put behind bars by Musharraf. Their mutual relationship almost reached a full circle towards the end of their lives. The death of Bhutto, said Walsh in sombre tone, marked Azma very deeply. She used that moment to talk about the militants and called them “useless duffers”, laughed Walsh.

Neena Gopal brought the attention of the audience to another chapter she found interesting- to the one about Salman Wazir. She asked Walsh a very specific question- “Will the elite ever have a say in Pakistan?”

The debate is really between the ‘Progressive’ Pakistanis and the Extremists. The battle was about bringing a balance between these two approaches, and it was a battle that the likes of Azma Jahangir fought. “Blasphemy is an important problem and has gotten worse”, argued Walsh. He described the ‘institutionalization’ of blasphemy. In a rather hopeful attempt, Walsh felt that the youth of the Pakistani state have a very important role to play in voicing what the country should be like. Imran Khan, Walsh remembers, had based his election on young people, and has tried to tap into their ‘modern’ identity.

Walsh spoke about his interaction with Nawab Bakhtiyar. He was very impressed with the way the Nawab presented himself. He remembered how Nawab Bakhtiyar, or “Nawab Bakti”, as Walsh likes to call him, had even quoted Rabindranath Tagore’s prose to him. Walsh situated Baktiyar as a huge figure who had significant connections with the military. Baktiyar had come to Baluchistan due to a gas dispute but went on to become a part of a wider dispute. Walsh had found Baktiyar in exile, at Geneva. Even there, Baktiyar was leading armed groups in Pakistan. As a foreign correspondent journalist, Walsh thinks about the alarming ways and methods in which the Pakistanis prosecute their people.

When asked about the ISI and the Taliban. Walsh gave a brief history of the ISI and their growth since the 1980s. He thinks they are very good at manipulating the politics in Pakistan. Their involvement is strategic- and happens by supporting Islamist guerrilla organisations. He, however, finds many faults and criticisms concerning the ISI and points to their various disastrous attacks- “When you point to the failures of this spy agency, you see that at the strategic level, the chickens were coming home to roost at that point.”

Talking of Pakistan’s relationship with India, Declan said he knew a lot of people who came to India for business. With the cricket diplomacy that Musharraf and Manmohan Singh tried to establish, the relationship between Indians and Pakistanis were becoming better. The cultural desires of the people, however, had become hostage to politics. He sees how on both sides of the border, there is a yearning and desire for cultural linkages. He added, “To respond to your question on my relationship with the country, I think it would be cliché of me to say that it was warm. But what drew me to Pakistan were the people, and how they were open, to be frank about their lives, in terms of what was going on with them. As a reporter, that was incredibly gratifying”

Neena found it wonderful that, despite being thrown out of the country, Walsh went on to write a book about his journey in Pakistan. The session ended with Neena Gopal congratulating Declan Walsh on his fabulous book, and recommended it to everyone to read.

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.

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BLF2020 | The Masked Intruder: Pandemic and You

What could be a more relevant discussion during these pandemic times than having three versatile panelists discuss at length about it!

Amandeep Sandhu opened the conversation with his view on how in the last 9 months, as a nation, we had a strange emotional graph from denial, bravado, to freezing and then abandonment. His first question to Anna Chandy, a psychology counsellor, was on her recollection of advances made as a nation before the pandemic. Anna said that she views the world as pre, and post-March 2020 and feels that good progress was made in mental health. She also elaborated on 3 types of mental health – public, societal, and self-stigma. Because of uncertainty since post-March 2020, mental health conversations were hijacked by people who do not have the competence and thus the progress was reversed. This resulted in the cornering of suffers and their families.

Amandeep asked Dr. Farah, a family physician in Narayana and an author, to tell more on her book “Newborns and New Moms”. Dr. Farah explained how despite being a doctor, no professional education prepared her for the life of motherhood.  She said that her book was a step by step guide for mothers. Especially during pandemic times where the work boundaries are not respected and mothers have suffered more, the book has helped many mothers.

The conversation then moved onto drawing parallels between mental health and COVID. How both sneak up to us without realizing and both cause short- and long-term damage.

Anna put across that depression and anxiety are pandemic too, but without a lockdown. Stigma and society exclusion are the commonality between them, thus punishing the patients for something that is beyond their control. She also compared the seriousness of the entire situation to World War II. The next generations will have an impact on the psychological construct, and it will play out differently when they are adults. She said that this is not being spoken about as much as it should be.

Amandeep steered the conversation to Dr. Farah on whether there was a change in statistics related to infant mortality, TB patients, diabetics etc. He wondered aloud on how are they managing post-COVID?

Dr. Farah gave insights from her experiences. She said that doctors racked their brains to understand why there was a decline in heart attack patients coming in emergencies. Is it fear to report or have the incidences reduced due to less pollution and commuting? Narrating a few stories of her patients, she brought about the aspect of psychological effects on all ages. It was heartening to hear her story about her son who is under the autism spectrum, progressed in his speech in the last few months. She accounted for this change to the attention and time children are receiving from parents. She said that a lot depended on how patient parents are with their kids.

Continuing the conversation, Anna spoke about the changes going on inside the counselling circles. She said that people from age groups 25-30 are reaching out and openly seeking support.

The discussion proceeded to serious impacts on women and their monthly cycles. Dr. Farah had many examples to share in this regard. She strongly sent out the message that most problems are psychological where the body is manifesting itself and reaching out for help. Anna aptly made a strong recommendation to the book “The body keeps a score” by Bessel van der Kolk.

When Amandeep asked her views on collectivism, she said that most Asian countries are collectivist society, where the needs of the groups take priority and are thus governed by group laws. These laws are mostly unsaid, covert, and transmitted silently on how to be or not to be.

She brought about the advantage of such societies and pandemics is an opportunity to work in groups to our advantage. She also said that different communities are dealing with pandemic differently. In smaller towns, community support is higher.

Anna had an interesting take on dealing with pandemics and quoted the ABC concept. A – Accounting for your feelings, B – managing anxiety through breathing, C – care and communication. She also suggested that this is the time to ask fundamental existential questions if one has faced job loss.

The last leg of this discussion turned very exciting as Dr. Farah stood up, removed her mask and performed a rap sporting demo of one of her parodies on “Apna time aayega”. The parody was a take on how messed up every mother’s Sunday is. Her intent of these parodies is to send across feminist messaging through a lighter medium.

With that delightful performance, the last question was, who is actually the masked intruder?

Anna, Dr. Farah and Amandeep had variations but primarily the same answers – “ourselves”, “the selective versions of ourselves”, “our fearful selves” are the mask intruders.

Amandeep gave a heartfelt dedication of this session to all the front-line staff who seamlessly work for the safety of all of us during these thought times!

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 | Poetry Pickings – Mani Rao, Mamta Sagar, Maitreyee B Chowdhury, Nandita Bose and Prathibha Nandakumar

The stage was decked up with five wonderful ladies, all of them poets, and were there to read out selective pieces of their poems themselves. It was the first day of the Bangalore Literature Festival 2020, and these ladies just pushed the radar with an all-woman panel of poets.

Up first, we had author Mani Rao; she got featured in the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry. She has poems and essays published in journals like the poetry magazine, Fulcrum, Wasafiri, Meanjin, Washington Square, West Coast Line, and Tinfish. She reads out her poem titled, ‘2020’. She expressed her concerns about how this year has been a roller coaster of feelings—a mixture of fear and gratitude simultaneously. A sense of community and sharing, at the same time, a tinge of self-centeredness is how Mani expressed the strangeness of the year 2020. Here are a few lines of the poem 2020 she recited:

There’s nobody I know in the ten thousand dead on the front page of New York times.
Give us this day our daily spread; don’t read the news before going to bed.

Her poem spoke of the uncertainty that this year has been.

Next, we had author Maitreyee Chowdhury; she has four books to her credit “Uttam Kumar and Suchitra Sen: Bengali Cinema’s First Couple,” “The Hungryalists: The Poets Who Sparked a Revolution,” “Where Even the Present Is Ancient: Benaras,” and “Reflections on My India: An Indian Insight.” She teaches poetry and design at NIFT Bangalore. Maitreyee read out her first poem, which speaks to lengths about an ancient farmers’ life. She described the spirit of the farmers to keep their mother nature always nurtured and alive. The next poem she read was about her father, which mainly revolves around the woes of partition. She said that even if it has been decades since the partition, she carries the pain that her father felt even now, and that lot of her work is directed towards immigration and borders that separate people. Here are a few lines from her poem:

Both brother and sister laugh and cry at once
Their stories last all night in me; they last forever.

Next, we had author Mamta Sagar; she is a noted poet, writer, and translator. She is an active participant in various art and literature-oriented workshops and exhibits. She teaches at the Srishti Institute of art, design, and technology. Mamta reads out Kannada poems and their translations. However, ‘reads-out’ is quite an undertone because she literally enacted her poems! One such verse goes like this:

When words are picked up, carefully splattered, the poem floats out of reach.
Does a poem need order in this chaotic world?

Here she explained how words can have a free fall in a poem and do not necessarily need an orderly arrangement.

Next, we had author Nandita Bose; she is a fiction writer, poet, and book reviewer. She occasionally indulges in writing about films, politics, and current events. She opened up by saying that her poems are usually short and meaningful. She read out beautiful poems about how we should take care of mother earth and nature. Here are a few lines:

On a long hollow night of no ounce
It is up to the stars to sing of emptiness.

Next, we had author Prathibha Nandakumar; she is a bi-lingual author, poet, journalist, film maker, columnist, and translator. She has various publications to her credit: autobiographies, poems, short stories, columns in Kannada, and English. She is also honoured with several awards, including the Karnataka Sahitya academy book award, Bangalore Literature Festival Literary Achievement award. Pratibha mainly read out her Kannada poems, and most of them had a socio-political edge to them. But interestingly, she presented them in a very humorous way, which was quite engaging! Here’s one of the translations titled ‘The Mad Monkey and the Master Act’:

Sanity and insanity are not equal and opposite in my case
And hence measure your words carefully.
Eccentric maybe, but I’m condemned by my master
To obey and perform all things different and dangerous
Normal is boring.

Reading a book is a joyous feeling, but hearing the same from the writer is blissful. That is the experience here; you know what the writer means by the expressions, voice modulation, and body language. Moreover, as far as poetry is concerned, it has great meanings to it in the few verses that they have! This panel was indeed a sight to watch, with the authors being so animate with every line of poetry they read. It thoroughly took me to different worlds and left me meandering with the words.

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 | A Spotlight on Debuts

The panel discussion started at 11 AM at the auditorium. The session explored two things, firstly the Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking by Krish Ashok and secondly, discussion on the book What’s Wrong With You, Karthik? by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan. The session brought in two different kinds of genres together. This panel was interspersed with many interesting facts and informative stories.

Masala Lab: The Science of Indian Cooking with Krish Ashok

The discussion was taken up by Krish Ashok. This session gave great insights regarding the science behind Indian cooking. Cooking is completely about experimenting with new tastes and there are no set of rules or any one-way guide to cooking. Krish explained the ideas and theory behind cooking through his book ‘Masala lab’. Krish Ashok is not a chef but is excited to cook daily; he is not a scientist but can aptly explain the science in cooking. He learnt cooking from women in his family who could cook perfectly. Krish mostly prefers the scientific way of cooking because it lets him test his own skills and tastes.

The speaker spoke of daily examples which we never have thought about. Have any of us wondered why our grandmother threw a tea bag into the pressure cooker while boiling chickpeas, or why she measured using the knuckle of her index finger? Is this done with knowing the science behind it or just like that? Did our mothers and grandmothers think about seasonings and perfect flavorings? Krish also drew the attention of the audience towards authentic food; relationships between food and science, modern techniques to save time in cooking and the role of chemistry in it which reminded us about our high school chemistry lessons.

Masala Lab by Krish Ashok is a science nerd’s exploration of Indian cooking with the ultimate aim of making the reader a better cook and turning the kitchen into a joyful, creative playground for culinary experimentation. The book is exhaustively tested and researched work that keeps one curious and engaged. The panel was concluded with a quick and informative Q&A.

What’s Wrong With You, Karthik?  Siddhartha Vaidyanathan with Aparajitha Sankar

Soon after Masala Lab concluded, the session was taken over by Aparajitha Sankar in conversation with Siddhartha Vaidyanathan.The panel started with the introduction to Siddartha’s book What’s wrong with you, Karthik?.

The book revolves around a 12 year old boy Karthik who has just got admission into St. George’s, an elite boys’ school in Bangalore. Being born in a conservative family, the protagonist faces big change in his life during this time. The book talks about his life in the period of a year, the challenges he faces, changes he undergoes, things he learnt and finally the recognition he earns. The plot connects well with the city Bangalore and the author shared his experience of living in the city for 22 years and recalled his childhood days. Set in the 90s, the storyline is a coming of age story that anyone could completely relate to. The author also read out a few pages from his book. The session wrapped up with the story on how the author being an engineer stumbled into cricket writing.

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 | 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 | 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 | 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 | Jeena Yahaan, Marna Yahaan – Padmavati Rao, MK Raghavendra and Vidyashankar N With Samantak Bhadra

This session felt like a cinematic experience! When the veterans of cinema come together a very insightful discussion ensues. Samantak opened the session with the question if over time Indian cinema was trying to glorify an ideal life to help the masses get out of the drudgery of life? While doing this does it compromise on the realities?

Padmavati Rao, a renowned actor and writer, quoted her personal experience of what Nazir Husain, a famous actor during Indian independence days, said. He said that art cinema is very good to talk about, but people do not want to see their lives on screen. Thus, we need to create cinema that entertains them. Nazir’s films Jewel Thief, Carvaan etc. depicted what people wanted. She said that she feels it was a matter of choice then, but might be a compromise today.

Vidyashankar N, the founder member of Bengaluru International Film Festival, brought about a very interesting comparison between politics and cinema. He said that while for all other countries, cinema acted as a tool for political propagation, for India that was never the case. He spoke about how Gandhi was very against Indian cinema from the onset. This gives a picture of why Indian cinema was not used as a tool for political discourses.

He also added that the purpose of Indian cinema is not art but to serve as a tool of evolution of the capitalist mode of market economists. He thought that cinema is a cultural expression rather than an artistic expression. He brought about an important observation about villains before and after the 70s. Before the 70s, they were the smugglers, feudal lords, underworld dons, who also got unintentionally legitimized over the years. After the 70s, it changed to politicians, bureaucrats, and executives, where the idea is not evil, but the villains are.

MK Raghavendra, a writer on culture and international cinema, had such amazing knowledge and anecdotes to share about innumerable movies of all times. His view was that Indian cinema cannot avoid politics. The common factor that binds the public is politics. The messaging might not be explicit, but it has ingrained general political messaging. He quoted an example of 1948 movie Anokhi Ada and compared the plot and characters to the then political scene, with Pandit Nehru, Sardar Patel and Gandhi. Another example of the movie Anmol Ghadi by Mehboob khan and explained the underlying message.

He said that always dominant politics is followed in all cinemas. He took examples of Duniya Na Mane and Queen movies, to bring his point on how women are celebrated for performing their celebrated role in society. He also quoted examples of movies like Deewar and Johny Mera Naam that depicted Indira Gandhi’s anti-western agenda.

Samantak then moved the discussion to the next key topic related to gender issues. He asked in women-centric films is it the perpetuation of stereotypes or is it the reality?

Vidyashankar’s view on this was that one must look at the common denominator to sell for the audience. Cultural expressions, including music, dialogues, relationships are used because they are received very well by audiences. Basic instincts like sexuality, violence etc., the dominant ideologies, sell more. By doing this, the moviemakers get the cinematic dividends they are looking for.

Padmavati’s take was that women have been portrayed as victims because that was reality. She quoted an example of the movie English Vinglish where the protagonist is patronized to do housework. She also confessed that movies like Thappad are bringing a change in this direction in small measures. But the challenge still is that a liberated feminine audience too will be tempted to take side with men. It is so ingrained in our DNA, that we don’t allow ourselves to think otherwise. She said that she feels that women are contributing in a constructive way, saying we all need to coexist. She continued with her view that over years access to art has become less. It has become spectatorship now, while earlier it was participative.

She strongly brought out the point that cinema has been a culture keeper and has kept alive folk.

Raghavendra said that Indian cinema is constructed like a fable and thus every film has a message, and every character has to have only one meaning. The victim is also one of the parts and is essentialized.  He said that if someone is perceived as a victim, then one cannot bear to see them rise. Based on the essence of being, the rich are always rich and the romantic are always romantic.

Vidyashankar shared his challenges on taking Indian cinema to International Festivals. He spoke about the notions that are internationally carried about Indian cinema which makes it difficult to take many good ones to that level until it is truly representational of universal cinema.

He also spoke about an important aspect of social and natural orders in context with gender issues depicted in films. He said that natural order is the dominant aspect, to do with people’s attitude, which is unfortunately not changing. This makes it difficult to make a film where natural order is questioned.

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.

Close to the Bone

With the labelling of ‘Close to the bone’ as a cancer memoir by the literary world and the rest of it, Lisa Ray challenged this idea by speaking extensively about the trials and tribulations that she had to survive through the traumatic events that encircled her at the beginning of her professional career.

Mahesh began by speaking about the lifetime of work that Lisa put into the creation of this book. To emphasize, she’s lived through different lenses and in different roles, such as that of a model, actor on the big screens and on television and also as a writer. Before responding to the statement made by Mahesh, Lisa showed her gratitude to the audience and appreciated their personality as a bibliophile and was also very glad about the positive reception that her book has gotten from the public. She spoke about the storytelling style of the book and to put it across to the audience that hasn’t really looked into the book, Lisa took out her book and read from it.

Her narration began with a setting that’s homely in nature but it quickly transitioned into a metaphor that created a dichotomy within the life of Lisa, as she was deemed to be a “vamped seductress” and/or “virginal heroine.” The essence of the book lies in the fight to survival that Lisa put up against the bone-chilling ailment of cancer, as it is seen through different perspectives from different parts of the world. The misconceptions that she had had to face in the Indian media as a “diva”, “hottie” and many synonyms that induce and evoke the same promiscuous meaning had to be eradicated. As she recalled an account in which she was told by a fellow model that her looks and her body were to be intact and pretty because at the end of the day the commodity that Lisa was selling in the market was in fact, Lisa. This created an illusory perception of herself as she read from her book, “there was no refuge for me from this casual sexism.”

Mahesh commenced a “therapy session” as he spoke of Lisa’s childhood, specifically at the age of fifteen when she left her home in Canada and travelled alone to Croatia in pursuit of a boy and stayed with people she did not know and lived a nomadic life. A transition occurred when she was in Bombay, infiltrating the industry and its several layers at the age of sixteen. Lisa justified this with the existence of an inner philosophy that “life is for me and not against me.” This is a hereditary thing as she spoke about the nomadic and adventurous lives of her parents, a Bengali brahmin meeting and marrying a Polish woman in the 1960s where it was not only considered an unconventional practice but also one that was frowned upon. Their philosophy was to simply question their culture and “create a new one.”

She spoke about the traumatic incident which took place in Canada a week before the start of her university when her mother had gotten into a life-threatening accident, to say the least, but also at the same time she was being branded as an icon and a model at the other side of the world. Posters of her in bathing suits pervaded the Indian masses and she got offers that would set the trajectory of her life towards the stars occurred at her doorstep at the time her mother’s feet were almost out of the same door. This contradictory situation invoked a sense of quest in her. She wanted to beat the stigmatised version she called “the receptacles of men’s desire” and set out on a quest to unravel herself and the mysteries of her life.

She concluded by stating that though she is perceived as a celebrity, she is a human at the most basic level so she questioned the idea of the book being a celebrity memoir. She spoke of a connection between the mind and the body and how this cannot be quantified but must be delved into and embraced.

 

 

About the Author: A self-proclaimed meme lord that barely makes any but laughs at many, all Vishal Bhadri does is read, listen to music, and cry during both the activities.  Vishal has a poetry blog called Memory Palace that has all of his two poems in it.  He is doing his triple major in Communications, Literature and Psychology at Christ University. He currently writes for TheSeer.