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.

ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing

The session ‘ये रिश्ता क्या कहलाता है – Relationships in Contemporary Hindi Writing’, explored the relationship between Hindi and other languages in India as well some undefined uncertain relations the characters form in the stories. The panel had Purushottam Agrawal, renowned Kabir and Bhakti scholar, Mridula Garg, veteran writer in both Hindi and English, and Anukrti Upadhyay, a lawyer turned writer. The panel was moderated by Sourav Roy, journalist, poet, and translator.

 

Sourav began with citing an anecdote from one of Purushottam’s Stories where he quotes a scene from the movie Guide. The villagers question Raju guide in Sanskrit while he answers in English. Both mock each other for not knowing the language each speaks. So Saurav asked, “…in the contemporary world, similar is the situation with Hindi versus English debate and why Hindi, when we have so many other languages too?”. Purushottam had an elaborate answer. Though a Hindi writer, he stressed upon the importance of learning English. “In the present world, one has to be bilingual, per say multilingual to be efficient and sustainable.” He frankly put that a lot of Hindi lovers would criticize him for supporting English but to uplift Hindi one should not disdain English. Usage of Hindi should not be the criterion of being patriotic. At the same time, he was very appreciative of some non Hindi speakers (not having Hindi as their first language) of past to promote Hindi like Raja Rammohan Roy, Ramanand Chatterjee, Subramanya Bharathi, Mahatma Gandhi. He also asserted that imposing a language will not promote it. It will be promoted when people readily use it like Bollywood and advertising industries, though of course for commercial purposes, it’s their voluntary decision. 

 

Mridula said that we should try to build a connection with all the languages we come across rather than belittling any. To the question that how does she choose the language to write in, she said that it’s the language the thought came in.

 

Sourav put in yet another concern that a lot of people in southern India know Hindi but it’s very difficult to find people of north knowing even one of the southern languages. Mridula agreed that it was utter ignorance and laziness that we are not learning them – “we go to French Alliance to learn French but never to Andhra Bhavan to learn Telugu.”

 

Anukrti from her experience of traveling in different countries said that people all around the globe know more than two languages. “A German is proud to say he knows Spanish, English, or any other language. We on the other hand do not even make an effort to learn various languages present in our own country.” Purushottam was quick to add that learning various other languages of our country could be a true sign of national integration.

 

Coming to the second segment of the session, the panel explored the undefined ephemeral relationship that their characters shared in the story. They talked of the relationships beyond the blood relations. For instance, Mridula talked of her story Hari Bindi where two strangers meet in a film theatre and later go for a coffee. Both of them love that experience without fostering any relationship. This is what she calls the beauty of the unknown. She did not forget to satirically put that now a days people have relationship with their phone and forget the people around them. Similarly, Anukrti remembered a story in her book Japani Sarai, where two people of different origins meet at a bar and affect each other so deeply with just a conversation.

 

The session could go on as the relationships around us are innumerous and can be explored endlessly but the clock was ticking and the panel and the audience both had to be content with whatever little they had of this wonderful session.

 

 

About the Author: Bhumika Soni is a literature enthusiast working in the field of data analytics, she has always found words more charming and powerful than numbers. Still searching for The Enchanted Tree created by Enid Blyton to travel to various magical worlds. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Today in Indian SF

This was a session of a different genre, with Gautham Shenoy, a Science Fiction (SF) columnist thanking Bangalore Literature Festival for giving a platform to have this conversation.

The panel comprised of Indrapramit Das (Indra), whose short fiction has appeared in publications including tor.com, Clarkesworld and Asimov’s Science Fiction, Sadhna Shanker, who has penned ‘Ascendance’, a science fiction novel and Sukanya Venkataraghavan, the author of ‘Dark Things’ and editor of ‘Magical Women’. These eminent authors were in conversation with Gautham Shenoy, an SF columnist (#IndianSF#scifi, #comics, #GGMU).

He introduced the panelists and went on to mention that 2019 has been an inflection point, an exceptional year for Indian science fiction. The panelists were optimistically looking forward to all the books coming up, especially the one by Samit Basu in April 2020. They evoke curiosity in the reader.

 

What is changing?

Sukanya gave the example of her journey from authoring Dark Things to Magical Women. When she wrote Dark Things, the question uppermost in her mind was, “Am I the only one writing fantasy?” Later, when she penned Magical Women, she had a community of writers supporting her and thus easing up the path.

 

Indra, having written 4 anthologies and a short future fiction series, spoke about the access to SF magazines and ease of submitting stories to them. He added on, however, that Indian SF has a long way to go before being considerably recognized by the Western world. The challenge is that, unlike other countries like China, there is not enough state support, nor is there is a press/medium dedicated to science fiction. He also felt that Indian publishers do not know how to tap into our audience.

 

Sadhna expressed more optimism on this aspect. “I’m here to stay”, she said. Science fiction just happened for her, and she felt fortunate to be in Bangalore, which is the hub and has a vibrant community. This is in stark contrast to Delhi, where the genre is not taken seriously, especially if it is a lady writing it.

 

Adding on to the optimism, Sukanya’s view was that science fiction is a genre that can generate a lot of interest, hence, properly tapped, it has a lot of potential to be very popular. Gautham responded to these perspectives with a satirical topic for an urban fantasy “Bangalore with pothole-free roads” and had the audience in splits.

 

Has the audience changed?

All the panelists agreed that the audience is gradually increasing, however, there needs to be more visibility to increase readership. Some points they gave are:

  • Publications, newspapers and magazines need to have exclusive columns
  • Writers should not just tweet only when their book comes out, but promote every book as a community
  • Reviewers need to do their bit as well; every review is a step in socializing a book
  • Readers can also write reviews on Amazon, as well as spread the word on social media

 

The audience was eager to know more about the last point, and sources of information about science fiction books. The panelists responded by mentioning #sff, #sciencefantasyfiction and #indiansf.

 

“Is India ready to bring out a Star Trek?” Gautham was ready with his response – it happened long ago; we have had series such as Antariksh, Space city Sigma. Also coming up is Cargo – a movie about the afterlife on a spaceship orbiting the earth, billed as India’s first ‘spaceship sci-fi movie’. The session ended with anticipation of 2020 and the promise of exciting times ahead!

 

 

 

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 and puts up photos on Instagram. She also works as a software process consultant and is a mother of two. She currently writes for TheSeer.

First Novels and Nation Building

Vanamala Viswanatha who is an award-winning translator, working with Kannada and English, introduced the first Kannada novel ‘Indira Bai: The Triumph of Truth and Virtue’ by Gulvadi Venkata Rao who hailed from south kannada region. This novel is about a child called Indira, who gets married at an early age and becomes a widow. It goes on to narrate how she tries to rebel against the four walls of the house, that denies her education. 

 

Shivarama Padikkal, a joint faculty at the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Hyderabad said there were two things opposed by upper caste especially brahmins in late 19th and 20th century, one being novel and the other coffee. There is a lot of literature opposing coffee and novel. The style of writing that was basically pursued during those times was opposed heavily by upper caste people. Also, there is a lot of discussion that revolves over nation and nationalism which the author has expressed in his novel. This novel also describes as to how a nation is conceived and perceived by elite people of the late 19th and 20th century.

 

Indira Bai demonstrates the social reforms and as a woman-centric text, it stages all the major debates of 19th century colonial India such as child marriage, widow remarriage, and women’s education. This novel constructs national identity, regional identity, and the idea of modernity. This book has texts in five languages, namely Kannada, Tulu, Konkani, Sanskrit, and English.

 

 

About the Author: Rohini Mahadevan is a political science graduate and works as a content writer. She likes reading books, drawing, painting, and writing short creative pieces. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Wasted

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar was in conversation with Ankur Bisen during the Bangalore Literature Festival 2019. Manreet Sodhi Someshwar is an Indian author. She is primarily known for her novels ‘The Long Walk Home’ and ‘The Taj Conspiracy‘. Someshwar is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management Calcutta. She has also served as a sales manager in Gujarat and Mumbai. Ankur Bisen is Senior Vice President of the Retail & Consumer Products division at Technopak. He brings in over 14 years of cross-functional experience in strategy, marketing and business development acquired while working in India, China, and Europe.

 The panel discussion was about the issue of garbage management and sanitation in India. Ankur started off saying Urban India generates close to 3 million trucks of untreated garbage every day. If these were laid end-to-end, one could reach halfway to the moon. He clearly stated that the need for attention to sanitation and cleanliness is both urgent and long-term. He spoke about his book and said that his book takes an honest look into India’s perpetual struggle with these issues and suggests measures to overcome them. 

When Manreet asked Ankur how promising was his content to approach all mass, he replied that historically, we have developed into a society with a skewed mindset towards sanitation with our caste system and non-accountability towards sanitation. Through stories, anecdotes and analysis of events, this book seeks solutions to the current entangled problems of urban planning, governance and legislation, and institutional and human capacity building.

When Ankur was asked to reveal his idea behind naming the book Wasted, he added ‘Wasted‘ traces interesting relationships between urban planning and dirty cities in India; legislative and governance and the rising height of open landfills; the informality of waste management methods, and the degrading health of Indian rivers, soil and air.

 Ankur stated the book is more like an argument that all current solutions of India are extrapolated from flawed beliefs and structures and are therefore woefully inadequate.

Manreet concluded saying Bisen draws a benchmark from clean countries of today. The panel discussion mainly focused on the need for inclusive human clusters, specificity in legislation, correction of existing social contracts creating a formal resource recovery industry in India. It was said that the book is a guide to how these solutions could lead us towards a brighter future and better social development. 

 

About the Author: Bhuvanashree Manjunath is an Engineering student, also an avid reader, poet, and a blogger. She also works as a book reviewer. She currently writes for TheSeer.

Can Seaweed Save the Climate?

Tim Flannery is an Australian author who has served as the Chief Commissioner of the Climate Commission, a federal government body providing information on climate change to the Australian public. Flannery was named ‘Australian Humanist of the Year’ in 2005 and ‘Australian of the Year’ in 2007. He was also chairman of the Copenhagen Climate Council. Tim Flannery did a solo talk on ‘can seaweed save the climate?’. Despite the development of the Bangalore city, it’s great to see the greenery around which is why it is called as Garden City. It is so important to protect our local forest or greenery as we face the changes in climate. Tim’s motive of the session was to explain why seaweed was an important part of climate response as it tells us where we are in terms of climate crises. In 1859, John Tyndall, demonstrated the carbon dioxide impact on heat on earth. Later in the 20th century, it was realised that if we increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, it would change the climate. In the last 30 years, we have doubled the size of the problem. Things continued despite disagreement, despite the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) reports and warnings of the people we have not affected the trajectory of the emission growth. In 2018, emissions went up 1.7% and the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by a record breaking three and a half parts million. This year it looks like the emission will increase again. 

 

Tim believes that by the end of this decade we will be in trouble. No notice was taken of the warning, insufficient government actions occurred and now we are facing a critical moment in the climate crisis. The sea level is rising by more than two meter and 200 million people being replaced. Seaweed is a lot more than marine debris you find on the sea. It may play a big role in the efforts to mitigate climate change, researchers say. The process of seaweed aquaculture involves cultivating seaweed and harvesting it for the purpose of sinking the algae in the deeper ocean, where the carbon sorted in its tissues would remain buried. 

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author: Swapna Patil is an author of adventure travel and romance. “Why stay at one place and talk about it, when you can make your whole life more interesting by traveling and narrating those stories in words” is the motto she lives by. She is also a trek leader and flirts with words on the top of mountains and chooses poetry over prose. She currently writes for TheSeer.