A range of voices, both daring and distinct, share their ideas of self, society and the world around them.
Glimpses of conversations from JLF at Southbank 2016The third edition of JLF at Southbank kicked off with eager audiences arriving for a day of discussions, ideas and debates along the bank of the River Thames.
In true JLF fashion, Tanusree Guha and Nilima Jog, accompanied by Dhanraj Parsaud, from the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan in London, set the mood for the day ahead with their spellbinding Morning Ragas.
Festival Director Namita Gokhale described JLF at Southbank as ‘all the chaotic magic of the Jaipur Literature Festival compressed into a single intense day,’ from incarnations to contrarians. Gokhale dedicated the unveiling of Translating Bharat, Reading India (edited by Neeta Gupta, published by Yatra Books) to ‘translators and translation everywhere.’
Festival Director William Dalrymple called JLF at Southbank a ‘byway’ off the Jaipur Literature Festival, bringing ‘a pot pourri of the best of Indian literature to London.’
Festival Producer, Sanjoy K. Roy of Teamwork Arts, paid testament to the global reach of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which will celebrate its 10th year in Jaipur in 2017. He commended the Festival’s platform for ‘free speech, debate and discussion, all extremely important in today’s world where we tend to be divided.’ Roy added that it is only through open debate that we can understand each other’s point of view.
India’s High Commissioner to the UK, Navtej Sarna, quipped that having less time to write worked to his advantage as being busy forced him to ‘steal moments’ to put pen to paper. Commenting on the upcoming 10th anniversary, Sarna observed that ‘the Festival has done a huge job as far as Indian literature is concerned,’ adding that it had created a ‘soft power’ platform in India around literary, social and political ideas and issues.
The daylong JLF at Southbank shone light on a staggering range of perspectives and invited all voices to be heard.
With transgender rights becoming an increasingly important global flashpoint, The Third Gender, led by A. Revathi and Jerry Pinto, threw light on the subject. This emotionally charged session explored a number of ideas ranging from conventional European academic gender theory to the broader Eastern notions of gender and sexuality. A prominent transgender writer and activist, A. Revathi also discussed her own incredible physical and emotional journey towards selfhood.
British Asians: The Changing Face brought together writers and academics Yasmin Khan, Mukulika Banerjee and Sathnam Sanghera with historian Patrick French to discuss the evolution of the British Asian community and the need to emphasise that the history of British India is also about Britain and not solely about India, as a necessary step to prevent historical amnesia. Questions of race and identity also emerged, with Sanghera remembering the era of his childhood when Africans and Asians were clubbed together in one category.
The session Ideas of India highlighted the bewildering diversity and plurality of India, which has been under intense scrutiny in recent times. Prominent writers and thinkers Salman Khurshid, Swapan Dasgupta, Mukulika Banerjee, Rakhshanda Jalil and Pragya Tiwari introduced by Malvika Singh, explained ‘their’ individual perceptions of India.
Tiwari spoke of the profound conflict between India’s plural reality and the extremists’ reductive formula of a sanitised entity largely influenced by Colonial ideas of the Golden Age of Hindu rule. Dasgupta postulated a ‘sacredness’ that united India, but said that trying to restrict India to a particular aspect or idea was ‘a bit silly,’ since the country contained multiple identities. Khurshid suggested that if the idea of India was indeed as plural, there would be little support to political tactics like re-naming roads, an act he equated to the re-writing of public memory. Banerjee suggested that the current trend of looking to elite Delhi-based forms of politics to debate ideas of India needed to change. Jalil expressed her frustration that it was left to minorities to defend a secularist fabric for India, instead of it being the dominant narrative. Whilst all the panellists agreed that multiplicity was fundamental to the ‘Idea of India’, they disagreed profoundly on how to politically manifest this idea.
In a candid lunchtime conversation, Sharpshooting with Shotgun, Bollywood actor Shatrughan Sinha spoke to Rachel Dwyer about his biography Anything But Khamosh, which chronicles the highs and lows of his acting career, his personal life and the decision to delve into politics at the peak of his success as an actor. Sinha stressed that more than anything else, the book was about his life as a self-made man, and he hoped it would inspire his readers.
When asked about the Festival, the Bollywood bigwig said, ‘Such festivals encourage intellectuals and interested people to engage. I have deep appreciation for the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, as well as the participants.’
In another intense session Against the Grain, Sinha was joined by journalists Barkha Dutt, and Gideon Levy and author and journalist Salil Tripathi to examine strategies of steadfast truth telling. Levy spoke powerfully about the need to speak truth to power in the face of prejudice and popular perception.
A group of protesters interrupted the proceedings in opposition to one of the festival sponsors. Festival Producer Sanjoy K. Roy and Dutt invited them to join the debate and present their point of view, which they refused to do.
The session The Poetic Imagination investigated the sources, inspirations, contexts and philosophy of the poetic imagination. Award-winning British poet and author Ruth Padel read one of her poems on environmental degradation in spite of the ongoing protests.
The protests soon ended and the Festival continued on schedule.
In The Fictional Leap, writers Tahmima Anam and Jerry Pinto spoke of the pursuit of fiction, which involves a leap of faith between material and literary reality. In conversation with scholar and journalist Pragya Tiwari, the pair read and discussed their work. A British-Bangladeshi writer and columnist, Anam’s latest book The Bones of Grace was released in May. Pinto is a Mumbai-based Indian writer, poet and translator and his first novel Em and the Big Hoom, which was published in 2012, won the 2016 Windham-Campbell Prize for fiction.
Savage Harvest: Literature of the Partition focused on the multiple histories of Partition with Navtej Sarna, Tahmima Anam, Rakhshanda Jalil, Amrit Kaur Lohia and Salil Tripathi discussing the many historical and human dimensions of Partition Literature from the subcontinent.
Highlighting the emphasis that the Jaipur Literature Festival places on the work of translators and translations, the session Inner Life of Translations discussed South Asia’s vibrant multilingualism, an important and integral part of its literary heritage and of its local and diasporic culture. Translators Jerry Pinto, Divya Mathur, Gillian Wright and Rakhshanda Jalil spoke of the intangibles of translation, the silences between languages and the word made flesh. The session also paid homage to Lakshmi Holmström, the Indian-born British translator of Tamil fiction, who succumbed to cancer and passed away last month.
Reporting India explored the challenges of being a journalist, specifically a foreign correspondent, in a dynamic country like India. Veteran foreign correspondents John Elliott, Dean Nelson and Andrew Whitehead spoke to Barkha Dutt about how foreign correspondents often come under more scrutiny for the choice of their words because the insider/outsider dichotomy is more pronounced. Dutt later tweeted about the conversation calling it ‘A most fun session with three witty charming men’.
The day ended with a performance by London-based group Lokkhi Terra, playing their unique blend of traditions and wowing audiences across genres.