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Jaipur Literature Festival 2017: Brexit, Demonetization and Rajinikanth Ruled Day 3

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Updated: January 22, 2017, 1:32 AM IST
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Jaipur Literature Festival 2017: Brexit, Demonetization and Rajinikanth Ruled Day 3
Namita Gokhale, Sunil Sethi and Mrinal Pande spoke about Gokhale's book Things to Leave Behind.

Jaipur: As expected Diggi Palace was packed on Saturday as locals of Jaipur and people from the rest of the country thronged the palace grounds, eager to hear their favouirte authors speak.

The morning begun with Padmini Rao’s beautiful performance. Soon after the Front Lawn saw discussion on the topic The Page is Mightier than the Screen. With technology redefining entertainment experiences at break-neck speeds, and a glut of content competing for attention, the novel finds itself in a precarious position. The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival hosted a stellar panel of novelists and screenwriters as they compared film and television to the novel, and discussed the impact of an accelerating digital shift on its future.

The Magna Carta is a Latin document, first written in 1215 AD, Britain a facsimile of which has been brought to ZEE JLF by the British Library and is on display in the Magna Carta Gallery outside the Baithak. It was drafted to limit the powers of King John in medieval England, yet even today, it continues to be evoked in a plethora of contexts all over the world.

Moderator and historian, Patrick French, questioned Chintan Chandrachud about how the Magna Carta had influenced the writing of the Indian Constitution. It ‘drew from a variety of sources,’ Chandrachud noted, such that some of its critics accused it of being ‘a mere patchwork,’ to which Ambedkar famously quipped, ‘even if it is a patchwork, at least it is a beautiful patchwork.’

‘Appa was a superstar’. This was the central reality of Aishwaryaa’s childhood, growing up under the shadow of her father actor Rajnikanth. She is more than aware of the privilege granted to her as a result. She concedes that the influence of her father’s fame was unavoidable, but that she had not got her publishing deal because of it. In fact, she wanted to use her book as an opportunity to break misconceptions about ‘celebrity kids’: ‘We are not abnormal.’
Thus, in Standing on an Apple Box: The Story of a Girl among the Stars, the central images are not of a glamorous adolescence and youth spent on film sets.

Within three years, cash machines in India will be completely irrelevant. This bold prediction of Amitabh Kant, CEO of the government body NITI Aayog, was greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and scepticism by the audience at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in Brave New World: The Virtual Economy and Beyond.

The panel went on to discuss, was the shock of demonetization really necessary? ‘It enabled the push towards a digital economy in a much quicker way’, argued Kant. ‘Disruptive policies have been responsible for rapid change before in India’, agreed Ashok Wadhwa. ‘But we need to get the right internet infrastructure in place. And we need to remove the bureaucratic paperwork for people to set up new accounts.’

The session ended with a poll of the audience – did they think the digital economy had harmed bricks-and-mortar businesses in India? The final result: 57% thought it had.

Brexit is ‘the most divisive issue in Britain’, according to Guardian journalist Jonathan Shainin, and that was all too evident in this panel at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.

Last June, 17 million British people voted to leave the European Union, and 16 million voted to stay. Shainin first turned to historian Andrew Roberts, who has described Brexit as ‘more impressive than the French Revolution’. Why so? ‘Because no one died’, Roberts said. ‘I believe democracy in the UK was being undermined by the EU, especially by the European Commission, which is unelected. Now we have taken back control of our laws and borders. We may make mistakes, but at least they are our mistakes.’

The Origins of Indian Democracy: Making Universal Franchise and Citizenship in the World’s Largest Democracy, a forthcoming book by Ornit Shani, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel, looks at the people who undertook the unimaginably massive task of creating the electoral rolls for India’s first general election in 1951. In a fascinating conversation Awakenings: Freedom to Dream, with youth activist, playwright, and director, Puneeta Roy, Shani said the decision by India’s founding fathers to institute universal franchise was ‘a dream being put into writing. There is a huge difference between deciding on universal franchise and implementing it.’

The session ended with questions from the audience, many of whom were surprised to realise that there was such an incredible story behind the first Indian general election. The session concluded, rather appropriately, with Ornit Shani answering a question regarding what the world can learn from India’s first elections. ‘No bureaucracy or administration in the world ever had to perform a task like that, and probably no one ever will,’ she said, ‘But looking at the current state of democracy in the world, where Europe and the USA are trying to deal with the question of how to have a multicultural democracy, India dealt with that problem in the 1940s.’

Like a master storyteller, Devdutt Pattanaik illustrates his arguments with ornamental stories but explains them with pin-point precision. His mischievous references to contemporary issues make the crowd laugh, and his laughter makes them laugh harder. At a jam-packed session, he answered questions about his upcoming book, Olympus: An Indian Retelling of the Greek Myths, such as, are there similarities between the stories of Krishna and Hercules? How does the story of the Trojan horse make an appearance in Jain tradition? Most importantly, how do the Greek myths and the Hindu myths differ from each other? Many of the Greek myths share ‘superficial similarities’ with Hindu myths, observed Pattanaik.

Festival Director of the Jaipur Literature festival and writer Namita Gokhale’s latest book Things to Leave Behind hit the shelves late last year. The session involving Gokhale’s cousin Mrinal Pande and writer Sunil Sethi, offered a glimpse into the fascinating book which chronicles the colonial experience of the land-locked region of Kumaon and the turbulence experienced by the social structure of the region, as a result.

The free-flowing discussion progressed alongside Pande and Gokhale sharing stories from their childhood which was full of eccentric characters with a large appetite for drama. From the Kumaoni women who drank with greater courage and more stomach than the men, to the rampant alcoholism and smoking of cannabis, the conversation painted a portrait of Kumaon as a region brimming with colourful lives.

The crucial task of the translator in bringing a book alive in another language and adding to the corpus of world literature is only recently being recognised and celebrated by stellar translators Deborah Smith and Arunava Sinha in Translators: Centre Stage, a part of Jaipur BookMark’s strand of ZEE JLF sessions.

First Published: January 22, 2017, 1:32 AM IST
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