Jaipur Literature Festival 2017: It Was Full House for Shashi Tharoor, Javed Akhtar and Mallika Dua's Sessions
On Day 4 of JLF, pop culture, Bollywood and history were discussed.
The charisma of ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival regular Shashi Tharoor and the passion of Dr Jon Wilson, author of India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire, are a potent combination for any panel. When the discussion centres on colonial legacies, the magnetism is amplified a hundredfold. The thousand-strong crowd waiting for the session, expected a fiery debate and that is precisely what the speakers delivered.
The Empire, said Tharoor, was an ‘exercise in serving its own perpetuation.’ It was utterly self-serving and ruthless, and all the good that came of it was happenstance rather than intentional systemic change. ‘What the British Raj has deprived us of is our self respect,’ said Tharoor, to enormous applause. ‘That, ultimately, is the key issue of colonisation.’
Both Roberto Calasso and Devdutt Partaniak have helped to re-connect modern audiences to the ancient world of myths, and both have shown a laudable cosmopolitanism and interest in the myths and stories of other cultures. The two great mythologists sat together on the morning of the penultimate day of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival to make an impassioned case for the relevance of the Brahmanas, a collection of commentaries on the Vedas, written in the eighth century, which are rarely read or discussed today – indeed, the last recent translation of the Brahmanas was written over a century ago.
‘It’s a big mistake to dismiss the Brahmanas as obscure texts focused on abstruse rituals’, said Calasso. ‘Firstly, they’re the first great example of prose in the world. Secondly, they are fascinating philosophical explorations of consciousness. Modern scientists still know practically nothing about consciousness – if they read the Vedas they would have a shock.’
With increasing discussion on the significance of world literature and the need for giving marginalized voices a bigger platform, the role of literary translators has gained more importance than ever. However, opinions differ on whether translation does a service to the original work by taking it to a wider readership, or destroys its very essence in the process. In Lost in Translation the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival welcomed a diverse panel of translators from around the world as they shared their experience and opinion. Radha Chakravarty shared the joy of ‘connecting readers of one language to a foreign culture’ through translation. Iranian-American poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé seconded the thought: ‘Only literature, art and music can bridge the gap between cultures. To that effect, it is our moral duty to translate.’ But literature does not enjoy the same universality as art and music. ‘The essence of literature is language, which is usually specific to nations,’ making literature from a foreign culture much harder to appreciate, observed British novelist Adam Thirlwell.
India should do more to support the emergence of a South Asian free trade zone, according to Binod Chaudhary, the richest man in Nepal.
Speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in The Colour of Money, Chaudhary spoke of his efforts over several years to promote such a zone, and his disappointment at the lack of progress. ‘It hurts that this is the world’s poorest economic bloc. India is an economic powerhouse, it has a responsibility to pull up its neighbours.’
In a panel on money, it was inevitable the panelists would discuss demonetization. Suhel Seth, managing partner of Counselage India, was a vocal advocate: ‘I think Prime Minister Modi has done a splendid job. No pain, no gain. In two quarters the pain will be over. To hell with the IMF’s predictions of a loss of 1% of GDP. I’m delighted that people are being raided for not paying taxes. Lock them up!’ Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large of Fortune India and the author of books including Recasting India: How Entrepreneurship is Changing the World’s Largest Democracy, thought the move was necessary to reduce the black economy, which he suggested was funding extremist groups: ‘It’s noticeable that the intifada in Kashmir has suddenly disappeared.’
Prasoon Joshi defies categorization: an award-winning lyricist, a poet, an advertising executive who has won numerous awards in each of the fields he works in. In an insightful session at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, Joshi talked about the trajectory of his career and the position of art in today’s society.
‘What gives meaning to life can’t be peddled as a product,’ he said, referring to poetry and people’s hesitancy to pay for it. Yuva Ekta Foundation trustee Puneeta Roy enquired what that said about his advertising career, to which Joshi replied, ‘There is a transparency to advertising: it never tries to hide its intent. But look at the media instead, who in the name of news, print paid things.’
The moral imbalances one can sometimes see in advertising is also a prominent feature of Bollywood. Joshi remarked on his ‘disappointment’ with the Bollywood songs that demean women. He added that he was just as disappointed with ordinary people normalizing these songs by dancing to them or singing them. ‘The audience has to reject bad work so that good work can be promoted’.
The day continued with fascinating sessions from writers including Prasoon Joshi, Ashwin Sanghi, Paul Beatty, and Sebastian Smee. India’s leading teen authors Anusha Subramanian and Zuni Chopra gathered with Ira Trivedi to discuss their commitment to writing and the rewards and challenges of being teen authors. Historian Suzannah Lipscomb delved into the passionate relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Javek Akhtar examined the heart of Bollywood cinema and looks at how the iconic figures are that personify our present day morality.
Philip A Lutgendorf and Shubha Vilas joined Arshia Sattar in a conversation about Lord Hanuman to discuss the deeper aspects of the revered monkey god. Photographer Christopher Sykes got the job of a lifetime commissioned by The Rolling Stones, the biggest rock band in the world at the time to photograph backstage through their monumental tour of America in 1975, he shares an intimate picture of his time with the band.
Historical fiction came under examination in Rewriting History: The Art of Historical Fiction looking at how you write a novel set in a period of history long before you were alive with some of the best in the world, Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Shazia Omar and Namita Gokhale. The day’s sessions were rounding off with Mallika Dua, a one woman band and viral internet sensation who stepped out to talk about her life as a full-time nautanki.
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