Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Hay Festival Kerala 2011 No.8 - Tarun Tejpal, Editor of Tehelka, and Nayantara Sahgal, novelist and writer


 Tarun Tejpal and Nayantara Sehgal with the interviewer in the middle

Tejpal continued his magazine's crusade on behalf of the voiceless. Journalists need to have their feet on the ground, listening to people, and telling their true story.

Nayantara reiterated a “master narrative” is missing, as Tejpal said. There is a “wall of silence.” More than half in our country are desperately poor. Fat food, fast food, fast music, fast buck – is what the media thinks the young want. But many have higher aspirations.

To order public priorities is media's true function,” said Tejpal. What you put on the front page is a marker to decision-makers and politicians and public servants. The interviewer, a young journalist himself, said the local Superintendent of Police (SP) and District magistrate (DM) can crush you. Tejpal replied, “What kind of a lunatic state is this which brutalises the poor?”

Nayantara Sahgal at the Hay Festival

The State is there to help everyone in their own profession, not to curtail it, said Nayantara. Tejpal noted that every Indian writer is in a sense writing for some white publisher or reader abroad. That's fucking dangerous; it makes for commercial fiction, not for literature.

Nayantara was worried the world of imagination will be killed by the contemporary world of instant information. “It is necessary to de-clutter the mountains of confetti of information,” she said.

The interviewer, spoke of his experience as a reporter going our to meet the tribal people. One father told him about his son: “Woh bhuk ki bimari se mara.

Tarun Tejpal  inscribes for KumKum

Tejpal asked rhetorically, “Which country can continue to live with the fact that every year 10,000 farmers commit suicide?” Nayantara opined that Education has been our greatest failure in India. There is idealism in the country. Many work silently in their professions with ideals such as Gandhi and Nehru inspired.

Tejpal agreed that in his profession too the young reporters are idealistic. But the failure are of leadership by editors.

Things will change, but not necessarily for the better,” Tejpal said summing up. 

Tejpal continued his magazine's crusade on behalf of the voiceless and said the Binayak Sen case shows the idea of a social contract between a state and its citizens is broken. In 1947 we wee a more just society in India. Even as the media have grown, the focus has narrowed. Journalists need to have their feet on the ground, listening to people, and telling their true story.

In the situation like Bastar in Madhya Pradesh, words like journalistic neutrality fall away. A journalist has to examine the facts on the ground and arrive at a moral, just, and eloquent truth. You can find a million he-said, she-said, examples of journalism. What you need are journalists willing to put their truth and their lives on the line.

Nayantara reiterated a “master narrative” is missing, as Tejpal said. There is a “wall of silence.” Moe than half in our country are desperately poor. Fat food, fast food, fast music, fast buck – is what the media thinks the young want. But many have higher aspirations. Bollywood, fast racing cars (the recent Formula One racing course in NOIDA) and cricket is only one side of the news.

To order public priorities is media's true function,” said Tejpal. “What you put on the front page is a marker to decision-makers and politicians and public servants.” Tejpal said there is an anxiety constantly drummed up by the marketing department of a media publisher. If the editor doesn't have leadership in a magazine, you won't have clarity. If the marketing guy is laying out the priorities, you have disaster; the editor should lay out the priorities.

The interviewer, a young journalist himself, said the local Superintendent of Police (SP) and District magistrate (DM) can crush you. Tejpal replied, “What kind of a lunatic state is this which brutalises the poor?” He was referring to the Soni Suri case of a 33-year old woman). “The state seems benign as long as you do not fall foul of it. Then it's a beast. We are a dangerous country today. We have lost our clarity.”

Tejpal clarified: “Our vision should not be the American pursuit of wealth and happiness. It should be to achieve a just, passionate, inclusive country.”

The State is there to help everyone in their own profession, not to curtail it, said Nayantara. She narrated an event when she was speaking in America to a women's organisation and was asked by a person fro the audience, “ I am fascinated by your native costume. Can you show how to wear it?” She replied, “Madam these are my clothes, not my native costume, and I can't take them off on stage.” She said as an Indian writer in English she is incredibly inadequate to the current situation, to which Tejpal replied, “It should be a great time to be a writer in India.”

He noted that every Indian writer is in a sense writing for some white publisher or reader abroad. “That's fucking dangerous; it makes for commercial fiction, not for literature.“ The need for approval from the white man,white reader or publisher is the bane of Indian fiction.

Nayantara was worried whether the world of imagination will be killed by the contemporary world of instant information. “It is necessary to de-clutter the mountains of confetti of information,” she said. Tejpal was asked about how much research he does for his novels. He gave the metaphor of a kite-and-string. The kite does the dance, he string keeps it rooted to reality. Tejpal said, “I do just enough research to get my framework right.”

The interviewer, spoke of his experience as a reporter going our to meet the tribal people. One father was grieving over a dead child. The reporter asked whether the child was suffering from some disease, which caused death. The father said yes, but did not explain. “Well, what disease did he suffer from,” asked the reporter. “Bhuk ki bimari se mara,” the father replied laconically. This was in Orissa in the Koraput region.

Tejpal asked, “Which country can continue to live with the fact that every year 10,000 farmers commit suicide? The PM talks of rescuing Kingfisher, but 50,000 people dying of encephalitis makes no dent in his posture.”

What is it about our optics that makes the ruling class unable to say the right things about ordinary people, but talk with much feeling for people who throw $1 million parties every other week?” (Vijay Mallya, I suppose, he meant, in the recent search for a financial rescue of his Kingfisher Airlines).

Nayantara said Education has been our greatest failure in India. There is idealism in the country. “Many work silently in their professions with ideals such as Gandhi and Nehru inspired. But the change won't come from the top, for we don't have a single person at the top who fills the shoes of Gandhi or Nehru.”

Tejpal agreed that in his profession too the young reporters are idealistic. But the failure are of leadership by editors. “How can the young pick the pieces of stories and run with it, when topics like Soni Suri are off the table?”

See what's covered in the Indian papers and TV: cricket, cinema, business corporates, and state manoeuvred views of everything. When Tejpal was recently seated between two elderly male Governors of States at a dinner, they reassured him: “Sab teek hai. Things go up sometimes, sometimes down. But it will all be okay in the end.” This is how the elders in power think. “I am not sanguine about the future. Things will change, but not necessarily for the better,” was Tejpal's opinion. He concluded: “In spite of the large commitment of money to science, and all that, when did you last hear about a scientific view of nature and phenomena, or about rationality in decision-making?”
 

1 comment:

Culture Holidays said...

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