Thursday, 18 November 2010

The Week Hay Festival in Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 12-14, 2010

The Kanakakunnu Palace is tranquil place, near the Napier Museum and the Zoo. Three rooms were used for parallel sessions with authors being interviewed first; then the audience could ask questions.

Vikram Seth recited a few unpublished poems; here's a Villanelle, which ends
I must, I simply must get out of bed
And press that reset button in my head.

KumKum was maha tickled on the second day of the festival, when seeing her alone and palely loitering, he asked, "Hi KumKum, where's Joe?"

 Vikram Seth signs in Malayalam too!

Peter Florence led Simon Schama through the alphabet, letting Schama expatiate. An example:
"T .... is for Tarantino. Such a bad boy and an amazing director. The sound track of 'Pulp Fiction' was incredible. Took up with my student, Mira Sorvino. How dare he!"

Tarun Tejpal (owner-editor of Tehelka weekly and novelist)  talked about his new novel "The Story of My Assassins". He contrasted the certainty of his stand in the sphere of journalism with the doubts he entertains when writing a novel (about the characters, how they behave, etc.). The professions of journalism and being a novelist, are both subversive; they are there to challenge the received opinion, and not merely to confirm everybody's prejudices.

A weapon they [the Congress Party] can't quite control,” said the interviewer, Shoma Chaudhury. Mani Shankar Aiyar (himself, a non-believer) felt that Dawkins' attack on religion involves him in contradictions because atheism too is a form of belief, and therefore, Dawkins' crying himself hoarse against belief in God, makes him exactly like a believer in one religion decrying the adherents of all other faiths.

Kashmiri journalist, Basharat Peer (centre), spoke about his book of factual, corroborated stories of the events in Kashmir in the past two decades, “Curfewed Night.” Kashmir is heavily militarised. What happens in Kashmir in the name of India is nothing for Indians to be proud of, he said. When someone from the audience suggested that Real-politk will dictate the solution in Kashmir, Mani Shankar Aiyar retorted, "Why are morality and justice not on the table as the basis of the solution?"

Michelle Paver is the author of a series of children’s books (six volumes called "Chronicles of Ancient Darkness") with a boy, Torak, as the hero. Paver said her stories are not fantasies, but a well-researched recreation of the human reality of hunter-gatherers 6,000 years ago. Here's a wonderful statement: "All writers are spirit walkers in a way. We have to inhabit our own characters."

Tishani Doshi spoke about her first novel, “The Pleasure Seekers.” A wonderfully playful and imaginative reconstruction of the history of a clan, it begins with a Gujju lad who goes to England and comes back with a phoren wife. As an aside, she mentioned that, in future, unless people regain the habit of writing letters, they will forgo the great pleasure of opening themselves (and becoming vulnerable) to another person and receiving moving expressions of things on a personal level. “Do you write to your lovers?”, the interviewer asked. “Yes,” came the swift reply 

  Malayalam poet O.N.V. Kurup, winner of the Jnanpith Award, recited a beautiful poem of environmentalism (“Bhoomikkoru charama geetham”) in which the Earth is described thus:
O mother Earth, / Most favourite bride of the blazing sun,/ You've lost your pristine bridal dress.”

 Gillian Clarke is the third national poet of Wales. The first one wrote in English and Welsh, but she writes in English alone, since she acquired Welsh only by study at a late age. But she has her poems translated into Welsh by her good friend and fellow poet, Menna Elfyn, who was also there, courtesy of the British Council. Auden said about Yeats ('In Memory of W.B. Yeats')
Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
What hurt you into poetry?” someone asked. The answer was:"Love, earthquakes, the denial of Welsh to me when a baby, the weight in the heart ...these things inspire poems."

Upinder Singh is a historian, author of numerous books, and professor of history in the University of Delhi. She is the PM's daughter and came to discuss the unwritten histories of the past that need to be written. She emphasised that history has to be narrated as a human history, in order that it may relate to us as human beings.

Nik Gowing of BBC has written a monograph, 'Skyful of Lies and Black Swans', which can be downloaded from the Web. He declared the new media (the Internet, the mobile phone, etc.) are extremely subversive. Governments and corporations have still not got it, and are in a mode of reacting too late, and defensively. But I say: in spite of the vaunted power of mobile phones and webcams they have made a contribution only on the margins of public efforts for change. The warmongers, the frauds, the authoritarian regimes, and those guilty of colossal pelf still go unpunished in the East, and in the West.

Debate: Resolved that Economic Growth occurs at the expense of Social Development.
Trickle-down doesn't work. Laissez-faire doesn't work. Dirigisme doesn't work. Tejpal said that in reports of hunger, India is at the bottom nearly, 67th in a list of 84 countries. We call ourselves an emerging power, 'Shining India', and all that, and we cannot feed our children! Tejpal had a startling observation: the irony of egalitarian sharing of  wealth in India is not that the backward tribal people of the central Indian forests in Chattisgarh (the scene of some of the 'Maoist' revolts) are going to the rich and saying 'please, we want some of your wealth', but that the very rich and the corporations they control are going to the tribal people and asking them to hand over the little land they possess, as well as their access to the forests for their livelihood, so that the ores of iron and aluminium lying underground may be appropriated by them. And the state is abetting the rich.
The motion was passed by a fair margin.

  The legendary Bob Geldof, visibly aged, spoke extempore about his commitment and love for the continent of Africa. He inveighed against the injustices perpetrated in Africa for centuries by white men, still continuing under some of their own rulers. He led the finalé of the festival with an open-air rock concert at the Nishagandhi amphitheatre, with the superstar Sting.

Leave a comment below if you want to know more about any of the events above, and others not discussed for lack of space. For the full programme of the event, please consult:
The Week Hay Festival Programme in Kerala 2010
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