Today was the final day of the literature festival and it ended on a political note. It’s hard to ignore what’s happening in the country at this moment and quite a few panellists used the stage to talk about it. As did Arun Shourie, who was there to speak about the judiciary and his book, Anita Gets Bail. His session was packed, with people crowding the bookstore aisles. They got their hours’ worth as Shourie spoke of the follies of the judiciary, read out verbose language used in cases, and elaborated on why things today are more serious than they were during the Emergency. Shourie stood for most of the session, and excused his frequent cutting into what interviewer Ayaz Memon was saying with a glib, ‘I’m a graduate of the Indian parliament. It’s what we do’.
“We are seeing the systematic decline or weakening of all our institutions. The problem is each of us, the middle class/professionals have become the facilitators. We are waiting for someone else to take the lead but unwilling to do anything ourselves,” he said. He ended with a call for action. “Things have reached a critical point now. We have to convince the leaders that not just the country but you too are in danger. I’m not saying you have to be another Gandhi but chaar anna Gandhi toh bano,” he said.
Shourie’s session closed what was an eventful day (in Bandra). In the morning, Ravi Agrawal spoke about how the smartphone is transforming India; Priyanka Pathak-Narain discussed her twice banned book on Baba Ramdev, From Godman to Tycoon; and Nazia Erum, who wrote the wonderful Mothering a Muslim, was part of a discussion on the modern Muslim identity. The extremely talented Marryam H Reshii discussed the diversity of Indian food along with Shoba Narayan. She expressed her happiness that India didn’t have a national dish. “We are divided by food but we should enjoy that diversity it. Food has become too homogenised now. It's scary because our children may never know real Indian food,” she said.
Coming back to another popular Indian figure who doesn’t comment on important issues, an afternoon session gave insight into the mind of Sachin Tendulkar. As it turns out, cricket was the only sport featured in the festival. Boria Majumdar was part of a discussion on cricket as a religion (at NCPA) and on biographies (at Bandra).
Majumdar co-authored Playing It My Way, the autobiography of Sachin Tendulkar and spent much time extolling the man’s virtues, which include neatly cutting slices of cake and washing the dishes at his home in London. “I pushed him to talk about the subject of match-fixing. He told me that as a national icon, he comes with baggage. ‘One wrong word I say can destroy people’s lives. That’s a big responsibility’,” he said.
I am not a fan of Tendulkar and his god-like status but this statement sounded like an excuse. Majumdar did share an interesting observation made by Virat Kohli, who said that cricketers were ‘icons at personal convenience’. Kohli at least has an opinion on things even if they can be taken as controversial.
The Indian cricket captain would find a sympathetic ear in author Lionel Shriver. She has courted much controversy for her ‘radical’ thoughts on everything from the #MeToo movement, her dislike for the terms cultural appropriation and privilege, and how identity politics movement is ghettoising literature. She keeps herself inured from trolls and criticism by staying away from social media – ‘I only use my email’. “The hard left is a bit scary, they have a hunger for offense and they constantly need new victims to take them down. It's like we've invented a new sport.”
Shriver pulled no punches during an interview titled Offending Everyone. “I don’t think cultures have borders; they bleed seamlessly into each other. There’s the tendency to assess literature in moral or political terms but that’s a joyless way to go about reading. I don't go to fiction to be morally instructed,” she said. Shriver’s words had many in the audience nodding their heads in agreement. One silver-haired audience member mentioned she was a fan – she first heard Shriver speak at JLF and has read all her books. “She is controversial but she makes sense.”
Earlier in the day, Shriver made much sense when discussing the adaptations from manuscript to movie with former IAS officer and author, Upamanyu Chatterjee and playwright Alexi Kaye Campbell. Some quotable quotes:
“Increasingly novels are seen as stepping stones to HBO.”
“Act of reading is an act of appropriation. You make it yours.”
“If today’s TV and films weren’t good, they wouldn't be a threat to reading books.”
“Life’s too short to read War and Peace (but you can watch its adaptation).”
The others too had their say. Upamanyu mentioned that he and his wife don’t watch TV at all. “We read like crazy and don’t talk to each other!” Alexi cited the example of his niece devouring books because her parents brought her up that way. “It’s like the Catholic Church says, you get them by the age of seven, and you’ve got them for life.”
Closing notes: This was my first attendance at the Mumbai literature festival. Many regulars spoke about the quality, and the crowd declining over the years. The new venue wasn’t a hit – how can a bookstore run out of copies of the authors in session? On the plus side, there were some outstanding sessions and workshops, and I now have a cache of new books in my library.
That’s all for Mumbai, dear diary. See you at JLF!
Book of the Year (Fiction): All the Lives we Never Lived, Anuradha Roy
Book of the Year (Non-Fiction): The RSS: A View to the Inside, Walter K Anderson and Shridhar Damle
First Book of the Year (Fiction): Latitudes of Longing, Shubhangi Swarup
First Book of the Year (Non-Fiction): Asia Reborn, Prasenjit Basu
Publisher of the Year: HarperCollins Publishers India
Business Book of the Year: The Billionaire Raj, James Crabtree
Sultan Padamsee Award for Playwriting: Hello Farmaish, Sneha Sapru and Watching You, Bettina Gracias
Big Little Book Award Author: Nagesh Hegde
Big Little Book Award Illustrator: Nina Sabnani
Updated Date: Nov 20, 2018 15:54 PM