Kolkata Literary Festival 2019: Andrew Sean Greer, Shashi Tharoor make for an engaging, electric Day 1
Day 1, featuring Ruchira Gupta, Andrew Sean Greer and Shashi Tharoor among others, made for a stimulating start to the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2019.
“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman,” opened Ruchira Gupta, quoting Simone De Beauvoir, in my first session of Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2019. We were in Alliance Francaise Du Bengale at 'Cafe Litteraire: Still the Second Sex?'. The room was packed. All the chairs were full and there were people lining the walls and the sides of the room in multiple layers. In fact, it was such a tight squeeze that my furious scribbling was met with disapproval from my neighbours who were no doubt being poked in the ribs. But there was so much I wanted to remember, to come back to, that the scribbling continued undeterred.
Ruchira Gupta and Paromita Chakravarti, joined later by Saikat Majumdar, explored the pioneering work of Simone De Beauvoir sixty years after the book was first published, and came to the conclusion that it still as relevant as ever. “No other book has challenged inequality the same way,” said Ruchira. “Simone addressed inequality at home.” Ruchira via Simone pointed out that we are first and foremost exposed to inequality at home, where we learn that it is okay for men to order and women to obey. This is the root of all inequity. After being exposed to this behaviour as normal it doesn’t strike us as wrong when we encounter other forms of inequality outside the home like class or race discrimination. Unless we tackle this fundamental disbalance we will not have complete success in defeating all the other forms of inequality that exist within our societies. The intimate setting of the event which was held in the Alliance Francaise Library really allowed the audience to connect with the speakers and get involved with the discussion. It was a dynamic and relevant session that planted seeds in my mind that kept germinating. A great session to begin the day with.
The next session I attended was 'Off Centre: Writing the Real India' which had Prajwal Parajuly and Sumana Roy in conversation with Kota Neelima. They talked about how when you come from a community that hasn’t been written about much there is always pressure about how you represent them. “A lot of people have written to me saying how is it that you have decided to wash our dirty linen in public? Why did you choose to write about women being quarantined in cowsheds when they are undergoing menstruation, for a western audience? I have to tell them I am a fiction writer, not a public relations brochure for my community!” said an animated Prajwal Parajuly. “The characters in my book don’t represent a community, a people or a religion. They only represent themselves.” They were of the opinion that the burden of representation should be left to lit fests and socio classes and not the writer.
The next session I attended took place in the festive atmosphere of Allen Park, the biggest venue of this edition of the festival. It was 'More on Less: Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Sean Greer in conversation with Priti Paul and Sandip Roy'. This was a really fun session, light, with a lot of laughs thrown in, quite like the book they were discussing. Andrew was refreshing, relatable, and just the right amount of adorably self-deprecating. When asked if winning the Pulitzer changed his perception of himself he joked, “Well here I am! You didn’t invite me here before this did you? It’s changed my life! It’s still a shock to me that I won. But now I know that I am not a bad writer.” He talked about how it amuses him when people refer to his novel as a sort of gay Eat Pray Love. He said it wasn’t meant to be a travelogue of a white man going around the world: it was meant to make fun of the whole thing.
The closing session of the day was 'The Great Indian Paradox: Shashi Tharoor in conversation with David Davidar' in an absolutely full to bursting Allen Park. The session was dynamite. Shashi Tharoor, as articulate and eloquent as ever, didn’t mince words when discussing the current political state of the country. He talked about some of the most baffling and to his mind dangerous “paradoxes” of the Prime Minister. “There are so many! I counted 18 once but a big one is that he is one of the best orators, a loquacious and articulate speaker and yet when his own representatives commit a crime he responds with deafening silence.” The atmosphere at his session was electric and his comments were met with enthusiastic applause by an engaged audience that hung onto his every word.
The day was packed with so many interesting programmes, all taking place simultaneously, that it was really hard to choose which ones to attend. Other notable sessions were Upamanyu Chatterjee discussing his latest novel The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian with Jerry Pinto; Anuradha Roy on All the Lives We Never Lived; Kunal Basu on his writing process, and many more. It was a stimulating start to the festival and I am excited to see what the next two days hold in store for us.