Tata Literature Live 2018: Conversations about activism, leisure and India's diversity dominate on Day 2

Dear Diary,

Today has been a day devoted to serious, not fake, news. If yesterday was about Hinduism and Bollywood drama, today belonged to politics and the language of protest. The stars in this case truly deserved their celebrity status.

A Weaponisation of Emotions had panelists discuss how emotions, stirred by fake news and inflammatory social media posts, can whip up mass hysteria.

In the afternoon, Carnatic singer and Magsaysay Awardee TM Krishna used the stage to talk about art and activism and how the two are interlinked. One thing that stood out in his session and the one that followed was that neither of figures in question liked labels.

Krishna glibly spoke about rejecting the in-vogue title of 'activist'. An hour later, political and social activist Aruna Roy touched upon her dislike for labels. “If we get out of it, things will work better,” she said.

“I’ve been called an Urban Maoist, an Urban Naxalite and a left intellectual, though that is usually used as a gaali. I don’t consider it one.”

Aruna Roy, renowned socio-political activist in conversation with journalist Anuradha SenGupta on the challenges and achievements of the Right to Information Act (RTI) in India at Tata Literature Live!

Aruna Roy, renowned socio-political activist in conversation with journalist Anuradha SenGupta on the challenges and achievements of the Right to Information Act (RTI) in India at Tata Literature Live!

Roy spoke with ease, adding touches of wry humour and when needed, a call to action. “How many of you don’t have problems with the government? Don’t you have questions, like where are my taxes going, why are IAS officers’ salaries increasing but those of workers remaining stagnant for years? Everyone has a stake in the right to information (RTI), one way or another,” she said.

Her appeal to Mumbaiites to protest reminded me of a recent Newslaundry podcast where the anchors spoke about how the city doesn’t have a protest culture, unlike Delhi or Kolkata. “People like me go and sit on the street to protest. You just have to sit at your computer and write something.”

If Roy was seeking a call to action, my afternoon session told me to do just the opposite.

Author Robert Dessaix, known for his paean to idleness, The Pleasures of Leisure spent two hours convincing a group of 30 people to do nothing. Yes, literally nothing. “Leisure is being freely human for the pleasure of it,” he said.

“What do you do for leisure?”

“I smoke weed,” a woman piped up.

“Ah, yes,” he said, “Smoking has been a hugely important form of leisure. It’s the old way men gave themselves permission to be idle. When people smoked, they thought! It’s elegant but there’s that little thing that it kills you!”

The Pleasures of Leisure with Robert Dessaix

The Pleasures of Leisure with Robert Dessaix

Dessaix is a funny man, encouraging people to think that time that is their own form of wealth. In between, he dropped insight into life in Australia versus India. “In Australia, sleeping in or a siesta is frowned upon. Walking is a suspicious activity. If we want to walk for leisure, we get a dog so we can walk with it. Here, I can sit at Marine Drive and just observe people. At home, if I do it, people will think I want to molest their kids and call the cops.”

It was an interesting session, though I wish he had addressed how leisure is technically a privilege – not everyone has the wherewithal to just sit idle, or sleep in, or travel the world.

It is, after all, my privilege that I can go attend a literature festival on a weekday and drink overpriced and terrible tea and too-spicy chutney sandwiches. And that I have a reservation, in seats, in all auditoriums.

As with any other festivals, seats are reserved for sponsors (who are thanked at the end of less interesting sessions), NCPA, and media folk. A very dignified lady, all crinkled silk and high heels, is appalled at this reservation. “What’s the point of free entry if we can’t choose our seats?” she asks. Another member, dressed in complete contrast – shorts and a t-shirt which said 'pendejo' (loosely stupid or asshole) – asked a more direct question, “Which are the seats for mere mortals?”

All the mere mortals and reservation members are seated when Sir Mark Tully receives the Lifetime Achievement Award. In his introduction, Pavan K Varma called him the high priest of Nizamuddin and an inspiration “for all those who wish to emulate an objective, fearless, intrepid, and incisive reporter, author and commentator”.

Sir Mark Tully receiving the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award from Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons; Anil Dharker, Founder and Festival Director, Literature Live! and Khushroo Suntook, Chairman, NCPA

Sir Mark Tully receiving the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award from Harish Bhat, Brand Custodian, Tata Sons; Anil Dharker, Founder and Festival Director, Literature Live! and Khushroo Suntook, Chairman, NCPA

In his speech, Sir Tully insisted that despite attending so many literature festivals, he wasn’t a literary man but a journalist. His love for India, the country of his birth, is evident. In the conversation that followed with Barkha Dutt, he spoke about how India’s biggest strength is its diversity, how it has a remarkably free press (only limited by bureaucracy and ownership) and how Hindutva is just played out as a political issue. “It doesn’t have the huge public support that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) thinks it has. What right do the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) or Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) have to speak for all Hindus?”

At heart, he added, India hasn’t changed. “It has and is a multi-religious society. Diversity is its biggest strength.”

That, dear diary, is something we could do well to keep in mind for the six-month lead-up to the elections.

A note: Tata Lit Live could do well with reducing the amount of plastic and paper in use – there were plastic bottles everywhere, and maps and booklets about the festival, which lay discarded at the end of the day.

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Updated Date: Nov 18, 2018 12:11:04 IST

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