Words Count 2019: Ideas, debate take centre stage at first edition of festival curated by Advaita Kala

At Words Count: The Festival of Words 2019, curated by noted author and screenwriter Advaita Kala, two pertinent issues — politics and religion — were at the forefront of the seven panel discussions organised on 3 February in Pune.

In her opening remarks, Kala, popularly known for her screenplay for the film Kahaani, stated that Words Count was a platform that operated within the philosophy of Samvad or dialogue with an aim to “inform and be informed”. In keeping with this idea, panellists at the event constituted a diverse group of figures, each with their own distinct viewpoint.

The festival kicked off with a conversation between Sunil Ambekar, the national organising secretary of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyapeeth Parishand (ABVP), and India Today’s Padmaja Joshi, that focused on the political ideology of the youth organisation and its relevance today, along with arguments that are often raised regarding its Hindu nationalism.

Pavan Varma (second from right) is honoured with the Words Smith Award at Words Count 2019. Image via Twitter/@WordsCount2019

Pavan Varma (second from right) is honoured with the Words Smith Award at Words Count 2019. Image via Twitter/@WordsCount2019

The country comes first and then everything else, Ambekar stated through the course of the talk, speaking about ABVP as an organisation that worked at the grassroots level, that was made up of students who spread its message among their peers.

Ambekar opined that ABVP’s focus had always been on nation-building; to Joshi’s questions about ABVP’s perceived anti-women and exclusionist policies, Ambekar responded with a mention of the organisation’s ‘Mission Sahasi’ initiative that focused on women's empowerment.

In the next discussion, the editor of the Observer Prafulla Ketkar, and MP and president of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) party Asaduddin Owaisi dove into a scathing debate on the idea of secularism in the country.

In response to multiple questions from Ketkar on Owaisi’s understanding of secularism and politics, the latter pointed out that within the Constitution of India, Articles 15, 25-28 — and not just the 42nd amendment — together shaped secularism. Owaisi suggested that the country ‘cannot have uniformity by destroying diversity’. He raised the viewpoint that the Sabarimala row had become an issue of faith while triple talaq became an issue of gender justice in the country. He also questioned why people weren’t voting for Muslim candidates and asked why India reported fewer number of Muslim graduates, higher drop-out rates and more incarcerated Muslims.

The afternoon session opened with a panel discussion on the 'Journey of a Writer', with a group of authors working in multiple genres (including horror, mythology and non-fiction) sharing what compelled them to write stories. Saiswaroopa Iyer talked about her novel Abhaya (centred on the Narakasura Vadh from the Bhagavata Purana) and how a platform like Kindle Direct Publishing came to her aid while she was starting out as a writer. Mayuresh Didolkar, in a similar vein, noted how “digital publishing had created a market for all kinds of readers,” pointing out that his short stories were received exceedingly well online. Moderated by VK Karthika, the panel stressed on the importance of regional language literature with Shefali Vaidya stating that “there was much more freshness and robustness now to regional languages” than ever before.

Kavita Kane, the author of mythological works like Sita’s Sister and Lanka's Princess, revolving around characters such as  Urmila and Surpanakha from the epics, said more than anything else, “it was important for a book to be read”.

The panel also spoke extensively about translation and the need for good translators not only from English to regional languages (and vice versa) but also from one Indian language to others (Tamil to Telugu and Marathi, for instance).

'Fake News Is Now Breaking News', was the discussion that followed this session; it was moderated by Kala and dwelt on grave aspects of the issue such as “the fact is that there is fake news every day, every hour…” as pointed out by journalist Bhupendra Chaubey. His fellow panelist Kanchan Gupta questioned the quality of the truth even if a news report was factually correct.

For her part, Congress spokesperson Shama Mohammed vociferously stated that there was no mention of fake news until 2014 while Madhav Nalapat opined that we all lived within echo chambers that ignored the voices of those we didn’t agree with.

Taking the conversation from a political to a philosophical plane were Gupta and former MP and author Pavan Varma. The latter was honoured with the Wordsmith Award 2019, and shared with the audience his views on spirituality and the philosophy of politics.

The diplomat-turned-author dwelt on the idea that “civilisation is a legacy to which you and I are heir” and said that he was merely bringing to the fore philosophies such as Chanakya’s ideas on statecraft (that existed, according to him, much before Machiavelli’s discourse).

The session that followed was one filled with lyric and melody as Prasoon Joshi engaged the audiences in a poetic experience even as he discussed the grave idea that as a nation, “We brush under the carpet, what doesn’t suit us, because it doesn’t suit the politics, the people”.

Words Count 2019 concluded with a discussion between Kala and the Minister of Textiles Smriti Irani; the duo talked about Irani's journey from being an ‘ambitious, stubborn and even belligerent child’ to being at the top of her game as an actor, and her subsequent foray into regional and national politics.

“I did not wait for life to happen to me, I just attacked it myself,” Irani said.

On questions related to the involvement of women in Indian politics, Irani stated that women have now become central to Indian politics, drawing on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of ‘women-led development.’ “I’d rather women be celebrated for the talent they bring to the table than the nomenclature they carry,” she added.

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Updated Date: Feb 04, 2019 17:57:02 IST

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