Saturday, 23 January 2010

Festival fun part one

Day one of the Jaipur Literature Festival was a write-off thanks to heavy fog while leaving Delhi, logistical issues at the hotel, then a lovely garden with peacocks and a fountain and good company. Consequently, we didn't actually arrive at the Diggi Palace festival venue till the end of the last session of the day, right before dinner.

Despite an invitation to the polo, I was determined to get in as much as possible on day two. First up was a session on Social Activism and the Arts: the panel featured two popular actors,
Rahul Bose and Shabana Azmi, so was packed out. (Although all sessions are packed out: there are thousands and thousands of people here.) French philosopher Catherine Clement was also a panellist and spoke passionately about her long-standing commitment to social activism, particularly for women's rights. Shabana Azmi - someone I grew up watching on the screen - spoke of growing up in an activist household. "My parents, their colleagues, people from the Indian theatre, all believed art should be used as an instrument for social change," she said.

"All were involved in the freedom struggle [against British rule], so it was inevitable that I should also get involved." She then pointed out that it was no good for actors like herself and Bose to commit to making films about social issues if audiences didn't go to see them.

"I believe all art has the potential to create a climate of sensitivity in which it is possible for change to occur," said Azmi.

Next up was a session on Ancient Indian Knowledge in Modern Times. I was slightly sceptical about this one but loved it: the panellists, in particular
Oscar Pujol and Upinder Singh, were engaging and passionate, and spoke of how ancient Indian texts - such as the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Puranas - were indeed far more progressive, creative and wide-ranging than many believe. "I think we underestimate the level of debate in ancient times," said Singh. "No country has as vast and varied an array of ancient texts and knowledge, and treats it with such disdain, and something really needs to be done about it," she said.

Later was one of the key events of the festival: a panel chaired by eminent Indian television journalist Barkha Dutt featuring Tina Brown of
The Daily Beast and a heap of others, including author Vikram Chandra, the poet Gulzar, and American journalist Steve Coll. The topic was: Can the Internet Save Books? I was fresh from a conversation with another festival-goer about how her new Kindle has changed her reading habits so was particularly interested. Unfortunately, as with many panel discussions with too many panellists jostling for the microphone, this one was a disappointment: not focused enough on the topic, no resolution. Although we did hear the best way to read in the bath: a Kindle in a 5x7 plastic bag.

It was, however, interesting to hear Tina Brown, who threw some acerbic barbs out at the modern media: "Newspapers are declining because of the corrosive, cost-cutting process of the evil organisations which run them," she said.

"There are only a couple [in the US] left doing any kind of proper narrative journalism. The rest are firing their best senior writers and getting cheap or free young journalists to fill the gap. People want quality, something that's true and real, and they're not getting it from network television news, they're not getting it from papers, so they're going online."

[Barkha Dutt didn't say anything to this; indeed her channel NDTV is part of a number of Indian 24-hour channels relying on sensationalist coverage and overuse of the 'breaking news' strap to hook in viewers.]

My favourite session of the day was The Queen's Hinglish. It was a discussion on how English language is used and how it's evolved to become uniquely Indian: something that's dubbed
Hinglish. The panel starred former BBC India correspondent Mark Tully, as well as screenwriter Prasoon Joshi and English professor and editor Ira Pande. The discussion was lively, funny and most importantly, on topic. Tully argued that the time is right for Hinglish to emerge on its own and for Indians to embrace it. "I mean, the Americans have made English their own, why shouldn't Indians?"

The panel pointed out that in coming years, there will be more English speakers in India than the rest of the world. "Language is a window to one's culture," was a recurring theme and comment. "Language is an evolutionary process," said Joshi. "In India we've seen so many different cultures, exposed to so many different languages, we've learnt to adapt. English or any other language can't destroy Indian culture, we know how to protect ourselves and rebirth to create a third culture."


Anonymous said...

Hey if I'd known you were in Jaipur too, we could have met up!



Anonymous said...

I WAS in Flow on Saturday night! who were you hanging out with?