There is a moment in Vahid Mousaian’s 2011 film Golchehreh when the central character Ashraf Khan, who owns a cinema theatre in early 90s Afghanistan, is informed that the Najibullah Communist-led government has fallen and the Taliban have control of the city. Ashraf Khan has struggled to keep his cinema alive in the early part of the film, and the news that the increasing opposition by Taliban mullahs will now ban anything cultural etches a profound sadness on his face, along with worry and angst.
Much of that sentiment was echoed at 4 pm in JLF’s central lawn yesterday when festival organisers had to announce that a video link by Rushdie would not go through as planned, because the increasing protests by orthodox Muslims across India had escalated to the point that there were Muslims in the audience who were threatening violence if the video conference was aired. There were rumours also that a large crowd of Muslim protestors was heading towards the venue to create problems. The organisers called it an ‘idiotic situation’, and that they were ‘pushed against the wall’, but made a call to put the safety of attendees first. The responses have been covered over numerous TV channels, including the blistering impromptu panel discussion by Tehelka editors and public figures that included Salim Engineer, secretary of Jamaat-e-Islami explain his side of the protest. For the first time in my life, I started to look around me and actually spot the Muslim faces in the audience, and wonder if a riot would break out any moment. This was bad, we realised, not only, because of free speech, but because we were looking at Muslims as potential rabble-rousers, not as spectators. Couldn’t it have been possible that several Muslims were here to view the conference, to hear what Rushdie had to say? Read the rest of this entry
Many sessions have been cancelled or rehashed due to the early exit of the 4 controversial authors. Annie Proulx couldn’t make it due to bad weather in Canada. This only makes my ‘avoid the big names’ theory more valid.
Anyway, Day 4 has been an up and down sorta day.
To start off, we had the Bollywood-focus session with Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi, Gulzar and Vishal Bharadwaj titled Kahaani Kise Kehte Hain: Script, Story, Screenplay. It seems like crowds from Delhi had arrived only for this one session. A catfight erupted in the row in front of us regarding seats, and had to be settled by security staff. And then the MC Catriona introduced the session totally butchering the Hindi title to much laughter from the audience. I have a theory about the use of British Council people introducing sessions that I will elaborate on a bit later. Read the rest of this entry
And the drama only continues around JLF.
First, let me link to a couple of statements surrounding the Satanic Verses issue, if you haven’t already read about the whole thing through Twitter.
Hari Kunzru’s statement on the events: http://www.harikunzru.com/archive/reading-satanic-verses-jaipur-2012
William Dalrymple’s statement on how things unfolded: http://www.firstpost.com/india/i-had-no-idea-reading-from-the-satanic-verses-is-a-crime-dalrymple-189924.html
I’ve already said much of how I felt in yesterday’s post, but this quote by Dalrymple is quite telling, “We can support free speech right up to the point that they break the law.” Really, should anyone have to point out the fallacy of that statement? Either free speech IS the law, or it isn’t. Read the rest of this entry
When your day starts with Shabnam Virmani singing Kabir with a tambura and owning the otherwise empty stage, life feels pretty good. I have been a fangirl of Shabnam’s since I saw The Kabir Projects’s documentary Chalo Hamara Des early last year, and getting to see her and hear her at the festival has been a joy.
The morning session on Day 2 was on Creativity, Censorship & Dissent. Ironic I know, considering the series of events yesterday regarding Rushdie. The speakers on this panel were a numerous bunch, moderated by Tehelka’s Shoma Chaudhury. I’ve been dissatisfied with the quality of moderators JLF has been selecting – they all seem unprepared, nervous, unable to relate to the speakers and generally unimpressive. Shoma Chaudhury in particular made a grave faux pas in introducing one of the speakers in this session, saying poet Cheran was from Tamil Nadu, when in fact, he’s a Sri Lankan Tamil exiled and living in Canada. I was even more appalled when Cheran gently corrected her and she didn’t even apologise or acknowledge the enormity of her error. Are these moderators selected on the spot and not given any background material? Are they not supposed to have read at least some of the speakers they are dealing with? And then there is the tendency to go into lengthy introduction regarding the topic – Shoma went on to talk about the ‘profound purpose of art’ and how it cannot exist as a ‘supermarket of liberal sensibilities’ and when she kept going for ten whole minutes, I started getting frustrated. There are 5 specific writers on stage meant to be talking about their experiences with censorship, and instead we are listening to Tehelka’s editor talk on dissent. This was all the more problematic when at the end we ran out of time and could not hear the speakers respond to anything more than 2 questions. In addition, when a cheeky audience member mentioned that censorship talk was rubbish when a bad poet like Sibal was a guest, Shoma tried to defend Sibal as a choice of speaker. Now Sibal has been an idiot, we know, but defenders of Sibal’s idiotic poetry deserve to be called bigger idiots, no? But then, I doubt Shoma has actually read his work either, she seems consistently clueless. Okay, okay, I’ll stop my rant and come back to the speakers. Read the rest of this entry
I’ve been mostly quiet on this blog for more than a year now because I’ve found it quite hard to maintain consistent flow with reading. Combined with the fact that I’ve moved countries, it wasn’t easy finding enough inspiration to blog, but with some determination, I made it JLF 2012 to find out for myself what the literary scene in India is like, and I’m blogging about it so I can ruminate a bit about some of the stuff going on.
First, Salman Rushdie is officially not attending because of security concerns, so that’s one question answered. It’s disappointing because I’ve missed Salman Rushdie on another occasion at Melbourne Writers’ Festival too. It is however not surprising, considering India’s current political climate. It’s enervating though that several writers took to reading The Satanic Verses on stage at a session. Bravo, Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi. Read the rest of this entry