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(ARCHIVE) VOL. XXII NO. 23, March 16-31, 2013
From Gandhi & Rajaji to Em & Big Hoom
With Sushila Ravindranath
At the Hindu Lit Festival

When someone writes a spectacular first novel, you always wonder if an encore is possible. So it was with The Hindu Lit For Life 2013 held recently. Everyone can breathe a sigh of relief. The second edition of the Festival, which started in Delhi on February 6th and came to Chennai on the 16th and 17th, was well worth waiting for.

The city, which takes pride in its love for books and arts, had, till last year, lacked a literary festival of this sort, featuring an amalgam of writers, artists and readers discussing eclectic subjects. Thanks to the curator of the Festival, Nirmala Lakshman, Director, Kasturi & Sons, some well-known names and some not so well-known ones brought interesting perspectives to English and language writing in India during the two days it was held in Chennai.

It is so important that the inaugural event grabs everybody's attention to make sure that the audience want more and stay to check out what follows. What better start than Gopalkrishna Gandhi talking about his new book My dear Bapu: Letters from C. Rajagopalachari to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, to Devadas. He said, "Very few have written letters with as much clarity as M.K. Gandhi. There were days he did not eat, but there never was a day when he did not write a letter." After his introduction, actor Rahul Bose (most of us saw him in Vishwaroopam in a violent villainous role) and well-known Chennai theatre actor Yog Japee read excerpts from the handwritten letters. Both, particularly Bose who read Gandhi's letters, brought the great men to life.

Rajaji and Bapu discussed khadi, temple entry for Dalits, prohibition and dietary experiments. Rajaji agrees with Bapu on abolishing untouchability, but doesn't agree on separate electorates based on religion. They bicker constantly in their exchanges. What comes through is the enormous affection and love and respect they had for each other. That generation was not inhibited about expressing its emotions. The reading ended with a recording by M.S. Subbulakshmi. It was truly a moving experience.

Then we moved from the sublime to coffee. Coffee breaks are the fun part of such events. Literary Festivals are not usually occasions where people come to be seen. You are there mostly to hear. Where else do you get to mingle with Arvind Krishna Merhotra, the gentle poet, translator and anthologist (apparently he does not suffer fools gladly), Jerry Pinto, writer-novelist, Chalapathi, the historian, and many others. You hear snatches of interesting conversations and get books signed before you rush to the next session.

In the session 'South of the Vindhyas: Stories from the Southern States', Malayalam novelist Benyamin and Kannada writers Vaidehi and Sarah Aboobacker talked about why they write. Aboobacker said, being a Muslim woman writer, she started writing when society did not care much for women of the community. Vaidehi echoed similar views. "I have seen women being oppressed. I never questioned it. But when I grew up, I realised it was due to a much larger social context. I have understood the strength of these women and I want to speak about them." Their passion for their cause came through very well.

As Day Two progressed, all the chatter was about who was going to get the coveted Hindu Literary Prize. While awaiting the announcement, the audience were offered a tasty appetiser that cooked up a storm. 'Cooking Up A Storm: The Secrets Of Good Food' was moderated by Farzana Contractor, editor of Upper Crust magazine, who talked about how Behram Contractor, who was known as Busy Bee (an entire generation grew up on his columns), made food writing popular. Then she tried to keep Rocky Singh and Mayur Sharma – popular hosts of the NDTV Good Times' food and travel show 'Highway On My Plate', which inspired their best-selling book of the same name – under control. They spoke, sang, and danced and had the audience eating out of their hands. The other panellists were Chef Dharmen Makawana and general manager Pascal Dupuis from The Leela Palace (Chennai).

Representing the jury, activist-scholar Susie Tharu then came on the dais and explained how difficult it had been choosing just one work from a splendid array of riches. The contenders were journalist author Jerry Pinto for Em and the Big Hoom, the Man-Booker-Prize-shortlisted author Jeet Thayil for Narcopolis, Kiran Nagarkar for The Extras, Anjum Hasan for Difficult Pleasures and Easterine Kire for Bitter Wormwood. Actor and former Censor Board chairperson Sharmila Tagore opened the envelope and announced that The Hindu Literary Prize 2012 went to Jerry Pinto, who received a standing ovation from the audience.

Any literary event spread over two days is bound to have some very good, some good and some boring sessions. The Hindu Lit Fest was no different. But, overall, it was a good event in a good location with a good time being had by all. As Jerry Pinto said in his acceptance speech, "It can't get any better."

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In this Issue

Dear Mr. Finance Minister
Desalination plants
Govt. funding helps heritage thrive
The Memorials of Schwartz
KVK and his public causes
The Stanley Hospital Story by Shobha Menon
From Gandhi & Rajaji to Em & Big Hoom
Past Times
A management guru remembered

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan
Dates for Your Diary
Madras Eye


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