Following a sea of controversy surrounding this season’s Bangalore Literature Festival, naturally there was much excitement in the air over the talks and discussions at the lit fest.
As I entered the venue of the lit fest on Day -1, the first thing that effortlessly drew my attention in the events schedule was the list of sessions marked under the bold heading “Left Wing” and “Right Wing.” However, my efforts to decipher the code by reading the topics through a sharp eye, went in vain.
The sessions on both the stages were evenly distributed, with no clue on left and right debate, whatsoever. Out of irresistible curiosity I casually asked one of the organisers what are these ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ Wing stages all about. Pat came the tongue-in-cheek reply: “no meaning attached. It is just tongue-in-cheek.”
While I give a sneak peek into the first day of the much-hyped Bangalore Literature Festival, I must confess that I did not attend the second day’s programme, hence this account is only limited to the inaugural day. It would be really unfair to generalise the happenings at the BLF, having not attended the programmes on the concluding day.
An important session on day 2: Are we heading towards an intolerant India today?: Aakar Patel, Dinesh Gundu Rao, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Madhu Kishwar, Padma Rao Sundarji, Saba Naqvi, Sambit Patra, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and Vikram Sampath, Barkha Dutt
Coming to the point, not to one’s surprise, a lot of talk at the lit fest, be it poetry recital, key-note address, discourses or panel discussions, revolved around the word “intolerance.” Needless to say, “intolerance” was the hot topic of the day, with most of the speakers, be it relevant to their session or not, touched upon tolerance debate at one point or the other.
Perhaps, two people who did not get swayed by the discussions on ‘intolerance’ were Bollywood actor Ayushmann Khurrana and his author-wife Tahira Kashyap! They stuck to their topic, of Bollywood, their co-authored book “Cracking the Code,” and little bit of entertainment.
‘Intolerants’ lashed at by speakers
Renowned author Shashi Deshpande who was the key-note speaker post-inaugural ceremony, kickstarted the debate, as she defended the authors who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards in protest against Kannada writer M M Kalburgi’s killing and Dadri lynching incident and the government’s silence over the issue.
She said returning the award was a legitimate form of protest. Obviously, there will be differences of opinion in the literary world, but it should not lead to personal enmity, she noted.
Shashi Deshpande had recently quit the Sahitya Akademi General Council saying she was deeply distressed by the silence of the Akademi on the murder of Prof M M Kalburgi. And her views expressed at the lit fest, were in complete contrast to the views of Vikram Sampath, who was the Director of the Bangalore Literature Fest till recently.
As everyone would know by now, thanks to the media coverage given to the issue because of the ‘intolerance’ tag, Vikram Sampath stepped down from the seat of the director of Bangalore Literature Festival, after people openly criticised him and withdrew their participation from BLF, protesting against Vikram’s comments on ‘Award wapsi’ in one of his articles. On the festival day, Vikram was quietly seated among the audience listening to Shashi Deshpande’s strong speech and clapping once in awhile.
In a session on poetic readings, Bengali poet Subodh Sarcar too shortly spoke about the intolerance issue. He defended the responsibility of writers to protest against intolerance.
‘Intolerance towards Kannada ‘intolerable’’
There was ‘intolerance’ at show even in the event! In the only Kannada session, “Sirigannada – Hinde, Indu, Munde” (Kannada – past, present and future) Kannada writer and critic Narahalli Balasubramanya used the opportunity to lash out at the organisers for not giving enough representation to Kannada literature. Bringing the concept of intolerance to his argument, he said the Bengaluru Literature Festival was intolerant towards Kannada.
Kannada scholar Hampa Nagarajaiah went a step ahead to describe what tolerance is all about. Referring to definition of tolerance in the oldest Kannada language book Kavirajamarga, Hampa Na said tolerance is all about patience. “We may or may not agree with others’ viewpoint, but we should listen.”
Sirigannada- Hindhe, Indhu, Mundhe; Kannada past, present and future: Chandrashekhara Kambara, Hampa Nagarajaiah, Kamala Hampana and Narahalli Balasubrahmanya. Video courtesy: BLF
While columnist Aakaar Patel spoke about intolerance debate in an interactive reading session on ‘Manto in times of intolerance,’ Advertisement Guru Piyush Pandey, too mentioned a line or two about how intolerance is spreading in the society. To support his point, he chose a different example: of recent incident of British Airways asking the full name of Sachin Tendulkar. “The way fans of Tendulkar trolled British Airways following the incident, shows the intolerance in the society,” he opined.
To evoke some warmth among the audience who by then had heard an earful about intolerance, the ad giant screened a Google advertisement themed ‘Reunion,’ which narrates an emotional story of an Indian and Pakistani friends.
Political slugfest and ‘intolerance’ once again!
In a session on ‘Anna to AAP,’ two politicians – Ashutosh from Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Sambit Patra from BJP got into a political verbattle. The discussion soon took the form of typical political slugfest, with both of them criticising each other’s parties and trying to score brownie points.
The audience, unmindful of where the debate was heading to, cheered both of them whenever one scored over the other.
Later in the day, noted historian Ramachandra Guha took the centre stage to speak about eight threats to freedom of expression. He began his talk with the question should there be a limit to free speech and ended up with examples to prove how the society was becoming more and more intolerant.
It was a jam-packed crowd for Guha’s talk, and a lot of people nodding in agreement or clapping hands in between the speech whenever he made a strong point. At the end of the speech, there were more than a dozen people raising hands to ask questions. Among all the sessions which were closed with strict adherence to given time, Guha’s talk was the only one that was extended for a few minutes as people went on asking questions one after the other.
Tolerance all the way, during film screening
While the debates and discussions were taking place on the sprawling lawn of Hotel Royal Orchid, a set of cinema enthusiasts moved to the other corner eager to watch the first movie to be screened on the day as part of the lit fest. The enthusiastic audience who had come to watch Beary movie which was to be screened, were made to wait for quite some time due to technical snags. Finally Beary did not get screened – instead another movie The Good Road was shown.
However, there was display of tolerance among the audience. None of the audience gathered there made hue and cry even after all the glitches. Someone from the audience even quipped: “Let us not make it an issue. We are supposed to be tolerant!”
Amid the sessions that were going on simultaneously in “Right Wing” and “Left Wing” stages, there were a good number of audience standing at the centre of the venue, wondering which way to go. Perhaps a few audience were in a confusion of prioritising the session, while a few possibly loathed both!
All the videos shared here were originally shared by Bangalore Literature Festival organisers. Watch all the videos of all discussions, on BLF livestreaming site: http://livestream.com/litfest/blr/videos/106375065
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So did the writers realize that making those speeches and saying what they did is the strongest endorsement that we’re supremely tolerant? Imagine saying such things in say Saudi Arabia or Brunei. 10 of the finest from a water soaked rattan cane would be the order of the day.