Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 1 of the Hay Festival at Kanakakunnu Palace, Trivandrum – Forenoon

After running an errand in the morning, we reached Kanakakunnu Palace in the late morning. Our expectation of the Palace’s premises teeming with cars, attendees (including hordes of school and university students), and police, were dispelled upon seeing that the grounds maintained its serene self, with just the volunteers, the attendees, and the media. After a quick registration, we followed the well-labelled paths to the brimming Palace Hall where the inaugural session of the Hay Festival was still in progress, fringed by a gaggle of media. A quick look around confirmed that the attendees were diverse- from around the world and from around the country.

Inaugural Session
The Festival was inaugurated by MA Baby (Kerala’s Minister for Education and Cultural Affairs), who affirmed that this confluence of writers and creators from around the world was bound to provide an enriching experience for everyone.

Dr Shashi Tharoor, the MP for the Trivandrum constituency (who apparently played a key role in arranging the Hay Festival in Trivandrum), whilst delivering the keynote address, referred to the past and recent history of Kerala which clearly demonstrated the sponge-like nature of Keralites who are happy (and willing) to receive intellectual input without any reservations. The session was also addressed by Keralite actor Mammooty, as well as the Hay Festival’s producers Sanjoy Roy, Lyndy Cooke, and Peter Florence.

Vikram Seth
We remained in the opulent Palace Hall so as to attend novelist-poet Vikram Seth’s Q&A with Anita Sethi. This was Seth’s first visit to Trivandrum (and second visit to Kerala- he had previously visited Cochin) and he planned on utilising this opportunity to visit the nearby Kanyakumari (Cape Comorin), the southernmost tip of India. The discussions were entertaining and mercurial. The lover of violin and sarangi discussed his novel works such as the verse classic ‘The Golden Gate’, ‘An Equal Music’, the famous magnum opus ‘A Suitable Boy’, as well as ‘A Suitable Girl’, the upcoming sequel of ‘A Suitable Boy’ focusing on the now 80-year old Latha’s quest for a suitable bride for her grandson, slated for publishing in 2013 by Penguin. Apparently, many other characters from ‘A Suitable Boy’ will make their appearance in the sequel, with the exception of Cuddles (the dog). A great influence has been Alexander Pushkin’s versified ‘Eugene Onegin’.

Seth (who read PPE at Corpus Christi, Oxford) also recited sonnets from ‘The Golden Gate’ as well as some of his poignant and profound poems (some unpublished). He also composed a haiku on the spot. He related of how difficult it is to convert ideas into creative work- something I can certainly relate to, for my brain comes up with a 1001 ideas of which only 10 are committed into paper.

The session was followed by book-signing at the nearby tent (Simon Schama too was in the vicinity). What stood out was Seth’s patience and affability to everyone, taking infinite care in scribbling personalised messages on the book, and initiating small talk. We bought ‘The Humble Administrator’s Garden’ (a collection of poems) for our mother and stood in the queue. Soon enough, I realised that the concept of queuing still remains alien to most Indians- even if they are at a literary festival! Very well, enough of caustic!

It must be admitted that Seth was exceptionally charming, garnished with good humour and a genuine willingness to learn more about the reader. He gracefully signed the book for our mother and answered Ruth's questions on 'A Suitable Girl' and about whether any of his future work will feature good ol' Oxford (I suppose not). Finally meeting Seth was a longtime dream coming true for Ruth- for she had been an avid appreciator of his works. Seth’s diminutiveness was also striking- I always expected him to be tall- or perhaps, was it a projection of his literary stature?

After coming home, I opened ‘The Humble Administrator’s Garden’, and mysteriously, my eyes fell on the following in page 23:
'As is Spring in the City of Dreaming Spires'
Indeed, I still remember Oxford and its version of Spring- the Radcliffe Camera, the gardens of Corpus, and the gentle Isis...

On to Hay...
Since we couldn’t be in two places at the same time, here’s a list of what else happened simultaneously at other venues.

- Writer Amrita Tripathi read her recent works at the Reading Room.
- Miguel Syjuco of Philippines, the winner of the Man Asian Literary Prize in 2008, discussed about his novel Ilustrado in the adjacent Bandstand. He related of the days of yore when, in order to attain creativity, he attended creative writing classes. Whilst the classes were of great help and introduced him to other aspiring writers, he also realised its negative aspect: one component involved discussing the writings of the participants, which resulted in the writer being consciously/subconsciously influenced by the need to make his/her work acceptable to the other participants in order to gain their approval. Hence, it resulted in fettering one’s creativity.
- Movie makers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Hannah Rothschild discussed their works at the Reading Room with Jisha Krishnan, The Week’s editor.

Marcus du Sautoy
We ended up missing Professor Marcus du Sautoy’s fascinating talk (also at the Palace Hall). The Professor of Mathematics (and the successor of Richard Dawkins as the current Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science) at Oxford University discussed about his book, ‘The Num8er My5teries: A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life’. One interesting titbit was about prime numbers, those which are indivisible by other numbers, and cannot be reduced, but can be added or multiplied into larger numbers. For instance, the number 23 is considered to be unlucky - most notably, Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Yet, it is popular in the sporting area, where footballer David Beckham and basketball star Michael Jordan sport jerseys numbered 23. The same pattern is seen in other sportsmen, including Zidane who preferred jersey number 5 and Ronaldo’s jersey number 11. du Sautoy cited an experiment which he conducted on an English lower premier league football team who had been performing dismally. After he assigned prime numbers to the footballers, the team’s performance improved and they came second in the league rankings. But halt those who have decided to utilise prime numbers in all aspects of their life- do note this pattern wasn’t repeated later!

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