Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Day 2 of the Hay Festival, Kanakakunnu Palace, Trivandrum – Forenoon

Shashi Tharoor, Jaishree Misra, and K.Satchidanandan
The day’s events started off at the Palace Hall with a joint discussion between Keralite authors (note: I absolutely abhor the term ‘Keralan’) Shashi Tharoor, Jaishree Misra (relative of Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai), and K.Satchidanandan. The general theme was on Malayalam literature and its dawdling prominence in world literature.

One concern was whether readers in Kerala were steadily shunning the Keralite literature and preferring non-Keralite literature: although this was the viewpoint of Misra, poet and critic Satchidanandan stated that such behaviour (if any) was transient and cited examples of works published simultaneously in English and Malayalam. The Malayalam literature had a plethora of amazing short stories and the poet personally believed that Malayalam literature was vibrant. He also pointed out Kunchan Nambiar’s flair for creating a fascinating world by combining myth and truth, garnished with humour. On the other hand, the works of Thakazhi Sivashankara Pillai, Vaikom Mohammed Basheer, and their peers was rooted in reality and reflecting the upheavals of their times.

Author Jaishree Misra (‘Ancient Promises’, ‘Accidents like Love and Marriage’, ‘Secrets and Lies’) related of the awe which she felt whenever Thakazhi visited Delhi to accept awards and honours. In fact, the key motivations behind her chosen career were the opportunity to travel around the world and win awards! She had also been struck by the good bonhomie between Malayalee writers- for instance, Thakazhi and his peers would sit at a table and chat about about literature, often stealthily indulging in the hidden bottle of toddy.

Tharoor voiced that Malayalee readers always appreciated foreign literature, as evidenced by his relatives in Palakkad who, back in the 1960s, had eagerly read the Malayalam translations of Jean-Paul Sartre’s and Franz Kafka’s works. He opined that since books in Malayalam were priced lower, the readership was likely to increase.

Jorge Volpi
At the session was conducted simultaneously at the Reading Room, Volpi, the Mexican novelist and essayist, talked about his writings (‘En busca de Klingsor’), his work as the Director of Canal 22 (a Mexican cultural television channel), as well as the general Mexican literature. One of the architects of the Mexican ‘Crack Movement’ (i.e. those who broke the existing literary conventions), Volpi stated that the world wrongly assumes (thanks to Gabriel Garcia Marquez) that Latin Americans live in magical realism, when the truth is that Mexico is like any other country with internet and Macs (admittedly, Mexicans are not surprised by magic/enchantment). An obvious antagonist of Marquez, Volpi stated the diminishing fame of Marquez as exemplified by the prominence of other post-magical realism writers from the region, including Mario Vargas Llosa (Noble Prize laureate from Peru). He also referred to his novel, Season of Ash (on the three female characters, those involved in their lives, and a variety of issues including the Chernobyl disaster, Human Genome Project, IMF, World Bank). His works are meant for the Mexican people and dislikes being applied the genre of ‘Latin American’, for Latin American is as broad and diverse a region as is Asia.

Basharat Peer
As could be expected, journalist and author Basharat Peer’s talk with The Week’s Mandira Nair resulted in a very charged environment at the Palace Hall, the main focus being his Crossword Prize winning book Curfewed Night. The Kashmiri author’s memoir is presented through the eyes of the present generation- all emotions laid bare without any restraints. Peer maintained that his book is filled with real-life incidents: being a journalist meant that he couldn’t write fiction but could only attempt at being a good journalist. He was quite critical about the conduct of the Indian Army at the disputed territories. The precariousness and brittleness of the state dragged in volatile questions. Yet, Peer remained candid about the challenges faced by Kashmiris: the solution to the Kashmir crisis couldn’t be a purely political one, but one based on morality and justice. Furthermore, the state was fighting the memories of its past history and progress remains unachievable until the ghosts of the past are addressed. A quick summary of the recent diplomatic process between the two countries was highlighted, and Peer called for a more reliable action by the governments.

Sonia Faleiro and William Dalrymple
The Bandstand witnessed the discussions between Vogue India’s contributing editor and author Sonia Faleiro and historian William Dalrymple. The theme was on their works, as well as the differences between the foci of their respective works- the lonely lives of the bar girls of Bombay and the Devadasis of Karnataka. Faleiro, author of the well-researched ‘Beautiful Thing: Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars’, believed that it was poverty which led the bar girls to resort to prostitution as a means of getting money. In many instances, parents/guardians had sold their daughters for money. Those who ended up in dance bars saw it as a means of sustaining themselves and their families. And when these bars were closed, the women were forced to turn to prostitution.
More on Dalrymple in the next post.

At the Bandstand, Paul Zacharia, Malayalam essayist and fiction author, talked about his social and political commitment.

Malayalam poet and Jnanpith Awardee ONV Kurup gave a reading, at the pertinent Reading Room, with K Satchidanandan. Later, at the same venue, Rosie Boycott, Tarun Tejpal, and KS Sachidananda Murthy discussed about books, politics, and journalism.

Past noon, Shashi Tharoor quizzed children’s novelist Michelle Paver at the Palace Hall, with special focus on her ‘The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness’ (a six-book series set in the pre-agricultural Stone Age), her research methods, as well as the myths which she incorporated.

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