part 3: The Japanese sense of Aesthetics

The concept of mono no aware that I discussed in part 2 finds expression in Japanese art and literature including in the works of the latest Nobel laureate Kazuo Ishiguro. Even though the concept originated in the Heian Era (8th-12th century), it started gaining prominence in Japanese culture with the works of the 18th century scholar Motoori Norinaga.

The sweetest songs are those that tell us of our saddest thoughts (PB Shelly). But songs or no songs, the sadness about the passing of beautiful things and pleasant moments may have an underlying elusive shade of sweetness. Maybe, that is what mono no aware is all about.

The Heian Era also saw the origin of the three art forms of Japanese refinements: kado, kodo, and chado. Kado is the native name for the Japanese art of flower arrangement which is also known as ikebana. Kodo is appreciating the subtle variations of incense and chado is the famous Japanese tea ceremony. The origin and refinement of all the three forms bear the influence of Buddhism.

I am fascinated by the Japanese tea ceremony. It is said that a Buddhist monk discovered tea. While dhyan which traveled from India became a refined form of meditation and culture known as Zen after reaching Japan, the simple act of taking tea to remain alert and ward off cold developed into a kind of religion reaching its Zenith during the time of emperor Hideyoshi and tea master Sen No Rikyu.

Chado can be loosely translated as the way of the tea. Detailed attention is given to the choice of the utensils, the movements of the host and the guests. The decoration inside is austere following the principle of wabi-sabi. There are four basic elements of the ritual: harmony, respect, purity, and tranquility. Care is taken to see that the location of the tea house, its surroundings, its interior and the objects inside are all in harmony. One has to bow down or crawl to reach inside, kneel down and bow to the hanging scroll and sit down in tatami. It is like going inside a temple. A special connection between the host and the guest is made when they honour each other. Purity is obtained when the actions of the host seem spontaneous, not rehashed. The overall effect is meditative, tranquil bringing all participants to here and now.

Another concept of aesthetics associated with Japanese art, literature, and culture is yugen. The underlying principle is that certain deeper truths cannot be explicitly expressed and can only be alluded to or hinted at. Even those that can be explicitly expressed can achieve a sublime and mysterious status by being alluded to thus deepening their effect.

I started this series with a clarification about the poetry form haiku. Some readers have opined that we cannot be too strict about the form of poetry that has undergone change over the centuries. Agreed. However, it should not water down to a lamentation about the low office wage with no reference to nature or with nothing to juxtapose. To end this series, here a few of my favourite haikus:

Come come ! I call ...
but the fireflies 
flash way
into the darkness (Onitsura)

Watching the spring moon
rise
I no longer bother
about the mountains (Kyorai)
(hint: the spring moon is more transient than the mountain)

What does this mean?
Chrysanthemums
and jonquils
blooming together (shiki)

The leaves never know
which leaf
will be first to fall..
does the wind know? (Soseki)

Preach away cricket
it doesn't matter to me
I know 
it's autumn (Soseki)

There goes a beggar
naked
except for his robes
of heaven and earth (Kikaku)

Since I first became 
a hermit
The frogs have sung 
only of old age (Issa)

Day darken!
frogs say by day
at night they cry bring light
old grumblers (Buson)

How can a creature 
be so hated
as a winter fly
yet live so long (kikaku)

Among these lovely 
cherry blossoms
a woodpecker
hunts for a dead tree (Joso)

If my grumbling wife
were still alive
I just might enjoy
tonight's moon (Issa)

Over the ruins 
of a shrine
a chestnut tree
still lifts its candles (Basho)

An old silent pond
into the pond
a frog jumps
splash ! silence again (Basho)
(This seemingly simple haiku has hundreds of translations and interpretations. All I can say is while reading this haiku if you get a feeling of here and now, you need not bother the hundred intellectual interpretations of the poem)

 

By the way, I enjoyed these hilarious haikus written by Sri Uma Shankar Pandey on his blog.

My next book, an anthology of poems which will be released shortly, will include some micro poems. Let me assure you I will not claim those as haikus. 😀

 

 

 

 

Part-2: The Japanese sense of Aesthetics

japan mono no awareThe Japanese sense of aesthetics is a fine combination of the awareness about the impermanence of things on one hand and appreciation of the inherent beauty of the moment on the other hand. The emphasis on the element of transience or the changing nature of things in Japanese culture and art comes from not only the influence of Budhism, but also from the furies of nature that devastates various regions of Japan from time to time in the form of earthquakes.

However, one must take delight in ‘beauty’ in spite of its impermanence. In fact it is the impermanence that should provide the urgency to appreciate life. The Cherry Blossoms, which is one of the greatest fascinations for the Japanese, flower just about a week in a year. They have a term to describe such delight which has an underlying tinge of sadness about its passing – Mono no aware.

Master chefs take great care to decorate food and to some extent take care in the choice of cutlery. But would they take care of the aesthetics when it comes to sending packed lunch? Well the Japansese do, whether it is food from a hotel or home cooked food. They take care not only of the art of the lunch box but also of the colour and arrangement of the food items inside the box called a Bento Box. There are also various types of traditional and modern styles of arrangement of food inside the box, one popular style being called kyaraben which is the arrangement of food in such  manner as to look like cartoon characters.

If great care is taken to bring in aesthetics into the art of taking food that includes the elaborate tea ceremonies, the complementary part of eating is not neglected. The traditional Japanese toilet is located away from the main building in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss to be in close proximity with nature. Unlike the modern toilets, the interiors of those toilets are not made glossy.

The traditional Japanese toilet is one example of Sabi which is associated with something that has aged and rusty. Things that have aged well and are rusty, desolate, and  tranquil have a beauty of their own. The following poem brings in its spirit the best:

Solitary now —
Standing amidst the blossoms
Is a cypress tree.

If there is beauty in grandeur, there is beauty in simplicity. If one can find beauty in presence, one may find beauty in absence as well. Wabi is exactly about that- finding beauty in absence and austerity. Sometimes a house would be built in such a manner that the walls will not have anything to hinder the appreciation of passing shadow of beams following the movement of sun rays.

Japanese writer Tanizaki captures the essence of Wabi when he describes the beauty of a traditional tea house in his essay, ‘In Praise of Shadows’ :

An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeam, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this small corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway.

(The second and last installment of free promotion of my book IDLE HOURS will be from 12 to 13 Dec 17. Please download it if you haven’t already done so. I will be glad if you could put your reviews on my Amazon and Goodreads pages.)

The Japanese Sense of Aesthetics

The word Haiku reminds me of millions of awful micro poetic compositions that pass for as haikus in the blogosphere. The other day I came across a couple of such alleged haikus. I don’t remember the wordings but one was about the miserable office wage and another was about the boss who was an asshole.

Come on dear aspiring poet. Any micro poem is not a haiku even if it fulfills the condition of being of seventeen syllables.  According to the Wikipedia page about English Haiku, the first element of a haiku is –  ‘A focus on some aspect of nature or the seasons’. Maybe, our aspiring poet, being a Chetan Bhagat and Ekta Kapoor devotee, interpreted ‘nature’ as human nature and ‘season’ as a series of episodes in the office soap opera.

In addition to being of seventeen syllables and focusing on some aspects of nature or season, the haikus of prominent Japanese poets like Basho evoke the sublime in you due to their meditative, contemplative, and philosophical allusions even though they may describe very ordinary events. Here are a few of my favourite  haikus (translated from the original Japanese)

Since my house
burned down, I now own
a better view
of the rising moon

Enviable leaves
becoming so beautiful
just before falling

Scarecrows are the first 
heroes to fall
in the rush
of the Autumn wind

What a pretty kite
the beggar's children 
fly high
above their hovel

He is unknown 
the poet who sings 
the greatest 
of all songs -- spring

Haiku and spring remind me of the Cherry Blossoms that flower in their fullness in Spring and are inspiration for a million haikus so much so that the word flower has become synonymous with Cherry Blossom for the Japanese.

The other day I was watching a program on NHK (the official TV channnel of Japan) about Cherry Blossoms. Its flowering during the spring season is the most celebrated national event in Japan.  No other country celebrates a natural phenomenon with such religious fervour.

I am yet to visit Japan. But my love affair with the country goes back to childhood days when Radio Japan was one of the  staple diets (along with Binaca Geetmala)  to ward off boredom during those long summer vacations.  Of course, I don’t remember any of the contents now, but I do vaguely remember the feel good effect.

Among Asian nations, Japan is not only the most innovative country as far as technology is concerned, it is also a nation with the most developed sense of aesthetics. I will cover more of my aesthetic impressions about Japan in my coming posts.

Meanwhile, you may think of spending the idle hours of your weekend with my book which is available for free download till 3rd December.

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Bangalore Literature Festival 2017

While last Sunday was spent hearing the sales pitch of established authors at the Bangalore Literature Festival, this Sunday I am taking the first step towards establishing myself as a book author. Or, so do I think.

I have finalised my first book which is a compilation of selected articles from my armory of published and unpublished compositions.  Even some articles which were published earlier underwent extensive revision. I tried to put the old wine in completely new bottles so much so that some bottles, that earlier opened from the top, now open from the bottom, making a few things go topsy turvy in the bargain. Of course, some new bottles have found new wine too.

Coming to the literature festival, this time it was heavily tilted towards the ‘left’. Kanhaiah Kumar, who was too afraid to come to Bangalore last time, was made the star attraction in spite of the presence of twinkling stars like Mrs Funnybone. The left have always dominated the press and publishing scene in India. Two years back they faced a minor threat and fear. Seems, this year their bullying bore fruit with the near absence of any right wing representation to bring in balance to the discourses.

This is a sad dilution of the festival’s original agenda. It was supposed to be a different literature festival that sought to bring contrarian voices to one platform. What happened in 2015 is detailed in this firstpost article. The only crime of the Sahitya Academy winner author Vikram Sampath, who was one of the organisers, was that he refused to join the band wagon of ‘award wapsi’ authors. This did not go down well with the so called ‘liberal’ authors so much so that they threatened to boycott the festival and pressurised others to do so, with the result that Vikram Sampath had to step down to save the festival. That is how the tolerant and liberal Indian intellectuals, who champion free speech, counter contrarian points of view.

Even though we call ourselves a country with a great culture and so on, it is cricket and films that dominate our fascination. Anil Kumble and Rahul Dravid took the limelight on the first day. On the second day, the session of the great classical dancer Sonal Mansingh was scheduled after that of Twinkle Khanna. It was heartening to see many audience  members leaving immediately after Twinkle left. However, this did not dampen the enthusiasm of the virtuoso who has seen so many vicissitudes in her life. Majority of the audience members who left were young people who would have definitely found the story of Sonal Mansingh highly inspiring.

sonal mansinghThis is not to undermine the achievements of Mrs. Funnybone.  Both were born with silver spoons in their mouths. In spite of upheavals in personal life and classical dancing not having the huge earning potential compared to acting in films or writing bestsellers (that have the potential of being turned into films), Sonal stuck to the pure form of classical dance and has led a modest lifestyle. She recounted how she had promised her grand father that she would never make dance a commercial venture and she has stuck to it in spite of facing financial difficulties from time to time.  For her, dance has been a journey of self discovery like any other sincere seeker on a spiritual path or a yogi.

I first saw Sonal Mansingh some seventeen  years back in a setting in terms of place and time that was not conducive to leisurely appreciation of one of the most intricate dance forms. We were in the middle of Kargil war and it was a forward base close to the centre of action. She came there with her Odissi dance troupe. For a soldier on active duty, it was a welcome temporary relief and a morale booster. What was appreciable was her timely gesture. Of course it  has become a fad for many film stars to visit defense units and interact with the soldiers. These are perfectly timed gestures too,  coinciding with the release of their films.

Earlier in the day a ‘white’ lady in a ‘bright’ sari was drawing a lot of attention. It was German poet Jessy James LaFleur. More interesting was the content of what she said.

I come from Germany and a high percentage of women there are subject to sexual assault. But, India has been portrayed in a very bad light by the media. I personally have felt very safe walking the roads of Coimbatore. Men have been pleasant while women have come to take selfies with me.

While limit it only to the media Madam. Our celebrity ambassadors who go abroad are no better.

So, Mr Amitabh Bachchan! Here is a lesson for you.  You are a great actor and I am a very hardcore fan of your acting. Let me remind you that you are also a son of a great intellectual.  Next time when you go to US and people raise question about crime against women in India, don’t be apologetic and react like a dumb ass actor who must always act and speak out the script handed out to him. Tell them without feeling inferior and with the confidence of your character Deenanath Chouhan:

Yes. There are crimes against women in India and we are working on that. But, with an ex-groper as the president and with 70% girls getting sexually assaulted during their preteen years,  your country has a far worse record and you do not have any moral authority to point fingers at India.

 

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This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda.

 

doordarshan days

doordarshanIn those good old days of Doordarshan raj, I never had a fight with my wife for the remote, it being still a remote possibility when I had my first TV.  Otherwise also you could not fight as there was no alternate channel to switch to.

While watching the Bengali Movie Dhananjoy (with subtitles) a few days back, I was reminded of the Doordarshan Days when one of my favourite programs was the telecast of regional movies with subtitles. These movies, though not popular, were high on the cinematic art.

Ironically, the first Doordarshan telecast that I watched was the live coverage of the final journey of our Late PM Indira Gandhi. A TV station had started functioning in Berhampur a few months back. The college hostel where I was staying did not have TV. In front of our college hostel were the staff quarters of Berhampur’s only Government women’s college. A staff member who had a TV was generous enough to allow us to witness the telecast. I was lucky enough to be inside the drawing room through a connection while many of my hostel mates were jostling outside the door and the windows to catch a glimpse. It was 1984.

Subsequently our hostel got a TV set. But it was not untill I got married and had my own TV that I became a DD convert. From college Days till the days of bachelorhood in Indian Air Force the only serials I remember watching regularly were Ramayana and Mahabharat, which were of course hugely popular in those days.

Whatever becomes scarce or does not happen frequently, becomes fascinating. Thus was the case with the weekly feature films or, chitrahaar – the half hour show of film songs telecast twice a week.

malgudi days.jpgApart from the regional films, the serial Chanakya was one program that I eagerly waited to watch every weekend. Some of the other programs of my interest, as far as I remember,  were: Jaspal Bhati’s Flop Show, Malgudi Days, Zaban Sambhal ke, Bharat Ek Khoj, Tamas, World This Week,  Karamchand and programs on classical/folk  music & dance.

Even after the availability of a plethora of channels, I have not lost touch with DD. It is only on DD that one may get to watch programs on Indian classical dance and music. Some of the programs on DD Bharati, DD India and DD Kishan are quite interesting. If you want a wrap up of the important events of the day, I think DD news is still the best. On DD channels you may get to watch a lot of documentaries of interesting people and places. Some of these programs are far better than those shown on National Geographic.

Here I would like to make a special mention of a film that I watched on DD.  It was Basu Chatterjee’s ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisala’. Later on I learnt that the film was a remake of an award winning English movie Twelve Angry Men. The movie is about the deliberations of a jury constituted to decide whether a nineteen year old should be pronounced guilty for killing his father. Eleven members of the jury are in a hurry to vote ‘guilty’ while there is a lone dissenter who succeeds at the end, in convincing the jury, after a lot of patient persuasions that they should not take decision based on popular opinion, or personal biases.

In my previous post, based on a couple of movies, I have touched upon the issue of fair trail that happens only in the world of fiction. Ek ruka hua faisala is one more such movie. But, it is an eye opener, provided the people who take such decisions watch and learn from this movie. In addition to immaculate direction, superb performance of all the actors in the movie (Pankaj Kapur, Annu Kapur, Aziz Kureshi to name a few) created such an impression in my mind that I remember the movie vividly even after three decades.

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part 2: the sentinels of vishnu

 

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Dying dance form Prahlad Natak staged during Kalua Jatra in Berhampur, Odisha. Image source: DNA India

Continued from Part #1

Hiranyakha’s brother, Hiranyakashipu learns of his brother’s death at the hands of Vishnu in the form of a boar. It fills him with rage and he vows to take revenge. He thinks that the boon of Brahmadev, the creator would help him achieve this. He goes to the Himalayas and engages in severe penance to appease Brahma.

Meanwhile, the devas connive to abduct his pregnant wife Kayadhu. Here, Seer Narada comes to her rescue and protects her. While in the womb, the child, who is later known as Prahlad, is spiritually influenced by Naradji. Prahlad grows up to be a great devotee of Lord Vishnu to the consternation of his father.

Pleased by the severe penance, Lord Brahma appears and asks Hiranyakashipu to put forth his wishes. Hiranaykashipu wants nothing less than immortality, to which, Brahmadev expresses his inability. Alternately, Hiranyakashipu asks to be granted a highly improbable conditional death. He says, “Oh Lord! Grant that let me not be killed by any God, man, demon or beast. Let me not be killed at day nor at night. Let me not be killed on land, in water or in the sky”.

“So be it”, says Lord Brahma and goes back to his abode. When Indra and other gods come to register their protests, Brahmadev assures them that all will be well when Lord Vishnu takes up his next avatar.

Empowered by the boon of Lord Brahma, the arrogance of Hiranyakashipu knows no bounds. He is enraged as he sees that his own son has become the ardent devotee of his sworn enemy. First he tries to win back his son through reasoned friendly counseling. But the hardcore devotee of Lord Vishnu would not budge. Hiranyakashipu runs out of patience and resorts to desperate measures, to the extent of intending to do away with his own son. All his attempts to kill his son is foiled by the timely intervention of Lord Vishnu, who is well known for never failing to protect his devotees.

One such attempt to kill Prahlad involves Hiranyakashipu’s sister Holika. She has an invisible cloak and when she wears it she can pass through fire unharmed. Hiranyakashipu orders her to carry Prahlad in her lap and enter fire so that Prahlad is burnt to ashes while nothing happens to her. However, it so happens that by the grace of the Vayudev – the wind god- the cloak flies out of her body and enwraps Prahlad. Holika is burnt to ashes. This event is celebrated as Hollika Dahan  every year in Feb/March.

Tired of hearing the omnipresence of Lord Vishnu, one day Hiranyakashipu asks Prahlad whether Lord Vishnu is in the pillar nearby. Prahlad says, “Yes”. Enraged, Hiranyakashipu hits the pillar with his mace. To his surprise a strange creature emerges from the pillar. It has the face of a lion and the body of a human being. After engaging with Hiranyakashipu in a duel, at the time of dusk this creature who is actually Lord Vishnu in Narasimha avatar lifts Hiranyakashipu on to his thighs and using its nails tears apart his belly to kill him. Thus, no condition of Bramha’s boon is  violated while killing Hiranyakashipu. The story further goes on to describe the untold rage of Narasimhan which could not be pacified easily even though all the devas applied various means. Finally, Prahlad is brought in and with his humble prayers the Narasimha avatar of Lord Vishnu is pacified.

Indian BloggersPleased with Prahalad’s devotion, Lord Vishnu offers him a boon. Unlike his father, Prahlad does not ask for power, riches or glory.   He is content being a devotee of Lord Vishnu, and asks for his steadfast devotion to continue. Even though his father had been so cruel towards him, he  prays that he be forgiven.

The remote villages and small towns, where I spent most of my childhood days, provided healthy doses of entertainment in the form of dramas, puppetry and other folk performances conducted in open theatres.  Most of the performances would be based on stories from various epics like Ramayana, Mahabharata, Bhagavat Purana etc. At such places, by the time a boy/girl was into his/ her teens, whether he was educated or illiterate, he/she knew all the major stories from the epics, along with their moral and ethical implications.  One such popular performance  was Prahlad Natak, a musical dance drama with resemblance to Kerala’s Kathakali dance format. The drama would start in the morning and continue till late night or the morning next day. Before the battle finale, the actors playing Narasimhan and Hiranyakashipu would be bound in iron chains with two groups of strong men in control of each actor. The elders would explain that if it is not done, the actors may kill each other. Towards the end, the actors identify themselves with the characters so much they forget that they are acting out the roles. As I remember, after the killing episode of Hiranyakashipu, the actor playing Narasimha would reach a trance like state. The actors playing the roles of Hiranyakashipu and Narasimha, have to be not only highly skilled in acting, but also disciplined enough to  follow prescribed rituals strictly a few days before the enactment of the play till its end. Unfortunately,  many of such traditional performances are on the verge of extinction due to lack of artists, audience and patronage.

Let’s hear it folks- in pristine form.

I am no expert in any kind of music. I don’t need to be . A connoisseur of food need know the details of the recipe.

Classical music and folk music are both  ancient in origin and have been carried forward by a tradition of pass over to the next generation, sometimes through family ties and sometime through Guru-Shishya Parampara.  I feel the main difference between classical and folk tradition is that while classical music is highly refined, folk music is music in its raw, virgin form.

Classical music has been adopted by maestros of music and patronized by people of high society. Whereas, folk music is a cry from the heart of people who lived very close to nature. There is a simplicity and spontaneity in folk music that can be highly  seductive.

Every mainstream language has many dialects. While classical ragas could take lyrics from main stream languages as well as dialects, folk songs are usually in dialects.

Even though I do not understand the dialects, my heart finds instant connection with the Rajasthani Folk music. Rajasthan is a treasure house of folk music. It is amazing to see people living in harsh conditions producing such sweet melodies. The other day,  when I came across this BBC documentary titled – The Lost Music of Rajasthan -on youtube, I could not but watch it without any break.

The above BBC documentary highlights the efforts taken by a few individuals to preserve folk music, not a museum piece but in its living natural surroundings. While the protagonists of the above documentary are apprehensive about the survival of the folk music, some lament that the purity of the folk tradition is getting compromised by the use of modern instruments and the influence of film and television.

With changes in the social structure, economic conditions and influence of other cultures certain level of changes are bound to happen. I only hope, the changes are for the better, without uprooting the traditions altogether.

Be it in any langauge, folk music can touch a chord in the heart instantly. India, being home to thousands of tribes and dialects, every state has a number of folk music traditions.

About four decades back, the song Rangabati –  a folk song in the western Odisha dialect Sambalpuri became popular not only in Odisha but also all over India. Imagine a song going viral all over India, long before the advent of internet ! Rangabati  continues to fascinate. The song continues to be a favourite. Some have tried to give it a modern make over in MTV Coke Studio,  to disastrous consequences.

(Poor video quality, but the song is original)

The above one is sung by  Sona Mahapatra, in her trained methodical style and voice and in accompaniment to  modern instruments.   When you listen to both the songs,  you can feel how folk songs get murdered when you try to refine it, or maybe, try to sing without feeling it. No doubt, the attempt by Sona Mahapatra created a lot of controversy. Sona Mahapatra has song many Bollywood chart busters. I like many of her songs. But sorry, Sona. I find your Rangabati attempt repelling.

You may also read : The Bouls of Bengal

Times Literature Festival Bangalore 2017

Attending a Literature Festival is a  beautiful way of spending an enlightening weekend.

Ideas float around, the air is filled with literary vibrations and the ambiance is charged with star presence.  The fever catches onto to you. The temperature soars to climax to a  rocking frenzy like it happened this time when the local rock God Raghu Dixit performed with his band to mark the culmination of the festival.

Indian BloggersBefore that,  there was this ‘Khullam Khulla’ session with Rishi Kapoor. Of course he had come to promote his book. During the panel discussion he was at his candid best talking about the advantages and disadvantages carrying the baggage of the Kapoor legacy and his real and reel life. Being a Kapoor son gave him the break. At the same time, he worked hard to make his mark as  a romantic hero in the era of the angry young men.

He is also well known for his unique and spontaneous style of acting.  The audience, comprising of young and old got its ‘tare zamin par‘ moment as they  crowded the venue to have a glimpse and listen to him.

I would have liked to be there from start to finish on both the days to soak in the ethereal world of ideas and stars. But, then there are worldly duties. So, I could attend only part of the sessions on both the days- 11th and 12th Feb.

Even if you attend the festival from start to finish you cannot be part of all the happenings as events took place simultaneously at three venues. Sometime, when two of your favorite programs clash, or just for the sake of curiosity, you have to shuttle between venues half way through a session.

Let us check up what is happening at those other venues.”

In India, in terms of literacy men may outnumber women, but when it comes to matters literary it is the other way round. At least literature festivals makes one think so. And it makes women qualitatively better than men. (Even in an earlier literature festival while a congregation of women writers were discussing various issues, a bunch of girls in the audience were heard making a loud statement all of the men are idiots)

It was nice to see authors and stakeholders from diverse fields like fashion, sports, food, cinema, music, technology etc. congregate and share their points of view, sometimes to ignite the dormant passion in us or sometimes to see things from a different angle. While, the dismal state of sport administration in India was highlighted in one session, in another, concern was expressed about Coorg tribe the Coorg cuisine facing the danger of extinction, maybe in not so distant a future.

Here are some of the photos of the event. For more titbits of the event visit the facebook page or twitter handle of the Times Literature Festival, Bangalore.

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William Dalrymple talking about his new book ‘Kohinoor’
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Talking of cuisine and culture: Ranveer Brar, Anoothi Vishal, Shazia Khan and Mithun
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The audience under the Peepal Tree getting enthralled with Ila Arun (below)

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Rishi Kapoor introducing his autobiography – ‘Khullam Khulla’ to Bangalore readers
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My wife manages to get her copy autographed by the author
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The hands that can rock the cradle can rock the stage too – may be better

Bangalore Literature Festival 5.0

Right at the moment of start I was stuck by the usual fear:  “Will I get a place for parking? Even if I get it how far will it be from the venue?”.  Added to this fear was the feeling of loss as we missed a couple of interesting sessions caused due to poor judgement of Saturday Bangalore traffic. So, it was a pleasant surprise when the hotel staff offered valet parking even though neither was I going to stay in their hotel, nor was I going to eat anything dished out by their chefs.

But for some pressing personal engagements,  I would have liked to attend all the sessions of the Bangalore Literature festival held at Hotel Royal Orchid on 17 and 18 December. Then of course the events took place simultaneously at three venues. If you sat through one, you missed two others. Or, you had the option to be a casual bystander at each of the venues hopping from one to the other. It is like you have a number of  marriage functions to attend on the same day and you cannot afford to miss any of them.

Indian BloggersIn this post I am not going to give a journalistic narration of what happened. I will give some glimpses into the events, some titbits and my ruminations spurred by the discussions that happened among the panelists.

It was for the consecutive second time that the BLF was conducted at this hotel on Old Airport Road. I wanted to suggest the organisers to shift the venue every year, preferably to a venue in North of Bangalore (where I stay :D) so that it would be convenient for those who were coming from outside via Bangalore Intentional Airport. In fact a similar suggestion came up during the discussion on ‘Askew- A short Biography of Bangalore’,  where in one of the panelists suggested that an event like this could be held at a heritage site to create awareness about the golden Heritage of Bangalore.

There was this session with the representatives from the famous publishing houses. In a literature festival it could be expected with a fair degree of confidence that a large chunk of audience would consist of wannabe writers. It was heartening to note a few of them petitioning, cajoling, praying to the high priests and priestesses of publishing industry to consider publishing their books which they have already published through self publishing route.

Somewhere I had read that if you are a first time writer, you have to write better than the established authors to make any impression on the publishers. Moreover, if you read the guidelines of the publishing houses they make it clear that if Salman Khan writes junk, they would prefer it over your brilliant book that may turn out to be a turning point in the history of literature. Of course it is understandable. The roti, kapda and makan needs of he owners and the employees of the publishing house depends upon the ‘sale-ability’ of the books.

Sometimes I wonder what do the publishers learn from the history of some of the books that made history,  yet were rejected for publication umpteen number of times. Take this extreme example of the comic novel called, “The Confederecy of the Dunces”. Now the book is among the all time top ten comic novels. But the author was so much depressed by the consistent rejection of the book that he committed suicide. A decade after his death the book was published due to the initiative of his mother and the interest taken by another publisher.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981.

God must have said to the common man long long ago, “Come ye to me, but only thorough a priest”. Following this dictum one of the panelists suggested that new authors should go to literary agents in stead of coming to them directly to better their chances of getting noticed. I wonder why the publishers cannot have some policy and a dedicated section for new authors in their own set up. Of course, even in this route things are not easy. JK Rowling got a simple rejection letter from the first literary agent that she sent the book. The next one sent it to twelve different publishers, before it was selected. The rest is history.

At another venue, there was a melee around and a long queue. Wondered what might it be? After a little tussle with the crowd, discovered that the queue was to get the books autographed by the author  Shashi Tharoor, whom I spotted on Day 2 as well. This time he was on the first row of the audience along with his relative to cheer his son Kanishk Tharoor. Kanishk read out a few paragraphs from his book – Swimmer Among the Stars. Found the paragraphs quite humorous.

Next to Sex in the taboo index in India are discussion of topics concerning Hinduism and Evangelism. It was heartening to note the open  and non-hostile discussion on these topics involving both the panelists and the audience. For the entire session I was engrossed in the discussion on the ‘Clash of Civilisation’ between Mohandas Pai and Rajiv Malhotra. Since the media houses in India are sold out to various vested interests for various reasons, Rajiv Malhotra suggested that we should more and more depend upon the social media to counter misinformation and the bias of the mainstream media. Here again the problem is that most of the social media organisations are controlled by the west. Hence he suggested that Bangalore being the hub of IT activity the Bangaloreans should take the lead in developing desi social media apps in line with China who have their own version of Facebook and other social media apps.

It was equally heartening to see the enthusiasm of people to buy books (in hard copies) at the venue even in this age of Kindle, Amazon and Flipkart.  The queue to pay for the selected books was as long as the one to get the books autographed by the authors present.

And this gentlemen who shifted from venue to venue reminded me of the jesting Pillate who would ask what is truth and would not wait for an answer. This gentleman in question would be missing through out the duration of the discussion and appear from nowhere towards the end of the session holding a mike to ask a question. Actually he did not have a question to ask.  Nevertheless, the compassionate panelists  would somehow guess what he wanted to ask and answer it. And how he managed to appear holding the mike to ask questions consistently events after events and venue after venue was a miracle, because, there would be more than thirty candidates vying for the honour of asking one of those those three to four questions permitted towards the end of each session.

Did not have time to hang on to the last event to listen to Piyush Mishra. However, we had enough time to attend the first half of the the penultimate session when Shatrughna Sinha regaled the audience with his inimitable style and humour.

It was anything but, Khamosh.

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Premila Paul in conversation with Aishwarya Rajnikanth Dhanush
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What’s cooking? The future of Indian Food – Antonie Lewis, Sanjeev Kapoor, Manu Chandra with Surewsh Hinduja
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The Art of Heart : Vasudev Murthy in conversation with Sabah Currim, Kanchana Banerjee, Nandita Bose, Kiran Manral
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Finding answers to a question or the other way round?
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Guru Charan Das
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G Sampath with Kanishk Tharoor
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Listen Papa – Mr Sashi Tharoor and his relatives in rapt attention to Kanishk
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India-Reclaiming our Civilisation’s Heritage: T V Mohandas Pai and Rajiv Malhotra