Two-day event kickstarted on Saturday; authors, artistes bring to the fore thoughts on diverse topics; stress on women’s rights too

The printed word and some of its finest contemporary practitioners from across the country took centrestage at The Hindu Lit for Life on Saturday.

On the inaugural day of the two-day event, wordsmiths, who practise their craft in English as well as regional languages, interacted with an enthusiastic audience on issues ranging from what their inspiration was to whether Indian women writers feel more free today.

There was also some levity to the proceedings, like the time when a curious audience member asked firebrand poet Meena Kandasamy if she could list two things positively about men. “Of course, I do say nice things all the time to men who impress me,” she said. “Otherwise I would not have a string of lovers.”

The event got off to a dramatic start with actor Rahul Bose and theatre artiste Yog Japee reading out the handwritten letters exchanged between Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari (Rajaji), culled out from author Gopalkrishna Gandhi’s new book ‘My dear Bapu.’

While introducing the stage representation, the author 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.”

Bose and Japee read out a selection of letters that bore witness not just to the friendship and care the two had for each other, — the constant bickerings over Gandhi’s dietary experiments — but also threw light on the key moments of the freedom struggle. In a letter, Rajaji writes, “You are not manufacturing salt. You are manufacturing disobedience.”

The presentation brought to light the wit and passion the two leaders possessed right through the tumultuous times.

An audience member, Anujeeth Majumdar, tweeted, “Serious topics, interspersed with personal moments. Riots and diets in the same sentence. What a narration!”

In the session ‘South of the Vindhyas: Stories from the Southern States,” Malayalam novelist Benyamin and Kannada writers Vaidehi and Sarah Aboobacker outlined their inspiration to 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.”

Benyamin, who writes in the spare time his day job in Bahrain provides, said his inspiration was to narrate tales of people who have left their homes to go abroad and earn so their families live a better life here.

On the continuing violence against women, discussed during the session ‘No country for Women: Some truths about Rape,’ in which Bose shared the dais with sociologist Kalpana Kannabiran and journalist Nilanjana Roy, the actor summed up by saying, “We must learn to bring up our boys.”

“We can’t have a situation where the wife necessarily has to walk a few steps behind her husband, and the boy grows up watching that,” Mr. Bose said.

Referring to changes made to laws on violence against women, Kannabiran and Roy stressed they needed to have relevance to the society they served. The session was moderated by columnist Kalpana Sharma.

A short story competition was organised at the venue on Saturday. The winner of The Hindu Literary Prize will be announced on Sunday.