Writers, politicians, theatre, film personas, master chefs speak about the everyday life of the common man

From being a catalyst in social movement, to a medium that gives voice to a collective demand for change; from art that imitates life and life that borrows from art, the many facets of literature and its impact on everyday life were discussed and debated at The Hindu Lit for Life-2011, a literary festival of The Hindu organised here on Sunday.

Speakers — writers, politicians, theatre and film personas and even master chefs — engaged audiences as they spoke about the everyday life of the common man with its uncommon situations, and even drew from personal experiences.

Literature and writing being the common thread, participants spoke of what made writers sell, what readers demand and what the writer himself or herself thinks.

Inaugurating the festival, CMD of Hirco — the main sponsor for the event — Firdose Vandrevala, said his organisation decided to associate with The Hindu because both stand for values in their respective fields.

The first session — ‘Are you really going to eat all that?'— featured a discussion on food writing and food perception moderated by author Esther David. The panellists included chefs Nikhil Chib and Manu Chandra and food writer Jigyasa Giri. The participants discussed the evolution and creativity introduced in food over the years and the marked departure from traditional forms of preparing food in the country.

After touching upon the audiences' palate, the next session was moderated by London-based journalist Angela Saini. Authors Mukul Deva and Anuja Chauhan deliberated upon the “Popularity factor” of present day literary writing. Beginning with the approach which the authors follow while writing, Ms. Saini steered the conversation towards the challenges faced by them while writing in different genres.

After touching upon the intricacies of writing for readers, the session progressed towards writing for viewers with “New Wave Cinema,” a conversation between filmmaker and screenwriter Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra and freelance writer Jai Arjun Singh. Setting the tone for the session by defining “new wave” cinema as that which reflects the times, Mr. Mehra went on to trace the change in focus of Indian cinema since the time of Independence. The conversation also touched upon differences between writing stories and screenplay and the need to focus on stories of contemporary India to be told through cinema. After the session, Nirmala Lakshman, Director of Kasturi & Sons Ltd., presented a Rado watch to Mr. Mehra.

A workshop on children's writing, “Children of the Lamp”, supported by Scholastic, was organised by children's writer Anushka Ravishankar and illustrator Atanu Roy as part of the festival.

Should writers be dissociated from politics, should they be allowed biases, should they engage with the common man, were the points for discussion in the session ‘Revolutions and New Beginnings' that had Ali Al Muqri in conversation with John Md. Butt, a radio personality and an Islamic scholar from Afghanistan and Motti Lerner, an Israeli playwright.

While Mr. Muqri advocated a completely unbiased role for a writer, urging them not to take sides and not concentrate on politics, Mr. Lerner spoke of how playwrights must learn to experience the pain of the people to relay their concerns through art. He cited an example of how it was theatre that first explored the possibility of a separate Palestine State and now this is being discussed by people and governments.

Mr. Butt spoke of outside interference in Afghanistan and the “unfortunate consequences” it has had for the people. Referring to his radio programme, he said it was a means of addressing issues that concern the common people and are not given importance by mainstream media. He referred to the power of the indigenous voices.

In the session on “Realities: Fictional or Otherwise” authors Rana Dasgupta and Indrajit Hazra, in conversation with Aman Sethi of The Hindu, spoke about the spaces for fiction and non-fiction writings, how writers from either genre are exploring the other and the evolution of Indian writings in English.

In the session “Life in Theatre” Mahesh Dattani and Sanjana Kapoor recalled their respective journeys in the field of theatre.

“Indian Politics After Anna” had politicians Sachin Pilot and Sitaram Yechury in conversation with the Editor of The Hindu, Siddharth Varadarajan, discuss how a democracy like India has evolved and how people's participation in election processes can help usher in the changes that society demands.

A scintillating Bharatanatyam performance by Alarmel Valli had the audience spellbound towards the end.

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