The disparate sessions at The Hindu’s Lit for Life in Delhi were held together by words, ideas and memories.
In a word … The phrase best illustrated the world of meaning and possibilities embedded in that unit of language: the word. The tagline for The Hindu’s Lit for Life 2014 “Beyond Words” only multiplied the potential. If — at the end of the Delhi leg of the festival, which took place at Siri Fort auditorium last week— we laughed at our foibles as Anuvab Pal delivered a comic monologue satirising everything ridiculous yet endearing about Indians, we also relived the shaming memories of the anti-Sikh pogrom of 1984 and had our attention drawn to the power of myth that can both shackle and free us.
In this multilingual country, when a new political party calls itself AAP, it also becomes a convenient acronym that means ‘your’ in Hindi, offering a treasure trove of associations for the politician. “Has there been a paradigm shift in Indian democracy?” moderated by Praveen Swami, saw Manish Tewari, Pinki Anand and Shazia Ilmi, from the Congress, BJP and AAP respectively, discuss “democratisation of information”. Ilmi defended her party’s electoral victory in Delhi from the oft-heard assumptions of being a media phenomenon, pointing out that AAP’s anti-corruption policies were detrimental to a lot of entities the media “derives its revenue from”. Overall, bonhomie prevailed, though at times the rebuttals did acquire the vocabulary, if not the temperature, of election speeches.
In the next session “Documentary Cinema: My Frame”, Amar Kanwar, Sanjay Kak and R.V. Ramani discussed how the medium could be used to push an agenda. Ramani said his search had always been for a “strong as well as not assertive” language. “I don’t like films that don’t question themselves.” In the same vein, Kanwar recalled an incident where he told his client, “I’m not shooting arrows; I’m making a film. Kak, noting that documentary makers were a much more diverse group than the three “middle-aged, bearded men” on the panel, said the concept of the documentary as ‘news’ or ‘reality’ was passé.
The festival also marked the 30th anniversary of the anti-Sikh violence that followed the assassination of then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi with “1984: Anatomy of a Riot”. Rahul Singh, Amandeep Sandhu and Manoj Mitta, who were on the panel moderated by Sunil Sethi, observed that what left all like-minded people uneasy was the denial of justice to the victims, the brazen lack of accountability among the politicians and law enforcement officials and the way in which history repeats itself — pogroms and riots still being instigated across the country.
Sometimes history takes on mythical proportions. Sometimes myths take on the unwavering character of fact. K. Satchidanandan, Samik Bandyopadhyay and Paul Zacharia aired their perspectives during “Mythology: Repossession and Rereading in Art”. Malayalam writer Zacharia offered a fascinating insight into his personal process when he said, “I was repossessing myself intellectually and spiritually so I would be free from dogmas.”
Satchidanandan gave an overview of how myths, considered “a superior form of reason” that inspired writers and artists down the ages, have been reinterpreted to both “reinforce the status quo and oppose it”. Bandyopadhyay highlighted how the Draupadi myth from the Mahabharata made a transition to a story by Mahasweta Devi.
Sudhanva Deshpande shared the stage with Maya Krishna Rao and moderator Anuradha Kapur to discuss “Theatre: Art of Performance or Provocation”. While Kapur spoke of the levels of provocation which could subtly effect a change in the self, Deshpande, apparently referring to groups who obstruct performances on the grounds that their sentiments are ‘hurt’, commented, “How can a performance hurt?” Rao remarked, “Sometimes I think there’s a very thin line between provoking and manipulating. I don’t think any performer sets out to make a performance that will provoke.”
Delhi, the city whose residents love to deride its lack of amenities but rush to its defence if it is compared to any other, was the subject of “Capital City”, which saw Rana Dasgupta, Sam Miller and Ratish Nanda in conversation. If Miller and Dasgupta offered the viewpoint of outsiders who grew to love the city, Nanda was the boy who gradually discovered the many layers of history and architecture in the place he grew up in. Conservation versus development is an old debate. When an audience member asked if a check on migration might be the answer, Miller had the last word: “We’re all migrants.”
Anuvab Pal, the stand-up comedian was patiently waiting his turn. Things went officially beyond words.