Rulers of the country are not worth the literature the country is producing: U.R. Ananthamurthy

Discussions on a wide range of issues — from the fine art of crafting a poetic image to the innocuous Facebook message that had the Mumbai police imprisoning two young women — marked the first day of Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), which will continue over the weekend.

Speaking at the inaugural Jayamahal Palace Hotel on Friday, Kannada writer U.R. Ananthamurthy said: “Even when a country is not free, its writers are free.” It is, therefore, important for a writer to “speak the truth and keep the conscience”.

He went on to say that the Mumbai incident and the one closer home in Mangalore, where a television reporter was arrested for catching rightwing activists red-handed as they attacked young boys and girls at a birthday party, left him “pained”.

“The rulers of the country are not worth the literature the country is producing,” he said, adding that literature stands for “freedom of the mind in the past, present and the future”.

When the political atmosphere in a country does not allow for unbridled free speech, metaphors have always served as the “hiding place” for writers. Many have managed to speak between lines through metaphors during the reign of the most draconian rulers, he said.

There was more to hear on the beauty of metaphors and poetic imagery when Urdu poet and filmmaker Gulzar took stage for a free-flowing conversation with bureaucrat and writer Pavan Varma.

Those nuances

Gulzar, in his inimitable style, recited poems that spoke delicately of human relationships, sometimes with a touch of wit and sometimes with a deep philosophical underlining.

Pavam Varma said that Gulzar’s poetry rings true because it has never lost its rootedness.

Preserving the brevity of the original and the beauty of the metaphor in translation is a tough task, he said, giving examples as they read Urdu originals against translations in what they called a “jugalbandi”.

More than a poet

One of the poems he read out on Sardar Sarovar — describing the trauma of the people of a village as they leave it to make way for a big dam — showed yet again that Gulzar is not just a poet of lovely film lyrics and nazms, but as much a poet who “keeps the conscience” of a society.

Reading yet another poem, a delicately crafted and yet hard-hitting critique of religions, he said: “All the values that animated religions have putrefied… their use-by-date has expired.”