An informed and curious audience elevates the quality of debate at ‘Lit for Life 2011'

When a panel of distinguished people, who write and read extensively on sport, talk about cricket not being just about runs and wickets, crickets fans at The Hindu 's ‘Lit for Life 2011' did not even have to nod to show their agreement.

But as they delved deeper into the ways in which cricket served as a metaphor by weaving together experiences of interviewing Mohammed Azharuddin during a bad phase of his career, the role of the ‘nation' in the images of cricket, and the act of going beyond the realm of sport to bring in cultural references, it was indeed not about the game alone.

“Is it right?” asked Rahul Bhattacharya, referring to Shashi Tharoor's article, “The importance of being Irfan” where he talks about the cricketer being a vision of India, and refers to the Gujarat riots and his religious identity.

“What I revel in is their sport, but Sania Mirza and Irfan Pathan cannot be viewed as good players alone. Perhaps, they represent the pluralist country India wishes to be,” says sport writer Mukul Kesavan.

The audience rose up to the occasion and had a wide range of questions too, from the superstitions the cricket team believes in to the popularity of the IPL, and if certain people were promoting cricket to make more from it, “From being the elite sport of the Nawabs and Oxford-returned, to being played in every street, cricket has served as a vehicle for social and economic advancement in India,” he said.

One of the liveliest sessions of the day saw Vikram Seth in conversation with Nisha Susan, Features Editor at Tehelka, where he walked the audience through his work The Rivered Earth for which he wrote four librettos for composer Alec Roth and violinist Philippe Honore.

While the first three were about places---China during the Tsang Synasty, the Salisbury House of 17th century poet George Herbert and India, and the fourth was about the elements.

From 21 year-old Monazzah Mohammed who has travelled all the way from Lucknow to listen to writer Mohammed Hanif speak on sensitive and responsible writing, to 67 year-old K. Pandurang who wishes to publish his book on the disappearance of traditional games, the event was a revelation. “Everybody wants to write, but the moment you take a pen and paper, you blank out” says Monazzah.

Earlier in the day, at a translation workshop conducted by Mini Krishnan and Arunava Sinha, A. Subramaniuam wondered if people really people switch to translations when they know they cannot write a book, even as others got answers to questions such as whether, “It was okay to translate Tamil poetry into English prose so that reader gets the metaphor right,” and if “Is there something called a fair translation.”

“There are no rules, there are only choices that the translator makes, and there are many fights too,” was Mr. Sinha's sage advice.

Presenting two English translations of two lines from Premchand's famous ‘Shatranj ke Khiladi' Ms. Krishnan asked the audience which they felt was the closest. “What happens when you do not know one language? There is so much responsibility on the translator because the reader will never read the original,” opined N. Nishant, a software employee.

From asking surgeon-turned-novelists if they would ever write about the anomalies of the health care system, to seeking expert opinion on the phenomenon of writers such as Salman Rushdie scripting screen plays for their books, the audience at the fest made sure they elicited the best answers.

“I have always had one question about artists. How do they manage the task of writing or showing the story of people on streets that makes them this famous; do they take breaks to do so? Does a structured approach to getting inspiration work, or is it all about imagination,” said Annamalai Lakshman, an advertising professional, waiting for his turn to talk to film maker Balu Mahendra.

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Vasudha VenugopalJune 28, 2012