“It is the kind of atmosphere where you are not allowed to comment,” said scriptwriter, lyricist, and poet Javed Akhtar at the seventh edition of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival on Sunday, when asked about his thoughts about the current political atmosphere in the county.
In a freewheeling conversation with Gurgaon-based independent journalist Humra Quraishi that touched on multiple topics, including his growing up years, the state of democracy and his creative process, Mr. Akhtar’s quips and comments garnered plenty of laughter and applause from the audience.
When Ms. Quraishi asked Mr. Akhtar what he thought about the current political atmosphere in the country, he said every Indian today, whatever their community, class, politics, economics, or status, is very careful about what they say.
“Indians used to be able to speak their mind. Today for the first time, people are very wary. This is not the India I was born in,” he said.
He did seem to believe, however, that art has an intrinsic role to play in democracy and freedom.
“It is the responsibility of the artist to say what cannot be said,” he said, going on to talk about his artistic practice and creative process.
Crackling with enthusiasm, he talked about his return to scriptwriting and the slowness of penning verse, both written by hand, as all his creative writing is. “In a year or so, I will be able to put a third collection (of poetry) in the market,” he said.
“You cannot write poetry with dishonesty. Poetry has traditionally been freer and more upfront than prose,” he added.
The first part of the session focused on his early life: his mother’s death, how growing up in a home filled with strong women shaped his attitudes towards gender, how the cities he grew up in, Lucknow, Aligarh, and Bhopal, influenced his writing, thoughts, values and culture.
“My mother’s death changed the trajectory of my life,” says Mr. Akhtar, who was only eight when he lost his mother. “I suppose it is traumatic for any child to lose a parent at such a young age,” he said.
Yet, he seems to have made some peace with this. Though he admits that it hurts, even today, when he thinks of her, “There is no life in the world without hurt, with disappointment, without the feeling of being let down,” he said. “It is in everybody’s quota, and this was mine.”