Arts & Culture

Amitav Ghosh, Gulzar grace Penguin’s literary festival

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India Habitat Centre played host to a literary festival organised by Penguin India from 14th to 22nd march. Under the name Spring Fever, the festival features eminent personalities like Amitav Ghosh, Ram Jethmalani, Gulzar, Shashi Tharoor, Shobhaa De and Gurcharan Das, and also includes variety of cultural and theatre performances. Here we bring you a glimpse of some of the literary discussions that took place this year!

That the fest is principled on the exchange of stimulating and diverse ideas was conspicuous on the first day when eminent author Amitav Ghosh previewed his last novel in the series Ibis Trilogy. This novel is to release next month by bringing out some unknown aspects of the Indian military history in the 19th century. The trilogy which is set against the first Indo-China opium war brings out a historical narrative that is both untapped by any other scholar and is engaging. As Ghosh denied delving into the realm of non fictional characters, he said choosing fictional characters within a non fictional setting allowed him fluidity.

The session started with Ghosh making the first book reading of the novel Flood of Fire. The reading accurately brought the experiential part of the wars through fictional characters that were fought by Indians and were mainly undocumented. He claimed that there is only one firsthand account by an Indian soldier among the Indian soldiers who fought for the British.

Many in the audience associated with Delhi University were elated when a brief discussion with Ghosh in a lighter mood came up after a question about Shadow Lines, another of his great works was posed to him. The novel features in the BA English Honours syllabi of the university. The question was about the whereabouts of the character Tridib. Ghosh also recalled messages sent by readers to him on his facebook page. The session ended with the author dedicating 30 minutes to the signing of the books that the audience bought at a stall in the amphitheatre.

Spring Fever 2015 also included a discussion on the impact of social media in new writing. Eminent Hindi writers like Ashok Vajpayee and Nidheesh Tyagi were in conversation with novelist Yasser Usman. Also present in the discussion was Mr. Shashi Tharoor, a writer and a politician who’s known as the “Twitter Minister”. All the personalities shared their views on the changing trends in social media and censorship. The panel seemed to have agreed that social media ensures democratisation of speech but hate speech and abuse runs free, too.

“Everyone has a right to speech but I’ve seen that users of social media seem to think that they also have a right to prematurely judge which is unethical in my opinion”, Mr Vajpayee was quoted as saying.

However, everyone agreed that censoring is not a way to tackle abusers and trolls on the internet.
“There will always be a certain section of society which will disagree with you and use the means of abuse when they’re not satisfied with your opinion”, said Mr. Tharoor. The discussion ended with the conclusion that social media should be embraced as a powerful literary tool in a democracy.
This was followed by Dastan Alice Ki, an Urdu rendition of Lewis Caroll’s books Alice in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking Glass.

Sampooran Singh Kalra, popularly known by his pen name Gulzaar, also visited the Penguin Literary Fest at India Habitat Centre on the 21st of March. A huge crowd gathered at the foyer to watch the Indian film fraternity’s legendary director and lyricist.

Some of his most celebrated songs from Bollywood were played and then translated into English. Each song was followed by memories recalled by the veteran who has bridged the gap between Bimal Roy and Vishal Bharadwaj in the 59 years of his career.

He showed his humorous side as he cracked jokes with the audience on the non-translatable nature of some of his songs like ‘Ibn-E-Batuta’ and the pronunciation of lyrics in songs like ‘Challa’. A lady from the audience was bestowed with the opportunity to sing ‘Mera Kuch Samaan’ live in front of the crowd which she did beautifully after which Gulzaar narrated how R.D. Burman mistook the song for a movie’s scene when he read it first and how he ended up composing it in one sitting itself.

The other songs that were mentioned included Dakiya Daak Laya, Chor Aaaye Hum and the foot tapping Chaiyya Chaiyya the credit for which he dedicated to A.R. Rehmaan.

Gulzaar ended the interaction with a fresh poetry called ‘Main Nazmeim Odh Kar Baitha Hun’ which stole a loud round of applause from the audience. A collection of his songs has been compiled into a book by his name which was on sale at the fest and the owners of each copy were given the gift of Gulzaar’s signature on it towards the end of the event.

Kartikeya Bhatotia
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Sidharth Yadav
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Ishani Rajkhowa
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Image credits: Raagini Sharma

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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