Shabana Azmi


I am a student of literature and I happened to be at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013. People are quick to comment that since I’m a literature student I’ll obviously attend this fest. However, neither do all literature students attend the festival, nor do literature students form a sizeable majority of the audience. It would be a naïve and myopic approach to take and let’s just say that a love for reading is reason enough to be there.

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 is the biggest literature festival in the region of Asia- Pacific and every year it brings together the brightest minds in the field of art, on one platform.

Day 1-

Day 1 began with an introduction by the festival director William Dalrymple, when he noted how the festival has grown over the years. Citing an example, he mentioned that the first time they’d organized the fest in 2005, only 14 people had turned up, out of which 10 were lost Japanese tourists looking for Amer fort. Today, the fest attracts a massive crowd of over a lac.

Dalrymple’s introduction was followed by a keynote address by legendary writer Mahashweta Devi, titled “O to live again”. Her magnetic aura left an impact on all. His Holiness Dalai Lama held a session titled “Kinships of Faiths:Finding the middle way”, in which he very cheekily admitted that even he found religious stories boring in his childhood and it was only later when he understood Budhdhist Philosophy, did he find peace. He maintains that he is a pupil of the Nalanda tradition of teaching and owes a lot to India in this respect. Another highlight of the day was Javed Akhtar talking of Ismat Chughtai and Annie, two stalwarts of Urdu literature. He strongly urged the audience to learn Urdu and explore its literature.

Day 2-

The highly acclaimed book “The Origins of sex” by Faramerz Dabhoivala was discussed by the author and William Dalrymple at the Google Mughal Tent. Fara, as everyone fondly calls him, was an instant hit with the crowd, his pleasing demeanour worked its charm on everyone and the audience listened enraptured as he narrated the central themes of his book. “Sex and Sensibility”, a session taken by acclaimed lyricist Prasoon Joshi and actress cum activist Shabana Azmi, was also quite a crowd puller. In the light of the recent gang rape case and Honey Singh’s obscene lyrics, they discussed the role of cinema in inculcating perverted ideologies. They cited that examples found in Indian mythology such as Ram being the ideal husband and Sita being the silent sufferer are still engrained in the Indian psyche. In a culture where the abuses are hurled not at the person but the person’s mother and sister, we need some serious re-thinking.

The Day 1 and Day 2 were truly enriching and offered great insights.

On 21st March, Shabana Azmi, the acclaimed Bollywood actress and famous activist visited Miranda House and held a discussion with young boys and girls about pressing issues like gender sensitization and women empowerment. The event was organized by the joint efforts of the Women Development Cell of Miranda House, Parivartan Gender forum of Kirori Mal College and NSS of Hindu College. As was expected, quite a large crowd turned up for the event.Although the boys were fewer in number, they participated in the talk and asked insightful questions.

The actress was late, as is usually the case with celebrities and the program which was scheduled to begin at 2, began at 3:20. The crowd cheered and clapped as Shabana Azmi made her way to the stage, clad in a white Anarkali suit and looking magnetic as she always does. She began by apologizing for making the crowd wait, defending herself by stating that she has come directly from the airport, without having even a sip of water and so she was hungry-to hear young minds speak. Her views about the recent rape case and equality of women impressed us all. She made it clear that ‘equal’ doesn’t mean ‘same’, equal means equality of opportunities, which is clearly lacking in Indian society and the change has to begin at home.

She also related many of her experiences that she had had in other countries as well as in India. She stresses on improving the attitude of the police and providing security to the victims so that they are spared the embarrassment and also to ensure that women can travel whenever they want, wearing whatever they want. Her comment on ‘item numbers’, that a song’s lyrics are no invitation to rape was another which received a loud applause. I was particularly affected by her observation about a course book of third graders, which says “where is the father? In the office. Where is the mother? In the kitchen.” She concluded that our society is taught this way, and change cannot be brought about in this generation, but that means that we have to keep working for it and raise our voice without giving up.

This was Delhi University’s efforts to fight violence against women. And I must say, Miranda house with all other organizers did a brilliant job in making it a successful one.


Aishwarya Chaurasia
[email protected]

Picture credits- Swadha Singh