Sunday, October 25, 2009
Kovalam Literary Festival
The third day of the Kovalam Literary Festival turned out to be one of those occasions when performance falls short of the promise. The organizers though are not to be blamed. Perhaps situations beyond their control caused it. Shobha De failed to turn up and the first session of reading and questions by her became a cropper. The South African writer Rozena Mart who was to speak on Apartheid Literature couldn’t make it to the festival. Amitabh Kant, a senior bureaucrat in the Tourism Ministry also didn’t turn up to make readings and presentation on tourism in India. All this was disappointing but it was partially made up by the other speakers and through the endearing presence of Nanditha and Om Puri making the discussions vibrant and humorous .
Sunny weather makes blue seas off Kovalam a feast for the eyes. The festival was blessed with clear blue skies and the view of the sky and the sea from the conference hall of Taj Green Cove was magnificent, keeping you on high. The third day’s session began with rendering of poetry by Chandrakanta Muratsingh, Korobok poet from Tripura. The poems were rendered in Korobok with translation in English. It was nice to hear a poet from the North-Eastern corner of India reciting his poems in the South-West tip of the country. It gave a glimpse of the vastness and variety India truly boasts of.
Following it were readings by young Indian writers. Ira Trivedi, pretty and smart, full of energy and vivacity that took her to the reckoning in the finals of the Miss India contest read out from her book ‘The Great Love Story’. The excerpt on the life of an Indian girl in the United States and her partying and meetings with boy friends were marked by the cultural shock that happens when two traditions encounter .. The moment when the doctor informs her of her pregnancy and her tremendous effort to comes to terms with it are portrayed by Ira in graphic detail. Passages from the book she is writing are about the experiences of an 18 year old girl dying of pancreatic cancer. Ira writes this from personal experience, having spend time with the girl and seen her come to terms with her death which is imminent. Her description of the ‘divergent cell’ that causes cancer in the body and the thousands of healthy cells that fight this wayward cell are told in the form of a battle. Ira took questions from the audience and when asked as to choose between commercial success which her books have been and critical acclaim she replied in a lighter vein that it will be nice to have them together. Becoming more serious, Ira said that in life, grass appears greener on the other side and it is normal to yearn for what you do not have.
Ira was followed by Mathew Menacherry, a Keralite born and brought up in Mumbai. Mathew who is the grandson of the eminent Malayalam
writer and critic, the late M.P.Paul read out passages from his book ‘Arrack in the Afternoon’. It is the story of life in the setting of Mumbai and Mathew surprisingly describes the bar dancers and their approach and outlook towards their customers with great scientific precision. Mathew remarked that a lot of research had gone in to the writing . His descriptions of a Malayali Christian couple and their failed attempts at copulation on the first night bordered on the hilarious. This he said, emphatically, was not autobiographical. Mathew was candid enough to admit of a hangover from bacchanalian revels of the previous night and this lead to comments on dangerously rising levels of liquor consumption in Kerala.
Anuja Chauhan, author of ‘The Zoya Factor’ is an advertising professional and she brought all the charm and fizz of her profession on stage. Dimunitive, dressed casually with a beautiful necklace, she sat cross-legged on a chair, comfortable and at ease with herself and read passages from her book as though she were reading out bedtime stories to her children. The film rights of Zoya Factor, she announced, is brought by Red Chilies Entertainment. Anuja tells the story of life in a world of glitz and glamour, of cricket, advertising, movies, of astrology and luck It’s a make believe world Anuja has seen at close quarters. Anuja narrated her efforts at writing, caught between the demands of a high profile job in JWT and her responsibilities as a wife and a mother.
Palash Mehrotra author of ‘Eunuch Park’, sub-tittled ‘Stories of Love and Destruction’ made a sober difference. Deeply read and with fine intellectual tastes he is a product of Doon School, St.Stephen’s College and Balliol College, Oxford. In Palash’s stories, the protagonist is a distant figure, reflecting on events and incidents. One of the stories he read out was of life in a small –town and its Christian missionary school. The moralistic position one is forced to assume by life in small towns is vividly described in his stories. To my question, Palash pointed out that life in small towns is claustrophobic and there is very little space to dissipate one’s energies, something available in abundance in big cities.
Anita Jain breezed on stage brimming with confidence that literary success and fame brought her. Dressed in black top and skirt she seemed business-like in an American sense and proceeded to read out from her book ‘Marrying Anita’ which describes her and her parent’s search for a groom in India. Anita said it was a confessional book though her confessions were timid by American standards but shocking in India. Anita did her schooling and college in the United States and lives in India while her parents continue to reside in the United States. She read out passages describing her visit along with her parents to her maternal aunt’s house in Meerut and meeting her married first cousins after a gap of 18 years and exchanging notes . She also read out another passage where she invites a Sikh friend to her apartment and their first kiss. .Anita stated that her intention was to portray the fast changes in metropolitan India in the course of her search for a husband. Anita was told from the audience that parts of her book could be exaggerated as in urban and semi-urban India, women are free to go out, search for partners, find them and enter in to matrimony with the consent of parents and the larger family.
The post-lunch session was a talk by Prof. Sanjay Srivastava on ‘Streets, Footpaths, Gated Communities – The Cultures of Indian Pornography’. Prof. Srivastava teaches Sociology at the Institute of Economic Growth in New Delhi. The well-researched talk was aided by slide presentations. Sanjay pointed out that pornography creates in the mind of millions of Indian males, images of the sensual woman they like to aspire for but is unattainable and unavailable. There are also ideas of a true sexuality which has to be found and failing which a man’s life remains unfulfilled. The sensual woman is white, upper class and represents in their minds, modernity. Sanjay dwelt on the explicit sexual discussions held in the columns of women’s magazines, both English and Hindi. He also referred to the badly printed magazines with pornographic tales sold on streets by small time vendors along with other magazines which exhort readers to lead ideal lives. He also spoke of gated communities where women could swing between modernity and tradition. He narrated how Karva Chauth would be observed along with drinking and dancing for Diwali parties. Prof. Srivastava has done a lot of research in his topic from a sociological viewpoint and his findings and conclusions need to be discussed more seriously.
Suresh Kohli the veteran documentary film maker was present to show his documentary on Kamala Das, the eminent writer who died recently. The women writers who read their works in the morning session stayed away from viewing it. I would say it was disrespect on their part. Kamala was an endearing person and I still cherish the moments spend in her company. Though Kamala was a bi-lingual writer, the film was restricted to her writing in English. The film was shot in the last years of her life, when she embraced Islam and started wearing Muslim dress. The frail Kamala had stopped moving out of her apartment and the entire shooting had to be done indoors. It was a poignant moment when Kamala says that she made a dinner of her past and invited all to come and share in its food and wine . It was perhaps an understatement of the anguish and suffocation she had gone through. Kamala ‘s literary life beginning with her first collection ‘Summer in Calcutta’ and comments of othe r poets like Keki Daruwalla are included in the documentary. Suresh Kohli has done a wonderful job and his work deserves a far wider audience.
With this curtains fell on the second Kovalam Literary Festival and a word of appreciation is due to Binoo John and his wife Rebecca who worked untiringly to make it a success. They did a wonderful job and in my view they should continue to organize the Third Festival in similar manner and in the same venue that the first two were held..