On 16th of December in the city of Ahmedabad, book-lovers, recluses, students and curious minds at large came out from under various rocks to witness the coming together of multilingual literary conversations at the Kanoria Centre for Arts. With sessions being conducted equally in Gujarati, Hindi and English, it is extremely commendable to see a Festival of this scale attempting to bring together people from various linguistic backgrounds in the city of Ahmedabad.
A search for authenticity and connection
Particularly evident in certain conversations this day was a ringing search for authenticity. In India, often the lesser-celebrated minds behind good cinema are the screenwriters – the ones who see themselves more as storytellers trying to bring forth strong characters to their audiences via the circuitous, if not often crazy, a pipeline of ‘show’ business, as Jaideep Sahni – writer of Chak De! India –put it. The struggle to maintain the authenticity of a writer’s original vision and to root that in the context of its characters – their dialects and cultural particularities – is one felt quite deeply by these writers. More so because to remain, good writers, they have to maintain their connection with society, whilst engaging in the blitz of the showbiz world – a process that can lend an insulating effect. Ritesh Shah writer of Pink and Airlift, however, brushed this fear of getting windswept by adulation aside, jokingly, “Thankfully, writers don’t get much credit in the industry anyway!”
In particular, being female screenwriters in an industry that is highly male-dominant – for even within the circuits of directors, the numbers of female directors are far and few – might seem difficult but Juhi Chaturvedi, writer of films with such unique subject matter as Vicky Donor, has a wonderful approach to her work. She emphasised that she does not approach people as a woman. She approaches them “as a mind”, so that differences can be rendered fewer.
Of dwindling attention spans
Another curious concern that has clearly seeped into the world of literature today, as much as it has seeped into online media and news, is the subject of dwindling attention span. Ashwin Sanghi, author of best-sellers Chanakya Chants and Sialkot Saga, backed this concern up with statistics. Apparently between 2003 and 2013, the human attention span has declined by 33%, to a span of eight seconds. “Writers are better off writing for goldfish than for humans!” he laughed. Sanghi, however, is not one to be dismayed. With his background in economics and management – and being a self-confessed banya who even designs his story’s plots on an excel sheet – he has a strategic way of looking at his craft of writing. His goal is not so much to educate – though enormous research supports his historic stories – but to keep readers entertained at every step so that they are compelled to turn the page. This goal seems to be in step with how much of online media today is shaping itself to deliver entertainment in order to garner clicks. Agree with it or not, this is possibly a larger direction that literature is also headed towards.
On the flawed pursuit of “pure heroes”
On another note, what promised to be a no-holds barred discussion on whether Gandhi was a racist or casteist – prompted by news of a university in Ghana taking down Gandhi’s statue, and discussions triggered by Arundhati Roy’s introduction to Ambedkar’s ‘The Annihilation of Caste’ – proved to be quite a dignified affair, with the academics present for the occasion all yielding some diplomatic but strong arguments – in Gandhi’s favour. Professor Gopal Guru felt that if ‘untouchability’ is taken as the primary factor in understanding what caste is, then on the basis of Gandhi’s day-to-day dealings with the untouchables, one surely cannot say he was casteist – though he acknowledged that Gandhi may not have been radically anti-caste, unlike Ambedkar. Sudhir Chandra wisely and humbly advised that all should read Gandhi’s words and come to their own understanding of his morality; while Rajni Bakshi passionately deplored this underlying search for a “pure hero” that seems to fuel such oft-seen criticism of venerated figures. She pinned it down to a fear of ambiguity – of the uncertainty of the fact that we are all on “moral journeys” and will always fall short on some aspect in our lives, just as Gandhi may have.
With such discussions on the idealised world versus reality, of authenticity mixed with a yearning to be connected with society – the glimpse into a writerly world of critical thinking and progressive ideas is what the Gujarat Literature Festival is lending. There’s something to take away from every session, and just looking at the faces of the enthralled audiences that are gathering in droves in Ahmedabad to listen to debates and discourses, is inspiring in and of itself.
The festival continues on 17th and 18th of December with the host of promising deliberations on the cards.
Photographs : Pratik
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