Jaipur Literature Festival
Kashmir colors Jaipur’s Literature Festival
If Pink was the color you remembered Jaipur by, January splashed a multi hued rainbow at Diggi Palace, hosting the biggest ever outpouring of youngistan for the Jaipur Literature Festival-2015. Bridal decked in Kaliras (wedding ornament) and birdy-tohrans, ‘Dal-batti-churmas’ were shunned for literary flavors, wafting through
Diggi’s royal halls as also its outdoors. Not a pinch, push or pick-pocket was reported. Not a mike screeched as the schedule went by clockwork precision. Subtle lighting threw flashes of color highlighting every nook, corner
and shadow. At least eighty percent were those who dug in their heels, sat or leaned or stood in silence listening to literary greats in authors, critics, poets, artists, filmmakers and even chefs in rapt attention.
Surely, they could be credited with literary leanings unlike other festivals where ‘mela’ fun rules the roost. Fashionistas too sashayed in catwalks. However, the chill in Jaipur brought out Kashmiri Pashmina shawls in all their glamour.
If ‘Lulu’s’ trumpeted their pizzas and fast food, the official fare was lavish with free flowing wines, liquors and live preparations besides a touch of Rajasthan with lentils and Bajra soups served in earthenware kujjas.
Kashmir hogged the limelight on more than one occasion. It came bright, sprightly and serene with Brigid Keenan’s ‘Travels in Kashmir’ and Sangeeta Gupta’s ‘Ladakh–Knowing the Unknown’.
However, ‘Haider – the Shakespearean Hamlet’ threw it into conflict the umpteenth time much like the stark gashes of rough mountains of the restive state.
The five-day scents of the written word brought yesteryears face of cinema Waheeda Rehman, poised and graceful in her graying years, telling her story. Naseeruddin Shah was candid about his account in his book ‘And Then One Day..’ Salima Hashmi, a noted artist and daughter of famed Pakistani poet Faiz Ahmed ‘Faiz’, spoke passionately on ‘Contemporary Pakistani Art’. She was equally at ease as they discussed their father’s huge repertoire of poetry with Salima and Shabana Azmi on ‘Faiz and Kaifi-A poetic legacy’.
Famed Hindi poet Vinod Kumar Shukla opined about ‘Humare samay ke Shabd’ with Pushpesh Pant and Lata Sharma pitching in. Ahmed Rashid of Pakistan opened the carcasses on Taliban and their indoctrination on ‘Terror and Faith’ in his book ‘Pakistan on the Brink’. Paul Theroux shared his ‘Wanderlust and the Art of
Travel Writing’ and Sonia Gandhi received her share of fame in absentia with Javier Moro’s book “Red Saree” on her. Food and Palette being intrinsic to life and living,
Amritsar’s Vikas Khanna opened his masala box of recipes in ‘Masterchef India’. “The spirit of Indian Painting” by B N Goswamy, an eminent art critic, lovingly explained the color strokes, their forms to a mix of discerning and art loving audience.
Haider and Hamlet
Haider – A film based on the Shakespearean Hamlet, set in Kashmir in the turbulent Nineties, loved and loathed, touched most of the bane of Kashmir, from half-widows to mass graves, AFSPA to UN resolutions, elections to collaborators. It came across as a stark, cold and an acid expose on Kashmir, and found echo in outpourings directed at Basharat Peer, the co-script writer and Vishal Bhardwaj, the director, in the session “Hamlet’s Dilemma’ chaired by Suhel Seth a noted columnist and actor at the Festival.
The film makers faced a volley of questions from the audience. Vishal was queried “Tragedy in Kashmir was two fold – one affecting the Kashmiri Muslims and the other the Kashmiri Pandits. Why was only one side of the tragedy shown in the film?” Expecting the question, he ducked under the garb of cinematic timing and his
personal choice as per his story narration, although he admitted that the Pandit tragedy was no lesser a tragedy!
Vishal went on to ask why this question was not raised for ‘Mission Kashmir’ and ended with a concession that mainstream Hindi cinema has been so unfair to Kashmir in the wake of the monumental tragedy that has affected the region. “Hollywood would have churned out 200 stories underlining the state of affairs had such a tragedy
taken place in their region.”
Basharat Peer the co-script writer of Haider too added an answer to the single sided portrayal –“No film can haveeverything for everyone. This is not a history of Kashmir or a political manifesto. It is just a film that tries to tell some stories. I did not bring the story of Kashmir Pandits’ exodus as was not intrinsic to the storyline and I did not want to do tokenism to this aspect by allotting it 10 minutes in the story.”
Another query came from Moneeza Hashmi who asked Vishal –“Why? Why Faiz?” referring to two songs in the film based on the poetry of Faiz . She then surprised everyone by saying she was the daughter of Faiz -the famed Pakistani poet. Vishal in turn recited a few lines of Faiz’s poetry and replied –“Who else but Faiz could have written like this?” that filled the daughter’s eyes in tears as Vishal added –“If Faiz had been alive, he would have written the entire script.”
Waheeda Rehman ‘Mujhe Jeene Do’
In the backdrop of peppy liberating number “Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai…Aaj Phir Marne Ka Irada Hai ..” Waheeda Rehman (76), a gifted actress, strikingly beautiful, graceful in a grey hair plumped coiffeur, royal postured neck, the signature wave on her hair line, took the stage in a green Saree and a Kashmiri Pashmina Jaal shawl. Nasreen Munni Kabir (writer of her book) and Arshia Sattar led the discussion on her
book “Conversations with Waheeda Rehman” and urged her to revisit her life on stage. Going down memory lane, Waheeda began the story when she was 16-years and landed her first movie, invited by Guru Dutt, who discovered her in Hyderabad, to sign a film contract-“I refused to change my name even as I was urged that my contemporaries Meena Kumari, Dilip Kumar, Madhubala had changed theirs. Despite director Raj Khosla,
snorting, that my name held no glamour, sex appeal and was longish. I stuck on; I was stubborn and didn’t mind being dropped from the movie. I spent three-days nervously in a hotel room to get the final call and finally they relented and I was to keep my name given lovingly by my parents for the rest of my life and successes followed.”
In other words “Stubbornness guided my career”, said Waheeda.
Although Waheeda did several movies with top actors of the time Guru Dutt, Dev Anand, Sunil Dutt, Dilip Kumar-“My chemistry with Dev Anand was special. He used to correct me to call him just ‘Dev’ with no jis or sahibs.” Many other anecdotes poured from her time of hit films- Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, Guide, Kagaz ke Phool, Mujhe Jeene Do, Teesri Kasam, Pyaasa, Reshma aur Shera . “In ‘Sahib, Bibi…’ Guru Dutt refused to give the lead role to me, although I had by then given major hits as a lead actress. I settled for the second lead because I loved the role, looked the part of the young girl and I was an artist first. The lead role was essayed by Meena Kumari”, Waheeda told a jam-packed eager audience. And added “ Guru Dutt being my mentor and a perfectionist, once took 76 retakes to finally can the scene ” Comparing Guru Dutt and Satyajit Ray the actress said –“Guru Dutt did not get satisfied easily while Satyajit was clear-cut about the scene, timing, with no wastage of stock or budget.”
When popular author Paulo Coelho was ticked off
Alberto Manguel, author of “A History of Reading”, ticked off popular writer Paulo Coelho not once but twice during his stage discussion titled ‘Library at Night’. A personal library offers a portrait of a person, he joked.
“My own library of 35,000 to 40,000 books in rural France is a type of an autobiography. If I go into someone’s house and I see more Plato than Aristotle I see a friend. If I see the works of Paulo Coelho, I have great trouble regarding him as a friend.” Paulo Coelho is a popular author of ‘Alchemist’, ‘Brida’, ‘The winner stands alone’. Shoving the Kindle reading generation aside, Alberto said – “Just in the way I don’t believe in virtual sex, I don’t believe in virtual reading.” Closing the discussion with a profound thought he stated –“A writer writes what he can, but a reader reads what he wants. Therefore, the history of literature is not a history of writers but a history of readers.”
Nobel Laureate Naipaul
Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul spoke about his life and writings to Farrukh Dhondy, his long-time friend, eminent British novelist and scriptwriter. Naipaul’s wife, Lady Nadira (Pakistani), sat in a chair behind him, taking notes, holding the microphone when he could not hold it, and prompting the words when he forgot mid-sentence and
generally eyeing him lovingly.
Old or ill, Naipaul hadn’t lost his sense of wit. “I don’t like to talk about sunsets,” he told Dhondy who suggested, by way of opening line, that they pretend they were sitting in their homes in England, sipping wine and looking at the birds at sunset. “It can be used against me to infer that I am in the sunset of my life. Unhappy metaphor,” Naipaul replied, much to the amusement of a packed house at the Front Lawns of Diggi Palace.
India, a subject on which Naipaul has written three books – An Area of Darkness (1964), India: A Wounded Civilization (1977) and India: A Million Mutinies Now (1990) also figured prominently in the discussion. The entire Trilogy was controversial. Writing, he claimed, was as “hard for me as it is for most people in the audience”. His writing and success was a “great bit of luck”, he said. For the first book he wrote, he was told by a critic-“to give it up and do something else. The only reason I stuck to writing was my inordinate confidence and faith in my talent. I felt that if I didn’t stay true to my talent that would be the end of me”.
• Festival had only two drawbacks — Free spot registration, led to crowd management issues. The second was the venue had one of the worst telecom networks. However most Media persons who availed their personal wifi passwords at the press terrace, posted dozens of selfies on social networking sites promptly.
• Amazon the online giant shopping portal never had it so good. Books ran off the shelves. Javier Moro’s ‘The Red Saree’ (on Sonia Gandhi), ‘Conversations with Waheeda Rehman’, Chetan
Bhagat’s ‘Half Girlfriend’, Sachin Tendulkar’s Autobiography –“Playing it my way”, Naseeruddin Shah’s –“And Then One Day” received a big thumbs up by the book lovers.
• Jaipur Literature Festival was a treat for music lovers with chilly evenings packed with music from different genres and cultures. Rajasthan’s own Chugge Khan and Alum Qasimov (Azerbaijan) fusion metamorphed music, into a feeling of drifting over tumbling water. While Pakistan’s folk singer Sain Zahoor converted soft sways into rigor of Bhangra
FIRST PUBLISHED IN RISING KASHMIR ON FEBRUARY 21, 2015