Rights and Responsibilities

There has been a deluge of articles and news items on the recent movement against corruption. First by Anna Hazare and his associates from the civil society, then by Baba Ramdev and his followers. While the electronic media has been giving minute to minute accounts of the movements and organizing multi-party discussions on location and in studio, the subject itself is hotly debated everywhere in varying intensities.
Politicians from different parties have either supported the movement or opposed it based on personal opinions or depending on which side of the parliament benches they occupy – the governing side or the opposition. One minister from the ruling party likened the fast of Anna Hazare in pursuit of the Jan Lok Pal bill to holding a gun to the government’s head!
The focus of editorials, columns and op-eds of a majority of newspapers has been on showing how wrong it is for civil society to try to do what is obviously the role of the government. In fact, who constitutes civil society? Several columnists have declared that these movements are undemocratic, renamed civil society to “so-called civil society.”
So what is the role of a citizen? What are her rights and responsibilities in this current scenario? If a government official or elected representative is corrupt what should a citizen do? Report it to the media, raise an alarm in the affected community, try to access information through RTI Act to prove the allegations.
The RTI Act was passed and received assent from the President of India on 15th June 2005. 
In 2005? That is rather recent isn’t it? So I looked up the history of the RTI on the net. I found more than one source .  
History of Right to Information movement in India
To cut a long and successful story short, in the early 1990s, the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS), a group of workers and farmers from Rajasthan, fought for fair working conditions and wages for daily wage earners and farmers by using the method of Jan Sunwai (public hearing) to raise awareness of the practical value of the right to information for poor people. MKSS lead the national campaign for right to information and continues to use the right to information to empower local people to root out corruption and hold their government representatives to account.
The movement for the right to information was started in early 1990s by Mazdoor Kisaan
Shakti Sangathan (which literally means ‘organisation for the empowerment of workers
and peasants’) in remote village Devdungri (Rajsamand district, Rajasthan).  It was a
movement to expose corruption in the famine relief work by demanding information
related to copies of bills, vouchers and muster rolls for workers  recorded in government
Under the slogan ‘Our Money-Our Accounts’ MKSS workers and villagers demanded their local administrators to provide them with an account of all expenditure made in relation to development work sanctioned for the area. While there was resistance at all levels, little by little, as public pressure continued and the media began to take notice, the Government relented and eventually provided the information requested.
MKSS then used the information disclosed to organise ‘social audits’ of the administration’s books. They organised Jan Sunwais/public hearings to see if the information in the government’s records tallied with the reality of the villagers’ own knowledge of what was happening on the ground. Not surprisingly, it did not tally.
At each public hearing, a description of the development project, its timelines, implementation methods, budget and outputs would be read out along with the record of who had been employed, how long they had worked and how much they had been paid. Villagers would then stand up and point out discrepancies – dead people were listed, amounts paid were recorded as being higher than in reality, absent workers were marked present and their pay recorded as given, and thumb impressions that prove receipt of payments were found to be forged.
Most tellingly, public works like roads, though never actually constructed, were marked completed in government books. Though many villagers were illiterate, through face-to-face public hearings they could scrutinise complex and detailed accounts, question their representatives and make them answerable on the basis of hard evidence.
 Following a period of struggle, MKSS succeeded in acquiring photocopies of the
relevant documents in which the siphoning of funds was clearly evident. The successful
experiments of exposing corruption through access to information was good learning experience for civil society, led to the demand of enactment of RTI law in Rajasthan. Government of Rajasthan yielded to pressure of movement and enacted the law in 2000.
Success of struggle of MKSS led to the genesis of a broader discourse on the right to
information in India and RTI  laws were enacted in some states  of India. The demand for
national law started under the leadership of National Campaign on People’s Right to
Information (NCPRI). In 1996, the Press Council of India headed by Justice P B Sawant presented a draft model law on right to information to the Government of India. A working group (Shourie Committee) under the chairmanship of Mr. H D Shourie was set up by the Central Government and given the mandate to prepare draft legislation on freedom of information. The Shourie Committee’s Report and draft law were published in 1997.
Eventually, the Shourie Committee draft law was reworked into the Freedom of
Information Bill (FOI) 2000, which was passed in the Parliament in 2002 but it was not
notified. However, civil society raised several objections to FOI bill and suggested
amendments to National Advisory Council. As a result of long drawn struggle of civil
society; the RTI was enacted in 2005 in India.
But the key question is, can RTI be an effective tool for ensuring accountability in governance institutions? What happens when the information available through RTI reveals acts of corruptions on part of government officials or elected representatives? Would an independent Jan Lok Pal then help in investigations and pave the way for prosecution of the corrupt?
If a group of citizens of India agitated for the passage of the RTI Act, is it not their right, nay responsibility to see that an effective Jan Lok Pal bill be passed? Wait a minute, isn’t that what Anna Hazare and his team have been trying to do? Exercising their rights and responsibilities as citizens of India?
Journalists and news media now effectively use the RTI to get information, frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds.  Just like some years from now, they will use the happenings and proceedings of the Jan Lok Pal to frame questions, write editorials, columns and op-eds. But for that to happen, the Jan Lok Pal has to be in place and the Jan Lok Pal bill has to be passed by parliament.

Support the movement against corruption

At the moment of writing this, there are over half a million official supporters of the India Against Corruption Movement. In reality, there are many many more supporters of Anna Hazare’s fast and movement to get the Jan LokPal Bill redrafted and passed.
Details of the existing draft of the Jan Lok Pal bill and suggestions to change it are all available on the India Against Corruption website.
On 6th April Anna Hazare wrote to the PM again and here is the complete text of  the letter.
Here is an important excerpt from that letter by Anna Hazare to the PM:

We are not saying that you should accept the Bill drafted by us. But kindly create a credible platform for discussions . a joint committee with at least half members from civil society suggested by us. Your spokespersons are misleading the nation when they say that there is no precedent for setting up a joint committee. At least seven laws in Maharashtra were drafted by similar joint committees and presented in Maharashtra Assembly. Maharashtra RTI Act, one of the best laws of those times, was drafted by a joint committee. Even at the centre, when 25,000 tribals came to Delhi two years ago, your government set up a joint committee on land issues within 48 hours. You yourself are the Chairperson of that committee. This means that the government is willing to set up joint committees on all other issues, but not on corruption. Why?

Politicians showed their true colours from the first day onwards. By evening of 5th April, the first day of the fast, spokesperson of the Congress Party Abhishek Manu Singhvi showed his and his party’s contemptuous attitude by saying that others were instigating the veteran social activist to take a premature action. It speaks volumes about the ruling party and its attitude towards an activist using Gandhian methods to root out corruption. It shows how far the ruling party has moved away from the principles of the father of the nation.
Dr Kiran Bedi made a very valid and important point when she said that if Public-Private partnerships can be pursued for business ventures or infrastructure projects, why is there so much opposition in letting the citizens participate in the drafting of a bill that is so necessary in today’s time to root out corruption from the polity of India. 
Manish Tewari, another spokesperson of the Congress Party tried to obfuscate the issue by saying that there is the legislative and the executive of the government to make and pass the bill. Where is the need of people like Anna Hazare to intervene? Well, perhaps Mr Tewari does not realize that viewers and readers are not fools.  What is asked by the eminent citizens is that they be a part of a committee to draft the Jan Lokpal Bill. They are not asking the government to bypass any constitutional authorities nor short circuit any existing democratic methods. It is a straight forward, valid suggestion.
The BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad tried to show solidarity with Anna Hazare and asked him to give up the fast. Well, we know that neither the Congress nor the BJP during their tenures have passed the Jan Lok Pal Bill so both are equally guilty of letting corruption thrive in the country.
On day one, Mr Sharad Yadav and on day two, Mr O P Choutala and Ms Uma Bharti tried to take advantage of the platform created by Anna Hazare and his supporters to create political mileage for themselves. Rightly, they were asked to go by the people.  Subsequently, Anna Hazare requested the people gathered there to let politicians and anyone else join if they want to support the movement and refrain from sloganeering against them, but he maintained that they cannot use the stage to make political statements.
While there is tremendous response and support to the movement from citizens and even film personalities, the silence from corporates is deafening.  The people of India are supporting the movement from every part of the country. We hope the government takes required action before the fast affects the health of Anna Hazare.
I pledge my support to this movement against corruption led by Anna Hazare. 

Tragedy and Hope

I sent an email to a friend from Japan. Hoping it would reach her and a reply would confirm she is well. But the message was returned undelivered “unable to make a connection” it said. The devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan makes one sit up and take notice of nature. Can we call it cruelties of nature? Or is it just  normal behaviour? How do we define cruelty when events occur because nature follows its own laws, the elements of nature follow the principles of physics that affect the geography and through it all devastate lives of human beings, creating tragic history.
Watch and endure. Wait and endure. In sometime, normalcy will be restored. Bridges fallen will be rebuilt. Property damaged can be restored again. Lives lost… lives lost are lost forever. Each one of those lost may have loved ones left behind to mourn. Would the survivors value their own lives more now? Did the people who lost their lives deserve to die in such a hard way? Is it all a matter of chance or was it nature’s careful selection? How bad are the damages? What is the impact on nuclear power plants? Will there be radiation leakage? How bad will it be? After sometime, the questions stop and one can only hope for the dawn of better times.
When the mind is numbed by thought, work is a good relief. As I watered plants in the balcony, I noticed the autumn-dried brown stems of my favourite creeper. One had broken out a green shoot and a rush of green leaves. And there were more green shoots and newer green leaves. Soon it will bloom and white Jui flowers will sparkle their beauty, spreading a faint fragrance. There is hope. Yes, there is hope for better times.

Happy Women’s Day!

Why is it called so? International Women’s Day?
Because on the eighth day of March we want to remind everyone –
Women perform 66% of the world’s work, earn 10% of world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property.

Next year on this day, I hope the percentages will be better. That women the world over will have a better deal in life. We need men on our side to achieve it. But more importantly, we need women to be the biggest champions and support for women.

I end this brief post with three poems written years ago one short and two long (no pun intended).  Stashed away in my writing folders they have travelled from pc to pc and laptop to laptop. Today I remembered them and want to share them. They are raw, unedited. I chose to leave them that way.

Let me be

Don’t play in the sun
Your skin will darken
And then, who will marry you?
Sit straight, cover your knees
Look down, don’t speak
You are grown up now,
So behave
Don’t stay out after dark
For what will people say.
Let me be.
Just let me be myself.

Rage within me

There is this rage within me
Which rises every now and then
Like a storm it remains unabated
For a while, then subsides again
like waves noisily
rushing on to the shore
then going back to the sea
God must be a man I think
Why else would he
Make the man so free
To do what he wants
And go where he would
To rule and decide
While the woman
cleans and cooks
and trails behind
To march and conquer
While the woman
Waits, suffers, sheds a tear
To work and achieve fame
While the woman
Only gets his name
To hold the right,
the means to perpetuate
While the woman
Carries and brings forth
New life, bearing all the pain
God must be a man I think
Why else would he
Make the man always the achiever,
the saint,
prophet and avatar
to be revered and worshipped
far and wide by all
For was Moses not a man
And Spitama Zarathustra,
And so was Jesus, the son of God
So also Mohammed the prophet
And Buddha and Mahavir
Guru Nanak and other saints Sikh
And what of the Hindu Goddesses
Lakshmi, Saraswati and Shakti
Of Wealth, Knowledge and Strength
all wives of Gods more powerful than them.
While Lakshmi gives wealth,
she sits at Vishnu’s feet
Saraswati  gives knowledge like a mother and teacher
Is married to Brahma, the creator
While Shakti is none other
but Shiva’s wife Parvati
But the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer
The Trinity : Brahma, Vishnu,  Shiva
Are all men.
So are all the ten incarnations
a few of them are even part animal
But no, not a woman, not one of them
And while a man could be bought and sold
for silver, for its fifty pieces 
A woman, could be transacted
For only twenty pieces
Is it any wonder then,
That God is a man I think ?
And now you know why ….
There is this rage within me
Which rises every now and then
Like a storm it remains unabated
For a while, then subsides again
like waves noisily
rushing on to the shore
then going back to the sea

A woman, a sari


A sari,
sometimes red,
for a newly-wedded bride
sometimes green,
like fertile, for a wife
but white for a widow
when left alone, forlorn
a married woman dead
is more fortunate
as dressed for her cremation is she
in a sari thats fresh, new and green
as if fertile even though
lifeless, no more  alive.
A sari,
a rope to escape
from a window upstairs, bravely
to a passionate lover waiting
somewhere patiently
A sari,
a cover to hide the breasts
and to uncover them sometimes
A sari,
for a baby to nestle behind
suckling, in comfort,
holding with one hand,
clutching its silken edge, tight
A sari,
damp with water seeping
from wiping hands and faces
from perspiration after cleaning
and cooking on kitchen fires
from tears of fighting,
crying children
and often unseen, untold,
unknown even,
from tears of the wearer
the woman,
quietly weeping away her troubles,
away from the eyes of everyone
A sari,
a hammock tied to cradle
a child, when she,
the mother, struggles on construction sites
to make ends meet
with loads on her head
of concrete and rubble
A sari,
Like a backpack 
with her child held within
when she, the mother, sells
bangles, bindies, rubber-bands
in crowded local train compartments
walking back and forth
traveling up and down
while the child sleeps
clutching onto her back
A sari,
Old and unworn now
Though still very much in use :
To wash and dry rice on
to make sweets from, for Diwali.
To hold curds, and hang up tied
to strain water from,
for making sweet shrikhand
To four-fold and sew a quilt
soft now with use and fragrance
of scents and touches of mother’s love
What child would not long
To clutch on or go under it
To shield the cold breeze
And sleep peacefully
In its soft cool warmth
into a deep slumber.
The sari,
too old and worn out now
torn all over
but wait, don’t throw,
it may be of use yet
to fold up and roll
into a ball
to cover something
maybe a rat hole.
Draped or undraped
the sari
and the woman who wears it,
their lives so deeply
woven and entwined
soon it is difficult
to distinguish
one from

the other.  

Censusional Lady

Just a while ago, a young lady, pleasant and well-dressed came to my home for the Census-2011. Mrs Jyoti Pokhale is a school teacher at the Maharshi Karve Stree Shikshan Sansthan in Pune. Like over 25 lakh Indians, she is a part of this massive exercise. She stressed on the fact that she was doing this additional duty over and above her work as a school teacher. Earlier this morning, she gave a test-paper to her students before moving out to do the census work. After it is done, she will go back and continue with her duties at the school.
Although a little disgruntled about this work, she did her work well, strictly following all the rules while recording details. Surprised when I asked her to pose for a photograph, she liked that someone was appreciating this extra “unpaid” work that she was doing she said. It took much cajoling from me to get a smile out of her! When I told her she was doing very important work for the nation, she went away happy and smiling.
Here’s to Jyoti Pokhale and the hundreds of thousands of others who are giving their personal time for the Census-2011. Treat them well when they knock on your door!

(photograph not very clear – forgive me!)

Census 2011 official – Jyoti Pokhale, school teacher, Pune


Jaipur Literature Festival – Taking a bow until next year

At the end of five festive days of books, readings, discussion and debate interspersed with crowds rushing between sessions from one hall to the next, I feel satiated from the time spent for five consecutive days listening and sometimes asking questions at the Jaipur Literature Festival. An English girl I’d made friends with last year, asked me on email. “Did anyone mention the literacy rate in India over the course of the festival?” She was really wound up about that last year she added. No, I told her. Inspite of the millions of non-literate people in India, a literature festival could go by without touching on this topic. Elaborating on that would be a subject of another post. As would be other posts focussed completely a particular session, a few of the many that I attended. At this time, let me begin this one with the last event on the last day of the festival.

Right to know is right to live
A debate organized by Intelligence Squared, Asia and moderated by John Gordon on “Society has the Total Right to Know: freedom of Information must be Unrestrained.” Speaking for the motion were Aruna Roy, Ashok Vajpeyi and Tarun Tejpal. The speakers against the motion were Jaishree Misra, Abha Dawesar and Swapan Dasgupta.
Aruna Roy – speaking at the debate

Aruna Roy began the debate stating emphatically – The topic of the debate, Total right to know, according to me should cover only public information that influence democratic rights. We are not talking about private information or privacy issues. Corruption is not an academic issue in this country. It destroys the rights of a nation or a certain kind of development. The slogan on which we won the RTI act. Our money, our accounts. The Right to Know in India is Right to Live.  For the poor, not knowing is loss of liberty.  
The arguments against the motion were weak, mainly due to the lame examples the speakers used like medical records, private letters between individuals and doomsday scenarios of revealing sensitive security information etc that might be revealed if all information were to be made public.  A Rajasthani drummer, time keeper for the debate feastily drummed out the speaker’s voice if  the time limit was exceeded. The two journalists, Tarun Tejpal and Swapan Dasgupta were at the receiving end of the drummers enthusiastic beats.        
The statement that clinched the debate in favour of the motion was – it is better to have too much information rather than too little. Voting was by a show of hands from the audience. 
Boys will be boys

Ruskin Bond (right) and Ravi Singh on Sunday Morning

Of all the events, the most delightful one was on Sunday morning – Boys will be boys – with Ruskin Bond who spoke to Ravi Singh, Editor-in-chief of Penguin India.  Reading  from his book A handful of nuts, the author evoked laughter among the audience as he read the antics of a lady – whose skin he likened to that of a crocodile – trying to seduce a man much younger than her. In deference to the young school going audience, he had to stop short of reading the entire passage! He shared an anecdote about his visit to a book shop and finding his book lying way below in a pile under all the best-sellers. Mr Bond, looking about the make sure the owner wasn’t watching, took his book out from the bottom of the pile and placed it on top. All his care and caution was brought to naught when the book shop owner picked up his book and told him –  unaware that he was speaking to the author –  ye book chalta nahin hain! To refute that, he bought the book, the price of which was a meager Rs 3/-

There was not much of a market for books when he began writing which was about 50 years ago, the author called himself “quite ancient.” There were no festivals or book fairs then. The first book fair was in Delhi in 1968-69.  
J M Coetzee
Readings from Coetzee on Sunday afternoon was unique, as instead of discussions, the Nobel prize and twice Booker winning author J M Coetzee read from his book for the entire session. Patrick French presented the author thus – some writers perform, some writers write and now J M Coetzee will read from his work.

J M Coetzee – reading uninterrupted – simply divine!

The author began by saying – at festivals such as this one, writers get an opportunity to voice their opinions. Like everyone else, I too have opinions but I don’t think my opinions are particularly interesting! Instead, I will read from my work. So for the next 45 minutes you will only hear one uninterrupted voice, my own. 

He read from  – The old woman and the cats – a story that unfolds through a conversation between a middle aged professor and his old mother. Coetzee’s reading was as great as his writing. Without any change of expression or affected body language, he only read, conveying all the force of the story simply through his written words.
Half a Yellow Sun
On Monday, 24th Jan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie the young and vivacious Nigerian author of the novel Half a Yellow Sun (Orange Prize) and Purple Hibiscus spoke with Jasbir Jain. The Thing Around Your Neck, her collection of short stories was a finalist for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Best Book (Africa) and the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize.

(R to L) Chimamanda Adichie and Jasbir Jain

The first thing Chimamanda spoke about was how difficult it is to get an Indian visa for someone holding a Nigerian passport. Her husband, a US citizen, got his visa within a week while she had to wait for over three weeks. The first questioner from the audience later in the program apologized to her for the difficulties she faced on India’s behalf! An important point she shared with the audience was that her own life and childhood has been a very happy one.  She lived in a university town and both her parents were faculty at the university. The stories she wrote were imagined and not autobiographical although they were based on the world around her in Nigeria. As a writer, she was very much influenced by the Nigerian Novelist, poet and professor, Chinua Achebe. In fact, she lived in the same house that Achebe once lived in. As a young girl she would have imagined conversations with the spirit of the author.   

The Frog and the Nightingale
On Tuesday, 25th Jan, Vikram Seth in conversation with Somnath Batabyal spoke about his forthcoming book – A suitable girl – which he has not yet started writing.  Seth was one author at the festival who interacted most with the audience. Before answering a question, he sometimes asked counter-questions. He had promised school children at the festival that he would read his poem, The Frog and the Nightingale and kept his promise. The author had asked the children why this particular poem; to which they had replied – they had to learn it in school! 
Vikram Seth – reading poetry 

Talking to students and young reporters
During the lunch break one day, I decided to explore the extent of influence of Hindi Literature at the festival.  A group of Hindi speaking college girls I met, students of English Literature from Venkateshwara College, when asked about their favourite authors, the answers I got were: Jeffrey Archer, Ayn Rand, Amitav Ghosh (especially his Shadow Lines) and Margaret Mitchell.  Among Hindi authors, Munshi Premchand’s Godan was a favourite. One of the girls said her favourite author was Khushwant Singh. Only one girl said she read Hindi newspapers. Most others did not. I asked them if they had liked any of the Hindi sessions and pat came the reply – “Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi was awesome.” 
A young reporter writing for a Hindi newspaper said she had read works of Premchand, Agyeya, Nagarjun, Sharatchandra, Mahadevi Varma and Sumitranandan Pal. Among the contemporary authors who were present at the festival she had read the works of Manglesh Dabral, Ashok Vajpeyi and Ashok Chakradhar.  Any new, young author writing in Hindi drew a blank. Nobody reads Hindi she said, everyone is running after learning English  and reading English books.
Until next year then!

Blowing the conches to signal the end

My favourite among authors whose work I’d already read: Chimamanda Adichie. My favourite new author discovered: James Kelman. The five days at the festival went by swiftly, until next year then, to return for more literature. The provisional list of authors is already out. Some of them are: AS Byatt, Deepak Chopra, Fareed Zakaria, Gita Mehta, Hilary Mantel, Kazuo Ishiguro, Malcolm Gladwell, Monica Ali, Philip Pullman, Pankaj Mishra, Salman Rushdie and hold your breath – Zadie Smith.

Taking a bow – to go back into the woodwork

The festival directors Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple and Producers Sheuli Sethi and Sanjoy Roy of Teamworks took a bow at the end, as Sanjoy said “good-bye to all until next year as we fold up the tents and disappear back into the woodwork.” Some people lingered on the lawns as if to extend the pleasure even after it was over.

But hey, there is another literature fest coming up before the year ends –

Hay Festival at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, 18-20 November, 2011. 
Anyone coming to God’s own festival?   

First Day at JLF – authors, poetry, bagpipers, singing and dance

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) kicked off today with Sanjoy Roy, producer of the event, taking the mike on the front lawns to welcome everyone. But before he could go beyond the first word, a jingle played on thevideo screen.

“We are the blackberry boys” from Vodafone played while everyone including Sanjoy Roy waited for it to finish. This was a first at the festival. A commercial break before a session. Fortunately, it did not repeat through the rest of the sessions.
Welcoming everyone from all the continents of the world, Roy threw open the festival platform for a five day feast of debate and dialogue.
The tall brass lamps were lit by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) President Karan Singh andRajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in the presence of the festival founders and directors.
Faith Singh spoke about the traditions and languages of India that are in danger of slowly disappearing, some may say rapidly. At the start of her short address she mentioned that she has lived in Jaipur for several years, is married and living here and for good measure added in Hindi, “meiin is jagah se hoon”. So don’t go on about my being a gori. Don’t go on about my colour, she said.
Was this a response to the piece on JLF by Hartosh Singh Bal of Open magazine? It definitely appeared so.
William Dalrymple spoke next saying that the festival has grown considerably over the years. He went over the history of the festival right from its inception till its present day. The number of authors has grown to 222 and this year and the grounds have been further expanded to accommodate more sessions and bigger crowds.
Namita Gokhale said the festival was among other things the creation of a democratic intellectual arena for simultaneous and conflicting worlds to interact . So every year in January the world visits Jaipur and Jaipur visits the world.
Dr Karan Singh spoke next, quoting frequently from the Ram Charitmanas. He said, “India is the only country in the world to have creative literature in 25 languages.” He suggested that all the languages should be included in the festival and stressed the importance of translations and poetry in the literary arena.
Sheldon Pollock, the Sanskrit scholar and professor at the University of Columbia started his keynote address by saying, “A poet writes poems but it is the scholar who understands them.”
Sheldon Pollock delivering the keynote address at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 21, 2011.

Sheldon Pollock delivering the keynote address at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 21, 2011.
Recalling previous keynote speakers of the last two years, Girish Karnad and U R Ananthamurthy, Pollock said that literary festivals were happening in India as early as the end of the 12th century when a multiplicity of literary creative activities took place in Northern Karnataka in the region of Kalyana. There was a need to preserve old classical and all Indian languages including Kannada, Assamese, Gujarathi, Marathi.
When there are problems that need to be tackled seriously, India had managed to tackle them effectively. There was a need for an Indian Institute of Classical Studies to be established on similar lines as the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), Indian Institutes of Management ( IIMs) and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc).
The session with Orhan Pamuk in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhary was interesting from the start. He spoke about his earliest ambition to be a painter and then becoming a writer.
He felt the immediate joys of seeing the world through not only words but also colours that were akin to the joys of looking at 16th century Islamic miniature paintings. The past is not only to be preserved in a museum but to be reinvented to help us in understanding our culture. It was important to rewrite the past in such a way that it lives in history and in the imagination of the people.
He read a passage from his book My name is Red which had been kept open and face down on the table. When Chandrahas Choudhary picked up the book to glance through it, Pamuk snatched it back and placed it on the table evoking laughter from the audience. When the session was thrown open toquestions, Pamuk requested that questions be short.
One man in the audience asked the author which love was deeper, the spiritual one or the sexual one. Pamuk was quick to reply that the one that penetrated more was the deeper love, adding that he used the word penetration since the question mentioned depth of love!
The session titled Emperor of Maladies was a discussion on the experience of cancer patients, their treatment, and books that deal with cancer. Siddhartha Mukherjee, author, Katherine Russell Rich, a cancer patient and author, and Kavery Nambisan, surgeon and author, participated in this very engaging discussion.
Orhan Pamuk (seated right), in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhary at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 21, 2011.

Orhan Pamuk (seated right), in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhary at the Jaipur Literature Festival on January 21, 2011.
James Kelman, winner of the Booker prize in 1994 for his novel “How late it was, how late,” and a resident of Glasgow, Scotland spoke about the need for writers to write in the language other than the standard English used in most Anglo/ American novels and books. It was important to get the right syntax and punctuation to give the correct rhythm of the spoken language.
One of the evening sessions on Bulle Shah with singing of his poetry by Ali Sethi and Madan Gopal Singh in Punjabi was outstanding.
Highlights of the next four days:
The Eye of Memory Annie Griffiths & Karen Chase in conversation with Alka Pande
Helter Skelter Jim Crace, Introduced by Nilanjana Roy
Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi Mrinal Pande, Prasoon Joshi, Ravish Kumar & Sudhish Pachauri in conversation with S.Nirupam
Imaginary Homelands: Junot Diaz, Kamila Shamsie & Manjushree Thapa with Chandrahas Choudhury
The Inheritance of Books: Kiran Desai in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh
Boys will be Boys: Ruskin Bond in conversation with Ravi Singh
AfPak: Ahmed Rashid, Atiq Rahimi, Jayanta Prasad, Jon Lee Anderson & Rory Stewart in conversation with William Dalrymple
Readings from Coetzee: J.M.Coetzee Introduced by Patrick French
Marathi Theatre: Mahesh Elkunchwar & Makrand Sathe in conversation with Vaiju Naravane
Half a Yellow Sun: Chimamanda Adichie, Introduced by Jasbir Jain
A Suitable Book: Vikram Seth in Conversation with Somnath Batabyal
A discernible difference at the festival this year is that it has more sponsorships than ever before. Not only events, but the halls are now prefixed with sponsors’ names. So you have The Economist Durbar Hall, Vodafone Front Lawns, Kingfisher Airlines Baithak and Merrill Lynch Mughal Tent.
The evening music events and the bar have been moved to another part of the Diggi Palace grounds separating it from the rest of the venues. This has allowed the organizers to have an additional session at 6 pm while the light and sound checks for the entertainment evenings goes on in parallel at the new Coca Cola sponsored venue.
Every evening, the speakers enjoy the party along with the rest of the audience. On Friday, the evening began with the bagpipers and drums. This was followed by a 16-person orchestra of Been players, drummers and cymbal players. The concluding session of Rajasthani musicians ended like every year in the audience taking to the dance floor and some of them even going onstage to join the folk artistes and dancers. A day spent listening and reading, and an evening of music and dance!

Curtain Raiser – Jaipur Literature Festival 2011

In January last year, the Delhi fog decided to play festival pooper and kept some authors from reaching Jaipur in time for the literary mela. What with flight delays and bad roads, those who were to make it for the very first sessions did not reach Jaipur. It took some juggling by the organizers and directors to start the festival on time with careful and swift changes in the program, noticeable only to diehard festival regulars like yours truly who had studied the schedule, marked it with choices and followed it like a project plan.  A very visible black board (or was it a white one?) kept the attendees abreast of the changes in schedules.  Hopefully the fog will behave itself this time.
Now its that time of the year again, soon I will be packing my bag to go and spend five wonderful days at the Jaipur Literature Festival, henceforth referred to as JLF. Let me see what we have in store this time ….
At 10am on the Front Lawns of Diggi Palace will be the keynote address by Sheldon Pollock, professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at the Columbia University. The JLF website provides a longer bio of the esteemed professor. At the same venue an hour later, Orhan Pamuk the Turkish author of Istanbul, Snow and other books will be in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhary, the avid book reviewer, essayist of literature of The Middle Stage and author of Arzee the dwarf, his first novel. Now here’s the tricky part. At the time of listening to this conversation, there are three other sessions that I will be missing. What are those? 
Mathematics and Football: Alex Bellos at the Darbar Hall
Kuch Shehar, Kuch Ped, Kuch Nazmon Ka Khayal: Gulzar and Pavan Varma in The Mughal Tent
Fugitive Histories: Geetha Hariharan and Manju Kapur at The Baithak
For every session I attend, there would be atleast 2 or atmost 3 other sessions going on concurrently at the other halls that I will be missing. Get used to it, I’ve learned to tell myself. That is what life is like isn’t it? You can’t have everything.  Not at the same time anyway.
So what do we have lined up this time at Jaipur?
There are over 200 speakers, a majority of them authors. Others in conversations with them are editors, publishers and academics from literary spheres. 
You can find the complete list with bio of all the speakers  on the JLF website.
Authors to make a debut are Amrita Tripathi and Sangeeta Bahadur.  Among the authors  who will be there are Ruskin Bond, Patrick French, Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai,  Martin Amis, Amitava Kumar, Rachel Polonsky, Ali Sethi, Tishani Doshi, Annie Griffiths, Kamila Shamsie, Gurcharan Das, Kavery Nambisan, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Meena Kandaswamy, Bettany Hughes,  Junot Diaz, Basharat Peer, Ahmed Rashid, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more.
The topics for discussion range from current affairs like Afpak, to importance of books,  to the Crisis of the American fiction.
You can buy as many books as you can pack in your bags from the bookshop or the publishers’ stalls on the Diggi Palace grounds.  But attending the sessions is completely free of charge. The kullad-wali chai with a dash of cinnamon or pepper poured out by a turbaned gentleman is also free. 

I will most definitely be there to enjoy it all. And write about it. So are you coming to Jaipur?  Yes? Then I’ll see you there. Can’t make it this time you say? Well, in that case, watch this space for my daily JLF posts and pictures.
For now, here are some excerpts from the 5-day schedule for English and Indian languages:
A snapshot of some of the sessions in English:
21 January:
Two Nations, Two Narratives: Muneeza Shamsie in conversation with Urvashi Butalia
The Bankers Who Broke the World: Liaquat Ahamed in conversation with Gurcharan Das
22 January:
Why Books Matter: Javed Akhtar, John Makinson, Patrick French & Sunil Sethi in conversation with Sonia Singh
Strangers in the Mist P.C.Sharma, Sanjoy Hazarika & Temsula Ao in conversation with Ravi Singh
Reporting the Occupation: David Finkel, Jon Lee Anderson & Rory Stewart
Moderated by Antony Loewenstein
Hall of Shame: Caste & its Exclusions Chandra Bhan Prasad, Meena Kandasamy & Patrick French in conversation with S.Anand
The Inheritance of Books: Kiran Desai in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh
23 January:
Boys will be Boys: Ruskin Bond in conversation with Ravi Singh
Now that I am 50…In Praise of Older Women Bulbul Sharma & Namita Gokhale
AfPAK: Ahmed Rashid, Atiq Rahimi, Jayanta Prasad, Jon Lee Anderson & Rory Stewart in conversation with William Dalrymple
India: A Potrait Patrick French in conversation with Amitava Kumar
The Crisis of the American Fiction Jay McInerney, Junot Diaz & Richard Ford in conversation with Martin Amis

24 January:
Half a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Adichie Introduced by Jasbir Jain
2×2 Readings by Namita Devidayal Introduced by Amrita Tripathi
The Alchemy of Writing: Truth, Fiction & the Challenge of India
Tarun Tejpal in conversation with Manu Joseph
Narcopolis: C.P.Surendran & Jeet Thayil in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh
25 January:
Stranger than Fiction

Arthur Miller & Eric Haseltine in conversation with Abha Dawesar
China Dialogues
Hong Ying & Isabel Hilton in conversation with Stephen McCarty
Writings the 1980s
Martin Amis & Jay McInerney in conversation with Nilanjana Roy
Live Scores: Manu Joseph & Shehan Karunatilaka in conversation with
                      Somnath Batabyal
Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh Introduced by Jeet Thayil

Notable among the literary sessions in Indian languages are:
21 January:
Urdu Jubaan with Javed Akhtar and Neeta Gupta 
Na Tshay Na Aks – Voices from Kashmir with Naseem Shafaie and Neerja Matoo;  Rajasthali with Aidan Singh Bhati, Ambikadutt Chaturvedi & Suman Bissa.
22 January:
Aisi Hindi, Kaisi Hindi with Prasoon Joshi, Mrinal Pande and others;  ;
Gata Rahe Mera Dil/ The songs we loved with Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi.
Katha Samvad (Rajasthani Prose) with Habib Kaifi, Lata Sharma & Shyam Jangid

23 January:
Marathi Theatre with Mahesh Elkunchwar and Makarand Sathe in conversation with Vaiju Naravane.
Nayi Bhasha Naye Teevar – Avinash, Giriraj Kiradoo & Manisha Pandey in conversation with Ravish Kumar

24 January:
Kuye Bawri Talab
Anupam Misra, Rajender Singh & Shubhu Patwa in conversation with Om Thanvi

25 January:
Smaran: Agyeya, Nagarjun, Shamsher Bahadur Singh
Avinash, Mangalesh Dabral & Om Thanvi in conversation with S.Nirupam

From a recent news report in the Times of India, it seems that J K Rowling will also be there at the festival. I already have requests from a few Harry Potter fans to get her autograph for them. There were rumours in the past too about her attending the festival. Remains to be seen if she really makes it this year. 
The news has also reached MuggleNet and fans are ecstatic, even though most of them cannot make it to Jaipur. What a treat for fans who will be at the festival! Are we ready then?

Feature on Delhi in Business Traveler Nov 2010

My feature article on Delhi – in Business Traveler, November 2010 issue can be read here!
Wrote it with some misgivings as the cwg scam was unfolding while I worked on it. This is my third feature article for the magazine. Besides these, I also write the monthly ‘India Update’ which unfortunately is not yet available on the web archives.. Will send another reminder to them. In the meantime, the feature will have to suffice. I’ve been wanting to do one on Mumbai, waiting for the right opportunity.

Jaipur Literature Festival – 2011

I’ve been tracking it on the website for JaiLitFest . Yes! Now the schedule for Jaipur Literature Festival is out. Starting from 21 January to 25 January, it will be a celebration of books, authors, culture, life, society, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, Languages English and Indian. Most of all, readers and lovers of books and reading.
Excited to be there again, my third time at the festival, I still remember my first visit in Jan 2009, the first moment I stepped on the grounds of the hotel Diggi Palace and looked at the welcome counter, festooned in festive colours.

Young volunteers busy at the counter, arranging badges, brochures, getting registrations done. On the other side, there were groups of men and women from publishing houses setting up their stalls.

Sanjay Roy stood there welcoming the early walkins like me. I did not know what to expect on that first day. But it was off to a great start. After two years there already, this year I will be reporting on the daily events on NetIndian as well as posting it here.  Watch this space for more updates! Let the Shehnai begin its lilting notes, let the drums roll!!