January 2014 Posts

Q & A with Ravi Subramanian, 16 Jan 2014

Q & A with Ravi Subramanian, 16 Jan 2014

LR final-9923

I read Ravi Subramanian’s Bankerupt recently. I enjoyed the story. It was a well-paced thriller, the intricacies of the financial world come through well. The understanding of a Ponzi scheme involving Emus was fascinating. ( In Erode there was such a scheme that collapsed. Read more: http://www.businessworld.in/en/storypage/-/bw/greed-lured-even-literate-investors-into-emu-scam-rbi/r1017752.0/page/0) Other aspects in Bankerupt like the long-distance relationship, trying to keep their marriage alive, the stresses of an academic and the NRA were well-researched. No wonder Ravi Subramanian has won the Crossword Book Award ( Popular Vote) two years in a row: Bankster in 2012 and The Incredible Banker in 2011. 

He is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management (Bangalore), currently head of a leading financial institution.  A career banker and financial services professional, Ravi has worked with various multinational banks (Citibank, ANZ Grindlays Bank and HSBC) for over eighteen years. As a result of his extensive background in foreign banks, writing about banking comes quite naturally to Ravi. Each one of his books thus far have been set in the backdrop of a foreign bank. His six bestselling books:  If God was a Banker (2007),  Devil in Pinstripes (2009),  The Incredible Banker (2011), The Bankster (2012),   Bankerupt (2013) and I Bought the Monks Ferrari (2007). 

Trophies for the Crossword Book Award (Popular vote) won in 2010 and 2011

Trophies for the Crossword Book Award (Popular vote) won in 2010 and 2011

In June 2013 he moved publishers to join Penguin India,  now Penguin Random. He signed a signed a two-book deal worth an estimated Rs 1.25 crore (approx $210,700 at the time).  http://www.jayabhattacharjirose.com/jaya/2013/06/30/good-lit-versus-saleable-lit-pubspeak-june-2013/  

How much research do you put in for each novel?

It depends. For parts of the plot which are in the banking domain, I don’t need to do much of a research. Just a couple of phone calls in case of a doubt. However for other aspects, I need to do fair bit of research. For example, in Bankerupt, I have talked in detail about the pitched battle between Gun Activists and the Gun Lobby in the United States. I read three books and read a research paper, to understand both perspectives and formulate my own opinion. Bankerupt was also set in MIT, Boston. To understand academia and lives of people working in this field, I spoke to multiple professors and research associates in the US. While one has the creative license while writing fiction, one needs to make sure that fundamental errors in plotting don’t creep in.

How do you work out the story drafts? Do you create each character beforehand and then tuck in details into the novel?

None of my stories or characters have been created beforehand and tucked into the novel. I always start with a canvas – a backdrop. And then keep adding elements. For example, the story of Bankerupt came out of a meeting with a MIT professor who had come to present to me a credit underwriting model. We got talking about life in the US in general and academia in specific. The moment the meeting got over, I knew that I had a backdrop for my story – the Academia in USA. Every element came thereafter.

I start the first chapter with the backdrop in mind. The first leads to the next, then the next and thereon the story continues. Characters are built along the way. This method of writing makes me rewrite many parts of the novel, but then it gives me one great benefit : IF I don’t know what the next page contains, there is some hope in hell that the reader will be able to predict what will happen. It helps me build intrigue and thrill in the novel.

Do you edit as you go along or only after completing the first draft?

Only the part that I need to change to make progress on my story, I edit as I go along. Else I don’t edit while writing. I complete the first draft (and the story) and then edit the entire manuscript. A number of changes creep in while editing – at times even the plot undergoes a tweak.

Do you take inputs from friends and editors to see how the story is improving?

Not while I am writing it. I talk to my daughter and my wife. Take their inputs while I write. But that’s it. I don’t share my manuscript till its complete.

Having said that, I do share my complete manuscript with a few people once its complete. This is a trusted core group of people who read it and come back with their feedback. If they recommend a change, and I am convinced about the change, I don’t mind tweaking the manuscript to incorporate that change.

How do you keep an eye on so much detail? Do you make an excel sheet of each character and situation or do you prefer working in longhand first?

It is not as complex as it sounds. I have a drawing book, which I use at every stage, to think and sketch a elementary storyboard of the next chapter, or maximum tow chapters at a time.

How do you tie up the loose ends ? Does it happen as you envision it will or do the characters also lead you along various ways?

I think it is a highly romanticized term which authors use to overcomplicate a simple process of writing a book. I don’t think any character will go where the author does not want him or her to go. I consider all the options, all the possibilities that can happen and then try and take the most shocking of them. And the characters do what it takes to drive the story in that direction.

Yes sometimes tying loose ends becomes a challenge. But when you write a thriller, you need to make sure that the pace is such that the reader is more curious about what happens next than worry about why a particular character did what he or she did. I normally use the last couple of chapters to tie in all the loose ends. A narrative style of writing helps me in this.

Do you read and read and read thrillers or do you not wish to be distracted while writing?

I do read, even when I am writing. Sometimes, when I am indecisive about which direction to take, it helps immensely if I take my mind of and read. Thinking about the problem on hand, after a break invariably solves it for me.

How long does it take you to write one book?

Eight to nine months. Given that I want to bring out a book a year, at the least, this pace is necessary.

How many drafts do you have in making now? Are you stocked up well on drafts for the next few years?

Haha.. how I wish!!! No. While I have lots of stories inside me, I don’t have draft or outlines. Because each of the story in my mind, can be strewn into a novel in ten different ways. And that clarity will only come if I sit down to pen the story. I have one complete manuscript, which is a story of three generations of south Indians which I will bring out sometime in the future.

Where do you find your stories?

All around. In people, in conversations, while driving, while attending social engagements, reading…. There is a story everywhere. You just have to spot it.

How do you determine the length of your chapters?

I consciously try to keep my chapters short. This is something which I have leant over the years. Short chapters help the reader complete more chapters while reading at night, helps keep the intrigue factor high, and increases the pace of the book. 3-4 pages of a book per chapter is good. 5-6 is acceptable. And more than six is avoidable. Bankerupt has 77 chapters in 320 pages.

What is an ordinary day in the life of Ravi S as a writer?

I lead a very normal life. Get up at 6.45am. After the mandatory filter coffee, three newspapers, I wake up my daughter. I love the five to ten minutes that I spend in waking her up. The two minute sleep extensions drop to 1 minute and then to 30 secs and then the “Get up now… or you will be late for school”, is fun. I help my wife with work in the morning. We are a working couple, so time is at a premium. I drop my daughter to school and head to work. Am early at work. Getting in early gives you the luxury of leaving early. I get back home by 6.30. Half an hour at the treadmill, a bit of loafing around and its time for dinner. I sit down to write post dinner and often write till 12.30 or 1.00. That’s the time I try an respond to mails, feedback etc. I sleep late. Once in a while I sleep for a few extra hours on Saturday and Sunday and make up for it. It helps that I don’t have to sit in a secluded place with birds chirping and rain drops falling on the window to focus on writing. I can do that pretty much sitting in  the midst of constantly chattering people.

Mahesh Dattani, “Me and my plays”

Mahesh Dattani, “Me and my plays”

Mahesh DattaniI didn’t have an audience, because I didn’t have a language. The kind of text-based theatre I wanted to do could not be possible without a language. …The relationship between a playwright and an actor is a complex one. Both rely on one another for their artistic fulfilment….

Mahesh Dattani’s introduction/essay in Me and My Plays is worth reading. It is a reflection and a comment about the evolution of contemporary theatre in India, especially of original English-language plays. He talks about how he fell in love with theatre, his attempts at acting, and discovering his talent for writing plays, his observations on theatre and acting. This is a slim volume consisting of two recent plays — “Why did I leave my Purdah?” and The Big Fat City” that are powerful to read even in print. I wonder what it would be like to watch the performances.

Last week on Facebook, another noted theatrewallah, Sudhanva Deshpande wrote about Ben Rivers talk on Playback Theatre. Playback Theatre is an interactive theatre approach used in over 60 countries as a tool for community building, trauma response and cultural activism. In a Playback event, audience members share personal stories, and watch as a team of actors and musicians transform these accounts into improvised theatre pieces. Playback Theatre responds to the fundamental human need to share one’s story and have it heard and honored. Ben Rivers is a British-Australian writer, educator and drama therapist specializing in the use of applied theatre for community mobilization and cultural activism.

I could not help but mull over the “playback theatre” technique that Mahesh Dattani has applied to these two plays. Theatre performances tend to be cathartic experiences if the audience is willing. The stories about Partition or about life in Bombay/Mumbai may be scripted for a certain cast of characters but they will rake up personal stories and thoughts by those witnessing a performance. It would be fascinating to hear a live conversation on theatre between Mahesh Dattani, Sudhanva Deshpande and Ben Rivers, much along the lines of this televised conversation of Peter O’Toole, Orson Welles, Huw Wheldon (the host) and veteran actor Ernest Milton discussing Hamlet http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=smMa38CZCSU. One topic, renowned practitioners of the craft and much becomes evident through a good conversation.

Read Me and My Plays .

Mahesh Dattani Me and My Plays Penguin Books, Delhi, 2014. Pb. pp. 248. Rs. 246.

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Today my article on literary festivals of India has been published in the Brunch, Hindustan TimesThe title in print is called “Booked & Hooked” and online it is ” Your guide to litfests this season”Here is the link to the online version: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/brunch-stories/your-guide-to-litfests-this-season/article1-1171368.aspx. Meanwhile I am c&p the longer version of the article published.) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

“I attend literary festivals to meet authors, to see another dimension to their life, listen to the heated conversations, introduce my four-year-old twin sons to famous people, and inculcate a sense of reading culture in them,” says Umesh Dubey, first-generation entrepreneur who takes his family to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) for the entire week.

A literary festival can be defined as a space where writers and readers meet, usually an annual event in a city or as “literature in performance”. Must-have elements include panel discussions with a healthy mix of new and seasoned writers, Q&As with the audience, author signing sessions, workshops related to writing and publishing, book launches, bookstores, a food court, and entertainment in the evenings. And – hopefully also – intellectually stimulating conversations, a relaxed ambience, picturesque setting, good weather (no dry days!), and networking possibilities.

In India, literary festivals came into vogue with the astounding success of Jaipur Literature Festival, which began in 2006 . The timing was right, soon after the Christmas holidays/ winter break, in January, when Rajasthan is a favourite tourist destination. To organise a festival in the Diggi Palace Grounds, chatting with authors most readers have only admired from afar while sipping the hot Diggi chai in earthen cups, basking in the warm winter sun, listening to crackling good conversations and at times heated debates, and as darkness descends, preparing to hear the musicians who will perform… it made for quite a heady experience. And if at any point you get weary of the crowds and the conversations, it is easy to step out for a jaunt as a tourist and explore Jaipur. This basic template has begun to be emulated across the country.

jaiput-lit-festAccording to the Jaipur Litfest producer, Sanjoy Roy, the intention is to create “a democratic access system of first-come-first-seated where we treat everyone as our guests and do not make a fuss over VIPs. The colour and design create a sense of an Indian mela.” Of course prior to JLF, India did have a fair share of literary “festivals” like Ajeet Caur’s SAARC Literature Festivals, or those that were organised at the Sanskriti Anandgram in Delhi or even the early editions of the Katha festivals, but admittedly none were on a fabulous scale, nor were they open to the public. According to Maina Bhagat, director, Apeejay Kolkata Festival, “The city is the biggest player in the festival”.

So what explains the runaway success of today’s literature festivals? Says poet K. Satchidanadan, “There is a whole urban and semi-urban middle class youth eager to meet authors and listen to them in a festive atmosphere. The publishers are interested in releasing their books there and having their authors on the platform. The authors are interested in meeting other authors and also readers. Cities also get to be on the literary map of India with such celebrations.” Ananth Padmanabhan, senior vice-president, sales, Penguin India, says, “With social media dominating mind space, festivals are a great place to sit back and connect readers to writers; such an engagement opportunity was lacking.” In fact, festival-hopping has resulted in a modern-day phenomenon of the festival junkie: People who move from festival to festival.

Of late the Indian economy may have been in the doldrums but there is no denying that post-liberalisation, more and more people have disposable income, they do want to invest in culture and what better way than to make it a family outing? It is a democratic patronage of the arts. It is also a reflection of how much India is becoming a writing culture rather than a reading culture.

Arshia Sattar, who through Sangam House organises Lekhana Literary Weekend  (an extension of the Sangam House international writers’ residency programme that is run outside Bangalore) and is also jury member, DSC Award for Literature 2014, says, “My concern is that we are moving further away from ‘literature’ and closer to writing. I think if we had fewer ‘festivals’ and if they had  a focus rather than being all things to all people (which is probably what their sponsors want in terms of ‘footfalls’) . . .we might see people stepping out to literary events with dedication.”

Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India, says, “There is not a single real benefit any festival brings to a publisher. And there are a number of cons – it costs a lot to get your author up there for almost no returns on investment, and zero promotional benefit. Yes, if you switch off the business aspect, for the audience it’s a great platform to see your favourite authors, and for authors a great platform to cross-commune with other writers. For editors it’s a good networking and ideas engagement opportunity. But in terms of sales or author brand building, go back to every single festival and put down the authors and their titles and see the impact of either media coverage or sales, and you’ll see not one has moved beyond their earlier levels. Some very successful (read great stage performances) sessions do result in immediate brisker sales at the venue bookshop, but even those are minimal – anything between 30 copies to 100 copies.” Adds Diya Kar Hazra, publisher, trade, Bloomsbury, “There are so many literary festivals these days – sometimes two or three in one city. The writer is expected to do more than just write these days – they blog, they tweet, they have pages on FB. They appear at festivals and events reading from their books and having conversations with fellow writers. The reader–writer relationship has changed, as a result. Authors are much more accessible than they ever were.”

Author Shovon Chowdhury who released his debut novel, The Competent Authority, earlier this year says that attending literary festivals “feels good. You feel special. I’m not jaded yet, so I enjoy it. I also love meeting lots of interesting people, including some super-intelligent ones. It gives me a dose of much needed perspective and humility. Plus there’s free meals.”

An attractive feature of a literary festival is the free entry. This requires the festival management to scour for private sponsors, funds and collaborations that will help in putting together the extravaganza and these could be either in money or in kind. In many case, corporate house are willing to assist with sponsorship for the brand visibility and media coverage. Recently tourism departments and state governments have partnered with festivals which is understandable given the positive impact festivals can have on the local economy. For instance, in a dipstick survey the JLF management did last year, it was estimated that approximately Rs 20 crores of additional spend could be attributed to JLF in Jaipur on account of accommodation, restaurant and shopping. Even this is set to change. The inaugural edition of the Pune International Literature Festival had ticketed entry. Comic Con too proposes to sell tickets in 2014.

Much of the success of the festivals depends on the programme created, parallel sessions, selection of the moderators and if necessary, themes selected. It is also heavily dependent upon the curation, storyboard to the chemistry between the panelists.  Altaf Tyrewala, Director, Chandigarh Literature Festival, says “The organizers and I were struggling to think of how CLF could be different from other literary festivals. We realized that in the circus, we often lose sight of the book, the very foundation of literature! So we decided that CLF would showcase the book, and nothing but the book. We decided to let active literary critics nominate that one book that had stayed with them over the past decade. There was a general agreement on what constituted a good book. Naturally, the discussion between the author and the nominating critic was focused entirely on the book in question. It made every session riveting, and more importantly the invitees realized that their presence was crucial to the festival’s format.” It helps to do some thinking in advance to avoid embarrassing incidents as happened at a recently concluded festival. The moderator was informed just before stepping on to the stage that the authors lined up were commercial-fiction authors. The response, the moderator shuddered and said, “I would never read such authors!”

The buzz around festivals is tremendous. But the bubble may soon burst as has happened with book launches. People will weary of them if they happen too often. They will lose their charm for various reasons. As writer Ravi Subramanian points out, “The divisions between the literary and commercial authors are becoming apparent at these festivals.” Second, most of the festivals are conducted predominantly in English, though slowly this too is changing, to reflect and represent the local languages and the international participants. There are writers who have begun to feel bored and disillusioned  with these festivals that often sustain and strengthen the hierarchies among writers, dividing them into “stars” and ordinary writers. Even the most ordinary Indian English writers acquire “stardom” while the best of language writers are often time-fillers invited most often to show that they too are represented.

Over the years the festivals have come to align themselves before and after the December/Christmas holidays, making it easier for authors to mark their presence at more than one event. The length and dates of the festivals are also determined by collaborating partners. In fact Surya Rao, director, Hyderabad Literary Festival, says, “We avoid a clash of dates with other major lit festivals because we check the dates of other fests. The Jaipur fest happens to be the closest to us.”

Maybe Indian festival organisers will collaborate with each other as happens in other countries like Australia.

A possible “classification” of literary festivals. 

There are so many literary festivals being organised in India that one has to create some sort of “classification”. For instance, festivals that have stood the test of time of a minimum period of three years, grown in popularity (as measured by the increasing audience participation), established a brand in their name and proven to be sustainable in terms of the sponsorship would probably be at the top of the list. These would be the major milestones in the festival calendar – Jaipur ( Jaipur Literature Festival), Calcutta (Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Kolkata Literary Meet) , Chennai (Hindu Lit for Life), Mumbai (Kalaghoda, Times of India festival), Hyderabad Literary Festival and the Sahitya Akademi’s Festival of Letters.

Then there is what could be termed as a “sub-genre” – that is, equally strong brands, dealing with genres of literature which are not necessarily given sufficient space for intense engagement, such as Bookaroo (children’s literature) organised in Delhi and in Pune (in collaboration with Sakaal Times), ComicCon (comics and graphic novels), Samanvay (Indian languages) in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre,, Cultures of Peace: Festival of the Northeast (Women and Human Rights) organised by Zubaan, Poetry with Prakriti (poems), Mussoorie Writers Festival (mountain and travel writing) organised by Stephen Alter and Lekhana (a long literary weekend).

Finally there are the relatively new festivals that are as yet to establish themselves, but people are already familiar with them – Bangalore, Kasauli, Shillong, Agra, Lucknow, Benaras, Patna, Bhubhaneshwar, Chandigarh, Pune, and Kovalam. And there are still more being organised.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose 

Jaipur Literature Festival programme 2014

Jaipur Literature Festival programme 2014

150px-Logo_of_the_jaipur_literature_festival( Here is the full programme for Jaipur Literature Festival, 17-21 Jan 2014. This list was uploaded by Arunava Sinha, translator and journalist, on his facebook page earlier this evening.) 

The Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 programme. You’re welcome.

JANUARY 17, FRIDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Keynote Address – Amartya Sen

11:15AM-12:15PM: Antar Dhwani: Writing India, Speaking Bharat – Ganesh Devy, Shekhar Pathak in conversation with Malashri Lal

12:30PM-1:30PM: Face to Face – Ved Mehta in conversation with Samanth Subramanian

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – File Room by Dayanita Singh to be released by Geoff Dyer

2:15PM-3:15PM: Choices and Freedoms – Amartya Sen in conversation with John Makinson

3:30PM-4:30PM: Restless Women – Cheryl Strayed and Robyn Davidson moderated by Gaiutra Bahadur

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Nazar Photography Monographs 02 – When Abba was Ill by Adil Hasan

5:00PM-6:00PM: Aakrosh – Neerav Patel, Hariram Meena and Irrfan Khan in conversation with Mahmood Farooqui

MUGHAL TENT

11:15AM-12:15PM: Habib Tanvir: A Life in Theater – Mahmood Farooqui and Piyush Daiya in conversation with Geetanjali Shree

12:30PM-1:30PM: Plantation – Emma Rothschild and Gaiutra Bahadur in conversation with William Dalrymple

2:15PM-3:15PM: Naman: Homage to a story teller – C P Deval, Mahmood Farooqui, Arjun Deo Charan, Prahlad Shekhawat and Irrfan Khan in conversation with Malashri Lal

3:30PM-4:30PM: Litcrit – Carsten Jensen, Geoff Dyer, Chandrahas Choudhury, Philip Hensher and Rana Dasgupta, moderated by Homi Bhabha

5:00PM-6:00PM: Crime and Punishment – Homi Bhabha, Martin Puchner introduced by Namita Gokhale. Dramatic enactment by Suhel Seth

BAITHAK

11:15AM-12:15PM: Cook on the Wild Side – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall in conversation with Jack Turner

12:30PM-1:30PM: Words Without Borders – Ananda Devi in conversation with Urvashi Butalia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Story of a Death Foretold – Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, introduced by Nicholas Shakespeare

3:30PM-4:30PM: Mahasamar – Narendra Kohli in conversation with Vartika Nanda

5:00PM-6:00PM: Leaving Iran – Fariba Hachtroudi, Sahar Delijani, Reza Aslan in conversation with Michael Axworthy

DURBAR HALL

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Bangla Whodunnit – Gautam Chakrabarti in conversation with Rupleena Bose, introduced by Homi Bhabha

12:30PM-1:30PM: Textures in Translation – Readings: Benyamin ,Joseph Koyippally, Anand, Chetna Satchidanandan introduced by Rahul Soni

2:15PM-3:15PM: Serendip – Readings – Nayomi Munaweera, Ru Freeman, and Romesh Gunasekera, introduced by Supriya Nair

3:30PM-4:30PM: The price you pay: How not to make money – Somnath Batabyal, Raj Kundra, Arghya Lehri, introduced by Kishwar Desai

5:00PM-6:00PM: Rebellions and Revolutions – Readings — Vaidehi, Kaajal Oza Vaidya, introduced by Rahul Soni

CHAR BAGH

11:15AM-12:15PM: Jonathan Franzen in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Essential Gloria Steinem – Gloria Steinem in conversation with Ruchira Gupta

2:15PM-3:15PM: White Tribes of Africa – Peter Godwin and Justin Cartwright in conversation with Maaza Mengiste

3:30PM-4:30PM: Citizen Elites: the Dominance of the Priviliged – Dipankar Gupta, Manvendra Singh, Lily Wangchhuk, in conversation with Mukulika Banerjee

5:00PM-6:00PM: The experiences of global war 1937- 1945 – Antony Beevor introduced by Rana Chhina

JANUARY 18, SATURDAY

FRONT LAWN

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Global Novel – Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, Jim Crace, Maaza Mengiste, Xioaolu Guo, moderated by Chandrahas Chaudhry

11:15AM-12:15PM: Burdens of Identity – Zeruya Shalev, Salma, in conversation with Namita Gokhale

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Art of Biography – A N Wilson, Ray Monk, Richard Holmes and Andrew Graham-Dixion, moderated by Peter Godwin

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book release – Gone with the Vindaloo: Vikram Nair, Book release by Suhel Seth

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Interpreter of Stories – Jhumpa Lahiri in conversation with Rupleena Bose

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Non-fiction Renaissance – Antony Beevor, Katherine Boo, Geoff Dyer, Rana Dasgupta and Reza Aslan, moderated by William Dalrymple

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Travails with Chachi by Louise Khurshid, released by Shashi Tharoor

5:00PM-6:00PM: Symmetry – Marcus du Sautoy, introduced by Jim al Khalili

6:00PM-7:00PM: Award Ceremony for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Way of the Knife – Mark Mazzeti, Barnett Rubin, Adrian Levy and Ben Anderson, moderated by Jason Burke

11:15AM-12:15PM: M T : Chronicles of a Culture – M T Vasudevan Nair and Gita Krishnankutty in conversation with Ravi DC, introduced by Shashi Tharoor

12:30PM-1:30PM: Three Women, Three Africas – Maaza Mengiste, Nadifa Mohamad and Taiye Selasi, who will also introduce the session.

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Peoples Linguistic Survey of India – Rajasthan ki Bhashayaen.

2:15PM-3:15PM: 1914:Remembering the 1st World War – Peter Stanley, Geoff Dyer, Maya Jasanoff, moderated by Rana Chhina

3:30PM-4:30PM: How to Write a Screenplay – Sabrina Dhawan in conversation with Nicholas Shakespeare

5:00PM-6:00PM: India at the crossroads – Louise Tillin, Sunil Khilnani, John Elliott, moderated by Meghnad Desai

6:00PM-7:00PM: Wittgenstein – Ray Monk. Introduced by John Ralston Saul

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: Caravaggio – Andrew Graham Dixion, introduced by Partha Mitter

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Hunting Dogs – Jørn Lier Horst, in conversation with Kishwar Desai

12:30PM-1:30PM: Bibliomania – Nadeem Aslam, Cyrus Mistry, Carsten Jenson, introduced by Mita Kapur

2:15PM-3:15PM: Harvest/The Northern Clemency – Readings — Jim Crace and Philip Hensher, introduced by Supriya Nair

3:30PM-4:30PM: Shabd Sansar – Nand Chaturvedi in conversation with Madhav Hada, introduced by Nand Bhardwaj

5:00PM-6:00PM: Seasons of Flight – Farah GhuznaviManjushree Thapa, introduced by Ritu Menon

6:00PM-7:00PM: Portraits – Readings: Ivan Vladislavic and Rukmini Bhaya Nair introduced by Rahul Soni

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Writing, Meri Jaan – Jerry Pinto in conversation with Mita Kapur

11:15AM-12:15PM: Behind the Veil: Women Writers of the Islamic World – Nadifa Mohamad, Bejan Matur, Sahar Delijani, Shireen el Feki and Fariba Hachtroudi, in conversation with Urvashi Bhutalia

12:30PM-1:30PM: Why India Votes – Mukulika Banerjee, Manvendra Singh in conversation

2:15PM-3:15PM: How can the sacred be sensous? – Vidya Dehejia in conversation with George Michell, Kavita Singh and Naman Ahuja. Moderated by William Dalrymple

3:30PM-4:30PM: Vanishing Voices: The great Andamanese Languages – Anvita Abbi in conversation with Arshia Sattar

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Forgotten Ally: The Making of Modern China – Rana Mitter, introduced by Carlos Rojas

6:00PM-7:00PM: Dharohar: The Legacy of Rajasthani Culture – Sundeep Bhutoria, Sarpanch Rajawat, K.C. Maloo, in conversation with Rima Hooja

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: Magnificent Delusions – Husain Haqqani , Robert Blackwill in conversation with Shyam Saran

11:15AM-12:15PM: Who Will Rule the World? – Amartya Sen, Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, Xiaolu Guo and Rana Mitter, moderated by Dipankar Gupta.

12:30PM-1:30PM: Bollywood Nation – Vamsee Juluri, Meghnad Desai, Irrfan Khan, moderated by Rupleena Bose

2:15PM-3:15PM: Bhasha Paribhasha – Vaidehi, Sachin Kundalkar, C.P. Deval, moderated by Navtej Sarna

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Paradoxes of Growth and Development – Shashi Tharoor, Mukulika Banerjee, Ravi Venkatesan, in conversation with Dipankar Gupta

5:00PM-6:00PM: Storytelling Around the Globe – Kavita Singh, Taiye Selasi, Xiaolu Guo, led by Kiku Adatto

6:00PM-7:00PM: The Bone Season – Samantha Shanon in conversation with Supriya Nair

JANUARY 19, SUNDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Writing the Self: On Memoir and the Autobiographical Novel – Ru Freeman, Ved Mehta, Joseph O’Neill, and Philip Hensher, moderated by William Suttcliffe

11:15AM-12:15PM: Raj aur Samaj: Democracy and the People – Kalyani Shankar, Navin Chawla and Pavan Varma in conversation with Ravish Kumar

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Rasa of Language: On Art, Pleasure and Technology – Vikram Chandra in conversation with Vidya Dehejia

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – In the open: Sculptures of KS Radhakrishnan, by Johny ML

2:15PM-3:15PM: Casualties of Love and Sex: The New Gender Fluidity –Margaret Mascarenhas, Mahesh Dattani, Sachin Kundalkar, in conversation with Bachi Karkaria

3:30PM-4:30PM: Jesus the Man, Jesus the Politician – Reza Aslan in conversation with A.N Wilson

4:30PM-5:00PM: Launch of the Australia India Institute Foreign Policy Series

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: History Strikes back and the Collapse of Globalism – Hubert Vedrine, John Ralston Saul, in conversation with Shashi Tharoor

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Immortals – Amish Tripathi in conversation withMeru Gokhale

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Cricket Novel – Joseph O’Neill, Shashi Tharoor, moderated by Samanth Subramanian

1:30PM-2:15PM: Vikas Khanna – Urdu Mein Hindustan

2:15PM-3:15PM: Javed Akhtar introduced by Ashok Vajpeyi.

3:30PM-4:30PM: Confronting the Classics – Mary Beard, Robin Cormack, Alex Watson in conversation with Vidya Dehejia and Naman Ahuja.

5:00PM-6:00PM: Freedom, Opinion and Expression – John Ralston Saul, Peter Godwin, Jerry Pinto, moderated by Madhu Trehan

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM; At the sea side – Readings: Alison Mac Leod and Lara Feigel, introduced by Geoff Dyer

11:15AM-12:15PM: Rajasthan ki Vachik Parampara: Oral Scriptings – Kavita Singh, Piyush Daiya in conversation with Malashri Lal

12:30PM-1:30PM: Prisons of the Mind – Rani Shankar Dass, Margaret Mascarenhas, Preeta Bhargava and Vartika Nanda in conversation

2:15PM-3:15PM: Rajasthali – Bharat Ola, Mangat Badal, Manisha Kulshreshtha and Nand Bhardwaj introduced by Durga Prasad Agarwal

3:30PM-4:30PM: The roof beneath their feet – Readings: Geetanjali Shree, Buket Uzuner, introduced by Mita Kapur

5:00PM-6:00PM: Atmospheric Disturbances/ The Wall – Readings: Rivka Galchen and William Sutcliffe, introduced by Supriya Nair

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Beauty and Fidelity: Texts in Translation – Sachin Kundalkar, Geetanjali Shree, Carlos Rojas, Rahul Soni, moderated by Jerry Pinto

11:15AM-12:15PM: Liberty’s Exiles – Maya Jasanoff, introduced by David Cannadine

12:30PM-1:30PM: Savage Harvest – Navtej Sarna in conversation with Urvashi Butalia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Much Maligned Monsters – Partha Mitter, introduced by Vidya Dehejia

3:30PM-4:30PM: Chronicles of Conflict and Change – Anuradha Sharma Pujari, Esther Syiem, K Anis Ahmed, in conversation with Somnath Batabyal

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Shia Axis – Vali Nasr, Barnett Rubin, Barnaby Rogerson, Michael Axworthy, Jason Burke, moderated by Reza Aslan

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Art and Politics of Science – Dr Harold Varmus in conversation with Madhu Trehan

11:15AM-12:15PM: Dispensable Nation: Afghanistan after the US Withdrawal – Vali Nasr, Barnett Rubin, Ben Anderson, Mark Mazzetti, and William Dalrymple, moderated by Barkha Dutt

12:30PM-1:30PM: I, Me and My Plays – Mahesh Dattani in conversation withSanjoy Roy. Book Launch of I, Me and My Plays and Odiya edition of Dance like a man translated by Manu Dash

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Literature of War and Revolution – Antony Beevor, Artemis Cooper, Maaza Mengiste, Otto De Kat, Lara Figel, moderated by Rana Dasgupta

3:30PM-4:30PM: Raag Pahadi: Losing Himalayan Languages – Prasoon Joshi and Shekhar Pathak in conversation with Manjushree Thapa

5:00PM-6:00PM: Justice: What’s the right thing to do? – Michael Sandel, introduced by Homi Bhabha

JANUARY 20, MONDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: Has Globalism Failed? Markets, Morals, and the Dictatorship of Reason – A dialogue between Michael Sandel and John Ralston Saul, chaired by Sunil Khilnani

11:15AM-12:15PM: Parde Ke Peeche: The Scriptwriters Story – Sachin Kundalkar, Mahesh Dattani, in conversation with Rupleena Bose

12:30PM-1:30PM: Capital – Rana Dasgupta in conversation with William Dalrymple

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Through a Feudal Window by Indrajit Singh Rathore

2:15PM-3:15PM: Conquering the Chaos : Empowering the Future – Yashwant Sinha, Ravi Venkatesan, Anand Kumar and Kumar Galhotra in conversation with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

3:30PM-4:30PM: Black Holes, Worm Holes and Time Machines – Jim al Khalili, moderated by Marcus du Sautoy

4:30PM-5:00PM: Book Launch – Jaipur: Gem in India by Dr D K Taknet

5:00PM-6:00PM: Each Other’s Stories – Ekta Kapoor in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM; Bright Young Things Of the Jazz Age – Lara Feigel, Sarah Churchwell and Nicholas Shakespeare in conversation

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Blue God: Conversations on Krishna – Kaajal Oza Vaidya with Meghnad Desai in conversation with Pavan Varma

12:30PM-1:30PM: Elephants in the Room: India and its Neighbours – Manjushree Thapa, K Anis Ahmed, Ahmad Rafay Alam, Lily Wangchhuk in conversation with Neelam Deo

1:30PM-2:15PM: Launch of Crime Writers Association of South Asia

2:15PM-3:15PM: Pompeii: The Life of Roman Times – Mary Beard, introduced by Barnaby Rogerson

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Political Imagination – Ritu Menon, Kalyani Shankar, Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay and Rani Shankar Dass in conversation

5:00PM-6:00PM: Sex and the Citadel – Shireen el Feki, moderated by Sahar Delijani

DURBAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: The age of wonder/The Victorians – Readings: Richard Holmes and A.N Wilson introduced by Jonathan Shainin

11:15AM-12:15PM: Ek Vachan, Bahu Vachan – Manisha Kulshreshtha, Piyush Daiya introduced by Vartika Nanda

12:30PM-1:30PM: Sacred Games/ Blind Man’s Garden – Vikram Chandra, Nadeem Aslam, introduced by Supriya Nair

2:15PM-3:15PM: Death in a cold climate – John Lier Horst, Bina Ramani, Bhaichand Patel in conversation with Somnath Batabyal

3:30PM-4:30PM: Two Typewriters – Readings: John Ralston Saul and Adrienne Clarkson in conversation with Jonathan Shainin

5:00PM-6:00PM: The world’s in our hand – K Anis Ahmed, Esther Syiem, introduced by Meru Gokhale

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Nine Faces of Being – Anita Nair in conversation with Somnath Batabyal- Book Launch of Idris – Keeper of the Light

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Living Goddess – Isabella Tree introduced by Vidya Dehejia

12:30PM-1:30PM: A Fish Caught in Time- The Search for the Coelacanth – Samantha Weinberg introduced by Samanth Subramanian

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Language of Laughter – Indrajit HazraShovon Chowdhury, moderated by Bachi Karkaria

3:30PM-4:30PM: Vijaynagar: The City of Victory – George Michell on Vijaynagar. Introduced by William Dalrymple

5:00PM-6:00PM: Poetry Wallahs – Rukmini Bhaya Nair, Margaret Mascarenhas, Salma, and Bejan Matur moderated by Rahul Soni

CHAR BAGH

10:00AM-11:00AM: Blue Planet, Green Earth – Shekhar Pathank, Suman Sahai in conversation with Ahmad Rafay Alam

11:15AM-12:15PM: The Seige – Adrian Levy moderated by Barkha Dutt

12:30PM-1:30PM: Khalnayak – Javed Akhtar, introduced by Kishwar Desai

2:15PM-3:15PM: Footloose – Nicholas Shakespeare, Isabella Tree, Robyn Davidson, Cheryl Strayed, moderated by William Dalrymple

3:30PM-4:30PM: Ogres and Others – Anita Nair, Anand Neelakantan, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti, in conversation with Arshia Sattar

5:00PM-6:00PM: The Great Gatsby – Sarah Churchwell in conversation with Chiki Sarkar

JANUARY 21, TUESDAY

FRONT LAWNS

10:00AM-11:00AM: The Coup – Samantha Weinberg and Michael Axworthy, moderated by Oscar Guardiola-Rivera

11:15AM-12:15PM: Pulling her Punches – Mary Kom

12:30PM-1:30PM: Coleridge and the Ancient Mariner – Richard Holmes, moderated by Rupleena Bose

1:30PM-2:15PM Book Launch – Nav matdata – Ek Rajnaitik Prayog Ki Anubhav Yatra, by Jyoti Kiran

2:15PM-3:15PM: We the Drowned: Writing the Sea – Carsten Jensen, Samantha Weinberg, and Nayomi Munaweera, moderated by Samanth Subramanium

3:30PM-4:30PM: On the post colonial couch – Nadifa Mohamad, Tash Aw, Romesh Gunesekara, Maaza Mengiste, moderated by Rana Dasgupta

5:00PM-6:00PM: Debate – Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest

MUGHAL TENT

10:00AM-11:00AM: Reimaging Partition – Vishwajyoti Ghosh, Ahmad Rafay Alam, Urvashi Butalia, in conversation with Indrajit Hazra

11:15AM-12:15PM: Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire – David Cannadine in conversation with Maya Jasanoff

12:30PM-1:30PM: Geographies of Reading: Contexting the Indian Reader – Vivek Tejuja, Aditi Maheshwari, R Sivapriya, in conversation with Mita Kapoor

1:30PM-2:15PM: Book Launch – Traveling in, Traveling out: Namita Gokhale, Urvashi Butalia, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti

2:15PM-3:15PM: Spice : History of a temptation – Jack Turner introduced by Mary Beard

DURBAAR HALL

10:00AM-11:00AM: Colours of Longing – Readings: K R Meera, Anuradha Sharma Pujari, introduced by Aditi Maheshwari

11:15AM-12:15PM: Pointing from beyond the grave – Samantha Weinberg introduced by Jonathan Shainin

12:30PM-1:30PM: Red blooms in the forest – Readings: Nilima Sinha, Ipsita Roy Chakraverti introduced by Vamsee Juluri

2:15PM-3:15PM: Rogerson’s Book of Numbers – Readings: Barnaby Rogerson introduced by Marcus Du Sautoy

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Mythologists – Readings: Anand Neelakantan and Vamsee K Juluri introduced by Aditi Maheshwari

BAITHAK

10:00AM-11:00AM: Harvest – Jim Crace in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury

11:15AM-12:15PM: Navras – Yatindra Mishra, T S Luthra, Arjun Deo Charan, Sawai Singh Shekhawat, Kaajal Oza Vaidya and Neerav Patel. Moderated by Vartika Nanda

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Traveller’s Tree: The Travel Writing of Patrick Leigh Fermor – Artemis Cooper, introduced by William Dalrymple

2:15PM-3:15PM: Jaipur Gharana – Ashok Vajpeyi, Prerna Shrimali and Dr Madhu Bhatt Telang, in conversation with Yatindra Mishra and Vibhas Book Launch

3:30PM-4:30PM: The Art of the Short Story – William Suttcliffe, Vikram Chandra, Joseph O’Neill, Rivka Galchen moderated by Philip Hensher

CHAR BAGH

11:15AM-12:15PM: Imagining the Past – The Art of the Historical Novel – Jim Crace, Otto De Kat, Alison Macleod, Tash Aw, and Justin Cartwright in conversation with Philip Hensher

12:30PM-1:30PM: The Mirror of Beauty – S.R. Faruqi, Mehr Farooqi in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury. Readings by Sahil Farooqi

2:15PM-3:15PM: The Writer’s Life – Artemis Cooper, Lara Feigel, A.N Wilson, Nicholas Shakespeare moderated by Sarah Churchwell

3:30PM-4:30PM: Is There an Indian Way of Thinking – John Elliott, Geetanjali Shree , Pavan Varma in conversation with Ashok Vajpeyi

Mukul Kesavan, “Homeless on Google Earth”

Mukul Kesavan, “Homeless on Google Earth”

Homeless on Google Earth

( My review of Mukul Kesavan’s book Homeless on Google Earth was published in the Hindu Literary Supplement today, 5 Jan 2014. The online version is available at:  http://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/lucid-yet-forceful/article5538031.eceThe review is c&p below as well.) 

Mukul Kesavan Homeless on Google Earth Permanent Black, Ranikhet Cantt., India, 2013. Hb. Pp. 315. Rs. 595

 In India we bank on time and forgetfulness to paper over the great rents in our history. They help but can’t do the job by themselves.  (p.252)

As a consumer of news, you could be forgiven for thinking the Indian elections are ideology-free. Pundits in the press and on the television news channels are always saying that votes are bought, coalitions are constructed out of caste fractions, politicians defect, political parties swtich sides with frictionless ease, and the policies contained in party manifestos are irrelevant to the democractic process because they are never seriously discussed. Add up these defects and what India seems to have by way of elections is the mechanism of representative government without the large ideological contestation that is, or ought to be, a democracy’s reason for being. (p. 237)

“The electoral impact of the controversy over the reinstatement of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code might be small, but the political significance of the positions that parties have taken on the decriminalization of homosexuality is considerable.” The opening lines of Mukul Kesavan’s latest column—“A political prism – What the different parties’ positions on 377 reveal”. In one sentence, clearly and sharply, scholar-journalist and historian, Mukul Kesavan, has encapsulated the furore that has dominated recent news but also pithily analysed it, forecasting the impact it will have politically; powerful words, especially on the eve of General Elections in India and after the four state election results were announced. Hence it is not surprising to discover that the web link to this article has been shared, reposted and discussed furiously in social media platforms. In fact, during the last elections, he was often spotted on television channels as a panellist, offering his independent, strong, thought-provoking and well-articulated opinion.

Homeless on Google Earth is a collection of 58 essays, most of which seem to have been written recently, judging by their subject. Mukul Kesavan teaches history at Jamia Milia Islamia, a university in New Delhi. In these opinion pieces, he covers a range of topics—his identity in “No place like home”, book launches, literary festivals, travelling to Kruger National Park with Amitav Ghosh, Bollywood, technology, gender issues, travelogues, education and political commentaries that cover topics like Israel, Gaza, Ceylon/Sri Lanka, Tibet, Kashmir, naxalism, the pogroms in India of 1984, 1992 and 2002, communal violence, elections and terrorism. The essays in the book are well arranged. They start from the easy-to-read, light and sometimes hilarious essays like “Consuming wildness in Kruger”, to the grim, sober and chilling commentaries on police encounters at Jamia Milia Islamia (“Presumed Innocent”); on naxalites (“Operation Green Hunt”); and communal hatred (“Vox Pop and Varun Gandhi” and “Accounting for the Dead”). He is a genuine historian who marshals his evidence to bolster his arguments in tautly structured essays manifesting his splendid  command of English. Without undermining the intelligence of his readers, his arguments are is lucidly and simply expressed.

Homeless on Google Earth is about important events in contemporary political, social events in  India and aspects of society that usually go unnoticed, like the women taxi drivers or the peculiar social space of society that in which MSM exists in. But read at a sitting, the essays can become very tedious. They are a collection of writings published at various times, originally meant to be read one at a time. When collected as a book, their rhythm and organization can seem to have a dull sameness. But unless one has followed Mukul Kesavan’s columns and other writings, one will not know that the essays were written at different times as there are no dates for them in this book, an unexpected oversight from a historian.

At a time when mainstream papers are slowly going out of business or moving actively and aggressively to online spaces, the vaccuum steadily being replaced by citizen journalists, online and at times armchair activism,  voices of opinion makers like Mukul Kesavan are valuable.  He is rational and sound. He does not seem to be swayed by majority sentiments, and is acutely aware of his academic discipline which he brings to bear on the issues dealt with here. One may not agree with his point of view but it is presented forcefully yet courteously and without shrillness.  It is important for such voices to be heard more often. They reach out to a range of people and ideological groups. The historian E.J.Hobsbawm said in his public lecture in Delhi 2004, that earlier society used to change at a pace that allowed people at least a generation to respond and adapt to it. But recently change has been so rapid that we are having to do this adjusting and adapting in the space of a decade or less. At this speed it becomes imperative to have rational thinkers to actively participate in civil society, as Mukul Kesavan has done in these essays.