Four young men on the podium described in full graphic detail their sexual encounters with other men.At the end of it all, when the moderator asked if there are any questions from the audience, there was pin drop silence, for the poor audience was too shocked at the literal pornography on the stage.
“Now that you have successfully explored so many young love stories, don’t you think it is time for you to expand your horizons and write about more mature romances of older people who are aged 30 and 40, where there is so much more to negotiate as a writer?” a girl in the audience asked.
The self-declared “handsome” man on the stage was almost dismissive of the idea. “I like writing about that age, because I look back at my own younger years and derive my characters.” In any case, he had already proclaimed at the very beginning that he is more of a salesman than a writer. Obviously, as a good salesman, he knows all about the “demographic dividend” that our Prime Minister keeps harping about in all his speeches. His demographic dividend is that he knows that about 65the about-65 per cent of Indians who are below 30 constitute his market , That’s over 70 crore people!
When the title of the panel discussion is “From Full Wives to Half Girlfriends”, then you know that you would be treated with some fantastic insights by the author extraordinaire himself about women in his life and the new Indian woman and women in general. At one point of time, Chetan Bhagat eloquently explained how he treats women characters with a lot of sensitivity, “You know what, Jacqueline (Fernandez)’s character in the original Telugu version of Kick (the movie) was just as a prop to the hero, I added more dimensions to her, I made her a psychiatrist in the Hindi version…so that she is not there to simply look pretty, but she actually has a job!”
You just can’t stop marvelling at the man. Good salesman and all that jazz is fine, but Chetan Bhagat the writer truly believes he added dimensions hitherto unseen to Jacqueline’s character in Kick (and all we could see was a skimpily clad bimbo)! In that realization rests his true success as the most sold English author in Indian history. “I want to reach out to rural India and I want every boy in a slum to read my books,” he proclaims with élan, which gives us an idea of what his perceptions are about the collective intelligence of his target lowest common denominators. The Bangalore Lit Fest (BLF) is obviously the poorer cousin of the Jaipur Litfest (JLR) and if you had any doubts about that, the star of the very first day, Chetan Bhagat, would have simply cleared all all of them with his fantastic public speaking skills.
This is the 3rd edition of BLF at Hotel Crowne Plaza, in the mecca of Bangalore’s IT hub – which stands as a symbol of our singular lack of imagination owing to its nomenclaturis horribilis – Electronic City. This year’s edition is possibly the dumbest of all three so far and also is culinary challenged unlike last year’s when they served a far more palatable menu, but then, we are in the midst of Navratri, so the idea is to starve the crowds both intellectually as well as nutritionally.
It is not as if the usual suspects aren’t there. Apart from last year’s darling of the “lowbrow” crowd, Ramchandra Guha, everybody else is present; Chandrashekhar Kambar to represent local language and culture, Shobhaa De to speak on women politics (yes, live with it!), “liberal voices” from Pakistan and most importantly a bunch of young gay writers to represent the “male voices” in the Indian novel! This is what a Lit Fest is all about, about compartmentalization and rules. The rules are very clear, no “modern male voice”, for instance, can attain nirvana without doing other men.
If the men are gay, then can the women be far behind? Five women (including Shobhaa De of course), with even a representation from Beijing in the form of Lijia Zhang, assembled on the stage and harped for a full hour about feminism and how Indian (and Asian) women’s voices are suppressed by the “conservative” male species. All the women in the audience must have felt so empowered that a dozen hands were raised when the Q&A session began.
A young woman took the microphone first and she began by saying that she is a lawyer but doesn’t practise law and instead works for some self-help groups…pat came the rejoinder from the stage by the woman moderator (and a self-proclaimed feminist), “I am not interested in your CV, just get on with your question and finish it off”! The woman in the audience was simply too stunned to speak after that, but somehow managed to finish her question, for which there was some vague reply too. This is how you supress a woman’s voice, isn’t it?
At that precise moment, those feminists on the stage were naked in their glory; that Pakistani lawyer, that Chinese activist, that Indian judge, Shobhaa De and of course the moderator, Noopur Basu, they were all naked in their reality. These so called feminists aren’t feminists at all, they are just here to sell their wares to the highest bidder and the Bangalore Lit Fest is a Bazaar where they are going to display their goods…Women’s voice, what is that now?
At the of the end of the day. It’s all about selling your goods, the books, the thoughts, the ideology and most importantly, the politics. How can a Lit Fest be devoid of the politics? Once again it is an assortment of all the usual suspects, the human rights activists, the voices from Kashmir and all the other left liberal groupies. This year what is fun is watching their frustrations at the overwhelming mandate for BJP in the general elections, I for one thoroughly enjoyed it.
Asma Jahangir of Pakistan kept warning us about how India is now a “far worse” country than her own beloved homeland because of a “majoritarian” government. Keki Daruwala openly warned us that there could be a genocide of innocent minorities under “Gujarati rule” in India. Then there was Nirupama Dutt who is in a class of her own and she was dismayed that our current HRD minister once acted in a TV serial which showed endless celebrations of Ganesh Chaturthi!
The big political debate was on Saturday evening of course with Madhu Trehan as the host and Shekhar Gupta, Sankarshan Thakur and Swapan Dasgupta (who is a member of Swarajya’s Editorial Advisory Board )as the panellists on the topic of “Polls 2014 and their message”.
Madhu began her introduction by saying that none in the world got their predictions about the 2014 elections right (yeah sure, get out of your incestuous Dilli club and smell the coffee) and then for the next one hour it was the same vacuous debate about 2014 and the same questions to Swapan da about why Modi is not giving media interviews and access to Dilli journalists. After an hour I was simply left wondering if I was in my drawing room watching some English news channel debate.
This is the problem with India’s thought leadership, they simply haven’t understood the New India and continue to live in their glory social days of the 80s. As for those who have understood the new India, the Chetan Bhagats of the literary world, they are too busy in dumbing down their stories to maximise their sales. Today is another day and we have Arun Shourie to discuss the world of Fatwas and about a “country gagged and bound”. Maybe we will learn something new today after all. Hope is eternal and if you are in Bangalore, go try your luck on this bright sunny Sunday at the BLF.