The temperature and tempers (as well as participant numbers) rose today at the JLF in spite of the Buddhist chanting at the start, and the warnings and blessings given by the Dalai Lama on Day 1.
This was all good news for the Festival organisers since it ensures even more publicity for what has now become established as one of the most significant events in international literary circles.
I could list many luminaries who were in action today, but what has also impressed me are the obviously well-read, well-informed and sensitive audiences. It is not often that someone of the stature of Homi Bhabha is booed and hissed when he clearly failed to allow the only female member (of the panel he was chairing) to respond to a question that he had posed.
The female chorus of disapproval won and Prof. Bhabha gave in to let Elif Batuman make her point. As a topic for discussion, religion is always going to be controversial and so it proved once again when towards the end of the session on God as a Political Philosopher: Dalit Perspectives on Buddhism, the lyricist and scriptwriter, Javed Akhtar, confessed that he was an atheist and that no religion provides equality for women or weaker sections of society. This upset Prof. Kancha Ilaiah whose book (2000) had lent the title to the session; the discussion had to end abruptly for pragmatic reasons but with tempers frayed. Earlier, the one and only turbaned Sikh in the audience had tried to argue (wrongly?) that there is no caste system in Sikhism.
The session on ‘Sex and Sensibility’ that explored the tension between celebrating feminine beauty and sensuality, and the crass commodification of women in Hindi films (especially song lyrics) also led to a heated debate between Shabana Azmi and Prasoon
However, the session I enjoyed the most (and not simply because the presenters were seriously funny) was entitled Writing the New Latin America with two ex-pat South American authors: Ariel Dorfman and Santiago Roncagliolo. They pointed to many similarities, as well as to some differences, between India and Latin America as geographical entities. It is heartening to know that not all contemporary authors from that part of the world are stuck in some kind of ‘magic realism’ straight jacket.
Once again, there was the music in the evening first with Delhi-based band called Rock Veda. Unfortunately, they did not live up to the blurb in the brochure; they did not ‘rock’ and the best I can say is that their music was soporific. Yet, following the group we were in for a treat with some local Rajasthani musicians who have regaled the festival every year since its inception. Some of them will be performing with Susheela Raman in The Royal Festival Hall, London, on April 10. Cancel whatever you are doing that evening and go and see them. You will not be disappointed – especially with Nathoo Solanki – a true master drummer!