CHARCHA On Secularism, Nehru, Books... With Nayantara Sahgal, Vikram Seth, Germaine Greer, Vir Sanghvi
By Faridoon Shahryar
The experimental theatre at #NCPA in #NarimanPoint #Mumbai was buzzing with a very different sort of excitement. The 6th #TataLiteratureFestival opened without any shoshebaazi. A compact auditorium packed with eager book lovers, journalists and even a few representatives from some embassies. The first session was on the subject #CanBooksChangeTheWorld where noted authors #VikramSeth from #India and Australian writer #GermaineGreer battled it out. Seth is famous for #GoldenGate #TheSuitableBoy his poetry and for championing gay rights in #India. Greer on the other side belongs to second wave of feminist movement who came on the fore front right from her first novel #TheFemaleEunuch. Greer was full of witty one liners and she was clearly one up on Vikram Seth who was chivalrous enough to let the bright lady hog the limelight and the applause. Ms Greer made a notable statement when she said, famous Indian English author R K Narayan deserved a Nobel Prize. "There were lobbies that worked against him but if Graham Greene considers him worthy of a Nobel then he surely deserved it," Greer said. Anil Dharker, the celebrated journalist, thinker and the brain behind #TataLitFest said that one book that he felt changed the world is #MahatmaGandhi's #MyExperimentsWithTruth.
The second session and the session that was most keenly awaited was the one on #ChaachaPeCharcha to discuss the relevance of #JawaharLalNehru in today's times. Ms Nayantara Sahgal, the extremely graceful niece of Nehru ji and an author of eminence was the main speaker. Ms Sahgal recently started a movement of sorts when she returned her #SahityaAkademi award to protest against the growing intolerance in #India. Since her protest, many writers, musicians, filmmakers, scientists and now historians have lodged a strong protest against growing intolerance in the country. Noted journalist #VirSanghvi columnist #AnilDharker and #ArunMaira, former member of #PlanningCommision were the other speakers. Several aspects of Nehru were discussed, his achievements as well as where he went wrong. Vir Sanghvi made a pertinent point when he said that after partition in 1947 #Pakistan opted to become an Islamic country that heavily depended upon #USA. America used its soil for making bases, the rich became richer while the poor became poorer. Nehru pushed for #India to become a democratic republic, started the non aligned movement, helped in creating identity of the newly independent African and Asian countries, invested in mixed economy and worked towards communities learning to co exist in India. Sanghvi said that in today's day and age, if India is much better placed than Pakistan then it was the base created by Nehru which was responsible for that. "Mobile phone intellectuals will never understand this. For them, we should have taken the US help right from the beginning but then we would have been dependent," Sanghvi said.
Nayantara Sahgal shared some interesting insights and also spoke about the secular ethos that Nehru believed in. Both Sahgal as well as Anil Dharker said that it may be because Nehru was an agnostic that he could have a balanced view point on the religious aspect that infests India in a very deep and complicated manner. "He took inputs from artistes, intellectuals, thinkers. He insisted that there should be a strong opposition in the Parliament. He was a democrat to the core. Indira Gandhi was not," Sahgal said.
It is notable to note that while the session was going on and going on very well, a few people walked out of the theatre. The discussion on secularism and inclusiveness has its supporters but there are others who think otherwise. One can't blame them. Everyone has the right to have an opinion and exercise it. That's democracy. Something that Jawaharlal Nehru would have approved of.