The third edition of the Kolkata Literary
Meet (Kalam), held at the iconic Victoria Memorial Hall last week, featured an
array of celebrated writers and speakers who took Kolkata by storm.
Aman ki Asha
At his session on Saadat Hasan Manto, actor
Naseeruddin Shah read from Manto’s iconic short story ‘Toba Tek Singh’ and
shared his thoughts on India-Pakistan relations. Shah talked about the importance of forming
one-to-one connections with Pakistanis. “Pakistanis meet Indians very warmly
and with tremendous fascination… but in India, we don't reciprocate this
feeling. We instead behave condescendingly,” he observed. The exception proves
Naseeruddin Shah at KaLaM 2014
Another Kalam session featured two
prominent Pakistanis: Malika-e-Ghazal Farida Khanum in discussion with writer
Ali Sethi. The Calcutta-born singer said that this visit was like coming home
for her. She had long wanted to visit it - "Calcutta aane ki khawaaish tou
ek zamaane se thi."
Reminiscing about Kolkata's Ripon Street where
she lived before Partition, Farida Khanum termed the city as the “Holy land of
music” by virtue of many venerated artistes being born there.
she had been unable to obtain a no-objection certificate to visit India when
Satyajit Ray asked her to sing for Shatranj Ke Khilari. “Afsos hota hai ki
kaash woh no-objection certificate dete aur mein Satyajit Ray ki film mein gaa
paati. Naseeb mein nahin tha woh…”
Ghazal exponent Farida Khanum performing at KaLaM 2014
The reminiscence of Javed Akhtar
Ignorance has a certain courage,” That’s
the way Javed Akhtar, looks back, at the phenomenal Salim-Javed phase and the
birth of the ‘Angry Young Man’ in Hindi cinema.
One of the most celebrated script writers
of the Indian cinema, quickly dismissed following a set formula to success. “It
was not planned, nor was there any scheme. We were unaware of the
socio-political relevance of those scripts. It was simply in sync with the
society of the 1970s we were living in and we kept writing,” he remarked while
holding the audience spell bound with poetry and reality at the Kolkata
Literary Meet 2014.
Javed Akhtar at KaLaM 2014
The select gathering got acquainted with a
Javed, whose creativity goes beyond his legendary status in Bollywood. Hailing
from a family that boosts of seven generation poets, poetry ran in his DNA,
however initially, the rebel in him, didn’t permit the poet in him to prosper.
Outlawed – Vikram protests
“The law is the foreign law. It’s
homophobia that came into India (from outside), not homosexuality.” Vikram Seth
donned the role of outspoken activist, this time clean-shaven unlike his India
Today cover avatar, at the Kolkata Literary Meet on Sunday to protest the
Supreme Court judgement on Section 377.
“So the happiness of millions of Indians will be
decided in a matter of half an hour by two judges,” says Vikram. He says he
considers it "a dereliction of duty they did not go before a full
bench." The other solution is a parliamentary one and that is even a
longer shot, especially in an election year. After some studied silence on the
issue the BJP has decided to support Section 377. Rajnath Singh has made that
clear though Narendra Modi has maintained radio silence about it. “Modi has
tweeted about everything else in the world,” says Vikram. “ But here he’s very
clear he wants to be the modernist. He’s hiding behind the pallu of these other people.”
Vikram Seth talking about homosexuality at KaLaM 2014
Vikram has certainly not been hiding. He is
an unlikely activist because he has guarded his privacy quite fiercely. He’s
never shown any inclination until now to become a role model for anyone. He’s
gently but firmly re-directed interviews that seemed to veer too far away from
his writing and too much into his personal life. That’s why his unshaven
post-377 mugshot on the cover of India Today made such a media splash, mostly
supportive, even, he says, from people from his parents' generation.
women at Jorasanko
Though they lived under the shadow of their
more "illustrious" male counterparts, women in the famous Tagore
family of Kolkata's Jorasanko were liberated and well ahead of their times.
Aruna Chakraborty, author of
"Jorasanko" - an account of women in the Tagore household - regaled
the audience at the Kolkata Literary Meet Wednesday alongside eminent Bollywood
actress and descendent of the family Sharmila Tagore about the various female members
from different generations of the family.
Discussing the Tagore women at KaLaM 2014
From Digambari Devi, wife of Dwarakanath
(Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's grandfather) to Jnanadanandini Devi, wife
of Satyendranath (Rabindranath's elder brother), Chakrabarty recounted tales of
how the women played important roles in the family.
Talking about her childhood and growing years in
a joint family, Sharmila Tagore said it was a learning experience for her. It
taught her to mix with people.