The best of the Kolkata Literary Meet, 2014

The best of the Kolkata Literary Meet, 2014

February 9, 2014

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 the rule.

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.

Sadly, 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.

Love 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.

The 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.

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Comments (2)
Kushal Saha Reply
February 10, 2014
Could not be a part of it this year. Missed so many good sessions. Sigh!
Mainak Reply
February 09, 2014
I had gone for Naseeruddin Shah's session at KaLaM this year. It was an wonderful experience watching him read Manto.
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