A world of ideas, opinions, thoughts and perspectives came alive on centre stage as part of the ongoing Chandigarh Literature Festival. Conversations between authors and critics, who nominated the books, led to absorbing discussions on society, politics, gender, freedom of expression and, of course, the agonies and ecstasies of writing.
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The day began with author K R Meena’s conversation with critic Elizabeth Kuruvilla on her book, The Gospel of Yudas. Violence, political reality and man-woman relationship are the focus of her novel, a brilliant rendering of the Naxalite movement in Kerala. Meena talked at length about the movement, along with its cult figures who lived in the memory of Kerala for a very long time. The author expressed that Naxalism was an extension of the political state of affairs in Kerala. Death and revolution, added the author, shaped her inner world as a child.
Critic Meenal Baghel engaged author and former IPS Officer Vibhuti Narain Rai in conversation on his book Hashimpura 22 May, which is based on the infamous 1987 Hashimpura massacre in which 42 youths of a particular community were identified, picked up from Meerut and killed in cold blood in Ghaziabad’s Hashimpura, by what Rai says was a rogue unit within the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) of UP Police.
Rai, in his talk with Meenal, said he was able to interview some of the people accused of the Hashimpura assassinations and they felt that the objective was to teach a lesson to the community as a whole. After reading the case diaries of the CID, he realised that the investigation of the massacre had been very poor. “No court could have punished the assassins,” said Rai, expressing unhappiness about the rising incidents of intolerance in contemporary Indian society. Talking about the recent incident when eight prisoners escaped from Central Jail in Bhopal, Rai pointed out that there were lapses in jail security and he criticised the encounter of prisoners who he said should have been re-arrested and not killed as they were unarmed.
Poet Ashok Vajpeyi was seen in conversation with critic Madan Soni on his lyrical collection of poems, Name for Every Leaf. The poems revolve around diverse themes ranging from love to eroticism, nature to human relationships. Some of these poems, written decades ago, he said, have not lost their relevance in today’s life and times. In a friendly interaction with the audience, Vajpeyi talked about the struggles in his youth. Belonging to a family of administrators, he had to overcome the burden of social expectations to become a poet. He recalled how his teacher once said, “Become an IAS, but die as a poet.” Vajpeyi also recounted how poetry has now become a dismal art. “The youth of today does not aspire to be a poet.”
Two tributes were paid during the day to stalwarts of the literary world. Professor Tejwant Gill paid a loving tribute to noted Punjabi writer Gurdial Singh. He shared minute details about the author’s life and the challenges he had to face. Rana Nayyar has translated the work of Gurdial Singh into English. He read out passages from the book, Alms in the Name of a Blind Horse.
A tribute was paid to Hindi poet Neelabh Ashk, by Rahul Soni, Apoorvanand, Bhumika Dwivedi. Film enthusiasts were treated to Piku, followed by a session with the film’s director, Shoojit Sircar.
On Saturday, CLF will witness Seahorse author Janice Pariat in conversation with critic Rahul Soni and Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India author Akshaya Mukul in conversation with critic Annie Zaidi. Poetry lovers can look forward to a unique poetry session, Polyphony.