It was houseful on the second day of the third Khushwant Singh Literary Festival, as book lovers drove up to the Kasauli Club from Delhi, Chandigarh, Ludhiana, Ambala and Shimla. The October sun, cool breeze, pristine surroundings, a line-up of panel discussions, book releases, a chance to get up, close and personal with authors, book signing sessions, chats over music -it was a simulating and packed day for the audiences. “Yes, last year we had more than 500 guests every day, and this year the response is bigger. So, it’s heartening to see our efforts being appreciated and loved,’’ quipped one of the organisers of the festival.
The day saw the release of Shobhaa De’s ‘Small Betrayals’, a collection of 14 short stories and 21 photographs of herself, followed by the release of ‘Shaping the World: Women Writers on Themselves’. Edited by Manju Kapur and featuring 23 novelists from the subcontinent, the writers in these essays share their journeys as writers, the trials and triumphs on the way, inspirations and relationship with the English language, giving readers an insight into the mind and soul of these writers.
History came to the forefront in the session ‘Indian Voices from the Great War’ as the Indian involvement in the First World War 1 was discussed with great sensitivity and insight by Capt Amarinder Singh, Squadron Leader Rana T S Chhina (retd) and Brigadier Brian McCall of the British Army, now the defence attaché at the British High Commission in Delhi. “We lost close to 74,000 men, and it was a courageous performance by our soldiers. We need to remember and honour them,’’ said Capt Amarinder Singh. He spoke in length about the role of Indian soldiers in the war, acts of courage, and the innumerable dynamics of the times.
Brian McCall spoke about the Indian commemoration programmes in the UK and also the plans for India for which he has been working for the last two years. “The knowledge of the tragedy of the First World War has been lost with the youth of India not knowing the servicemen. The programmes we have planned are commemorative, not political or celebratory. The effort is to recognise the deeds of the Indian soldiers and spread them,’’ said McCall. He added how they have digitised the war diaries of the various regiments that participated in the war through the National Archives of UK. “These will be hardbound in print, and we will also have a coffee table book and a guide book, along with memorials for each of the Victoria Cross winners in the war.’’
Up next was a preview of ‘The People’s Maharajah’, a commissioned biography of Capt Amarinder Singh, which Chandigarh-based author Khushwant Singh is writing these days.
In a candid conversation, Singh spoke to Capt Amarinder about his school days at Doon, his love for sports, passion for the Army, Operation Bluestar, the story of the Scandal Point and Patiala Peg.
“I wish I could have stayed on in the Army. At times, I regret joining politics. Army teaches you something and politics another. Soon I realised that what matters most is one’s performance and not your heritage. You yourself will be responsible for your success,’’ smiled the Captain, who hopes to also write his autobiography.
Chandigarh’s very own Suchita Malik was in conversation with author Robin Gupta about her third novel ‘Women Extraordinaire’, a saga of three generations of women who are ordinary women living through the same vicissitudes of life as many ordinary women do. But these are women who challenge the orthodox views about women and who have the courage to live life on their own terms. “They dare the social moorings of their times and stand up for their convictions and thus, become women extraordinary,’’ said Malik. She reflected on the theme, characters and writing style of the novel, which she says is a classical narrative. Malik’s first novel was ‘Indian Memsahib’ and the sequel was titled ‘Memsahib’s Chronicles’.