Visit Aglaia Interactive – The Lit Fest

By Sunil Kumar

Stop, or my mom will shoot. Funny movie. Well to continue the story, I ask a nice spectacled gentleman in front of me about the festival program. At around 10.00 a.m or before that, I listen to a Sikh folk group singing hymns from the Guru Granth Sahib.

The next act, the festival begins. We have an eclectic melange of different musicians starting the festival with a trademark signature song, which I thought was quite nice, vibrant and energetic.

The festival directors enlighten the audience that the festival would be dedicated to the saint tradition of India, the mystics who roamed the country somewhere during the 15th-17th century. I like the spirit of this place, and can imagine that there were actually people like this, transformed by some ancient exotic world-mind of their creation. It is quite possible.

But I am more than certain that this enlightenment had not percolated down to Mumbai of yesteryear or the present day. The city seems to be in a filthy commercial love affair with God, trivializing every sentiment and treating the concept as a mere add-on to the world of fast moolah. I remember a retreat in school, and questions about Latin and theology.

The city of Delhi is definitely more historical and brimming with years of poetry than a disgusting unplanned urban port that values banias on notes more than humanity. This is not to categorize somebody in specific, so I include everybody in its ambit, some more than others. We know how life is different every day, and the value of cash.

Oh sorry, diversion 2. So, back to the program. I checked the site, apparently it is Asia Pacific’s biggest gathering. Good, I see big things everywhere, like the BMW headquarters in Munich, the world’s biggest cemetery, Pere Lachaise, or sit in a press conference where Tata announces the biggest Indian takeover: Air India building in Nariman Point.

Now, I listen to an impassioned debate: the keynote address on Bhakti, the living legacy, Purushottam Agarwal and Arvind Krishna Mehtrotra. Interesting ideas on Kabir, a fascinating Indian saint who like all godmen was prone to mysterious acts of omission, commission, rebellion and nobility.

Some of our corporate CEOs and bosses are also modern-day versions of self-appointed nobility, they are selectively moral. After this I go to the “Vision of the Gurus” where the Sikh fraternity and a lone white man debate the interesting lives of the ten supermen of our country’s most recognizable turbaned representatives. The Prime Minister of India, my foreign mates is a Sikh, unless you thought he belonged to some other religion.

Early morning blues, the funny part is a cow interrupting the proceedings. I can hear mooing noises outside. Onto the next session: Neerja Matoo, Lalit Kumar, K Satchinandan and Giriraj Kiradoo discuss the world of little magazines. Fascinating insights there, except that the lady moderator lands up late and confuses one person with another, which I found amusing.

I had practically nothing for lunch, and I head to see Barkha Dutt, an Indian TV presenter animatedly discussing the Arab Spring with Kamin Mohammadi, Navdeep Suri and a host of other Middle Eastern brothers and sisters.

A simple thought pops up in my mind: why do our television presenters like to denigrate our own country. We have so many good things here, but we are always verbosely in love with foreign idioms and ideas. Every moderator seems to be caught in a time-warp, the patronizing brown sahib. The Englishmen really created an alien environment in our heads, so that we speak, ideate and verbalize in their language, and often do not realize the virtues of indigenous heritage and ideas.

The next session finds me listening to Girish Karnad and David Hare. For our Indian brothers,including those who are just growing up, Mr. Karnad is somewhat recognizable and in my mind, I remember him for the interesting movie on the milk unions in Gujarat. David Hare is distinctly English with his snide observations, clever self-depracation and subtle arrogance.

Our Harvard-educated minister Kapil Sibal has written a book on poetry. The witty Ashok Vajpeyi is in animated conversation with this gentleman, a lawyer. I have to make a confession, the law is one of the strangest professions ever conceived by man. Make or break, clever twists and turns. Law by any other name is an attempt to derange the senses so that truth lies somewhere in obscurity. I get very distressed when a college student asking a genuine question on our disgusting education system gets short shrift from the oversmart moderator and the minister.

The media and the intellegentsia are supposedly discussing the greater good, or are they? All of this is a biting satire. Anyways, the next noble bunch, Tarun Tejpal and Sunil Khilnani. By the way, if you did not notice, my name is also Sunil and I love my name.

Tejpal makes some interesting points. According to him, our history has always been violent and the beginning of democracy in our country was one of the most interesting experiences in humanity’s rather long stay on the planet.

Both of them are probably thinking about the dinner they’ll have after this in their plush abodes. I quietly listen to the discussion on our glorious country. The person next to me asks where I am from. He is surprised and glad to hear that somebody from Bombay has come to Jaipur.

Before the day’s proceedings end, I head back to the hotel at the edge of nowhere. Actually, the food was tolerable and it was nice and close to the action, where I will be present for some time.

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