Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Amira Hass, Arundhati Roy & M. J. Akbar

Yesterday M. J. Akbar was in Rome for the release of his new book in Italian "Fratelli di Sangue", or the Blood Brothers. This is how he started his speech:

India is the world’s latest quotation mark. Nepal has become a question mark, Sri Lanka an oversized exclamation mark; and Bangladesh is imprisoned between brackets, the space for leeway decreasing by the day. Pakistan is teetering towards a full stop. China has turned into yesterday’s paragraph: still impressive, but with the contradictions becoming evident through cracks separating sentences.

What a wonderful feeling to be an Indian at that moment in history when the world begins to applaud as India comes within reach of that long-promised tryst with destiny, and shifts imperceptibly towards the centre of the stage.

And last night, I was reading the article by Amira Hass on Arundhati Roy in the Italian magazine, Internazionale. And, I was thinking about the differences in their view points, between the India described by M. J. Akbar and that described by Arundhati Roy. They do not seem to be same countries.

Amira is an Isreali journalist, one who lives in Palestine and talks about the Palestinian human rights. I can imagine that she must be seeing and reporting on things and situations that can't be described as happy and optimistic. Yet, even she seems a little afraid of the sense of darkness and doom in Arundhati Roy's words. Or, may be, it is me, reading between the lines and imagining things that are not there. But it is true, reading Ms. Roy is not easy, especially when we are used to the shining and glowing descriptions of India as exemplified by the words of M. J. Akbar above. Reading Arundhati or listening to her speak, I often feel that she is a very negative person, looking only on negative side of things yet, I also understand that the unpleasant things she says do have grains of truth in them that we often refuse to acknowledge because they are so unpleasant.

Both Arundhati and Amira were in Ferrara (Italy) for a conference in early October. I had already written about Arundhati's speech in that occasion. She had mentioned about the evening spent with Amira and how much she had enjoyed it. Amira's article is about the discussions from that evening. Here are a few examples from Amira's speech (my translation from Italian):

"The cruelty, in some way, is hidden by discourses on Gandhi, about the country where everyone medidates and does yoga. Oh yes, everything is going well, we play cricket, we elect Miss world and Miss Booker prize, we even have dissent, what a beautiful happy family. Instead no. The country is passing through dark and cruel times and you know what I tell you? That if we close our eyes, they will become darker and even more cruel. India does not have scruples of killings." she comments. And makes her list, even if partial: "A million persons, the dalits, the untouchables, still work in direct contact with excretions and what is tragic is that they are willing to fight for their right to work with human excretions, because they don't know what other work they can do. Everyday dalits are lynched but no accusess the persons responsible for this. In all of India killings of Muslims continue. In the last years 137 thousand farmers have committed suicide. Only in Kashmir, 60 to 80 thousand persons ahve been killed ... In the middle of the country, Arundhati Roy continued, there is a proper civil war going on: "Now they have discovered those damned mines of Bauxite in the states of Orissa and Chhattisgarh, that is used
for making Aluminium and the multinationals are doing everything to exploit it. You have to see what they are doing, bringing down whole forests, removing hills, deviating rivers, devastating the earth and forcibly evicting the inhabitants..."
Is Arundhati exagerating or is Akbar talking about illusions? Probably the truth lies some where in between or a little on both sides. While we have many Akbars, persons who see India as progressing and developing, there are not many Arundhatis talking about what is happening to those who can't be heard. Even when there are persons like Arundhati, I guess that it is not so pleasant to listen to them. Like for me. I would rather listen to Akbar any day.

Even Arundhati does not have any illusions about the persons for whom she raises her voice. "If at the end of so many battles, we shall win, the persons whom we are defending, you will see, those same persons will the ones to hang us first on a tree. I am talking about Maoists and islamists of Kashmir: at times we take sides of persons, who do not have place for us in their imaginations."

Sunday, 20 January 2008

Overdose of writers

It was wonderful to meet all the writers from India, to interact with them, to learn about them as persons and a little bit about their creative way of working, the differences among them, their individuality and their conflicts, their fears, their pet phrases. Yet, in the end, the feeling was like after a too big lunch with too many dishes.

Now I need to be quiet and calm for some time to digest all that I heard and saw. I spoke to almost all of them individually (except for Shashi Tharoor and Vikas Swarup). I had long chat with Bhagwan Dass Morwal right on the first day. With Uday Prakash, there was lot of interaction and somehow, I found myself contradicting him often, perhaps to provoke him! Gayathri Murthy was familiar right from the first moment, while Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal, initially thought that I won't like him but later, I changed my mind. Some morning conversations with Tarun Tejpal, Lavanya Shankaran, Anita Nair and Altaf Tyrewalla. I specially liked Altaf. It was also nice to sit with Sudhir Kakkar during a lunch.

One of the most interesting discussions we had was during a lunch break with an Iraqi journalist living in Italy, a Singaporean journalist of Indian origin married in Italy (a coincidence that she knew my sister in Delhi), Nirpal Singh, writer of Indian origin living in UK. The discussion about our mixed identities, our roots, our families, our feelings and the absurdities of our worlds, was both moving and challenging.

Apart from Indian writers, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet some of the well known writers from all over the world. I have loved reading books of Luis Sepulveda and Tahar Ben Jaloun and meeting them, listening to them was wonderful. Some others like Rosetta Loy, Peter Schneider, Bjorn Larsson, Alain Elkann, Gianni Riotta, Lorenzo Mondo, Francesca Sanvitale, I knew less well but after knowing them, I am going to read them too.

Only Federico Rampini, I missed. I was looking forward to listen to him and to get him sign a copy of his book for me but when he spoke, I was busy giving an interview. Afterwards, when I went out to look for him, he was busy in an interview.

Listening to Prof. Sanpietro and his wonderful wife, Myra as well as Prof. Alessandro Monti was equally rewarding. Interviews, speeches, long lunches, longer dinners, an evening at Rigoletto and meeting so many persons, you can understand my sense of indigestion.

I have recorded many of my discussions with the Indian writers, so perhjaps one day I will be finish transcribing all of them for you and also put them up for podcasting. In the mean time, you can take a look at some of the pictures I took during these days.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

Meeting Indian Writers

About a month ago I was contacted by Grinzane Cavour foundation, an organisation based in northern Italian city of Turin that is also involved in promoting translation of literature from other languages into Italian and literary awards. They told me that for their next award ceremony they are planning a two day seminar on Indian literature and writers, and asked for my advice.

My suggestion was that keep a space for persons writing in Indian languages as well, whose works are almost unknown in Europe. Finally this suggestion was accepted and they have kept a small space on writings in Indian languages in which they have invited Uday Prakash, Bahgwan Dass Morwal and Gayathri Murthy. I am also invited to speak in this session.

The remaining authors from India or of Indian origin, are all those who write in English and these include Shashi Tharoor, M.J. Akbar, Tarun Tejpal, Sudhir Kakkar, Anita Nair, Lavanya Shanker, Altaf Tyrewala, Vikas Swarup & Nirpal Singh Dhaliwal.

Some of these authors, I have not read yet. Some others, I tried but did not like their way of writing. However, among the two new writers, I really liked Lavanya Shanker and Altaf Tyrewala.

This meeting is starting tomorrow. I am very curious to know these well known writers and listen to them. I also hope that I can get some interviews, record their speeches, etc. and then report on this blog.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

Violence of Language

I had seen the Colombian writer, Efraim Medina Reyes in Ferrara, a couple of months ago. He had been in a round table with Arundhati Roy, Gofredo Fofi, Elif Shafaq and Laila Lalami. He might have been a good writer but he did not seem to be a very good speaker to me at that time. Or perhaps when he had spoken I was tired and distracted, I don’t know.

I had written about that meeting in this blog in October 2007.

What ever the reason, after the meeting from that particular session he was the only writer about whom I was unable to remember anything significant from his speech and that had made me feel a little guilty.

Yesterday I saw an article by him in an Italian magazine, Internazionale. “Il sesso forte”, the stronger sex. The article was apparently about the violence against women. I started reading it and just the first few lines made me sit up. Perhaps I had understood wrongly, I had thought and reread those lines. No, he had actually written what I had thought he had written. The article started thus:

Men kill each other for a variety of reasons. Most of all in their hunger for power and money. Yet, behind every war and aspiration for peace, there is always a soft and hairy cunt.
It was this last part of the phrase that had shaken me awake. Internazionale is an intellectual kind of magazine and though in Italian language people do tend to use equivalent words of fuck, prick and cunt much more liberally than in many other languages, this magazine is considered to be a little on the serious side for that. Thus if they have to use words like that they would use equivalents of making sex, penis and vagina, rather than their more popular counterparts.

I felt that the particular phrase in Medina’s article’s had been put in that particular way to shock the reader. As I read further, it was clear that the whole article was written to shock. It does not mince words and uses the words cunt, supercunt, gang bangs and rapes abundantly.

What is there to get shocked, you might well ask. Don’t we all use these words in other contexts? It was this undercurrent of violence that I felt in Medina’s words that disturbed me since apparently he is talking against violence in the world, about violence that especially targets women. Yet even while speaking against violence, he is expresses himself in very violent terms, I felt. For example, look at this part of his article (my translation from Italian):

We men can not imagine how terrible it can be for a woman to be forced to have sex. There are still some who think that when a woman refuses to share her cunt with them, actually she is just trying to provoke them. It must be clear that when a woman says no, it means no and you must forget it. I know it is not easy and it must have happened to everyone. But before letting yourself be obsessed by the cunt that has been negated to you, it is better to think of all others that are waiting for you with a smile.
So I had the feeling that he is writing something but his words are conveying exactly the opposite.

And then I was thinking about something else. In literature, in books and magazines, in our daily language, we are all becoming more open in the use of the swear words. In Italy we tend to use these words in way that they become ordinary words, they lose their taboo power. Parents use them in front of children and children use them in front of parents.

Even in some Indian books, magazines and films, it is the same thing. The written and depicted realities tend to reflect the real world in use of these words.

In a way I understand this need. Our bodies and sexuality in general has been too long hidden behind taboos, embarrassments and silences and it is good that those walls can be broken down and we can speak about these parts of our lives more openly. Yet I have a feeling, Medina’s use of the language is not the answer, that makes our body parts mere objects. Sex is not just a mechanics of penetrations and movements. Or does such language actually help us in breaking those barriers?

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Coy Subhash Ghai

I was reading an article some where about the different remakes being planned in Bollywood, including a remake of Karz, with an original title called Karzzzz with our very own nasal popstar Himesh Reshmaiyya and that it was first proposed to Subhash Ghai, who refused saying that it will not be correct to remake a film like Karz!

And I was thinking, wasn't Karz "inspired" by "The Reincarnation of Peter Proud"?
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