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Snow Country – The Best of Yasunari Kawabata

January 31, 2012

Snow Country is the most representative of Kawabata’s work, with its haiku like structure. Snow Country is a story of a Japanese writer and a geisha. But anyone trying to find a traditional story of a man having an affair with a geisha will be disappointed. The setting is completely different; very Japanese. He visits his geisha in a mountain spa, hidden deep under the western mountain range of Honshu.

Snow Country is not just to be read. It is to be felt. It is to be felt in the train journeys of the hero to the spas. It is to be felt in the walks taken near the spa. It is to be felt in the fleeting images which flash throughout the novel, images which are juxtaposed with actual situations.

Snow Country is contemplation over beauty and its impact on the observing individuals. It is sad, but in a different way. It is a deep and intense observation of beauty, yet this beauty does not bring happiness. The overwhelming beauty ultimately turns into sadness.

 It is not indicated by Kawabata, but the way beauty turns into sadness in his novels in general and in Snow Country in particular, it tell us of a society in which individuals can no longer bank on their spiritual heritage. That heritage seems to be receding into a past, a past which is yearned for, but can no longer be brought back. Snow Country is an elegy of wasted beauty, of beauty spoiled by its own excessiveness.


Almost Live from JLF 2012 – Day 3

January 28, 2012

I had seen the consequences of arriving one session late on the second day so on day three I was right in time for the first session. But the JLF was being inundated. Even before the first session people were swarming on the check post.

The first session I attended was ‘The Superpowers of the 21st century’ with Thant Myint-U of Burma, Geling Yan of China, David Malone, the Canadian ambassador to India and Shashi Tharoor.

When I first looked at the session details I was dismayed to find Tharoor on the panel. To me he always works best as a program dampener, but this time he was useful. Due to huge crowds at the check post I was about ten minutes late, but Tharoor was 20 minutes late, so when I arrived the session still hadn’t started and I found a comfortable enough seat.

Tharoor began by reinstating his friendship with Malone and Myint-U and as usual started with the romantic notion that 21st century was no longer the century of the superpowers, that it was the century of trade and democracy. Brushing aside the romanticism, Myint-U told that the U.S. is still a superpower in many regions, including the Pacific; that there are many other geographical areas where superpower influence still can not be denied. He also emphasized that predicting the future in this way was a risky business.

Summing up the thesis of his book Where China meets India – that with changing of geography in Burma and the neighboring states of India and China, geopolitics is also changing – Myint-U said that Chinese influence in Burma was increasing with every passing day. Over 2 million Chinese from the neighboring Chinese state of Yun-nan had immigrated to Burma in the past two decades. China is building huge ports and fast track railways in Burma. The next couple of decades will be very crucial for Burma and for the entire South Asia region. China may convert Burma into its province and Indian Ocean its local pool.

India, on the other hand, is now barely a presence in Burma. Though there has been an increase in trade between the two countries, China is the more visible and decisive influence in Burma. Myint-U said that the reasons behind this difference is that while Yun-nan, the Chinese state neighboring Burma has seen a lot of development and a decrease in its ethnic and religious tensions, the north-east region of India is still an underdeveloped region economically and with ever-increasing ethnic and sectarian violence.

To that Tharoor responded with another clichéd romanticism that Burma had been always been a focus of India too, quoting Nehru’s ‘Look East’ policy to the effect.

David Malone said that while India is already a recognizable international power, it has barely learned to respond to international situations. During the ‘Arab Spring’ India was totally lost as to what should be its policy towards individual countries of the Arab Spring. It was trying to be good to everyone and consequently was lost. It was a fine demonstration of the fact that India had virtually no foreign policy.

Baithak is the best venue of the Festival. It gives the feeling of shelter and openness at once. Colorful twilight coming through the tents adds to the atmosphere. The second session The Question of Jerusalem with Simon Sebag Montefiore, Sari Nusseibeh and Jonathan Shainin was there. The discussion was mainly in the context of the book Jerusalem: the Biography of a City by Simon Sebag Montefiore with the Palestinian ‘thinker’ and ‘activist’ Sari Nusseibeh thrown in for ‘balance’ and ‘variety’.

Simon started by stating the importance of Jerusalem in history, calling it a fulcrum where conflicts like Israel vs. Palestine, Secularism vs. Fundamentalism raging unceasingly.

Responding to the question of Shainin about how did he come up with the idea of writing a book about Jerusalem, Simon responded that Jerusalem being the birthplace of Judaism and Christianity and one of the most important city of Islam, was always a fascination for him. He wanted to read a book about Jerusalem, about its people, its structures and its conquerors. But he couldn’t find such a book. So he decided to write one, quoting ‘In a way reading is writing.’

When Shainin asked Sari about the importance of history for Jerusalem, Sari replied that for him history does not weigh much on the present and an individual like him was just trying to find a way to live a normal life. Sari had an air of affected aloofness, a sort of artificial objectivity of a deliberate intellectual. Though he goes farther than any Palestinian commentator in recognizing that there was originally a Jewish temple in Jerusalem and dares to go beyond the literal translation of the episode of Muhammad flying to Jerusalem on Al-Burraque, the liberalism only goes this far.

I wonder whether the rejection of history as an important factor, Sari was trying to avoid confronting it as history is not on the side of the Palestinians. Israel was the homeland of the Jews and at the first place, Christians and Muslims had driven them away from their land.

Replying to Sari’s romanticism, Simon said that history really does matter in general and also in this particular case to which Sari said that history which does violence to the daily life of the common man today should not matter much.

Sari went poetic and said that he calls Jerusalem as the gateway to heaven because in Muhammad’s journey to heaven Jerusalem was where that he had finally taken off. To him the idea of Jerusalem is celestial because of this. Simon replied that Jerusalem had obvious political dimensions as Muhammad himself had political ambitions and Islam is inextricable from politics from the beginning.

He said that the present rule under Israel is actually a comparatively peaceful one. Under the Ottomans and during the Mongol raids Jerusalem was often a bloody heap. The Ottomans started practicing tolerance only under the Western pressure. Sari had nothing to say to this.

In all it was a very good session, mainly due to the depth of scholarship of Simon Sebag Montefiore. I have not read the book yet, but am definitely going to soon.

It was straight two sessions with comfortable seats for me and God only allows this much to an individual. I had to go to the toilet. The queues at the main entrance of the Festival are only trumped by the queues at the toilets. And as I was inching to the happy emptying of my bladder I had to listen to an Indian woman vociferously lecturing about the extreme plight of sweepers in India like the lady cleaning the toilet there. Both the sweeper and the white lady were clearly uninterested in her raving but when does that deter any modern Indian philosopher? I bet that if they put signs in front of the toilets saying Indians can lecture here, more than half of the crowd problem will be solved.

Anyways it whole process took about 20 minutes and when I finally reached for my intended third session at the smallest venue of Durbar Hall to listen again Thant Myint-U on the topic Aung San Suu Kyi and the Future of Myanmar, it was already more than full. There was no room for even standing. I lingered for a couple more minutes and then headed for the Festival Book Shop. This has become my daily ritual at the Festival now. Today I bought the cookie again, but also bought a book, Cairo – The City Eternal by Max Rodenbeck as it was actually cheaper there than at flipkart, a rare thing.

After paying I went back to Durbar Hall and found that the question answer session was coming to an end. Thant was answering to a question about the awareness of the trouble in Indian North-East in the Burmese population, to this Thant replied that the Burmese population was not informed about the situation in Indian North-East as there are simply no connections. After the session was over, I followed Thant back to the signing area and got my book signed and what more; I even got a picture with him.

The next post-lunch session was again in Durbar Hall. As I had already taken lunch, I occupied the best seat I could get, which was in the third row. The topic was Public and Private Portraits: The Biographer’s Art involving Joseph Lelyveld, Sugata Bose, Peter Popham, David Remnick and Simon Sebag Montefiore. As I have mentioned earlier, I don’t really like biographies a lot but as both David Remnick and Simon Sebag Montefiore were on the panel, I decided to attend the session.

Responding to Sugata Bose’s question about difficulties in writing a biography Simon responded that the problem of access of archival material is always a spectre looming close while working in the former Soviet Union. He expressed it very poetically saying that although the warm Kremlin Sun did shine upon him sometimes but he also felt the cold winds of Tundra coming out of the Kremlin.

He said that timing in Russian Federation is often critical and when he came out with his book in 2000 Putin was very unhappy with the book. Not surprisingly, he was blacklisted for some years. Simon was actually the writer who made the session ticking. Carrying forward the point raised by David Remnick that why lives of famous personalities get written again and again, Simon said that when he was not satisfied in calling monsters like Stalin and Hitler just as psychopaths. Just calling them psychopaths won’t explain their coming to power. He had to look deeper into the origins of these monsters and the result was Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar.

Commenting upon Obama, David made an interesting point. He said that coming to power and exercising power are not same things. Successfully winning an election does not guarantee that the exercising of power will also be smooth. He also added that biography is a strange, lonely and different kind of experience. With some questions the session came to an end. Though I had scheduled to attend one more session on this day, but my mind was full of the thoughts from previous sessions and so I slipped out at 03:30.

Almost live from JLF 2012 – Day 2

January 27, 2012

Looking at the schedule I knew that Day 2 was going to be busier. And it was. The first day at JLF 2012 had about 3000 visitors. The second day attracted near about 5000. The way the numbers are increasing every year at Jaipur Literature Festival, I wonder how long before it will stop being literary.

I meant to visit the very first session at Front Lawns – Creativity, Censorship and Dissent’ with the Kashmiri writer Siddharth Gigoo in it, but couldn’t make it. I was even late for the second and the most important session of the day – A Good Man in Africa – a panel discussion of four travel writers about Africa. Travel, writing and Africa… that’s the combination for me! Besides Tim Butcher, the author of Blood River and Chasing the Devil, it had Philip Marsden, Philip Gourevitch and Illja Trojanow. The discussion was moderated by Taiye Selasi.

I was late and the students had crammed every corner of Baithak, the venue where the discussion took place. And so I had to remain standing. The discussion was about foreign writers in Africa. Philip Gourevitch came out heavy on the charges of some of the Africans that outsiders can not know Africa well and will always write superficially. He said that if he is genuinely concerned about Africa, and spending time and effort to understand it then how is he an outsider? He also added that if they want to draw such lines of then it will mean that the Africans too will remain outsiders in the West.

Illja Trojanow said that if Africans are not going to write about themselves then somebody will. There really is no reason to complain. It was also mentioned that Africans have very good oral traditions. They are amazingly accurate in their descriptions, regarding time and place. but they do not have a written literary traditions and that is the gap which the authors like them are trying to fill.

Trojanow said that one problem in writing about Africa is that the colonial terminology has not yet been replaced. The writers, both African and non-African are using the terminology of their former colonial masters. He said that this needs to be broken.

Butcher said that often Europeans try to categorize African problems in very simple terms, like which tribe attacked which one? He said that the reality is much more complex, but it indeed is necessary to learn about this tribal structure in depth, as this is very the subtle details will surface.

In all, it was a very good session, at least to me. Though I had to stand, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

The 12:30 PM session – The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker, was the highlight of the day. It was held in the Front Lawns and was jam packed. Again I had to stand. Pinker summed up his thesis in his new book by the same name as the session with a slide show.

His thesis is that contrary to the public perception, the evil tendencies of human nature have actually decreased in the modern times. He backed up his thesis with enormous amount of statistical data explained with colorful maps and graphs.

First he showed that evil tendencies are decreasing gradually and then he told about some of the plausible reasons behind the decrease. Education, democracy, and freedom of expression were some of the reasons behind the decrease, according to Dr. Pinker.

And guess what? The ubiquitous Barkha Dutt was there to interview him. Barkha, our very own Barkha, that poor girl who barely does anything other than grilling politicians in her life, asking questions from the foremost cognitive psychologist of the world? The galls they have!

At 2:30 PM, due to lack of options and because of the fatigue of standing in two continuous sessions I had to sit through the horrible session of ‘The Chutneyfication of English’ with Rita Kothari, Tarun Tejpal, Gurcharan Das and Ira Pande.

Tarun was late and the ladies started talking nonsense to the public from the first minute. Then Tarun dashed in with a ridiculously macho entry. The whole talk was hokum. I always get sick with the talks of the new brand of English in India, variously called as Indlish, Hinglish Inglish etc. Most of these so-called writers in India barely master Standard English, and they talk about making their own brand?

Sometimes I also feel that it is perhaps the inability to master a foreing language that is converted into desperate attempts at creating their own brand. That way mediocrity can pass as creativity.

Tarun read one chapter from his fiction (yes, he is a littérateur these days!) in which he told about the pain of an Indian boy studying English. Tarun invented a sort of gibberish for this character and while reading from his book, actually used the word for ass in Hindi. It was a disaster.

The next session – In Defense of Enlightenment was much more important with Steven Pinker and A C Grayling. As I haven’t read A C Grayling I could not relate with his talk but still it was an interesting session. Pinker stated some points from his books The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works. Based on his experimentation he said that race is an entirely a social construct and there are more differences between individuals of a same nation than between the average individual of one ‘race’ and that of the other ‘race’. Echoing the socio-biologists he said that humans are fallible; that brain is a system prone to error and to completely purge them of evil is impossible.

He said that to continue the course of Enlightenment it is necessary to continue with reason. He also made a very important point that sometimes not only our eyes, but our minds also perceive wrong things. He called them cognitive illusions and he asserted that it is necessary to penalize these cognitive illusions in order to save humankind from their consequences. I wonder whether it was a direct reference to the cognitive illusions in the limbic system.

When someone from the audience parroted the cliché that science and religion are just two ways of finding the truth, A C Grayling very politely brushed her argument away by saying that there are more fundamental differences between their approaches than there are any similarities.

I was expecting the last talk to be the most interesting as it was named Open Road – a discussion of travel writers and travel writing. Six travel authors were on the stage – Samanth Subramanian, Philip Marsden, William Dalrymple, Tim Butcher, Katie Hickman and Akash Kapur. The original plan was that every author will first read for five minutes from his book and then there will be general discussion with the audience. The authors took more time than stipualated (now why doesn’t that surprise me?) and at last there was no more time to ask questions. It was sad as this was the first session in which I was itching to ask a question. I had grabbed a third row seat with great personal cost as when I left the venue my bladder was about to burst.

Samanth read from his part memoir, part travelogue – a part about faith healing at his grandfather’s home. As is with modern Indian writers he was keen in the book and on the stage to show his skepticism about faith healing. I say, if one is so skeptical, then why take such an issue?

Marsden read from his book on Ethiopia and the Christian community there. Reading out from the passage of his travel to the remote mountain monasteries he held the audience in fascination for about five minutes.

William Dalrymple then boisterously read his piece from his From a Holy Mountain. It was a comic piece about the absurd literal beliefs of an Orthodox Christian priest in the Middle-East. Although the piece was very good, I wondered that how is it possible that an author travels to a country like Armenia and fails to focus on the overwhelming tragedy which befell over it?

Tim Butcher read from his book Chasing the Devil and read out a passage with his encounters with the good and the bad devils in Liberia – something about local lore and tradition.

Katie and Akash Kapur were boring at best, but at least Katie finished early!

That was it for me at the second day.

Almost Live from JLF 2012 – Day 1

January 25, 2012


At 09:38 AM I thought I was early at the first day of JLF 2012, but as I was frisked through hordes of policemen and the checking point, the crowd proved me wrong. The Front Lawn, the largest of the six venues at JLF was at least half full when I got there. I took a seat at the back and amused myself with the spectacle of painted old ladies hugging really painted and really old ladies, trying to pass themselves off as foreign, literary and chic.


Just then, the Queen of Bhutan waltzed in. In her books she comes off as one with a humble style, but it was really good to see her functioning as part of a large crowd. The ceremony began with Her Majesty’s lighting of the lamp. It now was time for the keynote addresses. But before that William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale introduced the Festival to the audience. Dalrymple began with a surprisingly unsupportive stand about Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, saying that the audience should not focus on the author who is missing, but on those who were present. I guess silence would be more becoming of literature and for freedom of expression.


Purshottam Agrawal never fails to disappoint with his lack of novelty. I almost dozed as he read the primary school textbook chapter on Sufism to the crowd with all the necessary clichés such as Medieval Ages not being dark but actually the beginning of the golden period of philosophy; the Ancient Ages not being so brilliant; Sufism as the breaking of the feudal and elitist bonds of Sanskrit and Brahmanism; the Hindu society as a vague, fluffy ball with no apparent characteristic. He also used the minimum number of words from the Marxist lexicon compulsory for one to be invited to any event. Mercifully, he left soon.


A K Mehrotra read some good really good poems at first but not able to resist political correctness, went on a spiral about Sufism being the flame of oneness against the divisions of religion; about how Ram of Kabir is not the Ram of history; about how Kabir was an atheist; and at last justified at the behalf of JLF 2012 the invitation of Richard Dawkins by equating him with Kabir. But again, he was short too.


The first session I attended was ‘Tolstoy the Man’ at Durbar Hall. It was about the new biography of Tolstoy, Tolstoy: A Russian Life by Rosamund Bartlett. The session started with Chiki almost yelling at the audience. When people said they could not hear her, she quickly went, ‘It’s not really my fault!’ Talking about touchy! She spent the rest of the session with an irritated and bored look on her face.


Biographies are the last things I read. I find the details boring. The writer does not get to the subject until half-way through the book and we get to know more about the life of his parents, relatives and neighbors than him. Bartlett show went as expected. She read to the audience, completely without flair, a page from her book; then discussed the role of religion in the life of Tolstoy; and how he was a great personality. Her arguments ran in eight directions at once. No wonder she couldn’t stop writing before filling at least 600 pages. Only when Chiki Sarkar asked a question, did she remember that she has also written bad things about Tolstoy and called him ‘a bit of a narcissist’.


I had better expectations from the second session ‘The Disappointment of Obama’ – about the new book of David Remnick, the journalist and scholar on the psyche of the Russian society after the fall of the Soviet Union. Samanth Subramanian, the upcoming travel writer, grilled him at the stage and I have to confess that the session completely exceeded my expectations. That David Remnick is a hell of a writer, I knew from his books, but to hear him live proved that he is an even better speaker. Ready wits, short quips, sharp and definite answers – this is how he came out to the audience.


Listening to him, I realized the difference between an American and an Indian journalist. Remnick was very particular about the words he used; the meaning of those words; and about what he was really talking about. Talks in India tend to be general than specific, vague than concrete, with rounded-off meanings covering enough political ground to claim ten interpretations at once. Consequently words have lost their meaning, and debate its relevance.


When Samanth said that it can be inferred from his book that the American public is disappointed in Obama, he said that the public is not ‘disappointed’ but ‘wildly enraged’. He called Obama getting Nobel for peace as ridiculous. That he got it for just not being George Bush.


Considering Obama’s rise to Presidency as really remarkable he said that Obama was successful as a politician but fails as a President as he is not a man of deep and serious thinking. He called it the conceit of Obama to say that there are no conservative pockets in America, just United States pockets.


When someone from the audience came up with the cliché that its useless to worry over the fact that the Obama administration is lost without any clues as democracy is all about different view points and about discussion, Remnick quipped without batting an eyelid, ‘It’s also nice to get something done!’


In short, it was a very charming and informative session with no-nonsense approach of David Remnick. After the session I made my way through some truly ugly women ogling over Remnick and got my copy signed with a barely audible, ‘Would you please sir?’


The third session I attended was named after the ridiculous phrase – The Arab Spring – a rehashed term of the Prague Spring in 1956 in Czechoslovakia. The session was held in the Front Lawn again with Barkha Dutt interviewing Kamin Mohammadi from Iran, Navdeep Suri from India, Karima Khalil from Egypt, Raja Shehadeh from Palestine and Max Rodenbeck, the authoer of Cairo. It was an NDTV program transferred to JLF. The filming was also done by NDTV.


Barkha started by making common cause with ‘the plight of Palestinian Muslims’ to which Raja Shehadeh, an apologist of Palestinian terrorists, replied with the usual cliché of the bullying of America. While both the women from Iran and Egypt claimed how Islam is all about peace and love, Karima was a bit more outspoken on the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt and actually related an incident of about 60 Christians who were recently brutally burned to death by Muslim mobs and how nobody cared about it. But Barkha being Barkha, diffused the informative piece by claiming that Karima actually meant that such an incident is not a result of the entrenched social attitudes but the recent politicizing of the public.


Raja went on to read from the How-to-save-the-face-of-the-terrorists manual and shamelessly made ridiculous claims that the Levant and the Islamic lands have always been more tolerant than other regions on earth!


Max Rodenbeck was the face saver of the session. He made some informative comments on the Egyptian, particularly the Cairo society. When Barkha asked him that aren’t the Western governments hypocritical and immoral in calling others as non-democratic, he replied that diplomacy is not about morality, it’s all about getting a job done. He said that the actual surprise is that America takes so many efforts to veil its diplomacy in the shroud of humanitarian and democratic concerns.


One more face-saver of this session was a very sharp and cutting question from someone in the audience: If secularism is an integral part of a democracy, then are not Islamic Middle-Eastern societies incompatible with secularism, as democracy will give power to Islamists who will deny secularism?


The last session I attended was Mohammed Hanif’s reading and discussing about his new book, Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, and it was the best session of the day. Hanif had already become one of my favorite with A Case of Exploding Mangoes, but it was great to see his dark humor and ready wit to come alive on stage.


When he was asked why he has changed from political story to a love story in his second book, he answered that he had been telling people that his first book was a love story and he did not know why but nobody quite believed him. He was constantly humorous even while telling how he researched about his first book, calling it a failed attempt at journalism. He said that half of the country didn’t care about the episode, with some of them even with the expressions of ‘who cares?’ The other half which actually knew something wouldn’t tell. So he finally thought that if nobody was telling him the true story, he would go on and make up a story of his own. The result was A Case for Exploding Mangoes.


When asked about how the idea of the second book came to him, he quipped that once a writer has written a book, he becomes habitual of wealth and literary festivals like JLF and has to come up with another one in a few years. Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is such an attempt. He was also surprised at the writers who are very clear about what ideas come to them and when they come. He claimed himself to be nothing like them.


When audience pointed out that his new book is in support of the minority community of Pakistan, he quipped that to write a book and make stuff up is a lousy way of supporting a community. Support is better given by actually doing something for them.


He also made light of the claims of literary impressions on him. He once read a comment in which he was said to be influenced by Philip Roth, while in fact he had never read him before. But after reading that comment, he went on to read Philip Roth and found him quite a genius and feeling that he himself was nothing compared to the genius of Philip Roth.


Talking more about the impressions on his art, he said that he has an impressionable mind and his reading makes a great and decisive influence on his work. Magical Realism is certainly an influence. Some of his favorite authors are Manto, Llosa, Chughtai and Kafka.


He was very outspoken on the plight of the Hindus, the Christians and the other minorities in Pakistan and said that though he was not in a position to do a lot about it, he was greatly ashamed of it.


In his books Hanif comes out as a witty author. In the talks he came out not only as witty, but also modest, realistic and liberal in true terms.


This was it for me at the first day at JLF 2012. I did enjoy myself. I hope it continues. Will keep writing.



Off to Jaipur – My agenda at this year’s Literary Festival!

January 18, 2012

This is the first time I am going to the Jaipur Literary Festival, touted as the greatest literary event in Asia and as one of the best in the world. I seriously doubted this claim earlier but every year as I followed it on Internet, I saw that many Nobel Prize winners came to the event and some other really good writers. Although there are some usual ubiquitous and irritating presences like that of Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar, but I guess if you are to meet the likes of Richard Dawkins, V S Naipaul, Umberto Eco and Orhan Pamuk you have to bear the unnecessary addendum too.

This year my agenda is as follows. Though I will attend the other speeches in free time too, but this is what I have previously in mind:

Day 1 – 20 Jan

From 12:30 – 01:30

7. ‘The Disappointment of Obama’

David Remnick in conversation with Samanth Subramanian.

From 02:30 – 03:30

13. ‘The Arab Spring: A Winter’s View’

Kamin Mohammadi Navdeep Suri, Karima Khalil, Raja Shehadeh, Max Rodenbeck in conversation with Barkha Dutt

From 03:45 to 04:45

16. ‘Our Lady of Alice Bhatti’

Mohammed Hanif in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury



For the second day, the targets will be:


10 AM to 11 AM

30. ‘Creativity, Censorship and Dissent’

Siddhartha Gigoo, Tahmima Anam, Prasoon Joshi, Charu Nivedita, Cheran moderated by Shoma Chaudhury

Special attraction will be Siddhartah Gigoo with his book on the plight of Kashmiri Pandits.

1:15AM to 12:15 PM

33. ‘A Good Man in Africa’

Tim Butcher, Philip Gourevitch, Philip Marsden and Ilija Trojanow moderated by Taiye Selasi.

Will be great to meet this intrepid journalist who braved the killing fields of Sierra Leone twice. Have just come out fresh from reading his book, so it will be more exhilarating.


12:30PM to 01:30 PM

38. ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature: A Decline of Violence in History’

Steven Pinker introduced by Barkha Dutt.

Will be marvelous tolisten to this great scientist, but the ignorant Barkha Dutt interveiwing him will be a downer.


02:30 PM to 03:30 PM

40. ‘In Defence of the Enlightenment’

A.C. Grayling, Steven Pinker introduced by Vijay Tankha.

Pinker again it is, and this time without the sour ingredient of Barkha Dutt! What a chance!

03:45 PM to 04:45 PM

44. ‘After Bin Laden’

Ayesha Jalal, Jason Burke, MJ Akbar, Max Rodenbeck, Mushirul Hasan moderated by Shoma Chaudhury.

I dropped Max Rodenbeck from my agenda this year, as it was too much JLF reading to do, but will be keeping a watch over him.


Day 3:


10:00AM to 11:00 AM

57. ‘The Superpowers of the 21st Century’

Geling Yan, Thant Myint-U, David Malone moderated by Shashi Tharoor.

One of the super highlights of the JLF 2012 for me. Listening to the great author Thant Myint-U. I have read both of his books of Burma and the international politics and love his straightforward, no-nonsense and no-ist style. Eagerly awaiting this.


11:15 AM to 12:15 PM

62. ‘The Question of Jerusalem’

Simon Sebag Montefiore, Sari Nusseibeh, moderated by Jonathan Shainin.

This is going to be a great day! First Thant Myint-U and then Montefiore? Being a student of the history of Communism, I have read both of his biographies of talin. Will be there with his books and perhaps a hope of a snap with him 🙂


12:30 PM to 01:30 PM

64. ‘Aung San Suu Kyi and the Future of Myanmar’

Peter Popham and Thant Myint – U, in conversation with David Malone.

Either this, or the parallel one with Mohammed Hanif.


02:30 PM to 03:30 PM

68. ‘Public and Private Portraits: The Biographer’s Art’

Joseph Lelyveld, Sugata Bose, Peter Popham, David Remnick, Simon Sebag Montefiore.

Its like two of your best dreams coming true at once. Remnick and Montefiore at one stage! Its the heaven of scholarship on Communism!

05:15 PM to 06:15 PM

81. ‘The Art of the Playwright’

Tom Stoppard and David Hare in conversation with Neelam Mansingh.

This will be a light one. Will try to divide time.


06:30 PM to 07:30 PM

84. ‘Shehar aur Sapna: The City as a Dream’

Mohammed Hanif, Aman Sethi, Meenal Baghel, Rabi Thapa Moderated by Ashok Vajpeyi.

Finally some exclusive time to Mohammed Hanif.


23 Jan: Day 4


10:00 AM to 11:00 AM

85. ‘Writing and Resistance’

Raja Shehadeh, Thant Myint-U, Iftikhar Gilani, moderated by Fatima Bhutto.

While Javed Akhtar will be irritating people in the other tent, I will be enjoying Thant Myint-U’s conversations.


02:30 PM to 03:30 PM

98. ‘Nothing to Declare: Straight lines and History’

Fakrul Alam , Mohammed Hanif , Rabi Thapa, Siddhartha Gigoo, moderated by Urvashi Butalia.

Hanif and Gigoo together. Will be interesting!

03:45 PM to 04:45 PM

103. ‘Stalin’

Simon Sebag Montefiore. On my favorite subject, one of my favorite authors!


05:15 PM to 06:15 PM

110. ‘The Magic of Reality’

Richard Dawkins and Lalla Ward in coversation.

Dawkins finally!



24 Jan : Day 5 Last Day


11:15 Am to 12:15 PM

119. ‘Return of the King: A Preview

William Dalrymple in conversation with John Keay.

Keay, the champion on India and Dalrymple, the politically correct upstart.  Let’s see what happens!


12:30 PM to 01:30 PM

125. ‘The Selfish Gene’

Richard Dawkins.

Joy again!

02:30 PM to 03:30 PM

127. ‘Between the Lines, Beyond the Headlines’

Mark Tully and Kuldip Nayar, moderated by Nidhi Razdan.

Will be a great pleasure to meet Tully… Have been long a fan of his works.



This will be it! I will keep posting and after the event will come out with complete details.

Slow Man – Post Nobel Gibberish

May 16, 2011

Slow Man is a tortuously slow book. It is about boredom and sexual fantasies of the aged mind of J M Coetzee. The story is of an old man who has lost his leg in an accident and is now lonely. Coetzee is experimenting in style in this late work. Like many other works of Coetzee it is hard to distinguish reality from fantasy in Slow Man. The old man reflects the feelings of Coetzee, but there is another character Elizabeth Costello who is an alter ego of the old man and the Coetzee.

The book is about the sexual ravings of a lunatic old man who is also suffering from the bug of literary desire. The inability to tell an honest story forces Coetzee to experiment with style, which makes the book even more unreadable and meaningless.  Coetzee tries to compensate the dishonesty of content and style with making the narrative realistic in places most unwanted, like describing the sexual organs and the sexual act in most dirty and ugly details. It is strange to witness a writer giving such ugly details when he is so far from realism otherwise.

Slow Man is so unnecessary that it should not have been written at all. If Coetzee were not a Nobel Laureate, this work would not have been published.

Foe – Following Fashionable Nonsense

May 16, 2011

Foe is a play on the name of Defoe. The title is very suggestive. It tells us that Defoe told the story from the point of the view of the white colonial master. The story is a twist on the famous story of Robinson Crusoe. In this case the castaway is a woman, who meets Friday on the forsaken island. To her, Friday is not such a slave as he was to Crusoe. But Friday is not communicative and it is hard to know what he feels. It seems that he has almost no feelings and no reactions.

After they are rescued the heroine, Susan Barton goes to a writer Daniel Foe to write hers and Friday’s story. But Foe radically changes Susan’s version and the story which is finally published has no resemblance to the original one. Coetzee is making the charge that every story told by the Europeans is a lie.

But he goes further. He does not only doubt the intentions of European colonialists. He doubts the very process of story-telling. In his view, it is not possible to tell a story at the first place. The story is corrupted as it is told. Even more, reality is corrupted as it is witnessed. So the meaning which comes out of Foe is: the story of Robinson Crusoe and by extensions, the story of the European conquest of the world was distorted at three levels, first at the level of witnessing, then at the level of story-telling and at last as a willful distortion by the Christian, white European colonialists.

Here Coetzee misapplies some concepts of modern science disastrously. He falls prey to the fashionable nonsense as is expected of post-modernist writers. They hide their artistic incompetency by calling simple story-telling as old-fashioned and misapply some modern scientific concepts, which make their craft incomprehensible. At last they insert their leftist political agenda. This is what is done to Foe.

Although Coetzee does not believe in the art of story-telling but still he keeps writing to further his political agenda. After reading Foe, one is left with a confused story but with strong feelings against the Europeans.