Day 1 of the 7th edition of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest ended with an intense debate on friendship between India and Pakistan
Mumbai, November 17, 2016: The schedule for Day 1 of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest was packed with panel discussions, a book launch, a poetry reading session and an engaging debate on how ‘India and Pakistan can never be friends’.
The book launch of acclaimed author Shashi Tharoor’s An era of Darkness: The British Empire in India was one of the highlights of the day followed by a discussion between him and author Amitav Ghosh.
The first panel discussion of the day saw three acclaimed authors come together to discuss the purpose of literature and how it can have a profound healing effect on readers. The discussion, chaired by Indira Chandrasekhar, saw Frank Moorhouse, Nicholas Shakespeare and Yonatan Berg delve into their journeys as authors to discover why reading literature can have a therapeutic effect on readers.
Another session at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest ‘Chasing the Curry – Desi Cooking on Foreign Shores’, saw culinary historian Colleen Taylor Sen and eminent journalist Vir Sanghvi in conversation with food and wine expert Antoine Lewis in the chair. While the session highlighted the origin of the word curry, it was difficult to tell where the actual root lies, British or Indian?
This year’s unexpected Nobel Prize to Bob Dylan was an apt backdrop for the session ‘Verse Case Scenario: Should song writers be considered poets?’ A panel comprising British novelist Martin Amis, Oxford Professor of Poetry Simon Armitage, and lyricist, screenwriter and ad-guru Prasoon Joshi discussed the topic with filmmaker and writer Paromita Vohra in the Chair.
Also, legendary writer Kiran Nagarkar was in conversation with Abhay Sardesai, the editor of Art India, and Anil Dharker, founder of Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, to discuss the joys and challenges faced by a bilingual writer. The discussion, titled ‘Doublespeak: The joys and challenges of the bilingual writer’, triggered a freewheeling chat that covered several interesting topics. Nagarkar explored why he wrote so many of his books in English rather than his regional language of Marathi.
A staged reading was scheduled in tribute to author Roald Dahl. In a lighthearted session to understand the nuances of marriage when both the partners are writers, illustrator Gillian Johnson, and novelist Nicholas Shakespeare, along with poet Simon Armitage and Sue Roberts shared witty anecdotes about their marriages. This session ‘She writes, he writes: What happens when your partner is an author too’ was chaired by author Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi.
A debate on the topic ‘India and Pakistan can never be friends’ was undoubtedly the crowd-puller on Day 1 of the literature festival. Author Shashi Tharoor, writer-diplomat Pavan Varma, military historian and filmmaker Shiv Kunal Verma and commentator on Indian military and security issues Maroof Raza spoke for and against the motion. The debate was chaired by eminent journalist Vir Sanghvi.
According to Shiv Kunal Verma, speaking first for the motion: “Cold blooded geo-politics created Pakistan. For Jinnah it was the division of India, for Nehru it was a partition and for the British it was game set and match”. The negative Emotional Quotient, leading from the horrors of partition and repeated terror attacks is too deeply rooted in our DNA. At best we can have a working relationship.
Pavan Varma countered with the example of Europe: the British, French, and Germans fought so many wars, but then formed the EU. To spontaneous applause from the audience, he said there is a cultural umbilical cord between the people of India and Pakistan. Countries change, people’s voices change. How can you rule out the possibility of future friendship, he asked. It must be the goal of all mature countries to become friends with neighbours. The benefits far outweigh the risks. To support the motion would assume that there would never be progress in the world.
Maroof Raza garnered long and resounding applause as he batted back saying that the idea of India was antithetical to Pakistan. There is a deep rooted anti-Indian virulence in the Pakistan army. Their actions have not been those of a good neighbour.
After the humiliation of the 1971 war, Pakistan started sponsoring unrest in India, Mumbai bore the brunt of this in 26/11. Not to forget, Kashmir has been a bone of contention for long.
Tharoor replied with a panache that was punctuated by rounds of applause. He said he shared the opinions of the proposition, but not their conclusions. It is in India’s self-interest to have peace in Pakistan. We should therefore give the ordinary Pakistanis opportunities in trade, culture, or fashion to form a constituency in Pakistan that will seek better relations with India. We cannot be friends with the Pakistani Army or the generals in Rawalpindi, but it is in our interest to be friends with ordinary people, he said.
After a lively and intense Q&A with the audience, the motion was defeated by a narrow margin, with the team of Varma and Tharoor carrying the day.
Taking place across two iconic venues, the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA), Nariman Point, and Prithvi Theatre, Juhu, the festival’s invigorating line-up of debates, talks, and creative performances is sure to delight literature lovers at the festival.
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