Tag Archives: Maya Mirchandani

Who ‘Really’ Rules the World? Noam Chomsky and Sreenivasan Jain discuss at Day 3 of JLF

The insightful conversation saw Professor Chomsky discuss the global ‘drift into authoritarianism’, post-Trump America, and the factors that make social reform possible.

New Delhi, February 21, 2021: The third day of the Kumbh of literature was filled with a dance of history, memoir, pandemic, technology, the Booker 2020 winner and much more. There were sessions exploring conversations on Vincent Brown’s groundbreaking geopolitical thriller  Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, Phoolsunghi – the first Bhojpuri novel to be translated into English, India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, an acute insight into the professional and personal relationship between the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the impact of liberalism and its place in an age of resurging autocracy, the concept of Dharma and many other sessions.

Sreenivasan Jain in conversation with celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist Prof Noam Chomsky. 

In conversation with journalist Sreenivasan Jain, celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist Professor Noam Chomsky discussed the global “drift into authoritarianism”, post-Trump America, and the factors that made social reform possible. He spoke of the recent storming of the United States Capitol, and how it was a turning point for the country, sharing what it was like to wake up in America in the “aftermath” of Donald Trump. Professor Chomsky insisted that the American democracy had “serious problems” even before his presidency. Speaking about the rise of authoritarianism, Professor Chomsky delved into the “neoliberal assault” of the last few decades, explaining how inequality and authoritarianism appeared to be inextricably linked. Responding to Jain’s question on what can be done to resist the threats to democracy, Professor Chomsky said, “There’s no magic key! “You fight it the way you’ve always fought it, with educational programmes, with organisation, with activism.”

“Over time any political or social movement can work,” he said, pointing to the Independence Movement in India. Reflecting on some of the critical progressive movements like the labour movement, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement among others, he talked about the significance of coming together in solidarity and with constant dedicated struggle. There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic. The point is to face the challenges, take the opportunities, get to work and overcome the problems. It can be done – and optimism says yes, let’s do it, he said.

Douglas Stuart, Scottish-American writer, who recently won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, in coversation with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh. 

The “queer son of a single mother”. This is how Douglas Stuart, Scottish-American writerwho recently won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, introduced himself in his session with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh on day 3 of the Festival. Stuart spoke about his mother, on whom the book’s central character Agnes was based. He delved deep into the character, drawing similarities with his mother – she too, like Agnes, had been an alcoholic and had eventually succumbed to her addiction when Stuart had been 16. He said that in her little working class Glasgow milieu, she had perhaps been ‘insignificant’ but she had been ‘very significant’ to him, and like the children of all addicts, he was always on the lookout for strategies to keep her safe.

Irish author Colum McCann, in conversation with Sri Lankan-born writer and activist Ru Freeman, discussed the inspirations behind his book Apeirogon, and the undying quality of hope. When asked about the research he had to do to capture the essence of Beit Jala, where the novel has been based, the first thing McCann was reminded of was the ‘Bird Ringing Centre’ there. He said he was quite fascinated about how the migrating birds were captured, tagged and freed and even compared them to readers who came to this place and went back with a part of it in them. In the five years that he wrote this book, McCann met Rami and Bassam, the protagonists of Apeirogon, and spent time with them and their families. A novelist’s job, as McCann candidly put it, was to ‘put us in the pulse of the moment’—to turn the book into a living, breathing medium, which was why he attempted and left most of the politics up to the reader’s imagination. The heart-rending stories of Rami and Bassam’s loss were painful for McCann to even contemplate but what kept him going was their own hurt and sorrow. The process, he said, was “difficult, but necessary” and an “extraordinary journey”.

In a captivating conversation, Professor Vincent Brown discussed his book ‘Tacky’s Revolt’, with Professor Maya Jasanoff. The focus of the book resides on a slave revolt which occurred in the middle of the 18th century in Jamaica, in the midst of the Seven Years War between Britain and its imperial enemies. Professor Brown said that this event had often been ignored and not considered as a battle that occurred during the Seven Years War; nor had it been wrestled with as a major event in the history of the empire. To shed light on this moment of history, Professor Brown wrote this book and it became the first long account of the revolt since Edward Long, the polemic defender of slavery who wrote his contemporary account of the events in 1774.

Liberalism has always been at the core of western culture as it puts individual freedom at the forefront. Journalist and author John Micklethwait summarised this succinctly by saying that “the starting point of liberals is a distrust of authority or power”, at a session titled “The Death of Liberalism”. During the conversation Micklethwait and co-panelist, American author Adam Gopnik, agreed that liberal democracy needed to take a hard look and reinvent itself to avoid authoritarianism. Micklethwait stressed the need for “social trust and social capital” before having free markets. Gopnik spoke of the degradation of public education in the last thirty years in the US, underscoring the need for liberals “to re-endow these problem areas with a lot more dignity and monetary support”. He also highlighted that a powerful social and democratic government can pose no danger to social or liberal freedom, strongly emphasising that “a high degree of statism, social intervention, and national health above all can co-exist with classic liberal freedoms – that is an empirical truth”.

The concept of Dharma is unique to Indian philosophy and difficult to translate as it implies different things in different contexts. Hindu narratives are ambiguous and avoid prescriptive moralities. The Dharma and duties of different individuals face conflicts of ethical and human dimensions. Distinguished economist, writer, scholar and translator Bibek Debroy spoke of these dilemmas and the ethical and karmic choices inherent in them. In a deep and engrossing session, he talked with Keerthik Sasidharan, author of the recently published novel The Dharma Foresto.

Protected by Reckitt Benckiser, the session titled “Till we win: India’s Fight Against the Covid-19 Pandemic”, with doctors Randeep Guleria, Chandrakant Lahariya and Gagandeep Kang, in conversation with journalist Maya Mirchandani, discussed the book of the same name, that these three medical virtuosos at the forefront of India’s fight against the global pandemic, have written on their experiences and lessons learnt so far.

Concluding the first weekend of the Festival was a debate on “All Power Corrupts” featuring authors Amish Tripathi and Pavan K. Varma, Dutch journalist Kim Ghattas, Indian politician Pinaki Misra, well-known lawyer Pinky Anand and columnist Suhel Seth. The speakers examined the different dimensions of the truth that power corrupts. Is there something inherent in power itself that makes all power corrupt, or is there something else that has to be looked at? Does power corrupt by itself or does power only corrupt when there are no checks and balances?

Speaking against the proposition, journalist, author and analyst Kim Ghattas shared, “I’ve lived through and covered some of the worst abuses of power. Power is wielded at all levels, by the bureaucrat, by the prison guard, by the dictator, but I have also seen power used for good – to help, to save. So, I want to believe that power can do good, and that good people can become powerful and remain true to their moral compass.”

Kim Ghattas, Journalist, author and analyst | Against the motion | All Power Corrupts

“The key is to try and understand human nature in a competing world, especially illustrated by politics. If you acquire power, there is a tendency for you to believe that you, as that repository of power, can bend rules in accordance with those measures required to sustain your power.”

Pavan K. Varma, Writer-diplomat and politician | For the Motion | All Power Corrupts

Amish Tripathi countered saying, “Lord Ram had tremendous power, but he wasn’t corrupt, so what power showed was who he really was.” Amish talked of power as an unveiling of human nature and a challenge to find out what you’re really made of. He also referenced The Dalai Lama as someone who currently wields tremendous power, but uses it for good.

Pinaki Misra, who spoke against the motion, reminded the audience of Abraham Lincoln’s quote “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Speaking from his experience of working in the public sector, he added that “power can be viewed, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to transform the lives of the people”.

Speaking for the motion, Suhel Seth said “A lot of people do good, but it’s more political power unbridled that we are talking about, that is then used to abuse the system.” He argued that “compassionate benevolence” is much more the exception than the rule.

Pinky Anand who also spoke against the motion said, “I think we have shown with the test of time that institutional challenges, institutional controls, checks and balances have ensured that constitutions and democracies are able to function and of course ultimately, it’s the will of the people.”

Pavan K. Varma reinforced his stance emphatically, saying that if all power didn’t corrupt, “Why does democracy provide so many checks and balances? Unless they exist, power will corrupt.”

At the end, while the panelists seemed to be reluctantly coming more towards a mutual understanding, the audience poll boldly declared the winning argument to be in favour of the motion that “All Power Corrupts”.

The weekend was also filled with musical performances by Anirudh Varma Collective, Rehmat-e-Nusrat and ‘Belonging’ featuring Jason O’Rourke and Deepmoy Das.

The ongoing 14th edition of the iconic Festival will be held till 28th February on an exclusive virtual platform. The next in line for the upcoming weekend is a multifaceted conversation on climate change with Bill Gates, apart from sessions with John Zubrzyck discussing his book The House of Jaipur, authors Camilla Townsend and Peter Frankopan discussing the Aztec empire, Nobel Peace Prize winner and bestselling author Malala Yousafzai, artist Anish Kapoor in conversation with Homi K. Bhabha, Marina Wheeler on her exploration of her Indian ancestry. There will also be sessions on the Chipko movement with Ramachandra Guha, Shekhar Pathak and Manisha Chaudhry in conversation with Mukul Sharma, Boria Majumdar’s Sport and a Billion Dreams: 2021 with Pullela Gopichand and Mansi Joshi, Jeremy Seal on A Coup in Turkey: A Tale of Democracy, Despotism and Vengeance and several more important themes.

Jaipur Literature Festival announces programme for virtual 2021 edition

New Delhi, January 21, 2021: Set to take place between 19th to 28th February 2021, the Jaipur Literature Festival returns with a stellar online programme, spread over 10 days, for its 14th edition.

The ‘greatest literary show on Earth’ returns in a virtual avatar, featuring a spectacular line-up of speakers from across the world, consisting of writers, poets, playwrights, thinkers, politicians, journalists, cultural icons and recipients of major literary awards including the Man Booker, the Pulitzer, JCB Prize for Literature, Commonwealth, European Union Prize, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, PEN Award for Poetry in Translation etc.  

The programme, unveiled today, is vast and kaleidoscopic, with themes ranging from Technology & AI, Politics & History, Environment & Climate Change, Mental Health, Economics, Translations, Poetry & Music, Food & Literature, Geopolitics, Science & Medicine, Democracy & Constitutions, Water & Sustainability, Historical Fiction, Travel, etc.

Some highlights from the programme include Glasgow-born author Douglas Stuart whose 2020 Booker Prize-winning debut novel Shuggie Bain evokes the essence of addiction, parenthood, courage and love. Following the bond between a son and his mother, fractured by alcoholism, poverty, aspiration and human misery, the novel graphs an intimate, devastating yet ultimately hopeful journey through their lives.  In conversation with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh, Stuart will unravel the thought and process behind bringing this heartbreaking story out into the world.

Celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic, and political activist Noam Chomsky’s latest book, Requiem for the American Dream: The 10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth & Power, sharply questions the utopian idea of neoliberalism and the consequences of markets dictating all aspects of society. Evaluating the ten principles that have fuelled this idea, he will unravel its roots and its troubling impact on American society, culture and politics, in conversation with journalist Sreenivasan Jain.

Covering the ongoing pandemic, doctors and co-authors Randeep GuleriaChandrakant Lahariya and Gagandeep Kang will discuss their exciting new project in conversation with award-winning journalist Maya Mirchandani. The focus of the session will revolve around whether India wins the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Randeep Guleria, Director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, is an MD in Medicine and the first DM in Pulmonary Medicine in the country, and has been at the forefront of the Government of India’s efforts on the COVID-19 pandemic’s preparedness and response. Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya is a leading public policy and health systems expert and a recipient of the Indian Council of Medical Research’s Dr. BC Srivastava Foundation Award for his work on translating community-based health research in public policy interventions. Dr. Gagandeep Kang is a renowned infectious disease researcher and virologist who serves on many advisory committees in India and internationally, including for the World Health Organization.

During the Festival, award-winning Irish writer Colm Tóibín will take us through the rhythm and roots of his writing process and celebrated career. A master of expression and text, Tóibín possesses a unique ability to inhabit and blend through his words an expansive universe of fiction, nonfiction and poetry. He is the bestselling author of The MasterThe Blackwater LightshipThe Testament of Mary and Nora Webster; his upcoming book is The Magician.

Marina Wheeler, a Queen’s Counsel in England, opens the portals of memory as the daughter of a woman traumatised by the Partition of 1947 that divided British India into Pakistan and India. Wheeler follows her mother’s buried past, her marriage and move to England where she refuses to look over her shoulder at a lost world. In conversation with Navtej Sarna, the former High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom, she will explore the meaning of the Punjabi Sikh identity as it survives through cultural transitions.

In a special session, director and writer Devashish Makhija’s latest book, Oonga will be launched followed by a conversation exploring the book.  The book is a powerful novel based on his film of the same name. Capturing the inherent paradox between dystopian ‘development’ and utopian ideologies, the book narrates the journey of a little boy in the midst of a clash between Adivasis, Naxalites, the CRPF and a mining company.

Acclaimed author and historian Vincent Brown‘s groundbreaking geopolitical thriller Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War takes on the Atlantic slave trade with a subversive and powerful reconstruction of the history of insurgency, rebellion, victory and defeat. With a keen emphasis on the seminal uprising that upended the dominant imperial rule of the British Atlantic world, eventually becoming known as the Tacky’s Revolt, and ultimately leading the way for abolition. At as session titled ‘Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War’, in conversation with writer and academic Maya Jasanoff, Brown will unpack the complex narratives binding the conflicting histories of Europe, Africa and America, offering illuminating insights into the condition of terror and war, more relevant than ever in the era of BLM and socio-political change.

Our knowledge and information of the Aztec empire, their history and their conquest, for generations have been informed by the Western pen. Author and historian Camilla Townsend’s Cundill History Prize-winning Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs brings to light a complex and riveting history of the Aztecs based entirely on direct translations of the annals written in the neglected Nahuatl language. The author will speak to acclaimed author and Oxford professor Peter Frankopan and explore the precarious survival and brutal conquest of the people of the sun and their journey of endurance.

Journalist and writer George Packer’s Our Man: Richard Holbrooke and the End of the American Century is an enduring account of the force behind the Dayton Accords which famously ended the Balkan wars. Packer’s sweeping diplomatic history is based on Holbrooke’s diaries and papers and gives a peek into the life of a man equally admired and detested. In conversation with journalist and writer Basharat Peer, Packer will dive into the life and career of an extraordinary and deeply flawed man and the political and social circles he inhabited.

Journalist and writer Meenakshi Ahamed’s latest book, A Matter Of Trust, charts the complex relationship between India and the United States from the years following Indian Independence to today’s evolving politics. Based on her research of presidential papers, newly declassified documents, memoirs and interviews, the book evaluates the dynamics between the people in power in both countries against the backdrop of constantly developing socio-political-economic changes. At a book launch session, the writer will be in conversation with former Foreign Secretary to the Government of India, Shyam Saran and former diplomat Frank G. Wisner, and will discuss the far-reaching implications of this relationship and the current global political climate.

Tripurdaman Singh‘s latest book Sixteen Stormy Days: The Story of the First Amendment of the Constitution of India is a fascinating look into the turbulent history and contentious legacy of the First Amendment of the Constitution. In conversation with journalist and writer Karan Thapar, Singh will explore the nascent years of India in the context of what he calls ‘the first great battle of ideas.’

Democracy is an inherently participatory process that ensures the role of constituents in the direction and operation of political and social life. Electoral systems convert individual votes and choices into larger decisions that impact societies, cultures and nations. At a special session, a distinguished panel consisting of author and the 16th Chief Election Commissioner of India Navin B. Chawla, former Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal Neil Kantha Uprety and the Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan Dasho Kunzang Wangdi will decipher and evaluate the electoral process in conversation with anthropologist and writer Mukulika Banerjee.

These are dangerous times for democracy. In his new book, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become of the Common Good? renowned philosopher Michael Sandel shows how the polarised politics of our time reflects the deep divide between winners and losers. He argues that we must rethink the attitudes toward success and failure that have accompanied globalisation and rising inequality. In conversation with celebrated author and Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, Sandel will offer an ethic of dignity and solidarity that points the way to a new politics of the common good.

The Festival continues its rediscovery of the vast heritage of India’s languages. In a session focused on Hindipoetry, scholar and academic Rupert Snell will speak of the enduring legacy of the Bihari Satsai with its evocative romantic imagery and visual vocabulary, in conversation with fellow scholar, academic and translator Harish TrivediThe Bihari Satsai is a work of the early 17th century by the poet Biharilal in Braj Bhasha. The Satsai was written in the court of Raja Jai Singh of Amber near Jaipur. The poet was rewarded with a gold coin for each verse; 700 verses were compiled into the Bihari Satsai, which has been considered an outstanding representative of the Riti period, weaving together worldly experience and divine immanence, and adapting the writing style of court poetry. Rupert Snell’s translation for the Murty Classical Library is scholarly yet accessible and brings alive the tradition for modern readers.

The first Bhojpuri novel to be translated into English, Phoolsunghi, is a period piece about the life of a tawaif in the late 19th century in colonial Bihar.  Though Bhojpuri songs and cinema have gained popular appeal, the richness of Bhojpuri literature is not widely known. Gautam Choubey,  an academic and a columnist, has innovatively translated this modern classic and rendered it with cultural nuances and poetry. Academic and author Francesca Orsini is Professor of Hindi and South Asian Literature at SOAS, University of London. In conversation with academic and award-winning translator Jatindra Kumar Nayak, Orsini and Choubey will discuss the novel, the times it was set in as well as the challenges of presenting it for contemporary readers.

In conversation with the author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal The Cosmos, Priyamvada Natarajan, acclaimed Italian physicist and writer Carlo Rovelli will take us through the deeper meaning of the universe and our place in it. Drawing inspiration from the ancient Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, Rovelli will take us on an illuminating journey through the unknown, exploring the mysteries of the cosmos, the fabric of space and the nature of time.

The Festival will remember legendary Indian actress Devika Rani through award-winning author and playwright Kishwar Desai’s book The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani which charts the life and career of the celebrated actress. Based on her personal letters and documents, the book narrates her journey through the creation of Bombay Talkies, India’s first professional studio, her marriages to Himanshu Rai and Svetoslav Roerich, and the struggle of being a woman in the entirely male-dominated world of Indian cinema.

Speaking on the programme of this year, author and Festival Co-Director Namita Gokhale said, “It’s been a joyous challenge to work on the programming for Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. We look at our transformative times and try to understand the future through the lens of the present and the past.  Our hybrid digital outreach has opened up a new universe of possibilities. I’m excited at having Italian astrophysicist and writer Carlo Rovelli in conversation with Professor Priyamvada Natarajan, on Nagarjuna, Sunyata, and Stardust. Winner of the 2020 Booker prize, Douglas Stuart, speaks of his award-winning debut novel. We rediscover Emperor Ashoka’s ancient edicts through music with T.M. Krishna.”

“There is so much more to experience and reflect upon – from Gulabo Sapera and the dance of the serpents to the science, art and philosophy of Indian food – from the tragic life of the great Bangla writer, poet, and playwright Michael Madhusudan Dutt to the one and only M.S. Subbulakshmi. Shekhar Pathak and Ramachandra Guha tell us of the people’s history of the Chipko Movement. We present S. Hareesh’s award-winning novel ‘Moustache’, translated from Malayalam. In ‘Brown Baby’, British writer Nikesh Shukla explores shifting ideas of home. We pay tribute to the genius of S.R. Faruqi as we present his posthumously published novel, ‘Kabze Zaman’. These are some glimpses of the treats in store – a few surprises still await!” she added.

Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “A year after the world was felled by the pandemic, we have persevered and shown that human endurance can and will prevail, fuelled by knowledge and information, empathy and the right to justice. The Jaipur Literature Festival is representative of these ideals and will continue to be a platform to celebrate the joy of knowledge.”

The full programme will be available to view at : Programme – Jaipur Literature Festival

Jaipur BookMark (JBM), a B2B segment held parallel to the Festival, will open its eighth edition with an engaging virtual programme between the two weekends of the Jaipur Literature Festival. The virtual edition of JBM will run from 22nd to 25th February 2021, hosting two sessions per day. JBM will continue to bring together a wide range of publishers, literary agents, writers, translators, translation agencies and booksellers from across the world and give them an opportunity to exchange ideas and listen to major global industry players.