Tag Archives: Hanif Kureishi

Being you

thol aug-2013 007

Most of us live with one sentence continuously repeating in our head, “What will people think?”

Young girls are told not to laugh, not to wear jeans, not to roam around the streets, not to wear a skirt, not to talk to boys — all just for “what will people think?” Most people live with unhappiness throughout their lives for this. To be your own self is one of the biggest challenges of life. Whether in relationships, work or public life, to give yourself completely and intensely is all about going against the grain. Conformity is all about toeing the line of the world and walking on a path which is convenient. But the joy of holding on to your inner belief is beyond description. And this truth is not for ordinary people only, it’s true for writers, painters, film-makers and leaders (I am not talking about NamObama here). For nothing, Gandhiji is still being celebrated as one of the finest minds the human civilization has ever produced/created. You can read a narrative and you will know whether it’s truth or not. You can’t just fake it. Somehow it shows in a novel, in an autobiography, on a canvas and in a story unfolding on the silver screen.

At the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, someone asked celebrated writer Hanif Kureishi, “Does it bother you that many think that the characters in your novel are autobiographical?” He said, “Your sentence is your authenticity. If you (as a writer) are worried what others will think, it’s better to work in a shop.”



Jaipur Literature Festival : A collage

Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is a collage of different voices, conversations, colours, moods and happiness too. This collage follows from that essentially. I was there as a participant not as a journalist. Yet on many occasions in life, I see the world through the eyes of a journalist (thought not consciously). Here goes a collage of images that have stayed with me.

Listening to Naipaul:  I skipped my lunch to listen to V S Naipaul. But I must say, I was very sad at the end of the session.. Even though he said talks of sunsets now make him sad, listening to him made me sad. Looking at him sitting on a wheel chair on the stage, I couldn’t help thinking about life, the cruelty of age and of course sunsets. The questions put to Naipaul by Farrukh Dhondy were anything but interesting. Naipaul every now and then kept on telling, “Is that enough, Farrukh?” At some point in life, life somehow steals our flamboyance, arrogance. And then you just turn around and see a setting sun on the horizon.

Of rains, chairs and bees:  Rains forced me to continue to sit at one session as I had the most prized possession in JLF — a chair. So, like a true risk-averse middle-class person of 70s India, I decided to cling to my safety net (read chair). Sometimes, safety can give you a pleasant surprise too. The session i attended was on bumble bees. It was an eye-opener for me to get a glimpse of how  this large beautiful universe operates and how much we need to be in sync with nature. Mindless development and urbanization are going to cause huge harm to us and our environment as it causes bee loss on a large scale. Eventually, it will disrupt beautiful harmony of life and nature. I felt like a student in an exciting classroom.

Mythology matters: India seems to be in a mood to revel in its wonderful world of mythology. So, the sessions by Devdutt Pattanaik and Amish Tripathi were jam-packed. The best part is that you can actually connect myth to contemporary life. As Devdutt said, “Myth is subjective truth, it is transmitted from generation to generation.  Is your truth fact or fiction?  What’s the truth? Who decides what’s truth? Objective truth is singular. Subjective truth is plural. Science is about measurement. But you can never measure infinity. It’s a concept. It’s the Indian thought.”  We indians have always worshipped trees, rocks, rivers, mountains. We have happily embraced different streams of thought. We are becoming intolerant as a society now because we are now obsessed with objectivity.  I can’t agree with him more.

Bollywood rocks: There is no running away from Bollywood whether it’s cricket, politics or literature. The sessions by Bollywood personalities like Javed Akhtar (I fail to understand if so many people enjoy listening to poets like him, why poetry books are struggling to sell in India… or is it all about his B-Town connection), Naseeruddin Shah and Prasoon Joshi were all packed to the T. Talk of being star-obsessed.

Of overcoats, boots and stoles: Most of them look like clones of each other. Or to better to put in the market language, “assembly-line production.” So, you can see scores of women flaunting overcoats, boots and stoles. Not to miss over-sized rings on their fingers. Age seems to have stopped somewhere in this whirpool of clones. Liberalization has robbed India of its diversity even in wardrobes. Sad, indeed.

A journey and more: During the four days I spent there, I met a number of people who have travelled all the way from Seattle, Tel Aviv, Cape Town, London. And in India, people came from Bengaluru, Kochi and Kolkata just to listen to their favourite authors.

A chef called Vikas Khanna:  When some of my young colleagues drooled over Vikas Khanna and fought with each other to interview him, I didn’t take it seriously. A friend’s daughter kept on pestering me to share his mobile number with her (she was ecstatic when she came to know that I have his mobile number). But seeing young girls, women in their 40s and 50s literally falling over him was a sight in itself. It’s liberating to see women lusting after a chef instead (or I should say in addition to) of cricketers, film stars and singers. Vikas had a real tough time to find his way through the never-ending maze of his fans. When he said on a lighter vein, “I will take questions only from boys,” there was collective sighs and ‘oh nos’ from the fairer sex. He is one sizzling hot chef, I must say.

Basic instinct: Nothing wins like basic instinct. Novelist Hanif Kureishi deserves a standing ovation for his deadpan wit. He feels there’s too much of sex happening everywhere. He said, “We are living in generalized perversion.” So the challenge lies not in writing about pornography but in writing about happy marriages where two people are still happy to be together even after being together for years. When American writer Nicholson Baker talked about how he got his first lessons on how babies happen (like there’s male chicken and there’s a female one (if I remember correctly his mom explained it to him)),  Hanif said, “That’s why you love KFC.”  And when there was a question about how pornography is becoming mainstream in the light of Fifty Shades of Grey now being made into a movie, Hanif said with a straight face, “Yes, it will be released on Valentine’s Day.”

Chai pe charcha: It wouldn’t be fair to say that Modi has made chai more popular. Judging by the long queues at the Pushkari chai (pic included here) stalls, our humble chai can give the Bollywood stars a run for their money. At Rs 30, the steaming chai in a kullad gave an earthy, warm feeling on a cold day. The colas will be always there but there’s something intimate about that little kullad chai. I have always maintained that Modi is a master strategist. And I would be happy if he  fails me in future. Even if that meant spending Rs 30 or more for chai.


Of sweet Baklava and sadness : I am not a great fan of baklava. But that day in JLF, I just felt like having one. When I went to the counter to pick up the sweet (after paying Rs 40), I got a baklava which was smaller than (now unavailable) 25 paisa coin. Size can sometimes really make you sad (even though sexologists across the world now vigorously maintain that pleasure has nothing to do with size).