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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Literary Meeting with ‘Shakespeare and Company’ group

I visited Bangalore after 20 years this week-end. I remember Bangalore as a garden city with quaint bungalows and wide clean streets. Development has changed the entire city, with airport so far away that I was getting guilty pangs on having asked my family to spend two hours to fetch me from airport to the city. But then I do not understand the roads and would not be able to use public transport therefore had no choice but to depend on the residents of the city to transport me around through the fractured roads.

I went for four days, two days to meet-up the family whom I had not met for a long time and two days to meet the members of S&C community of writers whom I had never met. This is the writer's community with whom I have interacted on FaceBook and we regularly share writing skill and ideas. This would be fun group for people taking writing classes as well. All the informal knowledge is shared through fun and jest.

Pragya Thakur, the moderator of this group, was making the visit to Bangalore with her daughter, Anushka, and wanted to meet with the members of the group. The event was created on the FB and members were showing their interest in attending this event “Revels 2012’ Jaya Chandra offered to host the event at her villa at Whitefield, Gopu and JJ organized the event, arranging food, sound and logistics.

The meeting was in Bangalore and I live in Mumbai, so why did I decide to travel all the way to Bangalore to attend this event? 

I am not even a great writer who can proudly share about some extra-ordinary work with the rest of the group. But here was an opportunity to re-visit the place, meet the family who has grown older by 20 years and to meet my faceBook friends whom I had never met before but knew them only from their writings. 

 Friendship for me is complete only after I have met the people personally and interacted with them in real world and this was my only chance to meet the real people whose writings gave me so much happiness.

Confirming my attendance, I booked my air-ticket and hotel room but was still nervous of meeting the FB friends the first time. Through chat pages and phone calls, I exchanged dialogue with few of them so that I would be comfortable when I met them personally.

After spending two days with my family, at 2pm on 18th Feb, I checked into my hotel room next to Pragya’s room, dumped my luggage and immediately ran to her room to meet her and her daughter, Anoshka. The two hours were spent enjoying JJ’s presence, Anoshka’s innocent chatter and dance, Pragya’s chat and songs.

At 4pm, it was time to meet the rest of the group at the hotel lobby. One by one, as if on a ramp, each friend made her presence through the glass door, crinkling her eyes, recognizing me from the images she had known of my virtual profile pictures and my animated chat which now morphed into three-dimensional real person, to whom I stretched my heart, tied a knot and strengthened the friendship into my real world.

With transport meticulously arranged by Gopu and JJ, we drove in four cars, one behind another, making sure that nobody got lost. At the dot of 5pm, we were greeted by our gracious host, Jaya and Mahesh, who stood with open arms at the portico of their beautiful villa surrounded by greenery, the birds began to sing with the orchestra filling the wind.

The artistic interiors of the living room and the fragrance from Jaya’s kitchen of fritters cooking in hot oil made me feel so much at home. Although it was time to mingle and familiarize, the hunger pangs made me spend more time on munching and talking food. I stole some time to feast on dhal-kachories, potato bajiyas, cheesy popcorns, spicy wafers, crackers and strawberries till it was time to move out in the open space, on the chairs spread out on grassy patch, at the back of the villa. The presence of the mike and the spot lights spelled the seriousness of this meeting.

After the group photograph and the formal introduction, the event ‘Revel 2012’ began.

Maitreyee, the one blessed with the beauty and the brains, was the perfect one to start the reading session followed by Sushmita and then one by one, we heard the play of words by different writers as they read out their poetry and prose, so intelligently worded, flipping out from their scripts, filling the air with vivid images. I fumbled in my mind, not sure if I could share my mediocre work with this creative group. Twice I inserted my hand into my purse to extract my book and twice stuffed it back, not sure if I could share.

Suddenly the power went out. In darkness we sat, gazing up in the sky pointing out to constellation of stars, the Orion and its bright stars, the great bear and the seven stars, the little bear and the Polaris, we scanned the dark blue sky looking in all directions and at that very instant, there was a song…..Pragya started to sing…in the perfect stillness of the evening it was pleasant to the ears, soon everybody joined in, some softly and some loud, then Gopu commenced, enthralled us with his deep smooth voice, the memories of Kishore Kumar and Shamshad Begam Akhtar came alive along with other singers long forgotten, the chairs shifted in two groups and unplanned antakshri began.

Soon the lights came on, ankatshri game abandoned; we tracked our steps back to ‘Revel 2012’

Uma got her ipad and tried to include Ranjini (who was physically across seven seas but mentally with us) into the group through skype. But the bad interconnectivity gave us just a glimpse of her and tried as much as we could, I only managed to type a feeble “Hey”

With internet connected, Madhavan was able to extract his writings from his blog, and later he and Richa read ‘Dhaiya re dhaiya’ Richa and Revathi read their winning entries of ‘short stories competition’. By now, the phobia of reading my work was slowly fading, I plucked up enough courage, extracted my diary and my reading glasses from my handbag and waited for my turn to read my poems. I was happy I did because it felt good to share my work and I discovered it was not that bad after all.

As the evening progressed, the air thinned, it was getting chilly, I borrowed a shawl from Jaya, wrapped myself and sat cuddled, enjoying the reading and the off-handed hilarious one liners of Madhavan thrown in between the serious readings.

 Soon the theatre came alive with evocative reading of the play ‘Taming of the Shrew’ by Kirtana and JJ

Not wanting to disturb the neighbors, we decided to move back to the living room to continue the reading after dinner.

There was more reading to be heard of Suja reading her published stories, of Pragya sharing a creative writings, of Uma, Jaya, SeekerSought, Gopu, Gargi, Sangeeta and Shankari reading their stories, but the clock on the wall glared at us, showing us the lateness of the hour. The event had to be winded up in a jiffy but not before the announcement of the lucky winners (Anitha Murthy, Revathi Siva Kumar and Richa Dubey) of the ‘short story competition’  and taking home the prize.

It was a wonderful event, worth the long distance trip that I had covered from Mumbai to Bangalore to attend; I have acquired a new set of extended literary family that I hope to retain this friendship for long……

Monday, 13 February 2012


Saturday, 11 February 2012

Free Speech- Is This an Impossible Commodity?

In 1948 the Supreme Court reversed the conviction of a New York bookseller who sold magazines that contained fictional stories of murder and bloodshed. Those with an online law degree may be familiar with that case.

In a ringing passage supporting freedom of speech, the Court wrote in ‘Winters v. New York’ that it did not accept the argument that “the constitutional protection for a free press applies only to the exposition of ideas.” 

In an oft-cited passage, the majority declared:

“The line between the informing and the entertaining is too elusive for the protection of that basic right. Everyone is familiar with instances of propaganda through fiction. What is one man’s amusement, teaches another’s doctrine. Though we can see nothing of any possible value to society in these magazines, they are as much entitled to the protection of free speech as the best of literature.”

And yet the basic right for expression has been gagged in recent times.

During the recent Literature Festival that was held in Jaipur in January2012, the freedom of speech was exploited in a big way.

I did not attend this festival but saw it unfold on the net and on the blog posts of my friends who witness this first hand.

Salman Rushie attending/not attending/attending/not attending the festival and then the live interview cancelled at the last minute for the fear of the violence that would follow.

The interview did take place on National TV, millions of people around the world listened to it, and the Mullahs were powerless. Even if they were not listening, they heard it.

But must we be afraid and shut up?

I pontificate as I defecate, on the latrine...freedom of speech,
can I speak and I don't care if you're not listening,
you're still hearing me!
Good people get up on your feet
and wake your brother up that went to sleep.
Because these cowards are on the creep.
They say they have a group of people that serve and protect
but yet, all I see is killing and disrespect.
They say they uphold a code justice,
BUT I ask, 'who's justice is it'?
As they alternate justice
while they make laws that oversee laws,
 laws that oversee man's laws that even oversee God's laws...
As a simple man,
I will never fully understand the rules and regulations or
the degrees of these rules and regulations in this foreign land.
and I will never feel safe or free in a nation
That says' we are equal as a people',
but yet they segregated us with race...
 For ya'll that know better,
ya'll gonna do better.
Whether you're in the caves of Afghanistan
or in this "promised land",
I beg you,'
learn your history or should I say 'his' story'?
 I want you to understand me when I say,
 "I am here with you, and you are here with me".
So let's kick it
 'til we ain't got no teeth and
together we can make this world a nice place to sleep.
I know you've heard it before,
but we, can rock the dance floor-
Let me say it again,:
 to all my brothers hustlin' the streets,
it's time that we should meet,
and wake your brother up that went to sleep.
Because these cowards are trying to kill me.
 I can't do this all by myself,
and neither can you,
but together there's nothing "we" can't do.
I want what you want because l'm just like you.
I want peace I want peace.

Feel free to create your own way of protesting on 14th feb.

THE IDEA: To celebrate free speech and to protest book bans, censorship in the arts and curbs on free expression

WHY FEBRUARY 14TH? For two reasons. In 1989, the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa ordering the death of Salman Rushdie for writing the Satanic Verses. In GB Shaw’’s words: “Assassination is the extreme form of censorship.”

February 14th or Valentine’s Day has also become a flashpoint in India, a day when protests against “Western culture” by the Shiv Sena have become an annual feature. In Chandigarh, 51 Sena activists were arrested by the police after V-day protests turned violent in 2011. 

Our hope is to take back the day, and observe it as a day dedicated to the free flow of ideas, speech and expression.

Places where you might do public readings: subway and Metro stations, public parks, coffee shops, open areas in malls. If you’re talking about Flashreads on Twitter, please use the #flashreads hashtag.

#flashreads is a simple way of registering your protest against the rising intolerance that has spread across India in the last few decades. At any time on February 14th—we suggest 3 pm, but pick a time of your convenience—go out with a friend or a group of friends and do a quick reading. 

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