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The ‘khichdi’ of love sets the mood for Times Litfest


On a cold late-November evening, there was the promise of romance to keep one warm; in this case, the thought of listening to a few folks talk about love.

As winter proper finally made its entrance, the 32nd Avenue played host to the Gurgaon Preview of the Times Litfest Delhi, presented by Rajnigandha. And there was little danger of the expressway traffic drowning out the voices of the panelists, as the audience lapped up conversations on tales of love, Bollywood (as seen through the eyes of Urdu), and the challenges women still face writing in a man’s world.

Bollywood historians Yasir Abbasi and Yasser Usman got things under way with ‘Beyond the stars: Writings on Bollywood’. Abassi it was who penned the lively and anecdotal ‘Yeh un dinon ki baat hai: Urdu memoirs of cinema legends’, in which he goes all the way back to the Urdu magazines that faithfully, and very often irreverently, covered the film industry in Mumbai. “I started looking for these pieces because even though film journalism has grown in the last 10-15 years, none of it is in Urdu,” explained Abbasi.

The book involved heaps of research and much translation. One of these translations was of a piece written by Nargis on Meena Kumari, after the tragedienne passed away. “They were very close, and Nargis wrote ‘Maut Mubarak ho’, an undiplomatic but very evocative piece, straight from the heart, in which she told Meena Kumari that the world didn’t deserve her.”

Usman has skillfully navigated the lives of Sanjay Dutt and Rajesh Khanna, and of Rekha, too. The downside of making the actress the subject of a biography is the number of questions he would invariably get on the Rekha-Am- itabh Bachchan affair. “Her story was much bigger than that,” he insisted.

Following neatly on from Bollywood legends was a session on love, in which Ravinder Singh and Milan Vohra described ‘what it takes to write a love story’. But first, they were asked how they would define love. “If you don’t know the definition, just Google it!” said Singh, half in jest.

Vohra believed love is in the line of the Foreigner song (‘I want to know what love is’). “We’re all seeking love, and when we find it, that’s when we know what love is.” But for Singh, the answer to the question is that it means different things to different people – somewhat like a ubiquitous rice-and-lentil dish. “Pyaar khichdi hai!” he summed up.

In the concluding session, ‘Women writing in a man’s world’, Sutapa Basu spoke about how women writers continue to be disadvantaged, whether it is in the advances they receive, the royalties they’re guaranteed, or the space they get in the media.

“It’s the stereotypes in our own heads that hold us back,” offered Kanchana Banerjee. Publisher Dipankar Mukherjee, incidentally the only man on this panel, acknowledged that biases exist but believed gender is becoming a nonissue in the world of literature. “It’s all about where you come from and the experiences you have.”

Asked whether men can write convincingly about women, Manjul Bajaj said the question was a nonstarter. “Leo Tolstoy wrote Anna Karenina, Thomas Hardy wrote about Tess (of the d’Urbervilles) and Munshi Premchand wrote about Nirmala – it’s all about the observational and communication skills that we bring, and the empathy,” she said. Still, Banerjee held out hope that the historical disadvantages burdening women writers will level out with online stores and the parallel social media.

The Times Litfest Delhi, presented by Rajnigandha, is being held on November 30 and December 1, 10am onwards at the India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road. Entry is free. For more details visit www.toi.in/timeslitfestdelhi

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