Authors may be the biggest stars at a literary festival, but the Dalai Lama outshone them all when it came to drawing crowds.
People jostled for space at the packed Diggi Palace venue, trying to catch a glimpse of the Tibetan spiritual leader, in conversation with travel writer and novelist, Pico Iyer.
In a conversation peppered with his customary chuckles, the Dalai Lama talked about his boyhood, modern science and the need for ‘secular’ ethics.
When Iyer quizzed him about his most recent book Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World, His Holiness joked, “The title was not my recommendation.”
Explaining the meaning of ‘secular ethics’ to a rapt audience, he said, “All religions have moral ethics. But in order to develop these ethics, you don’t necessarily have to be religious.”
Talking about his interest in modern science and his discussions with scientists, he said, “People warned me, be careful, science is a killer of religious faith. But I thought and thought and I remembered that Buddha had asked his followers not to accept his teachings through faith and devotion, but after thorough investigation.”
He also made several references to Nalanda scholars, saying that when it came to Buddhist ideas, India was the guru, while they were its chelas.
“We have been reliable, faithful chelas. In the last few centuries, while the guru’s knowledge has gone up and down, we have kept it intact,” he added.
Calling upon India’s young generation to pay attention to its rich traditions, he praised the philosophies of ahimsa and harmony.
“I always refer to India as a great example of a place where people from different religions live together. Apart from home-grown traditions, religions and people from outside have also found place here.”
Nor did the Tibetan leader stick only to spiritual matters, talking of the increasing gap between rich and poor, calling corruption “the cancer of this world” and underscoring the need to protect women against crimes.
In response to a question on China, he was diplomatic. “A genuine feeling of Hindi-Chini bhai bhai between the two countries on the basis of mutual trust is essential.”
A helluva session
Journalist-novelist Zoe Heller’s characteristic wit was on display when asked about her reaction to her nomination for the ‘Best Hatchet Job of the Year’ for her review of Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton. Heller’s answer? “Well, I hope to write a favourable piece and be awarded the suck-up of the year.”
Once upon a time
Neelesh Misra Ka Yaad Sheher, a compilation of radio stories by writer Neelesh Misra, was launched at the fest. He serenaded the audience in between narrating the story of life in an imaginary town when children used to watch ‘Chitrahaar’ rather than Facebooking.
Man Booker finalists
Kannada writer UR Ananthamurthy was among 10 writers in the final list of The Man Booker International Prize 2013. A Swiss writer was included in the list for the first time.
Case of the missing Hanif
Where is Mohammed Hanif (A Case of Exploding Mangoes) ? Known for his wit, it is believed that the Pakistani writer was not comfortable travelling to India given the recent Indo-Pak tensions.