Khushwant Singh Literary Festival: Storytelling versus politics

  • Oindrila Mukherjee, Hindustan Times, Kasauli
  • Updated: Oct 12, 2014 10:53 IST

Under the bright and scorching Kasauli sun, there was an excited buzz among the audience as Salman Khurshid, former minister for external affairs, and interlocutor Suhel Seth took to the stage for the first session of day two titled ‘At Home in India: A Muslim Saga’. It could not have been a more engaging start to the day as the audience was treated to Seth’s well-known wit and straightforward manner and the Congressman’s suave and seasoned response to the questions being thrown at him.

Khurshid gave the audience a little insight into his take on the Kashmir issue as he said, “The Hurriyat does have the kind of people who don’t want Kashmir to become normal. Kashmir for us is part of an idea, a definition of India. If we start redefining the very idea of India, it would create more problems than there already are.” However, in complete contrast to the political bent of the session, Seth garnered some laughs from the audience as he advised the women to procure some suntan and anti-fainting tablets for the next few sessions.

Art of writing short story

Jumping onto the festival’s theme, storytelling, Shobhaa De and Githa Hariharan spoke about the art of writing the short story. In this session, the short story was dissected in the context of India with special focus on narrative, geography, culture and mythology. Talking about teaching the craft, Githa said, “The most useful thing would be to read; creative reading as opposed to creative writing. While Shobhaa said, “Talent has a way of hitting the eyeballs. While the craft can be developed, the idea for any story is simply intuitive.”

The writers talked about the finer details of the short story with special focus on the compression of time and space, and creating an impact within a limited scope. For Shobhaa De, who launched her latest short-story collection ‘Small Betrayals’ with Suhel Seth, writing short stories is like a stress-buster. The book will be available in the market in two weeks.

On to World War I

As the venue shifted indoors, Capt Amarinder Singh narrated stories of bravery in the face of adversity shown by Indian troops in the First World War. Brig Brian McCall from the British High Commission at New Delhi talked about the commemorative programmes started in Western Europe for the First World War. “The United Kingdom has started a four-year commemorative programme to honour the forgotten legion and a very important part of Indian military history,” said Brig McCall.

This was followed by a session on the drug menace in Punjab titled ‘What hit this land of plenty: The war on addiction’ by Dr AK Banerjee and former Punjab director general of police Shashi Kant.

People’s Maharaja

The morning half ended with Capt Amarinder Singh talking about his new biography titled ‘The People’s Maharaja’ and the situation during and after Operation Bluestar. He fondly recounted his days in the army and regretted leaving the forces so soon after he joined. The man, who had resigned from Parliament and the Congress as a mark of protest against the army action during Operation Bluestar, was asked what he would suggest as a better career choice for the youth today -- the armed forces or politics. His reply was, “If any youngster wants my advice, I would tell them to choose the armed forces any day over politics.”

He ended the session by talking about being the ‘People’s Maharaja’ and how people expected performance and accessibility, which increased the affection and support among people he was serving.

Surprisingly, Salman Khurshid presented a perfect picture sitting amidst a group of schoolchildren, talking and interacting with them, with not a care in the world. As the audience broke for lunch, Rajdeep Sardesai, erstwhile IBN18 Network editor-in-chief, was spotted among the colourful turbans and glitzy shawls, promising another half of exciting discourse on literature and much ‘festive’ storytelling.

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