“I am a writer but I am also a citizen,” said writer and activist Githa Hariharan, delivering the 40th annual GR Bhatkal memorial lecture at the Hindustan Times Kala Ghoda Arts Festival on Thursday.
The talk was titled Narrating Diversity, Living Diversity, and in it Hariharan spoke of how growing up in Bombay was a way of living diversity when she was a child.
“We shifted from Matunga to Napean Sea Road, which isn’t much of a distance, but I was introduced to a
whole new world altogether, and languages such as Gujarati, Marathi
and a hybrid of Tamil and Malayalam. This hybridity or ‘impurity’ was a
way of understanding myself,” she said.
She proceeded to engage her audience with anecdotes from the lives of Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto, writer-activist Mahasweta Devi, Tamil Christian Dalit writer Bama Faustina Soosairaj, and Rohith Vemula’s poet friend, Huchangi Prasad, a Dalit whose mother is a devadasi.
She spoke of how Prasad was beaten in his hostel last year, after publishing his experiences in a work titled The Fire Within.
“They threatened to break his fingers if he wrote about caste,” she said. “But while delivering a lecture last month, he proclaimed that despite the threat he would never stop insisting he be heard.”
From the Dadri lynching to the returns of national awards, Hariharan also spoke of efforts by writers and
artists to come together to assert diversity.
“I like how her work of non-fiction, Almost Home, is filled with facts you didn’t know. This was true of her lecture too,” said college student Sreepoorna Majumdar, 21. “I am inspired by how she spoke of writing as an act of resistance.”
Added TISS professor Sameera Khan: “We should have more such lectures on contemporary politics in Mumbai. Here I am more than happy that, at the end of her lecture, I have a reading list of works written in various languages.”