On what was a bright sunny afternoon with a mild chill in the air at the Lake Club, author Mahesh Rao and civil rights activist Teesta Setalvad spoke at a session at the Literati 2015 that is organised by the Chandigarh Literary Society.
The session was titled ‘On the inside looking out’ and was moderated by author Anupam Srivastava. The three of them spoke of the insidious implications of caste, how society’s perception towards literature has changed, values of the Indian democracy and state restrictions.
Author Mahesh Rao, who has lived in Kenya and UK for most of his life, decided to move to Mysore, India, six years ago to write a book. Rao recounts his experience of using satire in his writing. Instead of understanding his attempt at perfecting the genre, his readers ended up accepting his words to be true.
“I exaggerated in my writing with the intent of shaming individuals, government and society. However, it seemed like readers didn’t have much trouble assuming it to be true.” Over time society has evolved to not be able to enjoy or experience literary genres as originally intended. It isn’t as surreal anymore to accept the ludicrous acts of the government.
Rao also spoke about the growing intolerance in today’s India. “I have lived outside India all my life. However, when I came to live in Mysore, I was barely treated as an outsider. My caste and financial background helped me to get along with the upper classes in India,” said Rao. On the other hand, there are many originally from India who have to reaffirm their ‘Indianess’ continuously, case in point could be citizens from the north eastern parts of our country, he added.
Teesta Setalvad, who recently launched her book called ‘Beyond Doubt: A Dossier on Gandhi’s Assassination’, said, “Gandhi who derived his morals from religion wanted a state that was a-religious.” In a stirring and capturing session at the fest, Setalvad was asked by Anupam Srivastava on what happens when truth and power collides. To this, she said, “Power often wants to conceal the truth. Even now we don’t have access to cabinet decisions following the assassination of Gandhi.” In her pursuit of truth in the book and otherwise, she said, “The path isn’t easy, it’s often lonely and fractious.”
By reiterating quotes by Gandhi, Setalvad tries to reinforce ideas which were intended to stick with 1947 India.