Punjabi by nature: Case of the added ‘I’ in Jaipur Literary Festival

From, to Rushdie or not to Rushdie, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has meandered to Vedanta or not to Vedanta.
Ruskin Bond at the Jaipur Lit Fest, 2016, in Jaipur.(HT Photo)
Ruskin Bond at the Jaipur Lit Fest, 2016, in Jaipur.(HT Photo)
Updated on May 29, 2016 10:55 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByKhushwant Singh, Chandigarh

From, to Rushdie or not to Rushdie, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has meandered to Vedanta or not to Vedanta. I’d rather use the word plummeted, because if the Rushdie debate was a winner all the way, the Vedanta sponsorship controversy for its London event might not look all that handsome on JILF’s resume. The answer to this is easy since the latest disagreement has its roots in ethics versus Rushdie’s freedom of expression slant.

Without attempting to over-intellectualise the issue, the reason for jumping into the debate is because it reminded me of my college days in Chandigarh when I had joined a student organisation AIESEC, which derived its strength from an international student exchange programme. All of 19, my distinct memory of AIESEC is a heated discussion about whether to raise traineeships and funds from corporate houses which had been red flagged for environmental concerns. Mind you, we are talking about the year 1990 when environment was hardly an issue to die for even for governments, leave aside brash teenagers like me.

I was in favour of going ahead with the traineeships, my view being almost on the same lines as the JLF officials that the company’s own problems didn’t influence our core. ‘Chak de, dekhi jaoo’ was my Punjabi by nature attitude because not only were we under pressure to raise traineeships but ironically needed funds to carry out our activities of bringing awareness about the environment.

Fast forward to 2002, I decided to join journalism along with being a farmer, at Hoshiarpur. It is here that I faced the perils that one of the companies in question during the AIESEC debate, had caused. Its waste fluid had slowly turned the surrounding villages into a living hell with people pleading for help. That my conscience was pricked is a given thing, but the spectacle taught me a lifelong lesson - of never trying to justify issues without an informed opinion. That awareness without the touch, feel, and the smell factor is of no relevance since the material need will always overrule the conscience if such a debate were to occur.

Now, whether JLF organisers took an informed opinion is the question, because if what Vedanta is accused of is true then there is a bit of a problem. This sponsorship would have indeed gone unnoticed if it was in the oomph space since mind hardly has a role to play on the ramp. For it to have been overlooked at a literary event is an illusion, where mercifully there remains some semblance of mind over the body. How long it lasts, time will tell because JLF is maybe unknowingly drifting from its original charter and dwarfing itself into an event management company. It just may have steered itself to a split personality condition, a part of it bringing a constructive narrative, the other countering it. Its growing popularity, the requirement of funds, ambition to grow bigger and international could have altered its power to reason. Would the organisers have accepted the same sponsorship a few years ago?

For all you know the South Bank, London JLF might have given Vedanta the bit of salvation it was seeking by associating with the literary world. Inadvertently, of course!

I know I might have just kicked my seat on JLF’s stage, but JLF cannot always be right. There can be a left turn too. To have left the sponsorship would have upped the ante against environmental degradation by corporates. If the answer is no, then perhaps my opinion is uninformed.

(Email the writer at singhkhushwant@hotmail.com)

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