Recounting many special moments he spent with Khushwant Singh and sharing various anecdotes, Arun Shourie expressed unhappiness about the current political scenario.
Chandigarh: “Please open your eyes in time, don’t be silent, speak and see about what is happening to India, devise methods to get facts across, forget about joint programmes, be like Arjun, look at one point and be it any election, a student council or state, focus on the present political situation, which is getting so difficult to deal with,” said veteran journalist and economist Arun Shourie during the opening session of Khushwant Singh Literary Festival (KSLF) on Friday.
On the first day of the festival, the theme of which is 70 — celebrating 70 years of Independence, Shourie remembering his close friend Khushwant Singh at the Kasauli Club.
Recounting many special moments he spent with Khushwant Singh and sharing various anecdotes, Shourie expressed unhappiness about the current political scenario. “I have two regrets — supporting V P Singh and Narendra Modi, and Khushwant Singh’s two regrets would have been supporting the Emergency and Sanjay Gandhi. I am disgusted with the present political situation, where the Parliament is irrelevant and talks of development, employment generation, and progress are just in the air,” he said.
He explained how ego has strength, but narcissism does not, for a narcissist is insecure, one who uses power and position to make use of every situation and occasion. “We need to recognise in our politics a sociopath, who is remorseless, never sorry and like Trump, always feeling that one is a victim, for it allows one to victimize everybody else. These people think that everybody is out to get them, there are many traits one needs to be aware of,” said Shourie.
Historian Vijay Thanka, author Pavan Verma and writer Neelima Dalmia were in conversation as a part of a session titled ‘Khushwant Singh’s Insights for Indians @70.’ The three went down memory lane, talking of Khushwant Singh’s writings, his beliefs in India, investment in people, his intolerance of fundamentalism of any kind, religious rituals.
Dalmia reflected how Khushwant Singh lived here and now, “so I don’t know how he would have looked at India
at 70”. Pavan Verma said Khushwant Singh had great faith in India, and the core idea of India, dedicating the festival to the Indian soldier, “his work is so relevant today, he believed India will live and grow, of course, the challenges would remain. He questioned consistently, the need of the hour and was a great communicator. I wish people in power could speak like Khushwant Singh. He was light-hearted in spirit, but noticed all momentous matters and was such an intelligent observer,” he said.
Poet and novelist Vikram Seth’s next book, The Suitable Girl, will be released this year, but he did not want to talk about what the book will bring to the readers, except that he has gone ahead in time from where A Suitable Boy ended, as he did not want to stay still in the 1950s, for that is tedious for me.
“I did not write the sequel for I would have been bored. I was not under any pressure, either of an agent or readers. Characters are the bosses, I do not go by commerce. I rarely go to festivals, for I am so absorbed in my writing, and for me the best prize is readers. For me, if a grandmother, mother and a daughter are reading my book, there is no greater fulfillment,” said Seth, adding verse is instinctive, so is challenging, while prose allows one freedom.
Ask him about the categorisation of literature, and Seth says it may be necessary from the academic point of view, “Left, Right, Centre, writers live in isolation, never associated with groups, hardly recognized, or paid attention to. For instance, they don’t know where to put me on the shelf, am I a poet, novelist, biographer, where do I belong. For me, what’s most important is to get inspiration to write,” Seth looks ahead.
“The People Next Door, The Curious History of India’s relations with Pakistan” by TCA Raghavan with K C Singh as the moderator, was a session that focused on Indo-Pak relations. Raghavan talking about his book and the many years he spent in Pakistan as Deputy High Commissioner and later as High Commissioner, reflected on how he wanted to write about people who made policies on India and Pakistan, with a section dedicated to three Muslims, who opposed the two-nation theory and chose to come to India after Partition. As for the absence of Pakistani authors at this year’s festival, Raghavan observed that when bi-lateral relations are not at their best, it can be a dampener for people to people contacts, cultural and literary exchanges. “There is no policy on these matters, these are ups and downs and things keep changing and next year you may have a presence of many at the festival,” said Raghavan.
He said: “Pakistan policy will always surprise you, for your neighbour is going through so much internal turmoil. There is so much public demoralisation there because of terrorist attacks, and that leads to weakening of links. As for improvement in relationship between the two countries, the reluctance of talks is from Pakistan. The Army there has a mind of its own, they are the guardians of the flame and custodians of the land, and so the answer to this is not so simple, for there are so many factors that work against this.”