Bedi's spitting and pissing joke

"What a great LitFest it was! Fabulous conversations with innovative thinkers. Informative panel discussions from politics to paparazzi to press freedoms," said actor Kabir Bedi, whose advent into the Khushwant Singh Lit Fest had started with a stumble, when he was refused entry into the historic Kasauli Club, the festival's venue, for wearing a kurta-collared shirt.

"But, reminded by Parveen to be grateful to the Army for providing the LitFest venue, I changed without a whimper," he said, referring to his partner Parveen Dusanj's sagacity. Bedi had been part of the programme that we had participated in, along with author Fahad Samar, on 'Media Mayhem and Paparazzi.'

Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rahul Singh and Bhaichand Patel with other attendees at the festival
Mani Shankar Aiyar, Rahul Singh and Bhaichand Patel with other attendees at the festival

But hands down, the actor's finest moment was when he had risen to the occasion during an electrifying, and rather heated, discussion on Kashmir between Farooq Abdullah and former chief of RAW AS Dulat, when the microphones had failed due to a sudden power outage.

Artist Jatin Das sketches Rahul Singh. Pics/Sonu Bhasin
Artist Jatin Das sketches Rahul Singh. Pics/Sonu Bhasin

Tempers mounted as the audience realised that it was being deprived of some absolutely priceless, confidential revelations — it was at this moment that Bedi had stepped forward and, using the twin advantages of his height and famous baritone, had proceeded to narrate a naughty joke about the relations between Indians and Pakistanis.

Kabir Bedi
Kabir Bedi

It involved pissing into each other's soft drinks and spitting into each other's shoes. So politically incorrect and refreshing was his timely intervention, that it had resulted in much relief and appreciative applause.

Former Pak Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri with friends
Former Pak Foreign Minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri with friends

Incidentally, seated in the front row, was former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, who we noticed had laughed the loudest. Bedi, who has hitherto been known for a rather ponderous persona, appears to have recently discovered his funny bone.

Over a splendid lunch of Biryani and bloody Marys at Sheila and Bunty Pasricha's beautiful home overlooking the Himalayan ranges, the actor had confided, that besides his role in the forthcoming Hrithik-starrer Mohenjedaro, amongst others, he will be donning the directorial hat for the first time with a 'raucous comedy in English and Hindi' next year. Who woulda' thunk?

Mid-discussion tipple?
If there was a star at the KSLF, let it be known that it was Om Puri. Expansive, garrulous, delightfully politically incorrect, and perhaps not too far from a quick tipple, one of India's most renowned actors was in his element, taking the somewhat earnest discussion on Bhisham Sahni's award-winning Tamas on a wholly different tangent.

Om Puri with an attendee
Om Puri with an attendee

From teasing a resigned Govind Nihalani for his celebrated penny-pinching ways (a result of his Sindhi genes, according to Puri), to describing his wife's flirtation with Khushwant as 'frisky', to demonstrating — with full action of flailing arms — the rotation of a sugar cane juice machine to describe how Nihalani got the best out of his actors, Puri had the audience in splits.

Was his loquaciousness fuelled by spirits of another kind, was the widely commented-on subject of the LitFest. Who knows? All that is known is that the actor excused himself mid-sentence from the onstage discussion at least once, and that the well-stocked Club Bar was located immediately adjacent to the venue of the discussion.

Holding her handbag
Her appearance at the LitFest was a much-anticipated affair, given how Pakistani journalist Mehr Tarar had captured the imagination of the Indian public with her unfortunate role in the fallout of the Tharoor marriage.

Farooq Abdullah with other attendees
Farooq Abdullah with other attendees

But it was a moment of great pride for Indian hospitality and fair-mindedness, that during the release of her book Leaves from Lahore, when her interlocutor began to zero in on the one question that appeared to be on everyone's mind, regarding her relationship with a certain Mr Tharoor, members of the audience stood up for the poor woman and demanded a cessation of questions of a personal nature.

Mehr Tarar
Mehr Tarar

This heightened curiosity about Tarar's relationship with the beleaguered Congressman obviously cuts across all levels. We distinctly heard no less a personage than Farooq Abdullah, seated in the front row, who only a few seconds before had been exchanging sweet nothings with Tarar, and who she'd appointed with the task of holding onto her red handbag (it quite became him) during her session, egging the moderator in a loud off-stage whisper, "Ask her to clarify once and for all if she's had an affair with Shashi Tharoor!"

You Sunny, Me Dharam
According to Avirook Sen, author of the highly acclaimed novel, Aarushi, one of the high points of the LitFest was the curiously titled topic, 'Kids in the time of the Kardashians,' featuring amongst others, author Shunali Shroff, social commentator Santosh Desai and actor Ranvir Shorey.

Ranvir Shorey featured in a discussion
Ranvir Shorey featured in a discussion

To hear Shorey narrate how one of his imaginative approaches to parenting was having his four-year-old son act like Sunny Deol, while he took on the role of Dharmendra, was an insight that more than made up for the offbeat inclusion of the topic, which was further compounded by the fact that JD Ghai of Santa Banta fame had been chosen as moderator!

Peerlessly Pucca Kasauli
You can call it the chronicle of a disaster foretold, but in his packed-to-the-rafters session for the release of his book Neither a Hawk or a Dove on Sunday afternoon, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri had concluded by saying that he would be flying to Mumbai soon after, even against the advice of many who feared for his safety.

Who would have imagined that his visit would have resulted in such a dastardly act of hooliganism? How different from the civilized and gentlemanly reception that he and the other Pakistani delegates had received in Kasauli. But then, civilized and gentlemanly behaviour is what one has come to expect from the Khushwant Singh Lit Fest, held in the peerlessly pucca environs of that jewel of the northern hill stations — Kasauli.

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