>> Every lit fest needs a good slugfest, and so if Dharker’s LitLive! had its Karnad-Naipaul scrap then surely the incendiary afternoon session between a scowling Javed Akhtar and an ‘attempting to seem above it all but obviously rattled’ Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev is Thinkfest’s great arm wrestle. From the start, the exquisitely robed Guru as exotic as a precious artifact from a handicraft museum is no match for the street-fighting Javed. The topic of the day is ‘Five Star Fixes: Ancient Technologies for the Modern Mind’ but what it comes down to is that primeval battle between faith and rationality.
“Spirituality is the debris of religion,” is an example of Akhtar’s fighting words, but these are not the only weapons in his arsenal: he employs his scowl, his hunched, adren-alin–charged body, his famous lisp and above all the excellent unmatched timing of his dialogue delivery to win his case. The Swami who we have known for many years and like begins to sound hollow even to our own ears.
“If you depend on your five senses alone you will be deceived,” he says in a spiritual kinda’ way that we have seen to send shivers down the spines of his devotees. “Harumph! Hogwash!,” says Akhtar’s expression as he delivers yet another salvo. “These spiritualists — they want us to give up listening to our own mind — while all the time asking us to listen to theirs!” The audience is loving this unexpected mara-mari and applauding wildly as if they are at a boxing match cheering their own champs on. Moderator Shoma Choudhury, one of the finest we have seen also seems to wither under the pressure of these two alpha males and their fan followings. At the end of the session I happen to run in to a fuming Akhtar leaving the hall. “They gave him more time!” he says. “That’s unfair!” The verdict in the ladies room? Though Akhtar won the battle, the Swami has won the war. “Notice how they left the stage,” says the beautiful Delhi-based theatre veteran Lushan Dubey. “Javed sahib stormed off in a huff while the Swami didn’t show that he’d been so affected. He did namaste to the audience and the organisers.” Ahhh.. the inferences of an alert audience!
The female factor
>> At the festival’s end I stumble on another truth universally known: most of India’s cultural-lit–spiritual–self-help jamborees are about women. Meaning what? Meaning that organisers know that it’s women who throng to these events (accompanied by a few new-age males who are desperately seeking to connect with their female side.) At the Jaipur litfest, the women outnumber the men almost two to one: young women, hoping to unleash the Arundhati in themselves, old women happy to discover their creative passions, fun women who love a party, lonely women seeking friends and lovers, ambitious women looking for the next opportunity, wounded women searching for healing... So here’s a thought: why not do away with the various silos these fests have been carved into the spiritual camps, art summits, reiki revivals, Sufi concerts, book fests, design dos, lit lie ins etc and dissolve them in to The One Big Woman Fest? Think of how much you’ll save on airfare and wardrobe costs alone!
An audience of our times
>> And yet, it’s an inscrutable audience. They applaud Shashi Ruia’s admiration for Ayn Rand’s execrable manipulative capitalist pulp tome Atlas Shrugged, they giggle mischievously as Vasundhara Raje rolls her eyeballs at the mention of Mamata Banerjee’s name.
They wander looking for coffee while earnest development types unroll their agendas. This is an unpredictable, attention deficit, quick to respond audience with an enigmatic ideological bias. A reflection of the times we are in?
Shah Rukh’s Hamlet moment
>> Whereas it is a truth universally acknowledged that a man who expresses vulnerability is assured of a female fan following, what is the acceptable level of this vulnerability before it degenerates into the maudlin? We ask this because while Geldof’s touchy-feely speech about his personal crisis has won him many fans, Shah Rukh Khan’s Sunday confessional appears to have disturbed his own.
“He definitely seems to be going through an emotional crisis,” one attractive media memsahib says to us. “Arrey, he’s been like this from the beginning,” says another femme fatale. “Chha!” What has brought on this collective concern and unease has been SRK’s reading from his autobiography, a deeply introspective, brutally honest collection of his thoughts.
Having known the great man for long, we also know that being the consummate showman that he is, even while he wears his heart on his sleeve, the performer in him is never far away. We try and share this insight with his concerned female admirers before they drown in a vast puddle of estrogen, white wine and maternal tears.
Flash them your dimpled Superstar smile SRK. Or do them a Chhaya-Chhaya!
With thinking caps on
>> A word about the crowd at the Thinkfest: industrialists like Raj and Dipti Salgaoncar, Shashi Ravi and Madhu Ruia, Rajan Mittal, Rajiv Chandrashekhar, media mavens like Dilip Cherian, Madhu Trehan, Raveena Raj Kohli, Jahangir Pocha; stars like Rishi, Kareena, Ranbir Kapoor, Shah Rukh Khan and Rahul Bose; culture czarinas like Bim Bissell, Saryu Doshi, Anita Lal, Sunita Kohli and Mala Singh and a fine sampling of India’s beautiful people: Bina Ramani, Feroze Gujral, Sabena and Anil Chopra, AD and Sabena Singh, amongst others.
This is Davos for the desis. Every one is wearing their I’m seeking the right answers look’ notepads in hand and their thinking caps on, which in the case of the ladies translates into virtual gardens of flowers in their hair. As for the clothes: bring on third world chic!
FabIndia meets Bombay Electric: harem pants, sandals, carefully crumpled linen shirts. For India’s festival going crowd it’s always a case of have cotton — will travel!