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>> We are in Goa attending Thinkfest 2012, Tarun Tejpal’s festival of thinkers, speakers, schmoozers, seekers and drinkers. It is our second time here so we must resist the urge to succumb to the fatuous ‘legacy-snobbery’ that prompts the ‘it isn’t as good as last year’s’ syndrome.’ But you know what? It isn’t as good as last year’s!’ For starters having being disconnected from the Tina Brown mothership of Newsweek and the Daily Beast the festival appears to lack the big name international glam of 2011. This year’s agenda appears to be more local, the concerns grassroots and the narrative neighbourhood.

The delicious irony that all this is unfolding in a five-star hotel allegedly built by a developer supposedly on the wrong side of the law is not lost on any one. If at all it gives the festival a bit of frisson.

Tarun Tejpal

Come: rub shoulders and opinions with displaced farmers who have the sweat of their last agitation fresh on their brow and the fat cat industrialists who’ve displaced them. Bring to me your crooks and conscience keepers, your alpha males and flower children, your double espressos and your green tea drinkers, your grande dames and your corporate networkers — let’s talk. We can do the thinking later.

Of Anna and SRK
>> Other sessions and speakers do carry the same intelligent wit.

Shah Rukh Khan and Anna Hazare

There is the sparkling repartee between Javed Akhtar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev on the debate between faith and rationality that deserves a column of its own, violinist Sunita Bhuyan’s jugalbandi of raags and concertos and even great class debates between the landless and the landed the development wallahs and those who pay the price for this development. And finally riveting sessions with Shah Rukh and Anna Hazare. But of that tomorrow.

A bit of metaphorical bra burning
>> Due to a delayed flight we missed the Erica Jong talk, but when we reached the venue there is Erica — stardust still hanging in the air as lots of women are channelling their inner Jong over canapés. We do not know exactly what Ms Jong has been saying to this genteel middle-aged crowd but expressions of sexual revolt and experimentation and open marriage are rife in the air.

Erica Jong

Forsooth there would be a bra burning here, we think, if the assembled women hadn’t passed the age when bras are not an option but a necessity. Luckily for all and in spite of the insidious feminism from the festival’s podium, every one hangs on to their bra-straps. The sagging takes place on stage meanwhile.

Dinner on her mind?
>> Liked the session between NDTV’s Vishnu Som and the delectable Vasundhara Raje who he introduced as ‘one of the most incredible women’. Asked a pretty innocuous question on the BJP losing out its anti-corruption plank to the IAC, Raje all flashing eyes and diamond nose stud decides to channel her inner Jong and pander to the mostly female audience with some vague platitudes from a ’60s feminist handbook about ‘making it on my own’ and ‘it wasn’t easy but I did it’ etc while an overwhelmed Som tries to bring her back to the topic at hand, which if any one cares is ‘the idea that drives me to reinvent politics in India’.

Vasundhara Raje

But clearly more important things like dinner (or lunch) were on the former Rajasthan CM’s mind. “It’s a dinner club,” she says, her almond eyes narrowing darkly as she hints vaguely to what appears to be a male plot against women like her. Dinner comes up many times again. “We have to bring them to the table,” she says vaguely referring to her unwashed electorate. And once again when referring to inclusivity: “If we want them to sit at the table…” Som, meanwhile, seems starstruck or comatose. He lets pass the allegations of corruption, of the BJP’s exclusion of minorities from its development plans or even his starting question of losing the anti-corruption plank to the IAC as Ms Raje carries on a dinner party conversation about the state of affairs. But to be fair to Ms Raje she had started her session by saying, “I am very narrow in my thinking.”

Give us a bob then
>> What a relief to then have Bob Geldof on stage with Tarun. Yes that Sir Bob. The do they know its Christmas, we are the world, band aid, live aid, pro-nuclear, anti euro, single fatherhood championing Sir Bob, who we have heard sing the evening before on the hotel lawns with his band. Thank God for Sir Bob.

Bob Geldof

And Tarun’s first class approach of allowing this witty, urbane compassionate man to speak uninterrupted. Bob tells us of his days of poverty and shame as a boy in Ireland, his youthful identification with societal losers and dregs, his moment of inspiration as he watched the victims of an African famine on a BBC documentary and his transformation into one of the modern day world’s most potent symbols of empathy even as he speaks with brutal honesty of his personal and domestic traumas and suicidal thoughts. But through it all there is humour and wit and not taking oneself too seriously. When gently teased by Tarun about his words being mistaken for passages from the Bible — he responds with a sly dig at himself and his preoccupations. “Yes, of course, as we all know Christ said a lot about the Euro.” And when Tarun informs the audience that his interviewee has been voted as one of the 100 most respected world leaders or some such thing-Bob in a delightful aside of self-mockery says, “Not in the five most?” 

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