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Lit meet to host Nobel duo

On June 15, 1912, a young man was entrusted with an “important” briefcase while he and his family travelled on the London Tube. But so mesmerised was he with the grand underground railway system that he forgot his precious charge on the train. A day later, sick with worry, the young man ran from pillar to post, unable to fathom how to get it back. His father suggested he go to the “lost and found” section of the London Underground.

The young man raced to the office and as luck would have it, the briefcase was found. That young man was Rathindranath Tagore and the briefcase contained the English manuscript of his father Rabindranath Tagore’s Gitanjali, which the poet had brought to London so that W.B. Yeats could write a foreword to it. The foreword was written, the book published and a year later, Tagore became the first Asian to win a Nobel Prize for Literature.

The coming year marks 100 years of Tagore’s Nobel and to celebrate that momentous turn in our literary history, Calcutta Literary Meet has invited the two Bengali Nobel laureates after Tagore to be a part of its second edition — Amartya Sen and Muhammad Yunus.

The lit meet, to be held in association with The Telegraph from January 30 to February 3 at the 37th International Calcutta Book Fair, will have Sen in conversation with another Tagore — Sharmila — as they discuss India’s culture, from within and without, on the closing day. Sen won the Nobel in economics in 1998 for his contributions to welfare economics and social choice theory.

A day before that, on February 2, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh will speak on West Bengal and Bangladesh, charting their course from a golden past and his prescriptions for a golden future. Yunus was awarded the Nobel for peace in 2006 for his work in developing micro-credit and micro-finance.

“We are, of course, very excited. Ever since we started ideating for 2013, 100 years of Tagore’s Nobel was one of the primary thoughts,” said Malavika Banerjee of Gameplan, the organisers of Calcutta Literary Meet. “Getting the dates was the biggest challenge. Amartya Sen has to be in Harvard because term starts on January 28 and Muhammad Yunus is involved with the World Economic Forum. But they both made time for the lit meet the moment they learnt that it was to be held at the famous Calcutta Book Fair.”

Malavika hopes the two sessions at the lit meet would be the start of a yearlong celebration of Tagore’s Nobel win. “We hope to have many sessions through the year. We also want to invite other recipients of the Nobel Prize for literature and hold the closing ceremony of the centenary celebrations with them,” she added.

Speaking of centenaries, 2013 also marks 100 years of Indian cinema and the literary meet has much in store on that count too. A rare session will be the authors of two books from which Oscar-winning films were made. The authors will speak about the effects of the golden statuette on their book.

Titled ‘Ark to List, Q&A to Slumdog: Does an Oscar catapult a book or overshadow it?’ the session will have Thomas Keneally, whose Schlinder’s Ark was made into Schlinder’s List by Steven Spielberg and Vikas Swarup, whose Q&A became Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire.

Other sessions to watch out for in the cinema section is one on Satyajit Ray and another on Devdas down the ages. “We are in touch with Soumitra Chatterjee and Shah Rukh Khan to do a session that traces the depiction of this literary figure,” said Malavika.

And as we celebrate 100 years of the Nobel in 2013, the place where the manuscript was lost and found — the London Tube — will also be celebrating a milestone, its 150th year.