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Melting pot of ideas and opinions

- Ray and revolution, music and memories kept abuzz the Kolkata Literary Meet, in association with The Telegraph

Ray’s women

Charulata, Doyamoyee, Mrinmoyee, Durga, Tutul — Satyajit Ray’s women came alive at the After Hours session of Kolkata Literary Meet 2013 on Saturday evening titled Nayikar Bhumikay: Satyajiter Naari Choritro.

Bringing these women to life were the women who had portrayed them on screen — Madhabi Mukhopadhyay, Sharmila Tagore and Aparna Sen. Along with Rituparno Ghosh, they dwelt on what Ray meant to them, how they saw his portraiture of women, and their understanding of the characters they portrayed. A little nostalgia, a bit of analysis and a whole lot of anecdotes kept the audience in the packed Google Dome glued to their seats.

“Apart from Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha, I am the only one who has directed all three of them,” said Rituparno, opening the conversation. Snapshots…

On their relation with Ray Sharmila Tagore: “Ray introduced me to cinema. I have to thank him for that because I didn’t want to be an actor. I was just a schoolgirl. He found me outside a school and changed my life. He introduced me to this wonderful world.… He was my mentor and I am privileged to have known him both professionally and personally.”

Aparna Sen: “It is not just because he introduced me in a film. After working with him for years I developed a deep friendship with him. I was never his heroine, I only did Mrinmoyee in Samapti and then Pikur Diary, the rest were all cameos. I used to joke with him that he used me as a stepney, whenever there was no one else. Even my first script, if he had not seen it and encouraged me I perhaps wouldn’t have had the confidence to make films.”

On Ray the director

Madhabi Mukhopadhyay: “In movies, it was Ray who showed the status of women in society, right from Pather Panchali and Sarbojaya’s struggle for gender equality…. On behalf of all women we have to be thankful to him...”

Women characters in Ray’s films

Aparna Sen: “I remember he had once told me in an interview that maybe because women are not equal to men in physical strength, they are morally much stronger than men. We have to see people in the context of their time and that came through in his work. He has always given great respect to women in his films. Even in Charulata, he gives the character a lot of respect and sympathy but because during that time such relations did not have any way of being accepted, he did not give it that legitimacy.”

Sharmila Tagore: “He always treated his women characters with dignity.”

Her revolution

The Arab Spring restored the belief that revolutions could and did happen in the 21st century. Ahdaf Soueif, the Egyptian novelist and The Guardian columnist, “not just acted the revolution (in Egypt that toppled Hosni Mubarak) but also wrote it” in her Cairo: My City, Our Revolution. In a chat with publisher Ritu Menon at KLM on Day Three, Soueif recounted “those heady 18 days from January 25 to February 8” in Cairo.

“About 18 years ago, I signed a contract with Bloomsbury to write a book on Cairo that was supposed to be a personal account. It would have turned out like an elegy and I didn’t want it like that,” said Sadaf.

She was at the Jaipur Literary Festival on February 25, 2011 when she started receiving “about a million messages” on what was happening in Cairo. “I flew out immediately and was in Cairo on the January 27 and 28, taking part in the uprising. I got a call from Alexander Pringle, my publisher and friend, who told me it was time to honour that contract. It was difficult because I wanted to be out on the streets and not just sit at home writing. But it was a responsibility I couldn’t shirk because we all had that sense of feeling that we were a tiny part of a big organic unit and as a tiny part to write about an enormous thing that we were engaged in was quite daunting… but I am glad I did it.”

So Sadaf wrote the book reporting what it felt like day-by-day.

A suitable author

David Davidar has known life from both sides of the book — as a writer and a publisher — and so who better for tips on how to juggle the two halves? The Aleph Book Company’s co-founder chatted with author Nilanjana S. Roy at the Adda Zone on Day Four.

“You can’t teach editing. You can learn to be an editor only through reading a lot. If you haven’t read enough then you might not understand what the author is trying to do,” said Davidar.

So what has been the biggest challenge for Davidar the publisher? Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. “Vikram had already become a superstar then, being a highly-paid author in the UK, and it was his first major book being edited in India. But in the process of editing, even though he lost about 100 pages, he said it was absolutely fine with him.”

And what makes a suitable author in publisher Davidar’s book? “The litmus test for me as a publisher is if I believe in the writer. But believe me, every author is attractive but also terrifying to me in a certain way.”

The music never died

What was set up as a lament on how Calcutta had “lost its groove” soon turned out to be a reassuring adda on how Calcutta “still, really has it”. And where else but at Trincas, the epicentre of the rock ’n’ roll nights on the Park Street of yesterday.

The talking point? How Calcutta Lost It’s Groove And How Kolkata Can Get It Back. The lyricists? Writer and columnist Jug Suraiya and wife Bunny Suraiya, who’s also the author of Calcutta Exile. The music makers? Usha Uthup and Nondon Bagchi.

The Suraiyas talked about Calcutta and how it still “pulls” even though they no longer live here. Nondon pointed out if the city didn’t have “something” to offer, its memories would have been “thrown over the shoulder like a used pack of cigarettes”. That the city matters, proves that there is a lot to hold on to.

The loudest affirmation of the Calcutta spirit came from Usha Uthup, of course. “The music never really died,” she stressed. Jug’s response: “Maybe it was us who had become a little deaf.”

Moderately yours

“In politics and religion, a moderate is an individual who is not extreme, partisan or radical.”

Wikipedia outlines the above definition but, the question is, who is this moderate? It was left to Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aata Hai-maker Saeed Akhtar Mirza and South African journalist-author Azad Essa to explore the definitions at the session The Moderate Writes Back, steered by Pritha Kejriwal of Kindle Magazine, on Friday.

Talking about extremists, Mirza pointed out if bombing of World Trade Center was an act of terrorism, then what about the invasion of Iran, Afghanistan, the drone strikes? Essa’s recent essay on the French ban of burqas also came into the spotlight.

Salman Rushdie couldn’t be quite kept out of the session too, as Mirza commented, “Right now he is the flavour of the season.”

The high point however was when Ali Sethi joined in, having declined to talk on the topic, to rather sing a verse from Faiz Ahmad Faiz’s poetry to loud applause.