An on-the-go post to say that another year has gone by and I’m set to leave this afternoon for the Tehelka THiNK Fest in Goa. This time, my dear friend Nupur is my company and it gives us a chance to catch up with each other even as we hear some of the most inspiring personalities from across the world and from various areas of expertise speak (arts, film, politics, feminism, journalism, science and technology, development conflicts are the staple fare of this event). Robert de Niro has been hogging the press, but media biggie Tina Brown, chess champ Gary Kasparov, activist Medha Patkar, and boxer Mary Kom are some of the other well known people I’m looking forward to seeing face to face. Many other names, equally famous, but less known to me are going to be there and it’s a fun time to sit back and listen, ruminate, collect your thoughts and well, think!
Aadyaa calls it the Thinking Festival and was wondering aloud whether those who do not go do not ‘think’ or does it mean that those that go are to do more thinking…. she is still wrapping her head around this, sad to let me go, upset that this is a not-work trip mommy is making, but curious as well! If that’s how you feel too, be assured to get lots of updates on my blog from Goa!
I was struck, the umpteeenth time, by how narrow minded the media is. They didn’t really think at the Thinkfest. They just picked controversial lines and twisted them into captions and entire stories, devoid of sense and context.
Easily one of the most impactful speakers and perhaps the most evolved was Irish rockstar and political activist Bob Geldof. He is best known for his charity supergroup Band Aid that has worked to eradicate poverty in Africa. Band Aid’s Do they know it’s Christmas was inspiration for We are the World, the 1985 hit song writeen by Michael Kackson and Lionel Richie that brought the best in rock and pop together under the banner USA for Africa.
Bob was very very rock-star like with a very British sort of wry humor and his interview was a powerhouse of ideas that could impact the most cynical individuals. He spoke so eloquently about the power of charity, about the right of a father to bring up his children, about deprivation and hard work, of family values and what entails a home. The press only picked his showman’s statement about Goa being the place where he got his drugs from. “My best drugs came from Goa” says Geldof screams The Times of India’s local edition in font size XXXXXL. Goa gave me my best drugs: Bob Geldof, are the headlines of the local paper, the Herald. Of course, Bob was unapologetic about what he said. He is a rockstar and he said these words before he started his rock and roll concert in complete jest, which was smashing for its quality of music as well as his superior showmanship! He also said crazy stuff like, “It feels like I’m playing at a wedding” when the audience pattered put pilot applause instead of hooting and screaming for more! In the end, he rocked the floor!
Typically, of three days and scores of speakers atThink2012, only the Bollywood types and the politicians were covered extensively by the media. They, both these categories of people, had nothing original to say whatsoever. And no one was surprised by that! So little do we expect from them. Reema Kagti was the only from from Bollywood with spark and Praful Patel astonished me (in not a very good way) with his honesty about how iffy politician’s ethics are, but save for these two blips on the radar, the celebs failed to impress. The real stars, the scientists, the social innovators, the out-of-the-box thinkers got sparing column space. Who cares of Steven Cowley is inventing a power source that will take the world out of the absolute misery of fighting for sources of energy? Who cares if one man, David Christian, has the pedagogic recipe called Big History to imbue future generatins with tolerance and inclusive thinking? And who cares if Ian Lipkin might have research that can stop diseases from spreading?
Clearly, these are puny issues. In comparison, SRK’s loneliness and Rishi Kapoor’s barely-there relationship with his father might truly impact the way we navigate our lives!
It’s been hard to explain to friends and relations in Goa (and elsewhere) what exactly the Thinkfest is all about and why I would come all the way to sit for three days through this conference that is not directly related to my work! See, that’s the thing. It’s hard to say what is and what isn’t related to my work. In a sense, everything is inter-related and that is exactly why, at the Thinkfest, you can strike up conversations with people from very different backgrounds and make sense of those! Everyone here is in a mode of looking at the world as a continuum, as a complex arrangement of connected ideas and cultures, as a world in which any two people can find something in common with each other.
Today, after the deluge of lectures and panel discussions that have flooded my mind with information, ideas and controversial conversations has sunk in, I really wonder what is it that I am going back with. Here’s an attempt to synthesize some of the takeaways, for me.
The silos in our heads: They need to be broken every now and then, but they exist for a reason. I find that no matter how broad minded I may be or how radical the thoughts I am exposed to, I continue to look at everything through the social and political lens that is fitted inside my head. That lens was forming when I was a child and was fairly hardened even in my early twenties. It’s darned hard to change it now. For instance, my parents were rather staunch Congress supporters and we have always had a slightly off the centre thinking in our family. Today, I am being forced to deconstruct this in my head. The left off centre is promoting reforms that traditionally seem extremely right, the right is opposing the idea of free markets. In India, being neutral about religion actually just puts you out of the framework, everything is so linked to the religious divides. And to add to matters, living on one side of the class divide and empathizing with the other really leave you nowhere. Yes, that’s me. The one who feels like I belong nowhere and yet want a say, albeit a tiny one, in deciding the future for my country. And so, being in a silo can give you the sort of leverage that no man’s land never will!
The heart and the head: Many talks at Think2012 moved the audience to tears. The adivasi girl Kamla Kaka spoke about police atrocities from a very personal perspective. The police fired at a village meeting that was being held to plan a harvest festival because they misunderstood it as a meeting of Naxals. That wasn’t all. She told us how they treated them, did not return dead bodies for an entire day, threatened them, came back and then killed another man, did not let a women go back to her newborn baby while she was returning from the fields, threatened rape and assault on the women….we had tears rolling down all of us, men included, industrialists and bureaucrats included, but what can we do, how do you make sense of a State that has different rules for difference classes of citizens? Then when I see Baba Ramdev say on TV that the Congress is bought over by big industrialists, I am forced to wonder….
Yes, we do use our head to make sense of things, but our hearts must drive our judgement as well. When tears stream down, you must recognize that injustice has been done. Then make sense of the different voices in the fray.
Indian morality: Think2012 consciously tried to break the mold of middle class Indian morality that is rather on the prudish side. Erica Jong said fuck a million times during her interview, and that somehow diminished the value of what she said for many among the audience. Of course, she says this for effect, but where she comes from and with the life she has led. But somehow, it was ok when Sir Bob Geldof, legendary rockstar and philanthropist, did the same. To be fair, he said fuck only half a million times, but even so, I see a really chauvinistic pattern here.
Sex in itself did not offend the rather elite crowd at Think2012, but a feminist talking about sex did! Being immoral and feminist and female, that was too much for the guys to take. The women mostly loved Erica AND Bob!
I have a lot more to share and everyone will have to bear with my post-THiNK rants for some more days.
Christopher Turner. A session on psychoanalysis for the 21st century. Rather refreshing. Here are a few random thoughts…
When Tarun asks Christopher why a Brit academician turned to investigating matters of sex, Chris actually blushes. Yes, he turns beet red!
When asked is his family disapproved, he says he is glad his family doesn’t read everything he writes!
We all fight our own battles of sexual repression. In every culture, in every time. To me, sexual repression is something we need to take seriously here in India. I live in Gurgaon, Haryana. Yes, that place where all the rapes are happening! Where rape is almost condoned.
Of course I know that rape is a form of releasing anger and exhibiting power; but there is something in the theory that if sex were most accessible, rape would not be that default form of expression it seems to be becoming in parts of the nation where women are right at the bottom of the pecking order!
What is it about sexual liberation that threatens the very core of our culture, here in India? Where the sexual liberation is happening right now in our cities. Children as young as eight are in the know about sex. I doubt the idea of sex would surprise my own son. The other day, I was chatting online with someone who reads my blog often. I don’t know this guy personally, but he pops up now and then to have random conversations with me. But this day, he asked me if I had done it before marriage! I was taken aback, but more amused than shocked. What do you even say to someone who is asking for such personal details? I didn’t think it as intrusive, rather it seemed like he was really struggling with this idea of how to contextualize sex in his life. It’s a struggle many young people from traditional backgrounds need to resolve for themselves.
Chris talks about advertising using the sexual revolution to sell stuff! Well, that’s proof that we are having this revolution in India. Think Axe Deo, car brands, chocoloate, fairness creams, anything and everything uses sex to sell it!
Another thing. Chris says- Intellectuals can’t have good orgasms! I’m wondering about that. Somehow it makes sense. Intellectuals cannot truly enjoy anything. They are so busy analyzing the present, they cannot really experience the now in a spontaneous manner. Same goes for sex perhaps. But maybe they can have an intellectual orgasm with their partners and methinks, that might be doubly pleasurable!
Fawzia Koofi paints a picture of a remarkable aware Afghan society. A society that recognizes the forces of occupation for what they are, that sees terror as its real enemy (and the role of its neighbors in this very sharply) and welcomes the
Allies if they help them fight their war. A society that votes for those they really believe in, a society that knows where it stands and perhaps where it wants to go. I am not sure whether any society, any people can have such a cohesive vision and I am aware that Fawzia’s statement comes from her particular standpoint.
But her optimism and that of Jason Burke is remarkable in the face of the setbacks Afghanistan has seen over the last several decades.
What also strikes me is that global perception is fickle and often partially informed. How can we presume to have opinions on places we know so little about!
Shoma’s comment that the global consumer of media has been trapped in a language expressed by people like Bush and part of the solution is about reframing the problem- that’s bang on!
Koofi is a woman and the Speaker of the Afhgan Parliament, contender for President in the elections to happen soon. Burke is a well known journalist intimately familiar with Afghanistan.
The inaugural session of the 2nd edition of Tehelka’s Thinkfest here in Goa. Tarun Tejpal unleashes his vision for this fest, and also his vision for what India is and should be!
Tarun, via this event, promises to take us across the class divide, class being another segregator in a nation where religion, caste, language, culture and many other differentiators already exist. He lauds India as template for the melting pot the world is certain to become. That is a big promise to keep. It seems to me that whichever way we go, this fest like others will be a case of preaching to the choir. That is not to undermine its importance and its enjoyment!
The noise is growing, Tarun says, commenting in a sense of dismay from the elite, a sense of failure. He says this is alarming only in a narrow sense and Tarun’s statement is reassuring indeed.
So what is the idea of India? “Are we stitched together in the most impossible way and is the stitiching coming apart now?” The founding father dreamt of an India that was not engaged in the pursuit of happiness and wealth, but the ideas of tolerance and compassion. Laudable objectives indeed.
To look at the present as a phase we must go through to rise above and realize India’s true potential is idealistic indeed! Am happy with that, personally. The story will unfold as we watch, live, dream.