Monday, January 30, 2023

At the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2023

Day 1 - January 27, 2023

It is the 13th edition of the HLF and it has grown every year despite the many issues it faces in terms of finding space, finances and other stuff that organising such events entail. But it chugs on and well and this year it seems to have somehow acquired its own distinct flavour too, a certain velocity that seems to have moved it from a wannabe to one that has found its place.

I am doing some work this time - as a moderator for a session on 'Women in Sports' which has two debut authors Aayush Puthran, who works for Cricbuzz and wrote this fine book called 'Unveiling Jazbaa - A History of Pakistan's Women's cricket' and Madhavi Latha Prathigudupu, a paralympic champion and sports administrator for swimming and wheelchair basketball for the disabled, who wrote her life story 'Swimming Against the Tide'. I know Madhavi - I met her earlier when she launched Wheelchair Basketball in Hyderabad and I reviewed Aayush's book for the Deccan Chronicle. So should be comfortable for all concerned.

The venue Vidyaranya High School is strangely good despite its lack of parking facility, (generally space), but it more than makes up with its character, its setting at the foot of Birla Mandir, the trees, the hustle and the location which is central. The lack of space makes the entire activity seem more energetic. If only they had sitting space at the food court - ah, that would be perfect.

Lots of interesting stuff I noticed, as I looked at the schedule online, none more interesting than finding Deepti Naval on the list. (I just finished watching 'Saath Saath' a week ago!) She is in conversation with friend Sathya Saran on Day 1 and she's reading poetry on day 2 with Jerry Pinto. I bought a copy of her book and got it signed and I am hoping it will not shatter my illusions - we all tend to think of her as the 'Chamko' girl or as one of the many characters she played which are so endearing and non-threatening that we somehow feel she should only be like that and nothing else.

My plan - meet Aayush, spend as much time as I can  at the Festival. I realise I feel like an impostor at Lit events. This time I'll stay.

The banyan tree

Day 1 began post lunch on January 27th and since I decided to attend as many sessions as I can (for no reason other than the fact that I never attended a festival on all three days) I arrived early.  Parking was easy - I handed the car over to the valet who said he would park at Amrutha Castle next door. After some initial glitches with a young lady at the registration counter - go to the other registration she said (making me feel more like an impostor), are you a delegate she asked (I was not sure if I was so I discreetly called Vijay and asked if I was and he said I was), cannot find your name on the list she said (I knew she was not looking properly so I found it for her), cannot find your tag and kit she said adding to my impostor story (by this time Vijay came in and helped me get some temporary one but I am sure I would have found my tag and kit if I was allowed to). Relieved, tagged with a temporary tag (why is yours written by hand and not printed like all others asked Anjali - because I don't feel like I belong dear), I went in search of Aayush Puthran who had just landed at the airport. 

I looked around for familiar faces and bumped into the erudite BG Raj, who was Finance Head at BDL when I worked at IDBI. We hung out together. I messaged Sathya and she said she would come in at 430. Raj and I attended the inaugural at the Dr Reddy's pavilion which is an open air thing under the trees. Everyone spoke - Amita, Vijay, Jayesh, Damodar Mauzo, Stephan Grabherr (Germany is the host country). After the inaugural we wandered about, had a chai, watched Vidya Rao at Nanha Nukkad deal with some very young kids brilliantly on a session titled 'Songs on Trees'. She was so patient. The kids were themselves - fidgety, but she handled them so well. I could have watched her all through but I got a call from Aayush. 

Aayush came at 4 and said he was hungry so we walked to Kamath and had a dosa. Aayush is an articulate young boy, who speaks with a rare clarity, humility and ease. He works with Cricbuzz and being in such a cricket heavy space, has lots of information on the cricket administration and the inside stories.  (He wanted to try non vegetarian food but owing to lack of time, we stuck to Kamath.) Apparently he had been to Hyderabad to cover the IPL and had a blast trying out all the joints. 

After Kamath we walked back to the HLF, watched a bit of Sathya's talk with Deepti Naval and headed off to my corporate engagement with Panzer Solutions. Hopefully I will join Aayush for dinner at the IAS Officer's Association later. While at the HLF, I bumped into a few people I know - Sadhana, Giri  - they are part of the organising committee. Ritu Duggal, Rohina, Ruchi Ranjan, Siddharth. 

The evening program was called 'Jo Dooba So Paar' - a musical dastangoi on the life and times of Amir Khusrau which I will sadly miss. This dstangoi thing is something I heard much but never saw.

Before the show began

Later that evening, after my corporate gig, I dropped in at the IAS Officers near Paryatak Bhavan to catch up with Aayush. I bumped into Rudra, my old schoolmate, whose company was one of the sponsors of the HLF. In that short conversation I found that Rudra was one deep guy - he was a sailing champion at school and apparently was my batchmate at OU when we did our engineering. How could I have missed Rudra in four years of being in the same college? But he says he kept a low profile, does not remember bumping into me. He is indeed a mystery. But it was fun catching up with him. 

Deepti Naval and Sathya Saran

Day 2 - January 28, 2023

I decided to go early to check the arrangements if any to be made to make it accessible for Madhavi Latha, one of the authors in the session 'Women in Sports' which I was moderating at 250. I met Gita Ramaswamy, whose book I had read - wonderful book - 'Land, Guns, Caste, Woman' -  and introduced myself and she said she had read my blog about her book. She reminded me so much of Keerti Ramachandra my good friend. Anjali later got her book and got her to sign it for her. Attended Sainath's session and he said we will become a rich nation with a lot of poor people. I met Sathya finally at this session and chatted with her for a bit. She perched herself on the little ledge - how she jumps up and down like a fourteen year old I don't understand. Bumped into Bijju and Prashanti and BG Raj again. 

At the food court - no onion samosas, Irani chai, Osmania biscuits

Picked up books by Jerry Pinto, P Sainath and Deepti Naval. Chaps at the book selling point said hello. One from Harper said he remembered me because I did a session with Anita Nair at Oxford Book Store.  Met Sridhar Sattiraju who told me that he was now doing a lot of subtitling work for Telugu movies. He's a wonderful guy though we did not meet much. Hopefully we will catch up one of these days. Aayush came and we hung about a bit.

Amar came and he did not like Sainath's views at all and said he was anti government. That is quite obvious and it was obvious that Amar was pro gov. Anyway we headed to the food court where Amar told me about a training program he was planning for us. Abhinay dropped in and said he was around. My feet were killing me - I had parked in the NTR Gardens and walked. Shilpa was there and said hello and before I placed her she disappeared. Must catch her and apologise for not recognising her. 

Sathya sitting on the ledge in black top

I checked the Delegates Hall and then checked the path for Madhavi's wheelchair. There was a ramp at one side which led to the corridor and then another ramp that led right to the hall. Now the only issue was getting her wheelchair on to the stage. Worst case, we can sit off the stage. I needed to do some preparation for the session but hey, this session of poetry looked interesting so I stayed back. One to chat with Sathya and two, to listen to Jerry Pinto.

Jerry blew in like he always does, like a cyclone, and headed straight to the children from the Aga Khan School. 'So what kind of poetry do you like? he asked them and then said 'I will try to read something about nature then.' I smiled - I had met him a few years ago at Vibha's library in Bandra and he smiled back and shook hands. But I think he smiles at everyone and shakes hands with everyone.

Kalyani Thakur, Jerry Pinto and Deepti Naval

Kalyani Thakur writes in Bengali and she read her poetry and read the translated work. Powerful stuff. She wrote a poem about Rohith Vemula which was very poignant - glad he lives on in literature like this. Jerry seized the show and was brilliant with his energy and reading - and urged us to buy poetry books which I did. Deepti Naval read her poems - one where she wrote to Smita Patil about their lives as celebrities. Aayush and I debated whether we should try Mohini biryani and gave up - my car was parked too far away. At night, we decided. I had invited Brother Joseph to come to our session and Vidyuth as well.   

At lunch time Aayush and I went to the delegates lounge and ate some lunch. Madhavi was to come by lunch and I kept an eye on the phone. I checked the ramp again. Madhavi's wheelchair would not climb the steps up to the dais. I told the volunteers to make arrangements or we would sit below. They said they would do something. 

There were a few missed calls. Madhavi came with her brother Indrajit, who was helping her with the wheelchair (apparently they did not let the car in). Anyway I took them up to the lounge (her wheelchair fit into the left) and we went and had some lunch. Getting her wheelchair over the doorstep was a task and we needed help from a third person. 'You should spend a day with me and you'll know,' she smiled. One thing about her, she has this brilliant smile always. At lunch she met quite a few people and then we went down. Our session was about to begin and my preparation today was zilch. I decided to go with the flow and my magic mantra - why, how and what. Thank you Simon Sinek.

Madhavi gifting me her book - very sweet of her
After lunch we went down to our hall for our session. Shobha and Anjali came and they were with Abhinay and a couple of his friends. Abhinay bought a couple of copies of '50N ot Out' and got them signed by me. I saw missed calls from Brother Joseph, directed him to our hall, and introduced everyone to one another. I had Aayush sign a copy of his book for Brother Joseph. Madhavi gifted me a copy of her book which was very sweet of her.
Indrajit, Aayush, Madhavi, Bro Joseph and me 

We went into the hall. The volunteers had put a wooden plank as a ramp and we managed to get Madhavi on to the stage. Usha Raman introduced me and I introduced the authors and their books and we went into the session. I took some pains to explain Madhavi's journey which might otherwise get lost in normal conversation. It went well. Both of them spoke well and finally I think we managed to connect two seemingly diverse topics together. Lots of people came and met Madhavi after that. 

Another pic  of us enjoying ourselves

Session done we stepped out feeling quite drained and happy. Madhavi's niece and nephews came - its such a close knit family. We had tea, hung around some more. At the book stall we bumped into Taher and Sakshi. Rohina, Ritu Duggal were there as well as Vidushi Duggal who wrote a book along with Dr Vipin Das on travelling the world and collecting magnets. Met Sagarika who had just finished a reading. 
Taher and Sakshi listening intently to Shobhs 

Then Taher, Sakshi and all of us went to have some more tea. Then while Shobhs and I waited - Taher and Sakshi took Anjali on a long photo shoot. By the time they were done, the events were done and it was time for a fusion band 'VARIations' to start performing. 

Anjali, Sakshi and Taher
Anjali and Taher

I was not too keen on the musical performance - just too tired.
Birla Mandir in the backdrop of the music festival

Aayush said Purnima Rau was coming. The ex Indian captain came in a while with another ex-India cricketer Deepali (Mumbai) and we decided to have a cup of coffee at the FMC. It was fun catching up with her. We took some selfies and moved on.

Me, Purnima and Aayush

After FMC and some fine snacks I had no room for dinner so told Aayush I will skip the dinner at Nizam Club and headed home. Tomorrow I hope to meet Vinod and generally chill.

Day 3, January 29, 2023

Today is a Sunday so Vinod would come. At 3 or so there was this launch of a poetry book on Hyderabad by Usha Akella where Vandana was reading her father Shiv K Kumar's poem. Met Vinod and we had chai and then the car from the IIID people who wanted me to be the Chief Guest at their sports event came. The event was some 50 kms away at Maheshwaram and the drive took an hour. Why did I agree to this? The program got over by 230 and I just about made it back to Vandana's session. 

Met Anuradha Naik, the architect, (we met at the TEDx event at VNR VJIET and she said, you're the cricket writer), Mani Rao, Sridala, Vandana (who was reading) and Jayesh. Usha introduced the book, called her parents on stage, and all the poets read from their parts. Most impressive was  Professor Ramanan. 
Me, A and Vandana
In between the sessions I met Mani Rao - we met at some festival. She could not place me but I could and I told her that I found her new book very intriguing 'Soundarya Lahari' - which she translated from Sanskrit. She told me it was the simplest translation. She is such a scholar - I turned a few pages and was blown. I suddenly wished I had more time to speak with her. Why do I get these ideas so late?

Most impressive - Professor Ramanan


Anjali and Vandana with the book

 A surprise!  Sunil Robert Vuppula who wrote this wonderful book that I loved reading was there too, and we took a selfie! And then Neeraj. We met Neeraj's friend Pankaj and he recounted the old days playing cricket with Doc at the stadium. Pankaj is a retired chef. Things were winding down and we sat sipping chai endlessly. Anjali and Abhinay went and did some timepass meeting random people. Then they left. 

I waited for Aayush to finish his good byes so we could move on for his biryani. I stepped out for a chai with Achyut Menon and we spent quite a while chatting. Aayush came but looked torn between going out with me or and a bunch of youngsters - no brainer. I told him to go with them and we could catch up later sometime. 

One final chai - Abhinay joined us in this pic

I liked hanging about the sidelines best - chatting with old friends. All we need is a food court and some chai and we are good. I think I will do this from now on. But first, I will read up on the delegates so I can catch up properly with those I want to meet up with. I realised I could have met up with Damodar Mauzo, P Sainath, Jerry Pinto, Urvashi Butalia, Deepa Kiran and so many others.      

As the HLF drew to a close and the suppliers began taking away the chairs etc I suddenly felt this wave of gratitude wash over me - for HLF, for those who put it together, for the effort that went into it. I messaged Vijay who represents HLF to me and thanked him for putting up such a fine show. He was very gracious and said it was a team effort.

Thanks HLF 2023. Until next year then.      

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