Event: The Times Literary Carnival
Venue: Mehboob Studios, Mumbai
Spread over three days: Dec 2-4, 2011
When you sit some 20 feet away from Saurav Ganguly and hear him talk, you become his fan, once again. This time around, for his charm and wit. Sure, I’ve seen him on the TV, but I tend to not believe all of it, for smart editing can always show us exactly what the channel wants us to see. (Just like they show Amitabh Bachchan squirming in his seat every time Rekha goes up to the stage during award functions. No sir, that’s not what really happens!)
Ganguly was part of the panel at the Times Literary Carnival where they discussed whether cricket has lost its charm. I found the topic blasphemous, and the panel unanimously responded – no, it definitely hasn’t. Others on the panel were Sri Lankan writer Shehan Karunatilaka, cricket journalist Boria Majumdar, writer Anuja Chauhan and regional player Deep Dasgupta. The discussion, as it happens with most such cricket talks, turned to the 20-20 format of the game in comparison with test cricket. I won’t write about views of all panelists here (for I believe that Anuja was a misfit), as it was clearly Ganguly who stole the show. Not only did the guy rattle off numbers and stats with ease, he spoke lovingly of his memories. Of his first test match outside the country, the time he played in Kolkata, anecdotes on other players.
He surprised me the most when he spoke uninhibitedly about BCCI rules, players he thought shouldn’t be on the team and some more. There was almost a collective gasp in the audience as everyone was alarmed for a second about his forthrightness. When a listener asked him whether he would join politics (considering his excellent leading skills), Ganguly replied nonchalantly, “I will step in when Bengal has no leader.” Maybe I found him intriguing because I had expected him to be politically correct and sit on the fence about flammable topics. But Ganguly was clearly not like the one I had in mind. This one easily batted his way to the win.
He spoke with panache and threw witty answers right back at listeners who later asked him questions. For serious (read technical) questions asked by young boys, who I guess were U-19 players themselves, he took a couple of moment to fish for the appropriate advice. It wasn’t just some clichéd blabber. Well, I guess you get it by now that I am totally bewitched by the man.
Another session at the carnival was one where it was discussed if classical and contemporary cuisines are on a collision. It could have been an engaging discussion, had it not been for the moderator of the talk, Karen Anand. Not only was she full of herself and her son who cooks, and her students at the catering college, she also interrupted guests and answered their questions when audience asked a few!
A well-known face on television, Madhur Jaffery was a guest and another one for this talk was the chef and owner of The Table (in Colaba) Alex Sanchez. Karen succeeded in putting me off within the first two minutes she started yakking, and I found myself piqued only when Alex spoke. A dapper young man, Alex was shrewd with his answers. He was fighting off charges of being elitist with his restaurant, when Karen asked him a settler, “Does one find salt and pepper shakers on the table in your restaurant?”
“It is available,” came the reply. Only on further prodding did he reveal that general/mass items such as salt, hot sauce (he didn’t say ‘Tobasco’), etc are only provided when explicitly asked for, and are generally discouraged.
And while we’re talking of chefs, the dashing Vikas Khanna (you may know him from MasterChef India) was present for the event too, but I missed his talks as they coincided with others which I attended.
Fatima Bhutto, though I caught only the last five minutes of her discussion with Kabir Bedi on the experience of getting to know a parent as a grown up, seemed like she had the listeners wrapped around her finger alright. I must also mention that she looked gorgeous in her sari.
On Sunday, the last day on the event, Meenal Baghel (editor-in-chief, Mumbai Mirror) had a terrific discussion with Manu Joseph about her book Death in Mumbai, and then proceeded to launch it. Meenal is my former boss and Manu, a most favourite writer; I couldn’t be happier. Death by Mumbai traces the story of Neeraj Grover’s murder by Emile Jerome in 2008, involving Maria Susairaj. Knowing Meenal, I’ll bet the book is a riveting read. I bought a copy there and got it signed by her. This was a first time I got an author to sign my book, and the author even knew me – double win!
Writer and co-organiser of the event, Namita Devidayal moderated an interesting talk with three authors about the love, longing and loneliness in metros, especially Mumbai. Meenal Baghel, Anuja Chauhan, Vikram Chandra and Altaf Tyrewala discussed it. The conversation veered into a pretty dark realm, with Sex and the City pastiche-d as Stress and the City. Anuja – who’s written books with happy romances served a feeble foil to the three others – much as she spoke about pinning our hopes on the girl from the Mumbai chawl who derives joy from a stolen glance of a neighbourhood boy she fancies. I am quite intrigued by Altaf Tyrewala’s views and plan to get his forthcoming book, Bombay Noir.
Vinod Mehta, author of the newly launched Lucknow Boy, spoke with Tarun Tejpal. I often lost the context of discussion as they became nostalgic about politicians and scams from over 30 years ago. Mehta spoke enthusiastically and I’m guessing his book will be full of inside stories on various journalists and politicians.
There were other specialists of their respective fields: fitness expert Rujuta Diwekar, Jaya Row (who gives excellent spiritual discourses on Bhagvad Gita), film industry’s Anuvab Pal, Zoya Akhtar and Anurag Kashyap and Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif (who I heard was excellent), and writer Chetan Bhagat. The Carnival also saw the Mumbai launch of shooter Abhinav Bindra’s memoir, a poetry reading session by Gulzar, and performances by Raghu Dixit and Paradigm Shift.
I attended two days out of a total of three and enjoyed myself immensely. I’m all for more such literary festivals, which refrained from becoming intellectually heavy on a reader, with generous servings of various fields such as food, city, tarot, music and films. Besides, there was a lot of people-spotting to be done. Many senior editors of magazines such as Caravan and Upper Crust, popular bloggers, and others from the world of television media were present, and mingled with the crowd. I also got to do a bit of small talk with Anujha Chauhan, who’s another favourite (girls, read her The Zoya Factor now!).
Saurav Ganguly, though, remains the highlight of the carnival for me.
Were you there at the carnival?