Category: LitFest 2016

The Forbidden Fruit

This is going to be a controversial post, I suppose. As the name suggests, the post is about things that are forbidden in our society/culture. Okay, not really forbidden, but things considered as taboo.

The roots or trigger for me to write this comes from a very recent session I attended, courtesy, The LitFest 2016. It was a session on Erotica and the panelists were established writers in the genre, Margaret Mascarenhas, Amrita Narayanan and Ananth Padmanabhan.

Like many others who had come for the session, I was very much intrigued by the title. What I had wanted, I got. It was a liberated and relieving session about erotic fiction, LGBTQ community etc. I felt nothing odd or weird on being one in the audience. In fact I felt proud. Proud that for once, I shed the inhibition and broke the stereotype of being all hush-hush about it.

These were the people who had considered erotica and sex to be a normal human process like hunger and anger. That got me thinking why our society has become very much closed. This was not the case in the Vedic period, as far as I had heard about it. So the logical conclusion would be that people who lived after the Vedic period messed it up. They created rules and norms based on the idea of patriarchal dominance and made India a conservative place to be in. I refuse to accept the argument of Indian Culture. People who thrust these conservative ideas are generally pseudo-conservative. One can actually see the same set of people asking about progeny six months after a couple gets married. Yes, six months.

Talking about how sex is still a taboo, this quote comes to my mind.

“They say India is shy and conservative, but the population stands at 1.2billion!

I don’t deny the fact that India has one of the richest heritage and cultural background in the World. I grew up in such an environment where I woke up early in the morning to put Kolams in the front-yard of my house. I am proud of it for sure. But since when did we start to look down upon sex and same-sex conjugation with disdain?

Aren’t the sculptures in Khajuraho enough proof for our culture? We gave the world the renowned Kamasutra, the book of love. We take pride in exhibiting these to the Rest of the World, but when it comes to our own people, we take a different stand. Isn’t that hypocrisy at its best?

I have noticed many a times that we look differently at people who “come out of the closet” and at trans-gender/trans-sexual people. Aren’t they people enough to warrant a little respect at least? It pains to see people of my generation adapt and carry forward the same hypocrisy that our ancestors so proudly adorned. Isn’t it high time we change the course?

Our society is filled with taboos. Sex, Adoption of kids, surrogacy, live-in relationships, LGBT rights, marriage and divorce, anything that makes you uncomfortable is tagged and given a label that it is out of our culture and hence should not be encouraged. We are more worried about those “Chaar-log” who governs every single thought that we get and every word that we speak. We conveniently forget that those “log” were conspicuously absent when we were battling our inner demons and also when we were struggling without food. Are we still going to chart our lives to abide by the rules that the society has given us? I don’t mean to say that we break the rules. I intend that we make better and sensible ones. I want us to be supportive of each other and be less nosy about others personal affairs.

I would wish we do exercise our brains when we decide to make or break a rule and be open about it. I wish we live by a set of values than some social rules that was thrust upon us by a dominant and patriarchal society or by an even more worse English-Raj. Strangely British Raj has legalized LGBT marriage and we are still holding onto it.

A civil society is born out of its people. Unless we exercise our sensibilities and sane minds, we cannot see India progressing on its social front. Do I see hope? Well, yes. A Ray of Hope.

Transcending life with the Tirukkural


It is not very often that one gets to witness a session on something that is timeless and precious. Not every work of literature sustains its sanctity and relevance even after about 2000 years from the time it was written. “ Ulaga Podhu Marai” as they call it, is a revered book for many out there. 1330 couplets and 133 chapters shove more sense into people than any other similar comparable work.

I had the honor of being a part of a session on the Tirukkural during an event. It was focused on the work of Shri.Gopal Krishna Gandhi on the Tirukkural.

The book is dedicated to two important people in his life, Shri.Rajaji and Shri. E.V Periyar.  The author urges us to read the Tirukkural and in the process discover another speed in probably envisioning the world.

Respect and Reverance are two different aspects. Valluvar approaches life and its multivariant hues with a bold and frank respect. He was conscious of human feelings and emotions. That must have been apparent to us since being oblivious to feelings and emotions, one could never have completed the third book, the book of love, Kaamathuppaal. As an example of Valluvar’s respect (not reverence), Gandhi quotes the below given Kural.

Kural 1062:


If he that shaped the world desires that men should begging go,
Through life’s long course, let him a wanderer be and perish so.
Couplet Explanation:

If the Creator of the world has decreed even begging as a means of livelihood, may he too go abegging and perish.
Transliteration(Tamil to English):


irandhum uyirvaazhdhal vaeNdin parandhu
keduka ulagiyatri yaan

The author says that he is fascinated by the form and method of conveying his point that was adopted by Tiruvalluvar.

When asked about how he set on working so closely with the Tirukkural, he says, that he was honored to have gotten a chance to work with it in such an intimate fashion. People just do not work casually with something as great as this without spending a lot of Intellectual energy on it.

On the influence of G.U.Pope on his work, he adds that it was as important to him as the original was and that he revered it.

What actually intrigued me, as a lost individual, are the true words that Mr.Gandhi spoke about how one must approach the Tirukkural. He says, one must read it with a Thinking Mind, a Healing Heart and A sensual Body.

When asked about the prominence of the Third book in his work, Gandhi says that it was not an easy job. It was more like grafting the Kamasutra, the book of Love onto the Bhagwat Gita. Neither of the two other books, the Arathuppaal or the Porutpaal had as much discussion about Ethical behavior as the third book has.

Kaamathuppaal has been further sub-divided into two divisions on pre-marital love and Post-marital love. It makes me wonder about the present day moral-policing and allied atrocities happening around.

The session was followed by rendition of a few Kurals tuned to music by Shri Chitraveena N Ravi Kiran and rendered in a mellifluous way by Shri Thiruvarur Girish. I personally would have loved it if it was a session of music and kural explanation in an alternate fashion.

The Tirukkural is a work of a genius that lives and breathes beyond time and age. An ageless classic that is very much accessible and relevant for the Town mayor and also to the barber. It is the code by which people must live by, in a perfect and ideal world. It is the code that we must try to adhere to, not only for a better society but also for a better self.

Each One’s Gita- Devdutt Pattanaik

I had no idea who Devdutt Pattanaik was. No, I am serious. I hadn’t read any of his books, I haven’t wikipediaed  him either. The most I had heard about him was from a friend of mine who was reading one of his books and had mentioned it as a passing comment among many topics that we discuss. So when I saw about this session in the newspaper and other reliable media, I had no expectations about the content or the person.

When Bharadwaj Rangan introduced Mr. Devdutt Pattanaik as a mythologist, I had my own doubts. Mainly because I have not heard about anybody being a mythologist. But I sat on. When he came up to the dias, I judged. Basically because I was human but also because he seemed like the uncle next door. Congenial and ever cheerful.

“My Gita” was the book that he was there to talk about.


Lord Krishna says,” Understand the relationships and don’t judge them”. That was one of the first things that Mr.Pattanaik conveyed.

We humans have evolved to such a level that apart from food,clothing and shelter, judging others has also become a basic need for survival. The reason or rationale,if any, behind that activity is unknown or in most cases irrelevant in any point of time.

The focus is thrust on perspectives.

Truth is complicated. What may be true for me might not be true for you. Worst case, it might be preposterous for another person, altogether. So it all depends on where we stand. Truth isn’t static.

The Gita,according to him, emphasizes on us keeping our eyes open to the world. It encourages us to participate in the world and the worldly affairs, in contrast to renunciation. The Gita encourages us to be more human and less of God. As human beings, we tend to make mistakes, we tend to judge people, and we tend to negotiate with God (Yes, begging Him to give something in exchange for an abhishekam is exactly what I am trying to say). He says, The Gita encourages us to be humans. It also pushes us to get out there and try and understand the human relationships rather than forming an opinion or a judgement about the same.

In Bhakti Yog, he says, Lord Krishna becomes a parent. He gives Arjuna the moral support that he needed at a crucial juncture in the War. That’s exactly what parents do to us. I remember my own childhood when I used to blindly believe whatever my mom or dad told me and I go ahead with that fake courage that was given to me by them. That was Bhakti Yog for me. Well, the blunt truth that it happens at all stages of one’s life is a different story altogether.

What made me wonder was that he concurred with my view that there was no right or wrong in the world. It all depends on the side from which you see it. It is abstract. It is mysterious.
Devdutt says you cannot hope for the Nectar when there is no other side to participate in the tug of war. (Remember the story of parvatham and the tug of war between the Devas and the Asuras?).  Where there is good and evil, nectar will emerge. Poison will emerge too, but let us choose to see the positive benefit of the entire exercise. He uses this analogy to describe the current status of the Indian parliament sessions, wittily.

Renunciation is not the key here. Renunciation,to him, implies that “ I have no desire hence you should not have them too”. That is faulty at the foundation itself because it not only encroaches upon ones personal space but also eats into one’s own desires and needs.

He urges us to find our own Gita in a way that is most suitable and feasible for us.  Each one of us has it in us to explore relationships without being judgemental or condescending. That itself reduces half the problems that spring up out of nowhere, these days. Letting go would work well in such cases where we don’t force something upon the other person.

Ultimately it is not about focusing on reaching Heaven, but it is all about making the place in which we live right now, as one. We do focus way too much on the future and in the process forget the path to get there. It is the same phenomenon. The hidden message being that each of us is the other person’s Krishna and our current abode is Heaven.

Sigh, there is so much good in this world apart from all the crappy stories we read and watch, isn’t it? Gives me hope.

The Musical Enlightenment with Mr.Sanjay Subramaniam

The Hindu LitFest 2016 gave me an unforgettable opportunity to listen to literary geniuses talk and discuss about things that had had a huge impact on them, the issues that, in their view would go on to bring in a magnificent shift in the general structure of acceptance and non-acceptance etc.

The first session that I attended was titled “Sing My Song” which had the renowned Carnatic Music exponent, Mr.Sanjay Subramaniam in conversation with Ms. Nirmala Lakshmanan.

I have always had great regard on Mr.Sanjay Subramaniam and Ms. Vishaka Hari because I know them to be Chartered Accountants who had the drive to pursue what they loved and to break the stereotypes of being auditors and the hype surrounding it. (I know the hype and also the respect it commands in the society because I am one of them)

Starting off with talking about being awarded the “Sangeetha Kalanidhi” award, he spoke about the massive personal responsibility that has been served upon him. Of course that did not mean that he had altered his journey or destination based on the award. He was careful about not letting the influence of the award and the recognition that it brought to interfere in his already pursuing path of music.

     “Restriction breeds Creativity”

That was one of the prime take-aways that I had got from this session apart from the humour and cricket that was generously sprinkled. I found this statement from him to be very true and honest. In most of the cases, where there is restriction there will be rebellion. Most of the times such rebellion creates history. May be it is something to do with the human mind which is known to be complex and intricate. The mind is thirsty when it is deprived of something. The “yekkam” they say, is boundless during such situations. I have felt that personally and could relate to that statement in a more intimate fashion.

On the way the traditional carnatic music format is evolving, he says,” Art is never static” and that all art forms go through a phase of turbulence. Art is supposed to give rise to different feelings and opinions to different people. It is not science to be perceived in the same manner by everyone. True words, Sir!

An artist derives energy from his audience. That is a hundred percent true. An artist must be true to himself. He must be daring enough to take risks in his performance and to attempt improvisation.  He must be ready to accept and must be open minded enough to experiment and explore the hidden realms of the art that he fervently and reverently practices.

Also apart from the little thoughts on the Vivaadhi Concept, the prominence of Tamil Keerthanams in his concerts, the impiortance of the rapport with the accompanists and also about the general dilemma of the superiority of the Guru-Shishya mode of imparting musical education over the now-prevalent trend of Skype Classes, the one thing that made me admire him was his acceptance.

When one member from the audience asked if he has done anything at all to spread and increase the reach of carnatic music on a grassroot level (What the question-asker intended to know was if SS was going to schools and doing anything tangible to increase the awareness of carnatic music), SS was gracious and grounded enough to accept that he hasn’t done anything of that sort. I admired that quality in him. Instead of beating around the bush saying superficial things or adopting to shame the person who had asked such a question to him on a public platform, SS accepted it. It kind of felt that it all boiled down to one’s own choices and one need not try so hard to fit in to another’s definition of something. It implied, albeit silently, that one can be original and be unapologetic about it. In my words, to one his own.

I enjoyed the session mainly because of the energy that it gave me and also for the core ideas that I had in me when I walked out of the auditorium. A very good start to an awesome feast, I would say.