29th November, 2015
This Satuday, I was part of two very different literature festivals. Delhi comes of age with its first real literature festival, a wonderful and expansive event at the elegant, collonaded atmospherics of the Oberoi Maidens, in Civil Lines. I was in a panel with two people I have known forever, Sufi scholar and food aesthete Sadia Dehlvi and the irrepressible Mala Singh, herself, one of Delhi’s hallowed monuments.
We are the three of us, girls of a certain age, and it is inevitable that our thoughts turn to nostalgia for the Delhi that was. I spoke of ancient Indraprastha, the first city of Delhi. The excavations there indicate continuous habitation from Mauryanto Shunga, Kushana, Gupta,Rajput, the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal periods. Sadia spoke of Shahjahanabad and Mala, of the colonial legacy of Lutyen’s Delhi. It was a lively conversation, but I was the only one who defended the new malls and urban spaces and the vibrant and unexpected creative energies that cannot live on nostalgia alone but which evolve and adapt spontaneously to change. The world is what it is.
After a smog infested drive, I reached the Habitat Centre, for the Samanvay Indian Language Festival. It was delightful to find the grey evening alive with colourful lights and the breathless chatter of the ‘real’ Indian literati, the writers who work with the Indian languages. My dear friend, Aditi Maheshwari, has set up the Vani Foundation, which instituted the ‘Vani-Samanvay Distinguished Translator Award’. I sat in on the jury this year and it was a moving experience to encounter the unsung heroes who facilitate literary conversations between the Indian languages. This year’s award went to the distinguished Tamil-Malayalam translator Sri Attoor Ravi Varma. His acceptance speech in a quavering voice, which still resonated around the auditorium moved me to tears.