Dec 9, 2013
A New Front in the War on Terror
Posted on Feb 16, 2013
Bhabha added, “One of the most important things in 9/11 novels is that the characters are deeply ambivalent and split. In Ian McEwan’s “Saturday,” he talks about his own ambivalence. In nationalist fiction, there’s either ‘love the nation, or hate the nation.’ The protagonists of 9/11 novels say that is too simplistic.”
In the Global Soul session, inveterate book festival-goer Pico Iyer noted, “Anything worth writing about is because we can’t get our minds around it.” To illuminate that point he cited relevant tidbits from Graham Greene, Leonard Cohen and Virginia Woolf. Throughout the festival, allusions were as thick as the tiny round shisha mirrors that traditionally decorate the colorful fabric collages for which Rajasthan is famous—here winking with flashes of meaning, light from the greater literary firmament.
Some of the authors brought startling world views. Writer Jamil Ahmad, who was posted in the 1970s with the Civil Service of Pakistan on the frontier and in tribal areas, then as a Pakistani minister in Kabul, spoke about his gorgeous, brutal novel, “The Wandering Falcon.” A questioner asked how the concept of honor, central to the novel, is used “to oppress women and people regarded as social inferiors.” Ahmad argued that honor as a form of law is just as valid as the legal systems of nation states, and tribalism “as a system has the least amount of tyranny built into it…. The tribal gene is imbedded in each of us, even today. Tribe is the basic building block of human civilization.” He bristled at the idea that bringing education, as defined in modern terms, to the tribes is a solution. “There’s a difference between literacy and education. Tribes may be more educated, though they might not be literate.”
At JLF, questions of tribalism and nationalism were topics as tangled as the stray electrical wires lying ready to trip people up in pathways and stairwells, a feature of many Indian venues, even ones as fancy-sounding as the Diggi Palace. Maybe it was wise for JLF organizers to start each of the five days with various musical sessions of Buddhist chants — mantras promoting compassion and world peace. Buddhist literature was a theme this year.
The local police asked the festival organizers not to leave town because they had signed an agreement to “not hurt the sentiments of any community or religion during the literary festival.” The controversy was taken up at that same stage only a few hours later in a Freedom of Expression panel. Shoma Chaudhury, managing editor of Tehelka—an investigative news magazine in India—discussed the question with journalist John Paul Kampfner, Timothy Garton Ash (heading an Oxford project on global freedom of expression in the Internet age), Russia specialist Orlando Figes, and Kashmir and South Asia expert Basharat Peer. Later, Dalit writer Kancha Ilaiah, author of the controversial “Why I Am Not a Hindu” (his first novel, “Untouchable God,” was launched at the festival), came to Nandy’s defense. Whew.
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