“Reading” versus “Listening”: An observation of Indians’ habits

By : Kollengode S Venkataraman

Here are my general observations about the habits of Indians in “reading” versus “listening” context:

  1.  Indians in general —  even educated Indians  —  are not serious readers of books.  By “serious readers,” I am referring to readers who have the temperament to plough through difficult subjects unrelated to their narrow field of specialties, but subjects on politics, economics, sociology, history, religion and comparative religion, spirituality.  These are abstract topics.  They are reluctant investors in books.  With India’s 30% Anglicized and semi-Anglicized population (this is 300 million), when an English book written by an Indian author and published in India sells, say, 50,000 copies, they declare victory!!!!  It is more pathetic in regional languages.  It is the ground reality.

  2.  But these Indians, whether in India or abroad, may nor be good “readers,” but are good listeners.  This is understandable for deeply held cultural reasons.  All our Puranas, even Mahabharata, Yoga Vasistha, and Upanishads, etc were all addressed to people gathered under a tree or around a Sabha.  Even the great Buddha taught his followers in talks in Banares, etavana, Deer Parks, and other places, always tailoring his language to the needs and intellectual backgrounds of his audiences.  This tradition continues to this day.  Just see the thousands of people of all kinds of background sitting through 1 to 2 hours of pravachans, or listening to politicians in rallies.

Jaipur Literary Festival in Boulder, Colorado, US: An India-bashing occasion

By : Raghavendra

I attended the JLF@Boulder as a private delegate and as a sponsor (due to my association with a fine arts organization).

This is my first ever literary festival. I participated mostly as a listener and wanted know what’s being talked and discussed.

The organizers, particularly Sanjoy Roy, talked about having people from all positions, walks of life and opinions are being invited where they agree, or disagree, or agree to disagree, in a meeting some months ago.

I was particularly interested in the sessions on India related topics with Indian participants.

Here are some of those topics: ·

In Search of Sita:

The Indian Woman in Myth and Memory with Arshia Sattar and Namita Gokhale in conversation.  They mostly talked about victimhood of Sita and mapping it to the contemporary situations in the India society.

The injustices done by Rama to Sita with trial by fire on the suspicion of chastity, supposedly going on even in today’s India in different forms. Sattar said, being a Muslim woman and working on Indic studies, particularly on Ramayana, isn’t easy for her. Her measure of age of Ramayana is 2,500 years old and not a very old myth.

Rama is an abuser symbol in all sense with the male chauvinism suppressing Sita’s liberties.  They did show some snippets of ‘Sita Sings the Blues’.

It appeared they were trying to appeal the Boulder liberal crowd and including them in some way to seek social justices for women. Primarily projecting gender disparities as an issue.

Namita mentioned that over 10 years ago (while BJP in power) there were suppression of freedom of speech and it has come back again (indicating the present administration). She also quoted Javed Akhtar ‘In a society where women are worshipped it is a suspect and need be worried about them’. ·

Vijay Dandetha:

The Shakespeare of Rajasthan with Christi Merrill and Uday Kumar. This was a better session with Vijay Dandetha and his literary work, which was best presented.

On a private conversation with Uday Kumar, he mentioned these days airing any view as opposed to traditional ones, people are harassed (UR Anantamurthy) and most recent incident where MM Kalburgi was murdered.  ‘They’ seem to control the narratives as to what is to be said and what not, probably blaming the ‘Hindu right’ and referencing over to the top level of the present administration. ·

The Spoken Word: Celebrating Oral Literature: Vikram Chandra, Christi Merrill, Linda Hess, Marcia Douglas moderated by Claudia CraggI try to focus mostly on what Vikram Chandra said.

He mentioned about his new book ‘Geek Sublime’, a nonfiction work with Sanskrit in focus for technological application. Spoke more about Panini’s Ashtadhayaayi and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. ·

Special Delegate Session:  Enduring Wisdom of Asia with Vikram Chandra, Arshia Sattar and Shabnam Virmani. A general discuss on Vikram’s book.

Arshia again narrated on Ramayana (2,500 year old myth!), her favorite topic and expertise.

Shabnam talked about Sufi, Bhakti, Baul (??) and oral tradition of folklore.

Arshia in her sense talk about Dharma, Karma etc.  Vikram delved a bit in to spiritual and mystical nature of built in to Sanskrit language.

In Q & A, I mentioned about Rajiv’s concept of Open Architecture of Dharma and several world views existing within it.

Arshia exclaimed ‘oh Rajiv Malhotra’ and some in the audience murmured a bit. They might be knowing Rajiv’ work.

Arshia didn’t want to go in to the topic and she evaded by saying ‘oh the spiritual and mysticism again’ and moved on to next question.  ·

Matters of Faith:

Anosh Irani, Brian Aivars Catlos, Esther David, Kalyan Ray moderated by Arshia Sattar.

With Arshia Sattar sitting in the driving seat, took the opportunity to mention Indian History being rewritten and the government placing individuals of its choice, which need to be opposed.

Renaming of roads and other places were mentioned by her.

Kalyan Ray, a noted academic who teaches at County College of Morris, berated Hinduism and claimed to be a rational humanist.

He quoted often on Naasadiya Sookta, questioning who is beyond all this creation and beyond that.  ·

Gods Without Men:

Narrating the human condition:

Hari Kunzru, Vikram Chandra & Kalyan Ray in conversation with Nayana Currimbhoy. A bit repetitive from the topic. Matters of Faith conversations by Kalyan Ray.

Vikram mentions that spirituality left out of the liberal debate. Took a bit of middle ground.

The murder of the rationalist MM Kalburgi mentioned again by Arshia and said the right has stooped down to extreme violence.

She was very critical of the current administration for encouraging such acts.

One of the poets Arvind Krishna Mehrotra mentions Sanskrit should be taught to everyone, particularly erotic poetry. ·

Emerging Stories:

New Media Narratives:

David Barsamian, Rayan Gattis, Mihir Sharma with Maeve Conran. David Barsamian, a Boulder native, a talk show host for the local CPR, was deported from India years ago for trying to report human rights issues in Kashmir.

He says, Hindu Nationalists cannot tolerate any adverse mention on Kashmir. Making India a villain particularly related to Kashmir.

Mihir Sharma complains on politics, caste systems and say can’t keep his mouth shut and will say what he wants.

Mentions on Kashmir police brutality, torture camps and how the media builds the narratives and put them together. Happy about how Pankaj Mishra brings these in to light.·

India: A billion Aspirations:

Mihir Sharma, Saranath Banerjee, Rahul Jacob in conversation with Amitava Kumar.

This panel discussion trashed India into bits. Rahul Jacob said, government is just series of sloganeering (Make in India) in India and Abroad (ref. Mr. Modi) and parading the symbols.

Mihir said, there seem to be a huge poverty for ambition and there is nothing in sight for fulfilling the aspirations and promises.

Mihir, regaling India in every aspect, from 17 security checks of baggage claims to water to infrastructure problems.  India cannot be an exporting economy and US cannot buy anything from India which is substandard.

Saranath Banerjee (a graphic novelist) said unqualified people are in positions, while soft emotions are turned in to hard fundamentalism.

In all it was washing dirty laundry and getting appreciation from the audience.

While an academic from Naropa sitting on my left was horrified and disappointed with the discussion, an anti-Modi signatory sitting on my right was elated while the panelists raved and ranted.


At the closing dinner there were some sparks between us (Naropa academic and I on one side) and Sanjoy Roy.

We were accused of not being aware of the day to day happenings in India, how their moves have been watched, as we sit in comfort in USA and draw conclusions.

All in all the entire even was one sided, projecting India in a negative stereotypes.

I wish there were moderate speakers to counter several arguments presented in panels mentioned above. Hopefully sense will prevail for the next edition.

Addition by : Come Carpentier

The Boulder-Jaipur Lit Festival reflects the conventional “liberal” viewpoint of the Indo-American academic Intelligentsia encumbered by a lot of rigid and standard convictions about “castes, cows and curry” and by the fashionable feminist and “anti-traditional” concept of coolness and modernity.

Unfortunately when they criticise the changes being made by the present government they are unable to explain why some sixty years of Nehruvian secular socialist policies have failed to substantially reduce the poverty and inequality which they deplore in India.

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