I thought I could dodge away from blogging about it but couldn’t contain myself. Its been twelve days to the incident but I am unable to come to terms with it. It was discussed, debated, written-about then and will be forgotten soon. But as an audience, I will never forget that one ugly allegation that came from Mr. Anupam Kher at Tata Lit Fest 2015, Mumbai.
So you must have read about the heated debate on freedom of expression, the exchange of bitter allegations, claps for Mrs. Shobha De and boos for Mr. Anupam Kher. If you haven’t, you must google it, everything about it made selling news. But amidst all of this none bothered to know how did the audience feel at being called ‘PAID’? And if they were paid, how much did they get? I am waiting, my money hasn’t arrived yet. I am sure Mr. Kher would be knowing the amount too. In fact the moment I heard him say ‘Paid audience’, I got up and walked out of the hall with some more people. But I came back, stood near the gate of the hall just to see that how low could Mr. Kher stoop.
In fact after all this, Mr. Kher has gained maximum footage in the last few days. Oh yes, his film did release yesterday. Is it some kind of filmy promotion or the ulterior motive is yet to unveil? He was the face of a ‘Tolerance March’ in the capital. Before I elaborate on the incident that took place at NCPA auditorium, I wanna laugh out loud at the irony. Someone who could not tolerate a debate verdict against his stand is talking about ‘tolerant India’. Amazing it is!
It was a perfect evening with Mr. Vikram Seth. The poet had left us all spell- bound with the session-Poet Laureate. When he had recited the lines from his poem, ‘The Frog and The Nightingale’, there had been a pin drop silence in the auditorium. I had felt goosebumps all over. It was bliss. I should have left the NCPA premises just after that. My friend had insisted it too but I had chosen to stay for the last event of the day. Honestly, more than the debate I was keen to hear them talk closely- author Shobhaa De and actor Anupam Kher. I had my reasons. The lady needs no introduction. I have always enjoyed reading her columns. She speaks her mind well. And Mr. Kher’s show ‘Kucch Bhi Ho Sakta Hai’ inspires me and in some of his movies, he has been absolutely flawless.
‘Freedom of expression is in imminent danger’
British television journalist Nik Gowing at the chair. (center)
Author Shobhaa De and Sudheendra Kulkarni spoke for the motion. (Right Side)
Actor Anupam Kher and BJP national spokesperson Nalin Kohli settled for against the motion. (Left side)
(The figures appear too small in the picture below)
Before the debate began, every member in the audience was handed over a paper which had two colors. We were asked to chose our colors as per our stand. Even before the debate began, 80 % of the audience agreed with the debate topic and thought so that Freedom of expression is in imminent danger. I was one among them and I have my reasons for that.
But first lets hear what the speakers had to say…
When it began, Mr. Sudheendra Kulkarni took to the dais first. He did mention a few debatable points but did not succeed in pulling it off well. Even though he said that political aspects should be kept at bay, he could not steer clear of it. Here I must tell you that Mr. Sudheendra is the author whose face was smeared in black paint because he had chosen to help with the book launch of Khurshid Kasuri’s book in Mumbai. Book launch for the same book was attended by Mr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. L.K Advani in New Delhi but in Mumbai, it was called anti-national.
Next, Nalin Kohli spoke against the motion and he was superb with his oration skills. He gave some very reasonable points that actually added weight to the discussion. He said that India had seen many worse times under different leaderships, this was nothing like it. He asserted on the power of the constitution which was above all. So there was freedom for everything, however there can be clauses to it. I must applaud him for putting up a strong stand.
Shoba De was impressive. She started by saying that she was happy being called the trouble maker. She swayed away the discussion by saying that the danger to freedom of expression had been felt and thus the discussion was happening. People returning the awards have no agenda, they are speaking up for themselves, for their conscience and they have all rights to speak as they feel for their country and its people. She got the pulse of the audience though I wasn’t convinced with everything she said but she was confident and knew what she was talking.
Mr. Kher began as an actor. He started by making excuses that this debate should not have been in English because he was not well versed in it but for the rules, he had to comply. Later, he also said that he was not happy with the way the topic was framed. He had discussed it with Mr. Dharker but it was meant to be the British way. I wonder if Mr. Kher had so many problems, why din’t he stay away from the debate. Why did he come for the discussion at all? These reasons only showed that he had nothing to speak. In fact a girl stood up in the audience and even told him that he did not know what he was talking and knew nothing about India and its culture and freedom of expression.
Soon he was attacking Shoba De for her earlier columns and also Mr. Kulkarni for launching the book. I really wanna ask you Mr. Kher why did you feel important to make personal comments during a debate? There was enough meat for you to speak, you just did not do your homework well or you were not able to put it up in English.
Next he said, ‘There is no danger to freedom otherwise we wouldn’t be sitting here and discussing it all’. Yes, but we were talking about ‘imminent danger’ Mr. Kher.
Next he touched on the emotional side of the people. So came the point around Kashmiri pandits. Why didn’t people react when they were being thrown out of their own country? Okay, they didn’t react. So have they lost the power to react for always? The circumstances were different then, they are different now. People are more aware of their rights Mr. Kher and moreover the ones who have chosen their government have all the rights to question it also whenever they want.
He did not forget to say that people are just not able to handle the fact that a chaiwala has become a PM. This is the golden era. This was just not needed Mr. Kher. We have heard it like thousand times that our P.M. has a humble beginning and we are proud of it. In fact we knew this even when we voted. But it has become repetitive and has lost its charm.
Just then his wife, BJP MP Kiran Kher stood up in the front row and sided with her husband. The lady spoke in the most rude and arrogant way. I would only say that her attitude proved Mr. Kher’s weakness as a particpant. It made her look as a puppet of the government who couldn’t wait to jump in the discussion just because questions were being raised at the government she is a part of. If you couldn’t tolerate, you could have walked off without speaking anything. You sounded foolish!
And last of all when Mr. Kher failed to speak anything valid, he blamed the festival founder ‘Anil Dharker’ that there could be a paid audience in there. The harm was done forever. Mr. Kher, you lost your respect just there. How dare you call us paid Mr. Kher? Who gave you the right to do that. And what do you have to say about the people who showed the red card, (showing support to your stance), were they paid by you? What do you want to hint at that everything today has come to be about money just like government’s paid publicity? This actually showed more about you that how intolerant you are. The fact is that you couldn’t handle the truth. And that is why you were booed right away.
I hope you went back home and pondered over. I am sure you have an answer to the fact that why Mr. Nalin Kohli who also spoke against the motion was heard patiently by the audience and you were rebuked. If you dint get it, I must tell you. It was because he spoke like a debater. He gave us enough food for thought. He gave us valid counter points but you were absolutely bogus. Since here there were no dialogues like your movies, you absolutely failed to entertain us. Next time, when you go for a lit fest, please brush your oration skills and practice your speech too. And above all research well and have something concrete to speak.
And of course, we are a tolerant nation. There is no doubt about it. If it was otherwise, we would have never tolerated you that evening at the fest. You got away way too easily even though you called us ‘paid’.
The 2015 edition of Tata Literature Fest gave me a bagful of sweet and sour memories. You must read the happy story here.
Our Childhood Reads: Mystery of the Missing Authors
And last of all, if you were the audience at the lit fest, please speak up here. I wanna hear how did you feel at being called ‘Paid’. Its still hurting me….