KSLF London went gently into the night, as Festival Director Rahul Singh recalled the theme of the 2022 festival, Crossing Borders. This wonderful concept, the brainchild of Zareer Masani, and later expanded upon by the festival, reminds us of the legendary Beatle, John Lennon.
Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today… Aha-ah…
Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace… You…
You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one.
We wish there would have been no need for ‘A Night in Ukraine’ session brilliantly and movingly rendered, based on the book by Yale Professor Marci Shore, ably anchored by Rajat Khosla, Senior Director at Amnesty International London, who had just returned from Ukraine. A surprise discovery for the audience was the Lithuanian philosopher, with an interest in ethics,Viktoras Bachmetjevas, who is researching the concept of forgiveness at the moment, very relevant to the balanced discussion. Which gave us an insight from different points of view.
If only there was no country…India and Pakistan would be friends. This did not deter Anjum Altaf from Lahore and Amit Basole from Bangalore to come out with their joint venture on Ghalib, ‘Thinking With Ghalib’, a thinking man’s version of one of Khushwant Singh’s favorite poets, and fellow resident of Delhi, half a century earlier. Ghalib witnessed the decline of the Moghuls and the rise of the East India Company. Raza Mir, a noted biographer of the poet, from the US. An intercontinental collaboration that only Khushwant Singh can bring about.
At other times too, crossing borders is a real delight. There is nothing that crosses borders as well as a detective novel, said host Rachel Dwyer in her introduction. The master of the story, Lord Jeffrey Archer, gave us a peek into his new Detective Chief Inspector William Warwick ovel, Over My Dead Body, as he crossed continents in his quest for clues. We also discover, courtesy his cricket buddy, Mihir Bose, that Archer is a huge cricket fan! His favourite? Sunil Gavaskar. Our Detective is well on his way to becoming Police Commissioner in 5 years, it was revealed. A wonderfully balanced interaction between two friends at ease in each other’s company.
A young 22-year-old Wendy Doniger also crossed borders into India right from the other end of the world, America. She discovered Tagore, Shantiniketan, Sanskrit, Bengali, Hinduism. Her former student, Arshia Sattar, asked the questions this time.
KSLF had a grand opening with the most famous India expert Richard Blurton, former head of South Asia and South-East Asia at the British Museum, and his forthcoming book,’ India: A History in Objects’, which took us through three millennia in an hour. A considerable feat masterminded by an expert Zareer Masani.
Close on their heels came former Union Minister, Jairam Ramesh with his biography on Toynbee’s poem, ‘The Light of Asia’, which Ramesh surprisingly read at 14. There is no one better than Mick Brown of The Telegraph in London, to do justice to this work. In his introduction to the session, Fakir Aijazuddin added that while most men write on themselves, Jairam Ramesh ji chose to write on the Buddha.
We call Fakir Aijazuddin and Rachel Dwyer our perennial hosts for KSLF London. Two very special people, both with strong connections to India and KSLF. Rachel is Professor Emeritus of Indian Cultures and Cinema at SOAS, and has written on Cinema and Soft Power; Bombay before Mumbai, and more.
Fakir Aijazuddin opened the festival telling us how he met Khushwant Singh just weeks before he died. KS expressed a wish to have some of his ashes taken back to his place of birth, Hadali. Which Aijaz did. ‘Ashes know no borders, and need no visas’, he said.
And as we traversed the borders of the mind and laid out the red carpet across borders at the festival, we learnt that the environment knows no boundaries. Rivers flow across countries and continents, the Himalayas traverse five countries from Pakistan in the West to India in the East, with Bhutan, Nepal and the Tibetan plateau in between. Pollution travels across the world. Wildfires spread their haze across nations. And so we planted trees yet again, for each speaker at the festival.
GrowTrees.com, thanks to Pradip Shah, has planted trees for each speaker at KSLF. A tradition since its inception 10 years ago in Kasauli. To date, we have done almost 2000 trees. This time they have planted trees in the Sunderbans National Park in West Bengal so that the tigers do not cross their borders.