Shobha De wrote 'soft pornography': Massey

Agra, Feb 4 (IANS) Globally celebrated author Reginald Massey Monday questioned writer Shobhaa De's credentials as a literary person, saying she should not be taken seriously as she wrote "soft pornography which titillates".

Massey, speaking as a guest at the Taj Literature Festival here at the St John's College, told a huge gathering that "she (Shobhaa De) doesn't have a style like Dickens or Jane Austen...She need not be taken seriously."

Shobhaa De should not be taken seriously as she wrote "soft pornography which titillates", he said, but clarified that it was his personal view and perceptions can differ.

Shobhaa De Sunday participated in the three-day event here which began Feb 1. As Massey arrived a day late, a session was conducted for him Monday.

Massey is considered an authority on culture, religion, music and dances of India. Some of his books are standard works. He wrote and narrated the BBC's (British Broadcasting Corporation) well known documentary on Kathakali.

Born in Lahore, Reginald Massey now lives in London and contributes to the Guardian and The Times. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a member of the Society of Authors.

After releasing a book on poetry titled "Love is a Lot of Work" by Rajiv Khandelwal, he said his advice to the young poets would be to keep it simple.

Robert Frost in just three simple sentences offered such profound and meaningful message. "The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep," Massey quoted from Robert Frost's famous poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening".

Students should read Jawaharlal Nehru's "Discovery of India" to understand the country and its cultural roots, he said.

"Indian authors should form a trade union to protect their intellectual property rights," he advised.

Reginald Massey said English was now very much an Indian language. The Indian Constitution was written in English. "English too has been enriched by its connection with India," he said.

Instant social media outbursts new 'literature'?(11:18)
Agra, Feb 4 (IANS) Literature need not all be classic -- even spontaneous outpouring on social media sites count as literature, said panelists during a discussion at the three-day Taj Literary Festival here.

Panelists headed by popular TV anchor Rahul Dev agreed Sunday evening that there was no good reason to deny to the outpouring on social media the tag of "literature". The festival began Saturday and ends Monday.

The session saw a passionate debate on what could count as literature.

TV anchor Rahul Dev, columnist Alok Puranik, cyber journalist Piyush Pandey, actor Pratik Pandey, Dainik Bhaskar feature editor Chandi Dutt Shukla, journalist Arvind Joshi, and several bloggers and Facebook addicts called for recognition of new forms of expression that use IT-enabled fora and social media as "literature".

"The IT platforms have democratised literature, which today has mass appeal and participation, unlike even two decades ago, when monopoly presses or publishers' autocracy stifled creative expression. Each person can now be his own editor, writer and publisher," said Piyush Pandey.

Facebook users wanted to know whether the instant poems, shairs (Urdu poems), or creative expressions posted could be called "literature". Alok Puranik said: "Time alone can decide this. If there is something of lasting value that has universal appeal, why not?"

Actor Pratik Pandey, founder of Hindi Blogs Aggregator, said the new literature of the internet age will "be generated at the paan shops and kirana stores".

A sudden thought or a couplet finds instant market on the Facebook and is shared globally in a jiffy. "The high priests of literature sermonising from the pulpits will no longer be in demand. The stage is set for mass literature where the creator is the user," said Alok Puranik.

Popular TV anchor Rahul Dev felt Hindi was being discriminated against. "The language was being adulterated with English. This is a dangerous trend that the social media platforms were only promoting."

Arvind Joshi said so-called literature on IT platforms was temporary and trivial, but trendy. "In the west there were awards for writing on IT platforms like blogs and Twitter. But here in India we are still discussing the merits and the justification of categorising writing on social media as literature," Joshi added, saying there is now Twitterature in the west.

Rajesh Jain, producer of the film "Blue Mountain", said Facebook had helped him mobilise funds for his maiden venture. Literary efforts can be supported by Facebook and other similar platforms, he said.

Chandi Dutt Shukla, editor of the "Wah Zindgi" magazine of Dainik Bhaskar, and popular blogger Avinash Vachaspati said new problems of "versification were being created", and "faiku has emerged as a new experiment in verse". (Faiku refers to a "fake haiku," a form of humorous verse drawn from the Japanese haiku)

"Much can be said in brief in a faiku," Vachaspati said. "The platforms available are affordable, convenient and fast, with reasonable hope of quick feedback."

Modi as PM? Celebrities tussle at Taj Litfest(22:24)
Agra, Feb 3 (IANS) More than literature, it was politics that got highlighted at the concluding day of the Taj Literature Festival Sunday with a tussle over Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate.

Author Shobha De targeted Modi for post-Godhra riots and ruled out his candidature for prime ministership. She said if the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wanted to project him as its candidate for the top post, "Why don't they announce his name right now?"

BJP leader Vani Tripathi countered her, saying: "When the time comes, it will be done."

Ad guru Prahlad Kakkar was more categorical. He not only supported Modi but said the youths of India want him.

The big gathering did not support De, as no one appeared to agree with her.

Other leaders did not fare well.

Photographer Raghu Rai termed Congress's new vice president Rahul Gandhi a "bhaiyya," while De said Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was ok in parts, but appeared to have lost his political track.

Kakkar said the country needed a strong dose of purgative to get rid of constipation.

Media persons tried hard to drag writers and celebrities into controversial politics, but they most carefully avoided making any critical political comments, perhaps learning from the fallout of Jaipur Festival.

Set up memorial to Ghalib in Agra: Farooque Sheikh(21:32)
Agra, Feb 3 (IANS) Actor Farooque Shaikh Sunday demanded a fitting memorial and even a light and sound show to the doyen of Urdu poetry Mirza Ghalib in the Taj city where the poet was born in 1797.

"Not only a memorial, I would say a light and sound programme in the evening should be started for tourists, many of whom could be interested in arts and literature," Farooque said at a panel discussion on Urdu at the Taj Literature Festival here.

Earlier, Urdu writers and poets at the panel discussion discussed how the language unfortunately identified with a community was in essence a potent vehicle for communicating romance, love and "adab" (culture).

"Woh Urdu ka musafir hai, yehi pehchaan hai uski/ Jahan se bhi guzarta hai, saleeka chhod jata hai... (He is a traveller of Urdu, this is his recognition/ Wherever he passes by, he leaves a way of life)," read Syed Iftikar Jafri, leading the discussion.

Panelists stressed Urdu, a language of the Indian masses, was the "language of sweetness and love". "Born and nurtured in India, Urdu was neither a language of gods, nor of Arabs, or Muslims and emperors, but a language of the Indian people and therefore a medium for love," they said.

Talking to IANS, Jafri said the slogan "Inquilab Zindabad" and patriotic song "Saare Jahan se Achcha Hindostan Hamara" were gifts from Urdu and the language had enriched Bollywood films in a substantial manner.

Chief guest Dil Tajmahali, Mohammed Arshad, poet Ahmar Jalesari, story writer Shahid Salim Shamshi pleaded for secularisation of languages and called for concrete steps to promote Urdu writing.

Four books were also released on the occasion.

A flood of authors, books at Taj festival

By Brij Khandelwal (19:36)
Agra, Feb 3 (IANS) Organisers of the Taj Literature Festival Sunday faced a tricky situation: a queue of writers wishing to have their books released but few readers in some sessions.

"We were never prepared for this virtual avalanche of books," said Somya Kishore, in charge of book releases.

"At one function, there were no fans to cheer the young novelist from Aligarh whose maiden novel 'I have been replaced' was released," he added.

At some parallel sessions, there were more authors with their books than readers. "Looks like book writing is a huge industry or passion in the Taj city," commented social scientist Om Srivastav.

But this was not so for all the books.

Journalist-writer Neelesh Mishra released Anupam Sinha's "Virtual", the world's first philosophical thriller.

But the book that brought tears and touched the hearts of everyone was spiritual therapist Lipa Rath's maiden book, "Living Courageously".

Shivani Chaturvedi called it "most touching moment of the festival".

The Gurgaon-based Rath explained the background and the content of the book.

"It is a journal about living, learning, healing, growing and being free. The book introduces a wide range of topics organised into several short chapters, each offering a window into the search for the meaning of life."

The most controversial book of the festival was Raj Kishore Raje's "Bharat Mein Angrez," which ridicules many of the revolutionary heroes of the freedom movement and lauds the contribution of the British empire towards integrating and reforming social structures.

A book on Fatehpur Sikri, Mughal emperor Akbar's capital, by veteran journalist Bhanu Pratap Singh created ripples in academic circles, after the author presented new evidence to link Fatehpur Sikri with Jainism.

The author told IANS: "Fatehpur Sikri area was a major pilgrim centre for the Jains. This has been proved by recent excavations by the Archaeological Survey of India."

A book on Sufi poetry by Ghumakkad Agantuk Ram, "Saqi Soofi Hai," also attracted notice.

A large number of books released were based on personal experiences, and what one might call poetic outbursts against the system.

The organisers had put up several stalls for sale of books and for authors to give away their autographs.

"The rush of students was unbelievable, exciting," said Amber Bannerjea, principal of DPS School, the venue of the three-day festival.

In three days thousands of students visited the campus and interacted, heard and saw some of their celebrated writers such as Shobha De, Prahlad Kakkad, Hemant Kumar and Ankur Chawla.

Women writers want equal space with men(19:04)
Agra, Feb 3 (IANS) Women writers at the first Taj Literature Festival Sunday complained of discrimination and gender bias in promotional efforts of their literary output.

Without erotica and exposing layers of relational feuds, it is becoming difficult to market serious, thought-provoking literary works, they said at the panel discussion on new writings by female writers.

Initiating the discussion, Dr. Shivani Chaturvedi, medical activist and columnist, posed the query: "Why does one Shobha De get so much mileage and market while hundreds of other serious, sober, perhaps more mature and distinctive stylists of the language fail to impress or be projected at the national level?"

"What is the masala that makes a literary work click? How come so many writers overflowing with a spontaneous burst of emotions, fail to make the grade?" she asked.

Former mayor of Agra, Anjula Singh Mahaur said it was "marketing and commercialism". Shashi Prabha Jain, author of more than a score literary works, blamed the changing perceptions and tastes.

"The spurious and the superficial occupy the front ranks and the works of a lasting nature, that could change lives, are shunted to the background," lamented Prof. Chitralekha Singh, author of a dozen books on fine arts and poetry.

Hindi writers and poets Dr. Lovely Sharma, Rekha Kakkad, Mithilesh Jain and Kusum Chaturvedi wanted a level playing field. They blamed the media for not projecting writers and their works.

Activist Somya Kishore blamed the electronic media and internet for stereotyping women. "The commodification of women, reduced to toys and dolls of wanton lust, had triggered undesirable processes," said poet Rashi Goel.

The three-day literature festival saw active participation of women writers from the Braj Mandal. Kumkum Gautam, who has authored several little books, wanted more intensive interaction with regional authors and activists.

Taj Literature Festival begins in Sanskrit

by Brij Khandelwal
Agra February 2 (IANS):

Literary audience comprising writers, film-makers, poets, critics, were pleasantly surprised when the the three-day Taj Literature Festival opened with a lecture in Sanskrit instead of English, as was anticipated.

Manjulata Sharma in chaste and musical Sanskrit talked about Ghalib Kavyam, quoted shlokas and compared the essence with many of the popular shairs. She said in Sanskrit we had experimented successfully with Haiku, free verse and all the modern structural initiatives.

The packed open air theatre at the DPS, Shastripuram, changed venue of the Festival, applauded and cheered Muzaffar Ali, Raghu Rai, and several others late Friday evening. But the last laugh was reserved for Ashok Chkardhar, whose instant poetic compositions had the house roaring.

Hitches and glitches notwithstanding due to abrupt change in venue, and a degree of uncertainty about the format of the Festival, the early reactions to the sessions held on the opening day, were generally positive. "We are surprised at the reaction and a passionate involvement of the locals," said Meera Shankar, diplomat, former ambassador to the US, who gave the welcome speech. Meera belongs to Agra, and the locals were naturally anxious to see and hear her.

The venue is buzzing with excitement with a whole lot of literary luminaries lined up for Saturday. Anupam Sinha, the ace graphic cartoonist will hold workshop, at least a score books are to be released in the day.

"This one is truly national with a local flavour unlike Jaipur which is too elitist. We are particularly happy to note that the focus is on literature, poetry and romance, and not on controversies, often fake," said political commentator and ex-Heidelberg University academic Paras Nath Choudhary.

Unfortunately, Ruskin Bond is not well and could not make it, but we have a video message from him, Harvijay Singh Bahia, chairman of the Organising Committee told IANS.

Shivani Chaturvedi, spokesperson of the Festival, told IANS, "the most interesting part of this festival is the involvement of the students, thousands of them from all corners are making a beeline to the venue. This is what we had planned, to sensitise today's urban youth to the rich heritage of arts, culture, literature of Braj Mandal. The kids need to pick up on their reading habits. And as you can see the whole venue is packed with the young crowd, and no pseudos around."

The festival opened with a rendition by blind students of Soor Kuti, a tribute to the blind bard of Braj Bhasha. This was followed by a beautiful ghazal by Bhoomika who delighted the audience with Mirza Ghalib's sheer poetry. Ghalib, born in Agra, together with Meer and Nazeer Akbarabadi, are the pillars of Urdu adab, commented Syed Jafri, who leads a panel discussion Saturday on Mohabbat ki Zuban Urdu.

Saturday with Shobha De holding the fort, the orgnisers hope the house will be full.

Raghu Rai opened the photography exhibition and released his Wah Taj, a pictorial tribute to the wonder of wonders. --IANS

Controversy hits Taj Literature Festival(22:48)
Agra, Jan 30 (IANS) The controversy bug that hit the Jaipur Literary Festival has infected Agra's maiden Taj Literature Festival two days before its scheduled inauguration Feb 1.

The controversy started when the principal of St. Peter's College, the venue of the festival, objected to sponsorships and advertisement hoardings being put up.

Father John Ferreira, principal of the college, told IANS: "I had allowed them to use the campus on the condition that they would not use advertisement hoardings and not collect sponsorship funds but use their own resources to hold the festival."

"I can not allow this as this is against the missionary spirit and our commitment to the community. This is a 167-year-old institution with a history and prestige," he added.

Harvijay Singh Bahia, chairman of the festival's organising committee, told IANS: "Father John Ferreira knew about the sponsorships. How can one organise such events without sponsors and advertisers? So much money and time is involved and we have a long list of distinguished authors lined up. There has been a misunderstanding."

Bahia added: "We have shifted the venue to DPS in Shastripuram. Except the venue, nothing has changed."

The organisers have planned a photography exhibition, art in action, publishers' gallery and book releases with sessions on Hindi and Urdu literature.

Among the luminaries attending the three-day festival are Ashok Chakradhar, Shobha De, Muzaffar Ali, Farookh Shaikh, Ashok Banker, Preeti Shenoy, Ankur Chawla, Ameesh Tripathi, Rahul Dev, actor Harsh Chaya and dozens of other poets and writers.