The official recordings of the sessions by Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Jeet Thayil and Ruchir Joshi where the writers read out from the Satanic Verses as a gesture of protest are not available on the festival site. Ten other discussions/ readings that stood out for me:
1) Michael Ondaatje, discussing Cat’s Cradle with Amitava Kumar.
2) David Remnick and Samanth Subramanian on Obama, with enthusiastic participation by JLF’s cows.
3) Samit Basu on building imaginary worlds—one of the few talks at the JLF that focused sharply on the craft of writing.
4) Gulzar, Mohammed Hanif, Madan Gopal: poetry from both sides of the border. This gets going after the first 10-15 minutes.
5) Philip Gourevitch on war: “Genocide has an order.”
6) AC Grayling and Steven Pinker on the Enlightenment, free speech and much more.
7) Cheeran, Charu Nivedita, Gogu Shyamala, Satchidanandan and S Anand on the literature of dissent.
The first two minutes, where S Anand reads out a lovely quote from the Satanic Verses, is missing from the tape—it shouldn’t be, because it’s not illegal to read passages from the book, and the JLF shouldn’t be sanitizing writers’ sessions.
Anand read these lines: “What kind of idea are you? Are you the kind that compromises, does deals, accommodates itself to society, aims to find a niche, to survive; or are you the cussed, bloody-minded, ramrod-backed type of damnfool notion that would rather break than sway with the breeze? – The kind that will almost certainly, ninety-nine times out of hundred, be smashed to bits; but, the hundredth time, will change the world.”
8) Ayesha Jalal on Holy Wars and the need to reclaim the meaning of the word ‘jihad’.
9) Two favourite writers in conversation: Teju Cole and Ben Okri.
10) Katherine Boo and Aman Sethi on writing beyond the “beautiful forevers”.
Out of my sessions—enjoyed listening to Kiran Nagarkar and Rahul Bhattacharya’s exuberantly “vulgar” readings, the conversation with Lionel Shriver: and my husband’s injunction to the audience after he was pulled in at the last moment to moderate the Richard Dawkins session: “If your questions go over 25 words, I’ll take back the mike.”