Is literature above politics?


ARE WRITERS above politics, above the news, above issues? Do writers have responsibilities over and above that of being good writers? What is the relationship of the writer with society, with the State, with institutions? These are, as the novelist, critic and composer Amit Chaudhuri told me in Jaipur, the air escaping his lips with a slight, weary hiss, “very old questions”. They were asked, for instance, in 1962, at a famously truculent writers’ conference in Edinburgh. At a restaging of that conference, a new set of writers found themselves just as exercised by the questions as their counterparts some half a century earlier. In Edinburgh the second time around, the writer Elie Shafak invoked Theodor Adorno (“To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric”), to ask whether writing fiction in politically fraught circumstances was a luxury.

She was asking the question of the Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif, who in her keynote address argued that the writer’s job in a crisis was to be a responsible citizen and take to the streets: “The immediate truth is too glaring to allow a more subtle truth to take form… Your talent at the time of crisis is to tell the stories as they are, to help them achieve power as reality, not as fiction.” Onstage at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival, the academic Timothy Garton Ash asked that his fellow panelists address the relationship between the writer and the State without recourse to those homiletic standbys of ‘bearing witness’, ‘exposing the evils of the State’ and ‘speaking truth to power’. But, as Soueif, who was also at Jaipur, suggests, when faced with an oppressive government, what else is a writer to do? Read More>

Among The Unbelievers

In a secular society, can sacred texts be read and analysed as literature? Can scrutiny and belief coincide? Ajachi Chakrabarti speaks to four eminent intellectuals 

‘Secular historians have to see religious texts in human terms’

Tom Holland | 44  Read More>



‘Elements In Each Religion Nourish Violence’

Ashok Vajpeyi | 41 Read More>



‘We Have To Learn From Each Other, Or We Are Doomed’

Sadakat Kadri | 48 Read More>



‘You Have To Translate Religious Language Into ‘Secularese’

Timothy Garton Ash | 48  Read More>



The Misogynist’s Toolkit?

Pleasure in our ancient classics appears to be a male preserve, finds Nishita Jha at the Jaipur Literature Festival

IT WAS late evening and the front lawn at the Jaipur Literature Festival was packed. ‘Reimagining the Kamasutra’ had come to a choice between two points of view: is the Kama Sutra a philosophical treatise teaching men that pleasure is an exch – ange betw een equals, or is it responsible for rape?

It was no coincidence that several of Jaipur’s sessions this year focussed on the issues of gender and violence. Earlier this month, reacting to the torrent of public protests, TEHELKA ran a story speaking to Indian men about women, asking, among other things, how far pop culture caused us to absorb misogynistic attitudes. Several men spoke about the immoral influence of Western cinema, how women who smoked or danced or had sex on screen, were “asking for it”. Read More>

‘It’s Through Imperfection And Chaos That Creativity And Rebirth Emerge’

Described as the Kumbh Mela of the literary world, the Jaipur Literature Festival draws the crowds and, increasingly, more politically charged controversy than it can handle. Sanjoy Roy, the Festival’s producer, talks to Sunaina Kumar about the challenges of providing a platform for free speech in the face of growing intolerance. Read More>