Fatima Bhutto is gorgeous, intelligent, and was, by far, the best moderator at the festival. The morning session had her moderating a panel of writers representing Palestine, Kashmir and Burma. The writer from Palestine, Raja Shahadeh, a small old man with a thoughtful smile, touched out hearts when he said ‘It is a privilege to be part of a struggle, a resistance, as it helps us empathise with other suffering in this world.’ I have been depressed about the Palestinian-Jewish problem for the longest time and have resisted being drawn into even more hopelessness and despair. But now he has inspired me to read ‘Palestinian Walks’, a book that Raja put together about the history of his country, while on many long walks in the Palestinian mountains. I think it will help me understand – in a hopeful manner – the issues of a country and a people, that is so much a part of our collective angst.
Iftikhar Gilani, a journalist from Kashmir, told some tragic-comic stories of prisoners in Tihar Jail and how on being acquitted just before the finals of the ‘Tihar Olympic Cricket Matches’, one prisoner actually begged the judge to send him back so that he might captain his team (Ward 3) to victory! The judge was so incensed that he ordered that the prisoner be released straight from the court, not even be sent back to complete the usual formalities in jail, as he was convinced the man meant to go back and start up a gang war or some equally sinister thing. Of course the tragic bit about all this is that Tihar Jail is a time portal straight back to medievalism: where the wardens own and terrorise the hapless occupants, where being hung upside down for three days and beaten through it all is commonplace, where men prefer a 2-hour beating to being sent to ‘special’ solitary confinement cells. Gilani had been released after 8 months, as the government couldn’t find charges that would stick; he had been threatened with a term of 14 years. He is one of the lucky ones. And his book ‘My Days in Prison’, tell his story.
We went shopping next. Riddhi Siddhi is an old favourite and has the prettiest bedspreads, jackets and cushion covers. Everyone kicked back and enjoyed the next two hours and then hurried back to listen to the new flavour (hopefully, not of the moment) – Ben Okri. The session was about Afropolitans, a new term coined by the gorgeous Taiye Selasi, in an essay she wrote for the Granta magazine. Later, Ben Okri signed a copy of his book for me, and on that happy note, the day ended.