Last day of the Festival and the crowds are beginning to thin. The first Session is one which I am drawn to if only because of the title it bears "Manelists, Misogyny and Mansplaining". The Panel a group of women and a white haired man. That in itself was odd - but I listened carefully to Antara Ganguli telling us that feminism was about equality and I found that explanation perfectly good. We heard Anuradha Beniwal telling us how difficult it was to be a chess champion in a man's world but also talking about her humble and rural origins where women's roles are very defined. Don't go out, don't dress provocatively, move to your husbands home when you marry, be subsumed in other words. We all know the mansplaining problem and as a panelist put it being talked over as a woman is as common to someone as Hillary Clinton as it is to a girl from Bihar.
We all recognise the difficulties women have faced over the years and Ruchira Gupta was an excellent and advocate for women's rights and the importance of fighting for them and how important education is in this.
What however I found unsatisfactory was that the middle aged man was constantly been put on the defensive and Bee Rowlatt turned to him and asked him how it felt to be a token man on this panel. He was questioned on his position on many issues and each answer was effectively rubbished. Perhaps because they were rubbish but for me this was not the point. First he was a bad choice - the male candidate should have been a contemporary of the other women and spoken about how he was brought up and how he perceived women, instead of this man who resorted to the word "gentleman" to explain his position to women which instantly got him into trouble. Some of the women on the panel were verbally aggressive and dismissive of the man on this panel and maybe there was good cause but it did not come over well. I have always felt that unless men are brought on board in a manner which is respectful and open they will not play the role they must have in the change which is so much needed. We are talking about equality and this must go both ways. What was on display yesterday on this panel missed this important point.
Between the Silences
Naleema Dalmia Adhar took centre stage to talk to us about her new book "The Secret Dairy of Kasturba". Kasturba was Gandhi's wife and she is a largely forgotten person in the history books. The focus of course was on Gandhi. He married her at a very young age and while her early life was very much by his side, a fact largely ignored in his later life and in the history books, he took a vow of celibacy and embarked on some strange sexual experimentation with young girls, some as young as 18 and from the extended family, which must have had deep psychological effects on the women and on Kasturba herself. Naleema who is a psychologist said that it took her 12 years to write this book but she feels it is the right time for it to come out. A time when people would be ready to accept it for what it says. This is a fictional account, based on some of the records and writings from what she thought Kasturba would be feeling. She also talks about Gandhi as Mohandas the husband and the father - a man who behaved cruelly to both his children and his wife and the difference from the Mahatma, the father of the Nation who at the time took on the whole of the British establishment and was able to galvanise a nation to rise against them. She said that of course his importance at the time is undisputed but that he is largely irrelevant to India today - A few years ago a view so publicly proclaimed might have met with some criticism. It is perhaps indicative of how far India has some that this kind of discussion takes place in a public forum.
The day ended for me listening to the magical readings of some distinguished travel writers - of course travel writing together with poetry is one of the oldest forms of writing known and it has endured in spite of the bloggers, the go pros and the open wide opportunities of the World Wide Web.