|Arvind Krishna Mehrotra|
20th January 2012
The threat of a ban, the artist’s dissent, self-expression, it was all there, in between the uttered words, at the inaugural session of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012. The session was aptly called, Bhakti Poetry: The Living Legacy.
After an introduction and welcome by Festival Producer Sanjoy Roy; poet, literary critic, academician and activist Purushottam Agarwal spoke on bhakti poetry over the ages. He talked about the element of God as a child in bhakti poetry and about the poet’s equality and partnership in the relationship.
Agarwal proceeded to voice his opinion in his Hindi oration in the following manner, “No one has a right to ban literature. Just as a writer has a right to write, the reader has a right to read.” He also said, “Expression is the most common of the fundamental rights. The freedom of expression is not limited to writers and artists. Expression has to be for all who stand for it.”
This was followed by the keynote address of poet and translator, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra. This was less of a keynote address, but more of a recitation of the poems of Kabir, translated by Mehrotra himself, and some translations of Tukaram, as rendered by the Late Arun Kolatkar.
Tukaram’s poems offered a rare angle of Tukaram’s wife, the words describing her lament, even as the poet’s fascination with Lord Krishna had lead to the husband not performing his conventional duties to earn a livelihood.
The selected Kabir poems reflected and criticized the futility of religious rituals, even as Mehrotra read in an effective tone, the ultimate truth:
all bundled up;
you will be delivered
to death hell…
Mehrotra concluded his recitation by saying, “Had Kabir been here, at Jaipur 2012, he and Richard Dawkins would have had a lot to say to each other. Perhaps they would have found some common ground. They might even have made common cause…”
Thus did begin the literature festival, with us not yet knowing, with or without Salman Rushdie?