At the end of the year, Mumbai has been the centre of much political debate. Following the Maharashtra State elections, The Bharati Janta Party (BJP) forged ahead of the Congress and strong regional parties such as the Shiv Sena.
In fact, ever since Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, the BJP has been winning in many states of the country. There is a great interest in our changing political milieu and, interestingly, this is spilling over to the cultural scene. The Tata Literature Live festival had a discussion on Rewriting India’s History with senior newspaper editors Dileep Padgoankar and Vir Sanghvi; Ideas of India was another discussion with Pavan Verma and Leela Gandhi.
The festival saw a huge collection of writers from many countries including Vijay Seshadri, Pulitzer Poetry Prize winner and William Dalrlymple, who spoke about the launch of the Indian Army in Afghanistan. The Landmark Lifetime Achievement Award was given to M.T. Vasudevan Nair, the multi-talented Malayalam author, scriptwriter and film director, who has written nine novels, nineteen collections of short stories, three travelogues, five books of literary studies, and three books for children!
Randamoozham is very often considered his masterpiece—the story of the Mahabharata told from the point of view of Bhima. Perhaps, the most innovative aspect of the festival was the addition of the Poet Laureate of India Award which went to Joy Goswami, the Bengali poet.
Anil Dharker, the festival Director, while announcing the award, stated: poetry is the highest form of literature but one which is sadly neglected. I wish Indian children had more exposure to local poets; the verse taught in schools is often totally alienated from the immediate environment of our children.
The past few months have seen other festivals, such as the Times Lit Fest, Centre Stage Festival Sama: Dance of Ecstasy; Prithvi Theatre Festival, the Mumbai Film Fest, and the India Art Festival. Sometimes I wonder if this growing trend is related to the growth in social media. Indians, with a background of celebrations, can hardly be satisfied making on-line friends!
Among all the high-profile happenings, smaller shows are often ‘lost’. The Maya Musical was one which managed to get noticed. It was conceived as a way to celebrate five years of Teach for India.
The musical is a magical adventure of Kutti, the South Indian dragoness; Indigo, the talking peacock, and Ska, the nineheaded snake. It was directed by Nicholas Dalton, a Broadway actor/dancer and Sanaya Bharucha from Teach for India.
The performance focused on the kind of education all children deserve not just the underprivileged, one that enhances academics, values and mindsets. Two other plays involving children, The Tricky Part and All the Rage, were also presented. The former explored sexuality. In India, I learnt, that sexual abuse of boys is as common as that of girls. One in two boys is abused—yet there’s barely any awareness about it. The recent terror attack, killing 150 students in Pakistan, surely tells us the horrors faced by our children. Prayers were offered all over India during this time.
There is also a growing trend in India to award social workers. The Mother Teresa Memorial International Award for Social Justice (2014) was conferred on Anuradha Koirala, who has rescued more than 12,000 victims of sex trafficking.
Others awarded were the producers of Udaan TV series highlighting the plight of children trapped in bonded labour; Medha Patkar, for championing social and economic Justice; Dr. Vandana Shiva for environmental conservation and empowerment of farmers.
Another NGO, Salaam Baalak Trust (SBT), which works with children in Delhi and other cities has received the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards for 2014. The award is in recognition of SBT’s use of creative and performing arts to bring change in the lives of the disadvantaged children. SBT was formed in 1988 with the proceeds of Mira Nair’s film Salaam Bombay. It runs shelters for homeless where children are given food, medical aid, and access to education and vocational skills. They also participate in workshops on theatre, dance, puppetry, music and other arts. Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to teach them and become aware of the enormous difficulties they face. Most of them live on the streets and the shelter becomes their second home.
To mark the 125th birth anniversary of Jamnalal Bajaj, an industrialist and close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, Indian activists Surendra Koulagi, Ram Kumar Singh and Chennupati Vidya and Thai national Sulak Sivaraksa were conferred awards. One of the winners rightly said: India is a country of a hundred issues and the mother of a billion solutions. There is a wave of development in the country but we must see that human development is not overlooked.
A day or so, after the award, I met the Vice Chairman of the group, Madhur Bajaj. He informed me that this event is special for the family, and in his vote of thanks he stated: ‘It’s not a coincidence, but the hand of providence that two warring nations (India and Pakistan) have shared the Nobel Prize for peace.’
The Sanctuary Wildlife Awards were also given to recognize and celebrate our unsung wildlife heroes who defend the wildernesses of the subcontinent and thus safeguard our environment.
All in all, 2014 was an eventful year in all spheres of Indian life—political, social and cultural. As they say—never a dull moment in Mumbai!
However, this year many legends passed away including Sitara Devi. Born in1920 in Kolkata, she came into her own as a Kathak legend and was a pioneering force in bringing the genre to
Anju Makhija is a Sahitya Akademi
award-winning poet, translator and
playwright based in Mumbai. She
recently co-edited, To Catch A Poem:
An Anthology for Young People. She has
written articles and columns for several
publications including Indian Express,
Pioneer, Independent and Mid-Day.