Monday, November 07, 2011

Goa Think Fest: a View from Afar

A few months after a tumultuous (but nevertheless quite glamorous) Jaipur Literature Festival, there has been another major global-oriented event in India, the Goa Think Fest, which took place this past weekend. 

The ThinkFest is organized by editors of Tehelka (Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Choudhury) as well as Newsweek -- and one of the bold face names to speak at the event was none other than Tina Brown herself. Also on the roster were William Dalrymple (speaking on Afghanistan), the venerable Pakistani journalist Pervez Hoodbhoy ("Seven Ways to Rescue Pakistan"), psychoanalytic theorists Sudhir Kakar and Ashis Nandy, authors Shashi Tharoor and Hari Kunzru (the latter has a new book out), anti-corruption activists Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal (though apparently Anna Hazare did not end up showing up), hipster actor Abhay Deol and hipster filmmakers Anurag Kashyap and Dibaker Banerjee ("Movies Bollywood is Too Scared to Make"), architect Frank Gehry (!), oncologist and cancer writer Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee (who recently won a Pulitzer prize for his book on cancer), and Pakistani novelist Mohammed Hanif. 

First, the wow: seems like a great line-up of writers, intellectuals, and artists (I didn't mention all the musicians and visual artists who were also there) all in the same place for a weekend. I could do without Thomas Friedman and V.S. Naipaul, but I suppose there are others for whom these folks remain a big draw. 

I was hoping for an exciting Twitter feed related to the Think Fest (hashtags #goathinkfest and #thinkfest), but mostly what you see is a lot of famous and almost-famous people saying things like, "had a great time at #goathinkfest" "dancing to Kailash Kher at #goathinkfest", and so on. That said, I did come across one interesting thread via Twitter, a bit of drama behind the festival, starting with a critique of Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka by a "theater veteran" named Hartman de Souza in the Hindustan Times. Tarun Tejpal's subsequent defense of buying a property in Goa, his editorial policies at Tehelka as well as the choice of venue for the Think Fest, seemed mainly satisfactory to me, though I do want to know more about de Souza's claim that Tehelka might have shelved a story related to illegal mining in the state in order to secure some advantages from the state government related to the organizing of the Festival. (I should also mention that Hartman de Souza has a follow-up in response to Tejpal's response, at Kafila.)

In the absence of exciting chatter on Twitter, more conventional searches for headlines related to the festival turns up a story on NDTV, featuring Siddhartha Mukherjee talking about Steve Jobs' death. (As has been widely reported, Steve Jobs' decision to try an unorthodox/holistic treatment to his pancreatic cancer rather than immediate surgery may have turned what was originally a treatable diagnosis into a fatal one.) 

One good general summary of the event is up at the Daily Beast (only appropriate), by Lucas Wittman, while another (also appropriately) can be found at Tehelka.  There is a hint of snark in Manjula Lal's Tehelka piece pertaining to the hollowness and bombast of some of the speakers that I especially liked (cf. the comment on Aamir Khan and the silly quote from Shashi Tharoor suggesting that Delhi police officers report their daily activities on Twitter).

As a final note, I should add that Goa will soon also host the Goa Arts and Literature Festival (December 17-21). I would love to be there for that event  too -- many of the speakers there are people I would consider friends and colleagues -- but sadly I don't think it will be happening for me this year. Perhaps I will again be able to spy in from afar...

1 comment:

David Boyk said...

I have to admit that seeing them hype Friedman's appearance made me much less interested in the whole thing than I might have been otherwise.

Since I didn't go, the main effect that it had on me was that I was shocked to pick up an issue of Tehelka featuring one article by Ashis Nandy (which I'd read online, which of course wasn't Tehelka's fault) and NOTHING ELSE. The entire rest of the issue, and I'm not exaggerating, contained nothing aside from self-promotion. Apart from a self-congratulatory introduction by Tejpal, the rest was self-congratulatory summaries of past Tehelka scoops. Each one was only a paragraph long, so there was not enough space for anything other than a brief mention of the topic and an explanation of why it was a momentous event in the history of journalism, brought to you by Tehelka. I was, honestly, taken aback at the brazenness of the self-regard.

I also thought the Nandy piece was pretty tired, but that's neither here nor there.