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'The Three-Ring Circus Of The Tamasha Culture'

Amitav Ghosh on his blog:

I have never attended the Jaipur Literary Festival; nor does a visit loom in the foreseeable future. This is largely (but not wholly) because I have no taste for tamashas. Although unusual, this aversion is by no means unknown in the Indian subcontinent. I know of many writers and readers who share it, and I suspect that most of us were drawn to the world of books precisely because it provided an island of quiet within the din of tamasha-stan.

My own inclinations make it difficult for me to understand why Salman Rushdie is so drawn to this festival. But each to their own and I recognize that I am in a tiny minority. The great majority of writers seem to want to go and anyone who does should certainly be able to. It is appalling that Rushie was prevented from attending and I am wholly in agreement with those who believe that this bodes very ill indeed for the future of free expression in India...

As a child I was drawn to books because they were a refuge from a world that seemed to be at war with the very idea of an inner life. That world has become today exponentially more noisy, crowded and intrusive than ever before. Public life in India is now a whirling continuum that seamlessly unites cricket, politics and Bollywood. Each domain leaks into the other and the major figures are all closely linked. It is no coincidence that many of these elements are also much in evidence at book festivals. The intention evidently is to make the book world another link in the tightly joined whirligig of Cripollywood. It is easy to see the attractions of this, especially for writers who are striving to bring their work to public notice. But there is a price to pay: we need to remind ourselves that Bollywood movies are routinely re-edited to accommodate protests of various kinds. Recent incidents in Jaipur and in Kolkata, where Taslima Nasreen was also prevented from participating in a festival, suggest that Indian publishing will have to adapt its practices to those of the film industry if it is to pitch its tent beside the three-ring circus of the tamasha culture.

Read the full blogpost on Amitav Ghosh's blog: Festivals and Freedom

17 Feb 2012, 02:47:11 AM | Buzz

Amitava Kumar in the Hindustan Times, Sea of Poppycock: 

It strikes me as odd that Ghosh’s grand statement about the need for a writer to carefully cultivate interiority was made public on his blog and published in a national newspaper. Consider also Ghosh’s advice to writers that they retreat — and protect their solitude — from their readers. This was immediately contradicted by his careful curating of several admiring readers’ responses to his original piece.

His is an utterly selective, self-serving narrative. Over the last five months or so, I have attended five literary festivals in the US and India. Except for the meeting in Jaipur, which has served as the occasion for his fatwa against festivals, Ghosh participated in each one of the others. So, he is being more than a bit disingenuous here and his agenda remains baffling to me.

I note all this not to point out the hypocrisy and bad faith. Instead, I want to underline why Ghosh’s piety appeals so much to our middle-class souls. I think this is because even his most calculated statement is wrapped, like a hard betel-nut, in the fragrant paan of high-minded morality.

10 Feb 2012, 11:32:24 PM | Buzz

Amitav Ghosh has now put up a lot of responses to his blog-post, all of them expressing full agreement with him, and he offers some comments to conclude the exchange:

A tamasha is, in a sense, a kind of hectic noise-making, resorted to when there is nothing of substance to say. It is what comes about when presentation overtakes content, when spectacle overwhelms substance. At a certain point the sparkling surface ceases to be merely a kind of packaging and begins to devour the thing within: the waraq makes a meal of the barfi and the curtain will not yield to the stage.

What results is a kind of flattening. Every meaningful activity is specific and particular but all tamashas are essentially the same; they are predictable and repetitive. When the Tamasha colonizes activities a sparkling skin forms over them, slowly fusing them together: they become a continuum, a single seamless tamasha. The activities are digested to form a gas, light but flammable, that can hold aloft a great shining blimp. This is how Cripollywood came about.

It would be sad indeed if books too were to disappear into this floating void. But I don’t think it will happen. The responses to my post leave me in no doubt at all that books will be the principal site of resistance to the Tamasha’s advance.

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