Monday, February 11, 2008

Yay! I Met Amit Varma

The Guy had agreed to accompany me to Mumbai on Saturday to visit the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. Then I learned that three bloggers I read regularly - Jai Arjun Singh, Chandrahas Choudhury and Amit Varma - were on a panel discussion on Friday. So we ended up going over on Friday and staying in Mumbai overnight. Now I am a big fan of Amit Varma and had exchanged emails with him a few times, and I asked him if I could meet him there. I was very excited at the prospect of meeting the great Amit Varma himself!

I spotted him as soon as we entered the lawn, and gathered the courage to go up and talk to him before the discussion started. We talked for a few minutes and he very kindly treated me to coffee. He also offered to introduce me to Jai Arjun, but unfortunately couldn't find him right then.

And then the entire panel got on stage, and I got to see what Jai Arjun and Chandrahas looked like. Jai looked extremely nervous and diffident. But Chandrahas was the real surprise for me. From the very serious tone of his blog posts, I had visualised him as a going-on middle-aged intellectual-looking man. So I was amazed to see that he was actually a very cute young guy!

The discussion was on banned books, and was a lot of fun. All the panelists were against the idea of banning books, and as I agreed with them already, I hadn't expected a lot of fireworks. But I found myself hanging on to every word. Jai Arjun and two other panelists, Devanghsu Datta and Manjula Padmanabhan, started out with a satirical performance in which they discussed banning nursery rhymes because of their offensive content, effectively making the point that once you start censoring, it is difficult to draw a line because every kind of content may be potentially offensive to someone.

I applauded when the discussion turned to Raj Thackeray, and how people like him were likely to use the argument of "offending someone's sentiments" to call for bans. I applauded when Manjula Padmanabhan wondered why people get offended by books but not by poverty. I applauded when one young man in the audience identified himself as gay - how brave to stand up and publicly acknowledge your homosexuality in a country where it is a crime!

It was great to be there, great to feel that there are people who hold such liberal views and are brave enough to speak out and try to change others' attitudes. It was inspiring that these people included smart, funny young men, people I can respect and like and look up to and identify with, all at the same time.

After the discussion ended, Amit Varma came over to say bye and I introduced him to the Guy. (Hey, that rhymes! Okay, okay, I admit it's not poetry.) And after every few minutes for the rest of the evening and every few hours for the next two days, I kept crying out to the Guy, "Yay! I met Amit Varma!"

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