Monday, January 28, 2013

Rebellion a topical shifting idea: Jeet Thayil

 Booker-nominated author Jeet Thayil, who was caught up in a controversy for reading out portions of Salman Rushdie's banned book during last year's Jaipur Literature Festival, today said there are people in every gathering who are quick to take offence.

"It seems (that especially here) there is a contingent of people at every gathering looking at a sentence or a gesture to get offended. It is cheapening of the idea of rebellion," said Thayil addressing a session titled "A rebel state", at the the Lit Fest here.

In the spirit of the theme of the session, when invited to read out from his debut book "Nacropolis", the Delhi-based poet and author chose to read out a section filled with a very common Hindi swear word.

Issuing a disclaimer before he began to read, Thayil said, "My apologies to anyone who might feel offended. But this is being said by a character in my book."

"It contains a word that is very commonly heard in Mumbai but is not very often employed in English literature," he said.

As the audience applauded at the end of his reading, Thayil expressed his gratitude to the small gathering at the first session of the last day of the five-day festival.

"Thanks for being a sport," he said.

Thayil was in conversation with Marathi writer Bhalchandra Nemade who extended his support to the author, and said "there is ample scope for rebels like Jeet to exist".

The discussion that centred around rebellion in literature.

Nemade also argued that every rebellion is necessary in some way. "Every rebellion has a constructive value," he said.

Thayil also pointed out the idea of rebellion changes over time.

"The writers or poets who were once considered rebels are now thought of as part of the cannon. So rebellion is a topical shifting idea," he added.

What remains to be seen, according to him, is how any writing considered rebellious now is perceived in the future.

"We need to see how these books are read in the 30 to 50 years," Thayil said.

At the the end of the session, Nemade had a message for the young generation to go much ahead of just rebellion in books. "A bit of revolution will clear the country forever. So, this would be my message to the younger generation."

At the JLF 2012, Thayil was at the center of a row after he read passages from Salman Rushdie's banned book "Satanic Verses". The aftereffects were seen even this year when some groups voiced opposition to his inclusion in this year's festival and also when he bagged this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Kitty Seawall road best site for 1823 Slave Rebellion monument- Sculptor

Amid controversy over government’s location of the1823 Slave Rebellion Monument, Sculptor Ivor Thom insisted that the Kitty Seawall Road is the best site.

“The land space was there, place for parking and everything was there and more than , anything else, the viewing was very good,” he told a news conference.

He said “we thought that that would have been the best place to put it” because it could be easily seen by persons traversing to and from East Coast Demerara from different directions.

“I still think that…it is the best of all the areas that were suggested,” said Thom.

A broad cross section of African Guyanese groups had planned to meet with Thom to urge him to make a public statement about the location. Those groups plan to ignore the government-built monument and go ahead with plans to build their monument on Parade Ground. They say that it was there slaves were tried, convicted and executed.

However, Culture Minister Frank Anthony has said that a monument on Parade Ground would not be widely seen by Guyanese and it would obstruct the playing of football and other games there.

The state-run Government Information Agency (GINA) said Thom explained the sequence of events that led to the selection of the current location, which he said fulfills the criterion.

Thom outlined the circumstances regarding the site’s selection.    He noted that while preparing his model for the monument he had Paradise, on the East Coast of Demerara, as a possible site however, after being awarded the contract he became aware that certain criterion had to be met regarding the monument’s location. This includes emotional and physical connection to the rebellion, ambience, adequate land space, accessibility, public view, parking and connection to African people.

Currently the base for the monument is being completed and when that is done the monument will be unveiled.

A number of areas were suggested and visited including the Victoria Law Court, Parade Ground, National Park, Success/Montrose, Ch√Ęteau Margot, LBI, Old RDC office at Paradise, Melanie Damishana, Ann’s Grove, Belfield, Bachelor’s Adventure and Mahaica.

Thom explained that points were awarded to the suggested areas on the site selection criteria, and based on that Paradise and LBI received the most points. However, LBI was ruled out since it is a predominantly East Indian community and does not tie in with the criterion which entails connection to African people.

After reviewing the other areas, Melanie was identified since Paradise didn’t have the adequate land space. Thom noted that challenges arose with regards to locating the owner of the available land space in Melanie. Indications of its unavailability were clear after a basketball court was constructed on the said land.

With regards to the protests, Thom stated that it was being peddled that Former President Bharat Jagdeo had turned the sod for the 1823 monument however, after visiting the archives it was found that the former President had turned the sod for an Emancipation monument, and not for the 1823 monument.

Additionally, advertisements were issued in the newspapers seeking suggestions for the monument site and only one person responded with Parade Ground. It was found that there was not suitable for several reasons, one being that the monument had to be of a certain height and based on that its viewing would have posed as challenge.

In this regard, it was decided that if there was no suitable place on the East Coast for the monument then it should be placed as close as possible to the ECD, hence the current site, at Carifesta and Vlissengen Roads, was viewed as the gateway to the ECD.

Thom recalled that in 2007 one of the African groups in Guyana contacted him to design a monument based on the contributions made by Africans to Guyana and such was done. Thom brought a model/scale version to Guyana to show the group that said it was sexist because it only had a male figure. The necessary changes were made, and to this date the group has not made contact with Thom again.