Nayantara Sahgal will speak about her works and the values she grew up with at The Hindu Lit for Life 2015.

Forget development, it is the age of ghar vapasi, conversions and re-conversions. At least that’s the picture emerging from the actions of numerous affiliates of the Sangh Parivar and the Prime Minster’s studied silence on the subject.

Like millions of others, Nayantara Sahgal is both appalled and aghast at the events unfolding. Often polite to a fault and almost always soft-spoken, she minces no words in telling us that the country needs the healing touch of Nehruvian secularism. “We need to save the idea of India,” she says. “India needs that atmosphere of trust and appreciation again. Unfortunately, today, we are ruled by people whose mindsets belong to the Dark Ages. We are being governed by people who are fascists by mind and ideology. The country is going through dangerous times. I won’t mince any words and say it for all that the RSS is a disgrace to the country, to the meaning of India, to the meaning of Hinduism. They should be consigned to the dustbin of history. A few months of Modi’s rule, and people who voted in the name of development have realised their mistake. The Modi model of development is a farce. Development has been happening since Independence. I cannot put a finger to one accomplishment of this government. Where is the black money they talked about? Where is employment? All they have done is to bring these sadhus and sadhvis to Parliament. They do not represent the great faith of Hinduism. They speak the language of hate and exclusion. They are bringing about an atmosphere of mutual distrust.”

Agreed, but aren’t Opposition parties calling the government’s bluff on the subject? “I believe Janata Parivar is doing a good job of raising their voice both inside and outside the Parliament. The need of the hour is for the Opposition parties to get together and present a united front.”

But the Congress has not been as vocal as it probably could have been? “I agree that the Congress has to get its act together. It needs to sit down and find out where it has gone wrong in recent times. Nobody has destroyed the Congress. The Congress destroyed itself. All is not lost, though. It is still a countrywide organisation. And let’s not forget that Modi, for all talk of the wave, got only 31 per cent of the votes. There is hope yet for the Congress. All it needs is a strong leader upfront to speak about its achievements, its accomplishments.”

Will that leader be from beyond the dynasty? She avoids a direct reply, merely saying, “I have seen some impressive spokespersons of the party. They are young, energetic and talented. They are articulate too and have great conviction in what they say on television,” adding, “But the BJP’s politics is inimical to the idea of India. It has to be reined in.”

The normally unflappable Sahgal seems perturbed. Pray at such a time, what role can artistes, authors and lit fests play in bringing about an atmosphere of mutual trust, respect and appreciation. “You mean mutual respect as in between nations or communities within the country? At any level, I do not want to respect the RSS. They have done great disservice to the nation but, yes, at the level of art and culture, one has to engender an atmosphere of appreciation. Literature is the only avenue through which people who believe in the idea of India can come together and have a dialogue, celebrate differences, show the way forward. At The Hindu lit fest in Chennai, I hope I get to speak about my works, the values I have grown up with, and all of us have to extend our hand to control this fascist regime.”

Talking of her work, Ritu Menon’s biography of Sahgal — Out of Line: A literary and political biography of Nayantara Sahgal — was released earlier this year. How happy is she with the book? Sahgal is disarmingly honest. “I haven’t read the book. I made my papers available to her. Beyond that I left it to her. I met her a few times for the book. She is a friend of mine. Earlier, Ritu along with Urvashi Butalia had been in touch with me for my book, Relationships. So I have known her for a long time, and I have been told the book is selling well. In Delhi, I had a good discussion at the time of the launch and I hope to have one on similar lines at The Hindu lit fest with Geeta Doctor.”

All that will be after a couple of weeks. For the moment, Sahgal, surrounded by her family and friends in Dehradun, knows no rest. The idea of India has to be rescued.

About Nayantara Sahgal

She is the author of nine novels, eight non-fiction works, a collection of short stories, and wide-ranging political and literary commentary. She has received the Sahitya Akademi Award, the Sinclair Prize and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has held Fellowships in the US at the Bunting Institute, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and the National Humanities Center. In the 1980s she served as Vice-President of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties and, in 1990-91, as Chair (Eurasia) on the jury of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. She has been awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters by the University of Leeds and a Diploma of Honour from the International Order of Volunteers for Peace, Salsomaggiore. She has received the Distinguished Alumna Award from Wellesley College, Massachusetts and from Woodstock School, Mussoorie. She lives in Dehradun and has received the city’s Doon Ratna. In 2009, she was a recipient of Zee TV’s Awadh Samman.

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