A couple of weeks ago, Times Literary Carnival’s website grandly announced that one of it’s venues was the Aditya Birla Hall. If you go to their website now, you’ll find a little tab that says “Venue”. This is a recent addition. Clearly, many people, like me, wondered where the devil is this Aditya Birla Hall. Had the Birlas built something new? Was this a tucked-away spot that we’d all forgotten about?


It’s Mehboob Studios.

No, not a sound stage. Of course not.

Until Sunday, thanks to god knows how much cash, Mehboob Studios’ Stage 3 is Aditya Birla Hall. You’ve got to give it to the Times group for coming up with cash-earning strategies like this.

So today, on Day One of the Times Literary Carnival, I decided to see whether Aditya Birla Hall has caught on. I hopped on an auto and said, “Take me to Aditya Birla Hall.”
The auto guy blinked and said, “What?”
“Aditya Birla Hall,” I replied. “It’s on Hill Road. Number 100, as a matter of fact.” (Well, something to that effect. This is my Hindi. “As a matter of fact” is a little more literary flair than I can manage in the national language. But it sounds so much better.)
“There’s no such place in Bandra,” the auto driver informed me. “Whoever told you that is speaking rubbish.” I whooped silently — at least someone I know has a handle on what The Times of India feeds us each morning — and told him to take me to Mehboob Studios.
“That place exists,” he said and vroomed.

As far as lit fests are concerned, I think I’ve completely lost the plot. I was bored while listening to a panel that had Sunil Khilnani and Katherine Boo talking about their work (moderated by Jonathan Shainin) and that says nothing good about me because this is one of the smartest panels anyone could put together. All three are intelligent and articulate. Boo, in particular, is just wonderful. Her face lights up when she smiles, and she smiles often. Soft spoken, polite and sincere, she doesn’t use any unnecessary words. There’s something fragile about her until she speaks. When she talks, you don’t think there’s anything un-strong about her. But Boo spoke the least. I’m relieved to report I wasn’t bored while listening to her. Shainin and Khilnani did most of the talking, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Except somehow, it just didn’t feel…lively and a little more than twelve hours later, there’s nothing that they said that’s lingering in my mind. Come to think of it, twelve minutes after the event, I couldn’t recap what had been said. Only some of what Boo said made an impression, like her scorching reply to an elderly gent who questioned how she could assume what “characters” in Behind the Beautiful Forevers were thinking. “It isn’t fiction and it wasn’t assumption. It was bloody hard work,” she said and each word she spoke was like a glowing ember. So much so that I sniffed for the smell of singed hair by the she’d finished her reply. Poor man.

People around me were bored. There was shuffling, fidgeting, checking of schedules, wannabe-discreet exits. Maybe that’s what infected me and made my brain sluggish. Maybe I’ve become even stupider than before.

I’m doomed. Next I’ll be listening to Yo Yo Honey Singh and lining up to listen to Chetan Bhagat.

Ye gods.

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