Its been 6 days since the Thinkfest in Goa, put together by Tehelka and Newsweek, ended. And I’m still thinking. A dazzling array of speakers from all over the world and all walks of life kept 700-odd attendees spellbound.
I could and will wax eloquent at the marvelous line up of speakers the organizers have managed to assemble. Kudos to them for living up to the name of their event and provoking thought, from banal to philosophical, from ludicrous to emotional and every one of them felt legitimate, contextual and as if the thought could be developed into the full fledged expression of something meaningful and relevant and perhaps life-changing. I just had the sense of all this, sitting there.
What struck me, though, were the themes that repeated themselves over and over again. In the context of society, the resonating thought was on the values we seem to be losing and the danger of the advances of science against the backdrop of an eroding value system and an incapacity to evaluate what’s right and what’s wrong. From education to cloning, mining to industrial development, the politics of development at the cost of the environment, at the cost of culture, at the cost of people’s lives and livelihoods was a serious point of discussion. When Dayamani Barla (she shared space with famed activist Aruna Roy) unleashed her impassioned, inflamed appeal for a balanced, sustainable approach to ‘development’, it was impossible not to pay attention (or cry). “What will you leave for the future generations? Don’t we have a responsibility towards them?,” she argued, underlining the emotional and deep linkage of tribals to their forests. “What’s the price you can pay me for open skies, clean water….”, tugged at the heartstrings and no one there could refute the reality of what she brought to our rather narrow (let’s accept it) world view.
In another vein, Bjorn Lomborg, argued for spending precious dollars on more relevant pursuits than climate change, quoting disease eradication, better nutrition for children and education as causes that will have far more long-term positive impact on society. Having been fed too long and too hard on the paranoid discourse of climate change, its a tough call to make. Another right vs righter debate to consider.
And then there were the hair-raising experiences of Sherbanoo Taseer, whose dad was shot last year in Pakistan by his own bodyguard for opposing the country’s blasphemy law, and Maajid Nawaz, a reformed ex-jihadi who experienced extreme alienation as a teenager and served four years in an Egyptian political prison before the light came through! Their stories told of a growing amount of intolerance for a liberal, or even ‘other’ point of view, which scares us all and threatens the normalcy of life the world over. Once again, the values of tolerance and plurality seem to be floundering and there is a real need to give space to voices of dissent while we continue to develop systems and processes for healthy debate.
In context of the individual, the lessons were more pertinent to my life. Dr Sidhartha Mukherjee, while discoursing on his epic book on cancer, point out that in the face of mortality (and this is something we all face somewhere in our heads), we need to “re-imagine what living is… create enriched spaces for yourself and enrich the spaces of others”. Aamir Khan’s experiences and those of many others who went up on the stage those three days taught me the invaluable importance of following your heart, doing what you love to do, not dwelling too much upon the opinions of ‘others’, really a call to go back to instinct rather than kill your talent by over-analysis and too much introspection. This kind of intuitive, more spontaneous way of living life has become difficult for me as time has passed. Over the past few months, I have consciously (and that’s ironic) decided to go back into a mode of indulgence and pursue activities I love. In this frame of mind, to hear the greats (Frank Gehry and V S Naipaul, for instance) and many inspiring people (Hari Kunzru, Mohammed Hanif and many others) advocate my vagrant, drifting activities as the right thing to do was absolutely delightful Really, am super glad I went. Amid that glut of voices, opinions and statements, I saw chinks of pure light come through to me…
There’ll me more on these pages in the coming weeks about other stuff that inspired me and some scans from the crazy notes I took (bad sketches, eccentric doodles and lots of lettering-you get the picture) So watch out!