While waiting to hear about the line-up of writers for the next Khushwant Singh Litfest (12-14 October 2018), let’s take a flashback to last year’s festival, and especially the wine preferences of some eminent participants.
Ambassador K.C. Singh: As a first-time participant at the Festival, KC, as he is affectionately known, was seduced by the locale, but more so by the deep engagement of the audiences in Kasauli. As a diplomat turned columnist and sought after TV commentator on political and strategic issues, Ambassador Singh chaired a panel on Pakistan…. a subject which always stirs passions, is thought-provoking and evokes debate. On being asked when the time may be ripe for “reunification, à la Germany” KC pragmatically notes that the invaluable common cultural context is being diminished by extreme religious movements in both India and Pakistan. Any rapprochement is far down the road, if at all. The role of religion will first need to be diminished, essentially through education, he says sagely. Even just arriving at peace would be a major accomplishment. On the easier topic of wine, KC admits his gradual conversion from whisky to wine, preferring the new world reds which go well with Indian food, he believes, especially the flavourful, well bodied Australian varieties. While the Indian wine industry is developing and there is an enlarged market, some states are now going dry, such as Bihar – hopefully, others do not follow.
Rahul Singh: Growing up as a young adult in France, Rahul had early exposure to wine and already decided on his favourite – St. Emilion from the Bordeaux region. Among Indian wines, he rates Grover La Reserve as one of the best. Some other well-known reds are less consistent in quality, he notes but welcomes the introduction of Fratelli wines in the Indian market. Rahul observes that the drinking habits in India are changing and people need to have access to high-quality wines, which right now are very costly. Considering the health benefits of moderate wine consumption, he strongly feels that spirits should be taxed heavily, and tariffs on wine substantially decreased. We wish…
At the conclusion of the litfest named after – and in honour of – his father Khushwant Singh, Rahul comments on the growing audiences every year as well as eminent writers from a broad spectrum of backgrounds. At this festival, starting with Arun Shourie at the opening and concluding with Anupam Kher! Every session packed. People describe it as a “Boutique Festival”, he says, the environment of Kasauli making intimate interactions possible. We hope Rahul can keep it that way…
Mark Tully: In his 60 years living in India, the author Mark Tully, emphatically states that he is a beer drinker, not wine! Wine does not have that malty taste which he likes. Nevertheless, he has observed the growing wine market in India.
With some consternation, he says frankly, When he first arrived in India it was only beer and spirits. Now, at some receptions only wine is served, he notes desolately. As a young man in Britain, it was beer, just beer and he’s stuck with that. This is Mark’s third time at the Khushwant Singh Litfest – he loves the smaller festivals and greatly appreciates the evolution of this festival. The key to success Mark feels is to keep it small.
Vikram Seth: With his books of epic proportions, depth and detail, it is with disbelief to hear Vikram say that he is lazy, likes to sleep, waste time! He describes his early training in Indian classical music – music, “a universal language” says Vikram. He certainly relishes wine, cradling a glass of red during his presentation at the Litfest, while describing his preferred ragas, relevant for different times of the day. And while exposing his writing habits – in bed, with a dark blue duvet! His first time in Kasauli and at the Khushwant Singh litfest, Vikram says this is the only festival he loves.
Appreciating that it is so unusual to find filmmakers, musicians and writers at the same festival. He describes himself as a “Burgundy person”, but having been introduced to wine during the years he lived in California, Vikram appreciates Zinfandel with its spicy notes. Although he is partial to Pinot Noir with its complexity. Among Italians, it is Barolo and Amorosa. And among whites, Viognier… Here’s to you Vikram – keep writing and keep the wine glass aloft!
Bachi Karkaria: Bachi, a staunch supporter and regular at the KS Litfest never fails to disappoint. Trained and groomed under Khushwant Singh himself for 8 years early in her career in Bombay, she remembers his words: “Take work very seriously, but not yourself very seriously”. Full of pep and bounce, Bachi wrote an Agony Aunt column for the Bombay Mirror in early days, advising people of all ages and seeing them through their despair. She was the first courageous Indian journalist to take up the issue of HIV and AIDS. Reflecting on her latest book, “In Hot Blood: The Nanavati case that shook India”, Bachi explains that the book has come out of the “judgement” of the case – and not simply based on “urban mythology” which fascinated generations for 60 years. Chance encounters added to the richness of the content. Reviews credit the book as “Investigative journalism at its best”, a “thriller pace”. These are rewarding moments says Bachi.
Standing by the bonfire at the Khushwant Singh residence, the last evening of the festival, with a glass in hand, Bachi says she unequivocally relishes white wines, especially the Sula white as well as “world wines”. It is the right moment to confess that she is the only one who has the privilege to sleep in Khushwant Singh’s bed, now that he is gone…