BLF 2020: A celebration of knowledge and literature

The three-day festival attracted authors, discussants and hundreds of cognoscenti from Bhopal and its environs, particularly college going students and teachers

The second edition of the Bhopal Literature and Art Festival (BLF) held from January 10-12, 2020 at Bharat Bhavan was a fantastic celebration of knowledge and literature. It buttressed the reputation of the historic city of Bhopal as a city of tahzeeb and that of BLF as a gyan-sagar-manthan.

Beginning with a captivating invocation of the Goddess Saraswati by renowned vocalist Kalapini Komkali, the inaugural ceremony saw MP Chief Minister Kamal Nath appreciating this initiative of former MP cadre IAS officer Raghav Chandra who started the Bhopal Literature and Art Festival a year ago. The CM spoke strongly for a liberal exchange of arts and literature. He said, "Brotherhood and tolerance are the ethos of India since the time of Ashoka and Chandra Gupt Maurya. It is our duty to protect this ethos as any assault on them is actually an assault on India. We have to preserve it for generations to come …"

The three-day festival with three parallel sessions each day and other programs on the margins attracted authors, discussants and hundreds of cognoscenti from Bhopal and its environs, particularly college going students and teachers.

It was clear that the Bhopal Literature and Art Festival was more than just a literature and art festival – a boutique and bespoke event intended to enlighten and enlarge the overall knowledge base of citizens – through discussion, debate and dialogue. There were more than 56 Knowledge Sessions with about 80 authors and distinguished literary and public affairs persons participating, discussing culture, environment, politics, contemporary affairs, management, literature and history over the period of three days.

There was a special focus this year on environment and conservation. Magasaysay Award winner Rajendra Singh spoke of the importance of conserving and pricing water appropriately, Bharti Chaturvedi, founder of the acclaimed waste reduction body Chintan, hinted at an environmental collapse, Mridula Ramesh, author of the acclaimed The Climate Solution spoke about harnessing clean technologies, Jairam Ramesh former Union Minister of Environment said that Indira Gandhi was the first Prime Minister to give importance to environment, Dr Raghu Chundawat the tiger expert explained how he has nurtured wildlife conservation and Professor Mahesh Rangarajan who heads the Environment faculty of Ashoka University warned of environment being at a precipice.

On international affairs, ormer Foreign Secretary and National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon spoke about the foreign policy choices before India – his session gave rise to many questions, the most provocative being whether India will benefit from a Security Council permanent seat. Former Secretary MEA Amar Sinha and current Secretary MEA Ajay Bisariya who is our next HC to Canada were also present.

Arghye Sengupta, head of Vidhi Legal Centre debated with Dr Vijay Kumar the Director of the National Law School Bhopal from his book whether the Indian Higher Judiciary has issues of independence and accountability. Former Chief Election Commissioner of India Naveen Chawla discussed the challenges of conducting elections in India. Eminent journalist AK Bhattacharya spoke about the issues holding back India from reaching its true potential. Saleem Beg spoke about Kashmir's unique built heritage and issues connected with that. Dr Didar Singh debated the future of work in a modern world, impact on workers and the newly emerging gig economy – with successful IT promoters Sanjeev Shriya and Anurag Shrivastava and Shabari Nair, the representative of the International Labour Organization.

The biographies of Veer Savarkar, Subhash Chandra Bose, Gandhiji and Martin Luther King written respectively by Vikram Sampath, Anuj Dhar, Pramod Kapoor and Santosh Bakaya were analyzed and debated.

There were several sessions on management, leadership and innovation. Stephano Pelle the CEO of Ferraro spoke about the importance of cultural intelligence in cross-border investment decisions, Vineet Bajpai described his journey from successful entrepreneurship to writing bestsellers like Harappa, Pralay and Kashi; Air Commodore Nitin Sathe spoke about the pilot who got incapacitated and yet overcame serious disability and rose to the top as an exemplar for those who begin to lose hope. Devdutt Pattanaik spoke about the uniqueness of Indian business techniques and their inspiration from our mythology.

Purely on the fiction side, celebrity author Ashwin Sanghi was candid and explained his writing style, plot development and his experience of collaborating with international bestselling author James Patterson.

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