A Good Talk but A Sad Ending . . .
M.J. Akbar veteran journalist and author of many books recently visited Shillong and delivered a talk as part of the Shillong creative arts, literary and music festival. The talk was moderated and anchored by journalist Indrajeet Hazra. After the talk the anchor gave his comments and posed a few to the speaker. Subsequently, it was open to the audience for questions and observations.
Soon after the talk it was apparent from the body language of both the speaker and the moderator that they were rushed for time and there would be limited questions, let alone observations. That seemed fair enough as the talk was already behind schedule. A person from the audience a lawyer by profession asked M.J. Akbar whether he saw the involvement of so many lawyers in the Indian National Movement as a historical coincidence and whether India was a melting point or a salad bowl. M.J. Akbar rubbished both these observations and refused to answer the question whether India was a melting pot or a salad bowl. The lawyer had to frantically request Mr. Akbar to answer the latter question which he grudgingly dismissed. The whole episode smacked of an arrogance and ego not expected from such a veteran journalist who kept on reiterating his love for the North East. This did not seem to be in evidence though, and although one may not agree with a person in a session like this a person can say so and candidly state that he disagreed or saw very little point in the statements. Instead the person was brusquely and rudely asked to shut up. This has not gone very well down with the audience, gathering the feedback received and perhaps justly so. On the one hand you profess love for the people and on the other you rudely dismiss a question as puerile. Perhaps the people of Shillong who are starved of listening to eminent people from the rest of the country were let down in a very unfortunate and dispariging manner.
Sadly enough I have noticed this condescension a number of times by the people who come from the so called mainland. They forget that Shillong and the North East boasts of some very good schools and colleges and many of the schools in Shillong have produced people of National and International eminence. I do not want to go into these details right now. But there is a very alert intelligentia in Shillong both among the young and the old. If you are in a hurry you could have politely told the gentleman that the matter could be discussed in a more informal setting. Further, Mr. Akbar’s reply to questions such as: “that is a good question and the answer is simple” again smacks of condescension and a pejorative way of saying things.
This is most unfortunate as the talk was very enlightning, in which M.J. Akbar talk about the concept of India which is not notional or subliminal but perhaps a concept which existed down the ages, as Amartya Sen says in his brilliant exposition – “The Argumentative Indian”. This M.J. Akbar holds as the key to India’s democratic values and secularism. The talk was focussed on history and the underlying lament was that the two nation theory proposed by Jinnah, to which Nehru captulated has resulted in the current morass of issues such as the foreign nationals from a neighbouring country, which threatens to beleaguer regions such as North East India. The veterant also spoke stylistically how culture and language, but not necessarily religion can yoke a country together, citing the example of the Bangladesh liberation struggle.
But such a lecture was marred by unbecoming behaviour of the speaker and a very unprofessional way of conducting by the anchor person.
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Ananya S Guha
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