Think Fest: Kaleidoscope of Happening India

By Sandesh Prabhudesai
12 November 2011 00:25 IST

During my student movement days, I had read one drama script by famous actor and writer Utpal Dutt – “Barricade”. The drama takes place on a battle field. It’s revolution time. War time. People’s army battling with the state army.

And, there is a barricade.

The whole script is a conversation between the bourgeoisie – an engineer, an author, an artist and even a journalist, if my memory does not fail me. They are intellectuals. Supposedly pillars of the society; but the fence-sitters. While the battle is on in the town, they have no other option but to take a position. No force, no coercion. The situation demands it.

There is a barricade. They have to simply decide one thing. To be on this side of the barricade or that side of the barricade. There just cannot be a third side.  

India is at one such kind of threshold right now. It’s not revolution time. But time for a CHANGE.  A big change to leap forward. A big change to transform. A big change to identify our weaknesses, overcome it and be STRONGER.

That’s why there is RTI. That’s why there is Lokpal. That’s why there are most influential scamsters behind the bars. And that’s why there is a Think Fest. The demand of the hour.

Tarun Tejpal, the editor of Tehelka while organizing such a festival for the first time in India, calls it a shake-hand of ideas. The Idea of India. “It is the idea that has brought India, once again after centuries, to the brink of global luminescence. But it is also an idea that is increasingly contested by the armies of bigotry and regression. Its defeat would, doubtless, shrink India back to a smallness,” he says.

The three-day Fest organized in Goa from 4th to 6th November this year by Indian weekly ‘Tehelka’ and US-based weekly ‘Newsweek’ was just not a festival of thinkers. It was a kaleidoscope of Happening India. The wrong happening as well as the right happening. A conglomeration of thoughts as well as feelings – to do something GOOD for India.

It was just not a pageantry of social activists with negativism, as usual, right on top of their agenda. It was also not a ‘fashion show’ of the capitalists and their cronies thriving for nine and ten per cent of growth, as though they are THE PEOPLE of India. It sounded to be a sincere coming together of all the good people, from all the camps and isms, to do something better for MY INDIA.

I was thrilled with the positivism flowing all around me for those three days.

Just don’t oppose; please do propose. Let’s think. Let’s introspect. Let’s ideate. Let’s create. Create awareness. Create consciousness. Create health. Create wealth. Create ideas. Create new India.

There was everybody.

Thinker like Ashis Nandy, Ram Jethmalani and Sam Pitroda.

Writer like V S Naipaul, Sudhir Kakar, Pratap Bhanu Mehta and Dr Siddhartha Mukherjee.

Fighter like Arvind Kejriwal, Aruna Roy, Shekhar Singh and even Dayamani Barla of Jharkhand as well as Himanshu Kumar and Kopa Kunjam from naxal-prone Dantewada in Chattisgarh.

Actor like Aamir Khan, Anurag Kashyap, Prakash Jha, Prasoon Joshi, Kiran Rao, Abhay Deol and Imran Khan.

Politician like Nitin Gadkari, Kapil Sibal, Omar Abdullah, Mani Shankar Aiyar, Dinesh Tiwari and even Shashi Tharoor.

Even industrialists like Rajan Mittal, Kanwar D Singh and Prashant Ruia.

The galaxy of foreigners was equally inspiring.

In fact the Fest began with US-based Justin Hall-Tipping talking about nanotech. His vision is free energy. Because, according to him, no one charges us for the Sun. Amazing imagination and determination.

It was an opportunity to listen to US-based astronomer Mike Brown about how ‘Pluto is dead’, the theory of his finally accepted by the International Astronomical Union.

Danish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg argued middle ground for global warming. US-based young Carl Dietrich thrilled us with his flying car. World renowned architect Frank Gehry, at 82, stunned us with his 76-storeyed residential skyscraper in New York.

It was also an experience worth listening to Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif, Israeli Shlomo Ben-Ami trying for a mid-path to end Palestinian war, the concept of green economy conceptualized by UK-based Pavan Sukhdev and Bangla Deshi Tamara Abed working in the field of microfinance among the underprivileged across the globe.

A shrill chill passed through when we heard US-based Bangla Deshi information artist Hasan Elahi’s story of torture by IFB agents as well as Pakistani Shehrbano Taseer’s horrifying story of her ‘Governor of Punjab’ father’s assassination by orthodoxies for opposing blasphemy law.

Ultimate was Maajid Nawaz, a prisoner of conscience. After killing hundreds of innocents as an Islamic terrorist, he came to tell us how their Jihad never originated from Koran but through hatred created in their minds due to world-wise hate of non-Muslim communities towards Muslims.

A chord was set between the high profile air conditioned residents of towns with the fighting tribals from the forests of India. The victims of the sub-continent were also not aliens. It was struggle everywhere – for justice as well as invention.

Fight with the establishment, may it be in the social field or the economic world or the scientific hemisphere, appears inevitable. The truth, ultimately, always wins.

Perhaps with this conviction, the organizers went ahead fearlessly in voicing out the pains of the oppressed. One of their main sponsor was Essar Industries of Mittals. One of the Mittal was personally present at the Fest. And the fighting villagers of Dantewada in Chattisgarh were telling their crowd how Essar had suppressed their just struggle with the help of the police as well as Salwa Jadum, while terming the poor tribals Naxalites. Dayamani Barla moved the audience with her experiences of how mine owners in Jharkhand were brutally killing their comrades. The Goan mine owners were listening to it. May be we could hear the anti-mining struggles of Goa next year.

The organizers don’t charge any fees to attend the Fest, but to stay, eat and travel. The Goans, obviously, took full advantage of it while hundreds of conscious citizens travelled down to Goa, wilfully spending thousands of rupees to attend it. The crowd was uncontrollable on the last day, though the hall could accommodate not less than 1500.

The national delegates came from higher middle class and even much upper strata. Not only industrialists like Rajan Mittal, but even Goan industrialists and professionals attended the Fest for three long days. The unheard voices of the exploited and the unbelievable experiences of the oppressed reached out to those, who otherwise never bother about the dark side of Indian society.  

The professionalism with which the Fest was organized was worth learning from the Tehelka team led by Tarun Tejpal and Shoma Choudhary. In spite of heavy topics and legendaries from different fields, the time-bound sessions of chat (and not boring lectures) were bridged nicely with musicals, drama and even a comedy show of Papa CJ. Even the paintings of artists and sculpture museum created with new ideas were soothing. The lengthy questions by the anchors also did not become an irritation, though could be avoided.

Tehelka has announced Goa as a permanent destination for the Think Fest, in the first weekend of every November. It’s a great third opportunity for Goans as well as everybody who wants to play with new ideas, after IFFI settling in Goa in the last week of November and Goa government’s art and culture department successfully organizing five-day ‘Festival of Ideas’ in February.

Majority of the delegates at this Fest were upper middle class and higher than that. This is not the class that would lead a REAL CHANGE in Indian economy. The real change would come when every neglected citizen of India gets his or her due. The fight will go on. What’s needed is the support from all corners of Indian society, including the influential higher and upper middle class (the intelligentsia?).

Usually, they are fence sitters. They take positions as per convenience and their vested interest. But the Think Fest has made them realize the truth. The standing ovations after every session, to all the social movement fighters, was enough proof of the paradigm shift.

Anna Hazare had ignited the spark and made them self-conscious of their duty as a responsible citizen of our country. Tehelka has made them Think.

The fence sitters have started jumping the barricade, to take a firm position, hopefully...

Disclaimer: Views expressed above are the author's own.

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Sandesh Prabhudesai

Sandesh Prabhudesai is a journalist, presently the Editor of, Goa's oldest exclusive news website since 1996. He has earlier worked as the Editor-in-Chief of Prudent & Goa365, Goa's TV channels and Editor of Sunaparant, besides working as a reporter for Goan and national dailies & weeklies in English and Marathi since 1987. He also reports for the BBC. He is also actively involved in literary and cultural activities. After retirement from day-to-day journalism in 2020, he is into Re-Search Journalism (पुनर्सोद पत्रकारिता), focusing on analytical articles, Video programs & Books.

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