On a Wednesday evening in September at Delhi’s India Habitat Centre, what looks like any regular weekday discussion is about to begin. However, two experts, who would make an unlikely pair otherwise, take their positions on the panel. On one side is noted environmentalist Sunita Narain and on the other is food and wine critic Sourish Bhattacharya. The topic is ‘Soda Politics: The Language of Sugar and Fizz’. The title has been spun off from a recent book—Soda Politics: Taking On Big Soda (And Winning)—by American public health scholar Marion Nestle. The book is about the language used by brand managers to make fizzy drinks aspirational for its consumers.
Narain explains: “Advertising has sold us water and sugar and created an addiction. It is in with keeping the interests of the sugar industry. It is the regulatory failure on these companies that [what] happened in the US is now happening in India.... Regulatory science was weakened through the language used to popularise these products.”
Bhattacharya talks about how in the battle of the languages, an alternative can be created. “Chefs at popular establishments are talking about replacing sugar with alternatives like jaggery and honey,” he says. “The popularity of the ‘turmeric latte’ is the language of alternative food now. The idea of cool is changing.”
Language. The key word here. This event was part of a monthly conversation series called No Tongues Barred, a buildup to the sixth edition of the ILF-Samanvay festival that will be held in Delhi from November 5 to 7.
“Since last year, our attempt has been to slowly but steadily evolve a cultural discourse relevant to our times, and not polemical or commercial in its intent,” says Rizio Yohannan Raj, writer-educationist and creative director of the festival. “The aim is to take people along, make them stakeholders, which these year-long conversations unravelling the threads of the main theme of the year try to do.”
The theme for 2016 is ‘Language As Public Action’. Critic and professor of Hindi, Apoorvanand, programme curator for the festival, has designed discussions for the main festival that seek to raise questions such as: Does language as public action only mean ‘protest literature’ and activist slogans? In the age of social media, when everyone feels empowered to express themselves on their private wall with the entire world as witness and target at once, how do we place a plea for responsible public expression?’
These questions will be explored through panel discussions, an art exhibition curated by independent critic Deeksha Nath and supported by the Raza Foundation, an art appreciation workshop by critic Sadanand Menon and a love poetry translation contest, while speaker for the inaugural session, Gandhian activist Ela Bhatt, will talk about ‘empowerment as verb: the power of voicing’.
“This is a languages festival. There are more than 3,000 languages in this country. We have no record of many of these,” says Raj. “In a year we cannot represent all, so we choose focal languages from different regions of the country.”
Besides conversations, language and cuisine will come together, and it will include an artists’ counter where recipes from participating writers such as Volga, Patricia Mukhim, Mahendra Majhi will be featured.