Program subject to change

Writer and politician Shashi Tharoor speaks about his new book Why I Am a Hindu, presenting his own convictions and understanding of one of the world’s oldest religions. From the ‘Hinduism of habit’ practised by ordinary believers to manifestations of political Hinduism, from seers such as Patanjali, Adi Shankaracharya, Ramakrishna Paramhansa and Swami Vivekananda to the lessons of the Gita, he speaks of the essence of the religion and its vital contribution to a plural and secular democracy. 

The Mahatma’s own writings are known to the world through books and anthologies and the 98 volumes of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi. His letters also comprise a crucial resource. The British Library, too, has a vast repository of  invaluable archival material. Renowned scholar of political science and cultural history, Tridip Suhrud, and Faisal Devji bring alive the Mahatma’s life, times and convictions by juxtaposing letters to and about Gandhi. In conversation with Alex Von Tunzelmann, they discuss the immense legacy of this correspondence and the Mahatma’s interactions with a cross-section of people across cultures and continents. 

Where does music go once the last note has passed away? How far is it ever truly captured in writing? And can we bring lost music back into the land of the living? Join historian of Indian music Katherine Butler Schofield and author of Lost Worlds, Michael Bywater, as they discuss the lost ragas of late Mughal India and other long-silent musical worlds. 

Korea and North East Asia’s security concerns crucially impact the rest of the world. Award winning Korean American writer Suki Kim , born and raised in South Korea, moved to the United States when she was 13. Her NY Times bestselling book, Without You There is No Us is a gripping first hand account of being undercover in Pyongyang, North Korea and her interactions with the young elite of the isolationist state. In conversation with writer and journalist Salil Tripathi, she speaks of the divergent histories of the two Koreas, the cult of the Kim family, lipstick diplomacy, and the role of the nuclear programme to North Korean identity, in the context of her riveting book.

The Himalayas, the youngest and tallest mountains in the world, share an interconnected geography, culture and identity. From the unique perspective of a Himalayan citizen to the geopolitical jigsaws of the region, the session discusses the similarities within the differences of the trans-Himalayan belt, East of South-east. Prajwal Parajuly, Emma Slade, Janice Pariat and Andrew Duff in conversation with Namita Gokhale about different facets of the Eastern Himalayas. 

Manaku of Guler and his older brother Nainsukh are widely recognised as the two most brilliant painters of 18th century India . Here, India’s most distinguished art historian, Professor B.N. Goswamy, reconstructs what is known of their lives and follows their different artistic journeys. Nainsukh and Manaku came from an obscure little town in the hills of northern India and yet their vision knew almost no limits. Endowed with soaring imagination and great painterly skills, these men were capable of painting giant rings of time upon timeless waters, envisioning the world of gods and demons, cosmic battles and earthly triumphs but also gazing, with tender eyes, upon the world of lovers or painting uniquely beautiful and revealing images of court life. In conversation with William Dalrymple. 

The creation of the Indian Railways was a means for the colonial power to govern the vast subcontinent and to serve British economic and military interests. However, the transformative role of the Indian Railways network, one of the largest in the world, remains a fascinating one. Monisha Rajesh, the author of Around India in 80 Trains, Britain’s best-selling transport historian, Christian Wolmar, and Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor discuss railways in the Raj with Pragya Tiwari. 

The idea of democracy is under interrogation around the world and democratic practices are under siege. A panel examines definitions of democracy, seeking to understand the fundamental principles that enable ‘the rule of the people’. Ornit Shani is a scholar of the politics and modern history of India and the author of the recent How India became Democratic. Brian Klaas is an American political scientist and columnist at the Washington Post as well as a Fellow in Comparative Politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Baroness Helena Kennedy is barrister, broadcaster, writer and Labour member of the House of Lords. Sunil Khilnani is a scholar of Indian history and politics, best known as the author of The Idea of India. Salman Khurshid is an eminent Indian politician, lawyer and writer. This distinguished panel comes together to discuss the unsteady dance of democracy in the face of global capitalism, political backlash and neo-religious regressions in India and across the world. 

The poetry of Bulleh Shah is considered one of the glories of pre-modern Punjabi literature. His contemporary, Shah Abdul Latif, wrote the Risalo which is acknowledged as the greatest classic of Sindhi literature. Both poets engaged with Sufi thought using the vibrant Punjabi and Sindhi traditions and folk styles in a syncretic spiritual approach. Translator of Bulleh Shah and Risalo for the Murty Classical Library, Christopher Shackle, has also made them accessible internationally. With Navtej Sarna, he discusses the inspirations and continuing impact of these renowned poets on the music, culture and philosophy of the region, spanning India and Pakistan, and across their diasporas. Musical renditions by Amrit Kaur Lohia. 

Two extraordinary talented novelists speak of their recent novels and the national narratives encapsulated within. Anuradha Roy’s new novel All the Lives We Never Lived tells the story of men and women trapped in a dangerous era uncannily similar to the present. Preti Taneja is the author of the acclaimed We That Are Young, which looks at generations of an Indian business family through the lens of Shakespeare’s classic tragedy King Lear. In conversation with Georgina Godwin, they discuss their relationship with fiction, generational upheavals and the India they write about. 

“Cricket is an Indian game accidentally discovered by the British,” says social theorist Ashis Nandy. Moving on from the sporting traditions of its colonial roots, cricket in South Asia has become a symbol of national identity and a surrogate battleground between competing nationalisms. Even as a cross section of society invests its aspirations and passions in this absorbing game, the high voltage tensions associated with it have transformed the nature and personality of the game. Mike Brearley, Shashi Tharoor and Ashok Ferrey discuss the spirit of the sport through its many avatars with writer, journalist and commentator Ashis Ray . 

In antiquity, the calligraphy masters have left us a wealth of insights on beautiful handwriting. Bruce Wannell talks about an inspired method of practice in the art of penmanship and the link between mysticism and maneuvering the pen. Abul Fazl, the vizier and spokesperson of Mughal emperor Akbar, while admitting the genius of European painters, steadfastly places calligraphy above painting, "Painters, especially of Europe, succeed in drawing figures expressive of the conceptions which the artist has of any of the mental states, so much so, that people may mistake a picture for a reality, yet pictures are much inferior to the written letter, inasmuch as the letter may embody the wisdom of bygone ages, and become means to intellectual progress." Yet another of the nine gems of Akbar's court is Mohammad Husayn Al-Kashmiri, who is bestowed the title ‘Zareen Qalam’, or ‘golden pen’. This discussion evokes an era when contending calligraphers in India were producing extraordinary manuscripts, fusing aesthetics with piety and the inherent conflict between written and pictorial representation. 

Travel writing is one of the most ancient forms of literature but does it have any relevance in the age of the internet, globalisation and Google Maps? Travel writers Bee Rowlatt, Hugh Thomson and Monisha Rajesh discuss the genre and read from their work with William Dalrymple. 

A deep look at the centenary of the Suffragette Movement with four remarkable women speaking of the progress of the Women’s Movement since. Writer and broadcaster Anita Anand has authored a biography of Sophia Dalip Singh, daughter of the deposed and exiled Raja Dalip Singh, who was goddaughter of Queen Victoria as well as a committed Suffragette. Science journalist Angela Saini is the author of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story. Baroness Helena Kennedy is a barrister, broadcaster, writer and Labour Member of the House of Lords and the author of, among others, Eve was Framed: Women and British Justice. In conversation with writer and journalist Bee Rowlatt, who has authored a book on Mary Wollstonecraft, they speak of the right to vote and the arduous journey to equity and justice for women.     

In recent years, the role of the Commonwealth has come under scrutiny. The 53-nation body, headquartered in London, was formed during the decolonisation of the British Empire. In the wake of Brexit, Britain sees Commonwealth countries as potential trade partners and has persuaded India to become more involved in the organisation’s work. Philip Murphy, Director of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, has authored The Empire’s New Clothes: The Myth of the Commonwealth. Former BBC journalist and editor Rita Payne is President Emeritus of the Commonwealth Journalists Association. Salil Tripathi is a journalist, author and human rights activist. Y.K.Sinha is a diplomat and the Indian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. David Howell is a politician, journalist, economic consultant and the Chairman of the Commonwealth Societies Association In conversation with author and journalist John Elliott, they discuss the relevance of the institution and the part India may play in its new avatar.   

Diplomat, writer and translator Navtej Sarna has written, among others, The Exile, based on the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire. Maha Khan Phillips is a writer and award-winning financial journalist whose novel, The Curse of Mohenjodaro, returns us to 3800 BC and the ancient archaeological site of Mohenjodaro. In conversation with writer Jaishree Misra, they speak of the reconstruction of the past, the axis between truth and fiction and the leap of faith into historical fiction. 

India’s iconic Bollywood couple, actor Shabana Azmi and poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar, carry poetry in their genes. Akhtar’s father, the late Jan Nisar Akhtar, was a legendary Urdu poet. Azmi’s father, the late Kaifi Azmi, was an enduring icon for generations of revolutionary poets. In an extraordinary session, Akhtar and Azmi celebrate this literary legacy, its impact on contemporary culture and the continuing traditions in Urdu literature. In conversation with Saif Mahmood, a session of readings and discussion.   

A visionary exploration of the life and times of Joseph Conrad, his turbulent age of globalisation and our own, from one of the most exciting young historians writing today, Maya Jasanoff, Coolidge Professor of History at Harvard. Migration, terrorism, the tensions between global capitalism and nationalism and a communications revolution: these forces shaped Conrad’s destiny at the dawn of the 20th century. As an immigrant from Poland to England and in travels from Malaya to Congo to the Caribbean, Conrad navigated an interconnected world and captured it in a literary oeuvre of extraordinary depth. His life story delivers a history of globalisation from the inside out and reflects powerfully on the aspirations and challenges of the modern world. In The Dawn Watch, a compelling blend of history, biography, and travelogue, Jasanoff follows Conrad’s routes and the stories of his four greatest works — The Secret Agent, Lord Jim, Heart of Darkness and Nostromo — revealing him as a prophet of globalisation. In conversation with William Dalrymple. 

India’s 1.2 billion strong population and the garbage they generate is a constant challenge, with the government’s Swacchh Bharat (Clean India) Campaign committed to creating a cleaner nation. An impactful session on garbage and growth in India that examines the traditional ‘kabaadiwalas’ (recyclers) and ragpickers, the stigmatised sanitation workers dealing with sewage and toxic chemicals and the solutions that can arise through changes in social attitudes and innovative technology. Academic and author Robin Jeffrey, who has co-authored Waste of a Nation: Garbage and Growth in India, in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning author and New Yorker writer, Katherine Boo. 

In this age of terrorism and insurgency, it has never been more important to report accurately on the actions of those who take up arms against established governments. At the same time, never have journalists been in greater danger doing so, and how exactly do you report on resistance fighters who do this without acting as amplifiers for terrorists? Along with the Islamist insurgencies in the Middle East, we have more recently seen the Rohingyas ejected from their ancient homelands by the Myanmar government who have accused them of terrorism. Three journalists who have spent time with and studied the intellectual output of insurgent groups give their perspective on the practical and moral conundrums of covering insurgencies and exile and displacement, in conversation with Faisal Devji. 

Traditionally, an Islamic garden is a place of rest and reflection and a reminder of paradise. These multipurpose landscapes, designed around the themes of water and shade, provide shelter, sustenance and solace. Functioning as botanical spaces, sanctuaries and blissful retreats, as venues for social performances and as a refuge for lovers, their highly developed sense of aesthetics make them sites for social change, economic regeneration and environmental conservation. A fascinating talk that explores the diversity of parks and gardens in Islamic contexts, past and present, and the ways they form part of our common human heritage. 

A remarkable performance—half dance, half reading—by one of India’s most acclaimed and talented young poets. In Girls are Coming out of the Woods, Tishani Doshi inhabits the different homes: her childhood, the body, cities that were passed through, cycles of rain. There are poems of celebration and homages as there are poems lamenting human cruelty and dispassion. This is also a book of travel and of homecoming, of familiar decay and startling, haunting discoveries of our oldest themes of love, grief, suffering and anger. Introduced by Janice Pariat. 

Triple talaq, a form of Islamic divorce that allows a Muslim man to legally divorce his wife by saying ‘talaq’ three times, either in oral, written or more recently, electronic form has recently been deemed unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of India. The use of Triple talaq has become a subject of debate and controversy, raising issues of justice, gender equality, human rights and secularism. A panel that examines the interstices of religious laws, personal rights, interpretation and implementation. 

Sydney-based John Zubrzycki’s Empire of Enchantment tells the untold story of the history of Indian magic, drawing on ancient religious texts, travellers’ accounts and the narratives of jugglers, yogis and fakirs. A dazzling session that brings alive the mystical and the magical, told by a scholar who has worked in India as a journalist and diplomat. In conversation with Vayu Naidu, a sojourn into the realms of enchantment. 

Writer, journalist, television and podcast host Nikesh Shukla has described his edited anthology The Good Immigrant as ‘a document of what it means to be a person of colour’. His new novel The One Who Wrote Destiny captures the immigrant experience in the UK through three generations. Kayo Chingonyi’s collection of poetry Kumukanda has been awarded the Swansea University Dylan Thomas Prize 2018. In conversation with novelist Prajwal Parajuly, they discuss race, identity, multicultural dialogues and the power of words and naming, writing and resistance. 

Subhas Chandra Bose, a heroic figure of the Indian Freedom movement, had aligned with Germany and Japan during WWII, and some of his admirers still contest the facts surrounding his death. Bose’s London based great-nephew, foreign correspondent, formerly editor-at-large at CNN and currently president of Indian Journalists' Association, Ashis Ray’s recently published book, Laid to Rest: The Controversy Over Subhas Chandra Bose’s Death, which documents and presents a body of evidence that the charismatic leader indeed died as a result of a plane crash in August 1945, and that his remains rest at the Renkoji temple in Tokyo. A fascinating session where the author is joined by Netaji’s daughter and only heir, the German economist Anita Pfaff, who has urged Japan and India to bring the remains to India, if necessary after conducting a DNA test on the remains that rest at Renkoji. In conversation with Somnath Batabyal, Ray and Pfaff exhume and bury the many controversies and conspiracy theories surrounding the death and afterlife of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. 

Even at the height of the Raj, the British only directly controlled three-fifths of India. Two-fifths of South Asia’s vast landmass always remained under the control of its indigenous princely rulers, split up between nearly 600 Princely States. "God created the Maharajahs," wrote Kipling, "so that mankind could have the spectacle of jewels and marble palaces.” Not all observers, however, were so enamoured with India’s princes. Indian nationalist leaders like Nehru and Gandhi regarded them as foolish and wasteful playboys, spineless quizzlings of the British and enemies of India’s freedom movement. Lord Curzon took an equally dim view, and railed in his despatches home against ‘the category of half-Anglicised, half-denationalised, European women-hunting, pseudo-sporting, and very often in the end spirit-drinking young native chiefs.’ But have the Maharajas been undervalued? A distinguished cast of historians of the Raj discuss their history with Moin Mir, author of Surat – Fall of a Port, Rise of a Prince. 

An encounter with the free-spirited Shabana Azmi, magnificent actor and a committed social activist. Azmi belongs to an illustrious literary family and has been a member of the Indian Parliament. In conversation with writer and film director Sangeeta Datta, she speaks of her work in experimental and mainstream cinema, and the interplay of culture, entertainment and politics.   Presented by ZEE Entertainment 

Join children’s author Nayanika Mahtani to find out how that obstinate little spark in your head could grow up to become a book one day. (She’s been ambushed by tigers and conquered by Genghis Khan – but she has survived to tell the tale.)

(Recommended for ages 8-12) 

Four practitioners of the art of fiction speak of the shape of the stories they tell and how they plot and graph, pace and punctuate their narratives. A session of readings and discussion with Bulbul Sharma, Janice Pariat and Prajwal Parajuly in conversation with Vayu Naidu. 

Lord Meghnad Desai’s new book, The Raisina Model, looks at the colourful, eventful and energetic parliamentary system as well as the history and evolution of Indian democracy. A session that discusses the bewildering plurality of perspectives and conflicting frames of reference towards understanding the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy. 

Sattriya dance is an energetic and joyous dance in praise of Lord Krishna, the mischievous flute-playing Hindu God. The soft, flowing gestures of this little-known artform reflect the grace and poise of the monks from northeast India who have cultivated it since the 15th century. In this introductory workshop, we will learn some Mati Akhara positions, which form part of the basic grammar of Sattriya dance. Then we will piece together a short group dance, with light footsteps and delicate hand gestures accompanied by chanted rhythm. We will use Hastas - a form of danced sign-language - to illustrate the words of a prayer to Krishna. The dance shares some vocabulary with other Indian dance forms, but retains a strong, uniquely Assamese character, which you will only taste once you've tried it!

The British Empire has had an enormous impact on the development of the modern world. Across the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, British rule shaped, for good or ill, the lives of millions of subjects of the British crown. In their imperial heyday the British, with an overwhelming sense of entitlement and confidence, celebrated their Empire. Even today, in countries such as Sudan, Nigeria, India and in the West Indies, the legacies of colonialism are all too visible. This panel brings together a variety of historians from different perspectives to discuss the Empire and colonialism, examining the legacies of the Empire over which ‘the sun never set’. 

An increasing emphasis on translations, even for important literary prizes, has transformed access and understanding of individual and national narratives into a wider context. Distinguished translators Arunava Sinha, Daniel Hahn, Gabriel Rosenstock and Tridip Suhrud speak of the process and practice of translation along with the discipline and aesthetics of voice, interpretation and technique across source and target languages. Introduced by Namita Gokhale. 

Collage Workshop with Desi Kitsch

India is a wealth of ancient and medieval architecture and of some of the most significant archaeological sites in the world. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), founded by Sir Alexander Cunningham in 1861, administers more than 3,650 ancient monuments including temples and mosques, palaces and forts, step wells and rock-cut caves. In a culture where the past and the present jostle with each other, the relationship of the ASI and the intersection of the current political reimagining of the Indian past and the material history of the built environment have led to conflicts of understanding and interpretation. A session that looks at the historical imagination in the context of the built heritage. 

A spectrum of voices debate the life and legacy of Winston Churchill, one of history's most complex and divisive figures. David Edgerton is Hans Rausing Professor of the History of Science and Technology and Professor of Modern British History at King’s College London. Kwasi Kwarteng is an author, British politician and historian who has served as Conservative Member of Parliament for Spelthorne in Surrey since 2010. Zareer Masani is a historian and author of Indira Gandhi: A Biography, Indian Tales of the Raj, Macaulay: Britain’s Liberal Imperialist and And All Is Said: Memoir of a Home Divided. Shashi Tharoor is an author, Indian politician and a former diplomat who is currently serving as Member of Parliament, moderated by associate professor and Director of the South Asia centre at the London School of Economics, Mukulika Banerjee. 

Novelist, short story writer, historian and mythographer Marina Warner has authored Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights. Writer and translator Paulo Lemos Horta has written on the cultural and literary history of the Arabian Nights and of the travellers, translators and storytellers who gave the world these unforgettable tales in his Marvellous Thieves: Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights. Together, In conversation with John Zubrzycki, they speak of the the stories and the stories behind the stories to provide a fascinating glimpse of the great cultural reservoir of Arab, Persian and Indian narratives, bringing the literary process to life. 

The magic of string instruments from India presented by Somjit Dasgupta, disciple of maestro Radhika Mohan Maitra who represents one of the oldest lineages of classical music in India. This unique workshop, in a performance format, follows the journey of the Sarod from the ancient Gandhara region across the Himalayas to Bengal and Assam.