01. Inaugural Session: Imagining Our WorldsOpening Address by Chief Executive of the British Library Roly Keating, High Commissioner of India to the United Kingdom Ruchi Ghanashyam, Namita Gokhale, William Dalrymple, Sanjoy K. Roy, and Shreyasi Goenka
02. Of Cities and EmpireKeynote Address by Tristram Hunt followed by a discussion with Tristram Hunt, Shashi Tharoor and Shrabani Basu
Tristram Hunt’s Ten Cities That Made An Empire explores powerful metropolitan centres the British Empire left in its wake—a network of cities that now stand as economic and cultural powerhouses of the 21st century. In conversation with author and historian Shrabani Basu, Hunt, an award-winning writer, Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and former Labour Party politician, discusses the influence of the Empire through the cities, which embodied its near-global dominance, with Indian parliamentarian and fellow writer Shashi Tharoor.
03. Thereby Hangs a TaleJeffrey Archer in conversation with Gyles Brandreth
Jeffrey Archer has consistently topped bestseller lists around the world. His plots delight in twists of fate, reversals of fortune and complex conspiracies. In conversation with former British Member of Parliament and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, he speaks about his extraordinary literary career, his life in politics and introduces his latest book Heads You Win, a timely work of fiction spanning two continents and three decades, following the fortunes of Alexander Karpenko across Russia, America and the United Kingdom.
04. The Islamic Enlightenment: Faith and ReasonChristopher de Bellaigue in conversation with William Dalrymple
Presented by Aga Khan Foundation
A revelatory and game-changing polemic that rewrites everything we thought we knew about the modern history of the Islamic world. Christopher de Bellaigue presents an absorbing account of the political and social reformations that transformed the lands of Islam in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Islamic Enlightenment is an astonishing and revelatory history of Middle Eastern history. Beginning his account in 1798, de Bellaigue demonstrates how Middle Eastern heartlands have long welcomed modern ideals and practices, including the adoption of modern medicine, the emergence of women from seclusion and the development of democracy. With trenchant political and historical insight, de Bellaigue further shows how the violence of an infinitesimally small minority is in fact the tragic blowback from these modernising processes. What makes The Islamic Enlightenment particularly germane is that non-Muslim pundits in the post-9/11 era have repeatedly called for Islam to subject itself to the transformations that the West has achieved since the Enlightenment―the absurd implication being that if Muslims do not stop reading the Qur’an and other holy books, they will never emerge from a benighted state of backwardness. The Islamic Enlightenment, with its revolutionary argument, completely refutes this view and reveals the folly of those demanding modernity from those whose lives are already drenched in it.
05. Tagore and the Bengal RenaissanceReba Som and Bashabi Fraser in conversation with Somnath Batabyal
The magnificent flowering of the Bengal Renaissance in the late 19th century in many ways marked the transition from medieval to modern India. Rabindranath Tagore and other members of his family led the movement through several creative manifestations. Writer and historian Reba Som, a trained exponent of ‘Rabindra sangeet’ (songs penned and composed by the Bengali polymath), has written extensively on Tagore and other leading figures of the time. Author, academic and poet Bashabi Fraser is the Founder Director of the Scottish Centre of Tagore Studies and her critical biography of Tagore will be published later this year. In conversation with academic Somnath Batabyal, they discuss Tagore, the Bengal Renaissance and the intersections of culture and history between India and Britain.
06. The Gene MachineVenki Ramakrishnan in conversation with Roger Highfield
Nobel Laureate Venki Ramakrishnan is a British-American structural biologist of Indian origin. His recent book, Gene Machine: The Race to Decipher the Secrets of the Ribosome, is about the quest to understand the ribosome, an enormous ancient molecular machine that decodes genetic information to build all life forms. The book is also a frank description of what it was like for an outsider who found himself in a race to solve one of the most fundamental problems of biology. Ramakrishnan speaks not only about the scientific voyage itself but also about the human side of science, including blunders, dead ends, changing careers, egos, competition and collaboration. The result is an insider’s look at how science actually works and what it felt like to be in the middle of it all. In conversation with author, science journalist, broadcaster and Science Director of the Science Museum, Roger Highfield.
07. Eve Was Shamed: How Justice Fails WomenHelena Kennedy, Avi Singh and Sunita Toor in conversation with Bee Rowlatt
Helena Kennedy QC’s ground-breaking book Eve Was Shamed offers an impassioned, personal critique of the British legal system. “The smell of the gentlemen’s club permeates every crevice of the Inns of Court,” writes Kennedy. A session which focuses on the treatment of women in the legal system with Kennedy, academic and women’s rights activist Sunita Toor and international lawyer Avi Singh in conversation with writer Bee Rowlatt.
08. Words Are All We HaveAnjali Joseph, Lijia Zhang and Romesh Gunesekera in conversation with Catharine Morris
Three writers speak about ways of seeing and recording, and how they navigate words across countries and cultures. Romesh Gunesekera is the acclaimed Sri Lankan-born British author and finalist for the Man Booker Prize. Award-winning Anjali Joseph has written three novels, including her recent The Living. China-born writer and journalist Lijia Zhang has written memorable books that include China Remembers, Socialism Is Great! and Lotus. In conversation with editor and writer Catharine Morris.
09. Forgotten Masterpieces of Indian Art for East India CompanyMalini Roy, Yuthika Sharma, Katherine Butler Schofield and Rosie Llewellyn-Jones in conversation with William Dalrymple
Reflecting both the beauty of the natural world and the social reality of the time, the Indian artworks commissioned by the East India Company’s officials in the late 18th and 19th centuries offer a rare glimpse of the cultural fusion between British and Indian artistic styles. South Asian art expert and curator Malini Roy, historian of South Asian art Yuthika Sharma, music historian and author Katherine Butler Schofield, historian on South Asian Art and British scholar and author Rosie Llewellyn-Jones discuss this forgotten moment in Anglo-Indian history with author and historian William Dalrymple.
10. The BegumDeepa Agarwal, Tahmina Aziz Ayub, Namita Gokhale and Muneeza Shamsie in conversation with Maha Khan Philips
The Begum: A Portrait of Ra’ana Liaquat Ali Khan is a rare, unusual and and riveting biography, a collaborative retelling across borders by Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub of the life, times and legacy of Pakistan’s first First Lady. A fascinating session with Deepa Agarwal and Tahmina Aziz Ayub alongside writer and Festival co-director Namita Gokhale, who has written a bridging introduction to the book, and author and critic Muneeza Shamsie, in conversation with writer Maha Khan Phillips, on an enigmatic figure who stood on the cusp of intertwined histories.
11. Masala ShakespeareJonathan Gil Harris, Rachel Dwyer and Varsha Panjwani in conversation with Cary Sawhney
Shakespeare’s Indian avatar has taken deep root in Bollywood and popular culture. Poet and lyricist Gulzar along with directors Sanjay Leela Bansali and Vishal Bharadwaj have all taken inspiration from the Bard. A lively panel explores the profound resonance between Shakespeare’s craft and Indian cinema and cultural forms. Jonathan Gil Harris, professor of English at Ashoka University, Rachel Dwyer, professor of Indian Culture and Cinema at SOAS, and academic Varsha Panjwani, lecturer in Shakespeare at NYU London, in conversation with filmmaker and director of the London Indian Film Festival, Cary Sawhney.
12. #TharoorismsShashi Tharoor in conversation with Pragya Tiwari
Writer, politician and public intellectual Shashi Tharoor has a predilection for long words and telling phrases. His unerring sense of humour lightens up the serious oeuvre of his work, which includes a powerful indictment of colonialism. In conversation with journalist and editor Pragya Tiwari, he speaks of the personal and the political, and the beliefs and ideas that have anchored him in his public life and literary career.
13. The Elephant and the DragonVasuki Shastry, Steve Tsang, Ellen Barry and Lijia Zhang in conversation with Salil Tripathi
Presented by Aga Khan Foundation
While the phenomenal economic rise of India and China is of key interest to economists around the world, the civilisational links between these two ancient cultures are equally fascinating. A session on how the ‘elephant’ and the ‘dragon’ negotiate their relationship with each other and the ways in which their growing influence is reshaping the world. Author and expert on Asian economies and public policy Vasuki Shastry, political scientist and historian Steve Tsang, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ellen Barry and factory worker-turned writer Lijia Zhang discuss the two Asian superpowers and their impact on the world as we know it with author Salil Tripathi.
14. Mallika Victoria: Empress of IndiaMiles Taylor and Shrabani Basu in conversation with Vayu Naidu
Presented by Asianculturevulture
In 1876, Benjamin Disraeli proclaimed Queen Victoria the ‘Empress of India’. Miles Taylor’s fascinating biography is an account of her relationship with India, revealing the way in which her influence contributed to the country’s political and economic modernisation. Shrabani Basu’s Victoria and Abdul provides a rare glimpse into the unlikely friendship between the Queen and one of her Indian attendants. In conversation with author Vayu Naidu, they discuss the British monarch and India’s colonial past.
15. Meetings with Remarkable ManuscriptsChristopher de Hamel introduced by William Dalrymple
Presented by Bagri Foundation
A session on why medieval manuscripts matter. Historian Christopher de Hamel invites us into intimate conversations with 12 of the most famous manuscripts in existence by exploring what they tell us about nearly a 1,000 years of medieval history, and sometimes about the modern world too. De Hamel, who worked for Sotheby's for 25 years followed by Cambridge University where he is a Fellow of Corpus Christi College, introduces us to kings, queens, saints, scribes, librarians, thieves, dealers, collectors and the international community of manuscript scholars, showing us how he and his fellows piece together evidence to reach unexpected conclusions. Meetings with Remarkable Manuscripts conveys the fascination and excitement of encountering some of the greatest works of art which, in the originals, are to most people completely inaccessible. Introduced by William Dalrymple, de Hamel will give us a new perspective on history and the process by which we come by knowledge.
16.Enchanted States: The Vision of Fairy TalesMarina Warner introduced by Catharine Morris
Art writing, at its most useful, should share the dynamism, fluidity and passions of the objects of its enquiry, argues Marina Warner in her new anthology Forms of Enchantment: Writing on Art and Artists. She captures the visual experience of the work of a diverse group of artists― with a notable focus on the inner lives of women―through an exploration of the range of stories and symbols to which they allude in their work. Introduced by Catharine Morris, the award-winning critic discusses her writing, artists and the social, political and aesthetic contexts of art.
17. Monsoon RagasKatherine Butler Schofield introduced by Malini Roy
An evocative hour exploring rain-drenched worlds of poetry, songs, paintings, architecture, gardens, festivals and music, Katherine Butler Schofield’s Monsoon Ragas examines the musical history of monsoon feelings in South Asia. In this session, music historian, author and academic Butler Schofield discusses this season of pouring rain and intense emotions and Mughal emperor Shah Alam’s love of monsoon ragas.
18. Game Changers: Cricket CountryShashi Tharoor, Wajahat S. Khan, Romesh Gunesekera and Prashant Kidambi in conversation with Mukulika Banerjee
Cricket in South Asia has become a symbol of national identity and a surrogate battleground between competing nationalisms. Prashant Kidambi’s Cricket Country: An Indian Odyssey in the Age of Empire tells the story of the first all Indian cricket tour of Britain and Ireland and how the idea of India took shape on the cricket field. Emmy-nominated multimedia journalist Wajahat S. Khan has co-authored Game Changer, a riveting memoir of Shahid Afridi, one of modern cricket's most controversial and accomplished practitioners. Indian politician and bestselling author Shashi Tharoor and acclaimed Sri Lankan author Romesh Gunesekera have written extensively on the sport. In conversation with writer and academic Mukulika Banerjee, they speak of how cricket has helped fashion the imagined communities of both empire and nation.
19. Amritsar and the Patient AssassinAnita Anand and Kim A. Wagner in conversation with Navtej Sarna
Anita Anand’s The Patient Assassin tells the remarkable story of one Indian's 20 year quest for revenge, taking him around the world in search of those he held responsible for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre of 1919, which cost the lives of hundreds. Kim A. Wagner’s Jallianwala Bagh: An Empire of Fear and the Making of the Amritsar Massacre is a dramatic telling of the event and its aftermath situating the massacre within the 'deep' context of British colonial mentality and the local dynamics of Indian nationalism. In conversation with writer and former diplomat Navtej Sarna, they discuss this seminal moment in the history of the Indo-British encounter and its consequences for the Indian freedom struggle.
20. The VanishingPrerna Bindra, Ruth Padel and Raghu Chundawat in conversation with John Elliott
The bond between the human species and others in our planet has never been more fragile. Prerna Bindra’s The Vanishing speaks of the need to remind humans of their essential wildness and of the urgent necessity to understand, conserve and protect the wilderness that nurtures and sustains our world. Ruth Padel’s Tigers in Red is a beautiful blend of natural history, travel literature and memoir as well as a searing, intimate portrait of an animal we have loved and feared almost to extinction. Raghu Chundawat is a renowned conservation biologist whose pioneering ten-year research on the Panna tigers was immortalised in the BBC documentary Tigers of the Emerald Forest and through his recent book, The Rise and Fall of the Emerald Tigers. In conversation with John Elliott, they speak of the precarious balance between mankind and nature along with the consequences that follow when this balance is disturbed.
Morning Music: 'Anando Gaan': Songs of Joy by Rabindranath TagoreReba Som
21. The Dance of DemocracyNavin Chawla, Mukulika Banerjee in conversation with John Elliott
Presented by Aga Khan Foundation
India is the world’s largest democracy. It has faced daunting challenges, sustaining democratic institutions against all odds. Its vigorous political system remains credible and sound in its fundamentals with nearly 900 million citizens, young and old, exercising their constitutionally given freedom to choose in what remains a disciplined and peaceable process. A session that examines the results of the recent national elections as well as the strengths and fault lines in India’s democratic convictions with former Election Commission of India head Navin Chawla, writer and academic Mukulika Banerjee in conversation with journalist John Elliott.
22. Guru Nanak: Traveller, Poet and PhilosopherNavtej Sarna in conversation with Amrit Kaur Lohia
Guru Nanak was born into a society caught in the throes of orthodoxy and ritualism. Nanak’s faith evolved into the universal message of love, equality and compassion, which appealed to Hindus and Muslims alike. Indian diplomat and writer Navtej Sarna’s The Book of Nanak traces the chronology of the main events of Nanak’s life. He discusses Guru Nanak and what it means to be a Sikh in the 21st century with musician and historian Amrit Kaur Lohia.
23. Intersectionalities: Class, Caste, Race and the Mysteries of Desire:Angela Saini, Kenan Malik, Madhavi Menon and Meena Kandasamy in conversation with Somnath Batabyal
Variables of race and colour, class and gender confront and mock the very idea of social justice. Angela Saini’s latest book, Superior: The Return of Race Science, examines the persistent thread of belief in biological racial differences in the world of science. Lecturer and broadcaster Kenan Malik questions white identity, immigration and changing notions of class. Poet and writer Meena Kandasamy writes on myriad struggles for justice. Professor of English Madhavi Menon writes on desire and queer theory. In conversation with writer and academic Somnath Batabyal, they talk about these intersectionalities and share their experiences and convictions.
24. From Hieroglyphs to EmojisDavid Levy, Irving Finkel and Michael Erdman in conversation with Pragya Tiwari
Presented by Bagri Foundation
From carved stone inscriptions, medieval manuscripts and early printed works to beautiful calligraphy, iconic fonts and emojis, the written word has evolved in innumerable ways over the centuries. Academic, technologist and author of Mindful Tech David M Levy, British philologist, Assyriologist and curator Irving Finkel and scholar of Turkish historiography and one of the curators of the British Library’s exhibition ‘Writing: Making Your Mark’ Michael Erdman, deconstruct the act of writing and consider its future in the digital age with journalist and editor Pragya Tiwari.
25. Writing LondonBen Judah in conversation with Marie Brenner
“Judah grabs hold of London and shakes out its secrets.” This is London by Ben Judah looks at the hidden immigrant life of the city. The acclaimed foreign correspondent immerses himself in the often unseen world of London’s immigrants to discover the complex and varied individuals who make the city what it is today. In conversation with American author and writer-at-large Marie Brenner, he discusses the changing face of London, from the iconic skyline to its demographics and character.
26. In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures From the Toor Collection of Sikh ArtDavinder Toor and Parmjit Singh in conversation with William Dalrymple
Two centuries ago, Punjab's Sikh ruling elite lavishly commissioned a sumptuous array of artwork, which over the centuries was dispersed across the globe, often as official gifts, prized auction purchases and as loot. Detailed in Davinder Toor’s In Pursuit of Empire: Treasures From the Toor Collection of Sikh Art is the story of this lasting legacy of the Sikh Empire. In conversation with writer and historian William Dalrymple, collector of Sikh art and writer Toor and independent scholar of Sikh history Parmjit Singh discuss the Sikh kingdom and its art and culture.
27.The City and the Nation State:Ken Livingstone, Rana Dasgupta and Mukulika Banerjee in conversation
Recent convulsions in national politics seem to follow a pattern around the world. Even as countries are overcome by atavistic nationalism, urban hubs and capitals such as London remain centres of migration and ethnic diversity while digital technology continues to create de-territorialised forms of allegiance and citizenship. Novelist Rana Dasgupta has written a documentary narrative on New Delhi. Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is the author of, amongst others, the recently released Livingstone's London. Mukulika Banerjee is Director of the LSE South Asia Centre and the author of three books, including Why India Votes. Together, they discuss the paradoxes that exist between the city, the citizen, the nation state and a global system in a state of meltdown and change.
28. Spring of Blood: Remembering Jallianwala BaghNavdeep Suri and Justin Rowlatt in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy, with a musical rendition by Harpreet
A century after the brutal massacre at Jallianwala Bagh, a session that searches the events and backstory of that fateful day of April 13, 1919, when General Dwyer opened fire on a peaceful crowd inside a community park in Amritsar. Aged 22, Nanak Singh joined the protestors agitating against the Rowlatt Act. As an aftermath of the trauma, Singh wrote the epic Punjabi poem Khooni Vaisakhi, a scathing critique of the British Raj, which was banned soon after its publication in May 1920. Singh’s grandson, diplomat Navdeep Suri, has translated the poem into English and Sir Sydney Rowlatt’s descendant, British journalist Justin Rowlatt, has contributed an essay to the book. In conversation with Teamwork Arts Managing Director Sanjoy K. Roy, they situate the massacre within the deep context of British colonial mentality and the dynamics of Indian nationalism, re-examining the bloody history of the Raj and the role the Amritsar massacre played as a turning point in India’s struggle for freedom.
29. What Is Not Said: Celebrating the Short StoryChris Power, Namita Gokhale and Navtej Sarna in conversation with Paul McVeigh
The brevity of short fiction, illuminating transformative moments in life, eliminating all that is unnecessary, takes it to the heart of the reader. A session that investigates and celebrates the form and function of the short story. Conversations and contextual readings featuring Chris Power, author of the collection Mothers, Namita Gokhale, Indian writer and Festival co-director and Navtej Sarna, Indian diplomat and author of the collection Winter Evenings. In conversation with director and co-founder of London Short Story Festival, Paul McVeigh.
30. The Creativity Code: AI and the ArtsMarcus du Sautoy introduced by Angela Saini
Presented by Bagri Foundation
As Artificial Intelligence takes over human narratives, Marcus du Sautoy questions the shape of our future. In his new book The Creativity Code: How AI is Learning to Write, Paint and Think, he expounds on how algorithms work, the nature of creativity and how engineers are tracking our emotional responses to art. In a riveting session, introduced by author and science journalist Angela Saini, du Sautoy, the Charles Simonyi Professor for Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, discusses intuition, the creative process and its correlation with mathematics.
31. Footloose: The Travel SessionPico Iyer, Christina Lamb, Carlo Pizzati and Monisha Rajesh in conversation with William Dalrymple
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 Pico Iyer,Christina Lamb,Carlo Pizzati and Monisha Rajesh discuss the genre with writer and historian William Dalrymple and read from their work.
32. India, Empire and the First World WarSantanu Das and Shrabani Basu in conversation with Yasmin Khan
Santanu Das's India, Empire and First World War Culture: Writings, Images and Songs recovers the experience of combatants, non-combatants and civilians from undivided India trying to make sense of home and the world in times of war. Shrabani Basu’s For King and Another Country also takes into account India’s First World War through the eyes of those who fought it. The historian Yasmin Khan, who specialises in 20th century Indian history, will be in conversation with Das and Basu.
33. At Home in the WorldPico Iyer in conversation with Marie Brenner
Presented by Bagri Foundation
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves…” Pico Iyer, British-born essayist and novelist of Indian origin, leads a peripatetic life between a Benedictine hermitage in California, Nara in Japan and international airports around the world. We are honoured to launch his new book Autumn Light, a far-reaching exploration of Japanese history and culture and a moving meditation on impermanence, mortality and grief. In conversation with writer and journalist Marie Brenner, he speaks about his life, beliefs and writing.
34. Islamic Arts: Multiple Histories, Multiple ExpressionsZulfikar Hirji, Venetia Porter, Vivek Gupta and Sussan Babaie in conversation with William Dalrymple
Presented by Institute of Ismaili Studies and Aga Khan Foundation
Muslims have always had complex artistic responses to their faith. While some elevated the arts to their greatest heights, others have regarded artistic expression as opposed to Islam’s doctrines and values. Art historian and curator Sussan Babaie, curator of Islamic Art at the British Museum Venetia Porter, historian of Islamic and South Asian art Vivek Gupta alongside historian and anthropologist of Islamic societies Zulfikar Hirji, examine the varied historical and contemporary responses to the arts that Muslims have had and consider the plurality of ways in which Islamic ideas and concepts have been expressed. In conversation with author and historian William Dalrymple.
35. The Yoga SutraRanju Roy and Dave Charlton in conversation with Tara Fraser
Understanding Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is the key to understanding yoga itself and yet relatively few of today’s practitioners know how to apply these ancient Sanskrit aphorisms to contemporary life. Yoga Teachers Ranju Roy and David Charlton, both practitioners within the tradition of TKV Desikachar of Chennai, discuss some of the most important sutras in their new book Embodying the Yoga Sutra and show how each one illuminates a different aspect of the vast field of yoga, both on and off the mat. In conversation with author and yoga trainer Tara Fraser.
36. The Healing: Of Bollywood and BeyondManisha Koirala and Nasreen Munni Kabir in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy
Presented by DESIblitz
Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala shares the highs and lows of her life, her career, relationships and her battle with ovarian cancer. In conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy and Nasreen Munni Kabir, she speaks of the pressures of her film career, the life choices she was compelled to make and how she redefined her priorities and regained a sense of balance and well being. A frank no-holds-barred session about the emotional roller-coaster ride of Koirala’s life post-diagnosis, her learnings and inspirations, and the process of healing.
37. The Billionaires: Looking at the Indian EliteJames Crabtree and Avi Singh in conversation with Mukulika Banerjee
Over the past two decades, India has grown at an unprecedented rate. While `King of Good Times' Vijay Mallya languishes in exile, other major `Bollygarchs' prosper at home despite a series of scandals. Issuing jewel-encrusted invitations to their children's weddings, these tycoons exert huge power in both business and politics. But India's explosive economic rise has driven inequality to new extremes. Millions remain trapped in slums and corruption is endemic. Reformers fight to wrest the nation from these dark forces, leaving its fate poised between that of a prosperous democratic giant and a saffron-tinged version of Russia. Which will it become? Author James Crabtree and lawyer and academic Avi Singh discuss this and more with writer and academic Mukulika Banerjee.
38. RA Award for Debut Writing: Empire of SandTasha Suri in conversation with Jaishree Misra, introduced by Gauri Keeling and Lekha Poddar
Presented by RA Foundation
The RA Award for Debut Writing has been instituted to showcase and platform poetry and fiction for emerging South Asian writers in the UK. The RA Foundation and Teamwork Arts are delighted to felicitate Tasha Suri for her outstanding fantasy novel Empire of Sand, which will be followed by a conversation with Jaishree Misra, introduced by Gauri Keeling and Lekha Poddar.