I was invited to the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2014 which began from the 8th of January, at Victoria Memorial Grounds by Mona Sen Gupta of Ahava Communications. The inauguration of the event is also “A Tribute to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad on his 125th Birth Anniversary.” Speakers include Aamir Khan, who is Maulana Azad’s grand nephew. It’s cold, and we walk, our pace is brisk, although that does not stop us from taking pictures and appreciating the scenic beauty of mid-winter Kolkata.
B and I device plans to meet the man, kidnap him, and then tell him to play a game of chess with us. Of course, we had to find the weirdest ways of doing so, and end up giggling our way to the place.
The gates of Victoria is crowded, but we enter pretty smoothly, thanks to excellent security and police protection. We walk down the path, admiring the charms of the place, and recall the moments when we had come here last.
Its already pretty crowded, although we are about an hour early. We quickly find two empty seats pretty close to the front, and sit down. The media cameras are immediately behind us, and there are often shouts of “MOVE THAT HEAD!!!” or “SIT DOWN!!!” from behind. I find the smiling, kindly face of Rashbehari Das, photographer extraordinaire, and we exchange pleasantries while he adjusts his camera.
Slowly, the evening sets in, and the lights dim. B hilariously imitates Aamir Khan, and our time passes by. I look up at the immense building before me, and idly wonder what it would be like to get trapped inside this place for a few nights.
It is around 5.45 pm. and a group of kids stand on one side, shivering slightly in the cold wind, as they prepare to sing. The event is supposed to start around 5.30 pm. but no signs of anyone as we stare at the empty seats.
But then, our eyes light up and mouth goes dry. B and I clutch each other’s hands in secret excitement as we see a group of people emerging. Of course, otherwise, we are as calm as cucumbers if you go by our faces, but our hands tell a different story.
The children start off with a rendition of “Saare Jahan Se Achha”. There are a number of speeches that follows. I have to say, HE Shri MK Narayanan, Governor of West Bengal speaks with a humor which is rare. I love every bit of it and it makes everyone crack up a few times.
I think my favorite moment was when he said that he had one advantage over Aamir Khan and most of the people in the audience who know a lot about Maulana Azad. And this advantage is simple – he had met the man in person. Everyone grins and laughs at the tone, and we know the evening’s off with a flying start.
After this, Aamir takes the stage. Of course, we hang on to his every word. I have uploaded a video on YouTube on my public channel where he introduces himself and addresses the crowd.
You can check out Part II of the video here as well.
After the brief beginning, Aamir quoted one of Abul Kalam Azad’s speeches, and offered his opinion briefly about it. Syeeda Hameed, whose book, Maulana Azad, Islam & the Indian National Movement was launched at the event, spoke. A very passionate speaker, she talked about Maulana Azad and his beliefs, a bit of his relations to Bengal, and quoted from one of his speeches.