Welcome to the Khushwant Singh Litfest. London May 17, 2018. Kasauli October 12-14, 2018

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KSLF will be a young vibrant 5 years this October. Much like what KS was all his 99 years. The New York Times has called us a quirky fest. Because it is so unusual to name a litfest after someone. And beyond that, after a living person. But then KS was known for the unexpected. He was a thinker who questioned conventionally accepted norms. A real thinker who broke all taboos and barriers. Isn’t this what literature sets out to do? Break the barriers of the mind. Nudge us out of our complacency with new ideas. Shatter obstacles in our path. And create anew. To jolt us into dreaming the impossible dream.

The history of accomplishment is the story of people who have dared to dream and do. Whether they be the Don Quixote’s of the world or the Mahatma. We will celebrate the breakthroughs of accomplishment despite odds. What does it take for a sportsperson to break the time barrier? For a translator to break the languages that separate us? For poetry to dance delicately between the spoken and unspoken; for people to break the bondage of hate and love; for a work of art to open up new vistas and inspire generations. Art cinema broke the stranglehold of commercial films and blossomed in the 70’s and 80’s.

Cut to today. How many boundaries will we traverse till we imagine there’s no country. An azadi from the confines of our biases. Do we really want azadi from Santa Banta jokes. How will women get azadi from rapes or Indians azadi from poverty or writers and bloggers azadi from death threats.

On his 125th birth anniversary we celebrate the courage of a man who liberated millions from the bondage of caste. Even as these same Dalits continue to be hunted down today. There are other wars that broke barriers of credibility by never being declared wars. And yet over 4000 soldiers were massacred on both sides.

A man we all know established India’s first national park in the Kumaon hills, the Hailey national park. He broke the royal tradition of hunting tigers. The legend behind Corbett, his courage, integrity and vulnerability unfolds in the hills that Corbett frequented.

Twenty five years ago two gentlemen created a seminal moment in India’s economic history that changed the course of India. We tore down walls of protectionism and colonial barriers. Reforms by stealth turned to revolution to wealth. Good or bad?

Another political, geographic, spiritual barrier was crossed in another century and another time. By intrepid Indians and Europeans. Both travelers and spiritual gurus from the 8th to the 17th century. In the Himalayas of Himachal and Tibet. Among them Guru Padmasambhava, credited with the spread of Buddhism. From the early centuries we straddle across time to present day detours of a different kind that cast their spell on our dreams of experiences far away.

History is full of heritage that is lost. One intrepid banker tracks down the Sikh legacy in Pakistan. Like he would a scam in a bank. He breaks the barriers of warring neighbors to recreate a vision spanning 7 centuries. And crossing back from the border we have a story of a Dalits courage and the price he paid in fighting for justice. More than barriers were broken here. He lost all his limbs.

Another eternal debate continues to rage. Who is a nationalist. What is its relevance in a world beyond barriers. How can a KS fest do without women and poetry? Women of color, women of substance, women in the corner office, women who have rebelled, women who have straddled many lives and cracked many ceilings. Poetry and music that has broken borders and united the world.

KSLF is dedicated to helping the girl child break the barriers of oppressive tradition; break the wasteful use of nature’s resources by supporting the ecology of Kasauli. KSLF salutes the great Indian soldier.

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