IIC: Those were the days…
B Jeyamohan, one of the most influential contemporary, Tamil and Malayalam writer and literary critic from Nagercoil, wrote a piece on India International C entre (IIC) after staying there for a few days. He calls it Power Centre for the Culturati.
His description of an intellectual and their jargons surprisingly after over 22 years is strikingly similar to the few insufferable members of the tribe we still find floating around at IIC. But they do not have the glow that is correlated with power or proximity to power. As Jeyamohan wrote, “For what I learnt the meaning of “Power” when I visited Delhi in 1994 to receive my Sanskriti Samman award and stayed for two days in India International Centre. I did have some familiarities with Information and culture ministries. However, IIC is the place where “Power” is served on a gold plate.
“I have stayed in many star hotels later. But I have never seen anywhere the luxury and comfort of IIC. IIC was established and funded by the Indian government as an independent body to promote arts and free thinking. If my memory serves me right, Dr. Karan Singh was also its head. I saw him in that evening.
“I saw every intellectual that I had known through my reading of English language magazines. U R Ananthamurthy was staying there for almost four years almost as a permanent fixture. Girish Karnad was staying for a few days. Writers, journalists and thinkers such as Pritish Nandi, Makarant Parajpe, Shobha De were seen everywhere in the Centre.
“It was true that I was overwhelmed that day. Arunmozhi (my wife) ran to Girish Karnad on spotting him and was thrilled to introduce herself to him. I was told that Nayantara Sehgal used to come there on daily basis to have a drink. I saw her that day too. I realised that the two other individuals who were given the award along with me, Rajdeep Sardesai and Anamika Haksar were regulars there.
“They wear rough Kolkata kurtas and Kolhapuri chappals. Wear small glasses. Women in pure white hair and khadi saris. One of them, they said, was Kapila Vatsyayan. They said, Pupul Jayakar will also come. Wherever you turn, there were literary talks and art discussions. That pomp kind of unnerved me. The ultra high intellectualism seen there somewhat alienated me. Venkat Swaminathan, who saw me the next day, immediately recognised my sense of discomfort.”
He said, “Hey, three fourth of this crowd is just a perfect horde of crows (the Tamil equivalent of psychophants). The snobs draw their power by licking the boots of power centres. Most of them are mere power brokers.”
Hopefully some care will be taken to prevent the IIC from becoming the Centre of the Uncouth.