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Literary Festival 2012: Modernity's Contents and Discontents in India and Pakistan


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Speaker(s): Patrick French, Reshma Ruia, Kamila Shamsie
Chair: Dr Ruth Kattumuri

Recorded on 1 March 2012 in Sheikh Zayed Theatre, New Academic Building.

The panellists will discuss and compare the political, social and economic trajectories of India and Pakistan since independence through the lenses of the social sciences and of literature. While India is heralded as a new, democratic, economic powerhouse, Pakistan is deplored as a basket-case of religious-fundamentalism, feudalism and corruption. But those who know the region are aware that both images are oversimplifications. India has managed to portray itself as dynamic, entrepreneurial and democratic but the masses often experience both economic growth and democracy quite differently to what this sanitized image suggests. Pakistan has largely been portrayed negatively as a quasi-medieval feudal-cum-theocratic state but the reality is that, despite its myriad social and political troubles, Pakistan has a modern, capitalist economy; its feudal lords are really capitalist farmers, and its allegedly medieval religious leaders are actually responding to the challenges and contradictions of the modern world. What is clear is that modernization has created winners and losers in both countries and it appears that some of the latter are gravitating towards insurgency; in India towards the Maoists and in Pakistan towards the Islamists. The panellists will discuss these themes from the larger, structural perspectives of the social sciences as well as from the perspective of people's lived experiences through the lens of literature.

Patrick French is the author of India: A Portrait, Younghusband, Liberty or Death, Tibet, Tibet and The World Is What It Is. His books have won the Somerset Maugham Award, the Royal Society of Literature W.H. Heinemann Prize, the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Hawthornden Prize.

Anatol Lieven is chair of international relations and terrorism studies at King's College London, and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation in Washington DC. He was previously a journalist, who reported from South Asia, the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe for The Times and other publications. His books include Chechnya: Tombstone of Russian Power, America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism, with John Hulsman, Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World and most recently Pakistan: A Hard Country.

Reshma Ruia was born in India and grew up in Rome, Italy. After an undergraduate degree in International Relations and post graduate degree in Economic History from LSE, she moved back to Rome where she worked as a development economist with the United Nations and subsequently with the OECD in Paris. She is now based in Manchester, where she obtained an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester University. She is the author of Something Black in the Lentil Soup, described by John Carey in the Times, as a ‘gem of straight-faced comedy.’ One of her short stories has appeared in the Anthology, Too Asian, not Asian Enough. She has recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing from Manchester University and has finished her second novel, A Mouthful of Silence.

Kamila Shamsie is the author of five novels, and a book of non-fiction, Offence: The Muslim Case. Her most recent novel Burnt Shadows has been translated into more than 20 languages and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. In 2010 The Telegraph named her among the 20 best novelists under 40 in Britain. She writes for The Guardian and the International Herald Tribune, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a Trustee of English PEN and FreeWord. She grew up in Karachi, and now lives in London.

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