By Jeevin Johal
VANCOUVER – It’s in our psychological nature as human beings to question our existence. We endlessly theorize and philosophize our corporeal realities in search of spiritual explanations that extend beyond simply surviving as flesh and bone entities. This year, Vancouver’s Indian Summer Festival has curated an elaborate docket of creative thinkers and artists to explore these vast themes, which have the incredible power to unite us as a people, but also, sometimes, to tear us apart. It’s important in these modern times that we take valiant measures to learn about and celebrate our diversity rather than let it hinder our progression as a species, and the Indian Summer Festival provides a vibrant platform of learning and experience.
One of many remarkably talented artists to join the panel is award-winning novelist Vikram Chandra, whose lecture, The Poetry of Amazement, looks to dissect a centuries-old poetic art form known as Citra Kavya.
“The idea is that the syllables of the words in the verses actually make shapes, like wheels, swords, and snakes,” explains Chandra. “You realize you’re looking at what seems like a fairly simple verse, but when you look at it more closely, it suddenly reveals itself to have some astonishing things hiding within it.”
Citra Kavya has more or less disappeared from the fabric of India’s popular culture, having been torn at the seams and laid to waste by the colonial occupation. Its significance is only now beginning to resurface.
“It exists only as a sort of historical artifact,” says Chandra. “Mainstream, high level Expositions looked down on [Citra Kavya]. They thought it was just verbal trickery. They didn’t see any depth or tragedy in it, so I got curious about it.”
In addition to his studies of Citra Kavya, Chandra has written a number of novels, including the 2006 crime epic Sacred Games. Recently, the novel was adapted into a TV series, which makes its Netflix premiere on July 6 as India’s first contribution to the streaming platform.
“The series itself is very gritty,” he says. “It’s real, and I think the visual idiom we’ve found is completely Indian; it’s very much from the soil, as it were, but it also has global appeal.”
Internationally, India is most recognized for Bollywood, but the country’s history of film extends far beyond lavishly colourful song-and-dance tales of love and loss. Shining light on lesser known films, Chandra explains, “There’s a burgeoning tradition of indie cinema within the country, so there is an alternative to Bollywood.” Expand your horizons, people!
Chandra himself comes from a long lineage of artists and filmmakers. His mother, Kamna Chandra, has written several screenplays; his sister, Tanuja, is a director; and his other sister, Anupama, is a notable film critic. Chandra was destined to create, and although he left film school in New York City to work on his first novel, Red Earth and Pouring Rain, it seems his short attendance won’t necessarily prevent his prose from receiving a visual treatment.
“When you’re writing a novel or a short story, you have such control over your materials and their intent, and film is so intensely collaborative,” explains Chandra. “It’s an industrial art, so that’s the reason I’ve always kept it at kind of an arm’s length. [But] it’s hard to say never.”
Indian Summer Festival runs from July 5-15. Vikram Chandra’s The Poetry of Amazement takes place on July 12 at UBC’s Frederic Wood Theatre.artists, Authors, Indian Summer Festival, vikram chandra