Tagore in Segovia
This just in from our woman in Segovia: the film director Sangeeta Datta holding a copy of the TLS.
It turns out that the Hay Festival Segovia last week paid tribute to the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, following the 150th anniversary of his birth. This makes more sense of the photo of Ms Datta, who stood in for the actress Sharmila Tagore by reading and singing some of the Nobel Laureate’s poems as part of the celebrations. These also included a bout of Bharata Natyam (a classical form of Indian dance; see below), and several related talks and events.
Seamus Perry, in his own recent tribute to Tagore in the TLS, began by noting that his work is still known and loved in India but is barely read at all in other parts of the world. Is this true? Segovia aside, that is, where the novelist Upamanyu Chatterjee was on hand at least to confirm Tagore’s status in India as a national institution, a colossus, a giant. Imagine English literature without Shakespeare, Chatterjee suggested: that’s Indian culture without Tagore.
It’s not just reference books that cause controversy in Spain. As Catalonia prepared to stage its last bullfight, an adoring Segovia audience listened to a man who has killed more than 4,000 bulls in his career as a torero. For Enrique Ponce, bullfighting is a vocation and an art. The intensive training inspires a transcendence of mind. In the ring, he finds pleasure and inner peace. He condemned the Catalonian ban on bullfighting as the work of opportunistic “separatistas”, concerned only to mark themselves out from the rest of Spain.For the “aficionados” who followed him, in a one-sided panel discussion, it isn’t just a matter of art, beauty and passion – which is also the view of Alexander Fiske-Harrison, whose book Mark Rowlands savaged in the TLS recently, and who has duly responded in the letters page this week – there is also an environmental imperative to kill bulls. (Never mind that Ponce had earlier stated that the “toros bravos” were bred purely for bullfighting, to die in the ring.) Finally, clinching the argument, the writer and director Agustín Díaz Yanes declared that bullfighters were the only free men left in the world. What’s the death of a few bulls compared to that?
Elsewhere, the discerning Segovian (not necessarily in this sense of the word) might have heard Lord Desai talking about the relationship between India and China, Eduardo Mendoza on his novel Riña de gatos, and David Mitchell on the historical novel, discovering the themes that matter to him (the main one being language) and how a writer striving to be original cannot prevent things popping up again from one novel to the next (“like the whack-a-mole game . . .”) – and how he is currently reading Independent People by another Nobel Laureate, Halldór Laxness – due for his own sesquicentennial celebration at Segovia 2052, presumably.