Wednesday, 20 February 2008

An open Kitab

(See updates and links at the end of the post.)

Two nights ago we got an email. Several emails, actually, one of them directly from the signatories, the others forwarded by friends.

We had a debate with ourself before passing it on. Of course we can't vouch for the veracity of all the contents, but we've met, chatted often with, and like Kavita, one of the signatories. And we can vouch for the very different treatment of the Brits as compared to the Indians, having seen it first hand. Don't take our word for it; it was also written about in the media.

And hey, you're all adults, so sift the evidence and make up your own minds. We finally decided that this view should get its day in court.
We, the organisers of Kitab 2007, write to you in order to inform of the unprofessional practices of our employer, the owner of Liberatum, organizer of Kitab, Pablo Ganguli. We write to register our protest against his actions, to demand that he resolve his outstanding dues, and to urge you to all to consider these factors before lending support to Kitab 2008.

Some of our main concerns are listed below

1. Kitab 2008 is poised to take place next week, yet we are still owed thousands of pounds in salary and expenses from the last event. We have been communicating with Pablo for the past 12 months, requesting our full salaries, to no avail. We also paid for expenses out of our pocket, and to date have not received all this money back.

2. In emails and draft programmes sent to staff, invitees, and potential sponsors, Pablo was misleading about those participating in the festival. This indirectly compromised the integrity of those working on the project, who passed on false information to potential guests and sponsors.

3. The bias that he showed towards the British guests over the Indian guests made it difficult for us to hold an inclusive and relevant festival, and to give all our participants the respect they deserved. British guests were given top priority for all VIP events. Indian guests who were not already based in Bombay were discouraged from being invited. Transport and accommodation was offered to guests from the UK, whereas guests flying in from other parts of India were not offered the same facilities. This bias was also noted and pointed out by many of the invitees and participants.

4. Pablo's frequent unavailability, both physical and via telephone, notably in the week preceding the festival, during the event itself, and afterwards. A refusal to take responsibility for problems often left us to pick up the pieces. An example of this being taking a holiday in Goa immediately after the festival without informing any of the staff. We were left to make outstanding payments out of our own pockets, as Pablo's reassigning of allocated funds without consultation led to sponsorship money falling short.

5. Overt emphasis on self PR over interest in the content, ideology or logistics of the festival. Evidenced further by the fact that Pablo Ganguli referred to himself as a Cultural Impressario in the media and gave the impression that the festival was a one man show. The disproportionate emphasis on PR hindered the progress of an already severely understaffed team by not allowing staff to work as a team.

6. Despite requests to the contrary, Pablo maintained secrecy, discouraged cooperation, and encouraged a segregation of duties amongst us, including the separation of Indian and UK participants, so we had to trust him, at the helm, to keep us abreast of relevant information. He completely failed to do this. There was also unfounded vilification of staff's hard work.

7. We were initially told that we would be given accommodation in Bombay in the months leading up to the festival (since none of us were based there). However, we were unable even to visit the city that the festival was taking place in, unless it was on our own expense, to the detriment of the event.

To sum up, we feel that we were misled by Pablo Ganguli and are very disappointed by his behaviour prior to, during, and subsequent to the festival. We urge you to express your disapproval for this unjust behaviour; to email Pablo on the address above and not to lend your support to Kitab 2008.

Lastly, we would like to apologise to all the participants who were also left inconvenienced and disappointed by Kitab 2007 - those who were cancelled on at the last minute, those that were misled, and those who were given lower priorities than their British counterparts - and we assure you that we expressed our concerns about all these factors throughout.


Kavita Bhanot
Ayesha Siddiqi
Shazia Nizam

We got several replies, which we won't reproduce here, except this one from the poet Dilip Chitre, who addressed his mail to "Dear Kavita, Dear Peter, Dear All," which we guess is public enough. Here you are:
Yes, the last KitabFest in Mumbai has left an unsavoury trail of memories and impressions.

I was promised my fare from Pune and back. I had to put some pressure to get it a month after the Fest. It was actually a cheque from a friend of Kavita Bhanot that paid me my out of pocket expenses. No, accomodation and local conveyance in Mumbai wasn't paid at all.

The Brits---may their souls rest in peace----seemed to have been treated better. But even this could be an illusion.

I met Pablo Ganguli just once as he was stepping out of a private car at Prithvi Theatre, Juhu. He just said "hello!" and vanished.

This year, too, I have a vague invitation from him to attend. It doesn't tell me what to at the Fest or even give me any schedule of events. The last time, it was Amit Chaudhuri who invited me and I accepted it because I know him and his wife Rosinka.

This year, I would simply ignore the Fest.


Dilip Chitre

Then, John Mathew, who earlier told Caferati Bombay, "I am co-ordinating the Kitab Festival with Pablo Ganguli and all Caferati members are welcome to attend. I may also read.." sent us this, which fair play demands that we post this as well.
Hi Peter,

There is always another side to a story. Here is the one given by Pablo:
1. Kitab funds were all transfered to Shazia Nizam's company account last year and only she had access to the money. Shazia was a business partner in the festival in charge of the finances. Shazia and Kavita spoke regularly and both knew exactly how much funds were there and what the costs were. Shazia Nizam was in charge of raising funds, yet she didn't raise a penny. It was Shazia's responsibility to manage the funds and make payments. Every sponsor will tell you they transferred sponsorship money to Ms Nizam.

2. I was the person with the vision behind Kitab and yes, I do take responsiblity for working with a team who were given specific roles. Ms Bhanot's role was to manage the festival in India and be responsible for direction locally. It is interesting that I am being called unprofessional and that I am being accused of running a mismanaged festival whereas she was the person running/managing it in India. Yes, I didn't do the perfect job as the creator but nothing is ever perfect in life. Kitab 2007 was spread all across the city and there were many venues. In a city like Mumbai, it is no surprise that running a festival like this can be rather nightmarish with the traffic and other obvious issues concerned. Ms Bhanot and I chose hotel rooms together for guests and it is baffling that she herself is accusing me of giving British guests preferential treatments. I would like them to elaborate on this. How did I do that?

3. I went to Goa after the festival for a few days after having worked on KITAB every month since December 2005 - which is when I first started working on it. Yes. My father invited me to to so. How does that have any connection with Kavita Bhanot or Kitab funding? She disappeared with her colleagues after Kitab and I did try to get in touch with them several times.

4. Kavita Bhanot says I have misled everybody about programming and guest names. Again, I would like her to elaborate. Misled how? Is it due to the fact that some guests couldn't turn up in the end? This happens with every event and festival in the world and even private dinner parties!

5. I was concerned about having guests from other parts of India at KITAB last year as I knew we had a very tight budget. So I wanted to have most guests from Mumbai. But Kavita insisted we needed to bring out Indian guests from other cities and as a result we didnt have enough funding to look after their transport.

6. Kavita Bhanot, Shazia Nizam and Ayesha Siddiqi have done their bit to damage the reputation of the festival and jeopardise our efforts to create a successful KITAB 2008.

7. Shazia Nizam tried to put money from an international company into her own bank account who wanted to sponsor our festival without even telling us about it after she resigned from our festival.

Pablo Ganguli

I am not taking sides because I wasn't there for the festival last year. But
am reproducing it here so that both sides get a hearing.

Oh, and the Duck, who was one of the people we sent the rejoinder to, made this offer, which we gleefully reproduce without his permission:
fisticuffs at dawn, victory by pinfall or submission, fully captured on video and up on youtube within ten minutes. it's really the answer. i'm willing to be the referee if all participants are clad in yellow swimsuits.

And just a few minutes ago, we got this from Ayesha Siddiqi:
Thanks for your email, in the interest of 'fair play', would be grateful if you passed on a third perspective

Ayesha Siddiqi

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: amit chaudhuri
Date: Feb 20, 2008 5:44 AM
Subject: letter: kitab festival

Obviously we, the writers and guests – especially the "privileged" British ones - of the Kitab festival cannot confirm everything that is said about Pablo Ganguli and what went on behind the scenes, in the accompanying email. But, from our experience, this sounds plausible and convincing.
We would like to express our unanimous support for the authors of the attached email. We urge all writers to boycott all Ganguli-related projects until he makes good his obligations to the people who worked for him on Kitab 2007 and provides evidence that such practices will not be repeated in the future.
Amit Chaudhuri
Geoff Dyer
Esther Freud
Philip Hensher
Jackie Kay
Ian Jack
Toby Litt
Arvind Krishna Mehrotra
Deborah Moggach
Blake Morrison
Kamila Shamsie
Helen Simpson

Update (23rd Feb 2008):

There's a lively discussion on at The Spaniard in the Works. Space Bar also points to Sharanya Manivannan's post, and sent us a link to John Mathew's eulogy. NDTV has a slightly half-arsed ("But with some of the big names conspicously missing from this year's list, it only fuels the myth that Mumbai is a city that lacks artistic sensibilities." Aink?) report up here, CNN-IBN chips in too, oone of HT's pieces (we hear there were more) is here, and we know there was a piece in the TOI on Friday, but damned if we can find it online.

And also excerpts from a note from Indra Sinha, who has been most perturbed by all this, and who, in his gentlemanly way, offered a possible solution (he refers to it below).
I explained to Kavita that I would not pull out because I don't want to take sides, but at the same time would devote my Kitab event to the benefit of the Bhopalis. Mahesh feels the same.

FYI, I offered a way to get the girls paid, to launch an appeal to all the sponsors, writers and others who took part in all Kitabs to have a whip round. Would have put in a couple of hundred pounds myself to kick it off and hope thus to raise the money to get them paid. The girls were against this, [..] and Pablo was against it too.

I also told Kavita that I would not join in, support or in any way be a party to a media-lynching of Pablo or anyone else. We simply don't have all the available facts.

I have had some pressure from other people to pull out of my event because "of the damage to your reputation", but I do not feel that my reputation is so fragile that it will be damaged, nor so precious that for its sake I would walk away from a friend in trouble.

I wish [Pablo] and the girls had accepted my proposal, publicly buried the hachet and collectively reaffirmed their faith in the power of literature to right wrongs and be a sword for justice — something good could yet have come out of all this. Maybe it is not yet too late. It's something I wanted to discuss with you and see if you could use your influence to make it happen,



PS: Please feel free to share the relevant bits of this email with others, including on your blog if you feel it may be helpful.


Abhinav Maurya said...

I love that man for writing his latest novel. The following only helps: I have had some pressure from other people to pull out of my event because "of the damage to your reputation", but I do not feel that my reputation is so fragile that it will be damaged, nor so precious that for its sake I would walk away from a friend in trouble.

We often come across quarrels wherein both parties may be right and it is only a shift in perspective and argument that shifts the blame. I don't know the truth (or for that matter even the facts) for Kitab, but it seems to me like one of those quarrels (though it might not be and one of the parties may be culpable).

P.S.: Neither pessimistic nor optimistic, it is very hard to be journalistic. I dunno how you tread the tightrope.

Anonymous said...

I was there at Kitab 2007... all through the event. Didn't see any pro-British slant. Yes, we were very hospitable, and all Indians would be proud of this aspect of their cultural heritage — well, apparently not all.

Another typically Indian thing about all this mud-slinging is the timing. Just on the eve of Kitab 2008. Correct me if I am wrong, if some Ganguly or the other didn't pay me, I would be after him, hound him, serve him ultimatums, drag him to court. What I would NOT do is wait for an entire year and then do some very public breast-beating.

But in retrospect, that's so Indian. By the way, before some crackpot accuses me of being one of those preferentially-treated Brits, let me clarify. I am very much Indian, though occasionally ashamed to be so.

S. Dasgupta