[Guest Blog] THiNK 2012 is serious stuff, with a youthful spirit

Hemant Ahlawat

Arthur Rimbaud famously wrote about the fickleness of youth, about not being serious when one is 17. However, at just two years of age, there is no doubt Tehelka’s THiNK conference in Goa takes itself seriously. If the name ‘Think’ isn’t enough, one look at the agenda for the first day will put all your doubts at rest. A hectic pre-lunch session has you taking a tumultuous ride pondering over how the founding father would react to today’s India, contemplating the balancesheet of the  American war in Afghanistan, listening in stunned silence to the rage of two old saints fighting for the survival of the Ganges, suddenly subjected to the history of the orgasmotron, and for good measure, listening to a former Mossad head talk about Israel’s options with Iran.

Serious? Absolutely.

But the festival wears its seriousness lightly. Behind the scenes, a bunch of young men and women were busy arranging things — from preparing bags to be left in the ‘thinkers’ rooms to providing Internet details to bloggers, dealing with endless change in speaker schedules, pondering over the chances of the rain gods descending over a desultory Goan evening. Yet, they seem young, happy, tired but uncomplaining. Reminds one of students festivals in college.

Young, without a doubt.

So you can be serious and seriously young at the same time.

The sessions itself blur the line between two. The idea perhaps is to stimulate thought than to let it sink in. Things get hurled at you like peaks and troughs in a roller coaster. I found myself crying one minute at the anguished rage of an old saint (“tens of us will die for the Ganga, and then you will rise”) and another minute cluelessly wondering why a person talking about an orgasm-inducing machine was on the stage. The mood is ever-shifting, the audience moving along with it, sucked in to the discussion, but also at bay (there are no interactive sessions), an involved-voyeuristic experience, as it were.

Of the sessions on day 1, I managed to attend about 70%, I needed some time for thinking after that. Invariably, the ones you miss are always reported as the best. Of the ones I attended, most served their purpose of igniting thinking very well. Right from Tarun Tejpal’s meandering address about the idea of India, partly addressed to the audience, partly straight to the founding fathers of India, you find yourself  analysing, making fervent mental notes for future reference, and, most importantly, left wanting for more. The session on Afghanistan with the impressive Fawzia Koofi (imagine being left out to die the day you were born because you were a girl) left me with the one line said in its introduction: “History is often turned on individual will and action”. Jason Burke tried sportingly to bring an outside in (and funny) view to a complex issue but it was hard to match the headline of that session. Contemplating prime numbers and puzzling over a “let’s-seek-dialogue-with-Iran” ex-Mossad head was interesting enough, but the session of the day for me had to be the one on the environment. With dual aspects of the continued erosion in the Western ghats and the ongoing poisoning of the once-holy Ganges, the topic itself was powerful. But the speakers, Shekar Dattatri, Swami Shivanand and Prof. GD Agarwal, did not stimulate thought, they forced it. The fact that my wife found herself researching courses in sustainable development during the lunch break was proof enough of that.

THiNK 2012 is serious stuff, with a youthful spirit.

More detail on some of the sessions perhaps some other time, but just enough time to throw in some interesting observations on the more peripheral things. It was fascinating to see members of the audience and others tweeting and blogging from within the room while the sessions were on; some more intent on tweeting than on really listening or thinking. I guess it’s a mark of the age we live in. Ben Hammersley would approve. Christopher Turner (he of the Orgasmotron history) was clearly the ladies’ favourite during the evening dinner. The evening, unlike the evening before the festival started was lively and reinforced the youthful spirit.

If THiNK is so serious at 2, I wonder what it would be like at 17.

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