Beyond literati

Bracing BLF

Beyond literati

The Bangalore Literature Festival has come and gone, and Nandita Bose, who also hosted a session there, shares her views about the festival and its literati through her critical observation and experience

  Ibelong to the other side. The side that is disillusioned. The side that thinks the world of books today is a world gone crazy. In general, literature festivals are an extension of that air-kissing, celebrity-seeking vacuous misrepresentation of the written word. And then the formal invite to host a session finds its way to me. As I see it, this festival can’t be all bad if its organisers have the good sense to invite me!

Bangalore Literature Festival 2013 was inaugurated on the spacious lawns of Crowne Plaza Hotel on September 27 with the honours being done by Chandrashekhara Kambara, Nabaneeta Deb Sen, Christoph Bertram, Ashok Vajpeyi and Ramachandra Guha. Setting the tone of the festival, Ashok Vajpeyi defines literature as satyagraha against a multiplicity of tyrannies and also lessons in humility. That is when the tyranny of the sun, of too much being spoken and too many celebrities got to me. And what follows is more an account of what I didn’t miss rather than what there was.

I stagger to the refreshment desk with a friend who is tickled to find chilled beer on offer. Almost as refreshing was the sight of leaders of the industry in worn-out sandals or beautifully turned out socialites from Mumbai standing or hunting for seats during sessions, because there simply were no VIP seats. BLF is perhaps the only place in India where there are no reservations!

The power of BLF is undoubtedly in its vision. There is an eclectic mix of topics, genres, ideas and personalities from overwhelming page-three writers to down-to-earth maestros. What follows then is a buffet banquet of literary delights.

On offer were lively debates, amazing insights into the art and craft of writing, the intricacies of filmmaking, book-publishing or couture, and even a case of arrogant moderating. My problem with people in Bangalore is that though individually they may be charming and sensitive, as a collective they are uncouth. In a city with the most rapidly-growing population, the attendance for many events were in 100s rather than 10,000s. And what a pity for the soul of the city that is!

Spiritual touch

My personal highlight is Sri Sri Ravi Shankar’s discourse on A Celebration of Love and Life, which brought out in simplest terms the essence of spiritual living. Unfortunately, guruji was bombarded with requests to direct the course of literary pursuits, and it was admirable how the kernel of this quest was gently and beautifully elaborated upon. Just in case you were wondering, my cynicism in spiritual gurus is stronger than that of literary events. This was genuinely a wonderful surprise.

To cater to those with a keen interest in Kannada literature, there were stalwarts Chandrashekhara Kambara, K S Bhagavan, B Viveka Rai, Narahalli Balasubrahmanya, Giraddi Govindraju, Rekha Vasanth, Edwin D’souza and others. Kodava, Konkani, Tulu and Beary — local languages other than Kannada — were the focus of a session on Oral Literature. Other regions were represented too by young writers such as Arindam Barkataki from Assam and Farooq Shaheen from Kashmir. An interesting factoid at the fest was Shaheed’s postponement of his own wedding in order to attend.

The range widens to include talented neighbours: the articulate and brave Bangladeshi writer, Farah Ghuznavi, the dashing and discerning Sri Lankan, Ashok Ferry and the liberal humanist and towering literary figure from Pakistan, Babar Ayaz.

From further across the globe we have Ian Jack, Aurelia Lassaque, Christopher Kloeble and Evan Hastings. The partner country this year was Germany, and for the first time, Indian readers had open access to brilliant German writers, notably, the poet Bas Bottcher and the amazing and witty Tilman Rammstedt. If there was one author whose written and spoken word moved and inspired, it is certainly Rammstedt. Small wonder then that his book, The King of China, published by Seagull, was sold out in hours.
The strongest stream of lyrical poetry flowing through BLF was the intimate, funny and delicately thought-provoking sessions by Gulzar. After weaving magic with K Satchidanandan in the poetry-reading session with Prasoon Joshi, he kept the audience delighted with a steady commentary on his minor fake complexes at Joshi’s many poetic strengths. In the interview with mesmerising and powerfully eloquent Bhawana Somaaya, he retraced the genesis of many immortal lyrics in Hindi films.

Time for a sustenance break. There were many stalls on offer. Special mention is deserved by the waffle-and-crepe desk and its happy personnel. Also, Cafe Coffee Day and its powerful brews that stimulated conversation and beyond. Books were brought out at the end of each session to encourage sales and signings. I bought bagfuls at the Sahitya Akademi stall, and no joy can be greater for a book lover.

One thing bothered me then, and continues to bother me. When Farhan Akhtar came on stage, not only was he mobbed, there were wild catcalls from the audience — with me leading the chorus. Why don’t we worship our writers as well? Why haven’t we evolved a system in mainstream India where, out of every 100 who adore a filmstar, there would be, maybe, two die-hard fans of writers?

Of humility

Another thing that bothered me was the self-perceived elitism of certain writers. I was going around joking that my only ambition is to become a great writer someday, just so I could go to literature fests and ignore everybody else.

Here too, there were silver linings. The most beautiful presence was that of local author and columnist Gita Aravamudan. Nothing in her smile or attitude measured you and quickly calibrated her behaviour.

It was uniquely and uniformly warm and genuine for each person she met. And that is the essence of an evolved writer. And there’s the runaway success, Ravi Subramanian, who is another beautiful soul — honest and engaging. I was most proud of my friend Piyush Jha in how eloquently he presented his points with depth and scholarship that underpins his immensely popular crime fiction.

My own session was with who I recognised as ‘lesser-known’ authors. It was a voyage of discovery reading Nighat Gandhi’s Alternate Realities, Nilanjan Choudhury’s Bali and the Ocean of Milk, Shoba Narayan’s Return to India and Satyajit Sarna’s The Angel’s Share. I salute the organisers’ vision that they bring to the fore undiscovered powerful writing. I had ended our session with the sound advice of investing in these books. In fact, I’d go further. Let’s all work around our finances, sacrifice coffee, and maybe beers, to buy more books!

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