Literary discourse in digital space

Some sort of thrill and excitement is always associated with the idea of watching a cricket match in a stadium, even if it means standing among a sea of people and cheering for the favourite player or team, and even getting soaked in sweat and dirt with all glee. What matters is the experience, something an indoor space can never offer. Yet, the reach a live telecast has on television can’t be ignored. It is, with the same vision, India’s first digital literary festival Kindle LitFestX has been organised to “democratise accessibility of a literary event.”

“We are a country of 1.2 billion people and how many people actually get to attend a literature festival? Constraints like distance, accessibility are always there. So, the question one has to ask is how these festivals are serving an average audience?” asks Kumaar Bagrodia, CEO, Leapvault, brainchild behind the 10-day virtual festival.

“At the same time there are about 350 million internet users and penetration of internet is less compared to traditional mediums like television and radio. But the trend is slowly changing,” he adds.

Bagrodia may be right. According to a new study by the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) and KPMG, there will be a total of 500 million internet users in India by 2017, up from a current number of about 350 million. The number of mobile internet users in two years will be 314 million.

This digital festival began October 23 and features prominent thinkers, scholars, professors, authors and journalists who are using platforms like  YouTube ,Live, Google Hangout, Facebook, Twitter, amongst others to offer an interactive experience for readers and authors including book readings and virtual book launches.

“The festival is for those who don’t have time to attend but are keen to be a part of it. So through this platform they can watch sessions at their convenience, all they need is internet connectivity. They don’t have to shell out money on boarding, lodging and
travelling,” Bagrodia tells Metrolife.

Any literature festival comes with the charm of intimacy and meeting prominent persons, personally. But for many these platforms have restricted the idea of literature to “elitism” and have over the years become a buzzing marketing and PR exercise to build the property.

So, at first, the idea of “digital” evokes a sense of isolation, but at the same time it opens up the concept of convenience and reach. “An online literary festival cuts across several boundaries and allows for more writers to be showcased. It doesn't matter where you are located as long as you have a computer with the right settings and a viable internet connection, a writer can be part of this festival,” Anita Nair, author of The Better Man, tells Metrolife.

Taking a cue from how confusing panel discussions become at times, the festival has focused on one speaker, one topic policy and aims to “educate and inform” the viewers.
“It is a global platform for everyone. Imagine if students of a school in a remote area are able to watch a session, it would mean a lot to them. Physical festivals are here to stay, but we are a developing and poor country and it is important to have virtual
festivals to shun elitism,” says Bagrodia.

This year, Indian and international authors including Ashwin Sanghi, Raghav Bahl, Jon Turney and Anam Zakaria from Pakistan are participating and topics on discussion range from politics, culture and society to online world, cinema and food.

Journalist and author
Rajdeep Sardesai, who is active on social media, says, “Through new age media it is important to spread knowledge by virtually connecting readers and non-readers to books and ideas in there.”

Bagrodia doesn’t want to restrict the literary discourse to this festival only. He is looking at the bigger picture and hopes to engage the reader and the author through several activities that will be a constant companion of this online platform.

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