A feast for all...

For far too long writers, and fiction writers at that, have been dominating events around literature. Now is the time for all those who don’t write or read books, writes Nandita Bose

books

An astounding literary landmark approaches. In a first of its kind, a lit fest next month will have no writers on any of its panels. Instead, the sessions around literature and books will have politicians, socialites, publishers, retired actors, professional gasbags, adult movie stars, 24 organisers of other lit fests, three CEOs and a clown. Yes, the first and last categories are difficult to tell apart.

It takes a lot of work and money to organise a lit fest and it’s a dismal waste to throw it all away on writers or intellectuals. A bold correction was sorely needed. For far too long writers, and fiction writers at that, have been dominating events around literature. Now is the time for all those who don’t write or read books.

The most important criterion for selecting an invitee to a lit fest is the glamour quotient. Reputations of fests can be damaged by unappealing photographs on social media. And writers are notoriously dowdy. Many fests have been ruined for featuring mournful clusters of creative individuals sitting around talking earnestly on art, literature, and culture.

Next, of course, is clout. Women here ought to also be married to handsome matinee idols or heavy-duty industrialists. And the only male panelist worth his salt must either be a higher-up in the government or run a colossal hedge fund. Each invitee must bring crowds, freebies or funds to the fest. Of course, invitees must reciprocate, some with an invite to another fest where no writers are. You know — another fest of quality.

A word here on why authors don’t merit invitation…. More books are being published in India than five other continents put together. Outside the venue, six of the peanut vendors are published authors. Besides, every writer believes their book is brilliant. Some imagine they are minor film stars and dress in character. Some hire the most expensive publicists to convince the world that is so. That helps. As does a million followers on Twitter, even if all bots. To most general public, writing a book is a common brain malfunction, a new-age neurosis.

Readers in India are a peculiar breed, too. The aim is to appear literary without the grim task of actually reading a book. First, there is an epidemic of those who shudder delicately to inform you they don’t read Indian authors at all. Don’t miss that mild implication of being an undisputed expert on Indian writing. All it actually means is they’ve browsed in an airport bookshop in the year 2002.

Frankly, the only time a writer is remembered is when s/he, mercifully, dies. That is when the populace digs up pictures with or of them to write glowing eulogies on social media. Their books quietly crumble into dust in warehouses unread. The only true poet is a dead poet.

Lit fests are meant to be trawled for photo ops with the famous — snaps with a semi-finalist in a reality show or a celebrity weight-loss guru. Failing which ‘readers’ throng the festival bookshop to pick brightly coloured books with that tell-tale cursive font title to pout at for Instagram.

In 2012, one reader, erudite and keen to explore experimental writing in India across genres, had been spotted at a lit fest in a land far away. Never again. It is believed by anthropologists that that particular species is now extinct.

The fact is no one reads anymore. Face it, despite the numbers, writing is a dying art. Who is a writer anyway? Chetan Bhagat, the lascivious aunty who wrote the 50 Shades series, Paulo Coelho and those has-beens from the movie biz with their name-dropping, coy, tell-all autobiographies. The rest make too little money to be considered part of the human race.

And while the world limits its reading to WhatsApp forwards, lit fests have to evolve too and find a way to ‘do’ literature without actually involving books.

This will be a fest to remember. Important people will sit in neat semicircles to solve all human issues, conceptually. Audiences will gasp or clap. During a session featuring a hated mutual figure, two (or multiple) panelists will return to their room to relax. Spirits should flow. Everyone must leave intellectually stimulated. Literature is dusted and put away until next year.

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