From being an esoteric foreign occurrence that one read about, literary fests have suddenly mushroomed across India in the past few years. One hears of literary fests all over the place; sometimes, a single city may host more than one (probably when there are warring factions amongst that city’s literati, ha ha. Too bad for them, good for us book lovers) . The question is: how do you separate the wheat from the chaff (if, indeed, one dares to be sacrilegious and call ANY litfest ‘chaff’?)
The Tata Literature Live! festival, also called the Mumbai International Literary Festival, held for 4 days at NCPA Mumbai, was an engaging experience. They obviously didn’t care to have a crowd of autograph-seekers there; they hardly advertised the event. They didn’t charge a paisa either, which was a pleasant surprise after my last experience. They had a range of authors there, from the popular-with-the-masses (Amish Tripathi, Ashwin Sanghi) to political analysts and journalists.
Given the prevailing mood in the country, a lot of the panels were political discussions. The first one I attended was called ‘Durbar and Dynasty’ and had Sudhir Kakar, Kumar Ketkar and Tavleen Singh, with Farrukh Dhondy chairing. It was a good start to the festival – Tavleen Singh was at her incisive best, blasting dynastic politics forcefully. This is a lady who does not believe in moderating her opinions; she speaks her mind. What’s the point of a political journalist who tries to be politically correct? She actually chastised Kumar Ketkar for accepting the Padma Shri from the government, sounding like a Victorian governess chastising a schoolboy. Ketkar responded gamely though, looking not the least bit ruffled. Sudhir Kakar wisely decided to desist from the verbal sparring. Though Singh did wear her anti-Gandhi bias a little too plainly on her sleeve, it was refreshing to hear someone put into words what every thinking person must feel; that nepotism, power-grabbing and pettiness have reduced Indian democracy to a farce. I almost sympathised with the gentleman who rather fatuously asked the panel, “Can we ask these families to have a 6-year break between members of the same family standing for elections?” Singh responded with a forthright, “Are you mad? Why will these people bring in such a law?” Poor idealistic man. I know just how he feels.
Parsi Bol by Sooni Taraporewala and Meher Marfatia, illustrated by Hemant Morparia is an upcoming (December 2013) book about Parsi idioms and phrases, and the next panel had them discussing the book for an audience that was looking forward to its fair share of laughs. Unfortunately, Siddharth Dhanwant Sanghvi, the chair, couldn’t make it, and so the 3 of them seemed a little at a loose end, though Morparia did take over with quite some success. He mentioned the well-known ability of Parsis to laugh at themselves and allow others to join in the fun. It’s true; very few other communities would allow the kind of lampooning in print/ on screen that the Parsi community allows, rather, revels in and even contributes to. Salute.
Peter James and Ashwin Sanghi spoke about the craft of writing thrillers. Interesting session, though Ashwin did bring up his fondness for whisky again – that seems to be a staple of his festival appearances, and it’s obviously good for a few titters. It did make for a happy audience though; and aren’t thriller writers supposed to ‘thrill’ their audience?
The next day saw a bevy of book launches; Vikram Chandra‘s memoir, Mirrored Mind, a memoir with an interesting concept, followed by Sudhir Kakar‘s Young Tagore and Sugata Bose‘s Tagore: the World Voyager which contains some of his translations from the Gitanjali and other poems of Rabindranath Tagore. It was an erudite, interesting talk on Tagore, by people who have researched him well. Even someone like me who knows shamefully little about him, could enjoy the experience, and it made me determined to read more by and about Tagore.
The Tata Literary Live! fest lived up to its name. It was pure ‘Literature Alive’; writers talking about issues, history and, well, books. wish I could have attended more of the panels, but all said and done, the Mumbai International Literary Festival was a great experience, aimed at the thinking person.