16 November 2010

Literature Live! - the new lit fest in Mumbai

Following on the footsteps of the Jaipur lit fest, journalist-columnist Anil Dharker organised a four day event, called Literature Live in Mumbai that saw a decent turn out. The event didn't see the big players, but the fest is a great beginning towards wooing young Indian readers and infusing energy into the literary world as a whole

Bachi Karkaria, Anuvab Pal and Anil Dharker

For a long time, literary events have been indentified as elusive clubs, with only writers and a known circle of wine clinking literati participating in it. The reading public for Indian Writing in English and the Queen's language in general has always been a fairly niche one, making the prospect of literary conventions not entirely viable. However, things appear to be changing in the last decade or so, with the rise of the Indian mass market, and consequently the opening up of the desi publishing industry.
The Jaipur literary fest, held in the winter of January every year, started out tentatively, but has come into its own and is now attracting heavy-weight writers from all around the globe. It is within this context that Anil Dharker conceived and conceptualised Literary Live!, a four day lit event that was held in NCPA -Mumbai and Lavasa, Pune. "I always felt the city (Mumbai) needed a literary fest. We have a film festival (MAMI), we have various theatre festivals. What we lacked was a literary fest. We have a Marathi lit fest, but Mumbai is too cosmopolitan a city for it not to have a festival in English writing. The idea was to bring in national and international players and have them interact with our people and expose them to our readership," he says.
Prominent members of the local literati who took part in the event included poet Keki Daruwala, journalist and novelist Manu Joseph, poet and novelist Eunice D’Souza, writer Amish Tripathi and blogger Anupam Mukerji, popularly known as Fake IPL Player. There was also best-selling writer Chetan Bhagat, columnist Bachi Karkaria and screen-writer Anuvab Pal, who were part of the Pune sessions. A New York based theatre group presented a stage adaptation of Khaled Hoseni's The Kite Runner, performed by actor Sohrab Wadia. UK-based Matthew Sharp's unique story-telling on the cello also riveted audiences. The topics for discussion ranged from 'E-literature – here today, gone tomorrow' as well as thoughts on evolving cities and the future ahead for Mumbai. Here in Pune, Bachi Karkarai and Anuvab Pal spoke on aspects of Humour and kept the audiences in splits throughout. Bachi observed how many have asked her that her allusions and puns are difficult to follow and why she doesn't make it simple so everyone can understand. “I have thought about. But the joy it gives me when someone comes up to me and says they understood a particular reference or allusion, is tremendous. I want to keep the qualitative edge in my writing, even if the band of people reading my articles may be small,” she observed.

Anuvab Pal with Chetan Bhagat

The idea of the festival seemed not to keep it limited strictly to books and authors but to broadbase and bead together pieces of theatre and music into this literary necklace. A fair bit of social commentary was also part of the mix. This perhaps works well to initiate youngsters and first-timers into such a programme.
The big names in the literary world couldn't make it, but Dharker is happy that the first steps have been taken. Finding finances to put together a literature fest, a field that is largely viewed as too academic and elitist, was expectedly not very easy. "I would have loved to have V S Naipaul and Amitav Ghosh, but for all that money is required. The Jaipur festival too had a slow start, but in six years, it's grown. I began by forming a team. But when the finances weren't coming, I almost gave up on the project 2-3 times. But there is an obstinate streak in me which I didn't know existed until now, 'he smiles, adding, "Then some of the organisations we had approached for sponsorship agreed, and slowly things started to roll. Now, I don't see an issue with budgets in the coming years. Many cities and institutions have approached us to hold literary fests of these kind. So the foundation has been laid."

But Dharker doesn't want this to be a one off event, rather a movement that carries on year long. It would be interesting to see how literary conscious India gets in the time to come and that will ultimate determine the future of these fests.

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