The Bangalore Literature Festival came to my notice through a friend, since I saw no real advertising/ hoardings for the same anywhere in the markets/ highways. Maybe it was my fault since I have stopped taking newspapers, but still I would have expected some adverts on facebook and twitter etc. in today’s world of constant social media updates. Rekha (the president of our Bangalore Book Club – but more on that later) was kind enough to inform me of the event and even offer to arrange transportation. You see, transportation was essential as the festival was located almost 30 kms from my home! I always thought festivals and concerts of this kind should be held in the city center, since most people will be familiar with the area and leaving late at night would not pose such a headache. Also, the cost of reaching the place made us choose and pick the days we could attend instead of being able to go everyday, if it had been located somewhere in Palace Grounds. That being said, the venue, The Crowne Plaza was exceptionally beautiful with landscaped gardens and an amphitheater and fountains and running streams and of course lots of low hung trees and lovely rustic, wooden benches to relax in. There were adequate chairs and marquees for shade in front of the stage that was set on three different locations. The food stalls were of course a little on the expensive side but that was to be expected in a swanky set up like this one. What was surprising was the quality of the food – it was delicious with a serving size big enough to satisfy most hunger pangs!
Now that we have all that out of the way, lets come down to what I thought about the festival itself. It was surreal to see Gulzar Sahab walk past in his pristine white kurta-pajama no more than five feet from me. I was so stumped, I didn’t even remember to accost him for a photograph/ selfie. I was surprised that people were letting him walk around without bodyguards, but that was the charm of the book nerds of Bangalore milling all around me, who were giving him covetous, sidelong looks and yet maintaining a respectful distance.
Then there were the authors of Indian Literature. There was Shobha De in her flowing robes, Ashwin Sanghi of the mythological novels fame and the great William Dalrymple, apart from many many others that I had never seen or heard of. There was huge crowd for Ramchandra Guha, whom I have incidentally never read, late in the evening.
Ashoka Mitran was there, a giant in the field of Tamil literature that I had never heard of, before yesterday. He is an old man now, and speaks in a frail, soft voice and yet his ideas were clear and an inspiration in itself. I want to now look for his books and read them as soon as I can. I think that must be the purpose of these literary festivals to get people like me; who love to read but are not actually ‘literature honors’ students, acquainted with the plethora of great writers and thinkers from all over the country, whom one probably won’t find in the the contemporary bestseller lists.
The discussions were alright I guess. It usually depended on the people who made up the panel to raise the bar of the conversation and keep the audience glued to their seats. There was a good discussion on translation and translators. I was always bothered by the translations of the Henning Mankell series and it was good to see that the people who translate books are also apprehensive about getting the style and flow of the work just right for the reader and are not heartless, mass produced writers working for the publishing houses looking to make a quick buck. I saw diminutive and fiery Madhu Kishwar, who I see on television almost everyday, light the fireworks on stage, projecting her political views against a panel completely against her.
Listening to people who have published their works or translations and even the editors and publishers opens a window into the great world of hard work, creative battles and heartache in the publishing and writing industry that eventually produces the books we read and either love or discard with such little thought.
I read a few tweets from people who were not impressed by the Bangalore Literature Festival because of the paucity of speakers and well known authors but I respectfully disagree. Not everyone can afford to pack their bags and visit the Jaipur Literary Festival every year, which is a great venue to rub shoulders with the greatest names from the publishing world. To be able to bring even a few of the great names in our literary world to another part of the country is a great feat in itself. For a common reader to be able to sit and listen to great writers and even successful editors and publishers is an eye-opener. Quite apart from the introduction to entirely new authors who are revered in their native language, which one would never have known about or wanted to read except when seen through the crowd of book lovers who have read him/her.
I am sure the Bangalore Literature Festival will take its time to catch on and provide more and more authors and great thinkers and philosophers to its consecutive meets. Good Luck to them.
P.S. Also reconciled a lost, crying young boy back with his crying, panicked, hyper-ventilating mother. Needless to say it was a tearful reunion. Good deed of the day.