Literary Festivals, or to use its imaginative intellectual abbreviation Lit Fests, are the biggest things in the media scene these days.
As ever, Crank’s Corner gives you a lucid lowdown on what they are and what it takes to conduct them:
What is a literary festival?
Lit Fests are cerebral events where writers, experts, thinkers, intellectuals and Shobhaa De gather and discuss various topics in the hope that at least one of them leads to some kind of controversy and grabs the headlines.
If no major issue looks like breaking out, the organisers are wont to send, on a war-footing, SMSes to Shiv Sena or other leading emergency-controversy suppliers, who generally step in manfully and do a decent job of what is expected of them.
Oh come on! That’s a gross oversimplification. Surely there must be more to Lit Fests
Okay, Lit Fests indeed provide a great platform for book writers, reviewers, intellectuals, publishers, lay readers and other passionate stakeholders to come together and pose for a lot of combined selfies.
No, this too is harsh
I will be factual this time: Lit Fests are a great congregation of book writers, reviewers, intellectuals, publishers, lay readers and other passionate stakeholders, all brought together by one common factor: The commercial power of a sponsor out to build his brand.
What are the topics suitable for literary fests?
Recently there was a literary festival where one of the sessions was titled: ‘Duality of performance and creativity, of tradition and individuality’.
Frankly, no one can figure out whether it means anything at all. But this is exactly the kind of theme, you should aim for. For, it encapsulates the quintessence of all Lit Fests — sounding absolutely intellectual but in reality totally meaningless.
Another advantage of having such a topic for discussion is you can just about bring up anybody or anything — Modi, Dhoni, Sunny Leone, Beep Song, Gobi Manchurian, IIT-JEE, US Presidential election — and still seem to remain contextual.
On the other hand, If you can’t find suitable intellectuals but have only Corporation and Metrowater staff ready to discuss clogged drains in Royapuram, you should not hold yourself back, but go ahead and name the session: ‘Lattice of lethargy and system of sluggishness, Chennai floods and the crossroads of apathy.’
Don’t bother asking whether a Lit Fest would allow for debating Corporation drainage issues. They have deliberated on far more random subjects. We once had a session at a Lit Fest in Chennai where the topic was — Cue: music for plot twist —- skincare. Fun fact: Shakespeare suffered from psoriasis.
Where to hold a literary festival?
Goa. Bangalore. Jaipur in winter. Chennai in December. As you can see, literary fests are events that are held in places and time that any travel agent would suggest for vacationing.
But it would be too much for our writer and intellectual types to come right out and say that they are holidaying. Hence the euphemism: Lit Fest.
If political power flows from the barrel of a gun, intellectual power flows from the duct of an airconditioner, if you get our drift.
Who to invite for a literary festival?
This can get a bit tricky. In the times and climes we live in, everyone, and I mean to include Pahlaj Nihalani too in this, is a potential intellectual. So does it mean you invite all of them? No, you bring in only those intellectuals who do not feel in the slightest stupid or silly wearing sunglasses inside closed doors. Seriously, at a literary festival that I attended last year I ran into many thinker types who had their Aviators even indoors.
The trickier part is who to avoid inviting to your literary fest because now authors outnumber readers by a margin of 2 to 1. And also writers, who have their books waiting to be released or just out in the market, will anyway show up even if you hold your festival on the top of an active volcano. A new-book author, in general, is more desperate but less tactful than an elephant in heat.
There you go again. But don’t writers get us fresh perspective on things?
Recently Barkha Dutt, who has had a book released last month, inevitably showed up at a fest in Chennai and discussed politics and journalism with a — why not? — Bharathanatyam dancer. That is the other thing about Lit Fests, if you are a nuclear scientist you may find yourself talking plutonium bombs with a villupaatukaran.
Anyway, Barkha talked about covering conflicts and battles and gave us an insight that is possible only from an out-on-the-field veteran journalist. She said covering wars was —- this is an untouched direct quote — ‘difficult’.
The point is, these days, if you have a fresh perspective, you don’t tell an audience. You reveal it to VCs. And if you have a new idea you don’t write a book, you make an app of it.
You have been too snarky about Lit Fests, is it because you are an outsider and not invited to any?
Nah. But I hope to have my own literary festival soon. It will be the high point of all intellectualism: Everyone will be invited. But no one will speak or say anything. The title will be: Silence — Language of the powerful or the powerful language?
I, of course, will be wearing my Ray Ban.