When I first came across the news that Tarun Tejpal, who allegedly molested a young colleague of his, had been invited as a panelist to the Times Litfest, I, like any normal thinking person, was aghast. I mean how can they put Times and Literary in the same sentence and expect us not to feel outraged.
The Old Lady of Bori Bunder — a sobering nickname for Times Of India that we newspaper writers are expected to employ from time to time under the Columnist Cliché Commitment Act (1982) —- was once indeed a newspaper of intellectual heft, helmed by skilled Editor-Writers like Frank Moraes who, despite being caught in the every-day whirl of mundane news cycle, was able to expertly rise above that and produce articles that had absolutely no use to the common man.
These days, TOI has, of course, moved on to people-oriented journalism, championing as many social causes as are possible through news reports that allow for carrying pictures of skimpily-clad women in accompaniment. And on occasions, when it seems to be fully possessed of the crusader’s zeal, it goes the extra mile for the sake of readers and avoids needless distractions like words and simply publishes pictures of women clad skimpily. This, an actual headline from its website: ‘OMG! Deepika Padukone’s cleavage show!’
But this piece is not about TOI, but about Litfests, which even individuals can organise provided he or she has the right credentials in the form of ability to arrange for intellectually stimulating sessions.
Before getting up a Litfest it is important to know what a Litfest is. Litfest provides a platform for book writers, reviewers, intellectuals, publishers, lay readers and other passionate stakeholders to come together and pose for a lot of combined selfies. At least that’s what happened at the last one we attended.
Once you decide to hold a Litfest, you have to sit down and prepare a list of names you would like to invite. And once you finalise it, add two extra seats on the podium: Suhel Seth and Rahul Bose will anyway show up. They can speak on any subject. They can speak even if there is not a subject to speak on.
You, as a non-literary person, may wonder whether writers will accept an invite from outsiders. Fear not. Writers, especially authors who have a book coming out or have had a release recently, will turn up with gushing enthusiasm even if the LitFest is held under the aegis of: ‘4th Cross Street, Gangai Nagar, Kasimedu’. Rajdeep Sardesai, on the evidence of his recent efforts at plugging his book on the social media, would not have minded making his presence felt at the convention of Yellow Pages printers.
Also, get this straight: Just because you are holding a LitFest, it is not mandatory that you must host writers only. You can invite Shobhaa De, too. The Jaipur Literary festival, the country’s premier event in this category, a couple of years ago had rolled out the red carpet to Oprah Winfrey even though her sterling literary achievement, which, as listed in the event brochure, was: ‘She once managed to lose weight successfully’.
You must also understand that a LitFest is typically a series of ‘workshops’ on subjects that have literary value. But if for some reason you can’t think up a subject, you can discuss skincare. Seriously, this is indeed one of the topics of discussions at a LitFest that is to happen at Chennai next month.
Don’t bother asking what skincare has got to do with LitFests. Just go through this roster of writers: William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham, Jane Austen, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the authors of the entire series of Mills & Boon franchise and the woman who wrote Fifty Shades of Grey. See what is common to all these different writers? Yes, they all were covered by a fair amount of skin at all points of their writing career. So there. Going forward, LitFests are bound to discuss haemorrhoids.
Anyway, with the location, topics, invitees all rounded up, if you can help it, come up with a controversy, meaty enough for news publications to splash it on their front pages. In normal scheme of things, they push literary events alongside weather bulletins.
So, if I were you, I’ll invite Sadhvi Niranjan Jothi.
While you set off to organise your LitFest, I leave off to celebrate the original ‘Lit’ Fest in these parts.
Happy Karthigai to you.