Going into the weekend, Chennai has a well-publicised book exhibition and two high-profile literary festivals underway, and not surprisingly the buzz among the city’s knowledgeable folks and on the social media circuit has been pretty much centred on Veeram and Jilla, the Ajith and Vijay starrers, with the wordings on the tickets of the two films being the total reading that several people who watched the movies on the first two days have done all season.
But since this column is decidedly highbrow — remember last week we focused extensively on Nadal’s discomfort with his undergarment? — we will stay with literary festivals, which is largely a conglomeration of writers, readers, thinkers and, most importantly, Rahul Bose, even though we can’t think of a single logical reason for him to get invited to such events.
But these fests are fun events at the core. There are many interesting sessions involving many serious thinkers and, in general, true literary buffs have difficulty in picking which session to attend and which one to miss. And most of them tide over this existential problem by the most literary way: Attend the one that is nearer to the free booze tents. Oh yes, auto expo or literary festival, the attraction is always liquor.
Literary festivals are important because they provide the creative space for top writers, big publishers, well-connected agents and book aficionados to come together and, in a collective literary voice, crib about: Falling readership levels. A literary festival is where they talk about sales figures in intellectual terms. And book reading habit, for the record, has been falling ever since the first ever book was published.
Another unique attraction of these festivals is the reading session, where a top writer will pick out for reading a prized portion from one of his/her books to an attentive gathering busy performing the literary task of texting on their mobiles the variation of the message: ‘Am at a book reading session. Will call later’.
And it was during that book-reading session that I was able to get the literary discernment — something that I might not have if I were just reading the book all by myself in the blank confines of my reading room — that the author was suffering from severe cold and cough. Frankly, no other insight was technically possible to attain during the reading session. Let us face it, no passage is going to magically throw up extra wisdom just because its author is reading it.
But this is the age of multi-tasking and multi-skills, it is only natural that we expect little more from everyone. If it’s reading for writers, extending the same logic, it can be writing for musicians. Imagine what fun it would be if we can possibly involve Shreya Ghosal or T M Krishna in a session where they sit in front of a large group and begin writing in their own long-hand some of the most memorable songs from their — a word that one is duty bound to use in a literary piece — oeuvre. I am sure the literary-minded people will pay top money to be at such an event. But I am also worried, that someone like T M Krishna may actually attempt it.
Yet another important aspect of the book-reading sessions is the straight-from-the-heart discussions between the writer, who becomes the reader here, and the reader, who stops being the reader here. The convivial exchanges help bring down the wall of formality between the writer and the reader, so that both can informally pose for pictures that they can post on their respective Facebook pages.
As writing professionals, most of us journalists look forward to being at literary festivals because they help further hone that one skill that is at the core of modern-day book-writing: Better relationship with the literary agent. Now, those of you outside the realm of book publishing industry would be keen to know the role of the literary agent in the scheme of things. Well, here it is: Writers write. Publishers publish. Readers read. Literary agents make money using the three.
As lay fans, literary festivals also help us understand better our writers —- not just as pen-wielding wizards, but also as every-day human beings —- giving us compelling reasons to hate them, something that might not be possible if our exposure to them had remained just with their books. At least that is what happens when someone like Sir Vidya Naipaul is around at a festival.
Anyway, one of these days, I intend to have my own Crank’s Corner Literary Festival, which I am sure none will attend and no book will be read.
On the brighter side, I will have the full backing of Thala and Thalapathy fans.