Chennai Posts

Krupa Ge “Rivers Remember” and Manu Pillai “The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin: Tales from Indian History”

Non-fiction books are the biggest sellers in the Indian book market. A testament to this fact are the number of books being commissioned. Take for instance two recent Westland/Amazon publications. Immensely readable and well-written books by award-winning authors — Krupa Ge’s Rivers Remember: The Shocking Truth of a Manmade Flood and Manu Pillai’s The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin. It is fairly obvious why they would capture the lay reader’s imagination. They are easy books to dip into with plenty of anecdotes.

Manu Pillai’s The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin has fascinating essays about figures from India’s history. It is primarily a collection of his articles from the weekly column he writes for Mint. So each essay is a self-contained story. It is a mixed bag of characters from rajahs and sultans, maharanis and begums, politicians, travellers, courtesans, devdasis and plenty more. The chapter headings are very inviting as well such as “The Italian Brahmin of Madurai”, “Rowdy Bob: The victor of Plassey”, “A Forgotten Indian Queen in Paris” and “The Seamstress and the Mathematician”. As he says in his introduction:

We live in times when history is polarising. It has become to some an instrument of vengeance, for grievances imagined or real. Others remind us to draw wisdom from the past, not fury and rage, seeing in its chronicles a mosaic of experience to nourish our minds and recall, without veneration, the confident glories of our ancestors. The collection …tells stories from India’s countless yesterdays and of several of its men and women. It is an offering that seeks to reflect the fascinating, layered, splendidly complex universe that is Indian history at a time when life itself is projected in tedious shades of black and white. There is much in our past to enrich us, and a great deal that can explain who we are and what choices must be made as we confront grave crossroads in our own times.

In his column “Why women hold the key to a new India” ( 29 June 2019, The Mint) Manu Pillai adds, “The colonizing of Indian minds in the colonial era by Victorian sensibilities was severe, added to which is generations of patriarchy—it will take time and patience before change comes to how history is imagined. Clubbing a courtesan with a mahatma may not immediately be understood or approved of by some. But that is precisely where the courtesan belongs, for, in the larger scheme of things and the big picture of our civilization, her role is no less significant than that galaxy of saints and monks we have all been taught to venerate.”

This is a magnificently well researched book where the lack of bibliographical citations to corroborate the quotes used in the text is an oversight that was not to be expected. For instance, the chapters on “William Jones: India’s Bridge to the West” and “A Brahmin Woman of Scandal” quote Jawaharlal Nehru and E.M.S. Namboothiripad respectively but there is no citation given. This despite every chapter having its own bibliography; yet these two men are quoted but not included in the bibliography. Compare this to the recently published Richard Evans Eric Hobsbawm: A Life in History where even when Prof. Hobsbawm himself is quoted in the text, Richard Evans footnotes every quote with the relevant citation.

The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin is a pleasure to read in snatches. To read it from cover-to-cover would be too noisy as there are far too many characters from different periods of history and different backgrounds. But to read a couple of essays at a time is a delight. The book has been fabulously illustrated with charcoal drawings by Priya Kuriyan.

Award-winning journalist Krupa Ge’s Rivers Remember: The Shocking Truth of a Manmade Flood was probably spurred by the devastating loss of her parents’ home in the 2015 Chennai floods. It is a slim book that is more a heartfelt reaction to the floods. Here is an extract from the book published in The Wire. It has plenty of anecdotes with responses to the floods. Here is a witness account of the floods published on 11 December 2015 in the Hindu Businessline. While it encapsulates the immediacy of the moment it also highlights the dangers that the residents faced during the floods. Unfortunately the book publication is a missed opportunity as it could have been used to discuss in greater detail Chennai’s water problems, perhaps even included a thematic map or two depicting the natural waterbodies upon which the local population depended, the water consumption patterns and location of natural aquifers; instead there is one map of Chennai from 1914 as a frontispiece. Writing a book on a natural disaster requires a fair bit of understanding of the various issues at stake. A critical area is that of gender issues in disaster management. It is imperative that it is understood for immediate relief efforts but also if it is to be analysed with hindsight in a book such as this. For example, instead of stating in a one-sentence paragraph “Srinivasan and his friends rescued a new mother of twins and took her to safety with great care”, this could easily have been expanded upon to discuss the many issues involved in such a rescue mission. To quibble about the improvements a book could consider are an indication too of the author’s capabilities. The dissatisfaction as a reader stems from is that the potential is visible but has not been exploited to the hilt.

While both the books are fascinating to read perhaps the editors could have guided the writers a little more. The birth of every book is a constructive process between the author and the editor. It is a coming together of expertise to make a product that will hopefully be read by many. Both these books are timely and relevant but would definitely have benefitted by editorial advice to add more value to their texts. While non-fiction sales are booming it is a good idea to pause and reflect upon the importance of bringing to the fore academic editing skills while editing books that are positioned for a trade list and a lay reader. Cross-pollination of such skills is increasingly becoming a crying need as the boundaries between subjects that were previously considered to be exclusive academic domains make their way into trade lists and general book markets.

Despite these slight “technical” hiccups these books are must reads. Manu Pillai’s The Courtesan, the Mahatma & the Italian Brahmin is unputdownable and Krupa Ge’s Rivers Remember: The Shocking Truth of a Manmade Flood as Jnanpith winner 2018 Amitav Ghosh says is an “absolute must read…[for] it brings …the full horror of the catastrophe”. More so when three and a half years later Chennai is facing a drought — a crisis highlighted by Hollywood actor Leonardo di Caprio’s in his instagram post.

30 June 2019

Venita Coelho’s “Boy No. 32” wins prestigious Hindu Goodbooks Award for best fiction!

Screenwriter and young adult fiction writer Venita Coelho won the prestigious Hindu Goodbooks Award today at the ongoing Hindu Lit for Life festival in Chennai. Daniel Handler, author of the Lemony Snicket series, did the honours of handing over the trophy. Some glimpses of the evening are given in the gallery of photographs.

Meanwhile Shantanu Duttagupta, Publisher, Scholastic India who has published Venita Coelho’s award winning novel had this to say:

We won!!! Venita Coelho’s Boy #32 wins the prestigious Hindu Goodbooks Award for best fiction!!!! ❤️❤️❤️❤️ Goodbooks.in thank you for this honour!!! Scholastic India Venita Coelho

Posted by Shantanu Duttagupta on Sunday, January 13, 2019

On 1 January 2018 I had interviewed Venita Coelho. Her young adult novel Boy No. 32 is an incredibly gripping book about Battees, an orphan named so after the number given to him — 32. ( In Hindi, the number 32 is called “battees”.) The story is about Battees winessing the presence of a dreaded terrorist, Kashmiri Lall, in his city, Mumbai, and he is now the only one who can help put him behind bars. It is a tremendously well-paced and tautly written book. Impossible to put down once you begin it. Also for the fact Venita Coelho never for an instant “talks down” to youngsters, nor is ever apologetic about the violence around us. Absolutely fantastic!

In this novel intermixing the orphans’ quest for locating Kashmiri Lall with encounters with the eunuchs, the Beggar King, and the horrific complicity of even the adults responsible for them such as Aunty and the cop, is done crisply. The “traditional” bad guys of literature like the eunuch are actually shown to be humane with a little more insight on how their community operates. Equally well-made are the cop and the “aunty” who are so incredibly corrupt, they would do anything for a few extra bucks. Venita Coelho is constantly challenging pre-conceived notions about characters. For instance, instead of giving the warden of the orphanage a name, she is referred to as “Aunty” — a big learning curve for Indian readers who are taught to practically revere an older woman, inevitably calling her “Aunty”, sort of seals this relationship.

Boy No. 32 is highly recommended!

13 January 2019

“Sorry, Best Friend!”

Sorry, Best Friend! is a collection of stories edited by noted writers Githa Hariharan and late Shama Futehally. The stories are about children discovering / encountering friends and neighbours who are different from  us in some way or the other — the way they look, their dress, languages they speak, even the food they eat or even pray to different gods. Ultimately we need to remember that we are all part of one big jigsaw puzzle that is India. According to the editors if we forget that all of us are a part of this puzzle then “very quickly, as if we were never one, we break into a hundred pieces”. The contributors include eminent writers such as Swapna Dutta, Poile Sengupta and Zai Whitaker. Given that this book was published in 1997 they refer to two major incidents of the immediate past when communal violence broke out after the assassination of the prime minister Indira Gandhi in Delhi (1984) and later destruction of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya (1992). Subsequently India has experienced many more and regular instances of communal violence notably the riots that broke out in Gujarat after the burning of the train in Godhra (2002). Now communal intolerance is a regular feature of daily existence with lynchings becoming the horrific new normal.

Sorry, Best Friend! has been published many times over; testament to the frightening relevance of these stories for young children. It is a book that needs to be read widely by children and adults widely.

Githa Hariharan and Shama Futehally (eds.) Sorry, Best Friend! Tulika Publishers, Chennai, 1997, rpt 2017. Pb. pp. 70 Rs. 85 

( It is available in English and Hindi )

15 June 2018 

Ashwin Sanghi, “The Sialkot Saga”

The-Sialkot-Saga

Bollywood actress, Kajol, and Ashwin Sanghi unveiling the book cover of “The Sialkot Saga” at Jaipur Literature Festival 2016.

Some animals hunt. Others hide. And a few hunt while they hide.

Ashwin Sanghi’s latest novel The Sialkot Saga will be released on 5 April 2016. It is a greatly anticipated thriller whose cover was unveiled with great fanfare by the Bollywood actress, Kajol Devgn, at Jaipur Literature Festival 2016.  The Sialkot Saga  is a retelling of modern Indian history through the lives of a Muslim Mumbai underworld don, Arbaaz Sheikh, and a Hindu Calcutta Marwari businessman, Arvind Bagadia. Basic premise being money matters, nothing else — it is a dhanda after all. As is the fashion nowadays in modern novels a family saga spread across at least two generations is a must and is evident in Sialkot Saga too. There are neat historical details beginning with Partition interspersed with brutal violence and unscrupulous plans to gain money. Politics, land deals, hawala, narcotics, films etc. Anything as long as there is a healthy profit margin to be made. There are some descriptions of violence particularly horrifying since they challenge the boundaries of ethics. But the acts described are so very plausible that the horror is compounded manifold. It strikes a sense of fear. Surprisingly the boldness of these criminal minds also makes one chuckle. 300-odd pages into the novel it begins to seem like a manual on the rise of corporate India. It becomes a little convoluted with its business descriptions. An account of the birth of companies like Reliance, Satyam, Infosys to the formidable place they hold today as the gems of Shining & Incredible India. The chorus of the opening pages soon to be forgotten as the plot builds is “Some animals hunt. Others hide. And a few hunt while they hide.” Attention does begin to flag but every writer writes from their strong point and being a successful businessman is one of Ashwin Sanghi’s strengths.

The second is his avatar as a modern mythographer. It is evident in the tenuous tale he weaves about the sanjeevani. It seems a bit convenient but once again it is Ashwin Sanghi’s forte to pull together myths and present them in a modern setting. It is his trademark. And one that his many readers will be waiting for. ( Till date he has sold over a million units of his previous books.)

Here is the link to the book trailer: https://youtu.be/1qv_tk5i9kM . It is a wonderfully edited movie clip but is not true to the book at all.

Undoubtedly Ashwin Sanghi’s “Sialkot Saga” is immensely readable for its tremendous insight into the Indian brand of businessmen. There is no word for their inventiveness in their greed for money and this is matched by the phenomenal storytelling of the novelist. It is quite remarkable. Setting his story in the historical backdrop of modern India proves that irrespective of political ideologies and government policies, money always wins. Having said that there is a lot of testosterone flowing through this book with the few women characters taking on fairly conventional roles. Even the breakaway character of Alisha as an example of the millennial generation does not quite live up to promise. I am not even going to nitpick about historical accuracy since it does not purport to be a historical novel. It is just a great story.

Read it!

Ashwin Sanghi The Sialkot Saga Westland, Chennai, 2016. Pb. pp. 584. Rs 350

31 March 2016

‘Jane Austen has mattered more to me than Irish folktales’ : Colm Toibin ( 26 Dec 2015)

Colm Toibin

‘I like the idea of creating a fictional landscape’ PHOTO COURTESY: COLM TÓIBÍN WEBSITE

(I interviewed Colm Toibin for The Hindu. The original url is: http://www.thehindu.com/features/lit-for-life/colm-toibin-in-conversation-with-jaya-bhattacharji-rose/article8026101.ece. It was published online on 26 December 2015 and in print on 27 December 2015.)

Colm Toibin, author and playwright extraordinaire, talks about how his writing is not a conscious decision but comes from some mysterious place.

He is the author of eight novels, including Brooklyn and Nora Webster and two collections of stories, Mothers and Sons and The Empty Family. His play The Testament of Mary was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Play in 2013. His novels have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize three times. His non-fiction includes ‘The Sign of the Cross: Travels in Catholic Europe’ and ‘New Ways to Kill Your Mother: Writers & Their Families.’ He is a Contributing Editor to the London Review of Books, and the Chair of PEN World Voices in New York, and His books have been translated into more than thirty languages. He is the Irene and Sidney B. Silverman Professor of Humanities at Columbia University. Toibin will participate at The Hindu Lit for Life 2016 in Chennai. Excerpts from an interview:

 When did you start writing fiction?

I was writing poetry. Then, at 20, I stopped and for a few years wrote nothing except letters home. Then I wrote a few bad short stories. Then when I was about 26, an idea came to me for a novel. Really, from the moment that happened, I was writing fiction.

Did training as a journalist help you as a writer?

Yes, it gave me a relationship to an audience, a sense that work is written to be read, is an act of communication.

Your fiction has strong women characters who lead ordinary lives. But it is the tough choices they make that mark your fiction as remarkable. Is it a conscious decision to create stories around women?

I think it’s 50-50 men-women. Some novels like The Heather Blazing and The Master are written from the point of view of men. I think writers should be able to imagine anything. I was brought up in a house full of women. Writing never comes from a conscious decision, but always from some mysterious place.

Does writing about women with such sensitivity require much research?

I listened a lot to my mother and her sisters and to my own sisters when I was growing up.

An aspect that stands out in your fiction are the constant discussions you seem to be having with Catholicism and the Church, almost as if you are in constant dialogue with God. It comes across exquisitely in the moral dilemma your characters experience. Is this observation true?

I think that might be a bit high-flown. I work with detail and I often let the large questions look after themselves. But it is important not to be banal, so I allow in some images from religion but I try to control them.

The tiny details that enrich your fiction are very similar to oral storytelling. Has the Irish literary tradition of recording and creating a rich repository of its oral folktales in any way influenced your writing?

Not really. I am a reader, so I have a sense of the rich literary tradition that the novel comes from. When I was a teenager, I was not interested in reading any Irish fiction, so I was devouring Hemingway, Kafka, Sartre, Camus, Henry James. I think Jane Austen, with all her irony and structural control, has mattered to me more than Irish folktales. But I like Irish folktales too.

Who was the storyteller at home and from literature who influenced you the most?

All the women talked a lot, but it was not storytelling in any formal sense.

Your fiction at times feels like a meditation on grief exploring the multiple ways in which people mourn. Why?

My father died when I was 12 and I think this has a serious effect on me. I didn’t think about it for years, almost repressed it. So then it began to emerge in the fiction, almost despite me.

Your characters reappear in your stories like Nora in Brooklyn becomes Nora Webster. Is this part of your attempt at creating a literary Wexford landscape or is it at times convenient to work with characters you are already comfortable and familiar with?

I like the idea of creating a fictional landscape that is slowly growing or becoming more complete. Thus in Nora Webster, there are characters from The Heather Blazing, The Blackwater Lightship, Brooklyn and some short stories, most notably The Name of the Game.

6 January 2016

Tulsi Badrinath, “Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the city”

Madras launchMadras and Chennai came into existence almost simultaneously in 1639, as two contiguous areas. While Madras went on to lend its name to the larger southern peninsula or Madras Presidency, it also absorbed Chennai into its fold as it grew. Debate over the origins of the words Madras and Chennai continues long after the Tamil Nadu government’s decision in 1996 to officially change the capital city’s name. 

 Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the city by Tulsi Badrinath was commissioned to commemorate Chennai’s 375th birthday. The twelve people she chose to profile lived in different parts of the city. Each chapter is delightful, since it immerses you in the city — sharing her thoughts, reflections, observations and being alive to the sensuous experience. Every single person profiled is done very well, with the author allowing the personality of the subject to shine through. Two of the profiles really stayed with me after I had read the book — M Krishnan, naturalist and Kiruba Shankar, digital evangelist. Without being overly inquisitive and making the reader a voyeur in the process, Tulsi Badrinath balances her profiles of individuals by giving select insights into this character, personality and life, not necessarily compromising their privacy. For instance, M Krishnan cooking as his wife did not particularly care for it or Kiruba Shankar recounting how he came to be a digital expert and a farmer as he is known today. If publishers shared their material then the chapter by Tulsi Badrinath on M Krishnan could be included in a revised edition of Aleph’s Of Birds and Birdsong, a selection of writings by the naturalist–it would add immensely to it.

The last book on Chennai which was super was by Nirmala Lakshman, Degree Coffee by the Yard, an insider’s account of the city. Tulsi Badrinath’s book is a good companion to it. It is immensely likeable.

Tulsi Badrinath Madras, Chennai and the Self: Conversations with the City Pan Macmillan India, New Delhi, 2015. Pb. pp. 230. 

30 March 2015

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Literary festivals in India, Brunch, Hindustan Times, 12 Jan 2014

Today my article on literary festivals of India has been published in the Brunch, Hindustan TimesThe title in print is called “Booked & Hooked” and online it is ” Your guide to litfests this season”Here is the link to the online version: http://www.hindustantimes.com/brunch/brunch-stories/your-guide-to-litfests-this-season/article1-1171368.aspx. Meanwhile I am c&p the longer version of the article published.) 

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose

“I attend literary festivals to meet authors, to see another dimension to their life, listen to the heated conversations, introduce my four-year-old twin sons to famous people, and inculcate a sense of reading culture in them,” says Umesh Dubey, first-generation entrepreneur who takes his family to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) for the entire week.

A literary festival can be defined as a space where writers and readers meet, usually an annual event in a city or as “literature in performance”. Must-have elements include panel discussions with a healthy mix of new and seasoned writers, Q&As with the audience, author signing sessions, workshops related to writing and publishing, book launches, bookstores, a food court, and entertainment in the evenings. And – hopefully also – intellectually stimulating conversations, a relaxed ambience, picturesque setting, good weather (no dry days!), and networking possibilities.

In India, literary festivals came into vogue with the astounding success of Jaipur Literature Festival, which began in 2006 . The timing was right, soon after the Christmas holidays/ winter break, in January, when Rajasthan is a favourite tourist destination. To organise a festival in the Diggi Palace Grounds, chatting with authors most readers have only admired from afar while sipping the hot Diggi chai in earthen cups, basking in the warm winter sun, listening to crackling good conversations and at times heated debates, and as darkness descends, preparing to hear the musicians who will perform… it made for quite a heady experience. And if at any point you get weary of the crowds and the conversations, it is easy to step out for a jaunt as a tourist and explore Jaipur. This basic template has begun to be emulated across the country.

jaiput-lit-festAccording to the Jaipur Litfest producer, Sanjoy Roy, the intention is to create “a democratic access system of first-come-first-seated where we treat everyone as our guests and do not make a fuss over VIPs. The colour and design create a sense of an Indian mela.” Of course prior to JLF, India did have a fair share of literary “festivals” like Ajeet Caur’s SAARC Literature Festivals, or those that were organised at the Sanskriti Anandgram in Delhi or even the early editions of the Katha festivals, but admittedly none were on a fabulous scale, nor were they open to the public. According to Maina Bhagat, director, Apeejay Kolkata Festival, “The city is the biggest player in the festival”.

So what explains the runaway success of today’s literature festivals? Says poet K. Satchidanadan, “There is a whole urban and semi-urban middle class youth eager to meet authors and listen to them in a festive atmosphere. The publishers are interested in releasing their books there and having their authors on the platform. The authors are interested in meeting other authors and also readers. Cities also get to be on the literary map of India with such celebrations.” Ananth Padmanabhan, senior vice-president, sales, Penguin India, says, “With social media dominating mind space, festivals are a great place to sit back and connect readers to writers; such an engagement opportunity was lacking.” In fact, festival-hopping has resulted in a modern-day phenomenon of the festival junkie: People who move from festival to festival.

Of late the Indian economy may have been in the doldrums but there is no denying that post-liberalisation, more and more people have disposable income, they do want to invest in culture and what better way than to make it a family outing? It is a democratic patronage of the arts. It is also a reflection of how much India is becoming a writing culture rather than a reading culture.

Arshia Sattar, who through Sangam House organises Lekhana Literary Weekend  (an extension of the Sangam House international writers’ residency programme that is run outside Bangalore) and is also jury member, DSC Award for Literature 2014, says, “My concern is that we are moving further away from ‘literature’ and closer to writing. I think if we had fewer ‘festivals’ and if they had  a focus rather than being all things to all people (which is probably what their sponsors want in terms of ‘footfalls’) . . .we might see people stepping out to literary events with dedication.”

Thomas Abraham, CEO, Hachette India, says, “There is not a single real benefit any festival brings to a publisher. And there are a number of cons – it costs a lot to get your author up there for almost no returns on investment, and zero promotional benefit. Yes, if you switch off the business aspect, for the audience it’s a great platform to see your favourite authors, and for authors a great platform to cross-commune with other writers. For editors it’s a good networking and ideas engagement opportunity. But in terms of sales or author brand building, go back to every single festival and put down the authors and their titles and see the impact of either media coverage or sales, and you’ll see not one has moved beyond their earlier levels. Some very successful (read great stage performances) sessions do result in immediate brisker sales at the venue bookshop, but even those are minimal – anything between 30 copies to 100 copies.” Adds Diya Kar Hazra, publisher, trade, Bloomsbury, “There are so many literary festivals these days – sometimes two or three in one city. The writer is expected to do more than just write these days – they blog, they tweet, they have pages on FB. They appear at festivals and events reading from their books and having conversations with fellow writers. The reader–writer relationship has changed, as a result. Authors are much more accessible than they ever were.”

Author Shovon Chowdhury who released his debut novel, The Competent Authority, earlier this year says that attending literary festivals “feels good. You feel special. I’m not jaded yet, so I enjoy it. I also love meeting lots of interesting people, including some super-intelligent ones. It gives me a dose of much needed perspective and humility. Plus there’s free meals.”

An attractive feature of a literary festival is the free entry. This requires the festival management to scour for private sponsors, funds and collaborations that will help in putting together the extravaganza and these could be either in money or in kind. In many case, corporate house are willing to assist with sponsorship for the brand visibility and media coverage. Recently tourism departments and state governments have partnered with festivals which is understandable given the positive impact festivals can have on the local economy. For instance, in a dipstick survey the JLF management did last year, it was estimated that approximately Rs 20 crores of additional spend could be attributed to JLF in Jaipur on account of accommodation, restaurant and shopping. Even this is set to change. The inaugural edition of the Pune International Literature Festival had ticketed entry. Comic Con too proposes to sell tickets in 2014.

Much of the success of the festivals depends on the programme created, parallel sessions, selection of the moderators and if necessary, themes selected. It is also heavily dependent upon the curation, storyboard to the chemistry between the panelists.  Altaf Tyrewala, Director, Chandigarh Literature Festival, says “The organizers and I were struggling to think of how CLF could be different from other literary festivals. We realized that in the circus, we often lose sight of the book, the very foundation of literature! So we decided that CLF would showcase the book, and nothing but the book. We decided to let active literary critics nominate that one book that had stayed with them over the past decade. There was a general agreement on what constituted a good book. Naturally, the discussion between the author and the nominating critic was focused entirely on the book in question. It made every session riveting, and more importantly the invitees realized that their presence was crucial to the festival’s format.” It helps to do some thinking in advance to avoid embarrassing incidents as happened at a recently concluded festival. The moderator was informed just before stepping on to the stage that the authors lined up were commercial-fiction authors. The response, the moderator shuddered and said, “I would never read such authors!”

The buzz around festivals is tremendous. But the bubble may soon burst as has happened with book launches. People will weary of them if they happen too often. They will lose their charm for various reasons. As writer Ravi Subramanian points out, “The divisions between the literary and commercial authors are becoming apparent at these festivals.” Second, most of the festivals are conducted predominantly in English, though slowly this too is changing, to reflect and represent the local languages and the international participants. There are writers who have begun to feel bored and disillusioned  with these festivals that often sustain and strengthen the hierarchies among writers, dividing them into “stars” and ordinary writers. Even the most ordinary Indian English writers acquire “stardom” while the best of language writers are often time-fillers invited most often to show that they too are represented.

Over the years the festivals have come to align themselves before and after the December/Christmas holidays, making it easier for authors to mark their presence at more than one event. The length and dates of the festivals are also determined by collaborating partners. In fact Surya Rao, director, Hyderabad Literary Festival, says, “We avoid a clash of dates with other major lit festivals because we check the dates of other fests. The Jaipur fest happens to be the closest to us.”

Maybe Indian festival organisers will collaborate with each other as happens in other countries like Australia.

A possible “classification” of literary festivals. 

There are so many literary festivals being organised in India that one has to create some sort of “classification”. For instance, festivals that have stood the test of time of a minimum period of three years, grown in popularity (as measured by the increasing audience participation), established a brand in their name and proven to be sustainable in terms of the sponsorship would probably be at the top of the list. These would be the major milestones in the festival calendar – Jaipur ( Jaipur Literature Festival), Calcutta (Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival and Kolkata Literary Meet) , Chennai (Hindu Lit for Life), Mumbai (Kalaghoda, Times of India festival), Hyderabad Literary Festival and the Sahitya Akademi’s Festival of Letters.

Then there is what could be termed as a “sub-genre” – that is, equally strong brands, dealing with genres of literature which are not necessarily given sufficient space for intense engagement, such as Bookaroo (children’s literature) organised in Delhi and in Pune (in collaboration with Sakaal Times), ComicCon (comics and graphic novels), Samanvay (Indian languages) in collaboration with the India Habitat Centre,, Cultures of Peace: Festival of the Northeast (Women and Human Rights) organised by Zubaan, Poetry with Prakriti (poems), Mussoorie Writers Festival (mountain and travel writing) organised by Stephen Alter and Lekhana (a long literary weekend).

Finally there are the relatively new festivals that are as yet to establish themselves, but people are already familiar with them – Bangalore, Kasauli, Shillong, Agra, Lucknow, Benaras, Patna, Bhubhaneshwar, Chandigarh, Pune, and Kovalam. And there are still more being organised.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose