A Day at the Bangalore Lit Fest

It is definitely nice to come back after a short blogging break. Things haven’t been too well at my end. While my 12-year-old was fighting a rather nasty round of viral, I was in the throes of a severe bout of migraine that kept me grounded for 5 full days! Phew!! This happened last week. By the end of the week, we were both drained out. That we were also on the periphery of the fury of the Vardah cyclone, which came crashing on neighbouring Chennai, didn’t help us Bangaloreans, especially as it brought us four days of a grey howling sky and abysmal powercuts. In short, it was only getting worse. And then, came Saturday. The day the sun shone. My headache was finally gone and Arjyo recovered, although he looked quite tired for the most part of the day to follow. As for me,  I was only too glad to welcome the sun back into my life.

That morning, as I’d opened my eyes, even before I left the bed, a little bird perched on the window sill kept calling me. Or so I thought. As I crept out of the bedroom, so as not to disturb anyone, I walked up to the window and glanced outwards. The first few slanting rays of gold filtered in through the nets, casting a shadow on the table. In an instant, my heart jumped with joy. There is something about a sunny morning that cheers me up like nothing else. Seeing me come close to the window, the bird flew off to the trees in the distance, perched high up on one of the branches, and kept calling out again. The horizon was an amalgam of bright hues, all merged into one another. The cirrus clouds spread evenly made an interesting pattern. I grabbed a quick shot on my phone camera and sped off to the kitchen to make a steaming cup of ginger tea- my favourite thing on cold winter mornings.

It was one of the Saturdays that I had been waiting for. The Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) was in town and I had plenty of plans already. It was an invite to every bookworm and bibliophile to bask in the bliss that only comes when writers, readers and the winter sun conspire to meet up every year in our Garden City. Writers come from everywhere. And so do readers. People who are crazy about books and who’d do anything to listen to their favourite authors, queuing up to see them, listen to them and if they’re lucky enough, to pose selfies wth them.

I’m a regular at the BLF for three years now and I take to it as naturally as fish takes to water. I could spend all day, soaking in the creative spirit and enjoying myself as everyone joins in to commemorate the literary diversity that the city offers. The icing on the cake, of course, being the wonderful conversations with the best minds in the world of literature within and outside India, that we all hang around all day to listen to.

As the year draws to a close and the holiday season begins, I’m ready to unwind and what better way to do so than to attend a lit fest. I knew I couldn’t make it on both days so I’d have to make the best use of the one day I had in hand. It was enough for me to feel the joy and enthuse myself with the inspirations from so many well-known writers, some famous and some on their way up to be there. It was enriching listening to them, as they shared their learning, their knowledge and their experiences so unique to their individual journey as writers.

There were writers of all kinds- those who kept the crowds regaled with amusing anecdotes and funny incidents, those that chose their words carefully, at times, pausing through their narration, as if waiting for the right turn of phrase or that perfect expression. There were others who openly shared well-kept secrets that catapulted them to stardom, taking us through their long march to recognition and fame. Some provided rare glimpses of their lives as creative people, the hurdles and the brickbats that came their way – the kind of stuff that you never get from googling about them on the net. I listened to them, in awe, absorbing their nuggets of wisdom, collected along the way through their tenacity and persistence to see through the odds, before they achieved their well-earned success.

Amongst the star attractions of the fest were eminent scholars, authors, journalists, and celebrities-Shashi Deshpande, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Ananth Padmanabhan, Anand Neelakantan, Vivek Shanbhag, KR Meera, Omkar Goswami, Prathibha Nandakumar, Margaret Alva, Anita Raghavan, Ramachandra Guha, Jerry Rao, Shashi Tharoor, Shatrughan Sinha, Chetan Bhagat, Preeti Shenoy and Amish Tripathi, among others.

There were panel discussions and debates, informal talks and interviews, narrations and recitations, ballet and musical performances all fused with a great sense of camaraderie in the audience, that was flitting in and out of the three venues, ‘beda’, ‘ ‘beku’ and the ‘red couch’. While there were long never-ending queues lining the food stalls, there was always one set of audience listening rapturously, as one session gave way to another and the day progressed.

The festival had a packed schedule for the children too, with open sessions, workshops, games, storytelling, and performances designed specifically to help evoke their interest in literature. Notable among other things was LitMart – a platform for unpublished writers to pitch their book ideas to literary agents, commissioning editors, and publishers. I attended seven sessions in all. Unfortunately, I could not stay back for Guru Rewben Mashangva’s tribute to Bob Dylan’s music and poetry on Saturday evening, or come back for Day 2’s opening performances on excerpts from A Midsummer Night’s Dream by The Lewis Foundation of Classical Ballet.

But, from whatever I did attend, I think I gained immensely. To me, the key takeaway was realising that writing though a laborious, solitary process could also be extremely gratifying to the individual. It is not by sheer chance that one becomes an overnight success. Nothing new one might argue, but then, when it comes from someone you admire, you feel validated. The goalpost is only to be reached by writing every single day, by believing in oneself, confident that one is going to write something that will become a bestseller, of being able to make the right decisions at the right time, of being courageous enough to speak the truth and bring forth contradictory theories before people, challenging age-old beliefs and ideas. There were those who believed success came from extraneous factors, and that often, a series of events often followed in a sequence that was indicative of success, something one might see as a ‘sign’ of things to come. You could disagree but one of the writers even went on to suggest that it all lies in our stars. What would you say to that?

What emerged as a fact was that for many of them, the goalpost was not an end in itself, because it kept advancing further, constantly shifting as soon as one reached one’s goal. How fascinating it was to ‘see’ how writers could challenge convention by bringing in contradictory viewpoints and contrasting theories to the table.

Over the day, it was evident that there were a plethora of reasons for people to take to writing in the first place. To borrow Enid Bagnold’s words:

Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything…It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.

It was a pleasure and a privilege to attend this wonderful event. BLF 2016 certainly had something in it for everyone and I can bet, most people, went back home richer and wiser for having spent the day in the wonderful company of litterateurs, scholars and writers. In short, a day well spent!

What is your impression of a litfest? Do you enjoy them? Would love to hear about your experiences if you’ve been to one recently.

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(Linking this with #mondaymusings.)

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16 thoughts

  1. Hey Esha, hope you are doing better now. I love litfests! One is expose to so many new ideas, people and writings in such fests. B’lore lit fest seems to have had a good share of literati folk and events. I am sure it must have been a treat to attend the sessions and besides soak in the atmosphere! Yep, definitely time well-spent 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much, Kala. Yes, glad to report things are much better now. B’lore lit fest draws all sorts of people to it, the regular book loving types and the snobbish erudite nose-high-up-in-the-sir types alongside college kids and the trendy arty iconoclasts…everyone’s fest every bit of the way. And, ‘people-watching’ in between the sessions is simply priceless 😀

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  2. I haven’t ever been to a litfest, and judging by what you have described it indeed seems to be a wonderful and rich event. I was unable to attend the litfest held nearby home here last year, sadly. I hope very much to attend one of banglore litfests one day.

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    1. Oh, Dashy, you’d love it if you were there. To see and hear writers, some favourite ones too, talk about their writing lives and their works…so enriching and so inspiring, a must visit event for any aspiring writer/blogger. Don’t miss if you find one close to you in future…totally worth your time, I tell you 🙂

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    1. BLF is held in the Northern part of Bangalore. This time it was at the Royal Orchid Hotel near the Old Airport. Venue wasn’t that great but the ambience made up for it. 🙂

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      1. Ah! The old Airport Road? I don’t know where Royal Orchid is since it’s been many years since I last visited that part of Bangalore. Every time I visit Bangalore there are lots of changes. The most prominent one always seems to be change in the one-ways system.

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      2. Oh, 1990 sounds like a long time ago! Yes, a lot of Bangaloreans also feel that way…the city has changed so much, they feel alienated!

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  3. I think I am already in 2017 in my mind space that when I read the title of this post I thought this is about the Litfest you must have visited last year. Throughout the post I was wondering which Saturday, last year’s Saturday and i was marveling that you remember the minute details about that sunny Saturday morning 😀 I got it with the last line, however. It seems like a lot of fun activities happen at Litfests. Hoping I continue to live in Bangalore for a long time and i get over my fear of crowded areas and venues, i will go visit one such fest, someday.

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    1. Haha…you’re already in 2017! Seems like someone is really excitedly looking forward to the coming year. 🙂 I cannot tell you how much I look forward to this event every year. Usually they hold it around last week of November. I was so glad to spend the day even though I couldn’d stay for the entire thing to get over esp the Dylan concert at 7:30 pm as Arjyo wasn’t keeping very well as he was still tired from his virals. I think while writing it I re-lived the whole experience all over again. Perhaps some day, we can plan to visit it together. 🙂

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  4. I have never been to a litfest and no reading about your experience, I feel like I should one day. In Kerala, such events are rare and if at all there are, they would be about regional books, which shameful enough, i don’t read much. You have written elaborately on the day , which points out to the immense fun you had attending the event. Good for you to have such a beautiful day after the torturous few days of sickness.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Maliny 🙂 I’, deeply grateful to the Almighty for granting me a day when i could go out and enjoy to my heart’s content. Anything about writing and writers in town gets me excited. As a high school and later, college student, I used to save up money to buy books from the Calcutta Book Fair and had a humble collection of books in my library by the time I graduated. It was my pride and my joy those days. The same sense of excitement still drives me even today. You must attend one lit fest Maliny to truly gauge what its like. I savoured every minute of that day, and came back recharged that I would have to write a book one day.

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