Why do people visit lit fests? That was the question in my head as I stepped into the spacious lawns at Crowne Plaza, where the Bangalore Literature Festival 2013 was on in full swing.
I walked into Mysore Park (Stage 1) in time to hear the moderator accusing William Dalrymple of being elitist. (Wonder how that conversation ended!) A girl was gushing over the phone about a couplet recited by Gulzar. Damn, missed it. Blame it on the ghastly distance to Electronic City and my unearthly work schedule.
I ambled along to see people mulling near the chaat stalls, little ones and not-so-little ones eating cotton candy and chit-chatting on the grass. At Lawn Bagh (Stage 2), Ashwin Sanghi, who writes mythological fiction, was talking about how it was not myths per se that interested him, but the meeting point between history and myth. He had a few interesting anecdotes, historical discrepancies notwithstanding – such as how Abraham’s wife was named Sarah, which sounded similar to Saraswati, and so on.
A literary quiz had just winded up at the third venue (DPS East won, I think?), and the entrance was abuzz with parents and kids lining to buy books. Chennai-based publishing company Tulika had put out impressive titles for children penned by Indian writers; funny, smart stories with delectable illustrations. It was sad how many parents came looking for Gulzar’s Ali Baba ke Chaalis Chor, released earlier in the morning; and when told it was unavailable walked away without a second glance at the spread. As for me, being the dutiful aunt I am, (that too one convinced it’s her bounden duty to get kids into reading!), I got three colourful books for my nephew and niece: The Silly story of Bondlapalli, Little Lalli, and I’m So Sleepy!
The next stop was the panel discussion on writing for urban spaces. Usha K.R., Nirmala Lakshman, Anita Nair and Kishwar Desai spoke to Lavanya Sankaran in what turned out to be a lively discussion about the secret spaces inhabited by cities. They spoke about how much of a writer’s work lay in standing at bus stops and observing people, in trying to see things around them the untrained eye misses. And even though I love the idea of a reclusive writer, and think lit-fests are an anachronism for making a public spectacle of a very private relationship between a reader and a writer, I admired the women on stage for the passion they brought to their work.
But what really stole my heart was the postcard installation. Yes, postcards! Plain-white 4 by 6 cards, with the words ‘Read’, ‘Write’ and ‘Ponder…’ on the backside, hung in pockets of white gauze curtains tied among the trees. And you could write letters on them, to whomever you thought of that moment at the lit-fest. One of the cards said, “Having a great time at the lit fest. Met Farhan Akhtar!” Another read, “I’m at the Bangalore Lit Fest and someone asked me to write a postcard, so I thought of you.” A volunteer assured me they would post all the cards after the festival.
The sun was bright, the breeze was cool, everyone was talking and joking and living in an other-world filled with books. But there was someone I met who was also writing! Sitting among the gauze curtains was a charming kid in a yellow dress, religiously filling the pages of a little notebook. She’ll be a writer someday, I thought, smiling to myself.
So what did I go to the lit fest for?
To catch Shobhaa De in her strawberry-candy dress, of course!