Celebrating the written word with Bangalore Literature Festival 2014

— by Parmita Borah | Bangalore | For Bangalore Literarure Festival 2014 photos Click Here
Marie Munkara, Lakshmi Devnath and Andaleeb Wajid at Bangalore Literature Festival (photo - Jim Ankan Deka)

One of the many things a day job holder holds precious is ‘earned leave’. You don’t have to fake illness, kill your relatives, or organize Satya Narayan Puja every four days – all you do is plan ahead and ‘claim’ the leave. I claimed mine, recently, and how!

On 26th September, Friday (that’s right a weekday), I along with my fellow bloggers from Music Malt reached the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Electronics City, sharp at 10. ‘Why’ you ask? To attend the Bangalore Literature Festival and have an audience with the who’s who of the literary world. The itinerary handed to us by the smiling ladies at media desk showed an interesting line up of one-on-one and panel discussions. We had a little time to kill before the inauguration, so we went to Crowne Plaza, and stuffed ourselves with club sandwiches and steaks.

Girish Karnad, Chandrashekhara Kambara and Shobhaa De
at Bangalore Literature Festival (photo - Jim Ankan Deka)
We made it back just in time for the inauguration. Vikram Sampath, co-founder of Bangalore Literature Festival welcomed an impressive lineup of guests, which included Girish Karnad, Chetan Bhagat, Shoba De, Chandrashekhara Kambara and Binalakshmi Nepram. They took turns to light the diya (the Indian way of starting something on an auspicious note) and deliver brief stimulating speeches.

I take another look at the itinerary. ‘Day 1 looks interesting’, I tell myself. Panel discussion, conversation, Venita Coelho, Arnab Ray blah blah blah, one-on-one with Chetan Bhagat, panel discussion, blah blah blah… Whoa! I stopped. For a second there, I thought I had left my specs at home, or maybe even my brains. The itinerary said something like ‘Queen of Hearts – Rani Mukerji in conversation with Bhawana Somaaya’. What’s a Bollywood actor doing at a literature festival?

I put that thought to rest as two posh looking ladies occupied the seats right before me – an assertive lady (mildly reminiscent of D. H. Lawrence’s description of cocksure women) and her not so assertive assistant. I heard the assertive lady command her assistant, “I want anything controversial, anything sensational, anything objectionable he says on twitter… and I want a tweet every two seconds… tag him, got it?”. The assistant seemed too overwhelmed to respond, and by the time she could, her boss (presumably) had already walked away.

Chetan Bhagat and Shinie Anthony (Photo - Jim Ankan Deka)
I wondered whom she was referring to, and looking up at the stage remembered that Shiney Anthony, co-founder of Bangalore Literature Festival was interviewing Mr. Chetan Bhagat. Ofcourse. When ‘The CB Family’ is in the vicinity, a twitter feud can’t be far away. I was not so sure if the ladies managed to get any scoop though.

Contrary to what one makes of his tweets, Mr Bhagat seemed grounded and sensible. Although Shiney Anthony grilled him with questions like ‘Are you a Bollywood groupie’, the popular writer responded with a lot of wit and humor, often suffixed with a nervous chuckle. The session bubbled with many LOL moments, especially when Mr. Bhagat made comments like ‘I am not the best author, but I am the bestselling author’, and ‘Someone needs to lower the standards, so that the others look good’ (on being asked multiple questions about Bollywood).

The next session that I attended had Pradyot Manikya Deb Barma, Dhruva Hazarika, and Binalaksmi Nepram as the panelists. This session held a special place in my heart, because the theme was ‘Does India neglect its eight sisters’ (meaning the North East India). During the discussion the trio shared some startling facts about the region. Being a north easterner it was both a moment of pride to see speakers from my land strike such a forceful conversation, while simultaneously being reminded of the step-motherly attitude towards the region. I was taken aback when Deb Barma mentioned that out of the 87 schools in Tripura, 43 are being used to host armed forces!

Rani Mukerji at Bangalore Literature Festival (photo - Jim Ankan Deka)
We were informed that Chetan Bhagat would be addressing the media, so had to rush to the media lounge. I asked him if his poster boy image affects how his work is perceived. He admitted that the popularity certainly helps to sell his work, but he believed that there’s more to him and therefore actively engages in generating public opinion though his articles. (Click here to watch the interview).

Shortly after that, Rani Mukerji addressed the media. I have to admit, my ‘Bollywood actor’ impression of her was very unfair. She articulated her responses to all the questions we asked her. I asked her if she’d consider becoming a writer. She replied that while people have always thought that she’d make it as a writer, she chose to believe otherwise. (Click here to watch the interview).

So the Bollywood bit of the festival was done and dusted. Our photographer Jim and I came out for a quick snack, and went back for the session on “Who’s language is it anyway?”. Oh! Before that did I mention that I met three eminent novelists from Assam – Jahnavi Barua, Mitra Phukan and Dhruba Hazarika? For a while I did not realize that I was sitting next to them. When I did, I was filled with a sense of awe, excitement and to be honest a little bit of uneasiness. Sitting next to authors whom I have admired for years! It felt like the ending lines of John Keats’ Ode to a nightingale - Was it a vision, or a waking dream? Do I wake or sleep?

Jahnavi Barua at Bangalore Literature Festival (photo - Jim Ankan Deka)
After our introductions, I wanted to say something that made me sound wise, but I was worried that I’d go overboard. So after putting a lot of thought into it, I leaned towards Mitra Phukan and delivered my killer line ‘Are you enjoying yourself’. A voice inside my head said ‘Really? That’s your line?’. Much to my relief all the three writers were very pleasant and conversed with me with a lot of interest.

Once we completed our rounds of the bookstalls, we came back for a session on Sita-shadow and substance. I can’t claim to know any of the panelists, but their arguments on whether women should be like Sita or Draupadi was quite amusing. I couldn’t however, understand the relevance of the discussion. It’s the 21st century, the Sitas and the Draupadi’s should be put to rest. No?

Anyway, the sun had set, bringing an end to a delightful day. We decided to catch the Carnatic Classical music concert by Academy award nominated Bombay Jayashree before heading back. The program was delayed due to some backstage/technical adjustments.

Bombay Jayashshri Ramnath at Bangalore Literature Festival
(photo - Jim Ankan Deka)
We waited in the green lawns, letting mosquitoes take a few sips of our blood. After about 30 minutes, Bombay Jayashree took on the stage and enthralled the audience with her powerful vocals. It was worth the wait… and the mosquito bites, we tell ourselves before wrapping up the day.

The 3rd edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival is a success, and there’s no two ways about it. Be it the ensemble of authors, the plethora of topics covered, or the fact that you won’t find a single advertising kiosk or banner around – speaks volumes about the substance, humility, and sincerity of the event. Little wonder that within two years of it's inception, Bangalore Literature Festival has emerged as the second largest literary conclave of our country. Kudos to Vikram Sampath, Shiney Anthony and Srikrishna Ramamoorthy for gifting this to the people of Bangalore.

Click Here for Bangalore Literarure Festival 2014 photos