Sigh, this is the season of literature festivals, and I just love them to death. In my dozen or so years as one of India’s Top 3 Non-Bestselling Writers from Adyar, so far, I have been to fourteen literature festivals in all corners of our country. From my native village of Chennai, I have been transported to these glamorous locations on trains, planes, buses, cars and, on one occasion, even on a pack mule. If memory serves me right, that was the one in Bengaluru. The organizers thought it would be the best way to beat the city’s notorious traffic snarls. Riding pillion with me then, on his first literary outing, was a south Indian writer who had written a book on Ayurvedic methods for success in the stock market. (I managed to pull rank on him and sit in the front.) Today the mule and I are in WhatsApp touch and s/he is helping me edit my forthcoming book.
To these literary engagements (that I look forward to every year with bated breath), I have gone mostly as speaker. To some as woofer. And to one as a RAC candidate, a stand-in for a participant who was in a coma, in case he decided to join Ernest Hemingway and Barbara Cartland mid-session, and there ended up being a lull in the conversation. Suffice it to say the writer made it, and wrote three more books while still in a coma.
Literature festivals, for the unversed, are where we writers go to mingle with wannabes, has-beens, never-will-bes, there-he-is-agains, three Bengalis, two Keralites, and whichever Bollywood personality is available on the year-end discount scheme. And presiding over the contingent are the two–three mandatory white folks, who are given the best suites in the hotel.
The hour-long sessions are scintillating, I tell you, and I have learnt much on a variety of subjects. In one literature festival alone, one celebrated writer spoke extensively, and with great authority, about enemas. It was followed by a young novelist, who refused to have the limelight stolen, and spoke movingly about her taste for ostrich testicles. In the following session, a senior writer in a nostalgic mood constantly referred to his mammaries of times gone by. In a session on “Women & Modernity”, after a long intro on how women feel about the kinds of looks men cast on them, the moderator turned to a journalist-writer, the only man on the panel, and asked him to go first. The man responded by saying “Can you give me four options?”
Finally, one man from the audience spoke breathlessly for ten minutes about the British conspiracy behind why vadas have holes but bondas don’t. Brilliant stuff.
But what everyone really looks forward to at lit fests is the elegant soirées put together by the organizers in the evenings. It’s the time we writers celebrate the day’s selfless literary outpouring by eating tough chicken snacks and downing large quantities of fake Black Label. It is also the perfect time to get in line and ingratiate oneself to the festival’s curator to make sure you are invited the following year, too.
I’ve had a foolproof method so far. Tripping, nudging and goosing my way past the other eager-beaver writers, as soon as I get within brown-nosing distance of the curator’s ear, I softly whisper ‘You look just like George Clooney.’ Works like a bloody charm, I tell you. On one occasion, perhaps because of the sixth fake Black Label, I said this without realizing the curator was a woman. But, boy, was I fast. I quickly added ‘Before he had the sex change.’
She was delighted. Wonder why she didn’t invite me again though.
One literature festival I went to, I found that the writers were complaining — unfairly in my opinion — about how frugal the breakfast buffet was, with nothing but cereal, boiled eggs and dry toast. I was astounded because I had been feasting on crisp masala dosas made in ghee, eggs to order, sausages, five varieties of bread and exotic fruit-flavored flavoured yoghurt every day. (And packing a few muffins tactfully in my author bag for later use.) It turns out I was inadvertently partaking in the grand five-day wedding celebrations happening at the same hotel. Belated congratulations, Sai Sushrut and Divyavarshini. I wish you a glorious married life.
In conclusion, think there are too few literature festivals in India. We should have more, many, many more and explore innovative, hitherto unutilized spaces, to host them — like on logs floating on rivers, in mortuaries, inside sinkholes that appear randomly on our city roads, hospital waiting rooms, disputed border towns, abandoned factories ...
Sigh, I do so love lit fests....