Every season comes with a set of new fads. During the past ten years, there has been a noticeable boom in literature festivals all over the country. While Jaipur remains the queen of literary festivals, many other cities like Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Kochi, Hyderabad, Lucknow and Patna have come up with their own brand of lit fests.
Come closer home and the charming hill town of Kasauli has its own festival inspired by the bearded man in a bulb: the late Khushwant Singh of course! The City Beautiful takes the cake with two festivals to be held in the coming weeks.
Literature has certainly come a long way from the time when Abhivyakti meets would be held on the first Saturday of every month in writer Virendra Mehta’s Sector 11 drawing room.
During the last four decades, several Hindi writers have read out stories and recited poems during the meets. These meetings are being held with zest even now. So do other meetings of numerous literary groups in the city.
But, the flavour of this season is the glitz and glamour promised by the upcoming lit fests.
This phenomenon raises a question though: is literature so much in demand with so many takers that the literary bandwagon is overcrowded with the merry-riders? Or is it a fashion to be associated with the world of letters? Some may say, quoting the Jaipur experience, that it is big business. But if business is the goal, then there are other more lucrative ways of doing it and one does not have to get into all kind of rows about a Rushdie or a Nandy.
But then literature has its own privileged status, even if in given time there are more students opting for commerce and finance than language and literature.
A quotable quote said: “Nobody boasts of ignorance of literature, but it is socially acceptable to boast ignorance of science and proudly claim incompetence in mathematics.”
Well, this could be dismissed as an outdated saying and more so in times when shops of branded clothes and shoes are replacing bookshops and modern construction does not leave place for bookshelves in homes.
But the truth is that satellite television, internet and related technology had pushed the written word to the background.
In my own home when an effort was made to spring clean and discard the needless, my daughter would chirp: “Let’s give away these books because they are taking too much space.”
The critics of literature festivals, the purists, say these are making writers take the lesser role of performers. Also the literary stars of lit fests may not be writers of merit. All’s very well but these festivals have brought literature to the centre stage and pushed the sales of books. The writer is being taken more seriously and many among the young are choosing it as their profession and some are even making a fine fortune of it. So this fall let’s cheer the heightened literary activity in the city.
(The writer is prominent art and culture critic)