If November is here, can literature fests be far behind? Hell, no! Sitting on the emerald green lawns of the city’s iconic Lake Club, the festival venue, sipping hot and sugary fragrant cardamom chai and espresso coffee, carelessly browsing through books picked up from the stall or to dreamily listen to a talk on ‘No Child’s play’ or some other equally captivating topic, was a trade off very hard to make.
As eloquent Sufi poetry recitals and Babbu Tir’s lyrical Punjabi poetry carried on the breeze through the venue with the smoothness of water, only the porcelain stillness of the serene lake waters shattered my trance. At the horizon, the far-away sailboats floating on the glistening, sparkling waters with gauzy wings, influenced with the vicissitudes of life that come with the harbingers of change. Intermittently, the notorious lapping sounds of the water waves hitting against the petite boats anchored at the dock en masse, lent nuanced punctuation to the soulful sessions and engaging talks.
It was only when the rage and fury of ‘public accountability is a myth’ was vociferously debated and discussed upon that created ripples that cut through the silent waters. Eminent civil servant and articulate speaker Sumita Misra played the role of a neutral moderator, while the reverent and insightful Justice Leila Seth offered reasonable, theoretically sound arguments. It was only the self-righteous columnist Tavleen Singh who shook the debate and surprisingly found support in the elitist audience, so many furious voices echoed in the ‘shamiana’ that most sensible men would have chosen to fade away into the meditative tranquil of the calm waters, than listen to the ridiculous propaganda of an arrogant journalist. To hear hardworking public servants being deliberately bashed was a tipping point at the festival.Thankfully, enraged passions comforted down soon metamorphosed to an inert quietude. With much respite came the pleasing poetry session titled, “Beware the poet” with fine poets like Ashok Vajpeyi, and Tishani Doshi. The brilliant colours of the elaborate decor, striking backdrops and beauteous banners were outdone only by celebrity speakers like Gul Panag, Sudhir Mishra, Sohaila Kapur and others.
Needless to say a part of the audience came with equal élan. The sunny November afternoons and evenings were perfect for the pseudo, pretentious socialites to bring out their exquisite ‘kaani shawls’ and Gucci stoles for the toffee-nosed women and tweed ‘Modi’ jackets and crisp kurta pyajamas for their men folk. It’s a pity these folks could only manage a smattering of heavily Punjabi accented English, yet, they tried to come across as fans of Tolstoy or Shakespeare. Not to forget the ostentatious accessories: oversized, expensive brands rested on diminutive noses. The wannabes hovered around the writers begging for autographs and ‘selfies’.
Not to undermine the intellect of the real literature buffs, seated in the front rows all ears to each of the sessions. Dressed casually, not bothered wee bit about their surroundings or the people, this category comprised students, retired bureaucrats, army colonels, et al. Like all good things must come to an end, so did the lit fest, bidding us adieu till next November!
The writer is a freelance journalist based in Chandigarh.