Sahir Ludhianvi’s songs, actor Rekha’s mystique, nationalism, Urdu poetry, Dalit literature, Carnatic music, glory of translation, jungle adventures and much more awaited one once the tedious ride in the weekly inter-city Ramnagar Express took one to the Jungle Retreat by the Jim Corbett Park. The occasion was second edition of the Kumaon Literary Festival held literary midst roars and tusks. Well, there were no misadventures with the man-eating tigress with three cubs prowling around, as the locals liked to believe. But the mood was jungli all the way with the resorts in the buffer forests surrounding the Corbett Park named ‘The Golden Tusk’, ‘The Tusker Trail’ , ‘Wilds’, ‘Roar’ and so on.
But this time it was not the tigers roaring but intellectuals and politicians when it came to debates on nationalism and patriotism.
The Arnab Goswami trend has caught up even outside the television frame. So much so that the wild creatures hid themselves and all most of the literati doing early-morning safari got to see were pugmarks. And someone whispered knowingly that pugmarks are often planted on the ground for the benefit of the visitors. But the last of the three days of the three days of the Festival, a tiger did allow a glimpse by way of farewell to the noisy visitors. Fun apart the Kumaon literary fare, brainchild of a city-bred lad, Sumant Batra, who made a big success in financial law both home and abroad, does provide a fine retreat to writers cooped up in cities, more often than not suffering from computer-induced cervical. Indeed charming was the gentle pace of events and as Batra said, “We like to keep the festival small and intimate and the effort is not just to do event-based programmes but to bring together the best of minds for sustained cultural activity along with the annual festivity”.
Batra’s roots are in Punjab as his family moved from Heer’s land in Jhang to home in Hisar and later moved to Chandigarh. “My later schooling, college and university were here and I started practice with Jawahar Lal Gupta in the city before moving to Delhi”. Living and practicing law in different countries, He came firmly to believe that a country that invests in culture as much as it does in economic growth is a happier country. Not only has he gathered a community of writers and cinema folks, set up a museum, a boutique hotel in Dhanachauli, there is an effort to involve the youth in various cultural and literary activities. The festival had an energising presence of young folks both as volunteers from different colleges and universities and as prize winners of various literary contests held the year round. So in all it was ‘Jungle Mein Mangal’ but for food running short the second day and the guests including a former bureaucrat-writer, a BJP leader and the likes of us standing with plates and bowls waiting for soup like poor Oliver Twist of Dickens’ fame for nearly an hour. Was it to give everyone the experience of hunger? But there must be ‘food for thought’ and sure enough amends were made the next day. And so, one returned with a festival souvenir of salt and pepper shakers shaped like tuskers and a tiger sketch bought from a young artist.