Literature fests define a city’s flavour
A young man came up to me at the opening of Tata LitLive! on Thursday afternoon to disclose that Bangladesh was struggling badly against India’s bowlers on the opening day of the first Test. He followed this with a cricketing parallel to the government formation (or not!) in Maharashtra. “The pitch is a minefield,” he said, settling into an imaginary stance. “Bounce, pace, turn and seam movement are so unpredictable that a batsman can only play in hope, not with any degree of uncertainty,” he added, with a demonstration of strokes of struggle and uncertainty.
Politics and cricket are two abiding passions in the country, so this intertwining of diverse fields is not as unusual as may seem. The analysis was simplistic of course, yet interesting all the same, in the context of the political situation as exists currently in the state. Spurred by the young man’s interest in the matter, I wondered how the shenanigans of politicians and their respective parties have impacted people in the city, which led me to do a dipstick survey of a dozen more people at the NCPA complex.
Usually, audiences at literature festivals don’t shy away from expressing opinions. In this instance, however, barring a couple that came out strongly, others seemed to be disinterested, humming and hawing their way through my prodding. Whether this was because of ignorance, apathy or disenchantment of how things have developed in the past three weeks, I am not in a position to say. Perhaps the way politics is unravelling, not just in the city and state, but also the country, is leaving most people fatigued. For the rest of the day at the festival, I decided to switch off politics too, except what came in some of the sessions that I attended. There was so much else on show to divert the mind, not forgetting getting regular updates on the Indore Test match where India appears to have taken a stranglehold.
Literature festivals have an ambience and flavour that can be both invigorating and stimulating, depending on the quality of writers and the subjects under discussion. Some argue that such festivals are too elitist and cater only to the upper crust; or to snobs who want to be seen in what they perceive as `happening events’.
This may not be completely unfounded if the ambition and purpose of the festival is pelf and glory rather than providing a platform for the distillation of views by thought leaders for audiences to listen, grasp, understand, reject, or whatever. There is no reason why an assortment of such festivals cannot be held, catering to every stratum – and not just in the financial sense – of society. The fundamental idea is to provide a cultural and intellectual environment that helps in the growth of the individual, society and city.
Obviously, the success of such festivals depends on how well they engage the audience. Sure, there must be seriousness to the exercise, but from the organisational aspect, not from what is put on show. Apart from provoking arguments and differing points of view, the content can and should be a lot of fun.
The opening session of this year’s Tata LitLive! (I am writing this piece soon after it got over) stood out for this. The subject was intriguing – 1,000 Words An Hour – which sought to probe how writers approach their work; how they manage their time and how many words they produce in an hour!
What made the session truly come alive though was the candour and wit with which best-selling fiction writer Alexander McCall Smith and politician Shashi Tharoor, who has produced several best-selling non-fiction works in the last decade, tackled the discussion. It was hugely entertaining and informative. Both had anecdotes and experiences to highlight how they worked, reflecting in a sense that there is no one cap that fits all writers. On the central theme of 1,000 words an hour, drawn from McCall Smith’s phenomenal speed of writing which prompted this premise, Tharoor looked to be a laggard in the race before coming up with a late surge.
When asked his speed of writing, Tharoor quoted the American journalist Joe Liebling who once famously said, “I can write faster than anyone who can write better, and I can write better than anyone who can write faster.”
Dead heat I’d say.