Talking at one of the sessions ('The anatomy of literature festivals') at the
Bangalore Literature Festival, a writer referred to the sudden proliferation of literary festivals in India as "let a million flowers bloom", which is really what this festival is: another one, following in the wake of India's best-known literary festival (the one at Jaipur), of similar events being organized in almost every major city in the country.
Despite being an author, I tend to stay away from literary festivals - I am, basically, a rather shy person and prefer to let my writing speak for itself. This time around, though, I'd been specially invited to participate in one of the panel discussions scheduled for the festival, and decided it was high time I accepted.
The Bangalore Literature Festival was established as an annual event in 2012, primarily organised by two Bangalore-based writers, Shinie Antony and Vikram Sampath. With the help of publishers and other sponsors (and lots of volunteers!), they’ve managed to make it into an exciting, fun-filled three-day festival that covers everything from children’s literature to translations, crime fiction to literary fiction, to screenplays and even culture.
This year, the Bangalore Literature Festival was organised at Velankani, an event-and-exhibition complex in Bangalore’s Electronics City, on Hosur Road. Velankani isn’t exactly a very good venue to get to if you happen to be staying in Bangalore—it’s at least half and hour’s drive out of the city, and a good two hours’ drive from the airport. For the 120-odd authors participating in the festival, however, this wasn’t really much of a problem, because we were accommodated at the Crowne Plaza in Electronics City, just about three minutes’ walk across the road from Velankani. For people coming to Velankani from the city, shuttle bus services had been organised to help make travel a little easier.
The festival was centred round two main lawns: Lawn Bagh and Mysore Park (the latter a cute pun on the famous local sweet, Mysore pak!) With a stage erected at the end of each lawn, these became the venue for various book launches, panel discussions, and events—including a flute recital by the maestro Hariprasad Chaurasia. At one end of Lawn Bagh was a smaller ‘stage’, rather more like a meeting area, with chairs set up in rows, where the children’s activities were centred. These included storytelling (one, of Japanese folktales, was one even I wanted to attend!) and interactions between children and authors of children’s literature.
Along the main path linking Lawn Bagh to Mysore Park, a series of food stalls had been set up, forming a food court. The food on offer consisted mostly of fast food, such as idli, dosa, vada, chana-bhatura, tea, coffee, sandwiches, and waffles (which, according to statistics released at the end of the festival, were the hottest-selling item on the menu!). A friend and I sampled the coffee and a plate each of chana bhatura (spiced chickpea curry served with a spongy, yeasty fried bread), and while it was not cheap, it at least tasted good. Considering Electronics City is pretty much in the back of beyond and there’s little scope for dining nearby (unless you go to the Crowne Plaza, which is expensive), this was a good arrangement.
Diagonalyl across from the food court, and separated from the lawns by a narrow body of water (spanned by a wooden bridge) was an exhibition hall, where Oxford Bookstore had set up a row of tables covered with piles of books on sale. These included books by the authors attending the festival, thus enabling fans to buy copies and get them autographed there and then.
For the authors and the media, a small building near the food court functioned as a lounge where one could conduct interviews (or be interviewed, depending upon whether you were a journalist or an author), have tea or coffee, wait for your next session to begin, or just sit back and relax.
Of course, the main attraction of the Bangaore Literature Festival was the many events that comprised the festival. With sixty events to choose from, spread out across three days, every day from morning to night, it was impossible to even think of attending each event, especially because events were simultaneously being held at both lawns. Plus, since I wanted to spend time with other authors, it got difficult to choose which events I’d skip and which I’d attend.
Besides the one I participated in (on crime and fantasy fiction, both relatively new genres in Indian writing in English), I picked a few others that I was particularly interested in attending. Among these was an interesting but sadly poorly-attended discussion on translation, its challenges and triumphs, and what translators had to say about how they work. One of the best-attended was a session on best-sellers (what it means, what it takes, and some rather shocking revelations about how some of India’s best-selling authors have gotten that tag). Since I blog about classic cinema, I was very excited about attending a session on writing for cinema, featuring some of the foremost writers about Indian cinema—this was great fun, and quite an eye-opener for me.
Incidentally, cinema being so very popular in India, it was hardly a surprise that it also featured in a literary festival. One of the biggest events was a discussion about the bio-pic Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, with the film’s director/writers and its lead actor, Farhan Akhtar, in conversation. The session was a runaway hit, and Farhan Akhtar got mobbed to the extent that I, trying to get out of the authors’ lounge to go for my session, had a hard time getting past the crowd!
There were other sessions, too, which had only an incidental relationship with literature: the launch of a novel about the rigging of cricket matches, for example, was the basis for a discussion on corruption in sports. Similarly, the release of a politics-themed book led to a very fiery debate on politics.
I wished I could have spent more time at the festival, and could have interacted with more authors (as well as more readers). But, yes, this is one event I’d certainly recommend checking out if you’re in Bangalore when it’s held, and if you’re even slightly interested in reading.