LitFest– A soulful celebration of books…and beyond

Festivals of any kind, culture, religion, or purpose act like stress relievers and reboot
emotions. Social interaction with our fellow beings not only brings happiness but helps
us grow our capacity to learn languages, familiarise ourselves with cultures, inquire, think,
and introspect. Here, we talk about literature festivals, which are a beautiful celebration of books and their wonderland. To better understand the purpose and positioning of these festivals in today’s (Good, Bad, & Ugly) world, Smita Dwivedi has tried to consolidate sentiments from all over India.

769

A booklover needs no reason to be part of Litfest, but we would like to highlight a few for our readers. For some, it is a way to improve writing, learn more about literature, explore new topics, and develop a skill, while for many; it is just to breathe literature. Most importantly, you get a chance to meet your favorite authors, discover new authors and get author-signed copies of your favourite books.

But, what gives a unique identity to every festival. So, we reached out to the who’s who of the most popular literary festivals in India: Maina Bhagat, Founding Director – Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival; Namita Gokhale, Founder, and Co-director – Jaipur Literature Festival; K. Satchidanandan, Director – Kerala Literature Festival; Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Founder and Director – Kalinga Literary Festival; and Chetan Mahajan, Co-Founder, the Himalayan Writing Retreat.

Importance of Litfest in the present world… 

Maina feels it is a positive happening and was the need of the hour. “It is very much required to bring literature physically and intellectually to the masses. The literary festivals which were there on the ground for many years bring the author and publishers close to the readers. It has created a new kind of environment for book lovers. I think it was one of the most positive developments, which was waiting to happen. These LitFests took the books off the bookshelf into the reader’s hand and created a whole new world from the existing and much-loved activity of reading,” she said.

As per Namita, “Literature festivals allow readers to connect with books, writers, and other book lovers. They help move people out of their comfort zone and challenge them by providing access to new ideas. One gets deeper insights through listening to the writers talking about the context of the book. It is an ecosystem that nurtures new readers, especially the younger ones. And then there is the buzz of human interaction, of shared energies, the excitement of discovery.”

While, Rashmi feels that literary festivals provide the much-needed platforms to bring the living legends, youth icons, and the wannabe writers together. “In our festival, we have seen several dozens of students who work with us as volunteers buying books at the festival counters. Definitely they like the author-signed copies and a selfie with the author. Next time they meet the author, they discuss about the book at length. So, broadly speaking, we organise literary festivals to create literary awareness among the youth and the children.”

On asking about how literary retreats promote reading for pleasure, Chetan said, “We run a thriving book club with over 250 members. These folks love reading and are always happy to read books and write reviews. Besides, we strongly believe that a strong reading habit helps writers, so we encourage people to read a lot. We also host India’s most authoritative bestseller list on our blog – the HWR Nielsen Bestseller list. This helps readers understand what is selling, and choose the books they would like to read.”

On prevalent literary culture in India…

According to K. Satchidanandan, “Literary culture in India varies from language to language. In some languages, it is confined to the elite, mainly urban elite, while in some, it has seeped down to the literate among the familiar people. Kerala can be the best example of this. It has near 100 percent literacy, the organic links between Kerala’s history and literature, the role literature played in Kerala’s renaissance with its subaltern thrust, the presence of several literary magazines, both print journals and online ones, the widespread use of social media as a platform to publish and publicise writing, regular discussions on new fiction and poetry organised by the many literary associations in Kerala, besides the very active Kerala Sahitya Academy, WhatsApp groups, chat rooms, Facebook groups, etc.”

He also feels that Kerala is unique in many ways. “I cannot think of any other state in India which has such a dynamic literary culture. Even in states like Bengal and Maharashtra which come next to Kerala, literature is chiefly confined to cities and towns unlike in Kerala where a big network of active libraries and reading rooms in the villages carry literature to the masses, making our writers real celebrities,” he added.
Rashmi explained it in the context of Indian mythology and said, “India has a rich and diverse literary culture. From times immemorial, we have been the world leaders producing unique literary creations like the Vedas, Upanishads, and the epics like Ramayana and Mahabharata.”

He further said, “The literary tradition of Shruti, The Vedas – revealed knowledge along with the Upanishads, which have been heard and transmitted across generations, had been supplemented by the literary tradition of Smriti, the post-Vedic literature including the Vedangas, Darshanas, and Puranas, which enlightened beings have written. India is the only living civilization maintaining an unbroken chain of literary tradition for at least 5,000 years. What makes this tradition unique is that people and rulers from outside have been inspired by this and have contributed to this, making Indian literature the most enviable literary tradition in the world. We can safely say that no other ancient culture can match India’s literary tradition.”

According to Namita, the culture of promoting translations has picked up very well in the last decade. To further support her statement, she added, “The publishing scene has transformed dramatically over the last decade. During these years, we have seen that translations across the Indian languages are finally getting their due and finding appreciation. This is due to the unwavering efforts of so many dedicated people who believe in a multilingual literary universe. Literature festivals across India have had an important role to play in this process. The Jaipur Literature Festival and Jaipur BookMark have worked tirelessly to showcase the literary diversity of India and the treasures that are waiting to be discovered there. I perceive a distinct shift in attitude as people rediscover their roots through reading from the vast literary reservoir available to us as a culture.”

Chetan shared his viewpoint, which is a bit different. “Like everywhere in the world, literature culture is changing, largely due to technology. Technology and shorter attention spans change the fundamental construct of what people read and what sells. Shorter, faster “consumable” stories coming out rapidly are becoming the staple. Look at the most popular Kindle authors, and that is what they seem to write – driven by volume, and having readers spend more time reading them. The literary reader and writer will continue, but I don’t know if those segments are growing or dwindling.”

“Amazon is a monopolistic power hat has disproportionate influence. It has been death knell for many bookstores. But technology also brings some big pluses. In a country like India, the most significant impact is technology enabling publishing in many Indian languages. With traditional publishing that was a challenging space, but with apps like Pratilipi and Kindle, it has become much more accessible and practical,” he added.

LitFests during Pandemic…

While sharing her views, Maina shared, “Well, for the first six months, we all were coping with the thought of it. But when lockdown happened, everyone was looking for a way to engage without any fear of health. So, I think people did rediscover the reading.”

“Now, people have started coming back to the books and bookstores, which is positively impacting the suffering. We are hoping to go back to the physical fest. But digital and online events helped in avoiding complete void. These virtual events beautifully filled the void. Our last fest was entirely digital, and our results were good. Better than what we thought,” she shared.

“I feel it’s good to connect digitally as per time convenience, but if you want to have a rapport with the author, you would go and meet physically and attend the sessions. But we are satisfied with the results; however, we would like to go back to the complete physical version,” she added further.

K. Satchidanandan shared a different aspect and added, “We had to skip one edition altogether, and another edition tried online and given up. We stopped midway as our festival with its massive physical participation is like a people’s celebration. The young people make friends, do even parallel discussions on the beach, etc. This whole ambience is missed in a virtual festival that is why we just skipped this edition.”

While sharing his views, Rashmi said, “We started KLF Bhava Samvad to keep the literary spirit intact during the lockdown because of Pandemic. This initiative received immense love from the audience and has reached its 400 sessions with legendary literary figures and artists across the globe. It will continue to live as a permanent platform. KLF Bhava Samvad hosted 400+ sessions with 900 speakers and over 30 million audience engagements in the last two years. The sessions covered subjects as diverse as the creative process of writing, literature, climate change, psychological wellbeing, and compassion in these challenging times, the art of poetry, technology, music, mythology, mysticism, technology, etc.”

Elaborating on the success of virtual events, he added, “During the Pandemic, we saw major festivals take the virtual route. They will keep the literary flame burning. The beauty of literary festival lies with face-to-face meetings of creative people. They meet, share stories, and develop lifetime bonds with fellow writers. I have seen many new books and collaborations between authors and publishers emerging because of face-to-face meetings at the LitFests. So, I think virtual LitFests can complement the face-to-face festivals, but can’t replace them. We have conducted annual Kandhmal Literary Festival, Mystic Kalinga Festival, and KLF Maithili Literary Festival virtually for last two years. Though the festivals were huge success but sponsors were not interested to support the virtual festivals.”

Chetan explained the positive impact of Covid and said, “Pandemic helped us in two ways. Firstly, we started online workshops. We discovered a new world of participants because of online. We’ve also started doing many more interesting short-form workshops in the online format. Our online writing community, “The First Draft Club,” which supports an NGO-run school, is also a big hit. The club meets every other month. And we also built our blog. Today, it is amongst India’s most authoritative sources of information on writing and publishing.”

“Although we don’t host any literary festivals, we can see a strong interest in exchanging ideas and interacting with intelligent, informed minds, irrespective of the format. As far as we know, we are the only purpose-built literary/writing retreat in Asia,” he added.

What makes a LitFest different from another….

Maina shared about AKLF with pride and added, “Apeejay Kolkata LitFest was the brainchild of Priti Paul, who is a very much Kolkata person. It was the occasion to celebrate 100 years of our company’s presence in Bengal. So it was her idea to give back to the city, enhancing its already enhanced and enriched intellectual and literary scenario, so we started minimally in 2010. We started from a bookshop, which was already well-known and established amongst readers. We don’t just organize LitFest once a year, and we also do so many activities around the books throughout the year. We are delighted to bring this festival to Kolkata and celebrate many decades of our book store in Kolkata.”

“We also participate and collaborate with other LitFests like JLF and other festivals aboard, so we have grown organically. Around the book store, we have dozens of book initiatives that we promote. We have a Bengali literature festival, with only Bengali writers; we have Oxford Book Cover Prize, doing exceptionally well. We are fortunate that our book stores allow us to create different platforms that promote reading in different ways,” she added.

While Namita described JLF as the ‘greatest literary show on earth’ and added, “The Jaipur Literature Festival is a sumptuous feast of ideas. The past decade has seen it transform into a global literary phenomenon, having hosted over 2,000 speakers and welcoming over a million book lovers from across India and the globe. However, our core values remain unchanged: to serve as a democratic, non-aligned platform offering free and fair access. Every year, the festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.”

K. Satchidanandan explained, “We will have the sixth edition in January 2023. It is now one of the most prominent literary festivals in Asia. We have simultaneous programs on five platforms on five days and performances (music, dance, theatre) after the program every evening. Each year, one hall is dedicated to a film festival with a chosen theme held on Calicut beach. Generally, we have over 400 writers taking part in around 150 sessions, and the footfall last time crossed two hundred thousand. There is one focus country in every edition besides one non- Malayalam Indian language in focus.”

Further elaborating about the same, he added, “I have been heading the Sahitya Akademi for years and am well aware of the Indian literary scene, so choosing authors from other languages comes easy to me. We also look at prize-winning authors. Arundhati Roy is a regular participant; perhaps this is the only LitFest in India where she takes part. Self-published authors are a no-no. We also avoid openly communal writers and thinkers.”

Rashmi explained, “Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) was launched in 2014 to commemorate the Classical Language status given to Odia Language. The festival aims to make Bhubaneswar the next literary capital in India. Literature from different parts of India will complement the regional literature of Odisha, and we are hopeful of a creative and productive dialogue between and among literary genres and traditions. Besides the annual program under the aegis of KLF, it has three other popular festivals in its fold: Mystic Kalinga Festival, Kandhamal Literary Festival, and Maithili Literary Festival. KLF Book Awards, established by KLF in 2021, opens up the opportunities to identify, recognise, acknowledge, encourage and honour the literary talents across genres, for both established and new writers.”

As per Chetan, the HWR is a new muse for writers in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. This is because it was designed and built keeping writers in mind. So people come here to learn and to write.
Further elaborating about it, he added, “We host many workshops and learning events. Our workshops on writing fiction, non-fiction, blog, an content writing happen often and are very popular. We bring well-known experts like Arundhathi Subramaniam (Poetry Masterclass) and Sumit Bansal (Blogging) at the retreat for different kinds of writing. We also have many writers coming and staying at our place. Here, they find inspiration and write free from distractions.”

He added further, highlighting the key points, “Our programs are driven by what people want to learn. So we’re constantly trying new things. Some we continue with, others we drop. It can be a struggle in some fields – for example, we’ve not been able to find anyone good enough to teach scriptwriting. But we are lucky to have found fabulous teachers in many other areas, e.g. Kritika Pandey (Commonwealth short story prize overall winner, 2020) teaches our short-story writing masterclass.”

All in all, the LitFests across the country allow readers to connect with books, writers, and other book lovers. It is an ecosystem that nurtures new readers, especially the younger ones. And then there is the buzz of human interaction, shared energies, and the excitement of discovery.


festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.”

K. Satchidanandan explained, “We will have the sixth edition in January 2023. It is now one of the most prominent literary festivals in Asia. We have simultaneous programs on five platforms on five days and performances (music, dance, theatre) after the program every evening. Each year, one hall is dedicated to a film festival with a chosen theme held on Calicut beach. Generally, we have over 400 writers taking part in around 150 sessions, and the footfall last time crossed two hundred thousand. There is one focus country in every edition besides one non- Malayalam Indian language in focus.”

Further elaborating about the same, he added, “I have been heading the Sahitya Akademi for years and am well aware of the Indian literary scene, so choosing authors from other languages comes easy to me. We also look at prize-winning authors. Arundhati Roy is a regular participant; perhaps this is the only LitFest in India where she takes part. Self-published authors are a no-no. We also avoid openly communal writers and thinkers.”

Rashmi explained, “Kalinga Literary Festival (KLF) was launched in 2014 to commemorate the Classical Language status given to Odia Language. The festival aims to make Bhubaneswar the next literary capital in India. Literature from different parts of India will complement the regional literature of Odisha, and we are hopeful of a creative and productive dialogue between and among literary genres and traditions. Besides the annual program under the aegis of KLF, it has three other popular festivals in its fold: Mystic Kalinga Festival, Kandhamal Literary Festival, and Maithili Literary Festival. KLF Book Awards, established by KLF in 2021, opens up the opportunities to identify, recognise, acknowledge, encourage and honour the literary talents across genres, for both established and new writers.”

As per Chetan, the HWR is a new muse for writers in the Uttarakhand Himalayas. This is because it was designed and built keeping writers in mind. So people come here to learn and to write.
Further elaborating about it, he added, “We host many workshops and learning events. Our workshops on writing fiction, non-fiction, blog, an content writing happen often and are very popular. We bring well-known experts like Arundhathi Subramaniam (Poetry Masterclass) and Sumit Bansal (Blogging) at the retreat for different kinds of writing. We also have many writers coming and staying at our place. Here, they find inspiration and write free from distractions.”

He added further, highlighting the key points, “Our programs are driven by what people want to learn. So we’re constantly trying new things. Some we continue with, others we drop. It can be a struggle in some fields – for example, we’ve not been able to find anyone good enough to teach scriptwriting. But we are lucky to have found fabulous teachers in many other areas, e.g. Kritika Pandey (Commonwealth short story prize overall winner, 2020) teaches our short-story writing masterclass.”

All in all, the LitFests across the country allow readers to connect with books, writers, and other book lovers. It is an ecosystem that nurtures new readers, especially the younger ones. And then there is the buzz of human interaction, shared energies, and the excitement of discovery.

You might also like More from author

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.