Sunday, 24 February 2013

We Too Have A Literary Festival

In a blog post about an event, why do I have to write which sessions I attended or which books I bought? Do readers have to know? I wrote about the sessions and the books, then I thought I should delete the lines. Well, I guess, they give an indication of who I am, so I did keep them.

The event was the Hyderabad Literary Festival held from 18th to 20th January. Due to work I could not go on the first day. The festival was a mix of literary sessions during the day and dance/drama shows in the evenings. The venue, Maulana Azad National Urdu University offered a regal elegance to the festival.

Here’s the list of sessions I attended:
Panel: Indian Writing — At Home in the World? K Satchidanandan, Bill Ashcroft, Tabish Khair, T Vijay Kumar (Moderator) --- [SAT1]
Ramayana Stories : Paula Richman --- [SAT2]
In Conversation : Meena Alexander with Sachidananda Mohanty --- [SAT3]
Panel: Movies, magic, masti and the media. Krishna Shastri Devulapalli, Sekhar Kammula, Richa Lakhera, TS Sudhir (Moderator) --- [SAT4]
In Conversation : Vinod Mehta with Anvar Alikhan --- [SUN1]
Panel: Publish, don’t perish. Rajeevan, Kulpreet Yadav, Rasana Atreya (Moderator) --- [SUN2]
Open Forum: Why write? Meenu Mehrotra (Moderator), Mamta Anand (Initiator) --- [SUN3]
Oh Hyderabad, Ah Hyderabad : Readings by The Little Theatre --- [SUN4]
Valedictory --- [SUN5]

Now for some anecdotes. During SAT1, Bill Ashcroft said that if he had charged ten dollars whenever he was asked about post colonialism, he would have made a lot of money. Actually, I don’t have a clue of what it means and tried to understand what Bill talked. Here’s what he said -- it’s not a chronological or ontological term, rather it’s a way of reading. It had a powerful effect on global studies because of its transcultural and hybrid ways of describing global realities. A lot of writers are not studied as British writers or American writers but as post-colonial writers

Shekhar Kammula was supposed to come for [SAT4] but gave the miss. T. Sudhir started with a provocation by likening entertainment to a fraud. Richa Lakhera went on a rocket on this, but then she kept on talking and talking for every question trying to explain about reporting and editorialising without considering that most of the people in the audience were experienced and learned about these things and she kept on talking and talking so much so that her frenetic verbal incoherence was annoying at first and later amusing and then pathetic. Krishna Sastri Devulapalli, the eponymous grandson of the legendary Telugu poet, criticised film critics saying that they write about the movies in parts - how the songs are, how the plot is, how the action is and so on. I said, that’s how people here converse with friends and relatives on Friday evenings about a movie : Talk elagundi -- how is the talk? Typically the feedback would be dividing the movie into sections and telling about them. The first half is better than the second, or photography is very good, or the dances are good and so on. Finally concluding ‘you can see once’ or ‘it is ok to see if you are a fan’ and so on. The critics are just echoing these conversations happening in the society. I said what’s wrong if people analyse a movie about different aspects. Krishna Sastry said then we have to teach them about movie watching. I said that remark was condescending. Later during the tea break, we both again talked about it and he said he did not mean to be condescending about film audience through his remark. I said film critics are giving a recommendation to readers whether to watch a movie or not by discussing the various aspects. He said in that case they should be called as film recommenders not critics. I agreed.

Krishna Kranthi tried to get attention by wearing a t-shirt on with the words that he is the author of MBA is not about Money, Blazer, Arrogance. Some marketing gambit this.

In [SUN2] session, I asked what layered writing means. I first heard about it from Pinki Virani when she had launched her book ‘Deaf Heaven‘ in Hyderabad at Crossword. Pinki had said that critics tell her that her writing is layered. So, when I asked about layered writing, only Meenu Mehrotra replied that it means writing in different dimensions. The other panelists were not aware about it.

Got a few writing tips during [SUN3] and there was a lot of discussion about self-publishing. Publishers won’t take short fiction, but if you have a novel for publication, they will take your short fiction. Try to get published in as many literary magazines as possible. If you have a novel to be published then have an excerpt published in a literary magazine.

Here are some photos I took at the festival → Link

I am used to attending technology seminars and startup conferences. This literary festival being the first time for me, it was a different experience. First of all, there are more women in the literary world than the technology world. Secondly, the speakers have a kind of “flair” while expressing, not just with their vocabulary but with voice modulation and facial expressions. Of course, some overdo it to the extent that I felt they were retorting to flashy gimmicks and melodramatic emoting.

My discovery of the event was undoubtedly Paula Richman, who not only has extensive knowledge of Ramayana but Ramayanas. Particularly remarkable was the way in which she narrates the many modern variations and interpretations given to Ramayana and intersperses her story telling with interesting idioms. Example: Sita was spending what we would call ‘quality time in America’ with Rama.

It’s not just interesting writers and readers that you meet. There were a few stalls selling books. I did pick up two books : 1) Kanyasulkam by Gurjada Venkata Appa Rao, Translated by C Vijayasree & T Vijay Kumar, published in 2002 by The Book Review Literary Trust, New Delhi 2) Your Lover’s Beloved - 51 Ghazals by Hafez, Translated by Mahmood Karimi-Hakak and Bill Wolak, published in 2009 by Cross-Cultural Communications, New York.

A lot of sessions were sparsely filled, and I wondered whether the janatha do not find it worth the while to listen to writers or the venue is too far to reach or both.

As Drew Austin of Kneeling Bus blog writes about cities : ‘They’re the focal points of human civilization—where that civilization is made and where it manifests itself.’ Culture is the most important aspect of civilization. To quote Niall Ferguson : ‘Civilization is as much about scientists’ laboratories as it is about artists’ garrets.’ For Hyderabad to have a civilizational value and to shape the culture of a sub-nation, if I could call Andhra Pradesh so, then its literary festival has to be made resplendent, unique and a value-add to the social, political, and cultural agenda.

As it stands today, the fest has a very long way to go. In the minds of its inhabitants as well as those outside the state. Regarding the inhabitants, consider the crowds at Numaish or the book festival. Regarding outsiders, consider this - Hyderabad was not even mentioned by Nilanjana S Roy in her 18-Feb-2013 piece “Booklessness“ in the Business Standard. She wrote : In the last few years, Indias decided that it would develop its own literary circuit, from Jaipur in January through Shillong, Kolkata, Kovalam, Mumbai, Bangalore and Chennai back to Delhi in December.”

Well, well, Ms. Roy, we too have a literary festival. And we have just got started.

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