The Times Literary Carnival | December 2012
I don’t know if I should call it a Literary Fest or a literary feast! The last three days have been a one-of-a-kind experience for me. I missed out on the festival last year but more than made up for it this year. Each year the Times of India organizes this festival in Mumbai. The ambience at Mehboob Studios was super-awesome. The fact that every second person you bump into is either a scholar, historian, author, poet, film-maker or litterateur, made this an invigorating experience!
My boss was kind enough to give me a day-off as the Carnival started on a Friday!
On the first day the session I enjoyed the most was the conversation between literary stalwart Anita Desai and her award-winning daughter Kiran Desai. Chikki Sarkar- Publisher, Penguin India was the moderator of the show. What I really liked about the Desai duo was their simplicity and commitment. When they spoke- one could understand their commitment to writing and the earnestness in their dedication to their work.
Anita Desai confessed to being a loner. She beautifully explained that no matter how social a life a writer leads, s/he would have to delve deep within and shut doors to the outside world while penning their thoughts. It is a private affair and their was so much earnestness in the way she conveyed this! It made me think – is this the reason I am not able to write as much as I always wanted to? Am I not finding my lone corner? The answer was – No, I have just been lazy.
Anyway.. shifting to Kiran Desai. She is another exemplary icon. Kiran was even more soft-spoken than her mother. Both of them spoke very less and I wondered how they expressed themselves so well when they wrote. They have written so much! So one more lesson learned is – speak less, write more.
Kiran Desai also went on to explain that disciplining oneself as a writer is not easy. I mean, writing around 6 hours a day, spending some more hours reading the drafts.. and doing that for months.. or rather years together… that’s not easy. It’s funny but ‘reading’ is far more interesting than ‘writing’. But again, the joy of writing can only be experienced by a writer! The happiness you feel after completing a chapter after months of struggle – the reader wouldn’t understand that. But as long as the writing has evoked an emotion in the reader’s mind (happiness, sadness for instance) – it is a job well done. Kiran mentioned that she shows her work drafts to her mother before sending to the editor. If she sent it to too many people and took their views and start implementing their thoughts – she would never be able to complete her work. Thought provoking! Anita on the other hand mentioned that she recently started sharing her final drafts with her daughter. Otherwise, she never shared them with anyone but the editor. Her writing is her private world and she likes keeping it that way till it becomes ‘public’.
Day 1 of the Carnival was very interesting and inspiring. For one, it brought me back to this blog of mine which I have been neglecting for quite some time now.
I also attended Katherine Boo’s session earlier. There was so much happening in all the venues that I didn’t know which one to pick and which to drop. Besides, authors were available at the coffee shops outside to interact with the audience. That was another nice experience too. It’s always good to talk to authors, and meeting legends like Anita Desai – made me a very happy soul today.
There was a session with Sania Mirza, one with noted historian Ramachandra Guha and several others illuminating literati.
I wanted to stay back for Usha Uttup’s show in the evening too. But hanging around at Mehboob studio all alone all day – I wanted to rush back home when I still had some energy left and write a bit.
It’s just growing better. For me, today’s main attraction was the talk show of the script writers Anusha Rizvi, Urmi Juvekar and Juhi Chaturvedi. I wanted to hear Juhi especially as Vicky Donor is a movie I thoroughly enjoyed. She wasn’t able to make it to the Fest unfortunately. But Anusha and Urmi more than made for her absence. The former is the writer-director of Peepli Live and the latter wrote Shanghai. The ladies’ points of views were sharp and effective. The moderator posed a question similar to what was asked to the Desais yesterday – are authors lonely soles? They both agreed- unless authors carve out their own lonely zone and build a fort round it, they can never settle down and nurse their ideas and express them in words. So, being lonely or rather spending time alone is very important.
I also managed to peep inside the other auditorium overflowing with people – William Dalrymple was presenting Mughal paintings and rulers there. I suddenly remembered my days at www.oxfordbookstore.com. How I cherished reading Dalrymple and writing short reviews of his books! This was surely a 'history' day for me as soon after this, Dr. Ramachandra Guha was launching his new book at the Carnival. Noted historian and prolific writer, Dr. Guha’s writing is bound to move you. I don’t know if this is a history student speaking but the way Dr. Guha paints India and makes history relevant to the current day is exemplary. He is a great presenter and his oratory kept the audience engaged till the end. We didnt get a place to sit - the auditorium was packed!
After this past-paced session, we needed a lunch break. After 1.5 hours- we were back at Mehboob Studios. William Dalrymple’s session on India and Afghanistan – 1839-42 was a thought-provoking session. A result of the scholar’s research over multiple years, the presentation and book launch saw a full-house.
But to me- the best part of today was the session called ‘Mythology to PowerPoint’- Business and Mythology. The speakers were Devdutt Pattnaik and Santosh Desai. It was a brilliant session and especially for people like us – who are an integral part of the corporate world. Pattnaik’s sense of wit set the floor roaring with laughter. His logic and the brilliance with which he made mythology relevant to current Indian economics and polity was astonishing! It’s as simple as – asking someone in a meeting – would you prefer a Ram (follow rules) or a Krishna (break rules). He clearly established in less than an hour how our master epics are a part of our lives and how changing the society cannot happen unless ‘we’ change ourselves. The institution (non-living thing) cannot change if we (living beings) are rigid with our thought-process. He was duly accompanied, supported and challenged by Santosh Desai. When the session got over, we thought it should have continued for some more time.
There was fun and comedy – with Ranbir Shorey and Vinay Pathak reading sessions. Nandita Das was also present in another talk-show. The Mehboob studio lawn was constantly hosting one workshop after the other- some for children and some for all. The whole experience was very inspiring and mood-uplifitng. For once, I was back to my college days where we were surrounded with debates, cultural activities, literary fests, music contests and so on.
I am soo looking forward to the final day tomorrow. I have been missing the evening sessions which generally have a live performance by a rock-group/band or noted musicians/singers. But I get tired and after the day- I feel like running home and penning down my experience. So am happy.
Day 3 was a delight too. I ended up attending a session which was unexpected. At 9.30am, it was Arvind Kejriwal in conversation with Arnab Goswami. Am not sure why this session was a part of the Literary Carnival – perhaps to pull the crowd. And it did! The turnout for this event was massive. I hadn’t seen so many people in any other auditorium in the last few days. Kejriwal spoke like a winner and the crowd responded to everything he said. Whether I agree with his ideals and school of thought or not is a different question altogether. But he was a crowd puller for sure- and very motivating when he spoke. Loved the session.
This 2 hour session ate into the next session’s time. The next one was equally interesting. It was a discussion between Barkha Dutt and Chetan Bhagat on ‘What today’s youth want-Naukri and Chhokri’. Mind-blowing session! The auditorium was overflowing with youngsters. On the other hand, a lot of senior citizens attended the session too, which was very heartening. These two youth icons pepped up the spirits of the audience and people laughed and laughed when Bhagat spoke. His sense of comic timing is amazing and I was very happy to be part of this one.
There were more. Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi in conversation; another auditorium hosting Mira Nair. There was Suketu Mehta’s slot too and one more by Devdutt Patnaik. The session on graphic novels was a novel concept. We attended as many as we could and retired very happy and content at the end of the day. It was a long extended weekend very happily spent.
I look forward to more such festivals going forward. There was no glamor or glitterati here. One would see illustrious authors, thoughtful filmmakers, newbie writers, acclaimed historians, popular journalists, established publishers – all finding a common forum at this Carnival. There was no queuing up or paying money to meet your favorite stars. Authors were available to chat at the lounges and coffee shops. The ambience was pleasant, peaceful and inspiring. This is the kind of milieu every author and writer wants to be part of.