Mini JLFs sprouting throughout India. Lit fest growth in Nagpur, Ranchi, Kanpur, Indore, Kokrajhar


Jaipur Literature Competition has been referred to as the Mahakumbh of literature, the best literary present on Earth, an enormous fats Punjabi marriage ceremony and a industrial networking occasion. It even received a brand-new worldwide version on the Eden-like white sand coast of Baa Atoll within the Maldives this summer time. As JLF went international, literature festivals in India are going native—past state capitals and metropolises to small aspirational cities like Mysuru, Panchkula, Jhansi, Gurgaon, Nagpur, Indore, Kishanganj, Noida, Meerut, Shimla, Kokrajhar, Puducherry, Pune, Madurai, Shillong, Itanagar, Jodhpur and Chandigarh.

As the ‘remainder of India’ turns into more and more modern, lit fests are additionally on the lookout for new frontiers. There are no less than 65 lit fests in India now, a rising testomony to a long time of neglect of smaller cities and regional languages, and large starvation for cultural occasions. The shift now coincides with the rise of small cities within the public consciousness, common tradition, politics and financial development.

“Versus bigger cities, the place individuals have quite a lot of choices and going to a literary occasion is the very last thing an individual would need to do, individuals in tier-2 and tier-3 cities actively search them out. They’re extra critical with regards to literature. And so even the authors actually like to go to them,” says Apra Kuchhal, honorary convenor on the Prabha Khaitan Basis which helps literature festivals in Kanpur, Indore, Gujarat and Kolkata, amongst others.

Regional authors, native celebrities, film stars and cultural czars are most frequently the headliners of those occasions. Nagpur’s Orange Metropolis Literary Competition has boasted the presence of journalist and author Vaibhav Purandare, actor Darshan Jariwala, late historian and theatre artist Balwant Moreshwar Purandare and meals vlogger Laksh Dadwani. In Panchkula, author and journalist Vani Kaushal, writer Milan Vohra, and even legendary photographer Raghu Rai have made an look. In the meantime, in Puducherry, dwelling minister A.Namassivayam, Swarajya Journal editor Aravindan Neelakandan and author and authorities official Ma Venkatesan have been actively concerned year-on-year within the Union territory’s literary pageant.

A stall at a literary festival in Delhi sells books by and about B.R. Ambedkar and other Dalit icons. Details like these are critical for festivals to further their reach and influence. | Photo Credit: Dalit Literature Festival 2020
A stall at a literary pageant in Delhi sells books by and about B.R. Ambedkar and different Dalit icons. Particulars like these are crucial for festivals to additional their attain and affect. | Picture Credit score: Dalit Literature Competition 2020

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India’s altering ‘litscape’

India’s big-ticket tryst with literary fests started solely about 20 years in the past. The Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led Bharatiya Janata Get together (BJP) authorities had determined it needed to rejoice the Nobel Prize awarded to V. S. Naipaul (2002) within the historical historic city Neemrana, about 150 kilometres from Jaipur, town that has change into synonymous with trendy India’s literary prowess.

However the ‘litscape’ has modified drastically for the reason that Worldwide Competition of Indian Literature, hosted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, introduced the likes of Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Nayantara Sahgal and Hanif Kureishi beneath one roof for the primary time.

However Jaipur Lit Fest, synonymous with Sanjoy Ok. Roy, Willian Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale, is what welded books with glamour, literature with performative intellectualism.

After many editions of extravagant aptitude, the massive gala was scaled again this 12 months within the Maldives to rejoice ‘sluggish life’ by turning the thought of ‘up shut and private’ on its head, for a sum of solely $7,200—Rs 5.7 lakh. “India’s mushrooming literary festivals have 4 defining ‘fashions’ that kind their core—cash, egos, movie star and property,” based on Sanjeev Chopra, director of the Valley of Phrases Worldwide Literary Competition. 

Neglect golden triangles or quadrilaterals, there’s a literary apeirogon rising throughout the subcontinent. Nevertheless it’s all in regards to the sum of its elements—and it’s wanted now greater than ever. With leaders internationally declaring a conflict on levels that ‘don’t improve incomes potential and employability, the accountability of preserving tradition, arts and humanities weighs heavy on these festivals. It has change into “as vital as water is to a fish,” says Janhavi Prasada, festival director of Himalayan Echoes. “Literature makes us human; it creates a way of acceptance of the others’ phrase, considering, reflections, creativity and all of it filters all the way down to a way of freedom with accountability.”

Kolkata, Delhi, Bangalore, Goa, Kozhikode, Lucknow, Bhubaneswar, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Dehradun, Thiruvananthapuram and Ahmedabad are simply among the main cities internet hosting a number of literary festivals in India. However others aren’t far behind. Srinagar, Bhopal, Patna and Ranchi have all had a lit fest beneath their belts too. Nonetheless, not all of them have sustained past their preliminary years or have, for the reason that Covid-19 pandemic, opted for a web based method.


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Valleys to coasts—fests with a spotlight

From Nainital’s ‘boutique’ Himalayan Echoes pageant held at Abbotsford Heritage Resort to Insan faculty—as soon as India’s mannequin residential instructional establishment—which performs host to Seemanchal literary pageant in Bihar’s border city of Kishanganj, lit fests are additionally highlighting the interlacing between cities and literature.

A gathering of people at a literary event in Nainital, Uttarakhand. Many festival directors prefer a smaller crowd to create an 'intimate affair' between authors and the audience. Photo Credit: Himalayan Echoes festival
A gathering of individuals at a literary occasion in Nainital, Uttarakhand. Many pageant administrators desire a smaller crowd to create an ‘intimate affair’ between authors and the viewers. | Picture Credit score: Himalayan Echoes pageant

Aside from the occasional huge identify, most panels comprise regional writers and people engaged within the cultural scene—names not essentially recognized throughout India. This 12 months’s North-East Lit Fest in Arunachal Pradesh featured writers Upen Rabha Hakacham, Munish Singh and Bipul Regon, amongst others; and Himalayan Echoes turned a platform for writers like Tarana Khan, Aneel Bisht and Shekhar Pathak—who’ve now change into regulars in lit fest circuits.

Not simply locations or writers, literary festivals are lending themselves to spotlight the causes of marginalised communities and cultures as effectively. Assam’s Kokrajhar Literary Competition, as an example, celebrates the lived realities of ‘minor’ languages reminiscent of Rabha and Yerava. Equally, Delhi’s Jashn-e-Rekhta—the world’s largest Urdu language pageant—is a celebration of Urdu by means of ghazals, Sufi concert events, ‘qawwali’ (Sufi devotional music) and ‘dastaangoi’(storytelling)

Yearly at Mumbai’s Nationwide Centre for Performing Arts, regional writers come collectively for an unique occasion meant just for them—The Gateway Litfest. The programme started in 2015, in response to the declining footprint of native writers featured in literary festivals. However others are nonetheless near their roots. Playwright Yash Vyas (Gamti Vaat) and translations of Pannalal Patel’s Jindagi Sanjeevani made their method to the Gujarat literary pageant this 12 months. Final 12 months, the Gulmarg Lit Fest in Jammu and Kashmir did the identical. Dogri, Pahari, Gojri and Punjabi authors and books had been the first focus. Dogri Sahitya Akademi Award winners Lalit Magotra, Sita Ram Sapolia and Darshan Darshi had been among the many audio system on the literary pageant. 

A number of faculty festivals additionally make an look within the must-attend literary pageant ‘circuits’ of the nation. Just lately, the cancellation of Aligarh Muslim College’s literary pageant turned the topic of political scrutiny. Delhi College’s Kirori Mal School has additionally been internet hosting a first-of-its-kind Dalit Literature Competition since 2019 for ‘a parallel, change-oriented literary discourse by which Dalits, tribals, denotified tribes, ladies, minorities and pasmanda communities’ are the mainstays.

The Queer LitFest in Chennai, which started in 2018, was the primary of its form to “convey collectively political and literary values of the works that play an vital function within the lives of queer individuals…and create alternatives for queer writers, translators and artists who’re in any other case invisibilised or ignored in numerous literary platforms.” (the web site says that) Since then, the Awadh Queer Literature Competition in Lucknow and Rainbow Lit Fest in Delhi have additionally picked up the baton.

Literary festivals are additionally making surroundings and local weather the central focus of their occasion. “Himalayan Echoes is the one mountain pageant in India that has ‘surroundings’ at its core. That’s the reason I additionally name it the ‘surroundings pageant’ of India,” says Prasada. In 2021, Bengaluru-based Inexperienced LitFest additionally emerged as a platform that hosted occasions and panel discussions solely on the topic.

Though most organisers deny that there are mainstream and different types of lit fests rising all through India, the emphasis on ‘high quality’ stays fixed. However reaching that’s usually akin to a tightrope stroll.


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Using the tide

“The primary couple of years is make-or-break for literary festivals,” Chopra explains, “it’s right here that it’s a must to attain out to the communities and get as a lot assist as potential. It helps in case you have a robust board of administrators taking it ahead. However within the preliminary years, it’s all about reducing prices.”

Most Indian literary festivals depend on company sponsorships, venue companions and foundations for assist. They usually must have sustained their actions for no less than 5 years earlier than they change into eligible for financial schemes by the federal government and tax concessions. In 2019, Occasions Lit Fest Mumbai was cancelled and Chennai’s Hindu Lit for Life was indefinitely postponed due to a dearth of sponsors.

Location plays an important role in literary festivals across India. The 2015 Kumaon Lit Fest held at Te Aroha boutique resort in Dhanachuli showed off the scenic hills of Uttarakhand. | Photo Credit: Facebook/@KumaonLitFestival
Location performs an vital function in literary festivals throughout India. The 2015 Kumaon Lit Fest held at Te Aroha boutique resort in Dhanachuli confirmed off the scenic hills of Uttarakhand. | Picture Credit score: Fb/@KumaonLitFestival

“Conserving languages and literature can’t be achieved alone,” says Apra Kuchhal, Honorary Convenor on the Prabha Khaitan Basis, which helps literature festivals in Kanpur, Indore, Gujarat and Kolkata, amongst others.

Language is an index of tradition. If languages are preserved and guarded, the tradition’s protected. That is our goal. So, as a bunch of like-minded individuals, foundations step ahead to collaborate and join—to seek out options to societal issues. Our basis believes in ‘scaling deeper’—to show aims like these into the society’s new regular,” she provides.   

Even now, most huge literary festivals in India function at a break-even value, typically incurring losses. “Pandemic has worsened the state of affairs,” says author and literary marketing consultant Atul Ok. Thakur, who’s on the board of main literary festivals in India and Nepal. 

Transferring on-line has given a brand new lease of life to literary fests that confronted funds crunch and have expanded their viewers base. Publicity from podcasts, YouTube channels and social media pages has drawn extra firms into investing. “All of us went 100 per cent digital for the 2 years of the pandemic and that was a beautiful perception into the numbers sport. Absolutely, the outreach is phenomenal, however I might not commerce the bodily avatar of the pageant for the digital world. A mixture of each is finest,” says Prasada.


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A blended bag

As a lot as literary festivals are a celebration of literature, they will additionally typically seem as a industrial train. A excessive variety of attendees doesn’t at all times imply that the occasion has been a hit, or that the hole between authors and readers has been bridged. 

In an article in EPW, writer Jerry Pinto illustrates how typically panels are put collectively with out thought, the interplay between writers and viewers is banal and why publishers and brokers are lacking from the occasions. Creator Amrita Shah additionally factors out in a Scroll. in article that “over the past decade or so the carnivalesque, celebratory and spectacular method to concepts and literature has come to occupy a disproportionately dominant house in our lives.”

Attendees posing with the decorations at a lit festival in Ahmedabad. From Facebook reels to Insta 'glamshots'—literary events are also becoming a space GenZs are boasting about on their social media. | Photo Credit: Gujarat Literary Festival
Attendees posing with the decorations at a lit pageant in Ahmedabad. From Fb reels to Insta ‘glamshots’—literary occasions are additionally changing into an area GenZs are boasting about on their social media. | Picture Credit score: Gujarat Literary Competition

Typically, the periods are packed into tight schedules, and particular person ones are sometimes too transient to convey an thought. “Downside for extra introspective individuals like me is that you just can not concentrate on something or anybody specifically. It could possibly change into all hi-bye, selfie clicks and social media posts,” echoes writer Monideepa Sahu, who was a speaker on the Bangalore literature pageant in 2018 and 2019.

Atul Ok. Thakur, amongst different organisers, is cautious of the risk that diverging from literary targets poses. “The answer lies in bridging the hole between notion and actuality. Lit fests shouldn’t be misused as solely networking platforms for getting dangerous manuscripts printed and run by means of PR networks,” he says. Nonetheless, Thakur provides, “not many gamers within the fray are making huge cash out of lit fests. Most of them are struggling heaps.”

Although cultural festivals emerged in Eighties Europe as a response to the necessity to promote cities, the Roman “bread and circuses” staging of India’s literary festivals seems slightly totally different. Sure, there may be chai and charcha, but it surely’s basically cities and communities battling it out for consideration, publicity, and sustenance. Whereas some have been capable of efficiently collect simply sufficient patrons to outlive, others just like the Kumaon literary pageant—even when not on the identical scale as JLF—are leaving their properties and “travelling” to locations like Kashmir and Goa.

“Literature festivals have change into the brand new style present,” Apra Kuchhal says, “the issue with Gen-Z viewers is that lit fests have change into a life-style for them. People who find themselves not even fascinated by literature flock to these occasions.”

This text is a part of ThePrint’s collection on present tendencies within the e-book publishing trade. Learn the collection right here.

(Edited by Zoya Bhatti)





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