Literature Festival & the Sham that we witness

Literature Festival and the sham we witness

I have to write this because I have been very keen on following the recent developments in the field of literary festivals and that business, which I can frankly say because it has become so – a field of business with great opportunities! I was just curious and anxious and also nervous when I saw Mr Raghuram Rajan participating in a literary festival organised by a big media house recently. He was facing the questions of Sagarika Ghose (an author to be called and many other things well-known to the world). When the questions of Economics and Politics and personal agendas came on the desk, I was just shaken! If that’s literature, why not call all the mathematicians of the country and solve some Calculus problems? Would not that make a good literary spectacle?

In the recent years, the sham that is being carried in the name of lit-fests is just too apparent and visible enough to be deciphered by the common people as well. Why did it happen and how did it happen are not the questions to be asked. We just need to worry if this continues in the same fashion. How much of politics should be allowed to interfere in the mainstream literature (if that is at all left today)? This question is not new; it has been there for long. The literary fraternity has been searching for the appropriate answer to meet the incessant demands of this question; unfortunately, we have not yet found that.

Literature, in India (and maybe worldwide too), seems to be divided into different sections – this is left-leaning literature; this is elite literature; this is right-ringing literature; this is entertaining literature; this is cheaply entertaining literature and so on and so forth! I just wonder – where is the literature? I am sure those who are in the same way I am coming from will surely concur with my thoughts and my amazement on this. I have been looking for literature in different literary festivals but found it nowhere because these festivals are no more literary and we see an injection of a far too much political content in these ‘mega-events’ that take place periodically.

There are certain lobbies that organise these literary festivals and the list of speakers or the schedule of the events are full of the programs that suit their ideology. I still remember that Tarek Fatah, who is an established author and far more intellectual than those claim to be eminent intellectuals but end up behaving like notorious goons, wasn’t allowed to enter in an event which was organised by Rekhta. I can see clearly which are the authors who are ignored when such an event is organised by ZEE group. So, if your ideology doesn’t match mine let’s forget the literature and keep it in the background. Have we made things like this? We seriously need to answer the question.

The thing that pains me the most is also the system that we have created. Where are new and deserving authors? Why are the ones in the background always kept in the background? Why is there a kind of bar that just forbids promising and deserving authors from entering such gatherings and groups and communities? More than twenty authors I know who are capable of writing the fiction which will be a million times better than the ones which are produced by the bigger brands in the field of writing today. When will they get their chances to attend some honourary lit fest?

Moreover, other than organising the events in the name of literature festivals and grinding their personal axes, won’t it be useful if the authors who are established could sit together and talk to those who are just thinking about their careers in writing? How wonderful would it be if an author like Jeet Thayil could get a direct opportunity to interact with the audience (mostly the future authors) without any wall of elitist category separating them? How much the authors talk about the art and craft of writing? Then, this question also emerges when we think of these innovative ideas. Authors are happy talking about bollywood and politics and their personal life and we are happy calling these PR exercises a lit fest!

Hail! Hail!

opinions expressed by Alok Mishra