Bangalore Literature Festival 2023 – Observations and Inspiration
By Melanie P. Kumar | On December 11, 2023 | Updated December 22, 2023 | Comments (0)
It’s such a wonderful feeling to be part of the Bangalore Literature Festival, to know that you’re among kindred spirits — devoted book lovers. Here are some observations and personal reflections on Bangalore Literature Festival 2023.
We are all smiling at one other and find ourselves sharing thoughts with whomever is sitting next to you. It’s enchanting being at the sessions and as the authors talk about their books, you feel that you want to read each and every one of them.
And more than ever, you’re thinking of that book sitting inside your head waiting to be written and feeling inspired to give it a go.
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Our correspondent Melanie Kumar
at Bangalore Literature Festival 2023
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About Bangalore Literature Festival
From the Festival organizers:
“The Bangalore Literature Festival celebrates the creative spirit of Bengaluru and commemorates the literary diversity it offers, bringing it in conversation with the best minds in the world of literature. The 2023 edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival is a two-day literary extravaganza that will bring together some of the biggest names in literature – within and outside India.
The objective of the Bangalore Literature Festival is to put together a literary experience that brings writers – both established and aspiring, readers, publishers, students and young professionals and other stakeholders of the city together on a common platform and create a compelling space for engaging and thought-provoking discussions on literature and life.”
Stories from Everywhere (parts 1, 2, & 3): The Moderator, Nilanjan Choudhury, is brilliant in the way he draws in the authors and makes them speak about their stories. These are an eclectic bunch of writers drawn from across the country who have employed the short story format, which according to Nilanjan encapsulates brevity at its best.
The Kashmiri author who has translated from her uncle Harikrishna Kaul’s stories says that the stories come out of one square mile of space and deal with abandonment, alienation, repression of female sexuality and could be termed every person’s story.
The author who has been translated from the Telugu comes from an agricultural family of Dalits (oppressed class and lowest in India’s caste hierarchy) is an activist and feminist and hence is able to look at gender and caste through a different lens.
Another author in the panel says that she opted for a different genre, involving fantasy elements, which she wrote based on her family stories. She says that the emotional impact of these stories, poured out from her in fiction form, over a decade. She did not stress too much about how they would link together in an anthology.
The author from Orissa was different in that she is a serving bureaucrat. Coming from a family where both parents wrote in Oriya, she says that she is better known for her writing than her profession. She says that she thinks that stories are love affairs and she wants to be in one all the time.
The Manipuri author hailing from a conflict zone says that she needs to tell stories that combine genres and also reflect the reality of the society that she lives in. Her very pertinent observation is about how she feels a connection with all the authors in the panel, as if she knows them all from their stories.That to me is the magic of storytelling.
Not Above the Law Session: The journalist/author Manoj Mitta is known to do painstaking research and his latest book on caste brings out the structural inequality of judgements in India and the impunity with which upper castes get away with crimes including rape. The denial of justice to marginalized communities is the thrust of his findings and one can feel the empathy in his arguments.
The others on the panel are lawyers and academics and, in their views, occasionally sound like how they may be speaking in the courts. This panel leaves one with a feeling of disappointment, as they don’t seem to hold out much hope for ordinary citizens in an authoritarian regime.
Meter and Magic, Poetry Reading Session: This is a different kind of session, as the poets come up and perform, some doing so with a great deal of aplomb. Some of the interesting lines that I jotted down:
“Spotless in lifeless.”
“Their hold is real, much more than words reveal.”
“I protest metaphors of love … I protest the question, ‘why do I write’?”
“Your strength is in your silence, mine in my words.”
“Weighed down by the cargo of the past … a room that is not weighed down by yesterday’s conversations.”
“What is the point of it all?”
“What you call reality, is virtual reality?”
“Why are words like this?”
“What if I had no skin, what if I am the barometer?”
“Poetry silenced–died of a heart attack.”
Winners and runners-up of the Deodar Prize: A new prize was instituted this year in partnership with the Bangalore Literature Festival, The Bombay Literary Magazine and Hammock.
Winner: Srividya Tadepalli for “Funeral for a Demon.”
Runners-Up: Samruddhi Ghodgaonkar- “Bats of Paradise.”
Ratul Ghosh: “Ants.”
Plotting Emotion; the Alchemy of Words: The Moderator, Udayan Mitra of Harper Collins, said that his panel had four of the most exciting authors to read.
A first-time woman author in her non-fiction book based on interviews said that she discovered that politics in India is not about binaries and that she wrote keeping these complexities in mind.
The doctor author in the panel said that she started with writing for children and then short stories. She had no idea about publishing and her then Editor had no notion about Coorg, the place that she first located her stories in.
A senior author cum academic spoke about her early struggles when she had to deal with rejections and learnt to pare down her words till Faber finally accepted her novel. She also spoke that whilst being at publicity events was unavoidable, her greatest joy lay in sitting in a room and writing and that she never wrote with a readership in mind but because she had something to say.
A U.S.-based academic and author, spoke about how he tries to blur the lines between fiction and non-fiction and how each day of one’s life is a little story.
Ad Man/Mad Man: Prahlad Kakkar, who had a very successful career in advertising launched his autobiography at BLF 2023. The interview was irreverent, and the book promises to be a laugh riot. “Learn to laugh at yourself,” is the advice that he doled out to the audience.
I Hate Love Stories: The most interesting thing that emerged from this panel is the changing landscape of the characterization of an Indian woman. A sports journalist author spoke about how the right mentor can lift up your writing, while the opposite can happen too.
Another author in this panel lamented on how authoritarianism is crushing society and how digital connectivity has made one realize the similarities that exist across the world. An author who has written about a bisexual woman spoke about how writing this book helped her to have this difficult conversation with her own orientation.
One author spoke about how she liked to challenge herself by bringing in aspects like French philosophy or magical realism. One interesting comment on character formation brought in this line “wanted to kill the Alpha male forever.”
The authors also spoke about creating grey women characters and even having a woman protagonist, who is disliked — quite a change from the earlier days of creating women who had to be liked by all, just as it is in real life.
Mirch Masala: On the Indian food trail: All the authors here seemed to agree that authenticity in cooking is a fraught term, as recipes travel from borders to kitchens and across states too and evolve in the process. Another interesting focus was on how foods that are used in India presently like red chilies and potatoes are actually imports.
Creating Worlds: Curating Art and Literature: The curators in this panel, narrated their experiences with bringing forth aspects of India, which is a land of stories and telling these stories employing different formats.
What emerged also was the need to showcase the raw edges of art, without the need for camouflage and application of an inter-disciplinary approach. There was also a valid suggestion to not let festival panels become TikTok memes by restricting the time to just half an hour.
Listen, I Will Tell You: This session involved a free-flowing chat with award-winning Author and Academic, the 87-year-old, Chandrashekhara Kambar with fellow academic and author, Basavaraj Kalgudi. Kambar read excerpts from his novel with a great deal of emotion.
Fields of Fire: Conflicts around the world are discussed, with retired diplomats and an academician in conversation with a journalist. Understandably, with two retired diplomats and an academic on the panel, a lot of heat was generated on this panel.
The conflict in Gaza seemed to hold sway with Israel coming in for a huge amount of criticism over its pounding of Palestine’s civilian population. The international community has no fig leaf to protect itself from the flouting of all established laws and norms.
The Secret History, On Writing Fiction: Lead on by an accomplished Moderator, the feminist publisher, Urvashi Butalia, this panel served up many insights. The vulnerabilities of women who write and their courage came up for discussion.
Also of importance was mention of international award-winning writers like Salman Rushdie, Arundhati Roy, and Kiran Desai, who helped to gain acceptance for writing Indian English that no longer needed foot-noting to explain local nuances and expressions.
Sakina’s Kiss: Kannada author and English translator interviewed- An informative session on the conversation between a successful Kannada novel being translated into English and the process that actually creates two different novels.
The Tharoor Connection: Author/politician in conversation with his sister. This session had the audience lapping up every word, as author/diplomat and Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor, chatted with his sister, Smitha, about their love for the English language and the written word.
They claimed that their father was the original inventor of the popular Wordle game, as he threw clues at them on long car journeys. The hall was jam-packed with people squatting on the floor and on the aisle, making Shashi the rock-star author of BLF 2023.
Hindi bole toh bole ke ganwar hai: Translating as “If I speak Hindi. I am considered a bumpkin.” A singing performance in Hindi by Kavish Seth, with funny and philosophical lyrics and a reminder of the diversity of India with its many languages of which English is just one.
Contributed by Melanie P. Kumar: Melanie is a Bangalore, India-based independent writer who has always been fascinated with the magic of words. Links to some of her pieces can be found at gonewiththewindwithmelanie.wordpress.com.