My first visit to a Literary Festival
10 random or reckless thoughts
Though I have been in Madras (I do not prefer to use the word Chennai) for 40 years I have not attended a single Literary Festival.
Today I attended the Ooty Literary Festival lured by the inclusion of ‘Ooty’ to the title. My humble impressions.
- Since I came to learning much later in life I was always overawed of ‘Writers’. Always images of Socrates or Karl Marx jumped to my mind. I have imagined writers to be kind of military generals determined to cleanse men and women and change society. But I was in for kind of little shock today. It appeared anyone could become a writer provided he or she could think of a marketable idea, write something, have it corrected by a copy editor and find a publisher who could make the cover more attractive than the book.
I was welcomed by two persons whom I could not recall of ever been associated with books or literature. I realized that they were merely trying to fill up the hall. Being a member of patron of Nilgiri Library is indeed like a Honorary Degree of Letters.
I learnt that the topic for a writer today is immaterial. It could be on global or local catastrophe or how to reduce your waist line or how you eat your ice-cream or view your cinema. It’s always man or mankind who are the villains; not you and me. I confessed to one man, probably a Writer, that my grandfather had 10 children but lived in a house of 600 sqft while I have no children but live in a house of 2000 sqft. If a native of Kotagiri could be so guilty of ‘over consumption’ why blame the world. Those I put the question slipped away; evidently their houses must be not less than 5000 sqft!!!
Literature, I thought, was for all classes. But Literary Festivals, it looked , are definitely for the higher classes. The writers mostly were in expected casuals (humility in dress at least) and the moderators were all in status-suits and fine silks befitting their rank and class. There were a sprinkling of middle class in the audience. Where are the poor? Are there no ‘Gana literature’? The oral and epic literature of the Badagas and Todas had been described by scholars as exceptionally unique and profound. Do they not merit a mention in the Literary Festival in their own soil?
This beautiful description of a LITFEST reflects the feelings of many like me, the Tamil medium [in school] types, who long to see and hear the ‘local liteaure of of Badagas and Todas’ being discussed. Since my knowledge on the Toda language is limited, I can vouch for the great and unique Badaga [mainly oral] literature. The Badaga ballads like Beradha Bellie, Koli Thippae , Udugu Jogi, Kara Chennae etc., can not only bring the best of human feelings but also reflects the life of tribals in those days in the Nilgiri hills much before any British or missionary ever came to ‘this unspoilt piece of paradise on earth’ – Wg.Cdr.JP
5. Literary, of course, means English first as most of the books were in English. There were the customary quota for linguistic literature and downtrodden literature to satisfy the ‘Quota culture’ of Indian equality.
- In addition, there were three stalls of poor Toda girls outside with their unsold stocks. The English called them ‘Lords of the Soil’. We call them ‘Scheduled Tribes’. English glorified their lifestyle. We have made them vendors.
The audience of high society and rich public school girls ( wonder why there were no boys!) were methodical in rushing to buy copies of authors immediately after every session and having them autographed like paying gifts or ‘moi’ in marriages. I doubt they will ever open the books.
Coming back to the sessions, the moderators can’t afford to be critics. They are all related to the organizers. They must justify the selection of writers or the presence of those who could be persuaded to come. So the moderators had to prompt and promote the writers just as a real estate agent promotes a plot which has remained unsold for long.
My biggest disappointment was that since it was called Ooty festival I expected them to speak about Ooty, Nilgiris and other local issues. Most writers had no time or interest in Nilgiris- ‘yes, I must look it up sometime’. That includes those who have been in the Nilgiris for years running resorts or some such things.
If a writer could ignore a place like Nilgiris, I wonder what on earth he or she could write about with purpose. There was no mention of John Sullivan who was the founder of everything about Nilgiris including the Nilgiri Library where the fest was organised.
- I conclude with my limited experience in reading. When I was college I was persuade to plod through ‘Brothers Karamazov’. I have not read a novel since then. Later I was persuaded to read the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. That completed my reading. To read any fiction after that I thought was being childish.