Winters in Lucknow are always a delightful time. Although the nip in the air these days is marred by smog and pollution, there is still a lingering charm that clings to the early winter days that seem to signal the arrival of good times.
It was therefore fitting that Women Writers’ Fest came to Lucknow on a bright, sunny day in November and turned it into a literary extravaganza that just seem to fit the spirit of Avadh and its winters.
A lot has already been written about the incisive, enlightening and delightful panel discussions of the day. But for me, it was the emotional undertones and the feeling of mutual camaraderie that were the most memorable part of the festival and all the conversations it facilitated. As a panelist, it gave me a chance to bring home my experiences as a writer to an audience that was perceptive and steeped in the feminist literary traditions of our city. It also gave me a chance to dig deeper into the contemporary writing culture of the city.
In a way, the fest gave me a rare opportunity to strengthen my connection with my roots which often tend to get ignored in the rush of our cosmopolitan times. It gave me a chance to reconnect with old friends and find new ones. No wonder, the whole experience was memorable, delightful and at some level extremely overwhelming. It was like coming home to a place I had never really left, and yet had lost sight of.
As a panelist, it gave me a chance to bring home my experiences as a writer to an audience that was perceptive and steeped in the feminist literary traditions of our city. It also gave me a chance to dig deeper into the contemporary writing culture of the city.
As an audience, my experience at the festival was all the more enchanting. True to its commitment, it was a day all about women and their experiences across spectrums including and beyond writing. The rich feminist history and tradition of Lucknow, a lot of which unfortunately remains criminally under-appreciated, became a powerful fulcrum as the conversations veered from Begum Hazrat Mahal to Begum Akhtar to Mehru Jaffer and Madhavi Kuckreja who themselves were present at the fest, injecting their inimitable feistiness into the day’s many discussions.
The venue of the fest, the legendary Habibullah Estate, provided the ideal context to the day with its rich history and feminist roots in the legacy of the likes of Atiya Hosain. The running theme through the day was a kind of nostalgia for the times when progressive, liberal ideology was an aspirational virtue and not an anti-national vice, and when feminism wasn’t a troll maligned click-bait but an ideology that shaped destinies and influenced nationalist movements.
It was a sign of the strange times that we live in, that the discussions during the day made us all envious of the times gone by, times far less advanced than us and yet in ways, far richer in values and ideologies they harbored. The panels repeatedly harked back to the time when Lucknow was the hotbed of progressive nationalism and liberal intellectuals. It was a reminder of our legacy as both litterateurs and feminists as much as it was a comforting reinforcement of the fact that despite the dilutions and modern day corruptions, we still are a city that to a great extent values and nurtures its intellectual traditions.
By all accounts, the festival was a success not just because it brought together some of the finest minds in the city, but because it truly imbibed and exuded the spirit of Avadh in all its feminine glory.
Poetry and shayari were an integral part of most panels, showcasing Lucknow’s Zubaani Tehzeeb and injecting a much needed romance, chutzpah and gentleness into the days’ proceedings. In the panel, aptly called the Raseedi Ticket, poems and sher by noted panelists like Naseem Nikhat and Naresh Saxena became a vehicle of angst and grit of the modern writers, highlighting the challenges of ensuring the survival of regional literature.
Balancing the romance of literature with the pragmatism of modern existence, the fest rather astutely juxtaposed the more esoteric panels with instructive knowledge sharing sessions on fitness, finance and social media spearheaded by industry experts like Pooja Makhija, Kiran Manral and Shaili Chopra. Capping the day with a very interesting panel on the state of the current education system, the fest concluded on a high note, encompassing the many themes and contradictions that are integral to the life and times of women, specifically women writers, in India. By all accounts, the festival was a success not just because it brought together some of the finest minds in the city, but because it truly imbibed and exuded the spirit of Avadh in all its feminine glory. And that alone is a reason for all of us to already start looking forward to its next edition in Lucknow!
Runjhun Noopur, an ex-corporate lawyer, an entrepreneur, a Kathak dancer and a writer, whose debut novel Nirvana in a Corporate Suit is just out. Noopur’s short story ‘Braid of Honour’ was recently adjudged as one of the three winners of the prestigious DWL International Short Story Competition, 2018. The views expressed are the author’s own.