India’s major literature festivals are powered by women
Special Feature by Surya HK
It’s Lit Fest season. Yes, it’s that time of the year when thousands of readers (and many more non-readers) across the country are all set to attend an assorted array of Lit fests. Almost every major city in India has a lit fest of its own and the metros have multiple. Lit fests have as many detractors as lovers and whatever said and done, it is not easy to put together and pull off a successful one. In such a saturated environment, it takes a whole lot to stand out and bring something different to the table every year, year after year. Behind these lit fests are immensely passionate and dedicated teams who often spend their time and energy (and at times even money) just for the love of books and reading. Leading some of these teams which organise the best lit fests in India, are multi-tasking, multi-talented women. Let us take a quick look at some of the women who work day and night in order to ideate and implement some of our favourite literary jamborees, and what they have to say about their experiences:
1. Namita Gokhale – Jaipur Lit Fest, Bhutan Lit Fest, Crime Writers’ Fest
If Jaipur Lit Fest (JLF) is the mother of all Lit Fests, Namita is the queen of JLF. Along with William Dalrymple, she co-founded and co-directs the world’s largest free lit fest, in India’s Pink City. JLF has also had successful editions at Boulder, Colorado and Southbank, London. Apart from JLF, she also runs ‘Mountain Echoes’, the annual Bhutan Lit Fest, and the Crime Writer’s Festival in Delhi.
Gokhale is committed to showcasing literature from across the Indian languages. She has written twelve books. In a chat with SheThePeople.TV, she says
“It has been a privilege to be associated with so many literature festivals. The Jaipur literature festival is part of my life rhythm.”
“People tend to relegate women to being convenient ‘back room girls’. I don’t like to indulge in gender stereotyping but women are sometimes more conscientious and detailed in admin matters, and I enjoy working with them. One thing I bring to all the festivals I direct is the insistence that we resist mansplaining manelist sessions and bring in feminine voices and experiences into sessions.”
2. Shinie Antony- Bangalore Lit Fest, Bengaluru Poetry Fest, Bangalore Biz Lit Fest
Writer, Editor and Columnist Shinie Antony is Co-founder and Director of India’s largest community-funded lit fest and second largest literary conclave- the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF). She is also director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival (BPF) and Bangalore Business Lit Fest (BBLF) – the first of their kind in India. She has written short story collections, novels and has compiled anthologies. Shinie is calm, composed and committed and a curator who is as cool as a cucumber. While BLF will see its 5th edition take place in December this year, the BBLF has completed 2 editions and the BPF debuted to astounding response from poetry lovers, earlier this year.
“Being a woman is largely incidental. What I bring to the table is a team worker’s spirit and my sensibilities as a reader and writer.”
3. Bachi Karkaria- Times Litfest Mumbai
One who needs no introduction, veteran journalist and columnist Bachi Karkaria is well-known in the industry for her sharp insights and path-breaking innovations that have time and again helped the Times of India Group stay ahead of competitors in the market. The Times Litfest is perhaps another such initiative of one of India’s journalistic stalwarts. Her enthusiasm and energy are infectious and these qualities certainly come across in the vibe that the Times Litfest in Mumbai carries. A festival that has very much grown into an ‘ideas fest’, it represents all the passions of the city of Mumbai.
“Our authors and audience gratify us with decency and grace, though some of the big names can be a pain. However, overall, it has been a great journey and a rewarding experience.
Though I don’t think gender makes a difference as far as one’s ability to pull off a successful lit fest is concerned, as a woman, I think multi-tasking comes naturally to me, and this is certainly helpful. Also, patience and efficiency in handling tricky situations and thinking out-of-the-box. In fact, at points, I have had to deal with some authors with a great deal of tact and have gotten away with them being a little less churlish.”
4. Sagarika Ghose- Times Litfest Delhi
After the tremendous success year-after-year of the Mumbai edition, the The Times of India Group, under the able leadership of Sagarika Ghose, started their very own lit fest in Delhi. The New Delhi-born Sagarika is a journalist, former television news anchor and an Author. She is currently consulting editor at The Times of India. Right in its very first year, the event was held on a large scale and managed to fill the vacuum in Delhi’s lit fest calendar that lacked an event of a certain magnitude that the city could call its own.
5. Manjiri Prabhu- Pune International Literary Festival
Manjiri Prabhu is an English Author, Film-maker and Founder-Director of the Pune International Literary Festival. Labelled ‘Desi Agatha Christie’, Dr. Manjiri Prabhu has published 8 books till date. The Pune International Lit Fest is the city’s first and only English language lit fest and has completed 4 editions.
6. Nirmala Lakshman- The Hindu Lit for Life
The Hindu is perhaps part of the average Chennai citizen’s DNA. Reading the newspaper with a piping hot cup of filter coffee is still a beloved habit of many Chennaiites. It is the only newspaper in the country to have a supplement wholly dedicated to books and literature- the Literary Review. Nirmala founded and edited The Hindu Literary Review and the Lit for Life was started in 2010- when this supplement completed 20 years of publication.
Nirmala was Joint Editor of The Hindu and has held senior editorial positions at the newspaper for more than three decades. She launched and curated Lit for Life and initiated the annual Prize for Fiction from The Hindu.
7. Maina Bhagat and Anjum Katyal- Kolkata Literary Festival
Director of Oxford Bookstore Maina Bhagat along with editor, writer, translator and critic Anjum Katyal jointly direct the Kolkata Literary Festival. The Kolkata lit fest has been happening for the past 7 years. What makes it unique, is the fact that unlike the other major lit fests that have all their events happening at a single hotel/college, this festival has its venues spread across the city, with the Oxford Bookstore acting as the fulcrum. Apart from the Oxford Bookstore, the other venues include heritage buildings and well-known landmarks of Kolkata- thereby bringing the city to life… bringing the people of the city, known to be art, culture and literature lovers alive.
“Our lit fest is an extension of the 98 year-old Oxford Bookstore. It is a continuum of our year-long involvement with books. Love for books and reading is the basis from where it all started.
As a woman, I think it helps to gauge everyone’s sensibilities while curating the festival. Of course, women’s issues play a large part in our festival, just like they play a major role in several other lit fests as well. However, the content that goes into the sessions is largely based on my experiences, and not my gender.”-Maina Bhagat to SheThePeople.TV
Feature Image Credit: AllAboutJaipur.com
Note the list is in no particular order