Kumaon Literary Festival powered by women hopes to break boundaries between locals and literature
Special Report by Amrita Paul
“It is always the same with mountains. Once you have lived with them for any length of time, you belong to them. There is no escape.” – Ruskin Bond
There is something so positively life affirming about the mountains, grand in their stature, picturesque in how they cradle forests, villages and towns in to thriving entities which perhaps couldn’t have existed otherwise. In their elusive glory, mountains are also a subject for many storytellers, and now, it will also be home to a literary festival, which will be hosted in Dhanachuli and Nainital, in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand.
Conceptualised by Sumant Batra, a corporate and policy lawyer by profession, the Kumaon Literary Festival is powered by four strong women writers and publishers. Janhavi Prasada, Kiran Manral, Priya Kapoor and Sujata Parashar are at the heart of the new concept and sit on the advisory board (among others) and are – according to Sumant – more vital in helping the lit fest materialise.
Sumant says, “I have an aspirational vision for KLF and formulating a formidable team was absolutely critical for turning it into a reality. When I started drawing the KLF architecture in my mind, the names of Kiran, Janhavi, Priya and Sujata appeared as most suitable choice as pillars on which could rest the trust and confidence of an ambitious plan. They are immensely accomplished, professional and dynamic yet humble. The skill, experience and goodwill they bring to KLF is just phenomenal. Together with Saif Mahmood and Rishi Suri, the other two members of KLF planning board, they form a great team.”
Janhavi, who is currently writing a graphic novel based on Mahatma Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments with the Truth is also the co-host of the festival as Abbotsford, Nainital the second venue of the festival (first being Te Aroha, Dhanachuli) is a quaint English lodge which was acquired by her family in 1903.
She says, “We grew up on a three acre estate with fresh air, blue skies, misty mountains, beautiful birds, wild berries, forest walks, picnics, cook-outs, star gazing and climbing fruit laden trees. And then we left for the cities for further studies and to build careers. But I kept coming back to do my photography, to write my graphic novel on Gandhi (releasing in November by Harper Collins), to ideate how can I make this property more inclusive and accessible to people who appreciate history, nature, books, peace – how can I share my experiences that I have had while growing up in these surroundings.” Now KLF is way for Janhavi to connect to her memories and share her experiences with a wider audience.
expect the unexpected at the KLF – Sujata
Priya Kapoor, the editorial director of Roli Books adds that there is something for everyone to partake from the intellectual gifts of the literary fest. Considering the beautiful and inspiring location of the festival, it has been structured as a retreat, when one can take a break from the humdrum of daily life and engage in activities they are truly passionate about.
“From literature to culture, music and food, there will be something for everybody in the festival. Because this is our first year, we are also keen on forging relations and having loyal patrons who could support our initiative every year,” she informs.
With women, as writers, literary agents, publishers etc, playing a crucial role in the functioning of the publishing industry in the country, author and board member Kiran Manral adds that narratives from women are today are being accepted on their own terms in the literary landscape—and this is reflected in the substantial representation of women on the KLF panels and as speakers at the event.
Out of a total of 107 participating authors, 55 are female speakers
Author and board member, Sujata Parashar says, “More and more women are getting educated and are becoming economically independent. Consequently, they are more vocal, bold, and expressive. And that aspect is visible in the kind of books that are being written by contemporary women authors. KLF going by its vision of all-inclusive format has included popular and powerful female voices in almost all the sessions.” As the board shares, women dominate this literary powerhouse of a show. “Out of a total of 107 participating authors, 55 are female speakers and 52 male. Isn’t that great?”
KLF has been designed as an intimate, experiential festival – Kiran
KLF has artists, policy makers, historians, film makers, musicians, art curators, trainers, motivational speakers and more speaking at the festival. To this Kiran adds, “KLF has been designed as an intimate, experiential festival, one where the audience is limited, interaction is a vital part of the festival and there is a wide representation of writers across genres, languages and disciplines. The aim is to draw on all the streams that art and creativity can be nourished by and to have discussions that bring varied perspectives rather be insulated.”
The festival also aspires to put the region of Kumaon in the cultural spotlight. KLF is approaching schools in the region to spot children with nascent literary and artistic talent and aims to give them an opportunity to present their work, so as to motivate them to pursue their art with seriousness it deserves. At KLF local poets, storytellers and writers will also be a part of the event.
As an anticipatory last word, Sujata adds, “Everything about the festival is unique and different; from the mood to its feel. But the thing that excites me most is the way each and every session is designed. Expect some oddballs! Actually expect the unexpected!”