Hyderabad Literary Festival, despite witnessing a larger turnout this year, is yet to make profit.

In its fourth year, the recently-concluded Hyderabad Literary Festival (HLF) moved to the heart of the city, hoping to convert Road no.8, Banjara Hills into a concept ‘literary street’. School students dressed up as characters from chosen books, a display of photographs and reader-designed book covers caught attention of visiting dignitaries. But soon after the inauguration on Friday with much fanfare in presence of Irish delegates, invited authors and poets from across the country, the street wore a deserted look. Many commuters gawked at the carnival in progress while a few, driven by curiosity, parked their vehicles and stepped in to have a look.

The organising committee’s decision to change the venue from Maulana Azad Urdu University and Taramati Baradari in the outskirts of the city in its previous years was driven by the need to reach out to more people. They had hoped the number of visitors would swell from 5000 in 2013. On Saturday the numbers grew and the five venues — Ashiana, Kalakriti, Saptaparni, Kalpa School and Lamakaan — saw an overwhelming attendance of literature enthusiasts and workshop participants. “We still haven’t had the time to corroborate and find out how many people took part in the fest this year. We expected marginal crowd on the first day since it was a working day, but were pleasantly surprised with the turnout. Weekend, of course, was impressive,” says Amita Desai of Goethe Zentrum-Hyderabad, one of the core team members.

The packed sessions at panel discussions and workshops were there for everyone to see. But as with other free literature festivals, the HLF too has been in the red so far. “HLF has picked up over the last four years with increased participation and enthusiasm, but has a long way to go. We have more sponsors today, but a lot of them prefer to sponsor in kind rather than cash. That puts constraints in organising the festival. Last year, we were in the red with finances,” says Professor T. Vijay Kumar.

Amita Desai agrees. She emphasises that ‘Hyderabad has arrived’ in the literary and performing arts scene, citing the eager attendance for the city-based group Sutradhar’s play Main Rahi Masoon as well as plays hosted by the Irish group and says, “If we are to look at expanding the reach of HLF, we are not sure if we’d be able to do with limited funds. We can sustain, nevertheless.”

Goodwill and support in kind, says Desai, helped. “The tourism department took care of lunch and dinner; all the venues partnered with us and didn’t charge a penny,” she adds.

Authors and publishing houses, despite the number of lit fests across the country, showed enthusiasm. “Publishers sponsoring their writers usually look to promote their latest titles. We also approached institutions like Sahitya Akademi that weren’t deterred by limited sponsorships. We had good participation even from writers who didn’t have a book to promote,” explains Vijay Kumar.

The organising committee of HLF is hopeful the fest will gather momentum each year and insist that engaging all age groups with an interest in art and literature remains the focus than making profit.

Jottings from HLF 2014

* The lawns of Ashiana, besides the food stalls, became an adda for visiting writers and their academic friends in the city. Post lunch, one witnessed Urvashi Butalia and Githa Hariharan’s camaraderie with Hyderabad’s literary circle that included Hoshang Merchant and Sridala Swami, exchanging notes on lit fests and their work.

* Filmmaker and literature enthusiast Anand Gandhi was a happy man, taking innumerable questions on his film Ship of Theseus, before moving to the topic of his session, ‘There is no free will, but you have a. Choice.’ Gandhi revealed this was the working title of his new book. “It’s a gimmicky title though,” he laughed. Post his session, Gandhi was beseeched with requests for autographs and photographs. Who says independent film makers don’t get recognised?

* A few students who walked in to the fest not knowing what to expect were pleased to find bookstalls beside the main lawn. “Oh wow, they have a book stall. I love this atmosphere,” one student chirped. On the other hand, the ‘book swap’ initiative that invited people to come in with their old books and exchange them with fellow readers, turned out to be disappointing with very few participating.

* The open-air venues weren’t sound proof and for once, it turned out to be a blessing. T.M. krishna’s elaboration of ragas wafted trough the main lawns to the poolside where author Githa Hariharan held court. She paused twice between her address, identified the raga, and proceeded with her discussion on Indo-Palestine ties. “How I wish I could have attended T.M. Krishna’s session,” she remarked later to us.

* The session with Amrit Gangar and Nasreen Munni Kabir on ‘The Magical Journey of Indian Cinema’ had a packed audience listening in rapt attention to every word spoken on stage. When Gangar played Dadasaheb Phalke’s Shri Krishna Janam, a 9-minute silent movie from 1918, it drew appreciative laughs and gasps from the audience about his editing and filmmaking genius at a time of limited technology.

* Some members of the audience were so star-struck at the same session that they couldn’t help but click pictures of delegates on stage, which included Bimal Roy’s daughter Aparajita Sinha as the moderator of the session. One gentleman seated in the second row even went on to click selfies with the stage in the same frame.

* Rajeshwari Sainath’s lec-dem on Bharatanatyam at Lamakaan had a packed audience as well. Students and dance enthusiasts alike were seen excitedly sharing notes on her session, with some offering to explain her dance moves to other less aware friends in the audience.

‘Book’ed in January

* Jaipur Literature Festival

* The Hindu Lit for Life, Chennai and New Delhi

* Hyderabad Literary Festival

* Kolkata Literary Meet

* Kolkata Literary Festival