The Indian writers participating in a travelling literature festival are upbeat about its possibilities
Train stations this end of the Vindhyas have, over the past week, been home to a curious sight: that of six men and women, of two different countries, travelling around with cases of books. The writers are part of The Bookwallah, a new festival that travels across the country, to bring books to people.
The Bookwallah is a project of an international writing programme at the University of Melbourne. What does the festival hope for? Because it is held as part of a festival to promote Australian culture in India, a central aim is simply to introduce readers to Australian writers. Chandrahas Choudhury, author of Arzee The Dwarf and fiction and poetry editor for The Caravan, sees the festival as an opportunity to be introduced to Australian writing. “India is very Anglo-American in its orientation. This festival offers people a snapshot of Australian writing.”
The Bookwallah is aligning itself with more than one literature festival on its travels. For instance, in Bangalore, events will be held as a run-up to the city's first literature festival, to be held in December. Recent years have seen the mushrooming of the format around the country. Poet Sudeep Sen, who is also participating in the festival, offers the examples of a new festival in Shillong, and two competing literature festivals in Odisha. “They make the writerly space a legitimate one, not a noble hobby.”
“It's ridiculous that there should be only two or three such fests,” agrees Annie Zaidi, journalist and writer, the third Indian participant in the festival. For her, the growth in literature festivals simply indicates a much-needed growth in interest towards books. Why might this be important? Why do books matter? At some level, because ideas matter, she says.
The writer grew up in a small industrial locality in Rajasthan, and recalls reading books “purely for entertainment”. Today, that basic function of books has changed, of course; “there are 15 other sources for entertainment. In reading, you're reaching out for an insight, an understanding of the world around you. Books bring companionship,” she says, adding that literature festivals address those aspects of reading.
It’s the same sense – of a book as a window to the worlds, within and without us – that Choudhury hopes to create in his talk, Ten Ways That Novels Can Change Your Life, which he is giving as part of the festival. The deliberately motivational-talk-style title was chosen, he explains, to address the notion that novels couldn't help in our daily lives in tangible ways in the same way that, say, a self-help book might. “Novels don't offer the same easy answers – but they offer the wisdom of questions,” he says. What responses has the travelling troupe seen? Because it began in the Literature Live! Festival in Bombay, it was a “soft landing,” says Sen. For the writers themselves, it has been a strange, new experience travelling with other writers in a train. “You see a different side of people on trains,” said Choudhury. “Not necessarily their best.” Sen says there has been a “lot of love and affection” so far; Zaidi says the festival is like “being back in college”.
Events will take place till Monday in Bangalore. Today, there will be two discussions on Modern Love at the Bangalore International Centre, Domlur (9886599675), touching on subjects such as love, loneliness and sexuality.
For a full schedule of Bookwallah events, visit www.thebookwallah.com.