SJC’s META festival not just captured the current trends in literature, but also featured various creative endeavours. Sravasti Datta and Allan Moses Rodricks share their experience

Concerts, theatre acts, street plays, a mime and poster contests — not something one would expect in a literary festival. But this is precisely what unfolded at META 2014, the annual festival of literature of the English Department at St. Joseph’s College (Autonomous), which took place from February 4 to February 13.

The Festival’s second edition saw eight round tables, 10 lec-dems, six conversations with writers and 36 contests (most for college students, some for school students and general public). The much-loved professors of the SJC English Department Professor Cheriyan Alexander, Professor Arul Mani and Professor Etienne Rassendren had put together these special events with thought and interest. Inspired by ‘Meta’, the Greek word that envisages the sense of beyond, the festival essentially tried to capture the new modes of expression and creativity applied into the literary field and take literature a step beyond what it is traditionally seen as. Kicking off to a flashy start under the ambient Banyan Tree in the UG Quadrangle, the fest launched into a barrage of nerve-testing, head-scratching contests, including the ‘Overheard-at-Meta’ tweet, photo-essay and cartoon caption competitions.

Quirky names for contests were the highlights of most days. From Fandom Menace (writing), Funny Bone (humorous poetry) to YouTube Soapbox (speaking) and Poetry Slam (performance), the fest had something in store for every literary buff. The creative ones indulged in book cover designs, poster contests, song-writing, extempore and story-telling.

A theatrical performance by the SJCC Theatre Society based on the struggles of a woman, a satirical comic mime by Nazarius Manoharan and improvised acoustic concerts by student bands stole most of the limelight during the fest.

The central focus of the fest dwelt on round tables that discussed contemporary issues that relate to today’s students. The META fest was a breath of fresh air and threw light on more trending current topics.

An interesting session for theatre enthusiasts, with particular interest in playwriting, was the discussion on ‘Writing for the Stage in Bangalore’, moderated by Nazarius Manoharan, featuring panellists Swar Thounaojam, Deepika Arwind and Ram Ganesh Kamatham. They spoke of their respective motivations for writing for the stage. For Deepika, playwright of Nobody Sleeps Alone, performing and writing converged at some point. She added: “Playwriting is a lifelong exploration.” For Swar, playwright of Turel and Bogey Systems, the process begins with a collage of images. What interests Swar in writing dialogue is the “inherent cruelty” when people converse. Ram added: “Capturing a moment in time is a dramatic enterprise.” Deepika’s inspiration is the work of her contemporaries and that “playwrights of Bangalore have set a precedent.” Ram concluded with “Bangalore is at the cutting edge of globalisation. Our city is changing in ways we cannot often comprehend. The living theatre has to be relevant and explore this urban experience.”

‘Revisiting Children’s Literature’ was an all-student panel. Elia R., Maitreya Nair, Tanvi Sinha, Vidya B. and Jayshree Basappa spoke of their earliest memories of reading books. They said there was a certain magic to the stories they read as children. Prominent among the authors they discussed were Enid Blyton and J.K. Rowling. The discussion concluded with the observations of how children’s books have changed over the years. “When I recently saw the cover of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, I noticed that the characters, instead of holding torch lights and magnifying glasses, were carrying mobile phones and laptops,” observed Elia R.

The session ‘Do We Need Travel Writing?’ moderated by Cheriyan Alexander had travel writers Srinath Perur and Achal Prabhala trace the origins of travel writing. Achal observed that during the period of European Colonialism, there were traveller accounts of only those who “left their shores because of a privilege”.

Elaborating further on the white perspective in travel writing, Achal said, “100 years ago, a majority of people travelled against their will. This exemplifies the worst of that kind of travel.” Srinath countered that the definition of travel writing must be broadened. Citing references, he added that there have been accounts of travel writing that have some degree of reflection and interiority.

‘The Imagined City in Crime Fiction’ by Zac O’Yeah, Anita Nair, Eshwar Sundaresan, Sharath Komarraju, Jane De Suza and C.K. Meena studied the much-loved segment of writing and had interesting conversations on the developing persona of crime fiction and its authors.

The fest also attempted to draw attention to less-interesting subjects with sessions on academic writing and non-fiction and bring new sense to the old familiars. This led to some interesting war of words between the panellists, moderators and students leaving a lot of questions to think about. A crowd-favourite was the verbal duel between the three wise men - Profs. Cheriyan, Arul and Etienne - on the topic ‘What the Hell Do English Departments Actually Do?’. The lit maestros discussed the traditional motives behind lectures and encouraged students to look beyond the scope of educative literature.

A separate section dedicated to the country’s mighty pen-wielding men and women titled ‘Writers in Conversation’ had Joshua Muyiwa, Nilanjan Choudhury, Srinath Perur, Sneha Rajaram and many more share interesting insights into their life and works.

The Lec-dems featured topics that turned into serious debates as special panellists discussed ‘The City in Kannada Cinema’ by Prof. Manu Chakravarthy (trending screenscapes in films), ‘Mourning Becomes Electronic’ by Arvind Narrain (expressions in a multi-media world), ‘Video-Libraries’ by Lawrence Liang, ‘Archiving Music on the Internet’ by Ajay Cadambi and ‘Online Journalism in India’ by Prem Panicker.