No staid questions or polite applause. The audience at The Hindu Lit for Life 2014 engaged the visiting writers in lively discussions after each session.

The audience in a Chennai kutcheri is always part performer. The 4th edition of The Hindu Lit For Life was rather like that. Perhaps visiting writers expected just polite applause or appreciative murmurs and a few staid questions at the end of the sessions. But many of them got a lot more than that.

A dance, song and poetry presentation of the flora and fauna of the South stirred up emotions as one or two voices from the audience recited along with the performers. When the performers told the story of a forest being cut and a sparrow impaled on a thorny branch, there were gasps of dismay from the audience.

Similarly, there were snorts of derision and indignation during a discussion, that one member of the audience said, “Could have been meatier”. That was one of the politer comments that the session elicited.

But Gulzar made things better. Half the audience went, “Wah. wah!” over the Urdu and Hindustani lines, and the other half echoed this when Pavan Varma translated them.

Novelist Jim Crace stated that a good novel for him was one that may not answer all the questions, but poses all of them. A burst of applause stopped him in his tracks and he commented that the Chennai audience was very kind.

With Naomi Wolf, the audience used its applause to express resonance, agreement and solidarity, to the point where she made a statement and stopped there and demanded, “Where's my applause?”

Wolf was set upon all through the evening. Three young television journalists buttonholed her to tell her how rural women stand up for themselves in India. Later , she found herself in a vortex of opinions from many women who had heard her speak.

The first day of the festival indeed set the tone for what Nirmala Lakshman, Director, Kasturi and Sons Limited and Curator, Lit for Life, called “a literature that moves beyond the pages.”

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