Literature Festival The sessions on thriller writing, literature from conflict zones, writing erotica and playwriting were marked by interesting insights

Thrillers and crime is one of the most popular genres of fiction writing in India, with John Grisham and Jeffrey Archer’s ruling the best seller charts alongside Indian authors such as Aaron Raman, Ravi Subramanian and Piyush Jha. A discussion at the Bangalore Lit Fest dealt with thrillers and its many manifestations. The discussion was moderated by Eshwar Sundaresan and saw authors Ravi Subramanian, Aroon Raman and filmmaker and author Piyush Jha participating. The discussion veered about thriller writing in India , whether serializations work in this genre and what makes a good thriller work. What role does research play an important role in crime fiction? Aroon Raman says, “A thriller relies on an authentic background. Most thriller writers have an intimate understanding of the situations their characters are placed. My first book, the shadow throne was placed in the shadowy world of subcontinent politics and intelligence. The research involved conversations with people working with the RAW and the intelligence bureau. I got many amazing stories from some of these people. ”

Ravi Subramaniam said, “When you write romantic fiction, you may have experienced the situation. A crime writer seldom is a criminal himself. You need to understand fresh perspectives. When I was writing about frauds, I was choosing which frauds I should highlight.” Piyush says: “Most of the characters I wrote about were people I knew about. I did not research much for my stories. I learn from my experiences.” The debate over commercial and literary thrillers spilled onto this session as well. Ravi said, “I feel that the differentiation is very juvenile. How do you define both categories? The readers decide what is good and what is not. As long as the book makes you turn the page, it is a good book.”

Writing on conflict

South Asia, despite six years of relative calm is a region with multiple insurgencies and conflicts. How do writers talk about conflict, do they take sides, and whose perspective do they provide? These were some of the questions that the audience and the panelists at the final session of the Bangalore Lit Fest grappled with. It was moderated by Amandeep Sandhu, a renowned author and saw Babar Ayaz, Jahnvi Baruah, Farooq Shaheen and Arindam Borkataki participate. Talking about the conflict in Assam, Arindam quipped, “When you write about conflict, you are often seen as a traitor by both the establishment and the militants. It is difficult to have an impartial view of the conflict. I try to bring out the suffering of the common people in my writings and poetry. I find it tragic that my Indian friends know more about Pakistan than Kashmir or Assam and the North East.”

Babar Ayaz said, “I write for the common people of Pakistan, who are suffering due to the spread of terrorism in the country. I do not write for the establishment or the militants and will like to maintain my independent stance on these issues.”

Farooq Shaheen talked about the decline and revival of the Kashmiri language, running parallel to the insurgency in the valley. “We only had urdu and English medium schools in the 90’s. It is only due to the efforts of many organizations that Kashmiri is seeing a revival in the later part of the last decade.”

Jahnavi Baruah talked about the role the Brahmaputra plays in the cultural imagination of Assam and the north east. Arindam Borkataki felt that it was important to engage and understand more about these regions. “If only people in the mainland pay as much attention to the north east than they do to Pakistan and beyond, things will change for the better.”


On Erotica

The only shade—and perhaps most the most important one—that wasn’t discussed at the session on erotica at the Bangalore Literature Festival, was love. Every other aspect, from writing beautifully about specific body parts to writing about the physical act and desire, was highlighted.

The session began with Sri Lankan author Ashok Ferrey read from his book The Professional and author Sheba Karim read out excerpts from their respective works. The moderator Harish Bijoor tried to lighten the discussion, perhaps to make it more engaging, but before the discussion could devolve into a dirty joke cracking session, Sheba intervened, saying. “We could laugh about it, but writing erotica is extremely difficult.”

Award-winning author and editor Minal Hajratwala stressed that an erotic thread runs through ancient Indian poetry and her interest is how this erotic thread connects to our modern notions on sexuality.

Minal observed that until very recently, Indian publishers were reluctant to publish erotica, but now there is a new openness to this type of literature. As to whether erotica is only about sex, Sheba said there is difference between pornography and erotica, Ashok agreed, adding: “Erotica means so things to so many different people.”

Harish asked if Feminists find erotica offensive, to which Sheba’s replied: “It is not Feminists but the conservative section of society who take more offense. A lot of Feminists have a problem with the male perspective on erotica.”

Minal added that Feminism has had many waves and movements since the 90’s, but that now that there is some writing emerging that makes women’s pleasure central. The line between erotica and sleaze, Ashok added, depends on the kind of words used. “Stop using clichés which will make it sleazy,” he argued.

Minal concluded the session with the powerful observation: “Obscenity, to me, lies in child malnutrition, genocidal policies and not in the erotic.”

On playwriting

The session on playwriting opened with a solo performance of by theatre personality and writer Vibha Rani. It set the tone for the session, moderated by Evan Hastings, which saw the participation of other leading playwrights Dharmakirti Sumant, Christopher Kloeble and Swar Thounaojam.

Dharmakirti read out an excerpt from his play Natak Nako, about how two students from an elite college are caught in an embarrassing situation by a young man from the neighbouring slum, located behind the college.

To Swar’s reading of a monologue from her play Bogey Systems , an audience member remarked: “Your monologue generated so many images, it made me feel that a play doesn’t need many characters or plots to be interesting.” Speaking of what got her interested in playwriting, Swar said. “I am interested in dialogue. Martin Crimp said there’s something inherently cruel about people talking to each other, and that cruelty interests me.”

To the question of whether she uses theatre as a political tool, Swar replied: “I express my politics in different ways, but theatre is not a political tool for me, I work on my own terms. Theatre is a collaborative process, so my concern as a theatre person is how to transform the Manipur environment, from where I come, to work together with other practitioners who come from different backgrounds.”Christopher Kloeble, a German playwright, novelist and screen writer, was asked by an audience member about the future of theatre, and whether it is faced with more limitation in terms of space and switching scenes. “Theatre can switch to a different time and space more easily, and it is much more inexpensive than film,” said Christopher. “Watching a film in contrast to watching a play is for a play you have to leave your home.”