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‘You go to a lit fest to understand exactly where you are in the pecking order of writers’

‘He does not ask what book I’ve written. He just wants the signature.’

‘He does not ask what book I’ve written. He just wants the signature.’   | Photo Credit: R. RAVINDRAN

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‘It’s our time under the spotlight, getting a literary suntan of sorts’

The literature festival is in full swing. The young volunteers are running around busily shepherding the delegates from stage to lounge. We each have a ‘minder’. It sounds a bit KGB-esque, but the minders are bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Need a car in 10 minutes? No problem, sir.

At the Authors’ Lounge, the hotel management students are baking little cherry tomato and mushroom tartlets, served hot with a smile. A young man is wandering the festival grounds with a notebook collecting autographs. He is undiscriminating in his approach, happily coming up to both the famous and the newbie writer with equal enthusiasm. I sign his notebook. He does not ask what book I’ve written. He just wants the signature.

Ten minutes later, as I stand watching Kiran Nagarkar and Nayantara Sahgal talking on stage, the autograph-seeker smilingly offers his notebook again.

“I just signed it,” I protest.

“Oh,” he nods with a smile and moves on to the next delegate he can spot.

“Roy, are you that forgettable?” chortles a writer friend standing next to me.

Lit fest season is a time when writers travel around the country hoping for a shot of Vitamin Ego Boost along with free drinks and gala parties.

Literary suntan

It’s our time under the spotlight getting a literary suntan of sorts. But there’s also nothing like a lit fest to put you firmly in your place.

You go to a lit fest to understand exactly where you are in the pecking order of writers. A famous writer you once thought you bonded with over coffee, calls you Sanjay the next time. Or Sudeep. “Hi, I am so-and-so, Harper Collins author of XYZ,” says one young writer, business card in hand, patiently working the room and doggedly butting into conversations. This is not for the faint of heart. It’s all part of the writing process, though creative writing courses do not teach that bit.

Once I’d watched the lit fest circuit from the outside. I’d seen pictures of fabulous parties and happy shiny authors on my Facebook feed. My Indian-American writer friend marvelled at them saying she was used to literary parties in library basements with cheap wine, cheese cubes and fluorescent lighting. When I had my book launch in America, my publisher was not sure they could even spring for the cheese cubes.

The godmother of all lit fests, of course, is the mega fest in Jaipur. But apparently there are some 80 literary festivals happening around the country these days. It seems this is the way any Indian city measures its worth now. The goal of lit fests might be to broaden horizons, but they can also become another petri dish of insecurity.

Instead of discussing the highs and lows of literature, we are speculating about which glitzy party the lesser writers did not get invited to. Someone whispers that so-and-so actually flew to the lit fest on his own dime. You smirk, but you secretly know that if you had been in his place, and as desperate, you too would have at least checked out the Spicejet fares once.

Medimix and sea-view

I remember going to one city, not particularly famous for its culture, and discovering it had two literature festivals. When I got there, I realised they were both happening at the same time and they seemed to be intent on clawing each other’s eyes out. One apparently was calling the hotels where the other had booked guests and cancelling the bookings. As the organiser handed me two drink coupons for the inaugural party, she complained that two of her writers had gone to the rival camp’s party. To add insult to injury, they had used her festival car, which she proceeded to recall with some relish.

Later that night I discovered my hotel bathroom came with one tiny sliver of green Medimix soap. My friend who was attending the other festival said his bathroom came with soap, shower gel and ear buds. I feared I was at the lesser festival. I just went down to the reception and asked if I could have a second Medimix soap, so I was not ferrying one sliver from shower to basin.

No wonder we clutch at whatever we can get. When one lit fest checked me into the Taj Palace in Mumbai, I immediately texted a writer friend, one who understands the value of these things.

“I am at the Taj,” I told him.

“Palace?” he replied.

“Yes. Old wing,” I said.

“Well done,” he said, though I had done nothing really. Then he asked “Sea-facing?”

And the cookie crumbled. My room looked out onto a wall.

Never mind, he said, a veteran of these things. The dining room is sea-facing. Take a picture and post that on Facebook. And that’s just what I did.

I consoled myself that at least the toiletries were better than Medimix.

I knew my mother would like them.

The writer is the author of Don’t Let Him Know, and like many Bengalis likes to let everyone know about his opinions whether asked or not.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 4:14:35 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/you-go-to-a-lit-fest-to-understand-exactly-where-you-are-in-the-pecking-order-of-writers/article22479897.ece

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