A lockdown journal and an online literary festival from the residents and writers of Chennai

One initiative seeks to present the ‘local histories’ gathered during the pandemic, in different narrative formats; and another is geared towards showcasing the writers’ craft through the literateurs of Chennai

Updated - May 31, 2020 12:18 pm IST

Published - May 31, 2020 10:52 am IST - Chennai

Blank notepad with pen on office wooden table.

Blank notepad with pen on office wooden table.

When this crisis loses its fangs, and it’s time to count the silver linings, the realisation may likely dawn that we are richer by cartloads of words — written, spoken and even partly enacted.

The Coronavirus has led to a massive sharing of thoughts. There is even an expedient genre, #lockdowndiaries, finding a ready publisher in social media.

While people vigorously post personal thoughts and videos of how they cope with the crisis, observations of their own and other’s miseries, the awareness that they may be chronicling local history would elude a majority of them.

They probably have to be nudged into an appreciation of the possibilities that go with their rambling ruminations. Obviously, the time is now, so that they engage in the exercise consciously, and when the day for counting silver-linings arrives, we can be assured of a vast body of meaningful and engaging COVID-19 literature streaked with local references.

Here is one initiative that seems geared to this objective.

Lockdown Journal Chennai

Two senior journalists — Vincent D'Souza and Praveena Shivram — have started this online initiative, where people publish fiction — short stories and poems — short non-fiction pieces and essays. The writing has to reflect the current crisis with local realities forming the backdrop.

Praveena, who edits the journal, points out the necessity of recording the local histories of these times, an exercise being carried out by the media through the rigours of reporting. She believes it is equally important to navigate these local realities and stories by reimagining them in a narrative format. Hence the initiative.

Praveena calls it a not-for-profit exercise, running with a bare minimum of resources, which means she handles the vast chunk of the editing. Praveena discloses she is assisted by Meera Rajagopalan, a freelance writer working in the development space.

The writers of submissions that pass muster are paid a small honorarium, continues Praveena. “Vincent is putting in seed funding to take care of the writers’ payments,” she adds.

Praveena wants the exercise to continue beyond the lockdown and the COVID-19 crisis, as a platform for promoting local writing by Chennai writers.

At that stage, sponsorships could sustain the initiative, states Praveena.

Lockdown Journal Chennai is being published on medium.com, and can be accessed at https://medium.com/lockdo


Chennai Lockdown Lit Fest

It is almost impossible to hold a conversation today without the novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 sneaking in and finally dominating it. “Chick-lit? Me? Writing From The Heart with Indu Balachandran and Maya Sharma Sriram” was the inaugural session of the three-day Chennai Lockdown Lit Festival (CLLF), and making it the frontispiece of the event is said to be a decision that had been clearly thought through.

Maya Sharma Sriram, who curates and organises CLLF along with Praveena Shivram , explains that there are certain topics that lend themselves to being examined under the lens of the pandemic, and there are certain others that are aimed at letting us escape from it. Achieving a balance was the objective.

Going by how the “Chick-lit” session went, filling the panels on the Zoom screen with laughter, the objective was achieved, but even here the Coronavirus lingered on the fringes, with a list of light reads for the pandemic being discussed. The curators of the event explain that at multiple levels, the pandemic controls what we do and even who we have become; and reading lists can’t dodge the Coronavirus.

Praveena says that Janaki Sabesh would discuss how to reimagine stories for children, now. The same old stories can't be said the same old way during a pandemic; they have to be punctuated with references to the unusual times everyone is passing through, parent and child, Praveena explains.

Maya says the pandemic has given children a whole new vocabulary and like any story-telling exercise it will inevitably accommodate that. At the time of this article being written and readied for the ePaper, Sabesh’s and Sandhya Rao’s session — The Telling of Stories — was just a couple of hours away. A Story of Dance With Dr. Chitra Madhavan and Tulsi Badrinath was another session that took place on May 30.

On May 31, there are: “Stories from the Region with Kavitha Muralidharan and Krupa Ge” (16:00 - 17:00) and “The Poetic Appeal with Sivakami and Srilatha” (17:30 - 18:30).

Even the festival can’t be visualised outside of these usual times, where “social” and “virtual” have become synonymous.

Praveena says the festival was initiated by Maya, and in less than 10 days it happened. “The most surreal part of the whole exercise is that,” Praveena discloses in a tone of disbelief, “Maya and I are yet to meet each other in person.”

The curators of the three-day online literature festival point out that in its continued form, the exercise would seek to promote writers from Chennai, operating in the areas of fiction and non-fiction, and to deomstrate his commitment, two sessions have been dedicated to each category, at the fest.

Being quizzed if the Lockdown Journal Chennai and Chennai Lockdown Lit Festival are related pursuits, because Praveena is in both of them, she laughed, “They are not related, except that I happen to be in both of them.” While the sessions are all free and being carried out over a professional Zoom account, and therefore could accommodate a sizeable number of participants, the curators wanted an organically-pruned list, consisting of people who have a deep interest in the writers’ craft. “So, we made it mandatory that those who choose to be part of the festival would write in to us,” explains Maya.

For details of the sessions, go to https://www.facebook.com/events/241810680254459/

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