To be frank, I hadn’t attended any Literary Festival until the Apeejay Kolkata Lit Fest 2015. It’s a shame, yes. But most of the earlier editions in various cities were either on days I was busy/away or priced hefty for each day/session. Not getting into the issue of priced sessions versus sponsored ones, I found the Kolkata Lit Fest mostly free, which encourages bloggers and aspiring writers like me to indulge only in time for a possible interaction with interesting authors.
Since it began on a Wednesday, the 14th of January, it wasn’t possible for me to attend each day or event. I studied the schedule carefully and chose my favourites. Day 2 – 15th of January seemed the best bet. There were two book launches slated for the afternoon by two very important authors in Indian English Literature – Shashi Tharoor and Upamanyu Chatterjee. There was a bonus privilege of watching Jeet Thayil converse with his exact contemporary Chatterjee. Who would miss the chance of meeting three of the quirkiest, wittiest and most interesting authors of our era? We jumped on the bandwagon and reached the venue – Indian Council for Cultural Relations at Ho Chi Minh Sarani, Calcutta.
Shashi Tharoor’s latest book ‘India Shastra‘ was due to be launched at 3.00 pm by former Congress MP Krishna Bose. We reached late and Mr. Tharoor was already in conversation with Sandip Roy, senior Editor at Firstpost.Com. While Mr. Tharoor is known to charm the audience with his signature eloquence, we spotted eminent singer Usha Uthup and supermodel Indrani Dasgupta listening to him attentively. Mr. Tharoor was accompanied by his son Kanishk Tharoor who had launched his anthology ‘A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces‘ along with his co-authors earlier in the day.
We had the opportunity to meet Mr. Jeet Thayil right at the lobby while Mr. Tharoor was still speaking inside about his book. I don’t know if you’ve read ‘Narcopolis‘, but Mr. Thayil is even more intense than the book. He was extremely polite, courteous and answered all our queries. Manjit is perhaps one of his biggest fans, and he didn’t lose a single second to fish out his copy for a signature. Mr. Thayil rendered an amazing autograph, one of the best I’ve ever witnessed from an author. For fans of his writing, the good news is that his next novel is halfway through and we might have it in our hands soon. He also admitted that Narcopolis is perhaps ten years ahead of its time and might have a bigger readership later.
The next session was a very interesting and quirky one – launch of Upamanyu Chatterjee’s ‘Fairy Tales at Fifty.‘ We’ve all been awestruck with ‘English, August‘ as it changed the course of Indian English Literature years ago. His books came in a slow but steady succession, in 1993, 2000, 2006 and 2011 – to which he claimed being fond of the Olympic schedule. Mr. Thayil’s questions were as witty and intriguing as his counterpart’s sarcastic answers.
I’m putting up few of Mr. Chatterjee’s most interesting statements here:
“I don’t have television at home, to which my guests are more concerned. I don’t care either what Arnab Goswami says.”
“If you’re asking which author had the greatest influence on me, I’d say Proust or Rilke, but really it’s James Hadley Chase.”
“While I was writing English, August, I wasn’t sure why anyone would want to read these. So I tried to make each page interesting for the reader to turn and reach the next one.”
To Mr. Thayil’s questions – “I feel like sitting in an examination all over again!”
(The comments aren’t verbatim but close to what Mr. Chatterjee exactly mentioned.)
A few pages of reading from ‘Fairy Tales at Fifty‘ ensured that many of us would buy the book real soon and be lost in the fairy tales, not for children though.
Have you attended any of the lit fests yet? Do let me know your experiences in the comments.