Opinion | Chandramohan S.

I have not been a critic of lit-fests as much as some of the left radicals have been since I feel a certain kind of democracy in terms of incorporating marginalized voices is inbuilt in these lit-fests. Just like Dalit literature is a fad in the academia, corporate-sponsored lit fests have sprung up like mushrooms in a jungle.

These are some of my observations on the ubiquitous lit fests: 

1. Similar people who have been hogging the limelight at some festivals do the same at most others. Many niche areas have some writers who get to be represented all the time. This results in the perpetuation of  "incestuous" cliques, a phenomenon which is very much prevalent in Indian English Writing.

2. Most writers from marginalized identities are used as tokens to project a sense of inclusiveness at the festivals. Those of us who have been more suitable for the system, who do not propound ideas that are radical enough to destabilize the status-quo are the toast of the circuit. This could be an implicit act of violence against the historically marginalized.

3. A writer representing the voice of a particular section of our society is always pressurized to perpetuate victim narrative, speak for the entire community, become a mediator between the intelligentsia-discourse and the community like someone with one foot in each of the dichotomous worlds.

4. I have observed that many lit fests are designed with the Indian English Writer in the spotlight or probably they set up the stage for a deal between an up-and-coming writer and a corporate publishing house. Those robust vernacular writers with literary engagement spanning decades have to wait till a crafty translator mediates their entry into the Anglophone world. Thus only the voice of the elite sections of India is exported to the Western hemisphere.

5. Another flip-side could be the damage done to poetry – which has been the literary form eluding the market. This could be because poetry has no market; most of the buyers of a book of poems could themselves be poets. Keeping the pressures of the market at bay is to keep it as subversive as possible. A recent observation by a writer in Kerala after his residency in China was that the dissident thought is very much present in poetry and not in prose. 

My experiences at People Lit Fest: without corporate sponsorship

It is definitely a remarkable achievement for the organizers to pull off a two-day fest without corporate sponsorship. I have a feeling that since the organizers and their friends had to raise the money the hard way, it made them very careful in picking the panelists. I felt that the discussions were much more intellectually intense.

The stay at the residence of one of their friends was a pleasant experience. (He is an artist designing/decorating for big festivals and a Bangla language poet.)

I did feel that the audience was more tuned-in for a conversation in Bangla or Hindi than English. There was a very big crowd on the first day, but due to another event in the city, the audience on the second day was scanty.

What I have learned is that to nurture a radical thought is a privilege – this may have been achieved due to the well-organized Bastar Solidarity Network who comprise mostly of upper-caste, upper-class activists who engage with Marxist revolutionary praxis at the level of discourse. They have pulled this off. It might take a decade or so for the Ambedkarite folks to accomplish a feat of this magnitude.
That wills a day of reckoning for all of us.

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