Fiona Fernandez: Word of mouth

When the spoken word scores over the written

Okay, so we didn’t head to Jaipur for the big fat literary festival — the hotly trending subject on social media and across news platforms. However, being on the other side of the hullabaloo, it made for an interesting observation exercise. Amid the over 100 sessions across five days, the maximum buzz and space was reserved for sensational utterances and catchy, janata-pleasing statements. The more masala, the higher is the chance of it getting picked up by our readers — one could almost second-guess the brief sent out to hordes of sound byte-craving journalists camped at ground zero. In fact, going by reports from our mole at the extravaganza, Bollywood folk had Jaipur eating out of their hands.

An ideal example to cite was centred on globally acclaimed author Marlon James and his run-in at an Indian airport en route to the festival. His rant on Facebook was everywhere. But what about his body of work? Na-ah, that doesn’t make for smart press. You would be lucky to find the interview in one of the Sunday editions or until it appears in long form in a weekly/monthly newsmagazine.

While browsing through the itinerary we spotted countless sessions that had brought together some of the finest minds in fiction, non-fiction, regional and world literature, strong voices for various causes, and policy makers. The curation was top-draw. Yet, only a smattering of coverage trickled down to us, thousands of miles away. Even the song-and-dance shindig at the end of every day received more coverage. Do I hear naysayers saying ‘Ah! But you weren’t there for the real deal?” Agreed. But from this side, we would have loved to see and read more about literary experiences, the pride and power of the written word, and of it getting equal if not more mileage apart from the new and the cool. Young talent, regional muscle power and translated literature certainly deserved their spot under the Jaipur sun.

The festival has grown from being a charming, intimate gathering of literature buffs keen to listen to and interact with Indian and world authors. The scale was increased, manifold, and has to, in order to sustain, and thrive. The coming editions will witness even more of this. It’s a healthy sign – that such festivals are able to attract all kinds of enthusiasts – from the serious and the curious to the newbie. Yet, we hope that amid the couture and chic appeal, the humble book gets picked up for all the right reasons, and continues to be written about, most importantly.

mid-day’s Features Editor Fiona Fernandez relishes the city’s sights, sounds, smells and stones...wherever the ink and the inclination takes her. She tweets @bombayana. Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

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