Ace the lit fest maze

Updated: Nov 17, 2016, 16:02 IST | Dipanjan Sinha & Joanna Lobo |

Next week, Mumbai will play host to another edition of a literature fest. We have a guide for newbies to help them sail through it

So you’ve just woken up to the world of literary festivals. You see there is a festival called the Tata Literature Live starting next week. You check the list of writers and are immediately transported to an imaginary situation involving an intimate conversation with said writer, before reality pulls you back. You decide you need to go. But you despair. The visuals of celebrated literature festivals from across the country flash in front of you, throwing up flowing robes and khadi, with dense lines of kohl and lean long fingers dangling elegantly, asking questions which you do not remember. You only know it had words like post-colonial and postmodern in it. And you cannot come up with questions using those words. Now, you’re torn between the irrepressible urge to hobnob with your literary heroes and the fear of being smiled at condescendingly. To end the hairsplitting, we have charted a map asking writers, organisers and regulars, on how to get it right.

Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor

What to attend?
Indian bestselling author Amish Tripathi and British novelist Nicholas Shakespeare suggest going there with an open mind. Whereas Shakespeare uses such a festival to get book suggestions from other writers, Tripathi asks you to take time to check out authors you did not know about. “Browsing and discovering new thoughts is delightful, whether in a bookstore or at a Litfest,” he says. Also, don’t forget to take the copy of the book of your favourite author, like festival regular, journalist Sohini Mitter does, and possibly get a coveted autograph. All this is fine, but associate director of the festival, Antoine Lewis, cautions you to be early, because the doors close on time.

Amish Tripathi
Amish Tripathi

What to wear?
Things are bound to get complicated before you leave home. Should you bring out that tattered torn jeans from the corner of the cupboard to go with those worn out slippers or should you be dapper, a la Shashi Tharoor? Stand-up comedian and author Radhika Vaz, who will be attending the festival, has ruffled feathers and has many fans of her act, What to wear, where she ponders over this dilemma. Her elaborate response, “Just wear whatever.” She adds that though dressing for festivals is a deal, she does not consider it a problem as long as there’s no pressure from people. “The purpose of going there sort of fails when you become this ‘oh-look-at-me conscious’ person,” she says.

What to ask?
You’re at the venue. You’ve found a seat and are nodding your head to words that writers say, and are laughing a little too much at the wit on display. But then, you realise you have many questions for them. Should you just keep it to yourself? Certainly not according to Lewis. But it is preferable if your question is a question. “The problem with most Indians is that they don’t ask questions, they make statements,” he says. Mitter adds that the authors also like it if your questions are related to the session. Questions like, “Does the cascading flow of your words get you lucky with women?” (once asked to Tharoor) or asking for a phone number (once requested to Tripathi) are not encouraged. Tripathi suggests that you keep your words a little gentle. “During a litfest that I was speaking at, a person made rude remarks about Lord Ram after a session I had addressed. While I have no problems with anyone questioning or being critical of God, I feel the manner in which you do it has to be graceful and dignified,” he says. Lewis sums up, “Don’t feel shy. Just make sure you’re well-behaved.”

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Martin Amis
Martin Amis

The mystery man
British mystery novelist Martin Amis is a star entrant this year. He said hello from home over mail. “I am excited about visiting the world’s largest democracy. And the more so, perhaps, now that the West's largest democracy, America, has just made such an impetuous choice of leader,” he says. Among Indian authors, he has read Nirad Chaudhuri, the Naipauls (Vidya and Shiva), Vikram Seth, Salman Rushdie, and Rohinton Mistry among Indians.

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