Literature fests are no strangers to controversies. But the show will go on, because it matters to the book lovers
Tomorrow will be the first day of the two-day Bangalore Literature Festival, 2015. Bangalore book lovers have watched as year by year, our own lit festival has grown and evolved.
This year, unfortunately, things will be a little different. In the weeks running up to the fest, founder director Vikram Sampath has resigned, after several authors withdrew from the festival. As these facts are public knowledge, I won’t go into them again though I have my own views. I would just like to say this: the biggest loss is for the thousands of local book lovers who gather on the happy, sunny weekend every year to celebrate the written word. To participate, listen, debate and mull over the outpouring of ideas and thoughts that take place here, as in any festival of books.
This is not the first literature festival to be mired in controversy, nor will it be the last. The big daddy of them all, the Jaipur Literature Festival has also had its share of trouble. I was there to witness some of these controversies, the biggest to date being the ‘Rushdie year’, where festival organiser Sanjoy Roy, addressed the mammoth crowds with tears in his eyes to apologise for the drama. That year there was fear, anxiety and threats of violence looming large over the event. Unpleasant and unfortunate, to say the least.
Literature and controversy are no strange bedfellows. Politics has accompanied the written word ever since books were invented, and books have been regularly banned and authors boycotted. One needs only to glance at the list of banned books through history to see this: DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of being a Wallflower (banned for sexual references), Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses (religion), George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (politics). In today’s internet-driven age banning has lost much of its sting. But politics continues to dog the written word. And now with the growing importance of social media, everyone has a strong opinion and isn’t afraid to express it.
So where does it leave the reader, the lit fest fan – ostensibly the main protagonist – in all this? Sidelined, dismayed and a little unhappy, I would say. Kavita Muthappa, a passionate reader and former member of the Bangalore Lit Fest organising committee, put it into perspective: “It’s sad when you wait every year for the festival schedule to come out, and then you see that the authors you were waiting to hear are not part of it, you end up losing interest in it all.”
Corporate honcho Priya Chetty-Rajagopal is grateful that Bangalore has been home to a lit fest of calibre for the last few years. “I’m always a delighted voyeur into a writer’s mind,” she told me, “But while the controversy is unfortunate, I don’t believe it will mar the festival. In these days of widespread ‘intolerati’ there will always be debate and conversation on something or the other. If not this, it will be something else.”