My bookshelves are creaking under the weight of books that I have picked up from literature festivals I’ve attended. Quite unconsciously, I’ve been working on powering through them, simply because it’s that time of the year again, when some great literature festivals are hosted in my city. This got me thinking about how Bengaluru has always been known for its literary bent of mind, and has become quite the hub for niche festivals. Think about it. We have festivals dedicated entirely to poetry, children’s literature, business literature, women authors, and of course, literature across genres.
The Bengaluru Poetry Festival (BPF) is probably the only platform of its kind dedicated exclusively to poetry. In four editions so far, it has hosted over 250 poets, musicians, lyricists and performers. “The multi-linguistic, multi-cultural audience of the city have come out in great numbers and have engaged with the performers across languages and genres, reinforcing Bengaluru’s reputation as a cultural hub that has patronised multiple art forms,” says co-founder, Subodh Sankar.
And such a platform expectedly inspires new works and collaborations. “One such was between the Israeli poet Gili Haimovich (who writes in Hebrew) and Bengaluru’s own Prathibha Nandakumar (who writes in Kannada and English). They translated each other’s works, which were later published in well-reputed poetry journals,” says Sankar.
At BPF, the founding team realised that even though poetry as an art form and means of self-expression was rapidly gaining popularity, (and Indian poets and their works were gaining recognition all over the world) existing literary platforms had little space for it between the worlds of fiction and non-fiction. This festival allows poetry in all its forms — classical, spoken word, haiku, lyrics, among others.
Such a need of the hour seems to have defined the birth of the Bangalore Business Literature Fest (BBLF), which recently concluded its fifth edition. “In the universe of literature, business literature is, in itself, a large and dynamic realm. Several hundred books on business, entrepreneurship and management come out in India every year and are teeming with interesting thoughts, radical ideas, deep questions and breakthrough answers, not to mention riveting stories. BBLF was born of a need for conversations that are focused on business books,” explains Benedict Paramanand, CEO at BBLF.
With business books underpinning the fest, meaningful conversations on every aspect of business and entrepreneurship are a natural outcome. “Bengaluru seemed the ideal choice for the fest as it is a city of book-lovers and readers. It is also a city of strong artistic sensibilities, a business hub and indeed, the start-up capital of India. The fest brings together the best authors, business-people, start-up founders and content-creators into a crucible of ideas and solutions. Additionally, it offers the audience clear, actionable takeaways for their professional growth,” says Paramanand.
What could be better for development, than a catalyst for professional growth? Take LitMart at the Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), India’s first and only pitch platform, where aspiring authors get a chance to pitch their book ideas to literary agents, commissioning editors and publishers. LitMart sees close to 170 entries each year and has resulted in book deals like The Forgotten Affair by Kanchana Banerjee with HarperCollins, Buffering Love by Issac John with Penguin India, and an as yet unconfirmed title by Udayan Adhye with Amaryllis.
From the late Asma Jahangir from Pakistan, to Shehan Karunatilaka from Sri Lanka, from Gulzar to Farhan Akhtar, the late Girish Karnad to Shashi Deshpande, BLF’s list and diversity of authors and artists only keep growing with each passing year.
“At its heart BLF is by Bengaluru, for Bengaluru — locally anchored, focused on all demographics. It is a festival focused on India and Indian writing, a national platform with ‘glocal’ appeal. What additionally makes the BLF stand tall is the fact that it is a completely community-funded event, with zero commercial sponsorship. This brand-free atmosphere ensures the unbiased nature of talks,” says Shinie Antony, Founder and festival director.
BLF, over the years has become a platform that brings together authors, readers, publishers, literary agents, students, young professionals and other stakeholders of the city. And while this festival has seen Bengaluru hold its own on the Indian literary stage, there are two more festivals that place the focus on niche genres – children’s literature and women authors.
Neev Literature Festival (NLF), with its third edition slated to be held in September 2019, has always been about taking children’s literature seriously. For Kavita Gupta Sabharwal, Managing Trustee at Neev Academy and Curator of NLF, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) has been an intellectual buffet like no other. “But my identity as an educator and parent was disturbed by so few children in the JLF crowds, particularly because I knew that so much at JLF was relevant for children. Maybe children were intimidated or maybe they need a dedicated forum,” she says.
NLF 2019 will have workshops focused on parents and aspiring authors, besides 97 workshops for children. There are more workshops for teachers / librarians, and dialogue through 30+ panels, besides many book readings over two days that are completely open to the public. Teachers and librarians, Sabharwal believes, can play a significant role in guiding and being perceptive to individual choices of children, while steering development through student conferences, assessments, and offering invitations for a reader to start or grow with.
“The idea is to get children and schools to care much more about not just what happens with an episodic event like NLF, but with making reading a dial-tone of rich engagement and reflection. The platform is ready, we now need to wait for time to achieve this,” Gupta Sabharwal says.
Just like Neev, SheThePeople Women Writers Fest is building a platform where female writers can speak out and be heard. It has seen 15 editions across the country, across six cities, of which three have been hosted in Bengaluru. “We are a positive, safe and energetic space where women participate to discuss writing independently and fiercely. This is where writers or writings are not slotted into genres. We encourage conversations on both new and traditional formats of writing, from the author of a book to a microblogging writer,” explains Shaili Chopra, Founder, SheThePeople.TV.
Chopra has always wondered if women writers across the world face similar challenges. The answer, she found, is an unequivocal yes. They face challenges in getting published, in marketing their books, in finding enough reviewers and enough seats at literary festivals. Gender equality in literary circles, she discovered, is far from achieved.
And so, every year and in every edition, the Women Writers Fest has a different approach. In 2019, Delhi started with reimagining the woman. #MeToo, spoken word performances, food and travel writing, love and relationships, among other themes and formats, were in the spotlight. In Bengaluru, there were city-centric and culture-oriented themes. Pune had Marathi literature stalwarts and writing for radio. Lucknow will see workshops on marketing writing, blog writing, evolution of Urdu literature, and more. “There is always a real connect with the region, a connect with what women are talking about at that time on issues, and an effort to fulfil skill gaps,” says Chopra.
Each of these festivals have brought so much to the table for lovers of all things literature to experience and mull over. Every line-up announced has something for a book-lover to look forward to. And on that note, I am going back to powering through my collection, before the next festival arrives.