As posted earlier, the month of January this year was an exciting time for me. After I attended the Apeejay Fest which celebrated the rich cultural milieu of art, cinema, music and fashion together in the backdrop of literature and the Jaipur Lit Fest which was a colourful melange of glamour, author and celebrities, I was looking forward to the inaugural Kolkata Literary Meet to be held from 26 – 31 January. Being a true-blue Bengali who loves her Shirshendu as much as her Shakespeare, I have always longed for such an occasion in Kolkata which would give me the opportunity to interact with my favourite authors from close quarters.
I had registered at the website the moment it went live and collected the colourful passes from the office of Gameplan Sports well in time. The event coincided with two holidays (Republic Day and Saraswati Puja) and one Sunday, which was a boon for someone like me with a demanding day job. At Jaipur, I realized that Literature Festivals are best spent alone and in a leisurely manner and hence, at Kolkata Lit Meet, I decided to do just the same. Although I regret missing some of the best sessions which fell on the weekdays, like the ones with Moni Mohsin and Anuja Chauhan, Mohamamd Hanif and Manu Joseph, Leila Seth and Vikram Seth, Rahul Bose and Vinod Mehta, Imran Khan and Rahul Bhattacharya, Shirsendhu Mukhopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar and Mahasweta Devi, I still managed to catch many brilliant sessions during the three days that I camped myself at the Milan Mela Grounds.
What caught my sight the moment I reached the KLM arena inside the Book Fair was the small blue igloo shaped make-shift auditorium. Returning from the ultra-glamourous Jaipur Festival with its colourful tents and halls, I must confess that my first feeling was that of tad disappointment. But all the lack of air, dim light and mosquitoes vanished from my mind once the KLM was inaugurated by Sunil Gangopadhyay and Vikram Seth together. This year, being the 150th Birth Anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, the first session of the KLM was on the influences of the Nobel Laureate on Bengal, Bangladesh and beyond. Listening to Bangladeshi authors – the father-daughter duo of Mahfuz Anam and Tahmima Anam, Amit Chaudhuri, Sunil Gangopadhyay and Sugata Bose talk about how Tagore influenced their day-to-day lives and mindset was as enriching as it was interesting. The following one hour was the much-awaited session of Vikram Seth in conversation with Ruchir Joshi about his latest work “The Rivered Earth”. By that time, I had grabbed a seat in the second row, shook hands with other Seth fans and settled down to listen to my most favourite author recite sections of his book, share background stories and enact a dramatic reading of one of his creations titled “Fire”. After the discussion, we all queued up in the adjoining British Council Reading Room for the book signing and unlike at Jaipur, where I had to stand at the tail because mine was an autograph book, here no such discrimination was made and my special autograph book was smilingly inked by Seth.
Whether it was the session on Translations where Sampurna Chatterji read the English version of the poetry of Joy Goswami alongside him and Mani Shankar Mukherji thanked his translator Arunava Sinha for taking his works to the world reader or the session on Graphic Novels by Sarnath Banerjee and Nicholas Wild, they were all personal, intimate and friendly. The debate between Omar Abdullah and Dinesh Trivedi on one side and Vinod Mehta and Rajdeep Sardesai on the other hand on the topic Trial by Media was fierce and intense. The conversation with the best-selling authors Amish Tripathy and Rahul Bhattacharya was as well attended as the discussion among the modern Bards of Bengal – Chandril, Anupam and Anindya. The audience seized every opportunity to ask their favourite authors questions that have been on their mind while I seized every chance to fill up my autograph book.
The After-Hours were organised so that both the authors and their readers could relax at the end of the day. These sessions were as varied as they were wonderfully orchestrated. An odissi recital based on Tagore’s works by Ileana Citaristi, a session on the life of Guru Dutt by Sathya Saran, musical evenings by Shantanu Moitro and Swanand Kirkire, by Purbayan Chatterjee and String Struck and by Chandrabindoo and a drama based on Tagore’s ‘Totakahini’ – the After Hours enthralled and charmed all.
The first Kolkata Lit Meet may have lacked in some spheres but more than made up for it in departments like enthusiasm, cheerful organizing, warm atmosphere and brought the authors truly close to the hearts of their readers.
With my quota of this year fulfilled, I am already earmarking other literature festivals in and around the country which remain to be conquered. But I am sure of one thing – whether I travel to Bhutan or Hyderabad to attend their litfests, I will surely be back to my own city for a bigger and better second round.