Books, Lit Fests, News, Movies, Art, Fashion and TV of course... "I must say that I find television very educational. The minute somebody turns it on, I go to the library and read a book." - GROUCHO MARX

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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Literary Fests

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Literary fests are discovery zones

THERE is something about writers’ festivals — the high adrenalin action, the no-holds-barred debate, and the heroes who for a change get to be with their fans.

Something as exciting as that happened recently in the sunny shores of Singapore. Most of the events were held at the futuristic National Library Building and the opening session put the spotlight on Asian writing on a global stage. While the session packed punch, the author who stood out the most, in my view, was none other than the 25-year-old Thai-American Rattawut.

His collection of short stories Sightseeing has received rave reviews and it’s easy to see why. I recently finished reading it and wait with bated breath for his first novel tentatively titled The End of Siam. Sure he was a tad confused, but through that confusion emerged his earnestness as a writer. Australian Peter Goldsworthy, who holds down a full-time job as a doctor, regaled us with all the fun times he had signing off Peter Carey’s books as his own, since no one in the UK, where he was on a book tour, knew any better. Things sure have changed since then, but Asian writing still has a long way to go, said the panelists.

Over the next one week, what unravelled were dialogues at various levels with legendary bloggers like Cory Doctorow and science fiction heavy weights such as Bruce Sterling. ‘Text in the City,’ which was the theme of the festival, took an interesting twist with bedtime readings presented by titans like the award-winning and amazingly charming Mexican author Alberto Ruy-Sanchez of ‘Mogador’ fame. As the name suggests, these came complete with champagne and strawberries and continued into the dead of the night. I always knew there was a lot more to reading.

After some of these nocturnal sessions, getting back to ground zero was a bit tough for some festival regulars, but the two sessions I moderated saw its share of book lovers in our midst. People turned up in full force for Tarun’s magical reading of Alchemy of Desire. Sitting right in the front, I spotted Manju Kapur (of Difficult Daughters, Married Woman’ fame), Suhayl Saadi (of Psychoraag and The Burning Mirror fame) and Rattawut. That’s not all, my good pal Janet de Neefe who has put together the remarkable Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, flew in especially for this talk. And what a session it turned out to be.

There are tonnes of stories to narrate, but since there is a word count to be kept, let me stick to the best Tarun quote, one which packed a lot of punch for budding writers: "Writing journalism is like hugging the shore, to use an Updikian phrase. But writing a novel is like navigating in the open sea. You need to have your senses gathered to navigate the ship to a piece of a land. That’s the ability needed to write a good novel."

The panel had an eclectic mix. There was Dr Suhayl Saadi from Scotland, Ouyang Yu from Australia, Laxmi Pamuntjak from Indonesia, Dr Rudhramoorthy Cheran from Canada and Felix Cheong from Singapore.

The panelists, attempted to look at the issues of identity, especially in the context of living and writing in an alien culture and sometimes in a second (alien) language.

Suhayl was the most impressive. The passage he read from Pscyhoraag saw everyone rushing to buy a copy of the book. He made some pertinent observations about writing: "I am a monolinguist. English is my first language. But in a way, my using Urdu and Hindi and Punjabi words in my novel is an attempt to connect to the languages of my ancestors. I try but I fail and there’s a struggle in that.... Probably people who know and use more languages are better at writing."

With those thoughts in mind I signed off the Other Voices session, but had the fortune of another stimulating session over dinner with Bruce Sterling, Aniruddha, Suhayl and the Chairman of the Writers Festival, Peter Schoppert.

Over the next four days, I met more writers, including the unstoppable Malaysian Chef Wan and Alexander McCall Smith. And when it was time to bid adieu, I was almost sad and mournful that all the rocking good times were over in just a week’s time. Time flies, as they say, when you are having a great time.

And while the cynics may dismiss literary festivals as book tourism, I firmly believe that such festivals are art for everyone. They give us a sense of shared culture and by interacting with authors, you get a chance to be a small part of something so much bigger. And, as someone mentioned to me "literary festivals are discovery zones. There is no obligation and no sense of failure." Now, that surely is something worth celebrating.