What do literature festivals achieve?
Vinita Dawra Nangia
Today, as Delhi celebrates the Times Literature Festival 2019, here is a reflection on the relevance of literature festivals, and whether anyone at all is engaged in writing the classics of tomorrow!
Come the first stirrings of winter and a blitzkrieg of literature festivals overtakes us, prominent amongst these the Times Literature Festivals across the country. This is a new phenomenon and a very welcome one, because these festivals bring together men of letters and people who have a passionate relationship with the written word.
You hear it said often that people don’t read anymore. But the almost alarming rise in the number of authors, the books that line bookshelves, and people who attend literature festivals tells a different story. Indeed, to a great extent it is these festivals that have helped regenerate an interest in books, and also in catapulting authors to celebrity status! Till a few years ago nobody recognized authors. They came, they wrote, got read or ignored. But they were never recognized on the roads or at airports, nor did they ever get mobbed, or even make a living out of writing!
All this has changed now. Authors are now the new celestial beings who strut the celebrity stratosphere. Now they do much more than merely write books. They are called upon to market these across cities and smaller towns; they are expected to have opinions much beyond the scope of their writing, and some of them are lucky enough to get advances and royalties that sustain much better lifestyles than their regular jobs.
And, no longer is the world of books the sole preserve of those who dedicate themselves to the profession of writing. A book today could be authored by anyone from any walk of life. You just have to be able to tell your story in an engaging manner and find the right medium to publish it. So, you have Bollywood stars, politicians, bureaucrats, chefs, activists, doctors, people from the armed forces – all writing books. It is no longer about being literate or a great writer. It is more important to be a good story teller!
So, everyone is a writer and each one of us has a story to tell. We are all storytellers — some good, some not so great. We have to be if we truly want to touch people and engage with them.
But for the same reason, one would be making a mistake if one looked at these books as enduring literature. Let us look at them more as a new mode of telling stories and sharing lives. It is all very interesting and great to read and share. But not all of it is what will endure as classics. That is not to say of course that the ‘real’ authors are not engaged in writing what will ultimately be tomorrow’s classics. That is happening alongside, do not doubt that.
It is just that at the moment we are happily engaged in making a festival out of literature and books and reading – and as I said, that is very important as well – to keep the habit of reading and writing alive amongst the multitudes. We must teach our children the importance of reading and being able to pen our thoughts. That is what all this celebration and tamasha is about!
So then, who is the writer whose work endures? The writer’s task is not an easy one; nor is it one to be taken lightly. It is the kind of work that you put your life and spirit into – not for glory and certainly not for profit, except for the very few who strike it lucky.
Writing involves an engagement with the human spirit and the conflicts that life involves us in. It presupposes an intelligent perspective of those struggles and an understanding of the universal truths and purpose of human beings. A poet, an author, a writer or an essayist must look at life differently, and toil to remind readers of our higher selves, our purpose and the resilience of the human spirit. Good writing must uplift the spirit, help us sustain ourselves and to endure by learning the stories of courage, hope, positivity, compassion, sacrifice and honour.
That is the kind of writing that endures and the kind we keep safely on our bookshelves, hidden from prying eyes and borrowing hands. Long live that kind of writing, and long last the tamasha of literature festivals too — for they both sustain each other!
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.