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The Bangalore Literature Festival 2022 Experience

Like all other things in life, Bangalore Literature Festival, otherwise an annual event, did not happen in 2020, and in a curtailed manner in 2021. It takes place either in November or December. For me, excitement about the festival begins with the announcement of dates, and long/shortlists for the Atta Galatta- Bangalore Literature Festival Book Prize. Atta Galatta is an independent book house and performance centre with a cafe. There is some magic about the place, which I don't have enough words to explain. If you come to Bangalore and are a lover of literature/arts, drop in at Atta Galatta, Indiranagar, and experience the magic yourself.

The Lalit Ashok has become Bangalore Literature Festival's permanent venue these days and a good one too. Only sometimes, a middle-class guy like me drops into this hotel. As a matter of fact, BLF is the only reason I step into The Lalit Ashok. The 3rd to 4th of December were announced as the dates for BLF 2022. This set the ball rolling for the book aficionados of Bangalore.

After Covid, I have hardly gone out on weekends and mostly lazed around in pyjamas. But this ritual took a break on the 3rd and 4th of December. However, I satisfied my lethargy and promptly reached late on both days. In memory of the Late Kannada Superstar and philanthropist Puneet Rajkumar, three venues were named against his movie titles. The Red Couch retained its name, thankfully. There was also the Children's Lit Fest held in two venues.

03/12/2022 - Day 1

I attended the first full session of Damador Mauzo, Jnanpith Award winner, 2022, in conversation with Vivek Shanbaug on `Tales From Another Goa'. He writes in simple language, but his thoughts and writing are profound. His latest collection, `Wait, and Other Stories' is a must-read for its thought-provoking content.

The next session was Barkha Dutt in a dialogue with Ramjee Chandran on her book `Humans of Covid'. It took a seasoned reporter like her to tell the nation what was happening during Covid. The conversation also veered into her experiences as a journalist. Pertinently, she clarified the criticism against her for coverage of 26/11. I got an author-signed book copy and took a snap with her. That was a fanboy moment.

After this, I had my lunch and listened to the discussion on Dalit Literature with P Shivakami as the main speaker. A couple of caste-related happenings in Tamil Nadu she narrated were similar to what my father used to tell us. Caste is ubiquitous. It will neither subsidise nor go away.

I later ventured to listen to veteran journalist TJS George narrating his experiences and his latest book `The Dismantling of India'. I suggest not judging the book by its title and making presumptions about its content. A similar book is titled `Incarnations – Indian in 50 Lives' by Sunil Khinani. TJS is in his 90s and speaks forthrightly about society and various other aspects. Unfortunately, I could not get an author-signed copy because the copies of the book were sold in the Lit Fest pop-up book store belonging to `Atta Galatta'. It was a bittersweet moment; not getting a signed copy disappointed, but that books are getting sold out is good news.

Then it was the BLF regular keynote speaker, Ramachandra Guha, on his journey biographing Mahatma Gandhi. As usual, his talk was enlightening and without any filters. He spoke on various topics, including Gandhiji's spiritual wife, Sarala Devi.

P Sainath, in another session, eloquently spoke about his new book `The Lost Heroes: Foot Soldiers of Indian Freedom'. The book promises to be informative, and I have an author-signed copy. His other book `Everybody Loves A Good Drought' critically examines Government schemes in Independent India.

In a Literature Festival, when engaging sessions are coming up, you end up going to sessions preceding it that you don't think are not worth it. The only reason for it is to catch vantage seats. Such was the session by Leeza Mangaldas on her book `The Sex Book'. Once again, I learnt not to judge a book by its title. This book is a must-read for teenagers, spinsters, bachelors, about to be married, those in a relationship, and even the elders. It declutters the phobia around various aspects of sex.

Day 1 ended with Holding a Mirror to Society by Barkha Dutt, P Sainath, and Bachi Karkaria.

04/12/2022- Day 2

Day 2 began with Akshaya Mukul in conversation with Shrayan Bhattacharya on his book `Writer, Rebel, Soldier, Lover: The Many Lives of Agyeya'. I don't know much about Agyeya, but readers of Hindi Literature would definitely know about Agyeya. I attended the session just to listen to Akshaya Mukul, who had earlier authored `Gita Press And The Making of Hindu India'

Then I listened to Manoranjan Byapari, Dalit Author and Politician from West Bengal. His works in English are all translated from Bengali. His story on how Mahasweta Devi inspired him to write was motivating. But, more importantly, an illiterate convict who learnt to read and write is awe-inspiring. He is simple and straightforward in his talk.

Day 2 offered time to catch up with old friends, have a leisurely meal, and other small luxuries.

Then I listened to Suresh Menon, the famous cricket journalist, talking about his book `Why Don't You Write Something I Might Read?'. As stated by him, the book's title is inspired by his wife's reply to his frequent suggestions to read his writings. This book, from cursory browsing, reveals it is a good book for anyone wanting ideas on what to read.

Anyone who stayed in Bangalore for a reasonable length of time would have gone to Cubbon Park, one of the two lungs of the city. The other is Lal Bagh. Roopa Pai has written a book on this favourite green space of the erstwhile Garden City. It looks like the perfect book for reminiscence purposes.

It started with AG-BLF Book Prize announcements. I won't name the winners here only to make you visit the Atta Galatta Facebook Page.

Next up was Kubbara Sait spoke on her book `Open Book'. Celebrities, especially the Indian ones, hardly get so candid with the grey areas of their life, but she did this through the book. We often are so guilt-ridden about our transgressions that we bottle it up inside and suffer more. Expressing one's pitfalls in life can prove a lesson to others and also remove a burden from our hearts. No better way than to write it.

Kafeel Khan doesn't need an introduction. He spoke about his book `The Gorakhpur Hospital Tragedy'. What happened to him is too well known to be recalled. This book is essential to understand his side of the story. If the Government comes out with its side of the story, I will definitely read it. After all that he has gone through, the man has retained his smile and kudos to him for that. I am not judging him because that is the court's job.

I rounded off BLF 2022 listening to William Dalrymple. He has so much knowledge of India. Reading his Company Quartet will be on my list of `To Be Read Books' 2023.

The best thing about BLF is it is an independent book festival. There is no corporate sponsor, and that is the best part of it. All sides of society get heard patiently and queried politely. I hope it remains this way for years and years.

- AM Balsubramaniam

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