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Bees to honeycomb of words

- Book promotion, motivation & interaction factors for lit fest popularity

Patna, March 24: Readers flock to a literature festival like bees to a honeycomb, feels Fahmida Riaz, betraying a poet’s affinity for similes.

True for readers, but true in equal measure for writers, cinema personalities and performing artistes. They, too, came in large numbers to the two-day Patna Literature Festival, which ended on Sunday.

But why did they come? Literature, after all, is the most solitary of all arts: writers and readers do not necessarily need to meet in person.

“One reason I go to lit fests is to promote my books,” said Anuja Chauhan, author of the bestselling The Zoya Factor and Those Pricey Thakur Girls. “But it also gives me a chance to interact with other writers and readers, whom I would never meet otherwise.” Meeting their literary colleagues from across the country and the subcontinent was a major motivation for other writers as well. “Where else would I have the opportunity to talk to Gulzar?” said Pakistani versifier Riaz.

She and Chauhan — acquaintances from Jaipur, the Woodstock of South Asian literature — had a joyful reunion in Patna.

Those who came to see them were not just readers but also aspiring authors. M.R. Sharan, 24, arrived at the planetarium, the festival venue, with his friends not only attracted by the famous names on the marquee but also with a secret. “He is a writer,” revealed his friend Nandini. Though he denied having literary ambitions, Sharan complained that some of the sessions were too short to be satisfactory.

Brevity was essential though to accommodate all the events that crowded the schedule of the festival.

On Sunday morning, the audience were treated to Bengali Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari’s humorous anecdote of meeting with mentor Mahasweta Devi and listened to filmmaker Benoy K. Behl discuss the Buddhist heritage of Bihar.

Eager readers also got an opportunity to get their books signed by the authors and take photographs with them. Fans stalked Gulzar — easily the most popular person at the fest — around the venue. Those who could not manage to get an autograph bought his books at the Vani Prakashan outlet. “Gulzar has been a bestseller,” said Ramesh Mishra, the sales manager. “Followed by Rakshandha Jalil and Anuja Chauhan.”

Apart from hobnobbing with the famous and the celebrated, the organisers had also tried to give a futuristic tinge to the festival. “I have organised this fest for the future of my children. I want them to feel proud of their roots and find a bright, fulfilling and creative home right here in Patna,” said cardiac surgeon Ajit Pradhan, who has played a yeoman’s role as organiser.

The penultimate session of the day, “Kya hum dakiyanoos ho rahe hain?” was also an eye on the future. Doordarshan director-general Tripurari Sharan, Asian Development Research Institute member secretary Shaibal Gupta and senior journalist Antara Dev Sen debated conservatism and its effect on free speech with academic Apoorvanand.

Despite splitting hair over whether “hum” referred to a mob or public consensus, the panellists agreed that free speech was essential for the carnival of democracy.

A literature festival is, after all, the honeycomb that hosts a carnival of free speech.


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