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Kolkata Literary Meet’s online edition fills the lit fest's-missing soul

Renowned novelists and experts have a chat analyzing latest books and literary works

Shrestha Saha | Published 07.02.22, 05:51 AM

Kalam on the Net held online last week was Tata Steel Kolkata Literary Meet’s attempt to not let Kolkata miss a very literary January that we have always been blessed with! The literary festival held in association with The Telegraph at Victoria Memorial Hall has been postponed, but what we got instead were some fantastic sessions spread across four days from January 25 to 31. From Booker Prize-winning author Damon Galgut to trailblazer Indra Nooyi, the lineup had us momentarily forget the online fatigue we all seem to be plagued with and instead log onto social media to watch the interactions live. The Telegraph brings you small glimpses from the online festival which can be viewed on Kolkata Literary Meet’s YouTube and Facebook pages.

Damon Galgut in conversation with Sandip Roy


Nominated thrice and having won the Man Booker Prize the third time, the one question Damon Galgut has probably answered the most is about his feelings after having won. “One prepares for another round of being one of the five shortlisted when it has happened twice,” he said genially to author Sandip Roy. The duo was in conversation at the first session on January 25 around Galgut’s winning novel The Promise. A reclusive writer who keeps away from social media, Galgut spoke about everything that went on in his mind from the inception to the execution of this novel. Also the author of books like Arctic Summer, In a Strange Room and The Imposter, Galgut described The Promise as an ‘unconventional book’ that he never thought would one day win the Man Booker Prize. “It jumps very fast between particular points of view. Sometimes in the span of a single sentence, the perspective changes from one to another. I was often worried while writing that these abrupt ‘cuts’ would not reach the reader,” he said. Spoiler alert: it did!

Spanning four decades, The Promise is the story of an Afrikaner family and their inability to keep a promise to their Black domestic help Salome. The conversation encompassed Galgut’s writing style with the use of ‘angles’ to denote conflict in emotions. The South African author who resides in Cape Town has gifted the world a seminal novel that is about family, generational trauma, loss, and love.

Indra Nooyi in conversation with T.V Narendra

T.V. Narendra, CEO of Tata Steel and Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of Pepsico hailed from the same alma mater that is IIM-Kolkata before they charted their respective corporate careers. Of course, the topic of discussion was Nooyi’s new memoir My Life in Full where she traces her life as a young girl in Madras to her illustrious corporate career that has proven to be a source of inspiration for many. She began the chat by highlighting moments from her life that gave her the confidence to understand that she was gifted and could chart a great path ahead. “When I took on kids on stage for a debate, I felt confident. When I played cricket and everyone around me realised that it’s no big deal for a girl to be playing cricket, I got confidence. When I played music with my band on stage, I felt confident,” she said. Academics interested her the least, it was everything that came with academics that put her up to be the woman she is today.

Her idea behind writing the memoir was less about commemorating her journey and more to inspire children around the world that a little girl hailing from a conservative family in South India can also achieve what she sets out to. Preaching a sense of curiosity and the hunger to acquire knowledge as the only pathway towards excellence, she was sure about one mantra –– ‘there can never be confidence without competence”. The competence shines through in every page of her memoir, which could well be rightly misconstrued as a book on leadership.

Andre Aciman in conversation with Malavika Banerjee

Professor at the City University of New York and the author of the acclaimed novel Call Me by Your Name, Andre Aciman was stunned with the response to his novel from his Kolkata readers on his first visit to the city in 2019. The much-awaited sequel to his novel Find Me was published in the pandemic and formed the crux of the discussion that was being held on January 29. “Call Me by Your Name was written as a distraction from a larger, more complicated novel that I was writing at the time. I ended it abruptly knowing very well that I would have to return to it someday,” the author began. Find Me returns to Elio and Sami, a decade after their summer in the previous book. Spread across time and space, Aciman spoke about his love for stringing together vignettes from his characters’ lives instead of a complete account from birth to death. “I didn’t want to do that because someone has done it already a hundred years ago and that’s Marcel Proust. I like shorter glimpses and thus Find Me is made up of these various instances. Otherwise, you would have to write everything in between and I was not interested in that,” he said.

Aciman’s inimitable and endearing cheekiness also made appearances in this conversation as he spoke about time and ageing and the way he approached it in the novel. He reiterated his refusal to age for the body lies but it’s how one feels on the inside that matters. “I often still tell people that I am 12 really. That I am naive and will believe everything you say. I will be very timid and shy and self-effacing as I was when I was 12! Very insecure –– I am still that person!” he exclaimed. Aciman is also writing essays when he is not caught up with classes at his university. Get a glimpse of his life in the pandemic and how his ‘young’ mind works by revisiting the recording of the session when he was in conversation with festival director Malavika Banerjee.

Last updated on 07.02.22, 05:51 AM

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