Sundeep Bhutoria

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Sunday, February 5, 2012

A heart that beats for books

With Carl W Ernst
I arrived in Kolkata from a nearly three-week trip to Jaipur and Mumbai. By the time I reached Kolkata, the Kolkata Literary Meet (KLM) was over, but the Book Fair was still on. So on Friday, I dropped in at the Book Fair, first to attend the Krittibas magazine function at the UB Auditorium, and then to just take a round of the fair.
Over the past week, the newspapers have been full of KLM and, of course, the likes of Imran Khan, Virkram Seth, John Keay, Kunal Basu, and others.
Last month, before leaving for the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), I had written about how the KLM was taking over JLF.
I truly feel that Kolkata can snatch the literary meet crown from Jaipur. The JLF is more a “glamourous mela” than a lit fest. It is merely one big soulless event with a very high glamour quotient and a picture postcard venue, where all the well known authors, celebs, film stars, politicians, and the well-healed want to be seen.
There is no doubt that JLF is very well managed and attended. But somehow, the soul is missing. And this is not just my personal feeling either. Many local artistes and litterateurs, as well as ordinary people, share this feeling.
Kolkata is the city of Saraswati, the goddess of music, knowledge and art. It is the Mecca of Indian culture, the very soul of literature and fine arts. Those who participate in the book fairs in Kolkata do not do so because of the glamour quotient or star attractions. They do so because literature flows in their very blood. I have been a regular at the Kolkata Book Fair and have also been attending the JLF (picture below)
Talking about literature, and comparing Kolkata and Jaipur, is like comparing a human being to a robot. The common man has no role to play at the JLF, whereas Kolkata draws its strength from the ordinary citizen's passion for literature. The crown fits Kolkata's head naturally. For Jaipur, it is the head that is made to fit the crown.
Two top names were missing from JLF – Salman Rushdie and Vikram Seth, while Seth was very much part of the KLM. No doubt, Gulzaar was the biggest hit at JLF, but the glamour quotient at the KLM was no less with the presence of Imran Khan and others.
I feel more initiatives such as KLM should be taken to promote regional language lit fests. English is more than welcome, but literature in local languages has its own rhythm.
Now, I'm looking forward to the three-day event on Agyeye, a stalwart of Hindi literature, whose birth centenary falls this year, to commemorate which I am organising a programme in Kolkata from February 21st.
ess bee

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