Literature in India is moving beyond the confines of print space to reach out to people in interactive venues across the states. The new breed of literary galas is going beyond core literary brainstorming to take up local, cultural and political issues with a cast of international participants, thus rendering a global hue to immediate local concerns.
In the last decade, a spurt in regional literary festivals in places like Jaipur, Kolkata, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Goa, Thiruvananthapuram and New Delhi has integrated literature with the distinctive local cultures, demography, identities and issues to relate to the people.
Homegrown flavours are the lifeline of the new literature festivals in the states.
"The residents of Bangalore (Bengaluru) felt there was need to provide a platform to the very local literary traditions and literary voices. We wanted to establish an annual flagship event on a national and international scale at a historic place," said writer Vikram Sampath, co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival, a three-day event held for the first time in this city, that concluded Dec 9.
Sampath said the festival offered a mix of vernacular and global literature.
"It was global. The festival featured writing in south Indian languages as well," Sampath tod IANS.
Sampath, the co-founder, along with Srikrishna Ramamoorthy, of the Bangalore festival, said: "The issues in Bangalore were different from those of Kolkata".
"Piling garbage, civic logjams, a city crumbling with huge infrastructure, failing standards of government, IT industry... the city is one of contrasts. The festival tried to reclaim this soul of the city with several seminars and sessions designed around them," Sampath said.
And is there a danger of too many lit fests in the country?
"Too many literature festivals are like too many restaurants -- there's room for all," Sampath said.
Kolkata is gung-ho about the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival, which will happen Jan 9-13.
The festival was first started in 2010 to coincide with the centenary of the Apeejay Group, as one of the company's 100 community initiatives to benefit people in small neighbourhoods.
The mood was distinctly ethnic at the Aeepjay Literature Festival, says Renu Kakkar, vice-president of the Apeejay Surendra Group.
The festival will use literature to connect to the heritage of Kolkata with emphasis on the Victoria Memorial, St. John's Church and the Lascar Monument on the Hooghly river -- landmarks that will be prominent stops on the festival map.
"The festival will design an interactive 'patachitra', a modern-day version of the scroll painting with narrative songs of 19th century Kolkata on computer to tell the story of the city through the voices of the people," Kakkar told IANS.
The festival this year will host writers like Ramachandra Guha, who will speak on "What kind of Asian was Gandhi".
The uniqueness of the Kolkata Apeejay festival is that it is only one in the country organised by a bookstore, the Oxford Bookstore - a shop intricately woven into the intellectual consciousness of Kolkata, Kakkar said.
The Oxford Bookstore partners the Surendra Apeejay group for the festival.
At the Jaipur Literary Festival scheduled for Jan 24-28, the focus will be on literature in Indian languages.
Writers in 17 Indian languages will connect to an essentially Hindi-speaking audience in Jaipur under a project entitled "Ek bhasa hua karti hain".
"The creative and dynamic programming of Indian languages will make the Jaipur Literature Festival more democratic in one sense, more Indian in a deeper sense, and make these languages familiar to the wider audience," says poet Ashok Vajpeyi, who is associated with the festival.
The Jaipur Lit Fest also attempts unique outreach programmes. Last year, more than 1,000 children attended the festival as "guests".
The Music Stage -- a separate segment of the Jaipur festival -- plays host to new fusion culture of Rajasthan with collabration between local musicians playing folk instruments and foreign bands.
Book fests are devising more and more ways to reach wider audiences.
A roving book festival, "The Bookwallah", supported by the Asialink Writing Programme affiliated to the University of Melbourne, Australia, took six writers from the Mumbai Live, a literature festival, on a 2,000-km train journey of southern India to meet readers, students and the general public. The travelling writers also carried along a pop-up library.
"Our writers experienced a little of southern India on train and visited each city on foot. They discussed their books and ideated across a range of topics -- modern love, the politics of travel and migration, Australian and Indian culture and identity," Nick Low, one of the organisers of "Bookwallah", told IANS.
The Goa Arts and Literary Festival and Kovalam Literary Festival speak of the local cultural issues on the sidelines of the mainstream session while the Bookeraoo, the annual children's book festival in Delhi, intervenes in more than 100 government schools on issues of education and new forms of creative expression.
Through literature, "geopolitics, politics, caste systems and productive analysis of social issues" could be gleaned, says Sanjoy Roy, producer of the Jaipur Literary Festival.
"The festivals allow us to cross the boundary between the present and future and connects us - it does so in many different languages," Roy told IANS.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)