The Spirit of Literature: An impacting start to the Tata Literary Festival 2015

The Literary festival was held at the NCPA (National Centre for the Performing Arts) and has been running for a few years now. The setting as well as the promised content had been a source of anticipation for me for more than a week. The centre that played host to it promised quality and provoking sessions under the assurance of its generation- wide walls that had held before praised works that had been embedded into our culture. However, it is the scenic view that on a simpler scale makes for a memorable visit with its location at the edge of the open ocean and the bay yawning outwards (I don’t know whether ‘yawning’ works here but stay with me) most fitting for a place on the canvas of a great artist. This makes sense as it is a centre for the arts. Understand though that the NCPA is one ugly landmark.

All this and the excitement of the crowd created a surreal aura. One that I welcomed as it made me hold my breath (Quite literally as well for about 23s) in an anxious pause. I have been wondering what was wrong with me? People are almost always looking forward to something like this but one might say I was overdoing it. A lot. The truth is that I have attended a few Lit-fests in the UK and other places but I have never done something so heavily oriented around literature in India. Doing this made me feel like I was participating in something that was nearer to my heart. My own culture. I have to admit that India has produced many beautiful works of writing in both its native languages and in English but sadly I have not done much reading of these works. This would be an opportunity to change that and what better way to begin the journey by looking at Literature from and Indian perspective? That’s not to say that it doesn’t have a world view. Every year it boasts a growing number of international guests and a parallel of famous Indian authors.

I want to be clear. I didn’t have much time due to examination prep so I only attended the panels of the first day which captured, in my view a picture of what this ‘Lit-fest’ was about. The first was a panel on a seemingly cliqued question; ‘Can books change the world?’ If this is to be further analysed, it may reveal deeper impressions. What is the essence of change in the world? What do books have that takes to change the world? The two panellists, Germaine Greer and Vikram Seth were the of the right experience to answer the question. Germaine is a renowned feminist and president of a society on bugs’ rights. She is perhaps best known as the author of a world renowned book; ‘The Female Eunuch’. It is said to be an influential text for the feminist movement and is praised by a lot of people. Surprisingly she claimed it was one of her worst books and that it has been made better than it was by her readers and fans over time. This was part of an argument that was headed towards this conclusion: books do not change the world. They’re simply part of the larger change that is constantly ongoing. To counter her wit and brilliance Vikram Seth was present. He is a charming man and has experience writing in a wide variety of genres. If anyone could claim books change the world it’s him. His work touches households internationally with more personal and relatable subjects from childrens’ books to travel guides. It was a whole new perspective for me. I have never really thought about how books affect change. I just like to read a lot. I am inclined to side with Seth on this one. I believe that books do affect change. They can change lives, alter careers and be inspirational sources of willpower like the Bhagavad Gita or equally dangerous sources of destruction like Mein Kampf. Ultimately it goes down to the level of individual change. This would be change in a single person. The slightest shift in thought. After all it’s the little parts that make up the world we know. It is the little parts that when coming together can be an awesome wave.

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