By Aminah Sheikh
Author of the bestselling coffee table book – ‘The Indians’, a lawyer of international repute Sumant Batra’s dream is to mark Dhanachuli (in Uttrakhand) on the culture map. And this he hopes to do through his various literary initiatives, Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) being one of them. Close on the heels of the second edition of KLF, Sumant gets candid with Kitaab.
What gave birth to Kumaon Literary festival (KLF) and how do you view it as being different from the other festivals held in India?
In strive for economic growth, the creative aspirations of the people of India have remained unarticulated. A nation that invests in cultural development as much as it does in economic growth tends to be a happier nation and achieves sustainable development. Creative industry feeds into the country’s soft power. Given the challenging times we live in, there is a need for investment in the creative industry. The idea of KLF stems out of this very belief. There is a whole eco-system comprising of projects and activities that are not limited or confined to the 5-day festival. The institutionalised approach is aimed at maximizing impact, optimize on resources and aim for measurable and tangible outcomes that are in addition to the festival.
KLF has had a successful inaugural last year. How do you see the second edition panning out with the festival being held at two different locations?
It was less than two years ago that I presented the idea of KLF to the world of literature. We could see the green shoots emerging at the end of the first season of the festival last year. The second edition is bigger in design. Our focus, however, remains on quality than quantity. This offers challenges of mobilising financial support. We have, however, held our ground, avoided commercial temptations and continue to navigate our way through pitfalls. There are mammoth restrictions and logistical constraints in organising a festival of this scale in a village that is part of an eco-sensitive area. We have stayed respectful towards the restrictions and observed applicable guidelines.
Which are some of the books slated to be launched at KLF?
Lata- Sur Gatha – the biography of Lata Mangeshkar by Yatindra Mishra, The biography of actress Rekha by Yasser Usman, Shadows of the Northland by 14 year old Vishwesh Desai, and three more.
Please share some of the topics that will be part of the sessions this year.
We have over 50 sessions on diverse topics ranging from literature to cinema, politics to travel, on environment and social issues.
Do you envisage KLF to also serve as a market place for aspiring writers in the years to come?
We are a country with a young and aspiring population. It is the responsibility of the more stable and established adults of the society to guide them. Therefore, we strive hard at KLF to stay approachable and mentor them.
What was the thought process while identifying speakers this year?
Speakers are decided purely based on demand of topics/sessions that the planning board finalizes. For us the focus is on topics. Once we firm up the topics/sessions, we get down to identifying speakers that will be most suitable.
Given your experience, what are some of the challenges literature festivals in India face?
Primarily two: mobilizing resources and offering quality content. Festival organizers find it hard to raise sponsorships or right sponsorships. Designing quality content is equally challenging. While we see may festivals mushrooming, not all will sustain in the long run. I believe there will be consolidation and many will merge or partner.
You do have other literary initiatives namely, the Taj Colloquium, Fellows of Nature, Literary Bhagidari and the Dalit Literature Festival. How have they been received?
All our projects have received massive traction and support. While many of these were designed to stem out of KLF and dove-tail back into it, some have already created their own identity in such a short time and ready to go on their path. FON South Asia Short Story Award on Nature Writing has gained unparalleled popularity as a literary award initiative.
Will Literary Bhagidari which is aimed at encouraging children writers travel to other states in addition to Uttrakhand?
Yes, Literary Bhagidari is set to hold workshops in Agra in Uttar Pradesh and Bundelkhand in Madhya Pradesh.
Later this year, your initiative -Dalit Literature Festival- which aims to bring to focus Dalit literature is slated to launch in Delhi, tell us about the festival.
Dalit literature, whether oral or written, has been an integral and vibrant part of Indian literary tradition for centuries. While there is no doubt that Dalit literature and traditions have found robust platforms, particularly at several literature festivals, we feel it is time that there be a standalone festival – in order to showcase, and generate interest amongst the overall literary community, particularly the youth and to make Dalit literature more accessible and create more avenues and opportunities for Dalit writers and artists, particularly young Dalit and non-Dalit writers.
On the personal front, who are some of the new age writers that interest you?
I read anything good recommended by a friend. No particular favourites.
Aminah Sheikh is the online editor of Kitaab.