Kumaon Literary Festival: The Malgudi of writers & poets

By Aminah Sheikh

Left to right: Daleep Akoi (KLF Chair Organizing Committee), TM Krishna (Carnatic Vocalist,  Writer on Human Choices, Dilemmas & Concerns, Recipient, Magsaysay Award 2016), Justice AK Sikri (Judge Supreme Court of India ), Sumant Batra (KLF Founder) and Rishi Suri (KLF Planning Board)

Where is Malgudi? Renowned novelist R K Narayan was often asked, and many undertook a wild goose chase to find the South Indian town, drawing different conclusions – perhaps it was Mysore or Bengaluru. Of the many replies Narayan gave when asked about this world he had conjured and if it did really exist, he said, “Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived”.

Looking outside of the tinted windows in the train’s air-conditioned compartment, I smiled. I had a brilliant writer’s conjured world, for company. The train, over two days, was taking me across five Indian states to reach Delhi from where I was headed to Uttrakhand.

Sunsets at jungle retreats, are perfect for story-telling, especially when stories are of the jungle and their legends. “In the good old days, we didn’t fear the tigers. We welcomed them,” said Deep Belwal, a well-known resident of Ramnagar, as he shared folklores from the land which hosts the Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF).

Deep Belwal narrating folk stories from Kumaon 

KLF’s founder Sumant Batra has often spoken of his vision of developing this region as a ‘culture village’. This is Malgudi of sorts – of the literary world, where people come to tell tales, read a poem, speak of literature such as the Dalit literature that is redefining perceptions and mindsets.  “Kumaon Literary Festival (KLF) brings together celebrated authors, respected thought leaders and opinion makers of the country to the beautiful places of Uttrakhand Kumaon region. Blessed with pleasing climate, the overwhelming view of the Himalayas, lush forests, enticing fruit orchards and charming people, Kumaon is a beautiful weekend getaway close to Delhi. This year we are having around 138 speakers from various parts of the country,” said Batra.

Session on Dalit literature: (left to right) Ashalata Kamble, Nirupama Dutta, Urmila Pawar & Jerry Pinto

The inaugural day of the second edition of KLF came to a serene end with a Dastangoi session, an art form of storytelling, performed by Fouzia and Fazal, followed by a dramatic reading of Kiran Manral’s book ‘Face In The Window’ by Daleep Akoi.

Feeling the grass under my feet, in an ambiance lit with beautiful words amidst the forest, I couldn’t help but wonder about Jim Corbett’s legendary book ‘Man-eaters of Kumaon’ and Narayan’s ‘The man-eater of Malgudi’.

Perhaps, there is a Malgudi in each Indian state, stories waiting to be retold. And KLF may as well be marked as a storyteller’s haunt.

Aminah Sheikh is the online editor of Kitaab.