By Tabish Khair
The fun literary festival season has commenced in India. It will hit its peak in January, when I too am scheduled to appear at the legendary Jaipur Literature Festival, and the upcoming and exciting KALAM in Kolkata. As always, I am honoured to be asked, and totally torn in two by such invitations.
There is no doubt that literary festivals do much good: they bring writers in contact with readers, they enable readers to buy a book or two along with the pau-bhaji or burger that they usually buy during outings, and they focus publicity on some lucky books.
So why is it that I have mixed feelings about doing literary festivals and similar public appearances?
I will try to explain. Being born in middle class circles where one has to earn a salary, I have perforce skirted around full-time writing. Writing is a vocation for me, but in order to write, I have had to hew out careers — first as a journalist in India and then an academic in Denmark.
The vocation of writing demands total commitment — something that my careers do not permit. But they come with their advantages too, apart from the necessary salary. Journalism trained me to write accessibly and keep a deadline. It enabled me to meet the sort of people — criminals, politicians, bigots — who were not part of my circles. Academia allowed me to read widely, and in some depth. Both fed into my vocation as a writer. Read more