The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), which is underway in the pink city, has been a trailblazer, sparking a stampede of literature festivals in its wake, with no less than 70 of them springing up across India and South Asia. And interestingly, most of them have managed to secure some form of corporate and government support. The JLF, for instance, has enjoyed the support of the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), the public diplomacy division of the ministry of external affairs, and the ministry of culture. Its sponsors include a veritable who’s who of the corporate world, not to mention the cultural diplomacy wings of various countries, such as the British Council, Alliance Francaise, and the American Center. The Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF), another big stop in India’s lit-fest circuit, also boasts of state and corporate partners.

JLF
JLF

There was a time when India barely had any literary festivals. There were readings and book launches, there were mushairas and kavi sammelans but not literary festivals—it is a western import like the ‘novel’.

Just as there is an epidemic of novel-writing in India these days, there is also an outbreak of literary festivals in the country. Every city worth its salt has a lit fest going on and writers, publishers and readers aren’t exactly complaining. In India, when we like something, we tend to go overboard. The same is true of lit fests. But I hope we stop at the city level and don’t take literary festivals to the mohalla level. A Kirti Nagar literary festival or a Jorbagh lit fest does not sound right. A reading group would be much more appropriate at that level.

I was recently in Chennai and one of my friends told me that his daughter who is in third standard wants to become a writer. That’s great, I said. When I was in school, I could barely get my head around what was happening in the classroom, let alone think of becoming a writer. India’s new generation will take the country to another level. Who will not welcome such glad tidings about India?

On my way to the Jaipur literature festival (JLF) this January, I was pondering why was there so much growing interest in reading and writing in India now? Why so many literary festivals? While this is a welcome pandemic, there must be some robust reasons behind it.