Collective intelligence of the internet is too often sullied by a collective unintelligence

Over 120 writers are expected to visit the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, which will run from November 14 to November 17, 2013 at the National Centre for Performing Arts (NCPA), Mumbai. In conversation with EE, Anil Dharker, Festival Director, Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest 2013, talks about the role of Litfests in the society today and how has the concept evolved over the years.

What is the USP of Tata Literature Live! Mumbai Litfest, 2013?

TATA Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest retains its individuality by being true to its own values. As a small team, we put in what we think is interesting, rather than our idea of what the audience wants. At the same time, we have tried at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest to bring in new ideas and directions from all over the world, every year. That stimulates us as much as it stimulates the audience.

How has this festival grown over the years?

The audience keeps evolving and has been getting progressive over the years. For instance, when the concept of litfests evolved in India, most of the people who attended were older, serious readers and collectors of books. They still continue to come, but they have been joined by quite a large number of younger people, many of them new to the world of books. Tata literature Live counted 12,000 people at the inaugural edition, and 22,000 last year and we are expecting around 25,000 people this year.

Which are the top attractions for this event?

As is the festival’s tradition, the Landmark Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award will honour a legend – Khushwant Singh and the Tata First Book Award which will recognise promising talent. This year, there will be a First Book Award each for Fiction and Non-Fiction. Besides, the festival will present for the first time an art and photography exhibition which investigates the relationship between literature and art by inviting artists to create art works inspired by Khushwant Singh’s autobiography, Truth, Love and a Little Malice. On display will be paintings and photographs from illustrious artists. In addition to this, there will be an exhibition of unique cricket memorabilia by Boria Majumdar to coincide with Sachin Tendulkar’s participation in his career’s 200th and last Test match.  Additionally, on the centenary of Tagore’s Nobel prize, Prof Sugata Bose from Harvard will launch his new translation of Gitanjali while psychoanalyst Sudhir Kakar’s book, Young Tagore will also be released on the occasion.  We also have evening performances that promise to be a great blend of literature and theatre.

What are your efforts to drive a larger footfall to this event? Which are the marketing strategies you are concentrating on to connect with the target group?

The festival will present various verticals of literature — fiction, non-fiction, poetry and plays. They will be presented in a way that appeals to the academic and the lay reader, the bookworm and the occasional browser, the experienced writer and the aspiring author. Various activations like social media, communication the message through our networks, outdoor publicity are activated to spread the message of the festival this year.

In the larger scheme of things, what can you say about the role played by Litfests in the society?

Collective intelligence of the internet is too often sullied by a collective unintelligence, the tendency of people to shoot off unconsidered and ignorant reactions, encouraged by the instant nature of the medium and the cloak of anonymity it gives the user. Public discourse, as witnessed at a literary festival, is a completely different kettle of fish. To start with, experts speak to experts, writers to writers, all of them on a subject they know well, and have worked on for years. The level of conversation and debate, therefore, is at a pretty high level. Interaction with the audience is also well-informed, simply because the people who attend litfests are generally well read, and attend particular sessions because they have a special interest in that subject. The intellectual stimulation that participants and audience derive from a literary festival, not only acts as a spur to further intellectual growth, but it also acts as a catalyst to strike off on diverse and often unplanned intellectual paths.