The Sanskrit word for festival is utsav. That is actually made of two words ut and sav. Ut means lifting and sav stands for everything negative. Thus utsav loosely means lifting the mind above darkness. In other words, a festival is a celebration of mind, of life.
Man has always found reasons to celebrate – from the hunter-gatherer to the nomad to the settled peasant and, of course, to the modern man, festivals have been integral to life and living. It’s a kind of metaphysical escapism man has devised to win spurts of reprieve from the Sisyphean futility that life has become for most. It’s like looking forward to a drink in an agreeable company at the end of a challenging day.
But what happens when these spurts of reprieve become a humdrum affair? When the fizz, the effervescence, is gone out of that rare champagne; and it turns out to be a dead spirit, bland and insipid?
Let’s face it. Our literature festivals are being threatened by a cancerous multiplication of the same, leading to predictable results. Apart from the ‘more of the same’ repetitiveness, these festivals have also become, over a short period, syndicates of men and women with interests that are far removed from pure literature. In other words, literature festivals are gradually being divorced from their literary interests and qualities. Instead of being enriched by words of wisdom and creativity, these festivals are now being turned into a veritable Babel of noises with most of the action taking place not in book-reading sessions or at poetry recitations, but in five-star lifts and in the dark shades of hotel lobbies.
What purpose does it serve, given such a bleak scenario, if one more literature festival is foisted on the unguarded reader? Frankly, do we need one more platform for some fat-cat corporate wives and their page-three tight-pants sashaying in their chiffons and Tuxedos getting drowned, without a clue whatsoever, in the vortex of a Jose Saramago or an Orhan Pamuk? That is, unless such an attempt makes the cut into a new level, a new theme, and a new narrative – a whole new literature?
Welcome to the Gateway Litfest 2015 (February 14-15). The two-day festival may not be all about a whole new literature; but it’s an attempt to resurrect the old literature with a whole new narrative.
We seem to have forgotten that India is often referred to, and rightly, as an ethnological museum for its diverse cultural, linguistic and even national streams, all of which are not only rooted in the same soil, but are also enriched by the same history, civilization, and heritage, and the same totems, and tribal memories. Much like its countless rivulets, streams, and mighty rivers running through the length and breadth of this vast geographical marvel called India, and all of them coming out of the same mountain springs and merging into the same oceans.
We also seem to have forgotten that we are a country that can rightly boast of nearly 25 regional languages, 13 scripts, and over 700 dialects, not to speak of hundreds of tribal tongues at various stages of evolution. More importantly, each of these 25 regional languages has an impressive pedigree of a literature that goes back to hundreds of years in history. Chilappathikaram, the Tamil classic (around second or third century) and Tholkapiam, an iconic work on Tamil grammar, also dated around the same time as Chilapathikaram. would predate most of the great works in world literature. What to speak of the two greatest works in the history of humankind – Ramayan and Mahabharat!
Statistics apart, there is an irrefutable case for the busybodies of these festivals to shift their focus to the country’s regional language literature, instead of reducing them to annual ceremonies to pay tributes to a certain Thomas Babington MaCaulay and his progeny.
Starting with the first Gateway Litfest, this would be our ceaseless endeavour.
Bill Clinton famously described ‘litfests’ as the Woodstock of the mind. Despite the fact that literature, great literature in any case, is not born out of public places and parks, rather in the cocoons of human mind, we accept the definition to the extent that music, like literature, is eclectic in its body and soul.
So welcome to Woodstock of the mind.