Monday, October 19, 2009
A first for Kerala
KOVALAM LITERARY FESTIVAL
The festival has established itself as an event of significance
Photo: Organiser Binoo K. John
By Shevlin Sebastian
Three years ago, the Delhi-based author cum journalist Binoo K. John decided to start an annual memorial lecture in honour of his late father, the distinguished journalist K.C. John. The first lecture was delivered by Tehelka magazine editor Tarun Tejpal. It was followed by William Dalrymple, award-winning author.
However, Binoo was finding it difficult to get sponsors. They told him it was easier to provide money if there was a literary festival.
And thus, the Kovalam Literary Festival was set up in 2008. But that was not the only reason for setting up the event. “Kerala does not have a festival like this,” he says. “Book readings don’t happen here; there are no literary sessions.”
In Kerala of course, there is very little engagement with outside writing. “The reason is because Malayalam literature is so powerful and rich,” he says. “I wanted to break that with a national festival, with an international flavour. After the festival at Jaipur this is the second-best in India.”
Last year there were top-notch authors like the V.S. Naipaul biographer, Patrick French and eminent poet Gulzar, backed up by the CEO of Penguin Mike Bryan and of HarperCollins, V.K. Karthika. But this year the star power was missing.
“There are only about ten top quality writers in India,” says Binoo. “Last year, five had come.” He was referring to authors who sell more than 20,000 copies like William Dalrymple, Amitav Ghosh, Shobhaa De, Shashi Tharoor and Vikram Seth. “However, five of India’s top young writers participated in this edition,” he says.
Others had been invited but did not arrive: Shobhaa De and the South African anti-apartheid writer Rozena Maart. This year Binoo had wanted the festival to be a showcase for Pakistani writing.
But all the top three Pakistani writers -- Daniyall Mueenuddin, Hanif Mohammed, and Kamila Shamsie -- pulled out at the last minute. “This happens at every festival,” he says. “But the ones who took part, like the art historian Christopher Pinney and sociologist Sanjay Srivastava are the top guys in their respective fields.”
Clearly the festival has made its mark. However, the location at Kovalam has been a hindrance for those who stay at Thiruvananthapuram. “But the ambience is so wonderful,” says Binoo. “All successful festivals are held in highly picturesque places. Think of The Hay on Wye in Wales and Ubud in Bali.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)