Eight writers. Three days. Thousands of readers. The literary weekend scores of bibliophile Bangaloreans have been waiting for, the first edition of Bangalore Literature Festival (BLF) opened on Friday evening at the Jayamahal Palace with literary stalwarts including UR Ananthamurthy, Gulzar, Chandrashekara Kambara and much-loved writer Chetan Bhagat sharing their thoughts on literature and more.
Hailing the role of literature and writers in troubled times, Ananthamurthy said writers like Dostovesky and Kafka have proved that even when a country isn’t free, writers can free minds with powerful writing. “The situation in our country too could get much worse but writers can save it with good literature. The rulers of this country aren’t worth the literature coming out of this country in many vernacular languages,” he said.
Citing examples of how two young women in Mumbai were arrested for making a comment on Facebook, and someone in Mangalore who spoke up against a rowdy gang harassing women was arrested, the Jnanpith awardee remarked on how freedom of expression is being challenged in India now.
“Every day, newspapers are filled with news on corrupt politicians. This weekend, for a change, let them carry the voices of writers,” he said. Another Jnanpith awardee from Karnataka, Chandrashekhara Kambara, too expressed his joy at Bangalore’s own lit-fest, and stressed upon the importance of freedom of speech.
Poet, lyricist and writer Gulzar had the audience applauding even before he began his talk. A fan in the front row shouted ‘hip hip hurray!’ and the poet politely thanked him, and quipped that such slogans are best kept for sports grounds. BLF should have happened much much earlier, he said. According to him, this city is one place where all the South Indian languages thrive.
“I have had a connection with Bangalore since the fifties. I wrote all the scripts of my old films in the 1950-60s, sitting in Room no. 50 of Westend hotel here,” he said. Later, he delighted the audience further reading out some of his poetry, and sharing anecdotes with writer and Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan Varma.
Writer Shashi Deshpande, who has been one of the advisors for fest since Shinie Antony, Vikram Sampath, Alaham Anil Kumar and Srikrishna Ramamoorthy came up with the idea for a Bangalore’s own literature festival, spoke of her initial apprehensions, and how it went away as the festival took shape so well. “Forty per cent of English writers in India are from Bangalore. And the city has so many book shops, that means people here love books. So now I ask why not a BLF?” she said. This festival would give a level playing field to all genres of literature and all writers, she hoped.