135 speakers. 11 countries. 75 sessions. 9 book launches
Every edition of the Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest has been unique and special in some way. This year, the thirteenth, was doubly special. To begin with, it was our first “hybrid” Festival, with a combination of on-site and virtual sessions to cater to our on-ground audiences who have been faithfully attending the Festival for over a decade, as well as the millions of viewers who joined us online during the past two pandemic years. Second, it was the palpable excitement and happiness of the visitors, organisers, sponsors and hosts to be back at the familiar and much missed physical venues after two years of locked gates chained up by Covid-19 protocols. The on-ground venues were mostly packed to overflowing.
The two evenings of online sessions starring fiction greats Colm Tóibín and Damon Galgut; internationally known writers and thinkers Pankaj Mishra, Dina Nayeri, Susan Liautaud, George Monbiot, John Pilger, Paul Morland, Dave Eggers, and the debut novelists shortlisted for Tata Literature Live! Literary Awards have already attracted almost 3.25 million views.
The sessions at the NCPA at Nariman Point were bookended by International Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree’s gentle ruminations peppered with Varun Grover’s inimitable questioning style, and Usha Uthup bringing the house down with a medley of her songs after reminiscing through her autobiography. In between, Shashi Tharoor and Raghav Bahl delivered a seminal session on Dr Ambedkar; the rapier cut and thrust of the Great Debate swung the audience from favouring the motion to voting against it; an audio feed had to be organised outside the hall for visitors thronging to hear Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Award recipient Mahesh Elkunchwar speak on Space and Time in Art; the Festival’s Poet Laureate Gieve Patel mesmerised listeners with recitations of his work; the powerful sound and song of the performance Desdemona Roopakam rang to the rafters; Nandita Haksar raised issues of national conscience in an attentive hall; Mumbaikars filled the sessions on fiction, commerce, history and art built around the city; Mallika Sarabhai and Onir probed questions of identity. Audiences engaged with expert panellists discussing various issues around defence, gender, corporate social responsibility, business, and human pain and loss; Jerry Pinto reflected the Festival’s exuberance by spontaneously reading out one of his poems in the foyer of the Little Theatre; the Gujarati poetry session took on the feel of a mehfil, sprinkled with wah wah! and saras! from the audience; the French noir team, apart from discussing crime writing, organised a cracker of a treasure hunt.
At the partner venues at Bandra’s St Pauls Institute of Communication Education and Title Waves book store, Major General Ian Cardozo battled an army not of enemies, but fans, as he entered to launch his book Cartoos Saab; popular Mumbai author Ashwin Sanghi discussed his new novel; whoops and cheers greeted the announcement at the session on football that Tata Steel is opening a residential academy for women players; queues upon queues, especially of young people which was most heartening to see, lined up for the masterly discourses on business, health, history, data, sex laws. It was house-full for as diverse sessions as an expressive poetry reading by multi-national poets, and Australia-based media activist Antoinette Latouf’s robust views on how to tackle bigotry and prejudice. Throughout the day groups of ten “visited” the interactive performance Word Hospital, where neglected words lay dying, and managed to restore them to life by reviving their usage.
A much appreciated dimension to this year’s Festival was Padma Shri Mamang Dai, Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih and Hannah Lalhlanpuii speaking on various panels at both venues and bringing in the elements of literature, history and political legacies of North East India.
Equally appreciated were the two new awards hosted on the Festival platform: the Rotary Writing For Peace Award and the Binod Kanoria Awards For Children’s Literature. They both represent themes important to the Festival, and to society as a whole: one standing for peace and reconciliation and the other for inculcating in children the delights and importance of reading.
The prestigious Tata Literature Live! Literary Awards wrapped up the two and a half day on-ground Literary extravaganza. Amit Majmudar and Gurnaik Johal won for Fiction, Anirudh Kanisetti and Rukmini S. for Non-Fiction, Narotam Sekhsaria for Business, and the Publishing Award went to HarperCollins Publishers India.
The Festival is not complete without the keenly attended imaginative Workshops, (which this year included horror writing for children!) the Book in Focus session which in 2022 was aptly Catch 22 and the Book Swap in the NCPA’s pretty open air Sunken Garden. The books received are annually given to select NGOs.
The Festival also extended to other platforms across Mumbai, with seven authors and the group of six Indian and UK queer poets visiting four college campuses. Enthusiastic students filled early morning sessions!
Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai Litfest has firmly established itself as one of the major festivals the city looks forward to annually. Come winter, come November, come the first cool winds of the season, and, as surely, will come the Litfest. We look forward to welcoming you again next year.