The Literati Affair

BY VIBHA MITRA

The Lit Fest has become an important winter activity in Kolkata. The schedules are perused. Shortlists are made according to author choices and venues. Packing a bag with food, water, books to read, and knitting it is a daily outing soaking in the sunshine and erudition. Dalrymple, Shashi Tharoor, Ruskin Bond, Devdutt Patnaik are festival regulars and must attend talks, but often there are gems that emerge. Kolkata, a city of literati, is ideal for these festivals and venues that are brimming with scholars, students, teachers, men women all united by a love of the written word. They attentively listen and the question hour is always short and never enough for this well-read audience, conversant with books presented.

A super great favourite author of mine, Joanne Harris, was present at a much-coveted session. Having read Chocolat, Blackberry Wine and Five Quarters Of The Orange among others, I have the fondest memories of canvases of these beautiful villages in Europe, families replete with food stories. A déjà vu of our own regional cuisines and family specialities and favourites. India abounds with Nani-Dadi great tastes that linger on.

Her newest novel, Strawberry Thief, is a continuation “not” sequel of Vianne Rocher and that itself whets one’s appetite. A regular woman, a mom spinning magical stories. A synaesthesist, smelling colours, she enchanted the audience with her smell, sound colour anecdotes. She based the characters on real-life relatives, with an almost “perverse” joy in doing so. The old lady in Chocolat was based on her French grandmother. Rewind to a memory of her grandparents who lived in France during World War. Her grandfather played the double bass. The German soldiers (she asserted not all were Nazis – barbaric) came looking for instruments to form a band. Her grandfather, in a fit of “perverse” madness, refused saying that the instrument was like a beautiful woman and the strings could be plucked by only one lover. The Germans burst out laughing and camaraderie prevailed thereafter.

An enchanting session. The day began with Pushpa Aradhana, a book compiled by my favourite educator Amita Prasad for the Flower Arrangers of India. Instead of being a regular coffee table book with pictures they chose twelve flowers and plants with historical, cultural, religious and food stories in India. The eclectic range included coconut, bamboo, banana, bamboo, Betel, marigold, lotus and others. Fascinating indeed.

Devdutt Patnaik entranced the audience with stories of our Gods and Goddesses substantiated by more fact than conjecture and his quips had the audience asking for more. Manu Pillai with his “Mahatma, Courtesan and the Italian Brahmin” enticed one to read the stories of 60 versatile persons of skill and merit who are not covered by our history books. Untold stories of Wajid Ali Shah, Rani Lakshmi Bai, Begum Sumroo, the most fascinating read would be a “what if” story of the Mahatma if he lived on to 125 years. His reaction to the wars, emergency, Babri Masjid. The possibilities had us in splits.

The afternoon session was a collective of poets from the city reading their interpretations of “unity”, very diverse in terms of content and languages. Commendable!

A fulfilling day, a feast for the soul! Happiness and books and stories to read and tell.

Vibha Mitra is a Heritage Enthusiast – actively involved with Calcutta Heritage Collective. With a passion to do things well, she expresses herself from an original point of view. Films, plays, crosswords, Scrabble, Sudoku, Netflix are all jostling for space in her world. Vibha has also authored the book “Odds and Bends”, a journal and her reflection

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