Chasing the word at Lekhana

As Lekhana returned to dazzle wordophiles for a second year running, we look at a personal experience of the Lit-Fest and how its mouth-watering line-up of published Indian writers, shared snippets of their journey with author-aspirants and enthusiasts alike.

"If someone’s looking for Salman Rushdie’s Sea of Stories, sail to White Field," I heard a fellow bookworm tell me. So I wiggled out of a dying week and curiously headed out for a truly enlivening time. Over the past weekend, Bangalore was treated to a journey into the literary mind. Novelists, playwrights, short-story authors, poets, lyricists, journalists and droves of word-junkies converged at White Field’s Jagriti theatre for the Lit-Fest Lekhana

After readings of their Indian-language poetry, Indian Ensemble Theatre’s Abhishek Majumdar and Sandeep Shikar, chat with their listeners. Pic: Jatin Prabhu

From January 18th through 20th, this popular venue for stage-productions, was transformed into a vortex of creative enlightenment, as many achievers of the published word, shared their views and experiences. While neither the magnitude of the reception, nor the stature of the speakers, were as overwhelming as the Bangalore Literature Festival last month, the ambiance here was thus, more intimate and interactive. And as a passionate citizen of Bangalore, with an insatiable appetite for the offerings of the creatively-inclined, I was privileged to be part of this cultural buffet. 

Into its second year now, Lekhana, got off to sprightly start. I walked into the little lobby of the theatre-complex and felt a palpable air of anticipation among the sizable crowd there. Immediately absorbed into this whirlwind of positive vibes, I next found myself on-stage, in the midst of the opening event: Body of Words. The day-long workshop being led by the western-trained dancer Yuki Ellias, showed us how to conceptualise words, viscerally, through movement. Thus, I enacted the motion of washing a shirt, followed by the motion of the shirt itself being washed, before penning down the experience in my own words. "The act of becoming one with the object of my attention," observed one participant Rohini Malur, "greatly expands the scope of my writing canvas". 

This exercise and other such, sensitised aspiring writers into identifying and fusing with the subject of their imminent description. But for those not quite ready for an out-of-body experience, there was the more relatable medium of theatre that followed. Thus, I settled back in an audience seat as Jagriti co-founder Arundhati Raja, presented her latest directorial effort – an adaptation of Christopher Johnson The Dogs’ Logs. Laughs and pouts abounded as we watched a handful of human actors, each take on the avatar of a different breed of dog. They then proceeded to recount their individual stories of love, loss, loyalty, integrity, defiance and confusion, ironically encapsulating the human experience. 

Poetry wrapped up the day’s itinerary. If "brevity is the soul of wit", as the Bard articulated, then there was plenty of brevity and soul and wit, as put out in the translation of a volume. The Tamil source material ran parallel to a newly-scribed English interpretation, taking elegant words from one of the world’s most enduring languages to a wider, modern audience. The translator is Lakshmi Holmstrom and the book is Wild Girls, Wicked Words. Even as the curtain went down on Day 1, I found myself thirsting for more. 

Saturday brought a vibrant gamut of talks and forums, aimed at helping further demystify the writing-process. Thus, opinions, facts and feedback defined much of the discussions. While addressing the various topics in focus, participants contemplated the pleasures and pitfalls of translating poetry and prose between different languages, with particular focus on the varying semantics of the tongues. We also heard songwriters and musicians, including frontman of Bangalore-based Rock band Thermal and a QuarterBruce Lee Mani, and Jazz group UNK’s leader-singer Radha Thomas, ruminate on how music shouldn’t drown out a song’s lyrical quality. 

The amphitheatre-like layout of the main auditorium facilitated non-wired sound-projection of all attendees. Also, for a change, the celebrities literally looked up to the audience. This symbolised a sense of humility, which made fans and aspiring writers like me, feel very much part of a successful literary community. It was also good to see the co-organisers Sanjay Iyer, Arshia Sattar, et al, actively posing questions to the folks in the spotlight. 

The afternoon’s highlights included two panel discussions on short-fictions. British Author Rebecca Lloyd and editor of online literary magazine Out of Print Indira Chandrashekar, solicited the views of the dais (which included Tehelka’s Nisha Susan of the Pink-Chaddi Campaign fame), on just how essential is dialogue in a short story. Interesting answers included one, that verbal-exchange between characters in a short-story is a welcome change to drab narrative, and the other, that it takes the story forward in a more subtle manner. One of the panelists’ Jahnavi Barua, a Bangalore-based Assamese native, also shed light on the need to keep depictions of people, true. She pointed out that the general restraint in the demeanour of her native people constitutes the identity of the characters in her acclaimed collection of short stories, entitled Next Door

Book-readings by other authors of some note, unfolded simultaneously on Jagriti’s terrace. One of such distinguished readers was the UK-based Prajwal Parajuly, a Nepali-Sikkimese, who at the age of 28, boasts the distinction of having become the youngest-ever Indian author to receive an international contract. The fruit of his labour and the glowing new release from his publisher Quercos, is The Gurkha’s Daughter. This compilation of anecdotal chapters helps elucidate the plights, flights and fights of the Nepalese people. Having confessed to taking off on this topic on whim, the unassuming Parajuly urges us to, "Just start writing on anything that catches your fancy. Who knows how many lives you’ll touch in the process, while discovering yourself?" 

One of Bangalore theatre’s stalwarts Arundhati Raja, and author-turned-playwrite Anita Nair, mull the quandaries of churning out magic on stage. Pic: Jatin Prabhu.

Sunday marked a fitting finale to the three-day event. Lekhaks expounded in their printed Indian-language words and thoughts in a three-reader session, highlighted by theatre-personality Abhishek Mazumdhar. Eloquence and elegance in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali blended into impassioned literature within the frame of the random everyday, aam-aadmi experience. 

Elsewhere in Jagriti, Arundhati Raja and novelist-turned-playwright Anita Nair grappled with dillemmas on how to interpret done-to-death play-scripts, in a renewed manner. Meanwhile, the auditorium was in the midst of an intense debate on getting non-fiction books published, wi
th sports-journalist Suresh Menon elaborating on monetary and distribution challenges of his biography of Indian cricket’s spin-legend Bishen Singh Bedi (Bedi:Portrait of a Cricketer). 

As an unsung, unpublished writer myself, it was a thrilling experience to rub shoulders over lunch at Jagriti with so many of these achievers. Over complimentary parantha, daal and curd, their friendly words were also appetising and sustaining. However, one could feel the absence of local word-wizards as Shashi Deshpande, Ramachandra Guha, Girish Karnad and Anjum Hasan. Nevertheless, as the afternoon progressed, advice on play-writing, eliciting publication and weathering criticism, were tackled head-on, as Lekhana 2013 finally wound down. In the end, I found myself happy just to feel part of an extended family, and like my enormous biological own, it felt like we were re-discovering a connection.

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