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How to attend three lit fests this week without stepping out of your home

Pune, Bangalore and Ladakh are each coming up with literature festivals this week, juggling online and offline formats

Writers Shanta Gokhale and Jerry Pinto at the Bangalore Literature Festival, 2019. (Bangalore Literature Festival)

In pre-covid times, it would have been impossible to be physically present at multiple events in a city at the same time—let alone at events spread all over the country. But with events shifting to digital platforms since the covid-19 pandemic, new possibilities have opened up.

Bibliophiles can now attend no less than three literature festivals that are on this week. Between the three events—organised by teams in Ladakh, Bangalore and Pune respectively—books-lovers will be spoilt for choice, with a rich line-up of Indian and international authors.

Let’s begin with north of the country, where the newest union territory Ladakh is holding a literature festival from 10-12 December. In its second edition, the festival is organised by the Ladakh tourism department. While most events these days are organised on virtual media, the festival will be a mix of online and offline sessions, featuring 31 guest speakers and 23 local speakers, including writers, poets, journalists and thinkers.

While the talks largely revolve around the Himalayas, they are not restricted to the region alone. Some of the well-known names include writer Stephen Alter, historian William Dalrymple, Tony Wheeler (the creator of the Lonely Planet guide and current Planet Wheeler Foundation), and writers Raghu Karnad, Amrita Mahale, Shaheen Bhatt, among others.

Far west, the Pune International Literary Festival is hosting a fully virtual three-day event between 11-13 December for the first time in its eight years of existence. Some of the marquee speakers include primatologist Jane Godall, economist and politician Meghnad Desai, environmentalist Janaki Lenin, writer Maya Lang, politician and writer Shashi Tharoor, former intelligence officer Vikram Sood and crime writer Martin Edwards.

To compensate for the offline experience, where audiences usually meet and interact with authors face to face, before every talk, the organisers will run a two-minute video in which the author will talk about their latest work.

For new authors, since there will be no book sales happening at the festival this year, the organisers have created a special section titled ‘Why buy my book’, which will showcase 4-minute videos featuring 20 new authors, who will pitch their books to the audience.

Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi at a previous edition of the Pune International Literature Festival
Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi at a previous edition of the Pune International Literature Festival (Pune International Literature Festival)

“Our biggest challenge will be to hold the audience’s attention, especially in a virtual medium. We have done away with registrations this time, so I am hoping people will tune in,” said Manjiri Prabhu, festival director of Pune International Literature Festival. Last year, the festival had a footfall of 18,000 people.

Like the Ladakh Literature Festival, Bangalore Literature Festival will also be showcasing dual formats. The offline events, which will take place on 12-13 December, will be held at the Bangalore International Centre.

“The city’s slide into cultural silence in its intersections and the realisation that the world won’t change to fit around us brought us back to our planning desk: how to make this happen with all the new realities in place. A session on permanent addresses, for instance, will examine the notion of home in today's climate,” said Shinie Antony, festival director, Bangalore Literature Festival.

Writers Alexander McCall Smith, Anuja Chauhan, Declan Walsh, Jeffery Archer, Chetan Bhagat, Moni Mohsin, Samhita Arni, Vivek Shanbag, Sudha Murthy, and Rohini Nilekani are some of the noted speakers this year.

Speaking about the decision to continue having an offline presence in a pandemic year, Antony said, “The online broadcast is only there to enhance the actual festival, which is on ground. There is no online-only session. There are sessions where a panel has chosen to have a speaker or two on Zoom.”

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