In two days, Ooty’s celebrated Nilgiri Library will be the setting for the seventh edition of the Ooty Literary Festival (OLF). The heritage building has been the venue for all the editions held this far, but as Kalpana Kar, co-trustee of the festival informs Lounge during this interview, the library has been revamped this year, courtesy the event.
“A heritage building which dates back to 1867, the library has received an uplift. The wood has been replaced and the floors have been polished,” she says before diving right into what's in store for festival audiences on 6-7 October.
An event that so far conjured an image of a cosy, unhurried get-together of book lovers and writers has also been reimagined on a bigger scale says co-trustee of the lit fest, Aroon Raman.
The lineup of speakers is in line with this. From literary stalwarts to business leaders, historians, poets, journalists and a sprinkling of film personalities, audiences can look forward to two days of engaging conversations. Anjum Katyal, Jerry Pinto, Sudha Murty, Anirudh Kanisetty, Dr Mukund Rajan, Capt. GR Gopinath, and Raja Krishnamoorthy are some of the participating speakers.
“We wanted it to be a balanced curation, one where we’d have speakers representing the yin and yang of every topic,” Kar says, about how they zeroed in on the speakers. “We chose speakers who’d be able to bring that topic together." As for the celebrities attending the fest — Javed Akhtar, Aamir Khan, Kalki Koechlin, Mansoor Khan and Honey Irani — Kar sounds pragmatic when she says, “We wanted some star appeal to be able to reach audiences.”
On day one, eminent Tamil writer Perumal Murugan will be awarded the Ooty Literature Festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award. “This time for the bicentennial, we wanted the awardee to be a Tamil literary figure and there’s no one better than Perumal Murugan to fit that bill,” she says about the nomination.
According to Raman, their attempt was to showcase “different genres in a kind of 360 degree coverage of subjects of relevance.” He is particularly excited by the panels on conservation and gender and identity. A panel titled ‘Is Indian Conservation at a Crossroad?’, to be held on 6 October, for instance, features Dr. Mahesh Rangarajan, Dr. Shankar Raman and Suprabha Seshan in conversation with Rohini Nilekani on the challenges and pathways for the conservation movement in India and the Nilgiris. Three panels on gender and identity will feature speakers like Parmesh Shahani, Apsara Reddy and Srilata Batliwala.
Young minds, music, and more
The festival has an entire schedule dedicated to youngsters on both days. Called Igniting Minds, it will have 500 students, including participation from tribal and government schools, participating on both days. On the second day, “the sessions…will be entirely in Tamil,” Kar says.
The literary festival’s wider scope has also translated into the addition of a photography exhibition and music performances on both days. The photography exhibition, titled Remembering & Reimagining, has been curated by writer Jenny Pinto and features an extensive collection of photos spanning 200 years that document the social, ecological and cultural history of the Nilgiris. An exhibition of illustrations by eminent artist Paul Fernandes, called An Artist Recreates the Magic of Ooty, will also be on display.
Additionally, “people who have a dotted line connection to the Nilgiris are coming together to create music in the hills on both days,” says Kar. This includes bands like Moon Arra, Rajeev Raja Combine, The Sami Sisters and Unwind and soloists like Sulaiman Jamal, Ivan Enos and Rear Admiral Nirmala Kannan.
While the work of putting the lit fest entailed a few challenges, Kar signs off by saying that her takeaway from the entire experience has been finding that Ooty is “a committed town that rises to the occasion with great enthusiasm.”