Literary festivals have intrigued me right from when I attended my first Jaipur Literature Festival in 2014. Since then, I have kept track of every major litfest in the country, and also founded a litfest in Pilani (cutely named Papyrus Trails). How could I then resist attending the Bangalore Literature Festival on 28th and 29th October?

This is a very quickly written long piece, so please see it like that. Might be peppered with spelling and grammar errors. I apologize for that in advance.

Before I start writing about the individual sessions, a few notes on the organization of the festival itself :-


  • I was surprised to find that BLR LitFest was wholly crowdfunded. That is awesome. The theme of the festival was ‘Speak Up and Speak Out’

  • The venue (Hotel Lalit Ashok) was just the right size. It was decorated and maintained pretty well too. There were three main stages - #speakup, #speakout and The Red Couch. There was also a dedicated Children’s stage (which IMO is a masterstroke).

  • The digital artwork of the festival was really very good! Kudos to the designers!

  • The sessions ran on time, save for a ~ 15 minute delay at #speakout on Day 1 (which sort of worked for me - I could attend more sessions than I had planned to).

  • The crowd though was not as cultured as Jaipur (see the irony there?). The Bangalore elite really disappointed me. They were dirtying the place with food leftovers and beer bottles, even when there were enough waste bins around. Not done, Bangalore.

  • The festival as a whole could use some small changes. There were not enough volunteers to carry around microphones, and the microphones didn’t reach the audience at the back at all. I am sure there would be no dearth of volunteers (or microphones, for that matter) in a city like Bangalore.

  • Also, Bangalore peeps, why do you not ask good, relevant questions to the speakers? Where did your intellectualism run off too? It was put-on, right?

  • Another major problem - people keeping seats. The whole idea of hierarchy in reserving seats as well as the principles and values at play while one does that is completely antithetical to the concept of a ‘free’ festival. Again, not done, Bangalore.

  • The food was not really good. But I don’t think that did a lot of harm.

  • The book store was just too cramped! Also, it is never a nice idea to have the signing booth literally beside a stage, that too in a partially closed environment. I hope this is taken care of in the future editions.

  • But I know how tough this might have been to put together. So congratulations team, I had a lot of fun!

Special thanks to Mr. Varun Wachaspati J aka Wachas and Mr. Rishabh Agarwal aka Ballu for companionship during the two days!

Now to the sessions I attended.

Day 1 - Saturday, 28th October

I arrived late, because I was taking my GRE Physics in the morning. Reached at about 12:45 PM.

  • Silence - The Trolls are in Session - Laxmi Murthy, Nidhi Razdan, Sindhu S with Ammu Joseph

    The women spoke about how online trolls have impacted their lives, and how the harassment on social media have given rise to a feeling of wariness in their day-to-day lives. Nidhi Razdan articulated how the left and Congress trolls would only abuse the tweet itself, but the BJP trolls would go to extreme extents and project chauvinistic, jingoist views on the tweets. She also criticized Facebook for not having done much to counter the trolls, and said Twitter was much more proactive in this matter. The audience as well as the panel seemed to agree that women get trolled much more than men.

  • Whose Side are You On? - Gideon Haigh with Suresh Menon

    I have been reading Gideon Haigh’s writings since about two years now. He discussed how one takes sides in cricket, especially in an age when franchise cricket has sponsored. He was of the view that franchise cricket was great entertainment, but it had no recall or nostalgia value.

  • Death by Litigation - The Perils of Business Reporting - Josy Joseph, Maheshwar Peri, Paranjoy Guha Thakurta with Nidhi Razdan

    Perhaps the best session I attended. Moderated beautifully. All the speakers had some really harrowing stories to share about their legal battles with corporates - Paranjoy with the Ambanis, Peri with Arindam Chaudhuri of IIPM, and Joseph with Jet Airways. Their grit and unfazed determination to hold truth to power was inspiring. Paranjoy also was of the opinion that the present government attempts at curbing media was comparable to the times of Ememrgency. Also had the first glance of an Old Uncle who made multiple appearances in further Q&A sessions, and had some really useless comments and questions.

  • Indira - Sagarika Ghose with Paranjoy Guha Thakurta

    Sagarika Ghose spoke on her new book on Indira Gandhi. Was a so-so session peppered with some headline-worthy one-liners like “Narendra Modi is Indira’s true political heir” and “Indira was the only man in the Government”. Also discovered that Old Uncle was a Congress worker in his younger days and a big Indira lover.

  • This Is My Story - Savi Sharma with Varun Agarwal

    We attended this only so that we would have seats for the next talk. Won’t comment, but didn’t have a very good opinion of Savi Sharma’s literary prowess from her speech.

  • How India’s T20 World Cup Win Changed Indian and World Cricket - Anil Kumble, Gideon Haigh, Rajdeep Sardesai with Sharda Ugra

    Look at that panel! Certainly a highlight of day 1. The session seemed to take off from where Gideon’s earlier session had ended. A very erudite discussion aside, the highlight of the session was Kumble being sarcastic towards Rajdeep for not including enough bowlers in his Democracy’s XI and Rajdeep in return naggingly making comments such as “All questions related to Kohli should be directed to Anil” and asking Kumble “Let’s get a headline out of you -Would you be willing to be the Indian coach again?”

  • From Page to Screen - Baradwaj Rangan, MK Raghavendra, Sanjoy Hazarika with Ravi Gupta

    This panel dealt with the issues involved in adapting literature for the big screen. A brilliant, erudite set of panelists destroyed by a pathetic moderator. Ravi Gupta tried to hog too much limelight, and said stupid things like “JK Rowling wrote the later books knowing they would be made into movies and they were better movies.” Utter bullshit. But the other panelists, especially Rangan and Raghavendra spoke brilliantly. The session did create a lot of questions in my mind, one of them being “If a short story is more suitable to be adapted on to the big screen, is the novel best suited for TV?” Though I didn’t get to ask the question during the session, I had a long 40-minute discussion about this with Rangan after the session.

That was the end of Day 1. Had a heavy dinner at Empire Restaurant in Majestic with Wachas.

Day 2 - Sunday, 29th October

We were scheduled to attend the 2nd day right from the start, when Wachas had the idea of having breakfast at CTR in Malleswaram. I agreed on the condition that we reach in time so I can have a glance of the great Rahul Dravid, who was launching Rajdeep Sardesai’s book. CTR was crowded! The food was good, but Ballu was clearly unimpressed, and so was the waiter. We then headed to the venue, and reached at about 10:45, just in time to see Dravid.

  • India’s Democracy XI - Rahul Dravid, Rajdeep Sardesai with Prem Panicker

    In the little we attended, Dravid spoke as to why players should never choose to retire and that it is the selectors’ decision whether to keep the player in the team or not. He also said that in every generation, the players have been more powerful than the coaches, and that coaches getting sacked was an inevitability. Rajdeep then called upon stage three other greats from Karnataka - Erapalli Prasanna, BS Chandrasekhar and Syed Kirmani. The four men on stage made for a great picture. Rajdeep, sorta overflown by emotion, proclaimed, “The cricketers of Karnataka, like your weather, are the best gentlement around.”

  • Women in Mythology - Ira Mukhoty, Kavita Kane with Reena Puri

    A very mediocre session. Kavita Kane was speaking about useless, general stuff. Mukhoty did say some good things, but I don’t remember what she said.

  • Women Traveling Alone - Jessy James LaFleur, Meenal Baghel, Pilar Maria Guerrieri with Chhimi Tenduf-La

    One of the best sessions. Moderated beautifully by Chimmi. All three speakers were full of interesting insights with respect to travel. Meenal said she always felt safe travelling in the State Transport buses. Guerrieri, who hails from Italy and is an architect, talked about how she came to Delhi seven years ago to work with another famous architect and has never gone back. Jessy was the best of a good lot. She is a spoken word and rap artiste who comes from Germany and resides in Coimbatore. She talked about how she faced stiff resistance from her parents when she decided to leave home, and how they didn’t talk to her for almost ten years. She also added that travelling is not always about following laws (referring to work/tourist visa issues). The session ended with a beautiful, long spoken word poem by Jessy. Exactly the kind of thing you expect from good LitFests.

  • RBI, Government and Individuals: It’s Complicated - YV Reddy, TCA Srinivasa Raghavan with MS Sriram

    An erudite panel discussing the problems with RBI and its relationship with the Government. The best moment was when Mr. Reddy, on being questioned about the independence of RBI, said “I used to tell reporters that the Finance Minister has told me to tell you that I am independent.” Such amazing words!

  • Aadhaar - Dystopia or Utopia - Arun Maira, Jairam Ramesh, Sanjay Jain with Charles Assisi

    Again, an erudite panel, spoiled greatly by a very very bad moderator. Assisi was speaking a lot and probably took most of the session. I also felt he was very unsure about what he was saying. The takeaway from the session was when Jairam Ramesh appealed to everyone to link their PAN to Aadhar because that was the law, but like all bad laws, we should fight it. Old Uncle made an appearance.

  • Mrs. Funnybones - Twinkle Khanna with Darius Sunawala

    Twinkle Khanna won the Atta Galatta Popular Choice Award, and was in conversation after the award ceremony. She was very witty in her answers. Great entertainment, but very forgettable, like some of the recent Bollywood movies.

  • Comically Yours - Bachi Karkaria, Chhimi Tenduf-La with Amit Varma

    Very interesting session, full of good insights on writing puns and jokes. Pretty good.

  • India and China: How History is a Fickle Mistress - Nirupama Menon Rao with Raghu Karnad

    I have always admired Nirupama Menon Rao. Her talk was peppered with incidents of her diplomatic career in dealing with China, how Awaara is famous in China, and how the two countries have benefitted a lot from each others soft-power.

  • Nationalism, Populism and the Threat to the Global Liberal Order - R. Jagannathan, Kanhaiya Kumar, Makarand R. Paranjape, Manu Joseph, Sagarika Ghose, Suketu Mehta with Harish Bijoor

    The final debate. Harish Bijoor turned out to be a very good moderator handling a tough bunch, though he confessed he hadn’t given equal speaking time to everyone. The seating arrangement was very interesting too - the right veering people to the right, the moderates (or the sceptics, in the case of Manu Joseph) in the centre, and Kanhaiya Kumar and Sagarika to the left. Like all debates, there was no conclusion, but it was great masala entertainment for 90 minutes. My favourite speaker was Manu Joseph (who also is one of my favourite authors). There is too much to write about this, and I recommend watching the video when it goes live. Watch out for the tiff between Kanhaiya and his teacher Paranjape.

All in all, two days very well spent! A lot of intellectual stimulation, and loads of food for thought.