During the first edition of Ncell Nepal Literature Festival 2011, author and former BBC New Delhi Bureau Chief Mark Tully spoke of an Indian author who was so fed up travelling from one lit fest to the next that she hadn’t even bothered to read the book she would be discussing at an upcoming festival in Sri Lanka. Tully’s offhand remark was greeted with a howl of approval from the regaled audience. But make no mistake: organizing a literature festival, big or small, is no laughing matter.
It involves months of hard work: contacting (sometimes pleading with) authors, both homebred and foreign, to grace the occasion; making elaborate travel and hotel arrangements for visiting authors (some very finicky, we are told); scheduling the long-list of events; finding appropriate moderators and volunteers; advertising the event; and a whole bunch of concomitant last-minute tasks. Thankfully, some enterprising Nepali youths have taken up the challenge, for the benefit of all literature enthusiasts in town. Under youth initiative, last year saw the launch of two literature festivals, one after the other: The Ncell Literature Festival (organized by the Bookworm Trust) and the Kathmandu Literature Jatra (a collaborative effort of Nepal Economic Forum and QC Events).
The overwhelming response of people to the second edition of the four-day Ncell Literature Festival (today is the last day) is an indication of how the event has managed to capture the imagination of literature loving people of all ages and backgrounds. The presence of imminent international authors like Vinod Mehta, Amish Tripathi and Advita Kala blended nicely with well established names in Nepali literary and intellectual discourse like Abhi Subedi, CK Lal and Khagendra Sangraula, whetting the appetite of young and old alike. While the first edition of the Literature Festival was certainly well received, it came nowhere close in popularity to the second edition, which has been a headline event both in print and electronic media. We believe the increased attention is justified; before the launch of the two festivals the country sorely lacked established platforms for top-notch intellectual debates.
But we would like to see something more. First, it is important that other places in the country attract the attention of festival organizers. With the spread of education there has been tremendous increase in intellectual curiosity in mofussil. In future editions, we would also like to see more discussions on emerging but important topics like the influence of foreign literature on Nepali literature or how internet is changing our reading culture. At the ongoing festival, it was wonderful to hear a lively debate on plagiarism, an important but neglected topic.
In the days ahead the other area of focus for the organizers should be regional languages and their place in new Nepal, among a whole host of important issues that emerge in the vastly changed socio-political context. At 77, Tully might be a little tired after travelling the length and breadth of the subcontinent to promote his books at one of the mushrooming regional lit fests. For a country only just emerging from the darkness of illiteracy, the more such festivals are held the merrier. Perhaps Tully would agree