© 2024 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Winter of Content (Kolkata Lit. Fest 2024)

Have you heard the one about the Nobel laureate and the Man Booker prize winner who walked into a lit fest?
It sounds like the beginning of a joke but it’s just what happened last week at the Kolkata Literary Meet. As festival director Malavika Banerjee said as she welcomed people on a chilly winter morning in Kolkata to her festival

MB1:  I feel its very close to my heart so I am saying its my festival. But it’s a . Festival of the whole city.

Abdul Razakgurnah the 2021 Nobel laureate graced the festival. As did 2021 Man Booker winner Damon Galgut and 2022 Man Booker international winner Daisy Rockwell.


C V Ananda Bose, the governor of the state of West Bengal who inaugurated the literary meet was clearly delighted by this bumper literary harvest in his city.

BOSE1:  As a student of literature it has been my dream to share stage with Nobel laureate in literature. That dream has come true today

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata
Literature festivals are booming in India. Some happen in swanky hotels, some in conference centres, some in old palaces and book stores.
The Kolkata literary Meet is held on the spacious grounds of the city’s iconic Victoria Memorial dedicated to Queen Victoria. It was quite deliciously ironic to hear Abdul Razakgurnah talk about decolonizing literature against the backdrop of a enormous marble colonial monument

ARG1:our teachers did think I think, uh, that we would be interested in stories of adventure and so on. And all of these will be stories with, uh, brave, uh, Europeans doing clever things in various parts of the world. Um, so I didn't get to read any of the, uh, then just beginning to be published African writers

It’s not every day a Nobel laureate for literature shows up in Kolkata. But what makes lit fests more exciting is people get to ask him questions and even interrupt him when he answers.
The Kolkata Lit Meet had quite an eclectic line up. Something for practically everyone. World War 2 fiction is your cup of tea? There was John Boyne who won international fame for the story of a boy in a Nazi concentration camp. The Boy in Striped Pajamas

BOYNE1: Didn’t write a school text book. But its used a lot in schools. It got into a lot of schools. And I tell children this isn’t exactly as it was.

Booker winning literary fiction? South African writer Damon Galgut talked about tackling race in the book The Promise

DG1: For a lot of white south africans black south africans don’t exist except for the functions hey perform except to help white south africans live their lives.

Worried about Climate change and environmental damage? Writer Amitav Ghosh is too/

AG1: Taylor swift investing in catastrophe shelters. The rich ones are Hyperluxruious. Mark zuckebereg has built one that costs almost 200 million dollars in Hawaii

And if that’s too depressing there was one of India’s bestselling children’s book authors Sudha Murty. A grandmotherly writer talking about her dog Gopi, make that her very handsome dog Gopi, a frequent character in her books

SM1:. Every dog owner thinks dog is very handsome. I will send your regards to gopi. Bow wow

At night it got chilly in the park, but the Victoria Memorial looked splendid lit up in the dark. And the audience wrapped in shawls and scarves and caps huddled down to listen to the music from a popular Bengali singer Anupam Roy to Shubha Mudgal one of the greats of Indian classical music.


As lit fests, lit meets, literary carnivals pop up all over India, 3 in Kolkata alone in a month, some wonder whether whether this is about books or just being seen around books.

But the real test of literary dedication came one evening when it started raining. Rain is unusual at this time of the year. The speakers on stage got wet. Water dripped on the audience. The talks were paused in case the electrical wiring malfunctioned.

And then I turned around and saw a long line of people some with umbrellas some without all patiently waiting to get their books signed by Amitav Ghosh.

Kolkata has a reputation as a city that loves books. That evening at least it came through making for our winter of content.

This is Sandip Roy in Kolkata for KALW