Friday, November 12, 2010

Hay while the sun shone

Tarun Tejpal in conversation with Shoma Chaudhury
What a perfectly strange way to begin a literary festival: Have a choir sing a lullaby.
That’s how the very first Hay Festival in Kerala was kicked-off this morning, with an ensemble performing a painfully long-drawn-out version of the traditional Malayalam lullaby ‘Omana thingal kidavo’.  Now if the song’s objective was to prepare the audience for the delights of the sleep-inducing inaugural session, then it was an inspired choice. Otherwise though, the choice of ‘Omana thingal kidavo’ as the inaugural anthem seems rather bizarre.
Things perked up though, when Vikram Seth came on stage for a chat with Anita Sethi in what was arguably the most attended session of the first day. Seth was a delight — absent minded at times, insightful, humorous and completely unassuming — as he reeled the audience in and kept it engrossed despite a pretty pedestrian audio system and poor acoustics in the hall. And towards the end of the session, Seth outdid himself when he read a couple of unpublished poems — pure literary bliss.
The other sessions of the day were a mixed bag though; some interesting and others not quite so... And then, there was the standard lit fest hazard of trying to find a balance between the pull of several parallel sessions. Decisions, decisions!
A very fuzzy pic of Vikram Seth and Anita Sethi
One inexplicable decision though was the insistence on needing the free pass to enter some sessions. In one case it was to a session that had an audience of about 20, with lots of vacant seating. At other sessions though, there seemed to be no entry restrictions; pretty arbitrary overall. The people at the registration/ information counter also seemed a little clueless, especially about changes in the schedule.
And as the sun shone and pushed humidity levels upwards, audience numbers dropped. Nevertheless, the turnout on the first day was quite decent for what one of the festival organisers described as “year dot” of the Hay Festival Kerala. While the turnout could have been much better, it was streets ahead of the rather sorry turnout at last month’s Kovalam Literary Festival. 
Oh, and those who shelled out Rs 1,500 for a delegate ticket got a jute bag with a couple of magazines, a coffee table book, a Parker pen and, I guess, lunch.

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