Could Trivandrum be on its way to becoming India’s hot new Lit Fest hub? Over the next two months, the city will host two festivals of literature — the Kovalam Literary Festival and the Hay Festival in Kerala.
First, the Kovalam Literary Festival: The festival’s third edition will be held in the city this coming weekend — October 2 and 3.
The festival’s organisers have finally seen the light and moved it from Kovalam, in Trivandrum’s suburbs, to the heart of the city. Those who know Trivandrum would have told them that they should’ve done this from the very beginning.
While Kovalam is quite the exotic beach destination, it is — in the Trivandrum scheme of things — some way away from the city. And though the festival’s organisers had arranged for a couple of coaches to ferry people from the city to Kovalam, residents of the city had to make a conscious decision to attend the Kovalam Lit Fest. There was no question of popping in for an interesting session, then slipping out and returning later for another interesting session or two; something you can do with relative ease at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Faced with having to make a choice to either spend an entire day, or at least a large part of the day, at the festival or skip it altogether, most residents of the city choose to give the Kovalam Lit Fest a miss in its first two years. Which, for an event that should be inclusive and welcoming is not a very good sign.
I remember, in 2008, attending a session by Gulzar at the festival. There were at best about 50 people in the room, of whom about 35 had something to do with the festival — they were either authors reading there, publishers, festival organisers or support staff. While the sparse attendance made it a very intimate afternoon, it was a pity that so many people missed out on a wonderful opportunity to listen to one of India’s finest writers.
So it was good to hear a few days ago that the Kovalam Lit Fest will be held in the city this year. The organisers themselves admit that “local participation” in the festival has been poor and that the change in venue is part of an effort to “improve local participation.”
Kanakakunnu Palace, where the festival is to be held this year, was once the banquet hall of the erstwhile rulers of Travancore. Located bang in the heart of Trivandrum, it’s very accessible and a popular venue for many events; some cultural and others not quite cultural. It’s a welcoming sort of space and little effort is required to get there.
With entry free and a reasonable programming mix, this year’s Kovalam Lit Fest should see more people attending. Of course, it’s still too early to say that the festival is out of the woods, especially with the Hay Festival set to roll into Trivandrum in mid November. And according to whispers on the grapevine, it is also going to be held in the Kanakakunnu Palace.