Making Hay in Godís own country...
Britainís Hay festival to debut in India
Madhusree Chatterjee

A lot of new writing from India has been making a mark across the world, says a top organiser of Britain's Hay Festival that will host its first India edition in Kerala in November with around 40 leading authors.

"One of the reasons why we chose India is because writing from the country is fresh," said Lyndy Cooke, executive director of the festival.

... Not the Capital

The first ever Hay Festival of Literature and Arts is going to be held in Kerala this November and not in the Capital, New Delhi. A three-day event, this festival is expected to "showcase Indian writing to an international audience" according to Sanjoy K.Roy of Teamwork Productions, who is bringing the festival to Kerala.

Kerala met all the requirements, according to the organisers.

The state is Communist, but not Maoist. So, it has no law and order issues. Kerala is also blessed, say the organisers, with backwaters, great cuisine and err... ayurveda massage.

Fine, but Delhi has so much more. Have you even tried butter chicken with butter naan and butter dal at Pandara Market? Meen Moiley with its subtle fragrances is nothing compared to the overwhelming swamping of taste buds that takes places when you rip out a chunky piece of the orange tandoori chicken at Changezi in Punjabi Bagh. And what is your aapam compared to Delhi's paneer dosa? that perfect bastardisation of the south Indian delicacy.

And, that's not all, we have great backwaters too. Just try a boat ride down the soapy waters of the Yamuna. So what if its err.. a bit polluted, at least we don't have that overpowering smell of coconuts and jasmine around.

About massages, whether ayurveda or Thai, we have them in Delhi. Right opposite the New Delhi railway station, there are so many guest houses where you can get a massage and stuff for as little as $10. The ladies there are very 'comforting,' I am told.

Kerala does not have a law and order problem agreed. But neither do we in Delhi. After all, what is a little swearing between friends while driving? We are so courteous. We remind each other about our great love for mothers and sisters every time somebody overtakes our car.

People from Kerala can never match the Delhiite's respect for women. Seriously, men in Delhi treat all women as if they were their know what I mean. So, if instead of thinking with their brain, they think with other anatomical parts, it is to be appreciated as part of the masculinity of the Aryan race.

And, the festival could be held in Central Delhi, since that is the only green spot in the city.

There is the Kamani Auditorium, where it could be held. There is no parking available and no public transport after 8 pm. But so what, perfumed ladies in high heels and Jamdhani saris, who would attend a Kishori Amonkar concert and gush "wasn't that a gorgeous saree she was wearing," will saunter into the lit-fest and line up for an autograph from Chetan Bhagat because 'he has such a cute smile."

Or else, the festival could be held at the India International Centre, where retired bureaucrats and former ministers and prime ministers gather to hear themselves speak.

If you think Delhiites don't read, think again. We have very nice bookstores. The place to be seen buying a book is of course Bahri Sons in Khan Market. It's a pokey little shop, but we walk around the shop carrying a Prada bag, and wearing a Fab India kurti. The perfect blend of chic desi meets high-end fashion. Dangling from the arm should be a brown bag from a book store, even if it means you bought an Archie Digest for your ten-year-old, who has already graduated to seeing Desperate Housewives while you were out shopping.

And of course, we have, by the time it is November, when the Hay Lit-fest is to be held, we would have hosted the Commonwealth Games.

Delhi is currently like a heaving pregnant buffalo, waiting to deliver this baby, the Games. Once the post-partum blues are over, we would be ready to host any event. Even a Britney Spears concert. Yeah. ó ANI

"It is diverse and often reflects the challenges of this aspiring nation against a backdrop of great wealth and great poverty. It is this dichotomy that produces the richest of literature," Cooke said recently in an e-mail interview from London.

The November 12-14 Kerala Hay Festival will draw nearly 15 international writers, 10 leading Indian writers and 15 local language authors.

The Hay Festival, one of the biggest in Britain, has several global editions in countries like Spain, Colombia, Kenya and Beirut. It is trying to make inroads in South Asia for the first time with an edition in the Maldives in autumn and one in Kerala in November.

"In India, the festival hopes to create a sustainable platform for sharing the incredible wealth of diaspora writing and literature in languages other than English," Cooke said.

The primary objective of the festival is to "create a platform for ideas and new thoughts and to bring about a debate between writers from Asia and the Western world," Cooke said.

The Kerala Hay Festival, modelled on the Jaipur lit fest and the Guardian Hay Festival of London, will be held in collaboration with Teamworks Productions and the state government in a sprawling heritage property in Thiruvananthapuram.

"India and Kerala have a rich tradition of literary writing in Malayalam. We want to expose some of the best of this to audiences in the West over a period of time," Cooke said.

The event, she said, would also "add value to the state's immense tourism potential" and cited the instance of the Hay on Wye Festival ó Hay's flagship book showcase.

The 10-day literary gala is currently under way at the eponymous village by the Wye river on the England-Wales border. It is choc-a-bloc with writers, publishers, intellectuals, think tanks and publishing industry stake-holders.

"Literature can be linked to tourism. At Hay on Wye, we sell almost 200,000 tickets every year and 80 per cent of the crowd are visitors who come to Wales and to our little village Hay on Wye - 240 km northwest of London. They live in hotels, bed & breakfast lodges, in a 100-km radius of the lush hamlet," Cooke said.

The village boasts of a population of 1,500 and 30 book shops. More than 100,000 people are expected to throng the 10-day festival that is often dubbed the "Woodstock of the Mind".

"The Hay Festival in the UK is a diverse festival covering a range of ideas and thoughts - and topics, including environment, arts, history and sociology. It encompasses almost everything, from fiction to politics, art and the spoken word.

"With 500 events across 11 days, it attracts record audiences each year. In Kerala, we will look at inviting the best international authors, thinkers and publishers every year," Cooke said.

But in India, the focus will be more specific - centring on literature, history and arts.

The organisers are euphoric about the venue of the India edition. "Kerala is a fabulous place. Our partners, Teamworks, and the Hay crew came to the same conclusion that the beaches of Thiruvananthapuram, the serene backwaters, the amazing cuisine and the ayurvedic massages all lent themselves to what will become a major festival destination for the world," Cooke said.

Sanjoy Roy, head of Indian partner Teamworks, said: "After Jaipur, we felt we required to do something down South. It has enormous literary traditions. Moreover, the feel of the two places are also different.

"While Jaipur represents romance, royalty and valour, Kerala stands out for its laidback charm and the sensuous backwaters. We wanted to explore the state and set up new literary linkages." ó IANS