As I’ve mentioned earlier (nearly a year ago, to be precise), I am – despite being an author and not an absolute recluse – not really one of the regulars at Literary Festivals. Which, if you’re keeping track, are now a staple event in the post-monsoon calendar of almost every Indian city worth its salt. Good, I say, but I go to very few of them, and only when I really feel like it.
This time, I got an invitation for the Pune International Literary Festival, September 18-20, 2014. Would I be interested, asked Dr Manjiri Prabhu (the director), in being part of a panel discussion on detective fiction? Considering home-grown detective fiction (I’m not talking Christie, Rankin, and the like) invariably takes a backseat when it comes to the average Indian reader – who, if bookstore displays are to be believed, is more likely to jump at mythology, self-help, or coming-of-age books – well, considering that, I figured anything I could do to help further the cause of Indian detective fiction was work well done.
So, yes: I went for the PILF. Only, sadly, for one day (the 19th, which was when I had my panel discussion), but a day well spent. The PILF’s venue was the MIT, an old and sprawling institute in the halls of which a variety of panel discussions, workshops, book launches and other literary events were organized. Besides a number of events centred round Marathi literature, there were events focussing on just about every genre, from children’s literature to film writing, humour to young adult literature. Erotica, management literature, spirituality. Detective fiction.
With only a day to spend at the Lit Fest (and what with sessions being held simultaneously at different venues), I had a tough time deciding what to attend. Finally, I ended up attending two sessions, both very different from each other, and both very interesting in their own way. The first, The Female Lead, had Nadi Palshikar as moderator and was, of course, about literature that focuses on women. After introducing the panelists and letting them talk about their writing, Nadi decided to involve the audience and make the discussion a question-driven one. It was like opening the floodgates. There were so many young women standing up and talking about themselves, their mothers, their triumphs and frustrations and achievements, that by the time a man (one of the very few in the room) asked, “Is there a need for a session like this?”), it was pretty obvious: yes, women do need a voice. Many voices.
The next session I attended couldn’t have been more different: Management Literature, with Sujata Khanna as moderator, and two panelists – Vasudev Murthy and Shubh Vilas Das. The good bit here was that we had two very different panelists. Shubh Vilas Das, in his saffron robes, focuses on spirituality and what management lessons the Gita or the Ramayana have to impart. Vasudev Murthy, who’s written How Organisations Really Work (no, not driven by spirituality, but more the way I remember them from my days in the corporate world!), is somewhat different. This session took me back to my days as a manager, and had me nodding at a lot of the stuff I heard (especially the rather more cynical stuff).
And then, our discussion. Changing Trends in Detective Fiction was moderated by Piyush Jha, with Zac O’Yeah, Vasudev Murthy (yes, he writes detective fiction too! A good manager should be able to multitask?), and me. The slightly flustered MC – flustered, no doubt, because this bunch of loons suddenly decided to demand cups of tea – forgot to introduce me and had to be reminded (not by me). After that, though, and with tea gulped down, we had a good time, a lively discussion. Piyush had prepared his questions well, and had structured them well. No leaving anything open-ended for the garrulous to blabber on and on about (not, I hasten to add, that I think Vasudev or Zac are of that bent).
We had some interesting facts, some hopes and dreams emerging from this discussion. With Scandinavian crime writers suddenly getting so popular in the US – and Mexican crime writers too – it means that the US and UK are beginning to look outwards, towards more exotic settings, for crime fiction. May Indian crime fiction have a chance, then? What can we do to tailor Indian crime fiction for Western audiences (do we even need to?) Where is Indian crime fiction – with Indians as its main target audience – headed? Can we hope for adaptations to other media, that can help popularize this genre?
And more. We had just enough time to allow a few questions from the audience, and that was it. A satisfying session, as I told Piyush later.
Anyway, till the next Lit Fest (and there’s another one, very different, that I’ll be attending in two weeks’ time. More about that when it happens). Much fun was had, I got to meet some old friends, and finally met, in person, some people I’ve only known through Facebook for the past few years.
And I came away charged up to start plotting my next Muzaffar Jang novel. The current one goes to my editor next week, and will hopefully be released in February 2015.