A decade of delight and debate

Tell us, what are the challenges that come with putting together an event of this magnitude, year after year, since the past 10 years?

Well, the main challenge is to conceptualise a new Festival each year, maintaining the high standards that have made us one of the best Festivals internationally.

This involves, among others, choosing the right participants and issues, having our finger on the pulse of our audiences and also introducing new issues and fresh ideas.

Another key challenge is logistics, as we operate over three far flung venues in the south and north of Mumbai, with hundreds of participants from overseas, within India and Mumbai itself. And everything has to run smoothly and like clockwork.

This year promises quite a line up of writers and thinkers. Any favourites?

It’s very difficult to pick some sessions over others. Every session is carefully curated and the programme itself is designed to offer something to everyone that attends.

We get multiple thousands of visitors to the Litfest, so you can imagine the variety of sessions. We discuss not just literature but compelling issues of the day in fields like environment, politics, media and social change. Having said that our Great Debate, on a contemporary topic, is always housefull.

Looking back, what would you rate as the highlights of this decade, for the fest and yourself?

We started as a platform to advocate the exchange of ideas, and have gone on to achieve a national and international reputation. Visitors to the festival have reached over 40,000 with the number of participants from across the world as many as 150.

We introduced the concept of a Poet Laureate; we began holding a “Great Debate”; started offering workshops conducted by some of the most accomplished participants; as demand grew we selected additional venues across the city — a third one was introduced last year.

This year, to mark our 10th anniversary we will also include a two day Children’s Festival.

What would you rate as the USPs of the Mumbai LitFest as compared to others?

We have extended our horizons from literature and poetry to rigorous thinking and debate across fields - philosophy, science, mathematics, politics, media, history, drama, social norms and mores.

We have also been able to attract some of the most acclaimed national and international personalities in these fields to our Festival — for example: V S Naipaul, Germaine Greer, Margaret Drabble, A C Grayling, Marcus du Sautoy, Peter Frankopan, Tom Friedman, Tristram Hunt, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth, Mark Tully, Jayant Narlikar, Siddhartha Mukherjee, Atul Gawande, Sebastian Faulks, Neil MacGregor, Stephen Daldry, Shashi Tharoor, Amitabh Bachchan, Girish Karnad, Gulzar saab and Javed Akhtar.

Do give us some behind the scenes dramatics that ensue...Authors who threw tantrums etc. etc.!

Actually our authors are usually complimentary, because we work very hard to facilitate their participation in every way. A famous incident was Girish Karnad lambasting Sir Vidya Naipaul over their political differences. But that was not behind the scenes, it was on-stage, before a packed audience! Both these great writers are sadly no more. I like to think of them making up with each other in a better world.

Do you attend any of the other lit fests in India and internationally?

Yes I do, as both invitee or visitor. I have attended and participated in the world's oldest, and probably the biggest, literary festival, the Hay Festival in Wales.

It goes on for 10 days, and a large number of people come specially to this small village for the festival, spending hundreds of pounds! I enjoyed being on the stage there as well as at the Emirates Dubai Literary Festival which really looks after its participants.

In India, the Khushwant Singh Festival in the hill station of Kasauli is charming and well planned. I enjoyed the Bhopal Literary Festival too — a vibrant festival in one of India's best cities.

How do you currently view lit fests in India — their success and challenges?

The success of Festivals like ours has inspired other cities and organisations to start literary festivals. I think that is a very good development and shows that many people still value face to face discourse, and will travel and queue up to hear and engage with intelligent people in person, despite the alleged lure and reach of digital interaction.

The main issue of course is how to fund such Festivals — even on a small scale, they involve huge expenses. Sadly if there is any economic wobble, this sort of sponsorship is the first to be dropped. You will have heard of some celebrated literary festivals being cancelled this year.

I therefore cannot commend the Tata group highly enough for their commitment to the sponsorship of our Festival, and their approach that industry should try to enhance the life of the community not just economically, but also culturally and socially.

Where and when: The fest will take place at three venues:

NCPA's multiple theatres, Nariman Point: Nov 14 to Nov 17

St Paul's Institute & Title Waves Bookshop, Bandra: Nov 16 and Nov 17

Prithvi Theatre & Prithvi House, Juhu: Nov 16 and Nov 17

Who: Among the much awaited line-up of writers and thinkers who will be at Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest 2019 are Alexander McCall Smith, Anthony Horowitz, Monica Ali, Mary Robinson, Naman Ahuja, A C Grayling, Shanta Gokhale, Perumal Murugan, K Satchidanandan, Yashwant Sinha, Swami Agnivesh, William Dalrymple, Jerry Pinto, and Lisa Ray, amongst others.

Entry is FREE and open to all on a

first come first served basis.