Om Namah Shivaya

Om Namah Shivaya

I'll be grateful if you...

Jul 13, 2016

CURTAIN RAISER: Hindu Lit Fest 2017 - In discussion with the founder Nirmala Lakshman (Director - Hindu Group)

Hindu Lit Festival over the years...
Hindu Lit Festival 2011 || Hindu Lit Festival 2013 || Hindu Lit Festival 2014 || Hindu Lit Festival 2015 || Hindu Lit Festival 2016

I have been regularly writing about Hindu Lit for Life Festival since its inception and immensely enjoy three days of festivity along with thousands of Art and Literature lovers of Chennai. So I was thrilled when our book club  “Sans Serif” proposed to invite Ms. Nirmala Lakshman - founder of Hindu Literary Festival for a discussion on Hindu Lit Fest. Clearly it was an opportunity to get ‘behind the scene’ of this amazing event that has me wondering about how the multiple celebrity authors, prominent literary figures and iconic artist get together to enthral the wonderful audience of Chennai. And all the credit for this lovely interaction goes to our book club’s most enthusiastic book lover - Ms. Devika Anand who some how managed to steal precious time from Ms. Nirmala’s busy schedule.

Ms. Nirmala Lakshman at Sans Serif Book club at Apparao Galleries

In very short span of time, Hindu Lit for Life Festival, popularly hash tagged in social media as well as on twitter as #LFL has become one of the most prestigious literary events, because of sheer passion of Ms. Nirmala Lakshman and her enthusiastic team at Hindu as well as unstinted support and encouragement from Hindu Management. Ms Nirmala also pointed out that the festival’s idea, conceptualization and execution has its root in 20 years of constant caring for arts, culture and heritage through weekly publication of Hindu Literary Supplement. But another thing that I personally believe has added to the creditability of the festival is the fact, as Ms. Nirmala said during our conversation that Hindu Management has had a ‘hands-off’ approach and non-interference in the process of selection of Books, Authors, Artists and awards.

As we finished our book club’s monthly discussion on Paul Kalanithi’s poignant book “When breath becomes Air” (Still going strong on New York Times best seller’s Chart), Ms. Nirmala arrived on the dot.  As the book club members gathered around her to greet her as long time friend, for me as a relatively new member (3 years) to the book club, it was heartening to know that Ms. Nirmala is not only founder of Hindu Lit Fest but also one of the founding members of our book club too.
Among friends (Pic Curtsy T Suresh)

As we settled down, Ms. Nirmala took us to the very beginning of Hindu Lit Fest. From the confines of a five star hotel, 7 years back to its present pristine and natural ensconced venue of artistic and literary activity at Harington Road, it has been quite a journey. From few thousands in the beginning to tens of thousands of footfalls in year 2016, the Hindu Lit festival has become an annual ‘must do’ thing for Chennai Literati, arts and culture aficionados and specially, as she mentioned, for the young student community. 

Pic curtsy T Suresh

Initially Hindu group financially supported the event completely but as the festival grew up in size and attendees, there was increase in costs involved so sponsors were invited and there had been internal talk for introducing some sort of season tickets for certain seats too. Presently the Hindu marketing team does get some sponsors too, but contrary to the popular belief, it is quite hard for even Hindu to get some major sponsors.  Hence the major part of the funding still comes from Hindu Group.  As Ms. Nirmala pointed out, the students group is the main reason that there are still no tickets for any of the events during the 3-day festival.

Another misconception people have about the festival being Hindu Group’s own initiative that it is easy to get the Authors to come to the event. She emphasized that it is actually very hard to get them to confirm. Some of them respond late, or not confirm their joining in till the last moment or don’t even respond. But the good thing is that once they are in the festival, they enjoy themselves a lot. In the festive atmosphere, they like to interact with audience and hang around the venue to talk with people. It was hard in the beginning for them to get going but once they experience the hospitality of Chennai audience and organizers, most respond enthusiastically.

Book Club Members
Regarding the Hindu Literary award, she says the selection process starts months ahead of the event. The consultant team selects books that are on the list, or are talked about as well as recommendations from authors and literary groups. These are passed on after intial screening, to the independent panel of Judges. Hindu has no role in this process apart from the financial commitment and organizing the awards ceremony, which is the culmination of the 3-day festival.

Winner of Fiction Writing over the years...

As the Hindu Lit Team is getting into the 2017 Lit Festival, there are some interesting new things happening too. This time there is a talk about Children’s Festival as well as people from the world over approaching to attend the events. For the first time, few Norwegian Authors will be joining the 2017 Hindu Lit Fest.

One of the members asked about clashing of two of her favorite author discussions held on separate venues at the festival, to which she remarked that it is good to have divided loyalties.

To a question on the value of celebrity delegates, she responded saying that the celebrities are important and our marketing looks forward to it, but we don’t compromise. On a lighter note, she added that it is very hard to manage celebrities and the resulting crowd, but we some how scrape by. At one time, they even had to call police to manage.

The interesting sessions ... our own Sharan Apparao in one of them

But as one of the members pointed out, she agreed that most of the people / celebrities who attend, are impressed with the culture of Chennai and well behaved audience. Many of the delegates have commented that the Chennai is the most amazing place to talk about literature and culture. But yes, there are some peculiar characters, who come to the lit festival, specially barge in on the Q&A sessions, for their 15 seconds of limelight. They are the ones who grab the mike at the word go.  Most of times the moderator or one of the speakers handle them on their own, some times we do manage with our volunteers all around.
Over the years, I have personally gained some good friends
and mentors - Thanks to Hindu Lit Fest...

To one of the questions, Ms. Nirmala responded by saying that best way to ‘kill’ a good session is to have a bad moderator. So selection of the moderators is crucial to the success of each and every session. This selection is done in consultation with festival team as well as from group of her friends and added with a smile, “And yes I have good group of friends like most of you here.”
It was wonderful session to be among friends....

You can visit some of the past Hindu Lit Festival at the following links..
Looking forward to 2017.... Hope you have enjoyed this journey with Ms. Nirmala Lakshman. Please let me know your views..

ॐ नमः शिवाय
Om Namah Shivaya

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