In 3 years Mumbai LitFest has grown rapidly

In 3 years Mumbai LitFest has grown rapidly
Creating a furore: The literary festival has become international news. For this year’s success, particularly, Girish Karnad must be thanked
I Suppose you have by now heard about the Mumbai LitFest. The Third Mumbai International Literary Festival to give its expanded name, or Tata Literature Live! The Mumbai LitFest, to give its official title, was such a roaring success, that it not only became national news but international too, with The New York Times, The Guardian amongst others writing about it, and being top story all over the internet. I have to thank Girish Karnad and his attack on V S Naipaul for that.

In just three years, the festival has grown really rapidly: from three days in 2010, to four days last year to five days now, with multiple theatres, parallel sessions and even workshops being introduced for the first time. We also had 120 participants, 30 of them from overseas, taking part in nearly 60 sessions over the festival’s five days. (You must admit I have a good excuse for missing last week’s column). But, of course, quantity is not everything; the sheer quality of participants was enough to assure us of coverage and even today, four days after LitFest ended, one of Mumbai’s leading newspapers carried a full-length interview with Juliet Mitchell, professor of psychoanalysis at Cambridge University.

Mitchell, incidentally, gave a most frightening lecture. It would have hit the headlines except for the fact that her manner is extremely quiet and academic. She talked about sibling rivalry, which apparently begins at a really early age. In fact till children reach the age of five years, their impulse is to get rid of the younger sibling, an impulse, which is overcome because each one of us has a ‘love stream’ running through us too, and that acts as a counterweight to the violent stream. In extreme cases, the older child tries to inflict physical injuries on the younger baby; in other cases, the older child regresses to ‘babyhood’ in an attempt to not lose the attention of parents. Incidentally, all of us who have these feelings, but we subconsciously suppress them as we grow older so that we have no memory whatsoever of our early true feelings towards our younger sibling. Thank god for that!

Another interesting talk was from Scott Carney, head of an investigative reporting institute in the US. His book The Red Market, talks about the international trade in human body parts, organs and bones, not exactly a subject of dinner table conversation. Apparently, India is one of the biggest suppliers of human skeletons in the world, and much of this trade is illegal: ‘body snatchers’ raid graves and cremation grounds as soon as the ceremonies are over and relatives leave, so that your recently dearly departed may end up just a few days later in a laboratory in Texas! It’s also possible – macabre thought — that an Indian medical student may be dissecting a body in class, which to his horror he will recognise as one of his relatives!

Although because of missed flights he arrived on the last day, Prof James Fallon was a busy man, with much of the media grabbing him for sound bites and interviews. His field of study is the minds and brains of psychopaths and dictators (often the same thing, for example Idi Amin). Studying the brains of these deviants, Fallon has been able to identify certain characteristics peculiar to all of them. So, then, if you are born with a brain like that, does it mean your destiny is inexorably horrifying? Luckily not: Fallon discovered that he himself had the same type of patterns in his own brain! But he has not become a psychopath because, he has reasoned, he was brought up in

an extremely affectionate and close family, and nurturing overcame nature.

I could fill many pages talking of the LitFest, but space constraints do not permit such luxuries. In the end, I come back to Girish Karnad. After the furore he caused, he wasn’t sure whether he was welcome to attend the rest of the festival. Of course you are, I told him. In fact, I am inviting you to the LitFest next year. Provided, of course, if you talk about theatre.

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