Jolly Literary Festivities

I have always been a huge fan of JLF. I love going there, and listening to amazing authors whose books I have read. I think some of my most intense falling-in-love moments have happened there. Tom Stoppard last year made my heart flutter as it has not fluttered for many a year.

Even more interesting is actually listening to authors one has not heard of, or would not have read in the normal course of things. And every year after JLF, the books I read diversify that bit more.
Which is why I love JLF. And while I know that my plaintive whines are as nothing to the powerful diatribes of the BJP, RSS and random Muslim organisations, I thought I would whine a bit too. And since I am not threatening to burn or ban, and so no one will pay attention to me, I thought I would blog quietly about it instead.
It always gives me great sorrow that children’s and young adults authors are so habitually ignored at JLF.
There are always a few token sessions for children there. Last year, if I remember correctly, the poor things were made to spend days learning about the constitution and this year they are being asked to learn about themselves and their worlds.
Why do we always want children to learn?
Why do we even need children at JLF? It is okay to have things which are for adults only.
There seems to be a perception that only children will want to listen to children’s authors, which somewhere goes hand-in-hand with the unspoken assumption that children’s authors are somewhere less intelligent which is why they are writing for less intelligent beings. That children’s authors might have ideas that adults are capable of finding interesting is something many adults, especially festival organizers, don’t seem to realise.
Indian children’s authors are having a bad year. Crossword says no prize for you, you are not good enough. The Kolkata Lit Fest knocks them out, saying sorry, no room. And the Apeejay Lit Fest says, okay, have Tishani Doshi to teach you poetry and Leila Seth to teach you the constitution so that we can check that little box which says children’s events and you can Learn something useful. (I am a fan of both these authors, but as the ultimate voice of children’s storytelling–really?)
But the JLF is very egalitarian in that they just ignore children’s authors everywhere. Maybe among JK Rowling’s reasons for writing Casual Vacancy included that now she would be eligible for JLF, after all, the greatest literary show on earth.
I can understand completely that the JLF organizers don’t want children there–I don’t want my child there, and I see the troupes of miserable school children from Jaipur being thrust into discussions that they can barely understand.
But I cannot understand why they will not have children’s authors. They have interesting ideas, they have books adults read, and they just–just–might be able to talk intelligently and articulately about issues in the world and in literature. As Roddy Doyle did several years back–but then the session for kids’ authors happened only because he was coming anyway. And as Ruskin Bond showed last year, children’s authors can be entertaining, articulate, and worth listening to (and not all of them dribble).
A couple of years ago, there was a discussion session for children’s publishers. But this was an unlisted event–not on the schedule. And there were about seven people in the tent, apart from the twelve people talking–all nice friends and colleagues.
If one agrees with the Crossword judges and says, well, there are no good Indian children’s authors, what about a few international ones? Since they are coming by the planeload anyway, throw in a few.
It is tough writing for children anyway, and even tougher if that automatically debars you from the greatest literary show on earth. Maybe we should encourage our authors to write crappy illiterate love stories on the side–that seems to get you there!

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