Revathi Suresh talks about her first lit fest–as an author.
When Sayoni and Anushka asked if I’d go to Kala Ghoda I didn’t have to think twice. ‘You bet!’ I said enthusiastically. I was thinking what lovely people my book—and I—had gotten hitched to. They were not only going to bring out my magnum opus but they’d also send me on nice-nice holidays it seemed.
“Feb 2 to 9 are the dates, is that good for you?” Sayoni asked politely.
“So let’s discuss what you’d like to do at the event then.”
Ev…ent? Event. Event! Ok. The tubelight finally flickered on. No no. I didn’t want to go to Kala Ghoda anymore. I’d always thought that if I found a publisher I would—post whoohoo-ing and high five-ing the family—go back to lounging around in my nightie and stir sambar or whatever it was that needed stirring, do laundry, shop for grocery, water plants and engage myself in other similarly exciting and familiar activities after we were done signing the contract. I badly wanted un-event-ful but I could see Sayoni frowning and shaking her head even before the thought quite finished crossing my mind. Event-ful, she begged to disagree. A couple of weeks ago when I groused about lit fests and jostling authors she wagged her finger at me via e-mail and said unsympathetically, madam you have just written a book and if you have to jostle, jostle you will. Sigh. So I obediently trotted off to Kala Ghoda. At the back of my mind was this piece that Duckbill had directed us to on FB not too long ago. It was called Hell is my own Book Tour by Adam Mansbach.
The big day dawned and my daughter (someone had to read from the book in an authentic teen voice and I haven’t quite mastered that as yet) and I set off with Anushka for Kitab Khana, which by the way, is this fabulous-most-gorgeous-utterly beautifully-done-up-in-old-style bookstore near Flora Fountain. The kind of place where you’ll want to live forever if you’re a book lover. Or dessert lover—they have a disgustingly delish cafeteria in case the reading material on display does nothing for you.
We weren’t quite the first at the scene, but close enough. The organisers were there—Lubaina and her efficient crew—and a couple of participants. It kind of seemed to me, as the big hand raced furiously towards 11, that that’s the way it would remain. Luckily for me, that Mansbach piece had prepared me for real life.
Lubaina looked concerned. Anushka and I tried to look unconcerned. Parinita ran around the store looking under tables and chairs for missing or hiding participants. Busy-looking event volunteers were put on standby. Parinita ran into the cafeteria and cornered three uber-everything eighteen-year-olds. Finish eating fast fast, she told them. We are having an event for your age-group outside and the author is here and you can get signed copies of her book and all that and basically your life will look up after this day and you’ll live happily ever after. Or at least words to such effect, I think. ‘Sure,’ they smirked intimidatingly, and sent her scuttling out. We had seventeen, we had seventeen till yesterday, Lubaina muttered referring, we presume, to the number of registrations. We looked at our watches discreetly, desperately. Things were looking distinctly Mansbach-ish. Just then three-four young browsers walked into the trap. The shop, I mean. Gotcha. They were young, adult, and therefore young adult. You gotta tweak as you go. Besides, by now we really didn’t care you know, and can you blame us? Young adult, old adult, whatever. Just plain adult—we weren’t going to be picky about it.
Come and join our event, Parinita suggested sweetly and they fell for it. The darlings. We had finally cobbled together a group of seven. I ran into the cafeteria to add my voice to Parinita’s. The trio were still munching on their sandwiches and nodded, cool and supercilious, when I asked them to join us. ‘Sure,’ they murmured mockingly. Since that seemed to be the only word they knew we had to take them for that word.
So we waited some more. After maybe eight-ten minutes they walked out the cafeteria into the big wide world outside, sidling past us even as we looked on wistfully, longingly.
So we had our event. With ten. Our seven plus three of those volunteers who’d been put on standby. But they were wonderful. They listened absorbed as they were read to from the book and participated wholeheartedly in the discussion that followed. Blurb your lives Kavya-style and tell us why it sucks we requested, and they were so spontaneous and funny you just had to love them.
As a first event for me, it was a great loosener. I’d gone in with zero expectations, sceptical about whether a group of teens would willy-nilly come together for a programme based on a book. Also, I honestly couldn’t see a YA Mumbaikar rousing himself for a book-related event fixed for 11 on a Sunday morning but who’s to know unless one tries. And we happened to be unlucky to bump into exam dates. In any case, they are notoriously difficult to access, these young adults, and I have to be prepared for more such rejections. At the same time, they are a big part of my target readership and I keep thinking surely there must be other ways of reaching them. Schools, you suggest? Colleges, maybe? Mind your language first, they shake their heads disapprovingly, not wanting any icky-ucky words falling on the ears of their young wards.
So tough life is.