Being CALM

Principal platypus and author Anushka Ravishankar and author Himanjali Sankar were at the CALM Festival in Shillong last week, along with the Duckbill sales team. This report is by primary platypus Sayoni Basu, who was busy selling books.

When Sambha Lamarr wrote and said that CALM is not a literary festival, but a festival of music, art and literature, it sounded lovely, but I have to say I was a bit sceptical. As a hard-nosed reader, I like my literary festivals unsullied.

However, having been to Shillong for CALM, I cannot think of a lovelier way to be. The first thing that won me over was that on the lovely winding roads of Shillong were billboards with the authors and performers faces smiling down on passing vehicles (no more than 20 miles an hour in the city, a cab driver told us). I think authors belong on billboards and I was thrilled at CALM had put them there.

The people speaking were an eclectic mix, with a focus on subcontnental writers of diverse kinds, which I truly appreciated. And while it was about the book, it was also about the way books change our lives and beliefs and society. And there were musicians, puppeteers, fashion designers, psychiatrists, film makers, all taking about where their work and beliefs intersect.


There was much state support to the festival, which was a pleasure to see, because unlike most state-supported festivals, there was no pomp or fuss or ceremony. The speakers were not all over the age of seventy-five, as is another characteristic of most state-supported festivals (with of course one token speaker of forty-five as the voice of youth). And some of the issues discussed were definitely unusual: depression, sexuality.


The sessions for children’s authors were a pleasure for a couple of reasons. Firstly, children’s authors and authors writing for adults were on the same panels. This is very unusual. The bulk of literary festivals seem to automatically assume that children’s authors are somehow a little less intelligent than authors writing for adults, and that they cannot discourse on anything which an adult audience would want to listen to. At CALM, there was also a session which was exclusively for children’s authors, but was clearly targeted at an adult audience. Of course, there were separate sessions for kids as well.


And the other little pleasures of the festival–the amazing food (we all ate and ate and ate and then ate some more), the cheerful friendly volunteers who spoilt us all rotten and sang and danced on a separate stage in their free time, and of course the soirees every evening where participants gathered to eat some more and continue conversations started the previous night. By the end of it, we all had many more friends than we had started out with. And the amazing Sambha Lamarr, the creative director of the festival, was never hassled or busy as would be totally understandable, but made each of us feel warm and welcomed and joined in the fun with gusto.


Was there anything wrong with the festival? Only one thing. There were not enough people in the audience. So next year, keep an eye out for CALM, pack your bags and come along. You will be very happy at the end of it.


For more on the festival:


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