Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kitab Gossip

The Kitab Fest 2008 just got spicy with allegations and accusations; mails in support of, mails in the interests of. Brit vs. Indian, Bombayite vs. Rest-of-India - all kinds of bugaboos are being invoked. Some are withdrawing from the fest. Others have volunteered to referee dawn duels (with provisos).

Read all about it!

19 comments:

Cheshire Cat said...

Promising, but I do prefer my gossip written about in less Kadare-like fashion...

Falstaff said...

Call me a cynic, but I can't help wondering how many people would have known, or cared, that this festival was happening if it weren't for the "allegations and accusations". Breaking 'news' stories timed to draw attention to events always make me suspicious.

equivocal said...

Hey, I think you should link to Peter's gathering of all sides of the story:

http://zigzackly.blogspot.com/2008/02/open-kitab.html

... that's only fair.

Space Bar said...

cat: who, me? or peter?

falsie: well, yes. but also, if any of this is true, then this is the time the people who have grievances are most likely to be heard. i'm not sure how much good it does the festival - i don't buy the all publicity is good line.

that said, kitab has now made its way onto the indian lit calendar: jaipur, kala ghoda kitab is how it goes.

equivocal: the link is to peter's blog post on the subject. check.

equivocal said...

Space-- I did check. If you click on "Read all about it" you don't land up on Peter's, and none of the links on your post go to zigzackly. Perhaps you outta double check?

Space Bar said...

equivocal: my mistake. sheesh! how terrible. and thanks for pointing it out. i seem to have pasted the link to sharanya's blogpost twice. it's been fixed.

Falstaff said...

SB: I just think it's interesting that if you run a google search on Kitab Fest 2008 the majority of the stories that pop up (including a number in the MSM) are about the controversy rather than about the fest.

And I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss the 'all publicity is good' bit - controversy suggests relevance, and for a festival that's happened all of once, it's mostly about legitimacy, no? And all this talk about Kitab being a "leading international" lit fest can't hurt. I'm sure in the aftermath of the controversy the organizers will claim that attendance was poor because of it, but I can't help wondering how poor it would have been even without the controversy. Take Dilip Chitre's e-mail over at zigzackly's - it certainly suggests that he had no intention of attending, even before the controversy. Yet a livemint article about the festival (pretty much the only one I could find, incidentally) lists him among the "host of literary stalwarts" attending.

Of course, it's sensible timing to raise real grievances, though I can't help thinking that only point 1 in that list is really relevant. Most of the rest just comes down to carping about how what'shisname is an incompetent manager, which may be true, but I'm not sure how it's an actionable 'grievance' except as it suggests that working for the festival may not be the best job around.

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: you're right about nothing else being actionable except point one. About the Dilip Chitre participating bit: if he didn't intend to attend, putting out a press release saying he would is misleading, isn't it? precisely the kind of thing the signatories say p.g. did last year.

Falstaff said...

SB: Oh, I'm perfectly willing to believe the 'grievances' are true. What I'd really like to know is whether the festival last year broke even at all - I suspect it didn't. Which makes me wonder about the wisdom of holding it again, or of it being 'established' on the Indian lit calendar. It doesn't sound like it was particularly successful last time around. The whole thing reminds me, for some inexplicable reason, of The Producers.

I'd also really like to know how many of the people listed in that Mint article actually planned to attend at all. Personally, I'm not buying the narrative that Kitab 2008 would have been a really exciting event if only this controversy hadn't come up. My personal (if poorly informed and unsubstantiated) suspicion is that the Fest would have fallen apart anyway, since there's little indication that it's financially viable and it seems like a lot of people who attended it the first time around weren't that happy.

swar said...

K. Bhanot, A Siddiqui and S. Nizam - I don't know them. Who was their (legal/chartered) accountant at Kitab2007? All funds for a festival usually go into one single account and you put one accountant to manage it. The main organisers are privy to it - and its never only one person. They sit at sponsors' meetings and know exactly how much money is coming and going. Organisers work for months or even years to make a serious festival happen and I am finding it hard to believe that any professional organiser would work unpaid for so long until and unless the project is a real baby and funds are extremely short. Has a contract been signed or did they accept the work based on mutual trust? If the latter is the case, then many festivals have seen co-organisers walking out during the runup itself on payment basis. One may not hear of them often because they are all insiders' tales. Some don't walk out because of reputation or maybe altruistic reasons to see the festival through.

Their detailed email doesn't satisfy me. "make outstanding payments out of our own pockets" - why were they so good? they should have just given P.Ganguli's email, personal address and phone mumber to the creditors. And wouldn't the bills be in the name of Liberatum? Does it have an India office? Auditor?

Where is the contract? Use it. The email is more of an emotional appeal, not hard facts. To get your money back, you need the facts, papers and a lawyer.

Space Bar said...

Falstaff: Yes, I did wonder about the money for this year's festival. Even assuming all allegations of Brit-favouring are true, they'd have to be put up in style and where's that money coming from?

Not really relevant, but I have a vague memory of someone saying that Kitab was going to be held in POndicherry at an entirely different time of the year. Wonder what happened to that and why it shifted back to Bombay...

Swar: True, true. I find it hard to believe that they kept quiet for so long; but like I said, it's the best time to raise the dust publicly.

By all accounts the festival was rather haphazard last year. It's not clear why anyone else apart from Pablo Ganguli stayed with it until now.

Cheshire Cat said...

Space, I meant Sharanya (this was before the link was corrected). Peter's post, of course, is delightfully detailed.

equivocal said...

Swar-- your comments suggest that this must have been run like a professional literary festival; by all accounts it wasn't, and appears to have been something of a con job. People were taken in on trust and made use of. As for why Kavita and the others kept quiet for so long-- well, it looks like they were hoping to get their money back before making a stink, and they were worried precisely about being villified in this way.

Falstaff: Dilip Chitre being advertised as being part of the festival in the i-mint article when he had no plans of coming at all is typical of Pablo's strategy outlined in the email: you advertise VS Naipaul, Hanif Kureishi and the Dalai Lama and others-- who have not even confirmed-- as participants in order to draw in more participants and sponsorship money, and then you pretend as if they agreed and then "cancelled". After all the criticism last year, he was a little more careful about his "teaser list" this year; but his advertising Chitre's attendance shows that he's still up to his old tricks.

Actually, I do think there are some larger issues here, and I wonder when we'll get around to meaningfully working through them. What exactly is a purpose of a literary festival-- celebrity? advertising / mass marketing? self-promotion / networking? meeting influential white people? building community? real literature? We can't tar all the festivals with one brush and after just one year, establish a social "calendar"; Kala Ghoda seems to be something of a genuine grass roots effort, Jaipur has a cynical aspect to it and is of course mostly just a huggy-kissy-bitchy party for the literary in-crowd--less and less content every year, it seems-- but at least it treats writers properly. Prakriti is just finding its feet and might eventually turn out to be interesting and important in a non-trendy way. Kitab is struggling to have some content-- thanks to its real workers and conceptualisers in each of its three years-- in spite of its "creator" who is only interested in glamour, self-projection and evaluates writers on the strength of their market share.

All this will have far reaching consequences on the literary scene and also the kinds of literature produced in the years to come. I'm not saying the issues are cut and dry, but the lack of vigorous, critical discussion (even the deliberate public silences and hypocrisy) on all these matters is eerie, and harmful and makes a mockery of the question-- "why do we write?" The literary scene in India today reminds me of the dotcom boom of the early 2000s-- all hype and virtually no substance. Is it that writers are so nervous about damaging their own career prospects that they refrain from publicly rocking the boat, occasionally resorting to a little secret back-channel bitching while still being in promotional mode for the eyes of the world? How do we address corruption in our literary scene?

Falstaff said...

equivocal: You really said all that in response to my comment?

I know very little about the lit scene in India, but everything you say pretty much matches my own impression. I will say though that I think there are two distinct issues involved - the first has to do with transparency and eliminating 'corruption' / cronyism, the second has to do developing more critical standards. The former is a necessary but not sufficient condition for the latter.

Space Bar said...

Equivocal: All this will have far reaching consequences on the literary scene and also the kinds of literature produced in the years to come.

If, as you seem to imply, that the character of the festival will determine the kind of writing produced in India, it is a frightening prospect. But I wish you'd say more about how you see this happening. There's a difference, to my mind, in the kind of writing that's celebrated and the kind of writing that's produced. I'm not saying that the latter is always better than the former but I suspect that is considerably larger than we suspect.

Kiran Nagarkar said something, in one of th elinks that turned up when I googled Kitab 2008, that there ought to be a festival every two weeks. It sounded silly but I see what he's saying - that public engagement with literature ought to be continuous, ongoing and not be event-based or a notation on a social calendar.

swar said...

Equivocal: Yes, it looks like they have been taken on trust. I was speaking from theatre festivals' perspective and maybe lit fests are a different animal. Usually in our scene, even unpaid volunteers refuse to budge if their expenses are not reimbursed in time. I fully support this practice because it is sensible work ethics. Emptying one's piggy bank for somebody's office is not being visionary but just being short-sighted. So it is quite difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that organisers were spending their own money! What was the interest behind it? Saving the festival when it actually is another person's baby? I am NOT interested in why they took so long to come up with this revelation. Thats pretty much obvious. I am interested in WHY they remained with the festival in 07 when they clearly knew that they were being compromised. It was P. Ganguli's GIG, not theirs. Festival directors walk out immediately due to integrity issues - it is not uncommon.

And apart from the money, all the other issues they cited are part and parcel of a beginner's festival. I am not even surprised. If they are really serious about addressing this P. Ganguli disease and getting their money back, they need to write another detailed letter - how was the festival organised? what was the projected budget? what was the total expenditure? did they have a contingency plan? who were the sponsors?

And of course, festivals won't be so much of fun if not for the politics and scandals. many of us actually look forward to them. we just don't throw our money into the arena.

Crp said...

I've never met or even heard of Mr Pablo Ganguli but I too have a grievance against him, which kind of corroborates his distractors' stories. When I saw Pablo... I was expecting Picasso or Neruda but neither showed up. Tremendous let down.

Space Bar said...

crp: i think pablo would bring neruda or picasso to you from the grave if he had a few of the distractors you speak of. he could od with them now, no?

Crp said...

Wouldn't surprise me if he did. Pablo Ganguli and his good friend Boris Venkataraman are capable of anything.