Gateway to Indian literature

Mohan Kakanadan was an editor at Crisil Ltd, a Standard and Poor's company. He has worked with many newspapers including The Peninsula Daily in Doha, BridgeNews, The Observer of Business and Politics, The Free Press Journal and the Economic and Political Weekly. He also edits a Malayalam literary magazine, Kaakka.

Mohan Kakanandan (left) and Sabarinath M  

Sabarinath M is a well-known business journalist in Mumbai with over 23 years of experience. Sabari till recently worked with The Economic Times as senior editor. He has also worked with Hindustan Times, Free Press Journal, The Financial Express and Observer of Business and Politics. Apart from writing on big conglomerates and breaking big news, he is credited to have brought out fascinating stories of people like Kishore Biyani first time in the media. He also served as a member of the AICTE Panel to formulate the syllabus for the MBA Programme in mass media.

The LIC Gateway Litfest is a platform to conglomerate regional literature in India together under one roof and an attempt to bring it on par with similar festivals for English-language writing.

The first edition of the event was in February 2015 and received a roaring response.  Its second edition is being held on 20 and 21 February 2016 at NCPA, Mumbai. Some of the big names on stage include film director of global repute Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Akademi Award winning Bengali poet, Subodh Sarkar,  Tamil writer Jeya Mohan, Marathi poet Hemant Divate, K.Satchidanandan, former secretary, Kendreeya Sahitya Akademi.

The event will also honour two Jnanpith winners - Pratibha Ray and Sitakant Mahapatra.

In this interview with Swetha Amit, they talk about how the Gateway Litfest was conceived, how and why regional literature ends up getting a step motherly) treatment and the importance of reviving regional literature.

1)Adoor Gopalkrishnana  (Malyalam), 2) Zaman Asurdah (Kashmiri), 3)Subodh Sarkar (Bengali), 4)Sitanshu Yasaschandra (Gujarati), 5)Pratibha Ray (Oriya), 6)Hemant Divate (Marathi), 7)Jeyamohan (Tamil), 8)Sitakant Mahapatra (Oriya), 9)Satchidanandan (Malyalam)  
The LIC Gateway Litfest, which was initiated as an ode to regional literature is seeing its second edition on 20th and 21st February  2016.  How did this idea initially crop up?

Mohan: We realised that regional languages were not receiving prominence and therefore thought that we should do something about it. That's how we slowly conceived  this idea of bringing all the regional languages together under one roof. We were fortunate to have LIC offer support, which saw our first edition in 2015 bring together so many big names in regional literature. We initially started with seven languages and in this year's edition we have been able to assemble writers in 15 languages.

Sabarinath: Mohan (Kakanadan) has been successfully running Kaakka , a Malayalam magazine, five years. We wanted a way to take this brand forward with some like-minded people coming on board. Simultaneously, we also observed how regional writers were conspicuous by their absence at big ticket Litfests being held all over India. Barring the Tata Litfest where there was one session allotted to regional writers, we found that there was no national platform to showcase regional literature or regional writers. We wanted a way to bring these writers to the mainstream and that's how the idea of the Gateway Literary Festival evolved.

Apart from Mohan and myself, Joseph (CEO of Passion4communication) and two other journalists created this concept and launched it within just three months. We were lucky that Life Insurance Corporation and State Bank of Travancore came forward to extend their support, which made the first edition a success. Being a novel concept that nobody had explored before, we received a very good response and acceptance from people. So, that's our humble beginning. We look to grow further in the coming years. At present we have started a forum called GLF Circle in our portal to consolidate news about regional literature in our country.

Gateway Litfest is a galaxy of regional writers from across the Indian subcontinent. In an era that is dominated by Indian writing in English, how would you rate the response of readers towards regional writing and authors?
Mohan Kakanadan: In general, I think people are interested in reading and that includes books authored in regional languages as well. Although the English language has been more popular amongst readers, a taste for books in other languages is picking up, as well.

Sabarinath: Speaking from my personal experience, I find that many people who live in the metros don't know enough about their roots and find an urge to find out more about them. They believe reading books in their respective native language could enable them to stay in touch with their roots.  This is not an attempt to belittle English literature.

In fact, most of our sessions are in English and through this medium we are promoting the diversity of our own culture across languages. We all grew up reading regional literature at some point in our lives and that's why are able to connect. We want the next generation to feel the same way and be able to connect to their roots, for which we are targeting college students as well, in the process. We have created a team comprising five-six young members who will create an awareness about the Gateway Litfest in different college campuses in Mumbai and we are hoping to get a good number of audience from this segment.

There are numerous Litfests taking place in our country. Yet, regional literature is given a step-motherly treatment  compared to Indian writing in English. Why has regional literature not received its due recognition?
Kakanadan: I think the English language mainly gained predominance due to our western (McCaulay's) education system, because of which other languages were forced into a backseat.

Sabarinath: Right from our childhood, we have always been brought up to believe that only if we are good in English, will we progress in life. So, we were always encouraged to read Enid Blyton or classic literature and the focus was solely on English.  However, in the last four or five years there has been a growing awareness within our younger generation that urges them to trace their roots. And, they are eager to learn more about their native culture. So, we are trying to capitalise on this change in trend and encourage the reading of regional literature as well. 

What kind of genre do regional authors normally work in? Are there translated versions available for universal readers? Any specific authors whose rankings top the popularity chart in this segment?
They all write on varying topics. Usually the thought-provoking ones are labelled as the good novels. There are translated versions available but what we are focusing on is that translations should happen more often and on a regular basis. Some of the popular and well-known authors include the likes of Pratibha Ray, N S Madhavan, Jaya Mohan and Laxman Gaikwad.

Sabarinath: Most good stories are found in remote villages and life in the fields or marketplaces as it usually goes into the roots and comes from the heart. So that's why I find a lot of life and soul in regional literature. As Mohan just said, Jay Mohan is one of the popular authors in this stream and his blog has some 5 lakh followers. He is also the scriptwriter for the previous Mani Ratnam's movie, Kadal.

How profitable would you say these books from the regional literature segment are, for publishers? Do you see the role of e-commerce coming in handy with regards to sales of such books? How does one avail the copies of the same?
Kakanadan: The sales for these books are picking up so they are profitable for its publishers. We have also started the GLF circle as mentioned earlier and we are planning to tie up with regional publishers and ensure availability of these books. So once a reader becomes a member of our GLF circle, they will be able to avail a copy.

Sabarinath: We can certainly promote regional literature using e-commerce as a tool. In fact platforms like Flipkart and Amazon were quite keen to do so. Considering how the next generation is keen to explore and trace ones roots, I feel this will be a good way to make regional literature attractive for these youngsters.  As Mohan mentioned GLF is one of our main tasks for this purpose, going forward.

Sometimes, good books are lost in translation due to lack of marketing, a tool which is vital in today's world to create awareness. So how does one ensure awareness about such books to induce readers' interest in them?
This is the main purpose of our GLF Circle, which will carry news about upcoming books and authors. We also plan to bring out newsletters every week. Besides this, we will use social media to create awareness about these books in the regional literature genre.

Sabarinath: We also plan to introduce blogs. Now if a budding writer wants to popularise his book, he can always write about it. So we will create this blog, market these books and through the channels of social media, ensure that readers are aware about the upcoming books.

Lastly, coming back to the Gateway Litfest, what are your expectations from this year's edition? Do you feel that your initiative will help in getting regional literature at par with English writing?
Kakanadan: This year we have some 11 sessions and each of these sessions have been rated well by our panellists.  We feel regional literature will pick up in due course of time.

Sabarinath: The theme we are trying to explore is the resurgence in regional writing. We are also trying to find the progress of the same through our various debates and discussions. It will take a while before regional literature can be at par with English literature as I had mentioned earlier that the latter has been around for years.
Some of the quotes from prominent personalities about the Gateway Litfest include:

Adoor Gopalakrishnan, film director of global repute: "Gateway Litfest in its very first edition has proved its worth by having conceived and convened some of the most interesting sessions on literary issues-its perceptions, problems and practices. It was indeed high time that we took the regional languages to the forefront of the nation, for that is where original thinking and writing are flourishing."

Nandita Das, actress, director: "I am a big champion of regional literature and cinema as they reflect the diversity of our various cultural ethos. I am glad that the Gateway Litfest has initiated a movement to bring together our regional literature under one platform. Hope many more writers, poets, film-makers, and lovers of literature will join it to strengthen the platform this festival provides. My best wishes are with them. Keep the good work going. ''

K Satchidanandan, Former Secretary, Kendreeya Sahitya Akademi, Poet: ''Mumbai's Gateway Litfest stands out among many such festivals in the country by its firm commitment to promote language writings. It has already established its niche by the very inaugural event held last year that brought together talents from various languages and disciplines.''