Literary fest during Covid-19

In first-of-its-kind event, 600 authors, spread over 27 countries, engaged in 91 sessions, for seven days, reports Mudit Mathur

At a time when life seemed paralysed, a small group of literature enthusiasts picked up the gauntlet thrown by the gloom of Covid-19 pandemic and created an online beehive of activity through the week- long The Book Bakers Online Literary Festival.

The festival was perhaps an event which has never been witnessed in India in recent memory. It involved 600 authors, spread over 27 countries, engaged in 91 sessions (from 10 am to 9.30 pm every day) for as many as 7 days. The cumulative viewership of this festival held via Zoom and streamed live on Facebook page of The Book Bakers Literary agency was over 1 lakh views, an achievement which may be entered into the Limca Book of Records in the lit fest category. 

Bollywood lyricist Sameer was there sharing his experience as a song writer for scores of super hit Hindi films and how a casual conversation turned these anecdotes into a full-fledged book which will be published by a reputed publisher soon as was actor Tushaar Kapoor talking about his journey of turning into an author even as he continues to essay roles on the big screen.

Well known TV actor Karan Oberoi and Akaash Khurana were there too speaking on their forthcoming books as well as celebrity writers like Neelam Kumar and L. Aruna Dhir. The Indian Ambassador to Belarus, Sangeeta Bahadur, joined the fest from Minsk to participate in two sessions –one on fantasy writing and another on Indians writing abroad.

A slew of best –selling creative authors like Kiran Manral, Manjari Prabhu, Kulpreet Yadav, Anirban Bhattacharya, Nupur Anand, Neil De’Silva, Moitrayee Bhaduri, Debleena Mazumdar, Sujata Parashar, Shuchi Singh, besides scores of other notables metaphorically and literally added their genius to packed eight days of intense discussions on books, books and more books.

As noted author and journalist Ashwini Bhatnagar puts it, “There is no better romance in the world than between reading and writing. It fulfils both the writer and the reader and the Book Bakers Online Literary Festival was in fact a week-long celebration of this passionate romance.”   

“We conceived this idea of an online fest within hours of the announcement of the lockdown by the Prime Minister,” Suhail Mathur, co-founder of India’s leading literary agency, The Book Bakers, says, “I said to myself, ‘how do we turn this crisis into an opportunity?’ And the moment the question arose, the answer automatically presented itself — go online, engage with the best literary minds, the young as well as the veterans, and create value during a time which seemed to be going to waste.”

Suhail and his three-member team, which includes his father Sanjeev Mathur, immediately got into action. Within a couple of days they figured out the logistics and the technology and launched the first- ever online literature festival on April 6.The logistics appeared insurmountable at first as the agency’s authors were not just in India but in 26 other countries too. Also, all of the 600 signed on writers had to be involved. It worked out to 91 sessions covering almost 12 hours every day! “But we pulled it off,” says Suhail with a hint of satisfaction. “We didn’t have to cancel even one session.”

The Online Literature Festival in fact had a delightful mix of bestselling authors, Bollywood & cricketing celebrities, ISKCON preachers, motivational speakers, paranormal experts, business leaders, armed personnel, leading journalists, political analysts and decorated police officers.

They included ISKCON gurus like Gauranga Prabhu and Rasika Raman Prabhu (sessions on spirituality and success), business leaders like Bhupendra Suri and Runjhun Noopur, paranormal experts Jay Alani and Sarbajeet Mohanty. The other notables were bestselling army biographers Kiran-Nirvan, who have written the book version of Karan Johar’s forthcoming The Kargil Girl, ex DGP Aloke Lal, romance writers Aarti V Raman and Shilpa Suraj to name just a few. 

Sports writing was represented by well-known journalists and authors, Nikhil Naz, Vineet Malhotra, cricketers Salil Ankola, WV Raman, Amol Muzumdar and Sandeep Patil’s son, actor Chirag Patil, etc.

The entire team of India’s biggest band, A Band of Boys, kept the audience riveted through their performance.