Jaipur Literature Festival: It’s time to celebrate a Festival of the BANNED

Amit Sengupta

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself, forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

–― Albert Camus, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ 

It’s time tocelebrate a festival of the banned. The banned. The un-banned. The yet to be banned. The eternally banned, demolished, demeaned, defaced, delegitimised, undelivered by courier or speed post. The invisible, silent, solitary, single, authentic.The quiet quietness. The knowledge which is wisdom. The wisdom which is not self-help bestselling pulp fiction.

Celebrate the lonely rebel who walks zigzag. The unrequited lover without a life insurance account. Without private property or public fame. The man who is tired of being a man. The yet to be hanged rebel. The heretic and disbeliever and atheist.The forever dissident.The anonymous women with qualities.The anonymous woman crossing the street. The hung over eclectic who compulsively denies fame, money, commodities, success; those who don’t want their faces splashed on a glossy cover, their voices in a jarring chorus on TV interviewed by a discredited, fixed, taped, tarnished, puffed-up tele-queen, their sold-out tattered thoughts floating like Kafka’s cockroaches in metamorphosis in a fat cat literary festival of the dubious, the demented, the didactic and the dud.

It’s time to celebrate the Gandhian with a Gun. Not the crass un-Gandhian with the Slap. The books that no publisher will publish, the poems no celebrity will recite, the script no filmmaker will read, the songs no singer will sing, the epic which will never become an epic, the story which will never become a paperback, a hardcover, a box office big grosser flick. The lit no lit-shit fest will ejaculate.

It’s time to reject the famous and bestselling and prize-winning, and those pretending to be bestselling and prize-winning, and those with fluffy book launches and stuffy book readings and massive advances and fancy agents with sexy connections and deep pockets, and those with absolute market monopoly and clout and muscle and money, turning crass mediocrity and anti-genius into great sensibility and genius.

Reject the Indo-Anglican pretenders, most of their books duds, super-duds, most of them unsold, unread, unbearable, unspeakable; instead, let’s cordially invite the infamous, the non-famous, the anti-famous. The face which is faceless, the lips which are half-sealed, hesitant, shy of a kiss; the voices which are choked, the visible which is obsessively invisible.

It’s time to enjoy the unpublished, the unwritten short stories, the chronicle of a narrative untold, the samizdat song of trousers eternally rolled, the poetry of the streetless street, the graffiti of the restless mind, the fire of the hungry intestines, the whistle of the dark nights, the solitude of solitary imprisonment, the silent nights of the so many moneyless midnights. 

It’s time torewrite the anonymous, the quiet brilliance in the margins, the sigh of the oppressed, the soul of the stringer, the cry of the shroud, the life of the coffin, the scream of the painting, the waltz of the last dance, the classical symphony of the soundless, the ode to joy and the ode to despair – one and the same thing; the foreword to liberation, the entry to the unknown corridor, the brick in the wall, the hole in the sky, the black hole in the soul, the end of the beginning, the beginning of the End. The acknowledgement, which was never acknowledged.

It’s time to celebrate the remembrance of things future. Watch and read or hear anything that quickens your pulse, makes you blush, seeks the art of introspection, revives faint memory, holds on to both sleep and insomnia, walks on dew drops and grass, sings the drunken chorus, shines through a leaf storm, burns like an open to sky fire in a frozen homeless night.

Rediscover and reclaim the night. It belongs to us, as it belonged to all the greats who never went to a dubious lit fest sponsored by dubious fat cats, big business and multinationals, with a dysenteric diaspora of dubious celebrities, chatterati, glitterati. All of them, oh, so hollow and stuffed.


This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: FEBRUARY 2012


the commodification of literature

Coming from a region that has never really understood 'India', more so the glittering world of exclusive literature that brings together the glitterati of the world of 'letters' including banned authors for effect, I freaked out on every word of Amit Sengupta's piece, 'Its time to celebrate a Festival of the Banned (Hardnews Feb, 2012).
I come from Meghalaya, a state that is resource rich, was egalitarian and understood the meaning of community until land was commodified and privatised, courtesy globalisation and its greed for resources. From no poor people we now have 66 per cent of our population living below the poverty line. While we could be lulling ourselves about the end of poverty one fine day a la Jeffrey Sachs, things are on the boil and we will have our own Spring Revolts. But does the India sitting at Delhi and all those 'people like us' (PLUs) who populate the glitfest firmament and television screens night after night, talking of things they have never experienced, in sanitised studious, really know what it means to have land taken away from them, the rivers poisoned through senseless mining and to see themselves losing their dignity and their voices?
India is getting more fragmented. There is the core and periphery; there is the India that lives out of resources, exploited from the earth of the poor. And no one really cares about this growing divide. All that the few 'literary cultured' Indians want is to spread the sham litfest culture to every part of this country even while ignoring the narratives of the displaced and the deprived. Deprived because of policies designed by those who can't even spell poverty.
Patricia Mukhim
Shillong, Meghalaya,
India (for those who do not know where Shillong is)

Hi, tnx for the great piece.

tnx for the great piece. The fest of the frivolous deserves befitting write up like Amit's.