As the buzz at and about Kolkata Literature Festival 2018 reached a crescendo, Anurag Mazumder from Calcutta Cacophony caught up with Esha Chatterjee, Co-Curator, and Head of Operations of the carnival, which is KLF. And of course, a delightful conversation followed, where Miss Chatterjee was adamant about not overestimating KLF and urgently pressed the need for KLF to better itself with every passing year.
Anurag: Five years down the line, how do you think KLF has evolved?
Esha: I would primarily say that the first and foremost thing is an experience. I was born into family inclined towards literature and no one had to force me to read, it came quite naturally to me. So, doing something like KLF is natural for me, but event management is something that gets better with experience. How to manage an event of this magnitude, assigning roles and deciding who will do which job, how to divide time and set sessions, looking after the comfort of the authors and moderators, to make contributors feel important and keep all of them happy, are some things we are continuously trying to get better at, thereby attempting to take another step forward. There are some things that would me take two hours to decide on at a point, but now there take me five to ten minutes. I think that is how we grow, every year.
Anurag: We know that with time, and experience, as you said, you have formed a huge behind-the-scenes team, who work tremendously hard and make KLF possible. But where is the foundation of it all? Who are they and how do they work?
Esha: See, I have always been blessed to have come across and met some very passionate people. Their passion might not be towards Literature, but the passion for what they do and how they do it. I have been continuously searching for people who are responsible, who will do a thing immediately when I ask them for it to be done. It is mostly team work,where we sit together, and review the earlier Literature Festivals and try to find out the shortcomings, problems in conducting the festival. Then we would qualitatively analyze sessions form an idea which ones to keep and which all types to discard or modify, and which new type of sessions we could incorporate. We try to learn from other festivals to see what else we can add to our festival. Like we did not have a video recording of the sessions last year. This year we have started backstage interviews with the authors, who make amazing panelists on stage, but individually as well, are amazing people, and through these interviews, we get to know them better.
Anurag: From new Authors like Debasish Irengbam to Dr. Shashi Tharoor, to Sanjib Chattopadhyay, we see a variety of authors, young and new take the stage. How do you think KLF becomes a good stage for everyone?
Esha: I would not call it a good stage. I would sound so arrogant calling it a good stage especially in presence of so many well-known Literature Festivals in India. However, I will call it a platform for authors old and new, where they can interact with and be in presence of their readers. I do not know which reader comes for which author, and millions of readers come to the Book Fair, so I try to stage a variety of authors for all kinds of readers who come in. And also, in future, I do not want a famous writer to come and say to me, “Hey, you didn’t call me when I was not famous!”
Anurag: Do you think at this point, KLF is competing with other Literature Festivals, akin to Jaipur?
Esha: No. Absolutely no. It comes from knowledge. I am not ignorant that I would say that it is worth as a competitor. Jaipur paved the way for the other festivals to come into existence. Then Hyderabad, Bangalore, Kerala Literature Festivals are almost nine-ten years old. But I am sure, if we can persist, and continue doing what we are doing, in ten to fifteen years we could be right there on the map.
Anurag: Five years later, where do you see KLF?
Esha: I want a day to come when people will solely visit for KLF. I really want a day to come when people will know the International Kolkata Book Fair through Kolkata Literature Festival. But again, continuing KLF at the same venue, inside the Book Fair, in the same format is challenging. But, no other festival does what we do, conduct it in a Book Fair. I want it to be a blend of academics and entertainment, yes, and do the sessions at different venues inside the Book Fair, but that will happen with more manpower, time and experience.
Anurag: What is a typical KLF day for you?
Esha: You know, you can achieve a lot when you give up on food and sleep. I am not a big fan of sleep, to me, it is a necessity, not a luxury. It is a luxury when I am over-stressed. Here at KLF, I am looking at the lights, the sounds, the backdrop, whether the authors have left their hotels, whether they have left for the airport, whether they have arrived, if the Author’s Lounge is ready, I am concerned about the comfort of the people working with us, I am concerned about the quality of the food, I am concerned about the one’s serving the food, if they have eaten, concerned about the comfort of the bouncers, I look into if the videos are being done, the recordings are done. I also have three book stalls at the Book Fair which I am managing. I have to follow up on the stocks, if they have arrived, from where they have arrived. It is a lot of work if you see it from this perspective.
Anurag: But you do enjoy it?
Esha: Of course, that is the reason why I do this every year. If one didn’t enjoy doing this, then why would they do this? This is complete madness! Every year it is so stressful, I am confused if I will be doing it next year. But you know, when the authors send a simple text with a thank you saying that they liked the organization and the event, and come back next year, you realize that it is worth it. I guess it is okay to give it another chance and see what we can do next year.