Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2018: A Sneak Peek!

Happy New Year! It’s January, and for book lovers, that can mean only one thing: the season of lit fests is upon us at last. The very first one in Kolkata, coming up from 11th January to 14th January, is also the oldest: the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2018.

Guys, I’ve seen the speaker’s list, and I can safely tell you that this year’s festival has an incredible lineup. You can see all the speaker details here (keep in mind that it’s subject to last-hour/minute/second changes!) but suffice it to say that so many of my favourite people are coming that I’m literally sitting with a pen and paper mapping out how many sessions I can go to. A Time Turner would come in handy about now, eh?

In anticipation of the big day, Plug In and Poetry Cafe- both Oxford Bookstore initiatives- held two previews on December 22 and 29 as part of a music-and-poetry competition.

The winners of the music category stood a chance to win a recording contract (!) with a label, while the winners of poetry would have a chance to perform with the delegates (!!!) at Poetry Cafe on the St Paul’s Cathedral grounds on 14th January.  I’m green with envy already.

If you follow Spiktinot on Instagram, you will have seen most of the performances shared live by yours truly! I was there on both days and I’m proud and a little emotional to tell you that the winners’ list is out.

To give you a little glimpse of what awaits you at the festival, here’s the lowdown on each of the winners:

Subhadip Ghosh & Oindra Kumar Dutta – Music

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  • Theme: She’s always a woman to me
  • Names of songs performed: We didn’t have time to name them! We had composed them only two days earlier.
  • What was the inspiration for the tracks? Since we didn’t have lyrics or vocals, we tried to convey pure emotion through the music. The first one was in raga hamzanwadi, which is very bright, happy and energetic, to convey joy. The second was in raga yaman, which is darker, to symbolise the difficulties that a woman has to face in today’s society.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performance? Sourjyo Sinha’s performance was very mellow and I could easily hum along to his tunes.
  • Any preparations for the big day? Writing the songs, in quite an unstructured way. We just let it flow onstage.
  • Most excited about? Getting to perform with the judges! We hung out with them afterwards and I’m a huge fan of all three.
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Ratul Shankar, Gaurav Chattopadhyay and Mainak Nag Chowdhury, the judges
  • Any parting words or comments for musicians who are starting out? Have a proper guru- one who can be your mentor and friend, and always support your local scene, no matter where you are!

Please note that I interviewed Subhadip, specifically! So unless specified, the answers are his personal reflections.

Trisrota Datta- Poetry

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  • Theme: She’s always a woman to me.
  • Names of pieces performed: ‘When You Are Old‘ by W B Yeats, ‘The Cinnamon-Peeler‘ by Michael Ondaatje and ‘Phenomenal Woman‘ by Maya Angelou.
  • What was the inspiration for the pieces? The first two pieces are quite sensual and I wanted to explore this intimacy. In Angelou’s poem, strength is connected with a woman’s physicality, which I agreed with, as a woman.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performances? Subhadip and Oindra! They were fantastic.
  • Any preparations for the big day? Possibly write my own poem and kick-start my slam journey!
  • Most excited about? Since I’m also a co-ordinator for the fest, it’s the madness of the four days that I’m looking forward to.
  • Any parting words or comments for poets who are starting out? Don’t be scared to offend or shock your audience!

Projjwal Bhattacharya- Music

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  • Theme: Will there be singing in the dark times?
  • Names of songs performed: ‘Borders Within’ and ‘Who is to Blame?’
  • What was the inspiration for the tracks? ‘Borders Within’ is about the turmoil of 2016 in Kashmir. The melody consists mostly of minor notes to convey the helplessness of a mind filled with borders.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performance? I loved the Hindi poetry performed by Deepak Shaw, it spoke about borders as well.  
  • Any preparations for the big day? Continuous practice! And keeping a couple of extra strings.
  • Any parting words or comments for musicians who are starting out? New compositions are as important as old ones.

Madhura Banerjee- Poetry

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  • Theme: Will there be singing in the dark times?
  • Names of piece performed: ‘Playing Atlas with My Mind’
  • What was the inspiration for the piece? The game of Atlas that we played as children. What if the atlas was my mind, and my ‘train of thought’ stopped at emotional milestones like failure, confidence, preparation, execution and toil?
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performance? Tamalika Roy’s reading of Srijato’s poetry. I had the words in my head for the next few days.
  • Any preparations for the big day? I’ll do my normal run through in front of a mirror, watching myself perform. The actual session will be more of a reading from ‘A Tenant of the World’, though.
  • Most excited about? Meeting my favourite writers and getting my books signed!
  • Any parting words or comments for poets who are starting out? Construct your piece well. If someone else was reading the piece, would you enjoy it?

Shreyasi Chatterjee & Rohan Ganguly- Music

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  • Theme: Will there be singing in the dark times?
  • Names of songs performed: The Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, Hurt by Johnny Cash, and a song called ‘Aar Jodi’, popular in North Calcutta during the 1970s.
  • What was the inspiration for the tracks? We started from theme and looked through the work of musicians who had expressed and resisted darkness. The last song is of personal significance, as it’s one of my dad’s favourites.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performances? Arpita Roy’s performance of her poem ‘Overkill’ gave me chills.
  • Any preparations for the big day? To be honest, we weren’t expecting to win, so just practice, I suppose!
  • Most excited about? What this means for our future. We knew what we were presenting was good, and we’re excited about what’s in store.
  • Any parting words or comments for musicians who are starting out? I’m a beginner myself, so I’ll say what I want to hear, as cliche as it sounds: never give up!

I interviewed Shreyasi, specifically, so gain, the answers are her personal reflections.

Navamita Chandra- Poetry

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  • Theme: Will there be singing in the dark times?
  • Names of pieces performed: ‘Curtain Call’ and ‘For TJ’.
  • What was the inspiration for the pieces? The first was about my love/hate relationship with theatre and what a dissociative feeling acting can bring, and the second was a thank-you letter to someone I love very much.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performances? Loved Oishani’s rendition of ‘The Climb’ by Hannah Montana.
  • Any preparations for the big day? Honestly, I don’t prepare- I just select a piece that takes the theme I have in mind, forward, and then just lay myself bare onstage.
  • Most excited about? I’m excited about performing alongside some really great writers and poets!
  • Any parting words or comments for poets who are starting out? Just do it. Thinking ‘I’m not good enough’ will only hold you back.

Oishani Dey – Music

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  • Theme: Will there be singing in the dark times?
  • Names of songs performed: ‘The Climb‘ by Miley Cyrus and ‘Kotha Orey, Kotha Porey’ by Rumpa.
  • What was the inspiration for the tracks? I chose the Bengali song because I think that expression is important to darker times- we need to avoid silence. The first song, which talks about overcoming struggle, is a personal favourite.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performances? The performances of the members of Naiyyor, the group I’m a part of, including Pratyay Raha and Aahiree Banerjee.
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Pratyay Raha
  • Any preparations for the big day? I’ll select songs and rehearse with the people who will support me, until I feel comfortable with the performance.
  • Most excited about? On the first evening, I was very nervous, but the audience joined in, which helped a lot. I’d love the experience that support again. Also, the end of my exams!
  • Any parting words or comments for musicians who are starting out? Get rid of stage fright as fast as you can!

Ananya Kabiraj – Poetry

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  • Theme: She’s always a woman to me.
  • Names of pieces performed: ‘Arjun Krisnachurar Kotha’ (The Story of the Arjun and the Krishnachura) by Mandakranta Sen and ‘Debi Purchhen’  by Krishna Basu.
  • What was the inspiration for the pieces? The poems express the inner thoughts of a woman and celebrate womanhood in general, and they’re by two of my favourite poets.
  • Highlight of the event, other than your own performances? Loved the instrumentals, such as Somshubhra Chowdhury’s performance on the Hawaiian guitar.
  • Any preparations for the big day? I like reciting the work of my favourite poets, and I think I’ll do that, instead of writing my own piece.
  • Most excited about? To be chosen is a huge honour! Really hoping I’ll come up with something good soon.
  • Any parting words or comments for poets who are starting out? I’m terrible with this ‘advice’ thing. I just think you should do exactly what you makes you happy.

These young poets will be performing alongside internationally renowned authors at St. Paul’s Cathedral grounds on 14th January. The musicians will get their own contracts.

I’ve watched ’em perform and I promise you, you’re in for quite the show.

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Come and say hi to me if you see me at #AKLF18! I’ll probably cry from stress and hug you in the middle of 500 people, but then that’s normal behaviour for me.

All photographs were taken by Riza Ghosal (my personal panda, whose food photography channel you should absolutely check out), except for Trisrota’s, which was provided by her, and Ananya’s and Projjwal’s, which were provided by the elves of AKLF. The video and graphic came from the AKLF elvish team as well.  Many thanks to Proiti Seal Acharya, one of the head elves, for providing relevant information at odd hours of the night.

Correction: an earlier version of this post had said that both the poets and the musicians will be performing at the fest. Only the poets will be, on the 14th of January!

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