Jan 28, 2020
A round-up of Bookaroo's adventures in 2019
January is a good month to look back on the last 12 months. At Bookaroo we are particularly pleased that the festival visited four brand new destinations out of the six editions that took place in 2019.
Interesting events happen in a children’s literature festival, not all of them literary in nature. Some happen backstage, on the side-lines, some before and others later- in some cases, much later. Each edition of the festival has some memories that stay in the mind much after the dust has settled. And everyone has a lot of fun - the children, the parents, the speakers, the organisers and anyone else who is there.
Yes, no, perhaps, yes…
2019 began with Bookaroo in Jaipur though that was not how one had planned it. ‘Unforeseen circumstances’ became a reality rather than a clause that is usually put out as a safety net. The Jaipur edition had to be postponed because of the sudden announcement of the elections before it finally came to life in January 2019. There were two cancellations later in the year - Bookaroo’s first Urdu edition in Srinagar and the 6th edition of the regular Bookaroo in that city just after that.
A sudden postponement is never an easy moment. It means re-doing everything that has been done before. More sadly, all the speakers have to be told about how we were about to wreck their plans made months in advance. Fortunately for Bookaroo, our speakers are a resilient lot- as you will see later too - and have always been so.
You cannot crush their spirit. They deal with adverse news with remarkable aplomb. “No problem,” they said, “we shall be available whenever you fix a new date.” And they were! None of us at Bookaroo will forget that lesson in a hurry. In the end, Bookaroo’s third edition in Jaipur went off like a dream thanks to the Jawahar Kala Kendra.As far as Srinagar is concerned, we are waiting.
While on the topic of resilience, the Gangtok adventure in June is another example. Flying in from various places to Bagdogra and then driving six hours negotiating landslides and broken roads in pouring rain in a bus was something else. How do you counter the ‘boredom’? Merrily sing your way up. One speaker drove up and down all the way from Bhutan with updates on the state of the roads via WhatsApp.
It didn’t end here. Arriving at journey’s end at Gangtok’s famous Hospital Dara they were faced with a walk up a steep incline to the hotel while the luggage had to come up separately. The rain was still coming down, but there was not a single frown on any face. Now unfolds an interesting story. The rainwouldn’t let up at all. As organisers, we were in despair and on the penultimate evening, we hadresigned ourselves to a watery Bookaroo. But our host had different ideas.
The director of Taktse International School, Sonam Denzongpa, is a Buddhist monk. We were told that he would pray for a dry weekend (Bookaroo is a two-day festival). As we drove into the school at 6 am on the morning of the event, he was there on a platform quietly praying. And believe it or not, the sun peeped out and the rain disappeared for two straight days, not only facilitating the operations of the festival but also giving us spectacular views of the Kanchenjunga from the school. Sitting in the speakers’ lounge, one got a 360-degree view of the Himalayan range through the windows.On the evening of Day 2 as we stood at the gates of the school seeing the speakers off, the skies opened up once again.Miracles do happen.
Out of this world
Varanasi was a multisensory experience for all of us, especially those for whom it was a first-time visit to the city. The Ghats while the false dawn was in the sky, the Ghats at dawn, the Ghats in the morning, the Ghats at dusk and the Ghats after dark. There was no time that a Ghat visit was not fascinating. There was dancing on the Ghat late at night - after a pizza dinner.
Wandering around Varanasi, even if it is sometimes aimless (after festival duties, of course), can throw up many surprises. The delicious street food is just one ofthe delights you chance upon with frequent regularity. And then there were the shops selling anything from Ganga jal to silk sarees. Added attraction: they had fascinating bargaining opportunities. It is a city where every corner or lane is interesting.
Bookaroo, as a festival, thrives on the partnerships that develop along the journey. In Varanasi, we were talking to Sunbeam School to come on board as venue partner. But the owners’ - Deepak and Bharti Madhok of Sunbeam School were a couple after Bookaroo’s own heart -contribution went much beyond just the venue. Another surprise
As far as surprises go, Vadodara had a really pleasant one for us. About to set off on a recce visit to check out the venue, we received a mail from the Alembic office asking us to check out a space they had developed in Vadodara. As it turned out, after a contretemps, our original choice of venue did not work out and we dropped in at Space Studio in Alembic City’s Art District. Set in a repurposed factory originally set up 113 years ago, it seemed just right for Bookaroo. And it was - with venues set amidst old boilers, a distillery and even a vintage airplane. Thanks to Krupa and Udit Amin, co-founders, who understood Bookaroo, thus making it such a pleasure. What made the experienceparticularly sweet was the fact that the Art District’s architect happened to be a friend of Bookaroo, a fact that we discovered later.
Bookaroo Vadodara too had to be postponed by a week because of another of those ‘imponderables’ - the Diwali holidays are usually long-drawn-out in Gujarat. Bookaroo’s original dates were too close to the end of the Diwali holidays. Looking back at the number of children and parents who made it, this was a decision that we did not regret. The outreach session, Bookaroo in the City, went 30km almost off the grid to Pathshala in a village named Lasundra. It was great fun. The highlight of Bookaroo in Vadodara? It featured the festival’s oldest speaker ever, JyotibhaiDesai, a 93-year-old Gandhian (pic below).
Hit the ground running
Back in Delhi, it was time to prepare for two back-to-back Bookaroos. Delhi on November 30th-December 1st and Bhopal on December 7th-8th. There is not much to say about Delhi but for one small fact. Held at IGNCA (which incidentally supported the festival in Gangtok, Varanasi and Vadodara too), it was the biggest ever Bookaroo with 85 speakers from 9 countries and 120 sessions.It was a blast from the word go although we had to contend with the fact that an adult literature festival had decided to settle for the same weekend - for the fifth year in a row. Many parents must have been caught in a bind deciding whether to take the children to Bookaroo or go for the former.Immediately up next was Bhopal. Thanks to the Dept of Culture, Madhya Pradesh Government and Bharat Bhavan, Bookaroo’s first edition in the city of lakes kicked off in great style with the minister of culture too gracing the occasion. As far as venues go, this one was unparalleled in its beauty and the stunning views it afforded. Bharat Bhavan, a multi-art centre designed by Charles Correa, overlooks the Upper Lake, Bhopal’s most famous landmark.
With its series of terraced gardens that cascade into the lake, Bharat Bhavan played the perfect setting for the children who came over drawn to a literature festival’s that brought them face to face with their favourite storytellers, authors and illustrators.The work-life balance in Bookaroo was evident in Bhopal too. There were lakeside walks, visits to the Bhimbetka Caves, the Museum of Mankind, the Tribal Museum or Sanchi. Back at the hotel, the evenings turned into celebrations of a different kind.
Scintillating conversations, song and poetry as well as solo acts around - of all places - the dinner table every night, added to the charm. The Bookaroo speakers gathered around would have had many reputed after-dinner speakers whacked to the side.
Spreading the joy of reading was never so much fun.