Interview number two from the specially curated ‘Interview Series’ that Open Road Review is doing with the ‘Kumaon Literary Festival’ as their ‘Online Literary Magazine Partners’. This interview was conducted over email.
A corporate and policy lawyer of global eminence, writer, poet, museum curator, and a creative entrepreneur, Sumant Batra is the co-founder and curator of NHP Centre. He has initiated a number of creative projects and programs to promote art, culture, literature and music including, Te Aroha, an award-winning boutique hotel, Chitrashala, a museum of Indian vintage graphic art, Aao Jee Lein Zindagi, an extraordinary initiative to build a community of youth, Kumaon Literary Festival, Dhanachuli Film Festival and many others. Sumant holds leadership positions in prestigious multi-lateral, global and national organisations.
Kulpreet Yadav: Just in its second edition, the Kumaon Literary Festival has become the most talked about litfest in South Asia. What, according to you, are the reasons of KLF’s unprecedented success? What did you do differently?
Sumant Batra: We are not an event-based festival. KLF comprises of an entire eco-system of projects and activities, which are not limited or confined to the 5-day festival. The institutionalised approach is aimed at maximizing impact, optimize on resources and aim for measurable and tangible outcomes that are in addition to the festival. Our location is another great advantage. We have kept the festival small and intimate. That, I would like to believe, has struck a cord.
KY: You come from a completely different background, can you recall that single compelling reason which prompted you to bring together a festival of such proportions. How different is the festival now as compared to that initial seedling?
SB: KLF was conceived out of my experience of working as a policy lawyer in different countries around the world. I realised that a nation that invests in cultural development as much as it does in economic growth tends to be a happier nation and achieves sustainable development. Creative industry feeds into the country’s soft power. In strive for economic growth; the creative aspirations of the people of India have remained unarticulated. Given the challenging times we live in, there is a need for investment in creative industry. This is the philosophy from which KLF stems out.
KY: KLF’s ambition to cover various themes from environment protection & women rights to, protection of girl child, films, music, and many others, in its second edition, is indeed noteworthy. But don’t you think such a wide spectrum would end up diluting little bit of everything. That said, which single theme do you think is closest to your heart and therefore at the core of KLF.
SB: On the contrary, developing the festival around a theme can be restrictive and serve as a constraint by limited discussions to one area. Also, it does not leave room for allowing diversity and makes the festival discussions monotonous and too academic. The first edition received good feedback and we decided to stick to the format of first year.
KY: What was the major outcome of KLF1 in 2015 & how much has that been taken into account while planning the second edition of KLF?
SB: We could see the green shoots emerging at the end of the first season of the festival last year. The second edition is bigger in design. Our focus, however, remains on quality than quantity. All our projects launched at the first edition of KLF received massive traction and support. While many of these were designed to stem out of KLF and dove-tail back into it, some have already created their own identity in such a short time and ready to go on their path. FON South Asia Short Story Award on Nature Writing has gained unparalled popularity as a literary award initiative. Similarly, Literary Bhagidari is all set to travel to Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh.
KY: In India now literary festivals are a dime a dozen. As the founder, I have seen and experienced your total involvement in KLF at every stage of its evolution, planning, and execution. As the founder of a successful literary festival, what advice would you like to give to aspiring founders who want to play an important role in expanding the publishing industry by taking such initiatives?
SB: Festival organisers find hard to raise sponsorships or right sponsorships. Designing quality content is equally challenging. Hold your ground, avoid commercial temptations, and continue to navigate your way through pitfalls. Operating on a minimal budget, we have worked hard to curate what promises to be memorable three days of festivity and bonhomie. While we see may festivals mushrooming, not all will sustain in the long run. I believe there will be consolidation and many will merge or partner.