Kolkata is always active in the culturally sphere during the winter months with book fairs and events all over the city. Drifting from one event to the other there was very little time to actually sit and write. However today is just the day to look back and relive the memory of my visit to the Apeejay Literary Festival that made Park Street once more the hub of intellectual festivities.

The different heritage locations on Park Street were open spaces where it was just wonderful to meet our favorite writers and talk to them at leisure about books and beyond. Just like every year, I met book lovers and readers and shared, as well as debated over, multiple topics. It is just the right venue that is the confluence of all that we wait for each year. We all had our questions ready for the Q&A sessions which made the flow of day even more interesting.

This year I made sure to be there on the closing day. What specially attracted me there was listening to Ranjani Murali who won the Prabha Khaitan Woman’s Voice Award from six shortlisted candidates. The award, a cash prize of Rs.1 Lakh plus citation, was announced by Sundeep Bhutoria, Trustee of the Prabha Khaitan Foundation in the presence of the jury members Jerry Pinto, Urvashi Butalia, Srijato, Anita Agnihotri and Anjum Katyal.

Rajani Murali’s first book of poems, Blind Screens, was published by Almost Island at the end of July 2017. Her second book of poems, Clearly You are ESL, won The Great Indian Poetry Collective’s (GIPC’s) Editor’s Choice award and is being published by them. I enjoyed listening as well as interacting with Ranjani Murali, a poet and educator, who grew up in Mumbai and Coimbatore before moving to the United States. She currently teaches writing at Harper College.

It was very encouraging to hear Sundeep Bhutoria who noted that the: “Prabha Khaitan Foundation is actively engaged in empowerment of women. Our aim is to encourage young women writers across the country. We will continue our efforts to recognize and honor talented women of India in future”. To add to it the AKLF Director Anjum Katyal said, “We are very glad to be associated with this award which is a way of supporting and promoting new woman writers’ voices. This award will help new young talented women writers and even budding writers to come up.”

The three day literary extravaganza brought writers from China, Italy, France, Australia, Singapore, USA and UK along with Indian award winning authors, eminent filmmakers, poets and politicians to Kolkata. What more could one ask for? There was Pulitzer winner for fiction 2018 Andrew Sean Greer, feminist writer Ira Mukhoty, mythology expert and author Devdutt Pattanaik, historian Ramchandra Guha, nutrition and exercise science expert and author Rujuta Diwekar, actor and director Naseeruddin Shah, novelist journalist and editor Anuradha Roy, author and parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, columnist and novelist Shobha De just to name a few.

This non-profit initiative free for everyone was an intellectual treat for all of us here in Kolkata, which was the only literary festival to have emerged from the nearly 100-year-old iconic Oxford Bookstore. The anniversary edition of the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival brought the celebration to Park Street, the very birthplace of the bookstore nearly a century ago.

Photo credits: Oxford Bookstore