Six writers in 2,000-km roving lit fest rail journey

Updated: Oct 20, 2012, 09:17 AM IST

New Delhi: Writers are on a roll. Six international writers will board a train Oct 31 on a 2,000-km journey to five cities in southern India with a nomadic library to meet readers, students, thinkers and lay people in the first-such roving writers` festival.

The mobile festival, "The Bookwallah", supported by the Asialink Writing Programme of Melbourne University, is a spin-off from the Mumbai Lit Fest. It will host three Indian writers - poet-novelist Sudeep Sen, emerging writer Chandrahas Choudhury and fiction writer Annie Zaidi - and three Australian writers: Michelle De Kretser, Kirsty Murray and Benjamin Law.

The tour will flag off at the Mumbai Lit Fest, touch Goa, connect to the Bangalore Literature Festival pre-programme, stop at Chennai and complete the 2,000-km journey in Puducherry.

The idea behind the journey is to take a detour off the beaten path through the cities and towns of modern India in search of stories, conversations and connections, a statement issued by the Asialink said.

The writers will be armed with quaint luggage - a portable pop-up library. Indian designer Soumitri Varadrajan and an emerging Australian designer have created custom-made suitcases bound in Kangaroo leather that convert into bookcases crammed with new titles. Partially serving as mobile library and part installation art, visitors can browse through books, sit and read. Books from the library will be donated to universities and archives along the way.

"The festival is not a straight book tour or festival visit comprising airports, taxis and hotels. It is something slower and a little more challenging. We`re on the trains for close to a month, between festivals, public events, and a range of private events exploring contemporary India," Nic Low, an organiser of the Asialink Writing Programme of Melbourne University, said.

He said Asialink looked for brilliant writers who are willing to ask questions, share their ideas, and who are open to life on trains.

"We`re hoping they`ll all find new audiences along the way, form friendships, meet local writers and learn more about Indian literature and society in a way that inspires their future work," Low said.

Asialink official Catriona Mitchell said "the three Australian writers on the train tour have all been to India before and their new books are strongly connected to India".

"The next step is to take our three Indian writers to travel with Bookwallah through Australia," Mitchell said.

Annie Zaidi, the author of "Crush", "Known Turf Bantering", "Bandits & Other True Tales" and "The Bad Boys` Guide to the Good Indian Girl", said she had "taken lot of train rides in recent times, but it has never been without an agenda".

"The train has always been a means to an end , this is the first time, the train ride is a journey," she said.

Novelist Michelle De Krester said she was eager to discover new destinations, especially Goa, "which has occupied a vivid space in my imagination for many years".

"The landscapes, food and architecture in South Asia remind me of my childhood in Sri Lanka," she said.

Novelist Chandrahas Choudhury hopes to become a "bit of a new person" in the course of the journey. "I am looking forward to three weeks full of the sound of new ideas and of wheels on train tracks to living out of a suitcase and reading from the accompanying mobile library," he said.

A travelling residency like this will "proposes to offer a unique vantage and entry point into writing," poet-novelist Sudeep Sen said.