Khushwant Singh Literary Festival’ 15
Some have just come back from the NH 7 Weekender in Shillong and are still grooving
to Megadeth and others just can’t stop feasting post the Grub Fest in Gurgaon. Amidst
the love for music and food, did everyone miss the most intellectual festival of the year?
Did Literature take a backseat this fall?
Let me assure you, my lit buds, it sure didn’t. Literature rather took precedence with the
Khushwant Singh Literary Fest, or as it is popularly called- KSL Fest, taking place
between 9-11 October in the hills of Kasauli. Kasauli was where Khushwant Singh fled to
in order to detoxify himself and get away from the ‘humbug’ city life. And so this
October, I chose to go the Khushwant Singh way, literally and metaphorically.
Other than the obvious reason that it was literature coupled with travel, Khushwant
Singh Literary Fest attracted me for several other reasons too. This year was the
centenary edition i.e. Khushwant Singh would have turned 100 this year in February.
And thus, it was promising enough to hear about his life and works in depth like never
before. And then the lineup of eminent speakers like Om Puri, William Dalrymple,
Ketan Anand, Ranvir Shorey was incentive enough. Also, it is the only literary fest in the
world held in a cantonment.
I was greeted with a tender breeze as soon as I reached the festival destination – Kasauli
Club. Yes, the very same Kasauli Club whose strict dress coding seemed to be making
headlines in TOI back home. That Om Puri and Kabir Bedi weren’t initially allowed
because they didn’t adhere to the dress code and turned up in rubber chappals and a no
collar shirt respectively seemed to be the only buzz surrounding the festival from the
Since I wasn’t an official invitee or a club member, I had to pay Rs 400 per day to gain
entry into the Kasauli Club. So yeah, unlike the Jaipur Literature Fest, this wasn’t a free
affair. I did shell out RS 1200 to witness the spectacle.
I, fortunately, made it just in time for the first welcome session by Khushwant Singh’s
son – Rahul Singh, the organizer of this festival. I was awed by how the Khushwant
Singh we knew, the womanizer, had so many shades to himself. He wasn’t just the editor
who changed the fate of Illustrator Weekly or the author of a book like Train to Pakistan,
the uncle who guided his nephew like his son and most importantly – a person who
knew how to make merry and always be ‘khush’. As people close to him in his lifetime
came and narrated tales and anecdotes of his humour, what unfolded before me was the
figure of a man much beyond what his writing had thus conveyed and the world thus
shown. If I went there fascinated by Khushwant Singh, I returned awe inspired by him.
What followed were amazing sessions – panel discussions and talks, my favourite being
on ‘Art and Medicine’. Being the sole literature student in a family of doctors, I have
always searched for a meaningful connection between these two seemingly disparate
streams. This session gave me just that. The next time my sister wants to say palpitation,
she might rather say, ‘My heart dances’. This was a session full of quotes, elucidating
how suffering sparks creativity. Also said were Nietzsche’s words, “The happiest
moments of my life were also the sickest moments of my life”. And did you know that
there are 200 references to maladies in Shakespeare alone? Even I didn’t, until this
session by Dr Farokh Udwadia. Another interesting session was on the final day by
published travel writers. I was so enjoying that session that I didn’t want it to end.
The crowd was posh, intellectual, and yes, mostly middle aged. If you go hoping for the
youthful energy of Jaipur Literature Fest or cute geeky guys, you’ll be in for a massive
disappointment. This is a thinner and finer crowd you can learn a lot from, even in a
Apart from the invitees, I also saw a lot of school children from select schools in and
around Kasauli. On the second day of the fest, there was even a poster making
competition and I saw some wonderful Khushwant Singh themed paintings.
The only iota of youthfulness was overtly visible in the volunteering girls. They were
dressed in such colourful clothes with funky accessories that you just couldn’t ignore
them. They grabbed more eyeballs than the speakers, trust me.
The lunch in the Club was for Rs 300 and it came after standing in a long line that never
seemed to move. But hot Manchurian gravy with fried rice in that chill made the wait
totally worth it. The tea and coffees in the two tea breaks during the day were free for all
and oh my god, the cookies served alongside were to die for.
The bookshop there wasn’t anything remarkable but it did have all the books of
authors/speakers present there, so you could buy right away and get it signed. It sufficed
the purpose. The souvenir shop was actually from here – Janpath, Delhi but was really
colourful and vibrant and blended well with the theme of the fest. Might I add, it was
also really expensive?
All in all, I had a wonderful experience. To find Om Puri so accessible all three days and
to be able to talk to him and get a selfie with him and Ranvir Shorey were some highlight
moments for me. Also, I got a signed copy from William Dalrymple. Things that I had
only dreamt of so often suddenly were happening in real. The best three days of my life
this year, high on literature and travel, KSLF was undoubtedly a treat to attend.