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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

media’s perspective.

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

small conversation.

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.

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