The History And Story Of Military Literature Festival
“Dear General Singh, What a brilliant idea. I don't think there is anything quite like this anywhere in the world. And you have really put so much thought and work into it.” - Niloufer Bilimoria, Curator of KSLF wrote on 22 Nov 2015 at 9.21 PM. She was responding to the conceptualizing of Military Literature Festival by Major General Hemant Kumar Singh.
Much has happened on the genre of Military Literature Festival. It is held by MLCFF at Lucknow, there is a Chandigarh chapter, there was a Western Command 'Gyan Kosh' chapter, the one at Pune is in suspended animation and there are smaller forms happening at many places like the Valley of the Words and so on. But what is the history of this new pillar in the great big world of literature festivals around the world ? How this idea came about and why ? What is the thought behind it and what is the relevance ? Lets briefly look at it.
There are more than 500 literature festivals around the world. Some cities even have three to four Lit Fests. In India there are many worthy Lit Fests led by JLF in terms of popularity. Then there is Khushwant Singh Lit Fest (KSLF) at Kasauli which has its own cute charm and quality. Majha House is a great literary and cultural platform which also promotes new talents and there are many more each with its own flavor. The birth of military literature festival actually happened at Kasauli in Nov 2015. Today, almost six years later, an attempt is made to write an evidence based history of this genre.
Lit Fests have undergone a change and gone much beyond books on to debating issues and also include cultural and entertainment segments. Debates and discussions have been part of Indian culture from the times immemorial, from the days of Upanishads. Katha was a known method of philosophical debates. With Nyaysutra, the system of debate was streamlined.
It classified the debate in three types – Vada – a good, congenial and an honest debate based on evidence and reasoning while Jalapa and Vitanda are hostile type of debates with establishment of victory as an aim – more like debates and discussions on some TV channels. Lit Fests are discourses and discussions or conversations more in the Vada category . Military Lit Fest was also conceived based on Vada category.
While attending many Lit Fests , the author found that there is hardly any book or issue on matters military which is part of the sessions. The military literature and culture seemed to be lost with priority going to more popular authors or celebrity based sessions. On ground very substantial amount of military literature is being churned out since last hundred years and there are many relevant issues of public interest which needed attention. War films were always a big hit. There are hundreds of stories which need to be told or read or converted in to films or drama.
Films, documentaries, music, photography, videos, fine art, computer war games, poetry, books and many such expressions based on military or conflict are also very much part of popular culture. Further, there are dimensions like sacrifice, remembrance and gallantry. There is an immense curiosity in the non military audience on matters and stories related to conflicts. From the days of creation of Ramayana and Mahabharata into a literary form, public is much moved by conflict and battle narrations specially when one fights for the truth or some thing which is legal or established. Security is perhaps the first need of the human race.
Accordingly, the concept of the military literature festival was designed by the author comprising of several segments and keeping in line with with what Vinita Dawra Nangia once wrote “Writing involves an engagement with the human spirit and the conflicts that life involves us in. It presupposes an intelligent perspective of those struggles and an understanding of the universal truths and purpose of human beings. A poet, an author, a writer or an essayist must look at life differently, and toil to remind readers of our higher selves, our purpose and the resilience of the human spirit.
Good writing must uplift the spirit, help us sustain ourselves and to endure by learning the stories of courage, hope, positivity, compassion, sacrifice and honour.” Conflict and war always brings out a heightened human emotion.
Since there are many think tanks debating strategic geopolitical issues, one generally focussed on other equally relevant aspects. The recently concluded Military Literature Festival Lucknow 2021 had 16 sessions which encompassed freedom, liberation, sacrifice, remembrance, 1857, thrillers, militancy, women militants, battles, wars, subjugation for power or colonial and expansionists games, other dimensions of wars, war management and logistics techniques, passion of veterans, humour in uniform, war journalism, extreme sports and adventure.
Only one session was devoted to geopolitics – China - Pak Collusivity and Its Impact on India. It finally concluded with a cultural way of remembering 1971 in its 50th anniversary year – a KissaGoi or DastanGoi 1971, a live event which was an unprecedented success despite being a new experiment. The sessions on films are to follow. The fifty odd panelists and moderators were all very seasoned with a national and an international flavor. One can visit www.militarylitfest.in to view details as well history of Military Lit Fests.
Going back to 2015, the concept was shared by the author with many who were in a position to conduct it. KSLF was the first one to devote one session every year. The Western Command consulted the with Maj Gen HK (the author ) to conduct a one day First Military Literature Festival in Jun 2016. They adapted the concept well to arouse good interest.
News travels fast. It would soon be picked up by nearby Punjab Government, which launched a full fledged and funded Military Literature Festival which is now four sessions old. On 29th Jun 2017 the first draft of Chandigarh Mil Lit Fest was discussed by the author with the honorable Governor of Punjab. Thereafter the Fest was held in Nov 2017 under curation of local experts.
Pune Mil Lit Fest is on the drawing board and looking for sponsors. Lucknow Military Literature Festival launched in 2021 by MLCFF has drawn a tremendous response for its quality, diversity and unique originality. Many other smaller versions are also afloat.
Whenever there is a start up or a creative idea that takes a firm shape through a concept and design , there is much excitement and some apprehension . This is the time when encouragement is needed . It came in plentiful to the author. To name a few who encouraged in the beginning were the curators of KSLF, Lord Meghnad Desai , Shri VP Singh Badnore, General KVS Lalotra, few more senior officers, Brigadier Avinash, Mukul Deva and a few friends – colleagues. Shashi Tharoor, William Dalrymple, Preeti Gill, Kabir Bedi and Suhel Seth and many others showed much interest.
To get a positive stroke from Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson was humbling. It was indeed an elixir to hear positive words from these people of substance, some orally and some through correspondence. But best was that the idea proliferated, got picked up and advanced as conceived by the author and as advised by Niloufer. Lord Meghnad had said that such things always pickup traction and gradually grow if backed by enough passion . That was during the promotional launch of The Partition Museum at the India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
In between, there were some who did claim to be the initiators of the idea as if it was their brain child. Such ownership claim did pick up some traction and props up every now and then. On the larger side it is immaterial as to who initiated the genre of military literature festival, it is important that people took lead to organize such a festival and people came to participate.
The copy right of Military Literature Festival is that of the author . There is something special about military which pulls you – right from the days of Ram, Arjun, Sri Krishna to our military heroes of ancient, mediaeval and modern history to present day happenings . After all security and fighting for a cause reign supreme in human mind. One hundred percent people who heard about the idea or the Fest have liked it.
It is a developing perception with conviction that military literature festivals are here to stay , the quality and content is improving and the genre is giving uplift to much creativity and research. There is so much more to discover and so much more to create. There are challenges. An interesting one being to find a topic for the likes of Suhel Seth and Shashi Tharoor. One is homing on to ' A civilians' Perception of Military, Matters Military and Military Culture '.
May be it will fructify soon with at least two more panelists and some interesting moderators . Another one is a debate on making an Indian film of the class of Saving Private Ryan. Creating the National War Museum would make a great discussion. Yet another one is to have a truly humorous Stand-Up Comedy. We await more books, films and other creative happenings to discuss and debate them. Sky is the limit.
Our last kudos and thanks to Niloufer and KSLF who were the first to motivate and first to send best wishes to Lucknow Military Literature Festival. Preeti Gill of Majha House was a great encouragement we consider her our our guru for the Zoom version and much more. Most important ae the audiences who tasted a multidimensional collage of topics and books and seemed to relish it.
- Maj Gen Hemant Kumar Singh
(The author created the concept of Military Miterature Festival in 2015. He is the curator of Lucknow Military Litarature Festival. Besides, that he has recently researched Remembrance, Memorialization, Commemoration and War Memorials in Post Independence India with some references to our neighboring countries. He pursues military history as a hobby. His design of National War Memorial got his team the runners up prize in the Global Design Competition organised by Ministry of Defence. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)