Niloufer Billimoria


Niloufer Billimoria is the Director of The Khushwant Singh Litfest organized every year in Kasauli which is not only a tribute to the legendary writer Khushwant Singh and aims at putting Kasauli on the literary map of India but also at creating a platform for a constructive literary discussion.

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What inspired you to kickstart a literature festival?

It was purely the lack of a sense of history in India which brought up the idea of organizing a Literature Festival. The fact that Khushwant Singh was closely woven to Kasauli being born here and having had written all of his works here, would have been lost with the rest of the history, had we not thought of something to preserve it. I would like to cite an example of Mr. Ruskin Bond here. The natives of Kasauli did not even know that a legendary writer like him had been born in their town. They rather did not bother to feel the importance to know, except for one, who happened to be Khushwant Singh himself. I remember that during my trip to Kasauli it was only Mr. Khushwant Singh who had promptly answered on being asked what place Ruskin Bond did belong to. It was, hence, as an initiative towards defending a sense of history among the people.

What inspiration does Mr. Khushwant Singh hold in your life?

I would pronounce his whole life as an inspiration to not only me but many others. Firstly, owing to his truthfulness which is in profuse contrast to the popular perception of him as a womanizer and a drunkard which was found to be created by him. Secondly, because of the discipline he followed in life, from waking up at 4 in the morning to devoting himself sincerely to his work. He did not attempt to show himself as a good person or convert his manhood into shrines, however, I frankly believe that he was a good human being. He was somebody worth having a festival named after him not only due to him being a literary man but a good human being first.

Kindly share with us the experience you had while organizing the Festival?

Starting from the very beginning, it was an evening in the Kasauli club in the company of Ananta Narayan when a very casual chat led into the germination of an idea of organizing a literature festival. Ananta, moreover, was profoundly positive in his response and rather only supported me by reassuring that it would, certainly, be called a Kushwant Singh Festival and not merely a Kasauli Festival. It was he who urged me to even start the journey of organizing a literature festival and made sure to get it off the ground within a span of three months, despite the fact that it was some work that required at least one year otherwise. Furthermore, the people of Kasauli and the team behind the whole event had been encouragingly supportive and it was their hard work, too, that helped us materialize the very idea.

What side effects according to you did the strained India Pakistan relations have on the festival?

The sad part for us is that we could not invite the Pakistanis in the festival. Whereas, we strongly believe that there has to continue to be an interaction between our countries and with an absence of contact between the two countries the differences can never be seen to be going away. The strained India-Pakistan relations had an utterly awful impact not on the festival alone but also on those with an intangible interconnection.

We see a boom in literature festivals nowadays. Everybody seems to be wanting to run one. Why do you think is it happening?

I believe that there are a lot of people reading, yet, I am still unsure of who they specifically are although a huge component of young enthusiasts can be witnessed participating in these festivals. I really think that even if people are not reading, it is still an urgent need to have them coming together and discussing everything that is happening around. These festivals are rather a celebration of ideas that invite a huge mass of people to understand the intricacies of the society en masse. I am expecting the same from the upcoming Art and Literature Festival, ‘Valley of Words’, that is going to be conducted in Dehradun which is a beautiful place already. I wish the festival all the success and I am sure for it to turn into one.

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