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With Anurag Batra, Business World

Literary Festivals in India are unique because of massive community participation: Sanjeev Chopra

Apart from handling the bureaucratic duties, Sanjeev Chopra, Senior bureaucrat and the current Director of the prestigious LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, is an avid book lover.

Sanjeev Chopra, Senior bureaucrat and the current Director of the prestigious  Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie wears multiple hats.

Apart from handling the bureaucratic duties, Chopra is an avid book lover too.

His love for books has made him take up the role of Honorary Curator of the prestigious literary festival–”Valley of Words”. Valley of Words is organised by an Honorary Advisory Group led by Robin Gupta, LS Bajpai and Sanjeev Chopra.

In an interview with BW Applause and Everything Experiential, Chopra spoke about his love for books and more.

Tell us about the journey of ‘Valley of Words’, and the factors that have made this literary IP so successful?

I used to participate in a lot of literature festivals, and if I recall, we also started this books and authors series at Delhi where we used to get civil servants together once in a month and discuss a book written either by civil servants or someone in the government.

I also speak at festivals in Kolkata, Kasoli, Kalampom and Jamshedpur and a lot of other places. About 4 years ago, at the end of one of the literature festivals in Kolkata, I was at an after-event get-together where the key sponsors were asking me what could have been different. So I gave them a few ideas and they offered to curate a festival in Kolkata and I agreed.

But then my better half suggested that since I plan to settle down in Dehradun, doing it in Dehradun would make more sense.

I have grown up and have spent 11 years of my life. So that is how this whole idea came.  Dehradun did not have a literature festival at that time. First we called it the ‘Dehradun Literature Festival’, because our idea was that it has a lot of literary people. So we thought that we would curate a festival in the city for Dehradun authors.

Later we thought that we should allow people from everywhere and let people of the valley listen to words from across the world and not just limit it to words. So now we are bringing theatre, music, creative arts, folk dances, folk literature and folk art.

Being a top administrator and then creating a great IP, what are some of the learnings that you would like to share?

I have always been involved with books so this is not a new thing for me. I started as a journalist in Times of India way back. Earlier we never called them literature festivals but we always had people discussing contemporary issues. This is a natural kind of a progression. What a literature festival does is that it brings many elements together. I have grown into witnessing many literature festivals naturally. It did not happen suddenly but from participating in festivals to taking an active interest in their organisation and then trying to create a festival. I also received a lot of support from people who were deeply engaged in books and conversations.

How have you interacted with your stakeholders in the last 100 plus days?

Every weekend we have two podcasts where we interview authors and have readings from some books.  We also do “A Book A Day” that goes out on various social media platforms. So now certainly we will not be able to have a three day event with ten thousand people coming in.

We are looking at a hybrid model now in which if the district administration norms permit meetings on Saturdays and Sundays then we will have a limited physical audience. We also want to webcast all the sessions live. We want to make the content fantastic. Our focus is on the 35 authors who make it to the shortlist of the book awards. These authors will get one session each where they can have a conversation with each other and also the audience.

Where do we stand when we compare Indian literary festivals with their global counterparts?

We need to compare festival to festival. For example the Jaipur Literature Festival in terms of audiences and connect is great but, it is a different festival. Indian festivals do a very good job. The access to most Indian festivals is free, unlike in Europe, where you have to pay to enter a literature festival. This brings in a lot of community participation through free access.

Has it become easier for the budding literary talent to get published?

Publishing from the time of Shakespeare has been biased. For every book that is published there are at least 25 books of equal merit which do not get published. Look at the number of rejections which Harry Potter got. It is surprising. Now fortunately because of Amazon and self publishing tools, it is becoming much more easier for everybody to connect. It is far easier to get published today than it was 30 years ago.