Illustration: R Raza Ronny

Before writing this article, I decided to ask a few people why they chose to attend this year's Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF). Most of them said they wanted to take a picture with Tilda Swinton. Many went there only to eat and take artsy Instagram-worthy pictures to enhance their status as a highly-cultured member of the #bibliophile community. Some kids went to DLF in lungis after closing time to prove that this event's only purpose is to feed the rich elitists' ego.

Only a few people said that they attended the sessions. I asked everyone I bumped into at the fest if they'd attended, or planned to attend, any interesting panels. An overwhelming majority simply stared at me with a blank look on their faces. Some even asked "What do you mean? I don't really know where these sessions take place."

That, my friends, is the first thing you should not do at DLF.

It is, at the end of the day, a place to discuss literature and all things related, and most of the sessions are interesting and thought-provoking. Even if you don't attend any of the panels, you should at least understand what goes on at the event you dressed up so well for.

I have this friend who "lives" for Instagram; she buys into everything an influencer says or does, and is convinced that the only way to find contentment in life is to get featured on some random blogger's Instagram story. Of course, she too went to DLF, and took more photos than an average family takes at a wedding.

All of this is fine still. It's perfectly normal for a person to like both Instagram and literature, in no particular order. But perhaps it would've been nicer if she'd attended a few sessions and browsed the book stalls, instead of just trying out the food stalls?

The two types of people I mentioned above are just missing the point of DLF, however, their actions aren't really disrupting the flow of the event. If more people attend the festival, even if it's just to take pictures, or because it seems "cool" to go there, they may just get inspired to read more. That is still a good thing.

And then there are some attendees who know that DLF is home to literary discussions, and they just want to watch those sessions burn.

This year's DLF had quite a few sessions that discussed feminism and women in literature. I was seated at the back during one of these, and a middle-aged man kept muttering that feminism is ruining everything, and he's tired of women pretending that they have to fight for their rights when they already have everything. DLF is supposed to be a place for free thinking. If you cannot go there with an open mind, and if you feel the need to express your bigoted views on feminism sitting in an audience full of women, then it's best if you just stay at home, far away from all the women who are stealing men's jobs.

The final panel at DLF hosted Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay, and his level of popularity was evident from the huge number of people huddled inside the small auditorium. Mukhopadhyay is one of my favourite authors, and seeing him in person really filled me with joy, until the question-answer session started.

The first question he was asked: "Sir, do you remember me? We met in Rajshahi three years ago." At first, I thought the woman asked this as an introduction to herself, but no. That was the question. That was it.

If you think this was humiliating for both parties, the next question was from a man who spoke for five minutes about his time in Africa, and when he finally got to the question, it had absolutely nothing to do with Mukhopadhyay or his work. Mind you, the panel moderator had mentioned multiple times to not waste time with introductions, and only ask relevant questions.

As a lifelong fan of the writer, I was extremely embarrassed. I had always thought that people who read know better — that they know how to ask stimulating questions and have interesting discussions. This year's Lit Fest taught me that some people are dumb, no matter how many Shirshendu novels they might have memorised.

If you're planning to attend DLF next year, whether it's to take pictures or attend sessions, do not ask questions unless you can make meaningful contribution to the discussion. Don't confuse questions with opinions. Nobody wants to know how your cat feels about Nandita Das' movies. Hogging the mic will only make you the subject of another passive aggressive article on DLF.


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