‘Bhagat told us he wasn’t coming, how could he be BLF invitee?’

Bengaluru: The organisers of the Bangalore Literature Festival awoke to a not-so-pleasant surprise on Thursday, as Chetan Bhagat made headlines once more, this time pulling the festival into the fray of the murky #MeToo campaign.

The report, which was replete with a quote by an unnamed organiser, claimed the vilification of Chetan Bhagat on Twitter, after his name surfaced in connection with #MeToo, had led to the author backing out of the festival.

Organisers beg to differ: How can Chetan drop out of a festival he had not promised to attend in the first place?  

“I agree that one of the organisers did tell them, some weeks ago, that Chetan Bhagat was expected be part of the festival,” says Shinie Antony, one of the founders of the Bangalore Literature Festival.

At this time, however, the schedule was still a work in progress as the team reached out to authors and awaited confirmations.

“We reach out to a number of people and unless someone explicitly says no, we don’t leave their names out,” Shinie explains.

Bhagat, whose latest novel, The Girl in Room 105 and Unlove story, hit stands earlier this month, just before the #metoo campaign erupted across the internet, proved a ripe target for sensational headlines. While he did make it to what Shinie calls 'the wishlist', along with other big names like Sharmila Tagore, not all made the final list for various reasons. "Chetan has moved to Singapore," says Shinie. This was a logistical hurdle as Chetan tried to confirm the dates, which, in the end, he didn't manage to do.

"He told me that the dates simply didn't work for him as he had already moved and was working on a project. Our team was confused as well, at the time, because we didn't know whether to reach him in Mumbai or Singapore."  All this took place before the #metoo campaign, including the 'tip' provided by another organiser, who, Shinie maintains, was merely rattling off names from a wishlist. "Festival directors and teams are always trying to get people on board, that's what we do. Some people come and others don't, but we always come up with a lot of names." Chetan Bhagat, Shinie says, seemed unfazed, "He is used to this now! He is constantly vilified by the media."

Tickets had been booked for authors who confirmed, again before the #metoo campaign began. "We never even got to the ticket-booking stage with Chetan. The bottom line, we did have him on our initial list but he never actually said yes to us." The report claimed, backed by an anonymous quote from an organiser,  that Bhagat had declined an invitation to the Literature Festival due to the harassment and vilification he has faced on social media.

Writers who will attend
The Bangalore Literature Festival 2018, which will take place on October 27 and 28, at Hotel LaliT Ashok, is in its seventh year and has an impressive lineup of celebrated names, even if Chetan Bhagat isn't on it! Ramachandra Guha, who always draws a crowd, has a session, as do Shashi Tharoor, Aatish Taseer, Girish Karnad, James Crabtree and Ashwin Sanghi. Journalists like Barkha Dutt, Chitra Subramaniam (co-founder, The News Minute), Naresh Fernandes and Chidanand Rajghatta will all make an appearance. Poet Prathibha Nandakumar, Bolwar Mahammad Kunhi, A.R. Venkatachalapthy and Vasudhendra are among the regional writers who will be present. There are lots of young voices on the list too, including Manu Pillai, who launched his second book, Rebel Sultans, in July, Preeti Shenoy, Amitabha Bagchi and Samit Basu.

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