Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters (MBIFL) 2023 – Through a First-Timer’s Eyes

Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland, and one of the largest in Europe has been melting rapidly over the years. Artist Katie Paterson recorded a week in the erosion of the glacier by placing a waterproof microphone at the edge of the glacier and shared the gasp of the melting glacier with the rest of the world. You can listen to it here


The information on artist Katie Paterson was shared by the Icelandic Author, Mr. Sjon during his session at MBIFL, Mathrubhumi International Festival of Letters held in Trivandrum from 2nd Feb to 5th Feb 2023. If this bit of information interested you, I have so much information, stories and experiences to share from this 4 day event. But before I get to that, through this post, I will take you through the purpose and premise of MBIFL. Think of it as you experiencing this whole new world from a beginner’s eyes.

Icelandic Author Sjon at his Session at MBIFL 2023

MBIFL is a melting pot of people bringing together flavours of intriguing information, their creative processes, values they learnt from their research and experiences, and the immense love for their craft. It promotes an appreciation of different cultures and connects various countries and communities through literature. There were some humble artists from all over the world who walked in with all the wisdom they possessed, and shared it with all of us. As this was my first time attending this event, it was imperative that I recorded some of those words and stories because, as Janice Pariat said in one of her sessions, we are story tellers first, and I wanted to remember these stories and share them with the world.

The theme for the 4th edition of MBIFL was ‘Shadows of history, lights of the future’. To gain an insight into the theme, you can check the website of MBIFL. It is a recurring event, whose first 3 editions were held before Covid. It was on hold for the last 2 years. This article will be about the event in general; the venues, sessions and a gist of what to expect if you intend to visit next year. Upcoming posts will be about the different sessions, speakers and my experiences at MBIFL.

MBIFL was set at Kanakakkunnu Palace with its grounds spread over a tiny hill, rich with fauna and the chirping of the birds to complete the picture. This year, there were ten venues across the premises wherein sessions were held simultaneously. This meant picking the session that you wanted to attend the most, which was difficult at times, and walking from venue to venue after each session. It was tiring but also fun, because you ended up meeting friends or delegates you met at the festival. Sometimes they would tell you about an interesting session that you did not notice or know about, and you would end up attending one of the best sessions! It happened with me!

The entry fee was Rs. 300 per day or Rs. 950 if you were attending on all four days. You could book the tickets from their website.

The sessions consisted of talks & discussions (predominantly) which started by 10 AM and concluded by 7 PM. There were two venues that showcased various dance forms; Manipuri dance, Theyyam etc. There was one stage dedicated to artists where they had artists talk about their art. I attended a session by a cartoonist and a comic artist. They also had a section where you could get your caricatures done. They had arranged concerts at the end of the day which began by 8PM.

As for food and beverages, you could find stalls and dining areas across the premises; some serving varieties of teas and snacks, and some serving lunch and dinner. They had stalls put up by the famous Adaminte Chayakkada, Indian coffee house and a stall dedicated just to Palakkad’s Ramassery Idli.

Theyyam Performance at MBIFL 2023

I picked sessions, sometimes based on the speaker, sometimes based on the theme. Their talk revolved around the book they authored, their experience writing the book or around their area of expertise. In some cases, the talks involved around recent religious or political issues in Kerala. If a session did not interest me as I thought it would, I picked another session and went for it, or I hung out at the Mathrubhumi bookstore.

Some of these speakers had published their books and so after their talk, a book signing session was organized at a venue dedicated for it called The Pagoda. I got a book signed by Sudha Murty and got 2 postcards signed by Janice Pariat and Amitav Ghosh. There were Q&A sessions wherein the audience could interact with the speaker, exchange ideas and spark debates. The topic and the moderator had the ability to make or break the session. It was the risk, we as listeners had to take. I learnt to appreciate the moderators who did their homework and asked the right questions.

My Friend, Neetu, Getting a Book Signed by Sudha Murty at The Pagoda Venue at MBIFL 2023

I listened to writers from different parts of the world and this gave me an insight into different ways in which people approached writing. But it also reaffirmed certain common threads in the creative process; if you want to become a creator, you keep creating and experimenting. Some of the talks were average. Some sparked much debate and some turned into outright fights. Some helped me understand art, writing and people better, some did not interest me because I did not know anything about the topic. But I always learnt something, no matter how small.

Apart from these, there were some eco-friendly efforts taken by the organisers of MBIFL:
  1. Everything was made out of eco-friendly materials. The IDs were made of cloth, and the stages were made of hay and wood.
  2. There was no use of plastic or disposable products. Food was served in glass plates and tea served in glass cups. There were tiny stalls that served buttermilk, lime juice or hot water in steel glasses.
  3. They kept water in glass bottles, which could be purchased for Rs. 50. If the bottles were returned, they would refund this amount.
Eco Friendly endeavors at MBIFL – Delegate ID Card made out of Cloth
Here are some cons that I hope they will fix in the upcoming Editions
  1. There were no breaks between the sessions which meant that we were bound to miss the end or beginning of a session as we moved from one venue to another. There was no lunch break either, which meant that we had to miss a session to have lunch.
  2. There were volunteers swarming the premises wearing a tee that said ‘May I help you’, but when I asked for the whereabouts of a venue or where I could get some water, they did not know. Though they did have a venue map at the entrance, it would have been helpful to have at least a few volunteers who were trained with the basic information.
  3. Some of the moderators could have taken a little more interest in the speaker and their work. The lack of relevance in questions were disappointing. To top this, there was an instant with Author Colum Mc Cann wherein the moderator revealed a spoiler from his book, which I think is the worst crime in the world of stories.

The information I received from the event and the shift it caused in my perspective was immense and outweighed the cons. In the upcoming post, I will be discussing some of the amazing sessions that I attended; Aanchal Malhotra’s experiences while she spoke to the survivors of India-Pakistan Partition, Sjon’s much intriguing talk on ‘Writing to be read after 100 years’, how Sitara Krishnakumar (singer and composer) and BK Hari Narayanan (lyricist), composed a song during the session, and Janice Pariat’s session that made me fall in love with stories and writing all over again.

Meanwhile, if you like the sound of MBIFL, do share this post with the ones who would want to join you for the event next year. If you want to be in touch with similar experiences, do follow me on Instagram @afew.handpickedthings and subscribe to my Newsletter by Clicking here . And tell me! Have I piqued your interest on MBIFL? Will you be attending it next year?

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