Priti Paul, the driving force behind AKLF speaks about her love for the written word
Priti Paul, director Apeejay Surrendra Group, loves reading books in a chronological order. In the past two years, the architect, who is also a sculptor, has been studying Bengali authors of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, while also picking up on the history of France and Morocco in translation. She's an avid collector of art, and for casual reading, Priti loves to lap up fiction, especially murder mysteries and thrillers.
“I'd finished reading Agatha Christie when I was in class VIII. I completed all of Swedish and Italian noir and now, nothing new is left to lay my eyes on,” exclaims the eloquent Paul, looking elegant in a fuschia chanderi sari and royal blue jacket.
Priti is the driving force behind the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival (AKLF), which has become a landmark cultural event of the city, now in its tenth year of existence. Her love for reading had begun when she first set up a bookstore, Kathakali, in Marrakesh - that was to ensure that her three sons, aged 13, 12 and eight, developed good reading habits. she would even read to her children every day for 20 minutes before school, Priti tells us. “But the challenge for me is to impart in them a reading in languages other than English or Hindi,” she notes, adding that her sons speak fluently in French, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish. On the sidelines of the AKLF 2019, we chatted with Priti about her vision for the festival, and more about the written word. Excerpts:
How much has the fest changed in these 10 years?
We felt we were spending so much time, effort and money supporting fests and events all around the country, and that something should be done in Kolkata, where I am from, and where my family has a history. The city has a great thirst for learning, and I know the city’s ethos and the burning desire for things literary. Initially, we organised it in our bookstore, and brought writers to exchange ideas and encourage lesser heard voices, marginal voices and women. Then, as the festival grew bigger with time, we moved to heritage venues. At one point, there were 127 events in 27 venues across Kolkata, over five days. This year, we decided to make it more compact, and turned it into a three-day event. Besides, we centred it around Park Street, to celebrate the area as the cultural hub of the city. We also brought at least 10 popular writers including Anuja Chauhan Durjoy Dutta, Vijendra Singh and Ashwin Sanghi, since the young crowd here connects with them.
What surprises are in store for AKLF 2020?
We are planning to collaborate with Michelle Garnout from China, who started these fantastic literary festivals in Shanghai and Beijing, and has a chain of restaurants there, bringing the Chinese element to our fest. It will be quite exciting, since there will be discussions and exposure to Chinese books, food, music and many other things. We have so much in common with the Chinese, both the nations and their people are going through huge changes in society.
You are a voracious reader, what are you reading now?
I just read Pulitzer winner Andrew Sean Greer’s Less twice and bought his back list, including The Confessions of Max Tivoli, which I will start reading next.
Tell us more about your recent translation of some books from French to Hindi...
ecently, we came out with the translation, Lettres à Yves (2010), love letters written to Yves Saint Laurent, posthumously by Pierre Berge. They were written by Berge over a period of one year after Laurent’s death, and I translated it into Hindi, and bought the rights from Gallimard, and together with Rajkamal Prakashan, came out with it.
I have also been given the rights to translate French President François Maurice Adrien Marie Mitterrand’s love letters to his mistress, art historian Anne Pingeot, over 30 years. It’s a big fat book, which caused a big sensation in France in 2016.
We are planning to launch the book at the 2020 Paris Book Fair.
Do you have any favourite author?
Not anybody in particular. I love reading Japanese authors a lot, including Murakami and Banana Yoshimoto. When I read books, I love going a little bit deeper on the subject matter.
You are a great afficionado of paintings, any latest buy?
I just bought eight beautiful pictures from this amazing photographer Jaymal Odedra, a New York-based Gujarati lensman, whom I discovered recently. He has done some amazing work on India and Morocco. I also bought four tiny ones for my office.
When it comes to paintings, I am fond of the old Indian masters like SH Raza and Francis Newton Souza. But I am open to all kinds of art.
You are also a sculptor. Are you working on something?
In November last year, my last big work in collaboration with artist Bharti Kher got auctioned at Sotheby’s Auction, Mumbai for $60,000. It was a stainless steel art installation of a very feminine boudoir (dressing table), which we sold about ten years ago to the head of Christie’s worldwide. I am planning to create something new before I leave Kolkata.