Racket Boy – An autobiography by Philip George

Chennai’s Literary FEVER

It was my first time attending the Chennai International Book Fair (CIBF) although I’ve travelled to this land of tantalising culture, heritage, banana leaf and filter coffee enough times to have established favourite go-to joints, and friendship network ever-prepared to show me this rapidly growing city’s latests.

In three action-packed days Chennai swung with flair, showing off its pedigree and potential with the participation of 40 countries, over 750 MoUs signed, and the unveiling of a special book, the Tamil Indo-European Comparative Dictionary.

I had the pleasure and honour of meeting CIBF’s driving force, Mr. K Elambahavath, Director of Public Libraries Tamil Nadu; and working with his outstanding support team. Mr. Elambahavath truly embodies India’s revered IAS education.

Chennai gave team Malaysia a memorable welcome as we were the Guest of Honour, with a very attractive Malaysian Pavilion, alongside media support and hospitality. To further seal the relationship both countries signed an MoU. Also at hand to offer a sense of solidarity throughout the event was the Malaysian Consul General in Chennai, Mr Saravana Kumar.

For some gaiety the Malaysian delegation organised several cultural performances, as well as a speaking engagement for its featured writers, which included me.

More than anything, Chennai afforded the opportunity for meeting some very exciting thinkers from India and across the world. Thank you CIBF!

I delivered a presentation on the topic Building Connections: Learning Across Borders through Memoirs, exploring the impact and allure of lived experiences. A reminder of the power of real-life stories in an environment of digital noise.

Writing memoirs is no longer the domain of celebrities, veteran politicians, journalists or sportsmen, or survivors and saviours, or nation and institution builders. The AI generation is bravely taking to writing first person accounts of every imaginable subject – cue- Aspirations of a Future Househusband!

Emphasising on the centuries old historical ties between India, particularly Tamil Nadu, and Malaysia, forged through trade, migration and cultural exchanges, I made an appeal in my speech:

Could Chennai please pave the way for Malaysian voices/stories to be heard & appreciated all over India, if not the subcontinent …?

Holding the mike anywhere is frightening enough, let alone in a foreign country, however, as nervous as I was, it helped to see a superhero in the audience – Amir Muhammad of Fixi, publisher of my first novel, The Seat.

On the invitation of Mr Kathikeyan, Deputy Chief Librarian and Information Officer, some of us also managed a visit to the Anna Centenary Library, where we got to explore its private palm leaves room. What a goosebumps-inducing experience that was – imagine handling centuries-old artifacts!

On the whole CIBF saw very good attendance considering it was a trade fair not meant for the general public – that was ongoing at another location, averaging ten thousand visitors per day – literary fever alright!

It’s farewell to Chennai for now but not India as I’m off to further explore this most diversely stimulating country.

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