Why Did ALF Fail?
Updated: Dec 15, 2022
By Geetanjali Roy ,UG'24 (Writer) and Soham Dey,UG'23 (Interviewer)
Ashoka Literature Fest sent out an email announcing inductions on 2nd August 2022 — its first and only welcome contribution to our inboxes. I applied to the events team, compelled by the proposal’s scope, suggesting Amitav Ghosh, William Dalrymple and Aanchal Malhotra among others as potential dignitaries alongside a footfall of about fifteen hundred people. During the Events team’s first meeting in September, the packed fifty-seater was charged with palpable excitement. Out of love for literature or resume, we were all there to bring the vision of the Ashokan campus bustling with discussion and debate to vibrant life. Within weeks, the team fell to a capacity of around twenty people, wracked with confusion and frustration, slowly transforming into jaded resignation over the months to come. The Ashoka Literature Fest, for all its grandiose promises, failed. In my capacity as an organising committee member and grieving literature student, I’m trying to work out why.
In conversation with the fest directors, they admitted: “What happened wasn’t what we expected.” Indeed, expectations within the organising committee were set sky-high. Within Events, we were told not to worry about an invitee’s profile and promised faculty connections. Finance and Sponsorship was required to amass a supposed budget of ~10 lakh. Marketing ambitiously proposed conducting on-ground outreach at universities in and around the NCR. Yet, most of the dignitaries Events reached out to declined, quoting prior obligations to the TATA Literature Festival scheduled on the same dates, the Finance and Sponsorship team was dissolved midway through, and marketing was conducted almost exclusively and inconsistently on Instagram and email. Clubs and societies met online for one joint meeting with unclear intentions. In a devastating blend of personal, structural and communication failures, the festival’s promising spark sputtered into a smoking wick by the time the fest dates rolled around.
A common trend across fest teams and clubs was the allegation of micromanagement and controlling power dynamics from the fest directors, Soumya Sharma and Jai Desai (ASP’23). “The PoCs [ALF] assigned us from the Events team had to constantly ‘check-in’ with the core committee, and we got the sense no one knew what was really going on,” said Caperture co-heads, Ananya Madan and Anannya Sharma. An anonymous source reports that the directors, in a show of embarrassing unprofessionalism, attended sponsorship meetings unprepared, without being in conversation with the Finance team, failing to receive much external funding. Eventually, the lack of substantive work led to this team’s covert dissolution. In Events, the team meetings were co-opted by the directors to give generic fest updates and determine the ideational trajectory. Despite a separate team existing to facilitate communication with dignitaries, the fest directors personally sent out invitations. Soumya said: “We couldn’t afford to have anything go wrong with the formal invites.” On Friday night, an oversight was discovered; an event scheduled for Saturday had to be cancelled. The invite had never been sent to the invitee.
This trend implicates the organising committee in lacking faith in the expertise of the people they inducted. Moreover, it begs the question: why were organisational experts, including but not limited to members of active clubs and societies, department representatives and faculty, not sought out to advise and collaborate? “We worked with a lot of people from Hindvi core,” Soumya, who also heads Hindvi, said when asked about the organisational structure of the core committee. “And some people we’d worked with before. But everyone else was inducted.” Personal affinities formed the foundation of ALF's crucial managerial department, without any substantive outreach or acknowledgement of this committee’s limitations. Team morale and interest spiralled under the yoke of interference and inexperience. As the Caperture co-heads iterated: “The internal discordance in ALF management really reflected in their interactions with everyone.”
In Professor Kranti Saran’s words from a tweet condemning ALF’s lack of outreach to faculty: “Lack of communication can be as great a barrier to institutional flourishing as limited resources.” Quite. Communication is perhaps the most significant and frustrating factor in ALF’s vision failing. A cross-team group for ALF members was formed on 10th November, with the fest dates scheduled from 11th onwards. Consequently, communication between teams was abysmal, dependent on the strained schedules of a few people assigned the roles of PoCs.
In the dark about the reality of the meagre financial circumstances, ALF members could not offer personal resources or reach out to other members of the student body or the faculty in time. Clubs and societies have since said they would have been willing to fundraise and market had they been informed in time. Faculty were not emailed a comprehensive brochure at any point, and inconsistent marketing made what should have been the talk of the campus a damp squib. Moreover, in retaliation against being subtweeted by faculty, the directors made the executive decision to spam Ashokan inboxes with individual invites to the events, alienating the student body from good faith participation. Ironically, this retaliatory marketing did not even reach most of the faculty.
However, exclusively holding students responsible for this miscommunication is unfair. Every department and Centre was emailed in advance regarding collaboration — not all contributed or supported in any meaningful manner. Faculty and staff constitute a significant section of institutional resources, and to have them not be pooled led to ALF’s scope being significantly reduced.
Institutionally speaking, the timeline posed a significant constraint to ALF’s execution. As fest directors, the core committee and the teams discovered, three months is not adequate time to execute an event of the scale ALF was conceptualised at. Bureaucratic processes including a lengthy approval time for the fest proposal and sponsorship memorandums were not factored in, playing a significant role in the rush characterising the last few weeks of planning. Moreover, the mid-November dates proved triply inconvenient, clashing with the TATA Literature Festival, Haryana elections and a diesel-free transportation day in Delhi. As we’ve heard from multiple sources in answer to the obvious question of rescheduling, the Office of Student Life declined for reasons of convenience in the interests of time.
In Caperture’s email to ALF articulating their concerns with the fest’s mismanagement, a line stands out: “The ‘commendable outreach’ and ‘grand scale’, as the event has been advertised, is not as important to us as inclusivity and accessibility… We do not appreciate this chaotic organisation and the power dynamics that we have had to deal with over the last few weeks.” It was a heartbreaking and frustrating moment of resonance to read this and nod along as a team member, recognising the talent, enthusiasm and potential of the people I worked with, and the fractures that broke it all down to pieces. Though the talks were engaging, the halls were often sparse. The competitions were well-planned and innovative, yet participation was low. The clubs and societies, driven to the point of disillusionment, found themselves compelled to write emails of concern and disappointment. In an environment of well-documented Ashokan apathy, efforts to reignite culture play at high stakes — failure intensifies fault lines.
The purpose here is not to undermine the efforts of individuals sacrificing the better part of their final academic year to bring a creative vision and community endeavour to life. We hope to build an archive of information and commentary, pointing to the structural and personal failures that kept the immense potential of Ashoka Literature Fest from being realised. “When we spoke to the previous fest directors, they gave me a lot of advice,” said Soumya Sharma. “I regret ignoring what I did.” Ashoka Literature Fest’s unfortunate inbox might be a heavy legacy to inherit, but we hope the disappointments of this iteration have not delivered a fatal blow to the possibility of future ones.