Writing Beyond Borders

 Published in: The Daily Star on February 14, 2014
Writing Beyond Borders

The SAARC Literary Festival is going to be hosted for the first time in Bangladesh bringing in writers, poets and scholars from all SAARC countries. The Star magazine does a preview of the festival to bring you the highlights of the event.

Rubana Huq. Photo: Kazi Tahsin Agaz Apurbo

You don’t need to visit a country to know about its culture or its people. All you need to do is read the country’s literature to paint a picture of how different or similar their culture is from your own. Books have the power to do that; they can transcend boundaries to take you on a journey that even the most experienced globetrotter can’t boast of.
With the goal of going beyond borders to bring in writers and books from different parts of South Asia, WRITE Foundation, the Bangladesh chapter of Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) based in Delhi, is organising the SAARC Literary Festival which will be held in the later days of the running month. The festival features 30 authors of international repute from all over the SAARC region, including Afghanistan, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal and Pakistan.
Literature cannot be restrained to cultural and geographical boundaries, believe the organizers of the literary festival, and this is reiterated in the festival’s theme of Beyond Borders: Towards Trust and Reconciliation.
“The festival brings the scholars of this region together with a special purpose. Post-Partition, this subcontinent, in particular has transitioned to a decolonised space which hosts freedom and creativity. The writers are all representatives of their own countries yet with a special purpose of rising above their own borders and collaborating with others on a common ground of a regional bondage,” says author and General Secretary of WRITE Foundation Rubana Huq.
She goes on to add that the theme of the festival, which is co-organised by British Council and the online literary forum Monsoonletters, is close to everyone’s heart, as the festival doesn’t just focus on bringing SAARC scholars together but also focuses on the language movement of 1952 and the subsequent geopolitical structuring of the subcontinent. This was the main reason for the festival to be organised in February, says Huq, as this is the month every Bangladeshi comes together to honour the martyrs who gave up their lives for their language.
The SAARC Literary Festival dates back to 1987, one year after the formation of SAARC. Writer and President of FOSWAL, Ajeet Cour, also the recipient of the Padma Shri award, first organised the festival as a way of bringing together writers from India and Pakistan. Cour intended for the festival to be a way to alleviate the tension and ease the political rivalry between the two countries to realise what she called her “mad dream of catching that elusive golden sparrow called peace.” In the following years, the festival invited writers from the rest of the SAARC countries, including Bangladesh.
The first SAARC Writers Conference was organised in April 2000, with the vision of having a platform where writers and the creative fraternity of the SAARC region would “endeavour to create bridges of friendship across borders and beyond borders.”
The first ever SAARC Literary Festival to be organised in Bangladesh, this year’s event will feature new and familiar names including Ashish Nandy, Gopal Krishna Gandhi, and Arundhathi Subramaniam from India, Somaia Ramish, Partaw Naderi and Waliyullah Aryan Aroon from Afghanistan, Kunzang Choden from Bhutan, Professor Prakash Subedi and Professor Bal Bahadur Thapa from Nepal, Dr Raza Rumi and Hamid Mir from Pakistan and Daya Nanda Dissanayake and Kamala Wijeratne from Sri Lanka, among others.
“Selection was easy as these are the people who are mostly literary ambassadors of their own terrain. These are the names which travel beyond their own borders and share their purpose through various literary forms,” says Huq, who also won the SAARC Literary Award in 2009 for her book of poems “Time of My Life.”
The festival is for anyone and everyone who has the intent to look at Partition literature. The festival has sessions on historical fault lines and reconciliation, South Asian poetry, publishing in South Asia, and a session featuring poets from Bangladesh, adds Huq.
Huq also says that the festival offers a regional exposure with special focus on bridging historical hurt through literature. There were some hurdles in the way of organising an event of such a large scale but the hard work has paid off, says Huq.
“Organising the festival was a pleasure as it mainly centred around intense interaction with the delegates from all over. While the exchanges started from impersonal scanning of passports, flights, it ended in going through their papers rich with academic overtones on regional bonding. Logistics and paperwork are always challenging as many of our SAARC countries still have Visa requirements. Yet, we hope to beat all the procedural and institutional hiccups simply because our literary skies don’t go by borders and a poet or a writer always soars and defies barriers,” she says.
When asked about her personal highlights of the year’s festival, Huq said that she was personally looking forward to the publication of an anthology of thirty young poets chosen bywww.monsoon-letters.com, an entity of WRITE Foundation. “The anthology will be published by UPL and we hope that these young writers gain the exposure that they deserve in the international literary scene through this festival of ours,” she adds.
This festival will prove to be the ideal event for every book lover, as they can spend two whole days surfing through a number of stalls, flipping through the pages of new books, and participating in the cultural exchange of intellects from all over South Asia. The festival will be inaugurated on February 27.