The Shillong CALM (Creative Arts, Literary & Music) Festival is on, beginning on the 31st October 2012. It is being organized by the Meghalaya Government in collaboration with the Sahaki Society, the Sahaki is a cosy book store in Shillong. The Festival was inaugurated by the Governor and Chief Minister of the state. The focus is on youth, children, school and college students, from both urban and rural areas to give them opportunities to interact with writers, poets, musicians, artists, photographers and comedians.
On the 31st of October after the inauguration, poet and writer Sudeep Sen launched the Harper Collins Anthology of English poetry, where five poets living in Shillong or from Shillong, figure. Sudeep introduced the book to the audience, and requested each of the poets, to read out their work, as contributors to the Anthology. After this, he read out some of his poems and translations. Robin S Ngangom, Desmond Leslie Kharmawphlang, Anjum Hasan, poet and novelist read out their poems which were included in the anthology. There was a marked interest in the local poets who had the audience spell bound and captivated, by their lyrical, but down to earth poetry. Sudeep in his introductory remarks spoke of the fact, that it was a great thing that five poets originally from Shillong, have been included in this prestigious work, which is a tribute to their poetic qualities. He described them as wonderful writers, and said that what mattered to him were, first the writer, and then the person. This was the first time he was meeting them, he clarified. Above all an anthology must testify to the standards of writing, and not be a source of politrics, or for that matter nepotism, favouritism, or 'connections'.
A panel discussion followed on the challenges of compiling and editing an anthology of poetry. Sudeep Sen said that Indian poetry in English has not only come of age, but can compare with the best of fiction that is written in English by Indians. Anjum Hassan agreed to this but also made a point that the overall quality of writing fiction is perhaps better, but she sees herself as both a poet and novelist. Incidentally she is also a writer of short fiction, and her first collection of short stories has been recently published. Robin Ngangom made the point that this was the first time poets from the North East India, writing in English were included in a mainstream anthology of National and International poets. It is interesting and significant to note that this anthology consists of 85 poets, half of whom have been drawn from the Indian diaspora. In that sense it is not only a definitive piece of work but also a book with international dimensions. The poets chosen are all born 1950 onwards as the original idea mooted was to release this book in 2010, to mark the establishment of 50 years of the Indian Republic. The discussion also veered to publishing as a professional pursuit and it was generally felt that poetry does not sell so well and fiction does. That is why in India today you have writers of fiction in English who not only write serious matters in the traditional typology of the English novel, but also write thrillers, romances and detective fiction.
It was pointed out that Chetan Bhagat a very popular novelist was rejected many times before he was finally picked up by Rupa and Co. Desmond Leslie Kharmawphlang pointed out the social, historical, political and anthropological contexts of writing poetry, he himself being a folklorist. In the Shillong poets there is more than a touch of folklore, local and oral traditions. There is also comparability with music in these poets namely: Desmond, Robin and Kynpham. This was very well established when they read out their poems. Their poems smell of nature, history, politics and the sufferings of violence.
In a panel discussion on the 1st November 2012 on: "Is India the new cradle of English literature?" the panelists explored a variety of levels of discussion from what is actually creative writing to what the word cradle signifies. Does it mean that Indian writing in English is still in its infancy or has it grown substantially to be a resonant and dynamic voice in English literature? The panelists were: Patricia Mukhim, noted columnist and Padmashree Awardee, poet and novelist Anjum Hassan, Resident Editor of NDTV Kishalay Bhattacharjee. Kishalay pointed out that the best of newspapers written in English in India have contributed to creativity and originality. Patricia Mukhim said that literature, echoing Sartre, is essentially communication where voices get drowned in creativity. Anjum pointed out the fact that Indian novelists writing in English normally rely on story telling and the traditional form of the novel. A young short story writer from Shillong Janice Pariat who has recently published her first collection of short stories was also mentioned in the discussions.
Kishalay also spoke on the publishing industry and the opportunities it gives to creative writers especially novelists writing in English, in India. Also, he said that with the coming of the internet blogs have created more space for the creative writer and such space has given them opportunities to address international audiences. It was also pointed out that publishing poetry is not so easy for those who write in English as there is a limited readership for such poets, with poetry being such a subjective and personal engagement. The discussion looked at creative writing variously and some discussionists concluded that even non fictional prose can be creative. Anjum Hassan mentioned that a book of history can have literary style and functions, so can a newspaper article.
The Shillong CALM Festival promises a lot in the areas of the creative and performance arts. It is the interaction between what is written, painted or performed, between creative artists from this part of the world and those who belong to outside of North East India. It is the first platform of its type in Shillong and can certainly hold promise to be a bigger event in the years to come. But what is more important is not the festive part of it, what is important is that young people are getting a chance to generate and regenerate their ideas. Kudos to the organisers!