What is the real purpose of a literary meet? Is it interaction among writers, is it academic exercise or is it exchange of ideas and getting to know each other. Unfortunately, today in India we have the phenomenon of literary festivals which become a show casing of very reputed writers.
Recently, this year the Jaipur Literary Festival which has become an annual event was reduced to a farce and fracas. Writers used it to vent personal feelings using a controversial novel as a tool. This was most unfortunate because it became cheap publicity and was bordering on a kind of sensationalism, totally uncalled for.
Why was a particular novel chosen for readings? True there was a call for a ban of an international writer of repute, but did this mean, or call for retaliatory tactics? If this becomes so, then literature takes the back stage and sensationalism and polemics the centre stage. And this exactly what happened with some writers even going to the court and forcibly reading out portions from a banned book. This was effrontery of the worst type. It should not have happened because it further alienated minority communities.
We in India must remember the precept: that, two wrongs do not make a right. This is because we are so diverse, in language, religion, culture and even politics; and we must tread cautiously before we hurt others by egregious behaviour. And this behaviour can border on the worst type of insolent which was witnessed, most unfortunately in the Jaipur Literary Festival. If literary festivals become a hunting ground to settle scores, then it is most tragic.
Unfortunately, literary festivals have become a trend setter today in the country. A lot of money is being spent, and talents’ scouting which should be the prime objective of a literary meet is not done. A literary festival should promote literature in a way to popularize it, as well as to unearth and discover new talent. This is the purpose it should really serve and discover. Otherwise, what is the point of calling reputed and established writers for a jaunt?
You must be wondering why I am writing this. Today in Shillong we had a North East Writers Meet where we actually discovered writers of great depth. We might have heard of them before, but today we had the opportunity to listen to excerpts from their novels, their short stories and their poems; even their essays. There was Anjum Hasan, Mitra Phukan and Dhruba Hazarika, poets, novelists and short story writers. Anjum talked about the metaphysical and temporal aspect of love. Mitra and Dhruba centred their stories on the violence of Assam based on facts.
How, fact and fiction are hand maids were exemplified by their lucid narratives. Subsequently, there were discussions on ticklish issues like the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the fasting of Irom Sharmila for over a decade etc. These are no doubt sensitive issues and they must be addressed as they relate to the functioning of systems of the country, political systems to be precise and they also lead to the alienation factor. North East India for decades has been a troubled zone, it has often been called a war zone and the periphery. Such acronyms have led to hurt, anger and mistrust among the peoples of the region.
If writers address these issues through their writings then we can understand the creative urge to communicate a political situation in a poetic or fictionalized manner. They may not be solutions but there are view points. And these points of view not only reflect the inner and creative urge of persons but also a particular line of thinking.
Much of the literature written in North East India today is centred on the theme of violence. But the huge question is: Violence for what? Is violence the only end to this kind of writing, or is it a means to larger creative ends. The more I interact with writers of North East India the more do I find a deeply troubled kind of writing, imbued with sadness and pathos. At times there is a quiet surrender to the tragic. But there is also humour as in the poetry of Kynpham Sing Nongkynrih or in the short stories of Raman Kulsheshtra a young writer from Sikkim whose novellas are going to be published by Aleph Publications, New Delhi. This I have rediscovered again today.
Anjum Hasan who is originally from Shillong but who is based in Bangalore often uses North East India or Shillong as the leitmotif for her works. Her fictional narrative is normally straight forward but today she read out a philosophical or surreal short story on the theme of the temporal, in love. A young poetess from Manipur also read out her poems which reflected on the social and political happenings in Manipur today. This is what a writers meet must do, it must discover, self discover and rediscover. Only then can we take talents to the masses irrespective of the language one writes in. There were English writers, Manipuri writers, Mizo writers and Hindi writers. But this was not propagation, this was not a jumboree, this was talent at its exciting best.