Eastern cultural hub of India- Kolkata - warms up to season of literature- new writing flavours discourses
Kolkata (India), Jan 9
The fifth edition of
the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival 2014, which was inaugurated by West
Bengal governor M.K. Narayanan in the eastern metropolis of Kolkata
Thursday against the colonial facade of the Victoria Memorial - one of the most
important Raj heritage relics of Kolkata — brought together under a roof
glamour from tinsel town, literary who's who, literature lovers and a slice of
Indian heritage setting the mood for seven days of literary discourses,
debates and discussions Jan 8-14. The session are underway at The Park,
an upscale hospitality facility on the Park Street in Kolkata .
The festival, billed as an much awaited
intellectual high point of Kolkata. In a rather low key literary milieu of
Kolkata - once considered as the bastion of a great literary renaissance
in the late 19th century with iconic personalities like Bankim Chandra
Chattopadhyay, Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay, Rabindranath Tagore, Sukumar Ray,
Raj Sekhar Basu and Kali Prasanna Singha, who broke modern ground with new
Bengali writing — the city,. over the last five years have been looking at the
Apeejay Literary Festival as a trigger for the grand revival of the great
Bengal literary sensitivity that dominated most of the 19th century and the
20th century till they 1970s when the Left Front made inroads into the state.
The virulent Left politics cast its propaganda stamp on contemporary literature
and culture for more than three decades.
The beginning of the decade of 2000 witnessed an
opening of the city's literary "iron curtain" with multi-national
book retail chains and foreign publishers expanding operations to tap the
English speaking eastern markets. Kolkata was became the intellectual market
gateway after a long lull.
The inauguration presented in collaboration with
the Maulana Abul Kalam Azad Institute of Asian Studies and the Victoria
Memorial opened with a special tribute to Azad on his 125th birth
anniversary - one of the key themes of the festival this year. Actor and
literary activist Aamir Khan delivered the address - speaking about the seminal
contribution of India's first education minister, writer, scholar and national
leader towards building of a modern independent India - in education, science
and culture. The opening ceremony was followed by the release of a book,
"Maulana Azad, Islam and the Indian National Movement" written by
Syeda Hameed, member of Planning Commission, government of India.
Speaking on the ‘125th Birth Anniversary of
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad’, the Governor of West Bengal said Azad was a man
of exemplary vision, inspiration and influences that helped him become the
architect of the Indian educational system. Anjum Katyal, co-director
of the festival said the Apeejay Kolkata Literary Festival has "a
tradition to paying tribute to great minds, writers and literary personalities
in the country ". "Writers like Rabindranath Tagore, Faiz Ahmed Faiz
and Saadat Hasan Manto are some of the figures whose memory has been honoured
by AKLF in the past. This year is the 125th birth anniversary of Maulana Abul
Kalam Azad, freedom fighter, national leader, reputed scholar, writer, thinker
and independent India’s first education minister. A major theme running through
the festival this year is a tribute to Maulana Azad," she said.
The inaugural ceremony is dedicated to Azad
and the principles he stood for, and several sessions throughout the five days
are conceived to honour the cultural values he propagated, Katyal said. Maulana
Azad "stood for an inclusive India that embraces its varied heritage woven
from strands of diverse languages, religions and ethnicities".
"Urdu poetry and literature were close to
his heart. Education for all, particularly the girl child, and the empowerment
of women through education was important to him as Education Minister. All
these are reflected in our programming across the festival," Katyal said.
"It was an uplifting and beautifully curated evening for all who
attended the event. The enriching session helped to rekindle the thought that
education not only moulds inquisitive minds into responsible citizens, but also
provides a deeper understanding of the world around us," the co-director
of the festival said. The first education minister of India and one of the foremost freedom
fighters."Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was also a scholar and philosopher. A
dynamic individual and a Bharat Ratna awardee with multiple facets to his
personality, why then has his vision been cast aside in contemporary India?
Azad’s beliefs synthesized the best of Arabic, Iranian and Indian
civilizations, argued writer Hameed, while investigating "how he has been
erroneously depicted only as the Muslim face of the Indian National Congress".
Azad found his "secularism, nationalism and inspiration for the freedom
struggle within the tenets of Islam and the understanding of the
Hameed's book, taking a fresh look at the politics, works, and life of
Azad, presents an account as well as an analysis of his views on themes as
diverse as Islam, status of minorities, nationalism, and education. In the
preface to this edition, Hameed underlines that the ideas propounded by Azad
half a century ago hold a special relevance in the post-9/11 world. Syeda Saiyidain Hameed is a scholar of Azad and a member of the Planning
Commission of the Indian government with responsibilities including health,
women and children, and minority rights. She is also the Chancellor of Maulana
Azad National Urdu University in Hyderabad.
The festival, which acts as prelude to the mammoth Kolkata Book Fair every
year, has identified itself with the Generation Next of
"cosmopolitan" Bengali-speaking youth and members of the other
communities who have adopted the state in the last four decades - in terms of
culture, business and lifestyles. The spread of English education and
global cultures help the festival sustain with its "contemporary"
discourses about Indian writing in English, modern urban cultures, human
interest cinema, lifestyles and international literatures. “The footfalls, visibility and popularity of Apeejay Kolkata Literary
Festival has grown by leaps and bounds compared to our modest debut in
2010," Katyal said.
Take for instance a morning program in AKLF 2011 which attracted
nearly 1000 children and adults to Citizens Park for the Street Theatre “In
search of a hero”, she said. " During AKLF 2013 when Kolkata saw its
coldest winter in four decades, our evening open air functions at magnificent
heritage sites had overflowing attendance - from National Library to Victoria
Memorial to St John’s Anglican Church. An afternoon programme in AKLF 2013 at
the little known Lascar Monument was well attended - tucked away in a place
very few Kolkatans had knowledge of before we conducted the debate “Is Kolkata
still the cultural capital of India”, it saw tremendous participation, Anjum
"As we host events throughout the year at Oxford Bookstore, we are able
to leverage a good attendance for the festival. Oxford Junior too focuses on
engaging kids with reading round the year and that’s helped AKLF’s
attempt each year to engage more and more young readers. An afternoon
during AKLF 2013 on Apeejay House Lawns where we conducted a talk - We the Children
of India – a Preamble to our Constitution - with Leila Seth had young Kolkatans
from the age of 10 – 13 years buzzing with questions, views and ideas. It was
followed by Way with words: Poetry with Tishani Doshi for 14- 17 years
old and numbers of children from Kolkata schools participated," Katyal
recalled to this writer. What is truly gratifying is the overall high quality of the interactions
where all authors were generous with their time, be it book signing, answering
questions or posing for pictures with their readers. AKLF has delighted a lot
of people and the delight shows in the Literary Festival attendance, she
said. "In our endeavour to reach out to more and more we partner with city
groups and cultural organisations and tap into their audience networks as well.
So we can spread awareness of AKLF to newer segments of Kolkata's
population," Katyal said explaining the objective of the festival.
The sessions of the festival are symbolic of the "neo-colonial"
ethos of the city - which was once the political capital of the country and
came under the direct influence of European colonialism.
AKLF 2014 is promoting new and fresh writing by actively reaching out to a
youth audience to build a generation of readers for the writers of tomorrow,
and by featuring younger writers alongside established names. "We also
have one session dedicated to the best of young British novelists, in
association with Granta, the international magazine of new writing,” Katyal
Day One on January 9 (2014) began with a session, "Forbidden Pleasures,
Intimacies in Women's Lives" followed by "My Father, My World"
which featured the launch of classical music exponent Amjad Ali Khan's book,
"My Father, Our Fraternity: The Story of Haafiz Ali Khan and My World"
and a discussion around the release of "Re-imagining India". The
highlight of the evening session was the launch of Bina Ramani's book,
"Bird in a Banyan Tree" followed by a discussion.
of the festival will be a discussion with new European novelists from Switzerland,
Denmark, Germany and France on their new works.— and the literary movements
across Europe in the perspective of contemporary Indian literature trends and
convergence."The Best of British Young Novelists- The Granta" on
the last day of the festival will feature novelists of potential — Taiye
Selasie and Xialou Guo - a conversation between Romesh Gunesekara and Paromita