Thursday, January 9, 2014

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 Quran."

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 Katyal said.

"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 said.

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. 

Another highlight 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 Charavarti.              

 - Madhusree Chatterjee

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