SAARC Lit. Fest. 2012

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FOSWAL

SAARC

Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL), the Apex body of SAARC, held the annual SAARC Festival of Literature in Lucknow, India, from March 16th to 19th.

FOSWAL, the brain-child of Ajeet Cour, continues to be nursed by her and her daughter Arpana Cour. It was during the turbulent times of 1986, just one year after the formation of SAARC, that Ajeet Cour had launched the idea of Cultural Connectivity for Peace in the SAARC region.

Ajeet Cour is a well known Panjabi writer of novels, short stories and drama who is also a translator. Arpana Cour, a co-sponsor of the Literary Festival, is a highly acclaimed painter, a true artist, who could empathize with her surroundings and the culture, and her paintings support many cultural projects.

This year too, writers and scholars, artists and intellectuals, academicians and media persons, performing and visual artists, folklorists and historians of the unique civilization of the region, theatre artists and cultural activists, peace and gender activists, and the creative-intellectual fraternity in general from nine countries : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka gathered in Lucknow as one family.

The theme was 'Environment : Our Earth : Our Only Home', while the sub-themes included 'Environment and Women' and 'Environment in Literature'.

It was in 1987 that a Conference of Indian and Pakistani writers was held, and the first SAARC Writers conference was held in April 2000, and FOSWAL was made a SAARC Apex Body.

Ajeet Cour had written, "Thus I launched my mad dream of catching that elusive golden sparrow called Peace through cultural and literary exchanges in the region".

26 years later, in Lucknow, it was no longer a mad dream and the golden sparrow did not appear to be so elusive. Here we were able to breakdown most of the barriers we had erected by ourselves. The physical and geographical barriers cannot keep writers and poets apart and the modern day transport and communication facilities have helped immensely in this regard. It is only the human barriers we have to breakdown now.

One of the major barriers has been language, even though most delegates at the conference were able to communicate in Hindi, it was still not common enough to unite everyone. Once again it was English that has to be used as the link language, as the bridge across all language barriers. Fortunately almost all delegates were able to communicate in English.

As U.R. Ananthmurthy had written in the SAARC journal 'Beyond Borders', "Plurality of languages, cultures and religions has not in the past threatened the unity of our country. ...the literature in our bhashas, with their history as well as their potential, has contributed to our sense of a Nation with a difference." This statement could apply not only to India, but to all SAARC countries, and we should consider all of us as One Nation.

The poets who recited their poetry rendered them in English translations too. It was a great experience to see young poets reciting their work in their own language, and sometimes their professors, who had translated the poems into English, would come up to read the poems themselves. The relationship between these young poets and their Gurus was so naturally close, and the respect the students had for the teachers, was also heartening, because today this culture is seen only among musicians and dancers.

The cultural events never had any barriers, even the one act play by the Punjabi performing artiste Neeta Mahendra. The Maldivian delegate, Ibrahim Waheed, who could speak not only Dhivehi, but also Sinhala, English, Tamil and Hindi, had commented after the show that for the first time he could understand Punjabi. Neeta showed how a good theatrical performance could breakdown barriers of language.

Parvathy Baul from West Bengal, managed to bring all of us closer to each other, closer to the culture, art and music in our countries, by her one-girl dance and orchestra, using just the single string 'Ektar' and the little drum 'Drugger', while her voice enraptured all.

The 'Whirling dervishes' or the 'Malangs' of Shah Hussain's Mazzar from Pakistan, kept us glued to our seats, with their whirling and swirling and their movements of their heads with their long hair, and the drummer whirling round and round with two drums around his neck. Prof. Tissa Kariyawasam, our scholar on traditional dance forms found similarities with some of our own folk dances.

We had our own poet, Samantha Herath, who sang a few of our own verses in Sinhala, which even if he had not translated into English the audience really appreciated.

Another golden voice was that of Mustafa Zaman Abbasi, from Bangladesh, who is a popular singer, in addition to being a writer and poet. He has published 50 research papers on traditional music and culture.

Sri Lanka was represented by our well known diplomat, Nihal Rodrigo who was also the Secretary General of SAARC at one time. The others were, Jayasumana Dissanayake, Kanthi Wijetunge and self.

The symbol on the festival logo was of a leaf and a pen. It was the leaf of our sacred Bo tree. The Peepal. The sacred Ashvattha, worshiped for the past 5000 years, from the time of the Indus civilization as we see in the clay tablet found at Harappa. Ficus religiosa has been worshiped by all communities, in every country the tree is found.

This logo tells us that the pen too is sacred, that the use of the pen is a sacred act, and brings us the message that what we write should be sacred too.

This is an opportunity for writers of the world to unite, and united we could change the world to be a better place, not only for humanity, but for all life forms.

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