SAARC Literary Festival 2013

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Environment and Literature

daya dissanayake

Agra in Uttara Pradesh, India, was a symbolic location for the 2013 SAARC festival of literature, in the shadow of a true work of art and a source of inspiration for many a creative work of literature, the Taj Mahal.

The annual conference organized by the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature is not a carnival, and it is not a business venture. It is a genuine effort of the founder and president Ajeet Cour to inspire and gather together as one family, 108 writers from the SAARC region. It was a festival of Writers Without Borders, writers who had brought down the political and ethnic barriers, and crossed over geographical barriers. The only barrier was the barrier of language, but it did not deter the family of writers to listen to, and really appreciate the poetry.

FOSWAL was founded in 1986 and had organized 42 major SAARC cultural and literary events, Festivals of Folklore, Conferences on Buddhism and Sufism, in all the countries of the SAARC region, which now includes Afghanistan. The theme of the conference this year was 'Environment: Our Earth: Our Only Home'.

Breaking down political and ethnic barriers itself is a contribution towards a better environment, and all the delegates who presented their papers emphasized the need of continued efforts by writers to use their skills and their creative powers to save our Mother Earth. Breaking down barriers should always be easier than building them. Most barriers among mankind are erected by a handful of men, for their selfish gains. Thus a few writers should be able to demolish them as easily.

One of the papers presented was about the condition of the Yamuna river, the once majestic river, now one of the most polluted. This is just one example of the threat to our environment. Most of the time we take each problem separately and look at them and try to solve them separately. It is this kind of forum of writers from many countries, which help us to realize the Yamuna as just one minute part of the whole picture, the total threat to Mother Earth. This is where all of us can get together, pool our information, our resources and our creative abilities to convince the world, that what has happened to Yamuna would happen to all the rivers on earth, today, tomorrow or the day after. It is an inevitable process of destruction, as more and more pollutants get into the river, as industrial waste, as agri-business poisons, and garbage.

The problems become worse, when rainfall fails, and the volume and flow of water grows down, concentrating the pollutants further in the little water that remains. This polluted water seeps into the ground water, into the wells and into the farmlands. In Agra the Taj Mahal is threatened as the polluted ground water could damage the foundation. Here again it is an example of what could happen at other such world heritage sites.

We also heard of the land once known as the 'God's Own Country' which is changing into 'Devil's own Hell'. The whole world was a paradise, as we read in the creative works of our early writers. Today we try to deceive ourselves by describing in our poetry, fiction and works of art, that our world is still wonderful, beautiful and memorable. It is time to accept reality and expose the threats we are faced with.

At the conference we also heard about Ecopoetry, which flowed through the verses of Upanishad, Geeta and Vedanta, in the environmental philosophy we find in them. We were reminded of the concept of Ecocentrism, which we should embrace instead of the present day Anthropocentrism.

Another topic discussed was on the environment and women. The concept that culture is superior to nature is a belief among mankind in the same manner as their belief that man is superior to woman. No human development, progress or technical achievement could ever surpass nature. Nature keeps on reminding mankind of this fact, throughout history. Nature and Mother Earth suffer all indignities and destruction in the same way most women suffer in silence, but when nature decides to hit back, it is to leave a lasting memory on man.

Murray Bookchin wrote in 'The Philosophy of Social Ecology', ".....the present ecological crisis has its roots in human social problems, and that the domination of human-over-nature stems from the domination of human-over-human". It is this human-over-human domination which has to be eliminated.

We can not leave only memories for our children and their children. And it is our responsibility to make the dreams a reality once again. We have to use our efforts to bring back empathy among mankind. For if we were concerned about our fellow beings and all life on earth, as we are concerned about our own personal wellbeing and safety, we need not take any extra efforts to save our environment. No one would even think of discharging factory effluents, or garbage into a well or pond from which they had to get their water for drinking. No one would discharge these poisons into a river if he had to draw water from the same river. Yet no one really shows any concern about polluting the rivers or the ground water which other people have to drink.

Ajeet Cour said in her Welcome Address, "Can there be world of memories? Beautiful as they might be, can future generations subsist just on stories? Will only the ghosts of the bounties of nature be left for posterity? These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves.... it is only befitting that the pen wielders of the SAARC region make it their primary concern. "

Let us, the pen wielders and keyboard tappers of the SAARC region show to the world, what we can do by pooling all our resources to save our Only Home.

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