SAMANVAY: IHC INDIAN LANGUAGES’ FESTIVAL, 2011

Posted on December 18, 2011

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Samanvay’: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival was inaugurated with the lighting of a torch on 16 December at India Habitat Center by two Jnanpith winning poets and Senior Fellows of the Sahitya Akademi, Kunwar Narain and Sitakant Mahapatra, along with IHC Director Raj Liberhan. During this 3-day event, 63 writers from 14 languages will discuss upon various issues and read from their work.
In the inaugural session, Raj Liberhan announced the annual ‘Samanvay Bhasha Samman’ award for young writers who have worked to advance literature in Indian languages. The ‘Samanvay Bhasha Samman’ will carry a 1 lakh rupee cash award as well. Chairman of the Indian Languages Newspapers Association (ILNA), Paresh Nath, announced an annual award of 50,000 rupees for journalists working in Indian languages – the ‘Samanvay Bhashai Patrakarita Samman’.
Padma Vibhushan Kunwar Narain spoke during the inaugural session about the importance of this event, and said that ‘Samanvay’ would prove to be a coming together of literature from all Indian languages and in the future we will be able to discuss here our issues of greatest importance. Oriya poet Sitakant Mahapatra said that the synthesis one notices in Indian people is the same synthesis that makes literature in Indian languages an Indian Literature. Raj Liberhan then invited two of the main young designers and organizers of the festival – Satyanand Nirupam and Giriraj Kiradoo – on stage. He spoke of how such meaningful events would encourage creativity among young writers.

The topic for the opening session was: ‘Is there an Indian Literature?’ Various writers from all parts of the country were part of this discussion, moderated by renowned Malayalam poet K. Satchidanandan. He spoke about how Indian literature is one (unlike Nihar Ranajan Rai’s contention that it be spoken of in the plural because it is written in many languages), despite the multilingualism. Dalit Marathi writer Laxman Gaikwad also expressed his views. Renowned Gujarati writer Sitanshu Yashaschandra said that Indian literature was multilingual from the very beginning with works not only in Sanskrit but also Prakrit and other languages. English academic and writer Alok Rai too took part in the discussion. Chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi and renowned Hindi poet Ashok Vajpeyi said that multilingualism precisely is the point of Indian Literature, and this diversity must be protected.

The reading session saw poetry readings from Sitakant Mahapatra (Oriya), K. Satchidanandan (Malayalam), Sitanshu Yashaschandra (Gujarati), Ashok Vajpeyi (Hindi), Mangalesh Dabral (Hindi), C.P. Deval (Rajasthani), Radha Vallabh Tripathi (Sanskrit), Gangesh Gunjan (Maithili) and Malkhan Singh (Hindi). To close the evening, famous Sufi singer Madan Gopal Singh and the Ensemble Chaar Yaar presented a mesmerising performance based on the poems of renowned Hindi and Maithili poet Nagarjun.

DAY 2:
Discussions on Marginalized Literatures at Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival
The second day of Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival began with discussion around writing in Assamese and Punjabi. The subject under discussion for the Assamese session was ‘New Challenges for Women Writers’ which began with Nitoo Das’ fiery question: “Have we moved beyond tokenism that’s given to us by a masculinist tradition?” All four speakers unanimously agreed that the time for tokenistic awards was past. Another concern was voiced, with all writers agreeing that, for the contemporary Assamese woman writer, not only is there the constant pressure to be a ‘woman’, but also the pressure to be ‘North Eastern’. Apart from questions of representation, experimentation in form was also discussed, with new evocations of folk traditions being addressed in context of the cosmopolitanism of the Assamese modern female self. The session ended with readings by Arupa Patangia Kalita and Bonti Senchowa.
The second session was on the topic of Dalit Love Poetry in Punjabi. “Dalit poetry is not the poetry of hatred. Rather, it is the poetry of love,” began Punjabi poet Desraj Kali, who was moderating the session. Nirupama Dutt spoke of one of Punjabi Dalit poetry’s strongest voices, Lal Singh ‘Dil’ and his deeply political life, which ultimately ended in exile. A deeply engaged discussion on what it actually means to be a Dalit subject/writer/activist in Punjab followed, with poet Balbir Madhopuri saying that, even as there wasn’t anyone on stage wearing the ‘traditional’ markers of being a Punjabi, it did not mean that they did not belong to Punjab – and that this was precisely the thought that Punjabi Dalit love poetry sought to counter. Dr. Gurbachan talked about ‘sangha’/communal poetry of the late 18th century, citing poetry of couples in love who wrote together: of Sadju Gulab Das, and Peero, a Dalit Muslim woman, and Vajir Singh, a Dalit man in love with Rang Devi, an upper caste Hindu. The session asked questions of the construction of language itself, and how Dalit love poetry attempts to break these given constructs. The session ended with readings by Madan Veera, Nirupama Dutt and Balbir Madhopuri.

Madan Veera, Balbir Madhopuri and Desraj Kali

The post lunch session saw autobiographical writings from Kerala, moderated by K. Satchidanandan who talked about how autobiographies are never “dull” literatures because they are not only an insight into oneself but talk about the human condition in general. C.K. Janu started the discussion by addressing the need for an “Adivasi” literature, how a state like Kerala, where the literacy rate is the highest, still sees no recognition for the tribals and how women are twice affected by this on levels of both class and gender. Next was Sister Jesme, who talked about the marginalization that she encountered within the Church and addressed how religion and politics mesh together to bind a woman. This was followed by a moving personal account by Nalini Jameela who talked about a sex worker’s life. The last speaker was Pokkudan, who is one of the leading environmentalists in India, and touched upon politics in Kerela and his identity as a Dalit which earmarked him as a target of the party.
In the Urdu session, renowned Urdu poet Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Prof. Sadique, Alok Srivastav and Giriraj Kiradoo debated about the death of the Mushaira. All the poets rejected the idea that the Mushaira as a tradition is on the wane, rather, it has changed. After a question and answer session with the audience, the poets all read out their work.

Alok Srivastav , Sheen Kaaf Nizam, Prof. Sadique, and Giriraj Kiradoo

The evening ended with an exciting qawwali performance by the Nizami brothers.

DAY 3:
‘Hindi publishers need to reach their readers’

In the morning sessions of the third and final day of Samanvay: IHC Indian Languages’ Festival, authors from Tamil and English shared their experiences in writing.
The Tamil session discussed ‘Women Writing the Body’. Iconic Tamil poet P. Sivakami moderated the session, which also included the poets Kutti Revathi, Salma, Sukirtharani and Malathi Maithri, who talked about their experiences of bias due to their gender and how poetry, and the body in poetry became their site of resistance against this discrimination.

Arundhathi Subramaniam

The session concluded with poetry readings by the Tamil poets. Arshia Sattar and Arundhathi Subramaniam also read English translations of Kutti Revathi and Salma’s poems.

English writers, Arshia Sattar, Basharat Peer, Annie Zaidi and Aman Sethi, moderated by Chandrahas Choudhury, talked about the challenges of non-fiction writing, especially long-form non-fiction, in the Indian scenario on the next panel entitled “Indian English Writing: Beyond Fiction”.


The consensus was that the biggest factor contributing to this was the lack of resources directed towards it by Indian publishers. They also spoke about the difficulties of translation they encountered in the journalistic and book-length work. This was followed by readings by Rahul Pandita and Arundhathi Subramaniam from their books of non-fiction.

Rahul Pandita

The post-lunch session on Bengali talked about poetry and the popular, and featured renowned poets Nabarun Bhattacharya, Subodh Sarkar, Ujjal Singha and Srijato, on a panel moderated by academic Dr. Paromita Chakravarti. They also read their poetry, in the original and in English translations.

The final session was a discussion by publishers, editors and writers on the search for new readers in Hindi publishing. They spoke about how there certainly were readers for Hindi literature, but that it was imperative to find new ways to reach out to them.

S. Nirupam, Rajendra Yadav and Ravish Kumar

Ravish Kumar of NDTV said that TV had managed to find a new breed of super-viewers for itself and that literature needed to do something similar. The consensus was that it was a multi-level problem that publishers, distributors and writers all needed to work to solve. On the panel were novelist and editor of Hans, Rajendra Yadav, Aruni Maheshwari of Vani Prakashan, Neeta Gupta of Yatra Books, poet and editor Mangalesh Dabral, and co-editor of Pratilipi Giriraj Kiradoo. The session was moderated by S. Nirupam of Delhi Press. Prior to the session, Mahesh Verma read his poetry and Prabhat Ranjan read from his forthcoming book, Badnaam Basti.

The 3-day festival ‘Samanvay’ concluded with an address by Raj Liberhan, Director of the India Habitat Centre, with an announcement for the second Indian Languages’ Festival to be held in November 2012.

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