The second edition of the festival, Cultures of Peace: Festival of the North-East, organized by Zubaan, will be a two day affair, from 18-19 January at the India Habitat Centre. This year, however, they have narrowed themes down, focusing sessions on each state in turn, and touching upon an incident or issue that has played a key role in their history. An apt initiative, given that for too long now, the region has been understood as an undifferentiated, troubled whole in the national imagination, with often little appreciation of the differences within different states and peoples in the region.
"We focus on ethnic violence and its depiction in media and literature in the Assam panel, on food and women's rights in the Nagaland panel and on cinema and censorship in the Manipur panel to give you some instances of how we are trying to do this", explained Preeti Gill, editor at Zubaan. Some of the other discussions on states include one on the changes that the tiny state of Tripura has undergone over the decades. Fittingly, for a state that made it into the headlines in 2012 for all the wrong reasons, be it the Guwahati molestation case or the Bodo-Muslim riots later on, the session on Assam, titled 'Spectacles of Blood' examines ethnic violence in the state.
One aspect that clearly emerges from the choice of topics they have picked is a wish to inquire into a curious phenomenon – while the North-East, in many ways remains 'othered' in the national imagination, conversely, migrants from mainland India are also seen as 'others' in several states in the region. Thus, the session on Meghalaya has Anjum Hasan, author of Lunatic in my Head, trace the tribal-non-tribal divide in Meghalaya and other states in a discussion featuring Patricia Mukhim, Wanphrang Diengdoh, Tiplut Nongbri. Veteran journalist Sanjoy Hazarika will be in a discussion with writer-poet Mona Zote and Joy Pachuau, a history professor, in a session on Mizoram. Curiously titled as The Other Side of Silence, it sounds promising, as Mizoram is the only state in the region to have successfully turned around an insurgency.
The festival will also witness the release of two translations of Indira Goswami's works, The Blue Necked Braja, and the other being her last novel, The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar. "We are dedicating the festival to Indira Goswami, Assam's eminent writer, who died a year back and to Irom Sharmila who has been fasting for the repeal for AFSPA for the last 12 years and will release two of Goswami's books at the festival too", Gill said.
In case this sounds too solemn for you, then just come for some good performances – Reuben Mashangva and group, Rida Gatpoh and The Musical folks, The Art Street, and Sattriya dance by Anwesha Mahanta. Foodies, don't miss out on the panel talk on Naga food in the capital chaired by a Time Out critic. It might just be a chance to discover your next favourite hangout.
Finally, why might we need more festivals like these? The writer Aruni Kashyap opines – "We (in the North-East) are often defined by how different we are, instead of how similar we are from the rest of India. Festivals of this kind provide an opportunity to underline these similarities and promote understanding Peace with and in the Northeast won't be possible if the rest of India doesn't understand Northeast".