The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL) is organising a three-day South Asian Literature Festival in Delhi from 24-26 February. This year marks the 30th edition of the festival, which was founded by Ajeet Caur, a Padma Shri awardee author, back in 1987.

The festival is to be inaugurated at the C.D. Deshmukh Auditorium, India International Centre, Delhi, on 24 February, and will continue at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature on 25 and 26 February. The event, earlier called SAARC Literature Festival, is now the South-asian Literature Festival.

A number of readings on different themes, as well as poetry recitation in English, Hindi and Urdu languages, will take place at the two different venues in Delhi. The topic for this years’ festival is “Endeavouring for Peace and Tranquility in the Region”, with sub-themes like “Voices of Common Concerns”, “Literature Against Extremism and Terrorism” and “New Voices in Literature”.

Every year, the SAARC festival brings a kind of novelty in terms of the subject it focuses on. Talking about what’s new in this year’s chapter of the fest, Ajeet Caur says, “These successive festivals represent a cultural continuity with a novel character to each festival. The new authors and poets, discussions and exchange of ideas on emerging social and cultural challenges, which differ year to year, provide a new focus each time.”

At the inaugural session, eminent intellectuals such as Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, and scholars like Dr Rajmohan Gandhi, Dr Tara Gandhi Bhattacharya and Ashis Nandy, among others will be speaking on various topics.

The event has attracted a large number of writers, poets and intellectuals of high stature over the years. The number of delegates from each SAARC country is growing each year. Fifteen participants from Afghanistan, 25 from Bangladesh and 20 from Nepal will be reciting their works at the festival. A total number of 150 delegates will be participating in the festival.

Prominent Indian writers such as Leeladhar Mandloi, Jayanta Mahapatra and Sudeep Sen are also among the participants.

According to Ajeet Caur, an influx of styles from other countries has brought about a refreshing change in the way poetry as a form is approached in South Asian countries. She says, “Over the years the influence of foreign poetry such as English, American and far Eastern (Haiku) and other exotic domains has overwhelmed Indian English poets. The poetry has become more objective than romantic and mystic.”

The event has attracted a large number of writers, poets and intellectuals of high stature over the years. This year, 15 participants from Afghanistan, 25 from Bangladesh and 20 from Nepal will be reciting their works at the festival, which will host a total of some 150 international delegates and authors.

An apex body in the SAARC region, FOSWAL aims to project, nurture and strengthen cultures through literary and cultural interactions through dialogues. Besides different cities in India, SAARC Festival of Literature in the past has been organised in Dhaka, Kathmandu, Lahore, Islamabad, Colombo, Kandy, Thimphu and Male.

FOSWAL launched its vision of cultural bonding among the neighbouring SAARC countries in 1986, and emerged as the first and the only non-government organisation working for public diplomacy, in the specific area of arts and culture by bringing together people working for the cultural promotion of various countries. It is a common ground for a think tank of intellectuals and writers, creative fraternity and peace activists, folklore-Buddhist-Sufi scholars, folk and tribal scholars; folk performers and artists, theatre and film artists, painters, dancers and musicians. Along with this, it also provides a stage to people who have common sensitivities and concerns for the socio-cultural, political, economic, tribal and gender-related issues of the region.

Ajeet Caur.

Talking about the lack of regard for poetry in Indian journals, Caur says, “Unfortunately, it is true that there are few good literary journals in India despite a huge number of outstanding poets in the region. Earlier, many newspapers used to have Sunday magazine sections, which also carried poetry. Unfortunately, that space has gone away. Major publishers of literary books such as HarperCollins, Rupa and Penguin and many others give little space to poetry books.”

But Caur believes that declining sales of poetry books doesn’t necessarily deter poets from continuing to write. She says, “Poetry books were never sold like religious texts and subject-specific course books. They are for the lovers of poetry which are fewer in number than admirers of mathematics or visual arts. Even in the West, major poets have been self-publishing and gifting their books to poetry connoisseurs.”

She further advises, “To promote poetry, we need active participation of all these publication houses. The gold standard, Indian Literature journal by Sahitya Akademi alone cannot handle the volume of good poetry being written in India. Poetry has various levels, from advertising a product to the expression of the spiritual. One selects one’s own level. It is difficult to have one common denomination for all readers,” she says.








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