Lucknow has been the hub of mushaira, Dasstaangoi and kavi sammelan for centuries, but as times change, rituals and traditions also get recreated and rejuvenated according to the prevailing zeitgeist. In a unique collaboration, the first of its kind, writers, poets, translators and scriptwriters from different parts of India and Asia assembled in Lucknow in the first weekend of April to celebrate writing from South Asia and Southeast Asia.
This first edition of the SRMU Kitaab Literary Festival was jointly organized by Kitaab International Pte. Ltd., Singapore and Shri Ramaswaroop Memorial University (SRMU), Lucknow and was held on the 7th and 8th of April, 2018 at the SRMU campus.
Building bridges between Asian writers and readers
Festival Director Zafar Anjum, the festival’s patron A K Singh, Vice Chancellor of SRMU, Chancellor Pankaj Agarwal, Pro Chancellor Pooja Agarwal, and the faculty of SRMU led by Dr. B.M. Dixit, inaugurated the festival. ‘The aim of this festival ties up with the aim of Kitaab—to create bridges and dialogue between Asian writers and global readers and to bring literature to the grassroots,’ said Anjum in his welcome address.
Agarwal applauded SRMU’s collaboration with Kitaab. He said that Kitaab is an esteemed organisation that offers a promising worldwide platform to both budding and established authors, editors and publishers. Extending from the areas of literary fiction and translation to filmmaking (together with Filmwallas, founded by Zafar Anjum), Kitaab caters to all genres in English and other South Asian languages.
The festival featured more than 20 writers in English, Hindi and Urdu from India, Singapore and Malaysia. Well-known and award-winning writers such as Sudeep Sen, Rahman Abbas, Yogesh Praveen, Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Isa Kamari, Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil, Dr. Malachi Edwin Vethamani and Novoneel Chakraborty top lined the festival. Theatre and film actor Shishir Sharma, who was present to talk about his journey in the world of acting, presented the film, More Chai Please, Singapore’s first Urdu short film.
The film, shot in Singapore and presented by Filmwallas, tells the story of a couple with the plot spanning Singapore and Lucknow. The film’s writer and producer Sunita Lad Bhamray and its director Zafar Anjum were present during a special screening of the film on the second day of the festival.
The other major highlight of the festival was the launch of Tawassul, a Malay novel by Singaporean novelist Isa Kamari, translated into Urdu by Rubina Siddiqui. It is the first work of Singaporean literature to be translated into Urdu. Award-winning Urdu novelist, Rahman Abbas who has also helped oversee the edits, hailed this avant-garde work of fiction and told the audience that the book’s Hindi edition was in the works.
Indian Instincts and the Delights of Awadh
The festival focused on the theme, ‘micro-literature’ in the age of social media. Eminent poet Sudeep Sen set the tone for the festival by delivering the keynote speech after which Prof. (Dr.) Malachi Edwin Vethamani of Nottingham University, Malaysia engaged in a spirited discussion with Sen.
During the post-lunch sessions, Miniya Chatterji, author of Indian Instinct: Essays on Freedom and Equality in India (Penguin India), focused on the need to change the present education system in India, which emphasized rote-learning instead of developing curiosity and the attitude to question, among others factors that make India what it is today. Veteran theatre, film and TV actor Shishir Sharma discussed his life on screen with Zafar Anjum.
Rochelle Potkar, author of various short stories and the prolific crime novelist Novoneel Chakraborty discussed ‘Writing young: What the youth wants to read in contemporary India’. Heritage writer Vipul Varshney spoke on ‘Heritage, Identity and Lucknow’, especially in the light of her book Shaam-e-Awadh: A Visual Journey of Lucknow, Bloomsbury, 2017. At the end of Day 1, energetic musical performances by the students of SMRU added to the charm of the festival.
Celebrating Micro-literature in the age of Social Media
Day two began with the opening address by the Pro-Vice Chancellor, SRMU, Pooja Agarwal, followed by a panel discussion. Speakers Sudeep Sen, Edwin M. V. and Kavitha Rao discussed Micro-literature in the age of social media followed by a panel discussion on ‘Short Stories and the Asian imagination’ with Monideepa Sahu, Farouk Gulsara, Zafar Anjum and Rochelle Potkar.
Micro-literature is not new; in fact, it is as old as literature itself, said Sen, ruing the fact that perhaps we don’t read enough or are not aware enough of the various works of micro-literature across literatures, from the time of Vedas and Upnishadas until now. Dr. Vethamani read out a six-word long micro-story from Hemingway to emphasize Sen’s point.
In the next session, budding talents – winners of a short story writing contest from different schools of Lucknow – discussed their short stories; the session was moderated by Dr. Bishnu Kumar of the host university.
Dr. Nazia Hasan moderated a session with Dr. Sherin Sherwani and Rochelle Potkar on identities, minorities and culture in Indian literature. Local writers participated in a discussion on ‘Hindi Literature from Vernacular to Global’ with Dr. Surya Prasad Dixit, Shri Yogesh Praveen and Dr. Skund Shukla, moderated by Dr. Mangesh Lata Srivastava. They discussed not only literature but also Lucknow, the city that has played muse to many writers of both Urdu and Hindi poetry and fiction.
Translation, announcements, and book launches
The festival witnessed various book launches – The Best Asian Short Stories, 2017 edited by Monideepa Sahu; Intercession (Tawassul), Singapore’s first novel to be translated into an Indian language (Urdu translation of Isa Kamari’s Malay novel by Rubina Siddiqui); Anita Thomas’s Amako Senserly about raising a child as an adventure; and Kavitha Rao’s The Librarian. The authors read out extracts from their books and discussed their writing journey and the challenges and adventures the process involved.
Zafar Anjum announced that Kitaab would soon be launching two Korean titles (translated from Korean into English). One of the major highlights of Kitaab’s translation programme is the acquisition of the global English language rights of Rahman Abbas’s novel, Rohzin, which has already been translated into German and was recently launched in Switzerland. Kitaab will be bringing out the English translation of Abbas’s novel later this year, Anjum announced.
Dr. Hasan moderated another panel discussion with the renowned literary historian Dr. Rakhshanda Jalil and Urdu novelist Rahman Abbas on the topic ‘Local-global: Exploring contemporary Urdu fiction’, which enlightened the international English-reading audience about latest writings and developments in the vernaculars of India.
The last sessions included Sunita Lad Bhamray’s ‘Ganga Jamuna and beyond’, Prof. Edwin M. Vethamani’s ‘“Eastern Promises”- a critical analysis of South East Asian literature’, followed by an introduction to Filmwallas and their short films with a special screening of More Chai Please and The Complaint.
The festival came to an end with the screening of short films, which received a very warm response from the audience. Wrapping up the unique literary festival, Zafar Anjum thanked everyone involved in the festival, the host university and all the national and international guests who had travelled to participate in this festival. He said that the festival was a success and he hoped to return with another edition next year!
This report has been compiled by Dr. Nazia Hasan, Associate Professor, Women’s College, AMU.