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Seemanchal International Literary Festival- Taking Literature to the Grassroot India

Source: Kractivist.org

By Rahman Abbas

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Zafar Anjum, PN Balji, Jayanthi Sankar, Debanjan Chakraborty and Isa Kamari

I was surprised when Singapore based English author and publisher Zafar Anjum Emailed me and invited to attend Seemanchal International literary festival on 17-19 November in Kishanganj, Bihar. I kept thinking for hours that how this festival would take shape in one of the most backward regions of our country. On the other hand I was happy over the idea that festival of literature was shifting from superficial glare of metros and lights of hotels to rural India and amid people devoid of cultural activities.

On 16th November, I board flight from Mumbai to Delhi. At Delhi airport waiting for next flight for Bagdogra I met well known Urdu critic Shafey Kidwai and literary critic Nazia Anjum who is also English lecturer at AMU. We shared coffee and talked about festival and Kishanganj. Shafey was worried if there would be any audience, especially to attend sessions about gender discriminations and role of literature in contemporary society on which various foreign authors had to speak.  When we reached Bagdogra airport (West Bengal) we met English author and poet Abha Ayengar, senior journalist Ziya-us-Salam (The Hindu). From West Bengal to Kishanganj our journey was of two hours.  During the journey we saw beautiful tea gardens and green pastures. When Bihar approached greenery turned into dust and road into dilapidated state. We were chatting about festival and thinking what was there in store for next morning.

The venue was famous’ Insan school’ ground and stage was set for two days festival. We were around 20 authors mainly of English, Hindi, Urdu and Malay languages from India, Singapore and UK. Read more


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How the Seemanchal Literary Festival drew me out of my happy bubble, a first for a litfest: Rheea Mukherjee

Source: Scroll.in

By Rheea Mukherjee

Before I leave for Kishanganj, Bihar, friends and family have made a hundred comments. “A literary festival in a village in Bihar?” “Is it safe?” “How cool”.

I fly from Bangalore to Kolkata, and then Kolkata to Bagdogra, and arrive at 4 pm on a Wednesday. The sun is hazy-bright and in the middle of the sky. Our host Sarfaraz stands at the arrivals gate. He is here to accompany us from the airport on the two-hour drive to Kishanganj.

The Seemanchal International Literary Festival started as an individual dream, and then, as the founder himself said “was realised because it was a collective dream”. Singapore-based Zafar Anjum might have many accomplishments and books to his name, but Anjum’s roots are in Kishanganj. A boy from a large family who studied at the Urdu-medium Insaan school.

Anjum was acutely aware of two realities: literary fests are held primarily in elite big cities, and almost exclusively engage an elite audience. But literature wasn’t created to stay on the shelves of the bourgeois. The infinite power of writing and its potential to amplify ambition and social equality needed to be celebrated everywhere. The plain truth is this, very few would take up such a quixotic cause. Read more


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Singapore’s Kitaab announces the first Seemanchal International Literary Festival to be held in India

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Literary festivals of various hues have been creating a revolution of ideas across India in the last few years. However, most literary festivals take place in metro cities and resort towns. This is going to change with a new literary festival being launched in India by the people of the Seemanchal region of Bihar.

profile-pic-180by180The Seemanchal International Literary Festival (SILF) is an international literary event organized by Kitaab International, Singapore, in collaboration with Insan School, Kishanganj, Bihar.The first edition of SILF is scheduled to be held on 17-18 November, 2016 at Insan School campus in Kishanganj to coincide with the golden jubilee celebration of the Insan School, one of the well-known educational institutions in the region.

SILF is the brainchild of Singapore-based journalist, writer, publisher, and founder of Kitaab, Zafar Anjum, who hails from Kishanganj.

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One more lamp is extinguished: In memory of Dr. A. R. Kidwai

by Syed Saba Hafeez

kidwaiLast Wednesday morning I got the sad news about the passing away of Kidwai Saheb (Dr. Akhalqur  Rehman Kidwai; 1 July 1920 – 24 August 2016). Inna lillahe wa Inna elayhi ra’ajoon (To God we belong and to Him we will retun).

For those who don’t know him well, Kidwai Saheb served as governor of the states of BiharWest Bengal, and Haryana. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian parliament, from 2000 to 2004. He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, India’s second highest civilian award.

It is common to see adjectives like academician, chemist, politician, etc., being associated with him. Perhaps a correct way to describe him would be ‘parliamentarian and administrator’ instead of the word, politician. Indeed, he was one the finest administrators of his time whether serving an institution or a state.

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Excerpts: Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours by Mohammad Sajjad

BiharMohammad Sajjad, Muslim Politics in Bihar: Changing Contours

Routledge, London/New Delhi, 2014

This book is a study of participation of the Muslim communities, with their intra-community socio-economic stratifications, in the politics of India’s eastern province, Bihar, during colonial and post-independence period. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in the resistance against the Bengali hegemony, the Urban educated middle class of Muslims along with their Hindu counterparts, more specifically the Kayasthas (the Hindu community of scribes), organized themselves along the lines of ‘regional patriotism’ or ‘subordinate nationalism’ and succeeded in creating province of Bihar out of the Bengal in 1912. The Congress made its significant headway in Bihar only after that. Gandhiji’s intervention (1917) in the Champaran Satyagraha (which had intermittently been manifesting since the 1860s under the leadership of local intelligentsia, and had re-intensified since 1907), and the subsequent Khilafat-Non Cooperation Movements (1920-22) galvanized the Bihar people in anti-colonial popular struggle once again, after the movement of 1857. In all these movements including the movements/initiatives for modern education in the nineteenth century, Muslims had considerable share. Subsequently, with the growing political strength of the Congress in the 1920s, rural landed elites like the Rajputs and Bhumihars started dominating the Congress as also in the structures of power like the local bodies created by the colonial state in accordance with the Act of 1919. It started creating misgivings among the increasingly politicized communities of Muslims about the Congress. This is also to be understood that from the 1930s onwards the Congress was under pressure from the landed elites because of which it had started developing sour relations with the emerging rural forces and the grievances of the intermediate castes; the Kisan movement, the Triveni Sangh, the Harijan assertion, the tribal movements, etc., had constant tension with the Congress. Continue reading


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Bihar Archives to soon publish documents, literature banned by British Raj

Rare documents and images, including a graphic depiction of the hanging of Bhagat Singh and his two aides Rajguru and Sukhdev, which were banned during the colonial era, are now being published in three huge volumes.

Titled, ‘Teen Shaheed’ (three martyrs), the lithographed image published in Calcutta (now Kolkata) also depicts a cell filled with revolutionaries behind them and on the right side shows a ship full of people being transported to ‘Kala Pani’ (Cellular Jail in Andaman Island) ..

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In Bihar, A Museum For Author George Orwell in Motihari

Orwell'shouseIndia on Thursday began work to restore the dilapidated house where “Animal Farm” and “1984” author George Orwell was born and turn it into a museum.

Orwell was born Eric Arthur Blair on June 25, 1903 in Motihari, a tiny town in Bihar, near the border with Nepal.

His father, Richard W. Blair, worked at the time as an agent in the opium department of the Indian Civil Service during the height of British rule over the subcontinent.

The family’s simple white colonial bungalow had been left to fall into ruins until the Bihar authorities decided to renovate it in a 6 million rupees ($100,000) project.

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Sonia Faleiro reviews ‘A Matter of Rats,’ by Amitava Kumar in the NYT

Rats_matterofratsOne night two summers ago, I was in a car speeding across the border into the eastern Indian state of Bihar. The unlit, pitch-black freeway didn’t deter traffic from barreling forward at breakneck speeds. In the inevitable accident, a young man was shredded by a truck. A politician showed up, but instead of taking charge, he distracted the police with laughter and gossip. Continue reading


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Excerpts: Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857

The following has been excerpted from Mohammad Sajjad’s Contesting Colonialism and Separatism: Muslims of Muzaffarpur since 1857  published by Primus (Ratnasagar): Delhi 2014, pp. xviii+265.

Contesting ColonialismThis monographic account on the Muslim communities of Muzaffarpur in north Bihar explores its history (1857-2012),  the socio-political behaviour, economic conditions and negotiation for share in power-structure, in three segments: (a) political evolution of the locality during the colonial era explaining the sub-regional socio-political setting; (b) their  participation  in  the  Congress-led movements till the 1930s,  (and tells largely untold story of Muslim resistance to League’s communal politics of territorial separatism despite their grievances against and alienation from the Congress during 1937–47); and (c) the post-independence experiences and political behaviour (their anxieties, problems and prospects) in  continuity with the one in colonial era characterized more by inclusive politics of communitarian collaborations and less by conflicts and exclusivism.

This is a mix of history from a local standpoint and also a local history, describing the broader events of the Indian politics in the context of the local political system as it evolved, and the participation as well as location of the Muslim communities in those events and processes. Inter-community cooperation and harmony prevailed over the divisive politics even during the most vitiated atmosphere of 1946–7.

It analyzes Muslim adjustment in the post-partition days, their engagement with the evolving secular democracy, seeking educational upliftment, and political empowerment through language politics (rather than insisting on the politics of religious identity) while not confining their politics only to sectional issues or groups. It also looks at the growing assertion of subordinated Muslim communities, and delineates fault-lines within the leaderships of the Muslim communities.   Continue reading


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Amitava Kumar brings it all back home

Amitava_KumarA young woman with blond dreadlocks skateboards past Twisted Soul Food Concepts, a gleefully international eatery near Vassar College. Inside, Amitava Kumar is ordering Asian dumplings and French fries for his daughter Ila and a Badass Rice Bowl for himself. He recommends the Ethiopian BBQ arepas and insists on picking up the check. Already, the world feels a little bit wider. Continue reading