When Singapore was chosen as the guest nation for the ongoing sixth edition of the Hyderabad Literary Festival (HLF), a few eyebrows were raised. However, Singapore-based authors and poets who trooped into the city for the festival assert that the nation that was ‘culturally-barren’ in the past now has a budding literary scene.
While Singapore literature might only bring memories of authors facing the brunt of state authority, a few members of the fairly-young Singaporean literati, who spoke about the cultural aspirations of an ‘economically driven’ nation on the sidelines of the three-day festival, assure that things are about to change.
What happens when art meets literature? At the Singapore Writers Festival, Eye/Feel/Write will launch its second instalment, with the publication of a beautiful anthology, titled “Eye/Feel/Write: Experiments in Ekphrasis”, as well as curated walking tours at The National Gallery.
A special commission by the National Arts Council, Eye/Feel/Write is a two-year ekphrastic project that has invited distinguished writers in Singapore to pen texts inspired by artworks exhibited at museums here. In the first year, ten writers — Alvin Pang, Edwin Thumboo, Isa Kamari, Jollin Tan, Joshua Ip, Ovidia Yu, Ramanathan Vairavan, Robin Hemley, Tan Chee Lay, and Yeow Kai Chai — created texts that dialogued with artworks at Singapore Art Museum’s Medium at Large exhibit. Ten poems were printed on broadsides as limited edition collectibles, housed in blank journals with an invitation to readers to engage in their own ekphrastic experiments.
Celebrating 50 years of cordial diplomatic relations in 2015, India invited Singapore, through the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS), to be the Guest of Honour for this year’s New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF), from 14 to 22 February 2015.
According to Dr. R. Ramachandran, Executive Director of NBCDS, there were about 55 participants from Singapore who visited the book fair as part of the Singapore delegation. “They were publishers, authors, storytellers, illustrators, booksellers, academics, librarians, teachers and arts administrators,” he said. “The delegation represented the entire continuum of the book industry right from the creators, the writers to the distributors. The Indians were impressed by the numbers as well as the varying expertise of the members. With such a strong and diverse group we were able to organise different programmes not only at the Fair but also at schools, the National Museum as well as the bookstores in and around New Delhi.” (Read the full interview with Dr. R. Ramachandran here)
Kitaab asked a few of the participants about their impressions of the NDWBF. Here are their responses in their own words:
Yong Shu Hoong, writer
To be honest, I’ve not really thought about visiting India. I’d really expected myself to visit Sri Lanka (which was in the planning for years) before ever setting foot on the rest of the Indian subcontinent. Was this due to a fear of the chaos I’ve heard about or prospect of illnesses? Or a reluctance to confront sad scenes of poverty seen in films? The many recent media reports of rape and murder in Delhi didn’t help.
Yet, when the invitation was extended to me to join other writers, illustrators and publishers to head for the New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) 2015, I leaped at the opportunity to finally make my first trip to India. And why would I pass on such a chance? I got help with visa application and travel arrangements, and enjoyed the strength in numbers of travelling as a group. I also thought to myself, if I didn’t seize this opportunity, I might never make my passage to India in this lifetime.
Of course, there were still warnings given by the trip’s organiser, the National Book Development Council of Singapore (NBDCS), that we had to be mindful of as delegates. For example, there was much concern over drinking water, on top of the precautionary hoarding of charcoal pills and other medicines to ward off the so-called “Delhi belly”.
What little we saw of New Delhi, versus our prior ideas and misconceptions of India, might grant us inspirations for new poems or stories – when we have enough time to digest our experiences. But the real takeaway for me would be the chance to share the stage with fellow Singaporean writers and illustrators as I read my poems to attentive visitors who stopped by for the many panel discussions and meet-the-author events lined up at the Singapore Pavilion. I also got to know some of my fellow delegates better – for example, Chinese-language poet Chow Teck Seng, whom I discussed ideas on a translation project.
I was also heartened by the good response received at a session where illustrator David Liew did live painting, while I read my poems, before a rather intrigued audience. I’m thinking that this format might work well in Singapore schools too.
All in all, this was a memorable trip, where I could feel a strong sense of camaraderie among all the Singapore delegates, as we shared our “diverse cultures, distinct literature” with any book-lover willing to stop and listen.