With a promise to spread the vast treasure of Bangladeshi literature in the world, the Hay Festival Dhaka opened at Bangla Academy in the capital yesterday.
The three-day event began with an experimental performance by Shadhona, featuring poems of four iconic Bangalee writers -- Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Jibanananda Das and Michael Madhusudan Dutt -- and the mystical songs of Lalon Shah.
The contemporary interpretation of Bangla classics and the nuanced translations of the most treasured verses of Bangla literature were an indication of the overall vision of this year's Hay Festival: to add another dimension to Bangla art and culture.
Some 100 eminent Bangladeshi and 30 international writers will be engaged in 30 panels to exchange ideas and share their works and journey to the world of literature.
Prof Emeritus Anisuzzaman, president of Bangla Academy, said the academy joined the festival to make Bangladeshi literature known beyond the confines of its borders.
AAMS Arefin Siddique, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, also spoke on the occasion.
Celebrated writers Philip Hensher, Selina Hossain and Mohammad Hanif and publisher of HarperCollins in India VK Karthika shared the stage to talk about the literary works that changed their lives and ways of thinking.
Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, said it was really exciting to share stories, dreams, aspirations and experiences of people irrespective of race, class, nationality, gender and sexual orientation.
"We come to celebrate writers who imagine the world not only how it is, but how it might be," he said. "We get the extraordinary opportunity to imagine humanity and find out how much of it is shared."
Prominent writer Vikram Seth remembered the sorrow and sacrifice with which Bangladesh was born. "One of the major sources of that sacrifice was language, which is why it is particularly significant, of course, why the second Hay Festival is being held here, in these grounds, in Bangla Academy," said Seth in his welcome speech.
Following the welcome speeches, the Kichhapala of Soyfulmuluk-Bodiuzzaman, a popular piece of folk drama from Mymensingh, performed by Islamuddin enthralled the Dhaka audience. The Kicchapala, which forms part of a long tradition of oral history dating back to the 16th century, featured folk dance and music.
Highlighting Bangla Academy's involvement with the Hay Festival, Mahfuz Anam, editor and publisher of The Daily Star, said in his closing speech: "The Bangla Academy should not just promote Bangla literature amongst people who speak and know Bangla; it is also its responsibility to spread and popularise our literature across the globe."
"Writers create the fundamental link between one human being and another that we all aspire to do but fail to do. And the writers do it for us," he added.
Rosemary Arnott, director of British Council, the global partner for Hay Festival, said, "The rebel poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, once proclaimed, 'Even though I was born in this country and in this society, I don't belong to just this country, this society, I belong to the world,' and that is such a true saying for the second Hay Festival in Dhaka."
Throughout the inaugural event, the speakers reiterated the need for translating the Bangladeshi literary works.
This year's festival aims to showcase the diversity of Bangladeshi literature and culture, highlighting not just Bangladeshi writers who write in English but also those writing in Bangla.