It is not often that one gets to see so many novelists, poets and litterateurs coming from different corners of the world to share their ideas. But that is exactly what literature enthusiasts got at Bangla Academy yesterday.
On the second day of the Hay Festival Dhaka, the academy premises vibrated with poetry, music and intellectual fervour, with literary events simultaneously taking place at three venues throughout the day. While some aficionado ran from one session to another, others sat in the lawn, listening to the recitals by seasoned poets as well as the younger ones or chatting with their favourite writers.
In the morning, the children's laureate of Wales Eurig Salisbury examined the art of communicating with children at a session titled "Child's Play".
“When I write for children, I try to remember what I felt when I was a child,” said Eurig.
Outside the halls, renowned Bangladeshi poets like Nirmalendu Goon and Asad Chowdhury and Kolkata poets Gautam Chaudhury and Probal Kumar Boshu hung around the lawn and chatted with fans. The event was also an opportunity for journalists, photographers, and editors to meet each other.
Youngsters flocked around their favourite authors at the food corners and seemed keen on getting to know the authors representing different cultures.
Pakistani writer Mohammed Hanif and Bangladeshi writer Anis Ahmed discussed in a session the controversial topic of conspiracies in a witty and engaging dialogue with Sameer Rahim of the Telegraph UK.
The writers highlighted the South Asian obsession with conspiracy theories, stating that our curiosities coupled with the inadequacy of information drive us to indulge in them.
A discussion titled "Tales of Liberation" featured three prominent novelists, Anisul Hoque, Philip Hensher and Kamila Shamsie -- all of whom have produced some fine works on the Liberation War of Bangladesh. The writers talked about their stories of the war and the issues involving historic novels with novelist Tahmima Anam as moderator.
It is the prerogative of the historian to write history, but a writer should have the creative freedom to explore the issue in his own way, said Hensher. He, however, argued that there were limits to free speech. “You can approach a novel with fiction but not with dishonesty.”
Shamsie argued that factual inaccuracies in historical novels can and often do detract from the seriousness of the novel as readers start to question the authenticity of the work. “You don't want the reader to start doubting the novel,” she added.
In an afternoon session titled "Narir Lekha, Narir Dekha", contemporary female writers Selina Hossain, Umme Muslima, Masuda Bhatti and Anwara Syed Haq critically analysed what it means for women to write, what constitutes women's literature and why more women are not taking up pens to write.
A woman's experiences are different from that of a man; as such, her way of conceptualising the world and writing about it are also different, argued Haq, in answer to the criticism that women's literature often sounds "womanly".
Selina Hossain highlighted that not as many women writers are coming to the forefront as expected. Large numbers of women have come to the garment sector, but we have not been able to provide the kind of education and support necessary for women writers to emerge, she said.
One of the major attractions of the day was the acclaimed writer of A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth.
In an intimate discussion with his old friend and publisher, David Davidar, Seth talked about his close relationship with his family, the role of politics in his creative work, his love of poetry and his decision to forego a PhD in economics to go back to India to write A Suitable Boy.
A versatile artist who writes poetry, novels, travelogues, operas, paints and composes music, Seth never felt limited by genres or people's expectations of what he should write.
There are writers who like to stay in their genres, while others like Pushkin or Tagore experimented and explored different types of writing. "If you are inspired in [one] direction, you're not going to say, sorry, come back in a different genre," joked Seth.
On the lawn, readings, folk music and poetry recitals, including a simultaneous Bangla and English recitation of the rebel poet Kazi Nazrul Islam's classic work “Bidrohi” choreographed by Naila Azad, took place throughout the day.