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      Volume 11 |Issue 46| November 23, 2012 |


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The Bridge Called 'Hay'

Aly Zaker

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way...

I was reminded of the foregoing lines and more of the poem 'The Prayer' written by Rabindranath Tagore as I stood in a dark corner of the literature-fest called The Hay, the other day.

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

We have started our journey as a free nation barely 40 odd years ago after a protracted war fought mainly on the question of language and culture. We knew all along that we had inherited a rich past of thousands of years of enlightenment that culminated into our independence. But when we finally became free we had undergone long years of colonial subjugation that snapped the link of the present-day Bangladesh with the heritage it has. Therefore, from 1971 it was an exercise in reawakening and rebuilding ourselves to where we should have logically belonged if our course of life was not intimidated with. So, our youthful enthusiasts from the field of art, culture and literature took it upon themselves to bridge this gap of ignorance and establish a link with our past as also the 'present' elsewhere – in the world, where intellectual freedom reigned unhindered. We, therefore, saw a spontaneous advancement in the domain of letters and performing arts as is natural for an aspiring nation. Now, arguably, we can say that we have arrived at a juncture of launching ourselves onto the international orbit. The Hay festival, starting last year, almost as a pilot project, was replicated this year as a major event in the exercise of cultural and literary connect both with our intrinsic past and with the world beyond. The three days of this festival happening in more than one venue brought to the few of us, old hands, who had endeavoured to coax the boat of art and cultural through hail and high waters since '71, a pleasure hitherto unknown in their lives. What I have just said, needless to point out, refers to my generation. We are really happy to be able to handover the rudder to the generation next.

Hay festival reminded me of the opportunity that our aspiring litterateurs could have sitting right here at home reaching out to what is happening all over the world. What is more is that the festival brings an opportunity to the already established world figures visiting Bangladesh to be in close contact with our home-grown talent in the field of literature, art and culture. So, at the end of the day, we are in a position to go forward, hand in hand, with better understanding.

Photo: Amirul Rajiv

As is customary in any developing nation, there would be some squeak and gibberish of un-acceptance of anything out of the ordinary by certain insignificant few. This time on, in Dhaka, there was no exception. The main venue of the festival was the Bangla Academy. And the gibberish mumbled the slogan, “why foreign language here?” The best was that nobody took notice of them. And these squeaky conspiracy mongers were silenced by the enormous success of the festival itself.

Here, I intend to quote out of Tagore, a part of his speech, where he said, “To accept the truth of our own age it will be necessary to establish a new education on the basis not of nationalism, but of a wider relationship of humanity.” This should be self-explanatory. I might fall back here on the essence of Tagore, which directs us to be international in order to understand the national. He clearly said that a narrow mind can never be successful in as broad an activity as art. I am sure that Tagore's philosophy has got a tailwind. And we shall not look back. It would have come in any case someday. The Hay festival has only made it easier. Congratulations to the organisers, most of whom are very young and have a long way to go. They have been wise enough to start in the right direction. We shall anxiously await the next festival in Bangladesh.

To end, here again is the rest of the poem from inimitable Tagore that I started this piece with:

“Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

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