Published:  01:14 AM, 23 November 2017

Dhaka Lit Fest and literature today

Dhaka Lit Fest and literature today

Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman rightly held that developmental index of the country must cover the development of literature and culture as well. Culturally vibrant Bangladesh had not fallen short of his expectation even during the days of disturbing terrorism.  No wonder,  now  that seventh Dhaka Lit Fest has been smoothly held from 16th to 18th November at Bangla Academy to promote and project Bengali literature and culture through mutual expression and exchange presenting a platter of presentations, interactive discussions, book launching, thoughts, aspirations, dreams and variety of engagements with mysterious life by various writers of the contemporary world. Great men always think and dream alike, so it is always a pleasure to share and get strengthened thereby.  Thus it was an enjoyment to partake it for organic assimilation to create a chemistry of culture. By all means Dhaka Lit Fest organized for three days was a gala cultural gathering apart from being a literary one.

Culturally vibrant Bengalis have never been miserly in reception of the wide variety at any cost. Seventh Dhaka Literary Festival gives evidence to that spirit. It is distinctly different from various others fests organized here in that it promotes sharing, solving and above all exchanging views for mutual benefit of humanity at large. Cultural exchange enhances storehouse of each stakeholder with selective acceptance. The erstwhile Hay Festival smelling of British colonialism has been renamed to be independent of imitation, at least in name, if not fully in character,  as the fest has been intended to be  more a mega cultural  event than merely a literary one.

Literature is invariably a product and can also be a producer of its age and posterity.  World of literature can be as vast as the universe itself, despite having periodical focus on specific temporal aspects whispering from timelessness. Literature today is partially characterized by so called subalternism or presentation of plight of the oppressed and suppressed ones due to continued civilized barbarism of hypocritical man with medieval mindset and energized, inflated ego.

Partially it presents existential identity crisis of modern man in an alien universe where deeper aspects of known life  appears to be infinitely mysterious, unknown and unknowable, expressed through absurdity, multifaceted reality and stream of consciousness technique. The creative contours contain redeeming victory of life as refrain in endless waves of immortality in the cyclic motion of larger life. Search for proper utterance to suit the subject aesthetically and appreciably has been a matter of global concern.

Apart from that, to attract the declining readership challenge lies in elevation of the taste of the readers amid epidemic of cultural degeneration due to several socio-political factors and erosion of ethics and sense of values. Developing awareness of the great task ahead is a global necessity.   In addition, written literature is facing tremendous challenge from TV serials and films demanding much less concentration and affording much more cheap entertainment with insignificant opulence distanced from life. Public taste is cultivated by the cheaper supply paving downwards way, but cultural regeneration upwards has no short cut. Herein lies the herculean hurdle. 

The fest presented a plethora of literary gathering of about 200 writers from 24 different countries in more than 90 sessions. Burning socio-political issues like poetry and activism, religion in politics, freedom of speech, women's empowerment, mind of Bengali Muslims, Rohingya problem etc constituted a dominant place in the theme despite pertaining more to journalism than literature. Some of the highlights this year is announcement of the winner of DSC prize for South Asian Literature, launching of British literary journal Granta and hosting Gemcon Literary Awards.  Allocation of significant space for children's literature, publisher's pains, stagecraft and women's exploitation is laudable. Launching of a graphic novel on the Father of the Nation by his grandson Radwan Mujib Siddiq to take the history to the next generation had been an important event.

 It is interesting that well-known Paris-based Syrian poet Adonis graced the occasion. Man Booker winner Ben Okri from Nigeria also graced the occasion to throw flood of light on literature and reality, while David Hare from UK made interesting narration on staging stories. Oscar winner Tilda Swinton's performances as authorship, and discussions on translation of Asian literature made interesting topic. But eminent Bengali writers of stature from West Bengal who are immensely popular here as well remained conspicuous by absence.

We are passing through a difficult decadent phase expressed in critical content or in surrealistic phantasm with desperate attempts to compensate for the same with literary tour de force or technical brilliance. However, the content is as important if not more as the container which is inseparable in literature. That what appeals to our heart with cathartic strokes and dosage remains permanent irrespective of its contemporary acceptance or rejection. So the greats epics like Mahabharata constantly appeals and gets renewed interpretation in newer contexts. But bringing down literature into the domain of   journalism or socio-political propaganda can be like being obsessed with short lived leaves forgetting the wood.

However, journalistic and literary handling of the contemporary issues has a world of difference.  Despite being grounded in time and place great literature elevates itself to a timeless universality. That is how a typically Elizabethan revenge theme could be transformed into a universal tragedy of Hamlet. Personal tragedy of Tagore and Nazrul could get timeless dimension, deep depression of Albert Camus could find refuge in universal absurdity of earthly existence. Most of the Nobel winning literature today or world classics are apolitical dealing with the depth of overlooked but fundamental human issues.

Presenting our best to the world is a great challenge indeed as it is to be well acquainted with the best of the world. Translation is undoubtedly the best way parallel to the cinematographic presentation of literature which has severe limitations being an expensive mass media. A writer can independently downpour his heart though written words and suggestiveness which claims a lot from a film director. That is why more often than not the best literature presented in films appear dull and insipid. Hence reading has no substitute, which can of course be made more appreciable with visuals and tunes. Anyone willing to enjoy Pather Panchali only as film will be deprived of its excellence as a novel, so is the case with Charulata or Tin Kanya or more recent Antarjali Jatra etc. Film as a separate art form cannot substitute reading.

Our knowledge of language is extremely confined to a few whereas the world is full of languages. The best course therefore is to find a common language known to many and get others translated into that for mass consumption. But literature is invariably a product of its own language, time, place, problems and cultural uniqueness which can hardly be translated and made equally palatable to the foreign readers. While endeavouring to spread Bengali (Bangladeshi?) literature abroad is a laudable move we must keep in mind that even the best writers of Bangladesh are little known in neighboring West Bengal sharing same language and literature.  

Writing is an intensely personal affair and reading is not otherwise, whereas appreciation of it requires the reader to be a connoisseur.  Yet literary festival meant for all has its own significance in intending to elevate the standard of the readers and the writers. The fest is useful in presenting head and heart of many from the contemporary best. About two hundred literary talents joined their heads together intending betterment of future in their own ways in print which cannot go in vain.  Literature is as old as civilization and will exist for ever with more and more expanding horizon as deathless component of ever changing human culture. Such fests undoubtedly facilitate much needed cultural regeneration of man in Bangladesh as anywhere else.


The writer is a columnist

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