Eminent writer and Magsaysay award winner Mahasweta Devi has turned down an invitation to attend the eighth World Hindi Conference in New York, where she was to be honoured for her services to the promotion of Hindi. The three-day conference, which began on Friday, is organised jointly by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) and the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Forty scholars — 20 of them Indians and 20 foreigners — are being felicitated.
But Mahasweta Devi, 81, who writes in Bengali, can barely string together a few broken sentences in Hindi. She said that though she had received a call from HRD Minister Arjun Singh’s office to attend, she refused saying she was in no “mood” to do so, since she was not a Hindi poet, and 'too busy' with the Nandigram issue. “The organisers never called me. Though my works have been translated into Hindi, I am not a Hindi poet. I later learnt that many Hindi poets like Ashok Vajpayee, Kedarnath Singh and Rajendra Yadav have refused their felicitation,” Mahasweta Devi told HT.
According to the MEA, around 800 delegates, including Hindi scholars, litterateurs and teachers, are likely to attend the conference.
Devi’s selection has drawn a fair share of criticism and is being already held as one of numerous glitches that have made the event 'akin to a non-serious tamasha', a member of the conference steering committee told the Hindustan Times.
“This kind of farcical jamboree makes the image of Hindi take a beating,” the steering-committee member said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Distinguished poet, critic, cultural administrator and former senior civil servant Ashok Vajpeyi told HT from London: “This is mere tokenism. It is a totally fruitless exercise, a bit of a picnic.”
Interestingly, Amitabh Bachchan’s presence as a stalwart of Hindi cinema — who was invited by the BVB to recite some of his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s poetry during a conference session, to commemorate the latter’s centenary — was 'not welcome' any longer and was being replaced by Mahesh Bhatt and Gulzar.
According to an eminent writer and member of the standing committee, who did not want to be identified, “It is quite shameful the way they have treated literary stalwarts, and taken the minister’s hangers on.”
Minister of State in the MEA Anand Sharma, who is leading the Indian delegation left for New York on July 11 along with around 150 delegates, including Congress stalwarts Satyavrat Chaturvedi, Janardan Dwivedi, Balkavi Bairagi, Jagdish Piyush and Girija Vyas.
(With inputs from Nandini Guha in Kolkata)