Nearly 60 writers, poets and scholars from eight south Asian countries will debate and discuss terrorism, ethnic angst and popular culture at the SAARC Festival of Literature in Agra March 12-16.
Thirteen writers from Pakistan and eight from Afghanistan will attend the festival, organised by Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL).
"The focus this year is on terrorism. The foundation is organising the festival at a time when expectations from the creative fraternity and peace activists have soared in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Mumbai and sensitivities of the creative fraternity across the SAARC region, particularly in Pakistan and India, are shaken and bruised," Ajeet Caur, eminent short story writer and the mother of artist Arpana Caur, told IANS.
"Only debate and divergence of views can enrich our history and culture," she said.
The eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries to be represented at the festival are India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, the Maldives and Afghanistan.
The writers and poets will read out their works, address seminars on contemporary socio-political issues and common literary trends that bind the SAARC nations.
"SAARC as a political entity was formed in 1985 to address concerns in the region. But I realised that countries were talking about everything, barring culture. I wondered how the nations could be a part of a common regional and political block if they were not connecting culturally," Caur said.
"We are part of a great civilisation that dates back to the Indus Valley. There had to be people-to-people contact. I fought for a year and managed to get 10 visas for Pakistani writers in 1987 - because I felt it was the most troubled zone. Seven of the 10 writers came to India."
Caur set up the foundation in 1997, which received the government seal in 1999.
"In April 2000, the first joint SAARC writers' conference was held with 100 writers from all the SAARC countries. For the first time, I managed to bring Myanmar and Afghanistan on board," Caur recalled.
The writer is committed to her cause. "I have sold my ancestral property and spent almost all my money and all that my daughter Arpana earns from her art for the cultural centre," she said.
FOSWAL facilitates cultural exchange under four heads - music, religion, folklore and literature.
It recently hosted a SAARC conference on Buddhism at the India International Centre.
"This year Pakistan will be represented by 13 litterateurs followed by eight from Afghanistan, seven from Myanmar, four from Sri Lanka, two from the Maldives and 10 from Nepal. The festival will be inaugurated by poet Jayant Mahapatra," Caur said.