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Writers add literary spark to Neemrana

The medieval fort of Rajasthan morphed into an exuberant carnival of ideas at the recently held Africa Asia literary conference.

india Updated: Feb 18, 2006 20:51 IST

For two days and two nights, the medieval fort of Neemrana morphed into an exuberant carnival of ideas, with over 40 writers from Asia and Africadebating interlinked issues of identity, legacy and assertion.

In the quaintly charming heritage hotel in a somnolent Rajasthan village it was sheer bliss to be alive and breathing in a rare confluence of thoughts.

When the three-day Africa Asia literary conference ended Thursday evening amid magnificent fireworks, foot-tapping gaiety of Rajasthani folk music and passionate poetry reading that stretched well past midnight, not many were troubled by any feeling of being homesick.

  When the three-day Africa Asia literary conference ended Thursday evening  at Rajasthan's Neemrana fort, amid magnificent fireworks, foot-tapping gaiety of Rajasthani folk music and passionate poetry reading that stretched well past midnight, not many were troubled by any feeling of being homesick

For a brief moment, they had found a home they could call their own in the midst of kindred souls and communing spirits.

As South African writer Don Mattera said: "I feel as though I have come home. Two days were too less to soak in such an experience." This homespun philosopher and writer who honed his insights in the violence-ridden streets of South Africa was generous to share his hard-won wisdom.

"The secret of life is that it is a race, but there are no winning posts in this race," said Mattera.

"The more languages I read and the more books I read, my world became bigger," said Nuruddin Farah, the Somalian writer who missed the Nobel prize by a whisker a few years ago, as he spoke about his evolution as a writer who moved from the native oral tradition into the written world.

Ashish Nandy, Ashok Vajpeyi, Gulzar, Namita Gokhale, Ananthamurthy, Urvashi Butalia, Indira Goswami, Geetanjali Shree, Vasanthi and Tarun Tejpal were some of the Indian writers who participated in the meet.

He read voraciously, with an unmatched hunger just about every Western writer, but found that "we as people were absent from these books".

There were others like Egyptian novelist and feminist Nawal-el-Saadawi who questioned the very concept of identity and warned against identity traps.

"We are deceived by the word identity. They demand to know my nationality, language, colour or gender. I am proud of what I am doing and not who I am."

The event was organised by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and conceived by its director-general, Pavan K. Varma, an author and diplomat.

Varma cautioned against a negative reading of globalisation. "Globalisation is an opportunity. We have to forge new tools to deal with it."

URAnanthamurthy, who writes in both Kannada and English, provided a quintessential Indian take on the issue of identity. "Most of us in India have continuous identities. We are all hybrids."

Ananthamurthy spoke wittily about a mélange of tongues that compete for the loyalty of a creative writer in India. "There is a home tongue. There is street tongue and then there is upstairs tongue. We all speak these tongues."

Lyricist-filmmaker-writer Gulzar, who regaled the audience with his exquisite poems in Urdu, dramatising the fret and the fever of modern city living, spoke about the pressures of writing for a mass audience.

He was clearly a big hit at the poetry reading session where he would be cheered not only by Urdu enthusiasts like Varma but those who understood hardly any Urdu like Farah.

In the end, the three-day literary fest that kicked off with ceremonial lighting of lamps in the capital Tuesday evening clearly turned out to be to be a treat for all those who live and swear by the power of the word.

Marjorie Evasco, a poet from the Philippines, fittingly captured the spirit of this meet in her poem Dreamweavers. "At this watershed of words/silence is our breath and base for music."

Ashish Nandy, Ashok Vajpeyi, Gulzar, Namita Gokhale, Ananthamurthy, Urvashi Butalia, Indira Goswami, Geetanjali Shree, Vasanthi and Tarun Tejpal were some of the Indian writers who participated in the meet.

Writers from Asia included Feriyal Ali Gauhar from Pakistan, Selina Hossain and Kaiser Haq from Bangladesh, Jean Arsanayagam from Sri Lanka, Sonam Kinga from Bhutan and Marjorie Evasco from the Philippines.

Farah from Somalia, el-Saadawi from Egypt, Charles Mungoshi from Zimbabwe and Sefi Atta from Nigeria were some of exciting African voices that contributed to this "orchestra of tongues".

First Published: Feb 18, 2006 13:59 IST