West indian literature

Start of the four-day FOSWAL Literature Festival

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When author Ajeet Cour first invited 10 Pakistani writers to a conference in delhi in 1987, thousands of people from all over India came to listen to them, she recalls. “It was the first time that Pakistani writers set foot on Indian soil. There were important names such as Intizar Hussain and Ahmad Faraz. We had booked an auditorium at Triveni Kala Sangam which could hold about 600 people, but over 5,000 showed up. It was like magic,” says Cour, 88.

As she prepares for another edition of the festival to be held November 6-9, she notes how there may have been many changes to the forum held under the FOSWAL (Foundation of Writers and Literature SAARC) banner. over the years, but at its core, it remains the same. “The region shares so much in common and our aim is to nurture that,” says the powerful voice of Punjabi literature, adding that many foreign writers have returned to the festival and she has regular discussions with prominent authors in participating countries to invite new talents.

Artist Ajeet Court in New Delhi. (Express photo by Praveen Khanna)

This year, while the keynote address will be given by sociologist Ashis Nandy, guests of honor include writers Syed Manzoorul Islam from Bangladesh, Abhi Subedi from Nepal, Kanchana Priyakantha from Sri Lanka and Madhav Kaushik from India, among others.

While Pakistani authors have not participated in the festival for more than a decade, Afghanistan has not participated for two years. Standing online, Cour, the president of FOSWAL, notes that apart from Covid, it is also a lack of funding that has led to the adoption of the digital format. “Starting with no funding in 1987, since 1999 we have been granted limited funds from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. But since 2017 (date of the last physical edition) our file is still in progress because we did not have the return boarding passes of the writers who had come for the festival that year. We wrote letters to the ministry, but to no avail… The Sahitya Akademi is helping us technically,” says Delhi-based Court.

Known for tackling socio-realistic themes through her works, the author of numerous short stories also wrote about her own struggles in the autobiography Khanabadosh. “There are certain events in life that you can’t get over and have to deal with,” says the writer whose personal life has been rather tumultuous – from witnessing the horrors of the score to being in a marriage abusive to lose his young daughter Candy in an accident in France.

Bringing the festival to life was not easy either. She notes that the festival is funded through income from her daughter, famed artist Arpana Caur. “This is how we managed to support this initiative which, I believe, is indispensable, not only for fostering cultural cooperation, but also for discussions around literature,” says Cour.

Although her health does not allow her to travel, she keeps abreast of the many literary festivals now taking place across India. “It’s a good thing. Previously, only dancers, musicians, singers took the stage, now writers are also invited to take the stage,” says Court.

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