LIT IT UP!

The month of November brings a festive mood in the Dhaka literary arena, to be more specific to the literature enthusiasts.  Ishtique Ahmed Nahian shares his experience as volunteer of the festival with New Age Youth.
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Thousands of millions of pages have been wasted on unrealistic and overtly conventional write ups on book fairs, especially in exams. Most of the poor souls had to spew words out on the answer scripts without even visiting an actual book fair in real life! Well, I cannot do anything about the puking part; this is how you climb the ladder of sophistication in our country. ‘Bile shows your wile’ this is what almost everyone believes nowadays. You may question my heraldry, C n H minions may coin it as gift of the gab, but really I cannot help it! After three swashbuckling days at the Dhaka Lit Fest 2017, such heraldry is justified.

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My first opportunity to visit Lit Fest came back in 2015, when I was a fresher at my university. I am calling it an opportunity because I was asked to work as a volunteer. Unlike almost every other fresher, my field of interests was limited. I preferred watching movies and snoring in the weekends. Also my then individualistic mind with a sprinkle of stupidity did not know the joy of team work. All my buddies volunteered in the fest and had the time of their life. They clicked selfies and hung out with the rock-stars of both Bengali and English literature. All I did was sit back and try to keep a straight face and tell myself, ‘grapes are out of shapes’. Still I went there on the second day, as a visitor of course and hung out with my volunteer buds. Their pale faces somehow consoled me as most of them were assigned in the main gate of the Bangla Academy premises, and that sucked. I rambled about the food stalls as they were insufficient. The books were also a bit expensive. The guy who said, ‘nobody becomes poor for buying books’ should be charged for substance abuse it seemed. Overall it was an OKAY experience for me.

The second time I was not taking any prisoners. Without giving it a thought I signed up for volunteering in November of 2016. It was the sixth Dhaka Lit Fest. I do not know if it was beginners luck or not, the volunteers were no longer termed as volunteers. They were considered as crew. That meant, we were hired as an internal member. My work started ten days before the festival, in the organiser’s office where all the works were done. Being able to observe the backstage of such a huge programme was quite a treat. The environment in the office was quite intense! Everyone was doing something, from crunching numbers to attending phone calls, everything! The most amazing thing was that everyone worked as a team there, there were no sign of discrimination or just to be a little bold, SLAVERY. My job was mostly to arrange envelopes and look up contacts on the internet. I also assisted Nayla Azad for a brief period of time and made phone calls reminding the MC’s of their schedule. It was a funny business because some of the MC’s were my department seniors. They immediately recognised my voice and cursed mercilessly. It was all in good humor though. My ten day tenure ended soon. I started missing all the crew members. Muhammad Sumon was the mentor everyone deserved. He demonstrated all the teensy weensy works with flair and helped to maintain a jolly atmosphere in the office. The hard work of the crew members finally paid off as the programme was a major success. Unfortunately I could not attend the main event due to a family gathering. But the sense of teamwork infused in me was the major loot of that year’s Lit Fest.

By 2017, I knew that Lit Fest was literally LIT. Everyone was pumped up. The selectors did not have to call for volunteers even. People were signing up in huge numbers. Selectors had to impose interviews for selecting the volunteers. I had the seniority advantage by then, so I breezed through the interviews. There was a workshop arranged for the volunteers and crew members also. The members were informed of their assigned duties there. Some were assigned to various tents where the seminars and the sessions took place. Some were assigned to the gates, some in the lawn and some helped in the book shops. All the authors present there were also assisted by the volunteers. I was assigned to the cosmic tent. Luckily, it was close to the volunteer’s lounge, so I got to chill out with my buds in between sessions. Duty inside the tent was close to nothing. It mostly consisted of arranging the chairs on the stages, holding microphones to the audience and sleeping through the sessions which were boring. Life was not so easy for the other volunteers. The ground volunteers were always on a run, and the author volunteers always had to look out for their respected authors.

The sessions usually ended two to three hours before, so we always had the opportunity of roaming around the fest. The most amazing thing was seeing the authors I have admired always, two to three feet away from me, breathing the same air. Some of the sessions were very informative. It was the overall atmosphere that attracted me. Seeing all the literature enthusiasts roaming around and having a good time was a treat for the soul. The bookstalls had an increase in number this time. There were no caricature session this year though, but still children gathered around the fest because of the special sessions for them. Almost all of my seniors and juniors were present in the fest, so it was a kind of reunion for me too. The seniors were a bit tensed because of the increasing number of the food stalls.
Almost all of the experiences were rosy in the fest, except one. During a session, the children were asked to volunteer for reading a story book in Bengali. There were no raise of hands because no children present in the tent was able to read in Bengali. The author had to make do with a parent. This raised a major question in me. Was it a premonition? Are we slowly losing the battle of cultural infringement that we supposedly won decades ago? Is this another form of cultural and linguistic aggression which might eventually turn into socio-lingual genocide? Only the future has the answer.

Ishtiaque Ahmed Nahian is a student of University of Dhaka

 

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