Opening new horizons

Shaikha Shauda Panzeree reflects on the way Dhaka Lit Fest is opening new horizon for today’s youth and cultivating readers among them.

Not so many members of the young generation indulge in literature these days-such is the claim. The enchanting process, of building a nexus between a work of literature and a person, of connecting through something that probably exists only in words and touches us only in feelings unsorted, unprecedented, has unfortunately been allegedly vanishing from the collective psyche of the next generation. This allegation, given all related consideration of circumstances, is weighing more to be right than wrong, young generation has more time for gaming and chilling, and not so much for reading. Whether or not they are to be blamed may be a discussion for another time.

What is compulsory for snatching the attention of us Bengali people right back to literature, back in the sense that the rich history and diversity in taste of Bengali literature have no business being reinforced by anyone, the world already knows and acknowledges, is nothing but an interactive platform. A platform, which brings the book, the writer and the reader, all together and let them have a discussion, a talk, for as to knowing and understanding the other side better. We could say, the recently held literary fest DLF or Dhaka Lit Fest, for the 7th time now, has been doing exactly this job of uniting the literary minds, the creator and the performer, the audience and the spectator.

DLF had its pilot inauguration in 2011 by Sadaf Saaz, Tahmima Anam, Ahsan Akbar and K Anis Ahmed, who are literature enthusiasts and writers themselves. DLF was known as Hay Festival then, it was observed on a rather small scale on the grounds of British Council in support from the world famous Hay-on-Wye festival. The purpose, the shared perception among these literary personas was and is, still, multifold yet linear; they wanted to reinforce the cultural vigour held by Bengali literature out in to the world, and along with that, bringing in writers from the nearest and farthest corners of the world, making a communion of literature beyond borders, giving the exposure of literature a wider and broader dimension on the horizon.

Within the next few years, this fest was a known name in the global literary circuit, starting from neighbouring countries, writers and performers from all around the world started making their presence in Dhaka. In 2015, from Hay Fest it changed its name to Dhaka Lit Fest  to promote Dhaka and Bangladesh’s name beyond the borders, where, not hard to say, Bangladesh has very little positive attributes to be recognised with. Despite of Bangladesh owning such a  ‘third world’ reputation, authors and influential figures like VS Naipaul, Nik Gowing, Jon Gower, Tiffany Murray, Andrew Miller, Jan Blak, Shashi Tharoor, Lucy Hawking, Pankaj Mishra, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Tilda Swinton, Adonis and so many other names along with writers of our own language, Selina Hossain, Helal Hafiz, Hasan Azizul Huq, Nirmalendu Goon, Kaiser Haq, Niaz Zaman, Fakrul Alam, Syed Manzoorul Islam, Syed Shamsul Haq, Zia Haider Rahman, Shamsad Mortuza et al have graced this literary festival with their presence and with their knowledge that were shared and spread among thousands of audiences. These names are just a few on top of my mind among the hundreds of panelists that attended Dhaka Lit Fest throughout the years.

As is the motto of Dhaka Lit Fest, it has continued its venture in taking a torn book, refurnishing it and wrapping it in a whole new sparkly look, without making it metaphorical-it has continued representing literature, theories and ideas from the country and abroad, from the budding writers to established stalwarts. The panel discussions and the panelists have, without any failure, given an insight on politics, culture, present issues, nations, people, traditions, philosophy, literary genres and what not, kept their audience hooked. Mere visitors, with less intention of exploring into literature and more into vacationing here, didn’t go empty handed either. Such is the charm of this festival, people come, people go, but with learning at least a new thing about the world. The poetry recitation and storytelling session for kids is one of the finer touches which will have a positive impact on building interest in their minds to explore into the colourful world of literature.

Women are given space and power in DLF, every year since its beginning, there had been quite a few sessions which held, aspired and inspired women’s agenda up high, gender balance and neutrality have been shown as opposed to gender bias and disparity. Sessions like this year’s ‘Her Stories:Homegrown Supergirls’ and ‘Women art and politics’ have inspired, I bet quite a large number of women attendees to go out and use their superpowers.

If from capitalism and socialism, imperialism and democracy, communism and Zionism, all these politics and culture specific isms come into discussion and open up a window for liberating and liberated minds, such literary festival may be counted successful when this purpose is reflected properly.

This year, writers, speakers and intellectuals from the country and around the world expressed their support to the Rohingya refugees and signed a statement urging the global community, global bodies, rights activists to come forward in their help and also to hold the people responsible who participated in creating such a catastrophe.

However, debates and arguments persist regarding whether this festival is fundamentally elitist or not as most participants are foreigners and the native writer-participants are claimed to be belonging only to some influential families of the country, and the audience is generally an English speaking group of people who received an English medium education. On the other hand, there had been protests against this festival in its beginning years by students of Dhaka University and a group of writers who demanded that such a festival which promotes foreign culture should not be held at Bangla Academy premises which represents the liberation war and Bengali language.

Despite these debates around DLF, one thing is certain that DLF has been contributing to the writers of this country, it is creating a link between us and them, giving us a better exposure than we previously used to have. Writers who probably couldn’t have managed to communicate and convince foreign publishers, are being published abroad, which is a definite positive outcome of DLF. Budding young writers are given a platform to stand their ground and show what they are capable of doing, of course in such an international event, it is possible to provide the writers and literary figures of this country more opportunities, hopefully the DLF organisers will put more consideration into the matter.

The growing disinterest in literature among the young generation is addressed with importance by the DLF organisers. Broadening the readership of Bengali literature as well as foreign, DLF has orchestrated capturing sessions and pulled them off with perfection to present our rich urban and folk culture along with world literature, contemporary and old, they’ve brought in the sensational stalwarts who inspire the inner readers among the technology addicted and time-bound young generation. K Anis Ahmed has shared his intention of making it really big for the festival’s 10th session, which is also the country’s 50th year of independence, by bringing in  more versatile panelists and showcasing the country’s literary heritage.



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