– AJEET COUR

Our caravan of crusaders – from India and Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal – has come to the next and one of the most important destinations: Bangladesh, where a large number of our friends from the creative fraternity joined hands with us to give shape to this conference.

Human hands have the wonderful capacity to make miracles happen! They write, they paint, they create, they build! They also create connections! Forge friendships! And when they clasp each other over long distances, they become a chain!

A chain of human hands and creative minds! Endeavouring to build bridges of understanding, of common heritage, the common struggles, the common concerns! And also recognizing the importance of the separate cultural identities of the neighbouring countries, respecting their vision and values, and recognizing their limitations too!

That is how family units also survive!

As I said at the Inauguration of the First SAARC Writers Conference during April last year, in New Delhi, meeting of creative minds is always a miraculous experience. Through the history of civilization, it is the written word that has endured. It is creative thought and its expression has overpowered and transcended Time and Space, because Word is the universe.

The First SAARC Writers Conference launched a new era of creative dialogue between creative writers of the seven South Asian countries, hoping to usher in a Culture of Peace in the region.

A word about the mother institution : the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature.

For the last twenty-six years, the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature has been hosting and convening a very meaningful literary gathering, on the last Saturday of every month, DIALOGUE, in which fiction writers and poets, theatre artists and painters, intellectuals and scholars and academicians have been actively interacting and participating.

In each of these Dialogue Meets, we have been enjoying the poetry and fiction of writers of various Indian languages and at least one writer from a foreign country, through creative translations.

As these interactions amongst creative people gained popularity, the creative minds in the Academy focused more and more on the South Asian and African and Latin American literature, and discovered the amazing world of even the Eskimo poetry and Aboriginal folklore from Australia.

The amazing undercurrents of almost identical human emotions and the wonder-world of man’s eternal relationship with nature running deep in the tribal tales and folklore of India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Bangladesh, really triggered off the idea of concentrating our efforts to bring the creative writers of the SAARC Region closer. That is the first step. If we succeed, we may probably proceed to bring the creative writers of the whole of the Asia Pacific Region closer through literary interactions, writers conferences, and creative translations.

We realized that though writers in the South Asian, i.e. SAARC Region must be creating very profound and powerful literature, we knew very little, negligible, pathetically little about their writings. Because Indian writers are portraying the new emerging destinies of man in the country, the new socio-political and economic equations resulting in toppling off and almost extinguishing various values we had been holding close to our hearts, and giving rise to new, altered concerns, I know that other writers of this Region must be thinking and writing about more or less the same concerns, because we share almost similar destinies, almost similar problems, and excepting Nepal, we have shared the same history. And in our writing we try to articulate our concerns and changing realities of life.

We, the sensitive people, particularly the writers have got to get concerned about the cultural, political, economic, social, environmental issues, even historical issues, because in every century, in every country, social, political and religious histories have been distorted to suit the convenience of powers that rule ordinary masses like me and you.

The writer has the additional responsibility to keep the third eye open to see through things, to read between lines, to perceive myriad truths which keep criss-crossing the path of human existence.

It was out of these concerns and this intense sense of responsibility that the writers participating in the extremely well- attended literary gatherings ‘Dialogue’ decided to focus on the writers of the SAARC region and their writings.

Committed and firmly resolved to the objective of bringing together the writers of the region, to generate a collective voice of sanity in the prevailing atmosphere of distrust and misconceptions, so that in unfriendly times this collective voice can articulate the need for peace and harmony and mutual goodwill, the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature was successful in launching its first literary initiative in the form of the First SAARC Writers Conference.

This Conference, extensively covered by print and electronic media, was proclaimed as a unique meeting of creative literary minds from the South Asian Region with the objective of ‘Strengthening Cultural Ties for Long-Lasting Peace in the Region’.

The Conference culminated with the unanimous adoption of the New Delhi Declaration.

The SAARC Writers Secretariat, established as a result of the New Delhi Declaration, has worked with absolute commitment to the cause of promoting harmony and diminishing cross-border tensions amongst the countries of South Asia, by bringing together poets, fiction writers, intellectuals, scholars, journalists and academicians from across the borders, to raise their voice for peace and harmony. It is our firm belief that we, the writers and intellectuals, are the only ones with a sane voice. We are beyond political chess-games, therefore our thoughts and beliefs have the strength to fly across the borders, which are anyway within the distance of a dove’s flight.

A very successful Second SAARC Writers Conference in Kathmandu, Nepal, was convened in November, 2000. The theme of the Conference was : ‘WRITERS FOR PEACE AND CULTURAL INTERACTION IN SOUTH ASIA’.

In the THIRD SAARC WRITERS CONFERENCE I would share with you some of the major decisions taken so far, which we have started implementing, and on which I would like to have your specific consensus too, so that you can join hands to make this chain of human hands more powerful !

First and foremost, there is urgent need for creative translations.

Creative translations and transcreations should be our top priority for clearing the dense fog of ignorance separating us. We know about the writers of other continents but know almost nothing of those belonging to our continent and Asian Region. Cooperation of able translators and creative transcreations is the key to the success of our programme of publishing anthologies of select poetry and fiction from all the seven countries, and also adding to our already extensively viewed website : www.foundationsaarcwriter.com.

It is only the creative writers who can form a core group of sane voices in the SAARC neighbourhood who would identify the symbols of our cultural heritage and also our distinct identities which should be respected. This brotherhood and sisterhood of writers from across the SAARC Region should be able to identify the identity of Asian literature and the undercurrents and major trends of thought which makes it stand out as a distinct identity.

In times of political bickerings across the borders, which is in the interest of politicians to keep alive, this group of writers from the seven sister countries can raise their voices in a crescendo for peace and amity and tranquility, because all of us know that the people, the ordinary people, suffer more from internal exploitation than foreign aggression. Writers can create a third dimension of awareness to fight prejudices, to create tolerance, wisdom and an awareness about aesthetic excellence even in historical symbols which are no longer valid in our societies because ours are multi-ethnic societies and fundamentalist forces are out to destroy our peace in the name of religion which creates biases.

It is only the writers who can create a sane vision of what the real concerns of our society and our people are.

The rationale for this Third Round of the historical first-ever SAARC Writers Conference is to reiterate the importance of literature and of creative minds, of the power of the Word which transcends boundaries of lands and reaches out to the profound emotions of friendship and goodwill nestling in every human heart, to keep the voice of freedom and peace vibrantly alive. This is what Track Two dialogue is all about.

Let me repeat here my request I articulated in the last Conference in Kathmandu whereby I vehemently and forcefully proposed to the Director General of SAARC Secretariat, Dr. Nihal Rodrigo, who is not only a very able administrator but also an intellectual and eminent painter. My proposal is that the SAARC Secretariat should include in its programme the setting up of SPECIALISED DEPARTMENTS OF SAARC LITERARY STUDIES in all the major Universities of the Region. This endeavour of literary research can then extend to studying, for example, how the archetypes of women in literatures of different languages – starting from mythology and folklore – have gradually changed and transformed, reflecting the position of women in society. Similar comparative studies can be done on the changing perceptions of the status of minorities and the underprivileged and marginalized sections of society, of ethnic strifes and voices of sanity, changing structures of families and family relations, of social and economic transformations, including globalization, and their impact on post-colonial literature, and also how these transformations are being mirrored and projected in the literature of these neighbouring countries.

This will be a step which will be recorded by history, and which will throw up some very interesting and far-reaching studies of great consequence.

– Inaugural Address at the Third SAARC Writers Conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh on 22- 24 March, 2001

 

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