First of all a word about our Foundation’s parent organization, the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature.
Our Academy is a very active, perhaps one of the most vibrant and unique cultural institutions in Delhi working since 1997. We, in our own small humble way, are trying to create a sort of history by demolishing the age-old barriers between the cultural elite and the uneducated people living on the fringes of society by encouraging the latter to learn painting, music, classical dances, pottery and sculpture, and to participate in our theatre, besides basic education, which can create demand for books and literature.
One of our top priorities has been literature. For the last 27 years writers have been gathering in our Academy on the last Saturdays of every month, in a programme called ‘Dialogue’, to share their poems and short stories, translated from different languages, because we believe that the only sensible way to national integration is not through jogging on Rajpath, but through knowing what the writers in different languages are writing, and what the right-minded, peace-loving scholars and political philosophers are thinking.
Gradually we expanded our vision to include in our literary interactions the neighbouring countries of the SAARC region, initiating the process in 1987 when we organized the first-ever conference of Indian and Pakistani writers.
The first-ever SAARC Writers Conference held on April 28, 29 and 30, 2000, in New Delhi, was perhaps the most significant launch of this SAARC literary and intellectual interaction in the SAARC region.
The Second SAARC Writers Conference was held in Kathmandu in November 2000, where we resolved that translations, by which I mean transcreations, are the basic necessity to bring writers in the region closer; and stressed upon the imperative need to open departments of SAARC literature in the universities of the region.
The Third SAARC Writers Conference was held in Dhaka in March 2000, where the first-ever SAARC Literary Award was also launched, and the first award of two lakhs of rupees, a citation and a ceremonial shawl, was presented to the Bangla poet Mr. Shamsur Rahman of Bangladesh for his Lifetime Achievements.
Besides these conferences, visits of small groups of writers from one country to the other have continued since that First Conference. Poems and stories from all the countries of the SAARC region have been pouring in, constantly being edited by eminent scholars associated with our Foundation. More than 700 pages of these writings are already on the net : www.foundationsaarcwriters.com and two anthologies of poetry and fiction are in the pipeline.
The SAARC Secretariat, Kathmandu has lauded our endeavour in the field of culture and literature, and is going to recognize our Foundation as a SAARC BODY.
We have succeeded in setting up our Chapters in all the SAARC countries.
With a feeling of humble pride I see that my original dream, which seemed like an impossible illusion many years back, has blossomed into a little garden with flowers of different colours and fragrances.
All these marvellous things are happening because of a wild dream that I dreamt long back, which took shape in 1987, and which matured last April.
The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature has thus blossomed into cross-border friendships of creative minds. It has been established so that the creative writers from neighbouring states in India and from the neighbouring SAARC Region should know each othe regularly and frequently, profoundly and intensely, through each other’s writings; should form a solid forum of creative voices, so that in times of internal strife and external conflicts this fraternity of writers and intelligentsia in the SAARC region should be able to raise a collective voice of sanity and should be able to demand peace and tranquillity in the region through the power of their pen, through collective campaigns, through resolutions to maintain peace.
A brotherhood and sisterhood of most eminent, most powerful writers and intellectuals who have the courage to speak out in defence of human rights and human dignity, should raise their joint voices of protest for a just and peaceful and rational world, a world order with equal rights and equal opportunities for all, where governments don’t just rule but endeavour to create a welfare state that is free and just.
We have gathered here to talk about our common concerns, our common fears, our common griefs, and perhaps some of our common joys too. At least we’ll try to locate them.
Being citizens of this world we share the same fears and same concerns. Being next door neighbours we can compassionately identify with each other’s internal ethnic strifes, terrorism, atrocities, the political cricket matches that our rulers keep playing ignoring the miserable lives that the man in the dusty unpaved street is forced to live, ignoring the traumas of tribals living in remote areas, some of them still not the citizens of India, baffling plight of the criminal tribes where every child is born a branded criminal.
We have just entered the 21st century with a bang: a war. Last century was no better. Every country in North America, North Africa, Australia, the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, Northern and Central Asia, West Asia, East Asia and South East Asia suffered. Almost sixty million people perished in the two World Wars alone, including six million Jews who were butchered. The vast killing fields of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Vietnam and Gulf region, Rwanda and Chechnya, Iran and Chile, horrors of slavery subsequently maturing into racism, bombing of Iraq and Yugoslavia, and all the senseless bloodshed when our own country was cut like a cake in 1947 ! And daily ritual of killings in Palestine and Israel and Ireland and Kashmir and Sri Lanka and Pakistan and India, in the name of God or Allah or Ram or Jihad or holy wars !
And the poor and the hungry and the starving millions all over our SAARC region who still don’t have access to drinking water, 50 to 65 % undernourished people with worst indicators of human survival, with lowest literacy rates, with highest infant mortality, with constant struggle still going on for the rights of minorities and women and dalits.
Over and above these small little wars that all of us fight for our day-to-day survival, nameless, faceless terror seems to be stalking the streets of every city and every village, and in the unknown conscious and subconscious dusky retreats of our hearts and minds too.
Six million refugees in the neigbouring Afghanistan : old people, innocent children, crying women ! Not the face of terrorism but of innocence, helplessly caught in a big chess game of big powers for whom South Asia and its neighbourhood is just a market for their war materials, because production of these war materials keep their own economies in top gear. Destruction of Afghanistan over the last two decades is a part of their master plan for their giant oil pipelines.
It is time when we, the writers of the SAARC region, will have to do some hard thinking regarding history, nationalism, patriotism, because it is only the creative people who are compassionate enough to see and contemplate beyond the boundaries and divides of time and space, of regions and religions, beyond geographical and religious divides !
In our multi-ethnic societies, it is time that we learn to respect the ‘otherness’ of the others, and get this vision across to all those we can reach out through our writings.
It is time that we decipher our attitude towards nationalism and patriotism too, and self-righteous attitudes of countries and civil societies in the context of peace, goodwill and co-existence.
In all these stormy winds which are howling all around us, let us hold each other’s hands and vow that we will never let fear hold our pens back, that we will keep striving for peace !
Our SAARC initiatives look like small earthen diyas, not the romantic ones we see in the films, but the genuine diyas sending out a soft glow of light and hope in small mud huts in remote villages, in perhaps all over the SAARC region.
We lighted these diyas in stormy winds. We need each other’s hands to ensconce them with our cupped palms, to protect their tiny, helpless flickering flames, so that hope is not snuffed out !