We are here for the Second Round of the SAARC WRITERS CONFERENCE held earlier in Delhi in April 2000, where many of you were invited, and where you saw for yourself how the idea ignited every creative person’s imagination.
Not only the extensive media coverage, and the participation of most important writers from across the SAARC Region, of the President and Vice President of India, of two former Prime Ministers Mr. I. K. Gujral and Mr. V.P. Singh, of the External Affairs Minister of India Mr. Jaswant Singh, and many intellectuals who are aware of the importance of meeting of creative minds from across the borders, and in spite of borders, but what makes me feel really proud is that our Academy of Fine Arts and Literature initiated a process of literary interaction which is blossoming with every passing day. Today, here is proof that the literary dialogue which was initiated by our Academy is going to continue, moving from strength to strength which is emerging by understanding and appreciation of the literature and arts of neighbouring countries.
The galaxy of Nepalese writers and scholars and leading personalities who are gathered here makes me feel overwhelmed, my eyes brimming with tears of gratitude and my voice choking with emotion.
Ancient Greeks described the arts as ‘transport to another world’. We are merely making an effort to transport our ideas to the world around us, among the seven sister SAARC countries who are close to each other not only because of geographical accident, but because most of them have shared histories, shared cultural heritage, yet graceful, meaningful, profound diversities which we are going to learn to comprehend and honour as we come closer in such literary exchange initiatives in the future too.
We do come from different countries but we are not government representatives. Nor do we represent SAARC. We used the nomenclature of SAARC to identify the neighbouring countries who chose to be members of the SAARC and with whom we decided to make a start of literary interaction. It will hopefully reach out to other countries of South Asia one day, Insha Allah. And who knows how the future unfolds ! Because future always has an element of mystery. But I do hope that one day our literary interactions will involve the whole of Asia-Pacific Region.
SAARC countries have different languages. For our interactions we are using English. In Nepal we may also use Hindi, as Nepalese writers did in Delhi. Use of national languages is welcome if simultaneous translations are arranged.
The Second Round of our meet is taking another step towards more creative exchange of literary sensibilities through organizing three experimental workshops. One on the ‘Art of Writing for the Electronic Media’ by Mr. Reoti Saran Sharma who has been writing for radio, stage and television for the last 56 years, with distinction, and Mr. Mofidul Haque, who is an eminent theatre personality from Bangladesh.
The second workshop is on the ‘Art of Translation’ which will be conducted by Prof. Indira Goswami, and other creative writers from India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
Creative translation and transcreations are our 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 the Asian region. Availability of able translators and creative transcreations is the key to the essence and success of our programme of publishing anthologies of select poetry and fiction from all the seven countries.
The third workshop scheduled to be a part of this Literary Exchange Programme is actually an interaction with young and aspiring writers, and will be conducted by Prof. Krishan Baldev Vaid, India; Dr. Syed Anwar Hussain, Bangladesh; Mr. Suneet Chopra, India; Ms. Selina Hossain, Bangladesh; Ms. Padma Sachdev, India; Mr. Balraj Komal, India.
The rationale for this Second Round of the historical, first-ever SAARC Writers Conference held in New Delhi in April 2000 was generated and germinated by the writers who freely and freshly exchanged their views and passed a Declaration upholding the importance of literature and of creative minds, of the power of the Word which caresses and transcends boundaries of lands and hearts, to keep the voice of freedom and peace vibrantly alive. This is what Track Two dialogue is all about.
In this august gathering, let me request H. E. Nihal Rodrigo to help the SAARC countries establish specialized Departments and Chairs of SAARC Literary Studies in major Universities of the seven countries, and helping us with creative translations of outstanding contemporary poetry and fiction 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 sections of society. Of ethnic strifes and voices of dissent, of changing 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 consequences.
Before the first SAARC Writers Conference, many of my friends said, “Ajeet, are you mad? Divisions and partitions in the Indian continents have created new nations and countries sulking in suffocation. How can we bring them on a common platform?”
I said, creative people like me are mad dreamers, in fact everybody with original, creative ideas is a mad dreamer, but it is these mad dreamers, these visionaries who make miracles happen. They explore and discover new lands, new galaxies, and also new meeting points.
I said I want to know what the writers in my neighbourhood are thinking and creating, because the ecology and the seasons of our neighbouring countries are so similar. The colour of our skins, our rivers, our mountains, our birds, our rains, are so similar! Consequently the ethos and aesthetics of our thoughts and creation are also so similar! The smell and texture of our words should be so alike! Because our agonies and our ecstasies, and even our stupidities are so similar!
I and my friends, who are with me in this endeavour, only wish to be able to knock at each other’s doors, like monks and BHIKSHUS, and call, “Brothers, Sisters, I don’t need a piece of your bread. I need your writings.”
These writings we want to collect, translate, and present to you as anthologies of selected poetry and fiction of the Region, every year. In English to start with, going on to Bangla and Hindi, Tamil and Urdu, Sinhalese and Nepali, Divehi and Newari and Dzongkha, and going on and on, extending our frontiers of exchange of knowledge and literature. And, who knows, one day we might bring theatre plays and art exhibitions and dance performances to your country! We might bring music and films too! And invite you to bring the same not only to India but to other neighbouring SAARC countries as well.
And, who knows, one day this endeavour might embrace all the South Asian Region, the Asia-Pacific Region, the whole of Asia, the whole world!
For the time being, I would like to request the Director General of SAARC Secretariat to keep expanding his vision and vitality, extending his area of influence to the creative field, ensuring that the freedom of writers is protected and respected and, secondly, writers in the SAARC Region are able to reach out to each other and understand each other through creative translations and through establishing Chairs of SAARC Literary and Socio-Economic Studies in the Universities all over the Region. And in times when dark clouds hang low in the sky, in times of strife and conflict, the writers of the Region should be able to join hands and raise their voice in a crescendo for peace and tranquility in the Region.
Extend your hand, please, and the creative visionaries will hold it tight. It will ensure you an irrevocable place in history.
Friends, this venture, which brings us here, is like Amrit Manthan. In the beginning we may not achieve something that can be hailed as significant. We may even get a bit of bitter poison before we get the nectar of fulfilment of our dreams. Yet all the same we shall be richer for we will stumble upon new troves of literary treasures in the countries and languages of our immediate neighbours.