—AJEET COUR

President

Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature

First of all, I take the proud privilege of welcoming our Chief Guest, Dr. Suresh Goel, the Director General of Indian Council For Cultural Relations, the President of the Inaugural Session Prof. Abhi Subedi, the scholar-poet-theatre director and activist from Nepal, our Guests of Honour : Dr. A.K. Rashid, Afghanistan, Kazi Sufia Akhtar and Mohammad Nurul Huda from Bangladesh, Tshering Dorji from Bhutan, Dr. D.N. Johar, Vice Chancellor, B.R.A. University, Agra, Dr. Sitakant Mahapatra, Abhay K., Surjit Patar and Jayanta Mahapatra from India, Ibrahim Waheed from Maldives, Prof. Abhi Subedi from Nepal, Nasreen Anjum Bhatti and Nisar Ahmed Chaudhary from Pakistan, Daya Dissanayake from Sri Lanka.

Let me welcome all of you my friends, writers and scholars, members of our Intellectual Think Tank, and 7 delegates from Afghanistan, 8 delegates from Bangladesh, 4 delegates from Bhutan, 2 delegates from Maldives, 52 delegates from India, 16 delegates from Nepal, 19 delegates from Pakistan, 10 delegates from Sri Lanka, to this annual SAARC FESTIVAL OF LITERATURE.

In our SAARC Region, besides sharing our clouds and monsoons, our birds and animals, our oceans and rivers, our flora and fauna, we also share long civilisational journeys, horizontally and vertically, on micro and macro levels. We therefore share our pains and anguish too.

Our river waters are being placed in ‘nooses’, race for industrialization is eating into our fertile lands and forests, peaceful tribal villages have become places of long struggles for survival; mindless mining all over our countries is ruining our fertile lands; slaughtering and butchering of trees of our ancient forests are pushing out huge numbers of tribal population which have been living there from times immemorial. Forests are not only their homes but also provide them their survival. Slaughtered trees are also homes to innumerable, most of them rare, species of birds and animals which are being exiled and pushed to extinction.

Can there be a world of memories? Beautiful as they might be, can future generations subsist just on stories? Will only the ghosts of the bounties of nature be left for posterity? These are the questions that we should be asking ourselves.

In a way these are the milder, softer ones. The questions of the future generations shall be more stark, accusing and punishing. Why didn’t those who could, did not? Why when we knew that time was slipping out of fingers, did we not stop our offensive on mother earth? When rivers were running dry, when forests were disappearing, when species were vanishing, why were they being consumed to satisfy gluttony? Why did we not coin laws that made hunting a heavily punishable offence and poaching a crime most loathsome, mindless destruction of forests and greedy mining stopped?

In our search for power to run our factories and energize our weapons, we are breaking the smallest particle and our hearts do not tremble at the thought of what is going to happen to this planet if we destroy its smallest unit, its base. We who drop down to pray in fear at the least threat of danger to ourselves or our close ones, spare not a thought to what is going to be our future if we lose this one and only home.

This is the only planet with life. Don’t we realize that migration is just not a possibility?

As the Himalayan glaciers deplete, the sea level rises and the bald patches become more and more prominent in the traditional thick forest lands, it is only befitting that the pen wielders of the SAARC region make it their primary concern. Fiction writers, poets, playwrights, critics, translators from the entire South Asian region converge to Agra for deliberations and discussions on March 10, 11 & 12, 2013: the days of SAARC Festival of Literature, an annual event. These conscience keepers of society voice their apprehensions about the mismanagement of the ecology, mishandling of problems and neglect of the immediate worries as articulated in literature of the Region. They try to find the answers in the written text, raise issues that have grown out of proportion, and suggest remedies and cures beyond the conventional approach.

As an ecologist has pointed out : There is a misunderstanding that natural resources on earth are in-exhaustible. But beginning with water and air to mineral reserves of coal and metal ores, forest reserves, the soil, the fauna and flora, everything is depleting and would soon become memories.

Sustainability, careful planning, austerity is the only mantra; conservation the only chant.

Nobody wants to remember that the whole cosmos was created in a very subtle but very fragile balance. If man cannot disrupt the orbits of sun, earth, moon, stars, galaxies, because they are too far away, why should he pounce upon and destroy whatever is closer at hand ?

Who has given him the right to destroy what he did not produce, and can in no way replace after destroying it, disturbing the subtle balance of earth which is the home of all living species ?

Is anybody even aware that without the bees and butterflies, who marry all the fruits and crops and vegetation by carrying the pollon from one to the other, all the crops and vegetation will disappear !

If industrial gas emissions are causing danger to ozone layer, let us also articulate the danger to our village ponds, wells, pokhars and baulis which are drying up, and the water-level which is going deeper down fast, making our women walk for tens of miles every day in search of water.

On the other hand, the level of water of oceans is rising at frightening speed.

Do we talk about the chemical waste which affluent countries bring in their ugly ships, and offload in our oceans, mostly near our coasts 

?

Does anybody remember that poor little penguin shivering with panic, soaked in oil who could neither fly, nor walk a step, sitting bewildered and paralysed on the shore of a forsaken ocean, because a whole oil tanker had spilled its millions of tons of oil in the sparkling waters of the ocean ?

After that too, several tons of oil have spilled from several oil tankers in our oceans.

Can we raise our own SAARC-specific voice in international environment fora to save the planet from extinction?

The planet Earth was created as a place of harmonious coexistence of humans and animals ; of earth surrounded by vast oceans ; by multifarious and multi-hued living species on the earth and in the water ; birds and animals and fish ; little blades of grass and huge trees ; bees and butterflies and insects ; little ants and snakes ; myriad life-forms, living in a harmonious balance !

A beautiful world without boundaries and borders !

Why don’t we, the SAARC countries, with a single strong voice, stand up and be counted, talking about our own problems which are our exclusive concerns ? Related to our environmental degradation, butchering of our forests, neglect of our beautiful sea-coasts, mindless expansion of our industries on cultivable land, melting of our glaciers, our oceans sighing with anguish called Tsunamis, drying up of our water bodies effecting not only human life but also the lives of birds and animals.

Concern for saving the environment has acquired not only multi-layered dimensions, but has also become the most crucial question that concerns the survival of human species, all living things on the planet, and of our planet itself which is our only home !

We are here to articulate our common concerns, over the next two days, over which we will try to invoke awareness, knowledgeable concerns, and inspiration to save the environment of our home : the Earth.

I hope we will make the policy-makers listen to our concerns and our appeal, because we are together as one voice of the SAARC Family of 8 neighbouring countries.

Let me end my address by expressing gratitude to Indian Council For Cultural Relations and to Arpana Caur for their financial support and collaboration.

Thank you ! 

–AJEET COUR

 

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