Print Edition - 2014-11-02  |  Free the Words

A literary bond

  • Saarc leaders must take note of the power of bonding that Saarc writers and artists seem to understand
- Abhi Subedi
A literary bond

Nov 1, 2014-

I was approached by a leading Nepali literary gazette, Madhuparka, to comment on the status of Saarc literature, if there is any that can be covered under this specific nomenclature. The editor said that they wanted to publish a special issue on literature from countries who are Saarc members, despite the fact that this regional grouping is mainly concerned with the issues of development, progress, science, education, and technology.

Bonding through elision

Though I personally feel that Saarc has not achieved as much as it had vowed to at the time of inception, it has paradoxically created a sense of bonding even through elision. Bonding among neighbouring nations is sometimes haunted by bad dreams that carry a legacy of history, which is not entirely of their own making. The big member nations of this organisation share a common history of the British Raj. Some issues since independence has shaped the ‘political unconscious’ of this region’s history and their manifestations have occasionally been violent in nature.

A desire for bonding has remained with every country in this region, which became their way of sublimating their angst, for the countries’ problems became existential. You choose even if you do not want to choose. But I do not see Saarc in negative terms. The very reason why they came together under this organisation, which is expanding with the years, is because they wanted to see what could be salvaged and what could be achieved.

If nations or neighbours come together under one organisation with something troubling their minds, the results of meetings may not be positive. My point is that a regional organisation that is poised between common cultural, artistic, and literary memories and thorny political issues presents a unique situation. Writers and artists would see a way out through literature and the arts—in the evocation of the commonness represented by the heritage of writing, architecture, painting, folklore, music, sculpture, dance, and even spirituality. These subjects address common bonds, but as far as my experience goes, Saarc has largely ignored this side.

One brave fighter

Were it not for a brave and lone fighter, a Punjabi woman novelist and short story writer named Ajeet Cour, nothing would have happened in terms of bringing writers and artists together. I have been a participant at all Saarc literary programmes that she has organised with friends. I have a few things to share here. That brief story is in order.

The apex body of Saarc literary writers was organised with Cour as its chair. In the first meeting held in Delhi in 2000, Cour introduced herself as a mad woman who carried wild dreams. The late Punjabi novelist Khushwant Singh was the chief guest. That beginning with this woman’s speech in that tone did appear to me as a passing sentiment of a writer. But each year I saw that she turned what appeared to me as her bizarre dream into reality. One of the greatest achievement of this writer, and I am one of the witnesses, is that she brought a large number of Pakistani writers to India. She convinced the Indian government to issue visas to these writers, among whom were the late Ahmad Faraz and poet and novelist Kishwar Naheed. They did not have an easy time in Pakistan at some moments of history.

The Saarc writers’ meeting in Lahore in 2004 was remarkable. Cour was greeted by a young Pakistani woman education minister, whom Cour called daughter. Cour, recalling her family, said that she was born in Lahore. The governor of Punjab, at a dinner he hosted for writers, confessed in a speech that politicians often get derailed by other issues. It is therefore the writers’ responsibility to bring us together. That is precisely what I mean by the spirit of bonding that the politicians confess they do not often realise.

I knew the late Hindi novelist Kamaleshwar, who wrote Kitne Pakistan, literally how many Pakistans? I spoke about his novel at one Saarc meeting and in the limited space of this column, I want to say the following.

Power of bonding

I met the major writers of the Saarc region only at the conferences organised by Cour, this remarkable woman, and the Federation of Saarc Writers and Literature (Foswal). Writers from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and the Maldives, and in recent times from Afghanistan, have attended these conferences. Ajeet Cour extended the bonding spirit to cover folklore and Sufi festivals, which she has organised in Bhopal, Agra, Amritsar, and the last two in Jaipur, where she brought Sufi singers and dancers from very remote regions of India and Pakistan. I have seen writers—some of whom have died—attend and interact at these conferences. Visits to historical sights, and especially visits to the Dhaka war museum, have been telling examples of where you should look to heal the wounds of history. That I have seen achieved through the Saarc writers’ organisation. I have met Kapila Vatsyayan, who is one of the most honoured persons in the sphere of culture and scholarship, as a special invitee to Saarc writers’ seminars.

Ajeet Cour’s memoirs speak about a writer’s plunge into life and history and her emergence from that as a creative cyclone. I presented a keynote on a similar subject at the Lucknow Saarc writers’ conference in March 2012. Now, Ajeet Cour is frail and ailing, but she looked in the best of spirits at this month’s Jaipur Sufi festival, which she organised with the help of friends and her eminent painter daughter, Arpana Cour.

My point is this. This senior Punjabi woman has brought writers together on a regular basis and created a bond among writers and artists. I am saying this to remind the political leaders who will be coming to the 18th Saarc meeting in Kathmandu in November to take note of the power of bonding that has often been taken up by writers and artists. This is something that the Saarc organisation has persistently and wrongly refused to acknowledge.

 

Published: 02-11-2014 09:30

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