Fast emerging as a counterpart to February’s Amar Ekushey Book Fair, the Dhaka Literature Festival draws book lovers in the later part of the year, with its notably more international participation. As such, it is carving a place for itself in the social calendar as an event that attempts to connect the written words, poetic rhythms and human emotions that find expression in the country's literature to a wider swathe of humanity.
The ninth edition of the Dhaka Lit Fest (DLF) was held this past week (Nov 7-9) on the historic premises of Bangla Academy. At the inauguration, Director and Producer of DLF Sadaf Saaz said the festival is covering all genres in both Bengali and English language from poetry to fiction and philosophy to science in order to fulfil its commitment to the society and also to secure a better literary future for the nation. The two other co-directors of the event, K Anis Ahmed and Ahsan Akbar, also spoke on the occasion. Brick Lane author Monica Ali, the special guest, thanked the organisers for hosting “such an extraordinary event on literature”.
Shortly after the inauguration five prolific female writers including Monica Ali graced the AKSB auditorium to engage in a thought-provoking discussion on contemporary literature and reflection of women in fiction. Titled ‘Fiction: Resistance or Refuge’ the session had Sumana Roy, Monica Ali, Maria Filomena Bouissou Lepecki, Yara Rodrigues Fowler, and Minna Lindgren on stage.
Brazilian novelist Maria Filomena Bouissou Lepecki said that writing fiction is similar to diving deep in human experience. “Through fictions we can produce and reflect reality,” she said. About the issue of categorising fictions based on gender, she said such practice should not be done in literature. “Personally, I think there shouldn’t be any category named women writer,” Maria said at the event.
British-Brazilian author Yara Rodrigues Fowler expressed her view on writing for an audience. “You can always write for the people who don’t read you especially the marginalised community,” according to Yara. Sumana Roy, author of How I Became a Tree, highlighted how female writers are seemingly secluded not for their skill or writing topics but because of their gender.
Award-winning Finish author Minna Lindgren spoke about using humour as a tool to engage the readers. She said- “My books are humorous…I want to seduce them (readers) with humour and then hit them with serious issues.”
On the sprawling lawn of Bangla Academy another important discussion on translation in literature titled ‘Bhashar Bondhon Bhenge Bhashyer Shondhane’ took place where Arunava Sinha, Anjum Katyal, Khaedmul Islam, Rafique-Um-Munir Chowdhury and Mashrur Arefin expressed views on contemporary works and the ethics of translation literature with the excellent Alam Khorshed as moderator.
Arunava Sinha, about his style of translation, said “I’m led by the text while translating.” He also remarked that there is little freedom for the translator to express his own take on the original literature but that should be done masterfully nevertheless. “It’s similar to walking on a tightrope,” he said.
Also on the opening day, one of the most prestigious awards for young writers of the country, the Gemcon Young Literature Award was announced. Kolkata-based writer Avishek Sarker and Bangladeshi poet Rafiquzzaman Rony won the Gemcon Young Literature Award 2019 and Gemcon Young Poetry Award 2019 respectively at Dhaka Lit Fest. Each received crest and Tk 100,000. They won the awards for their manuscripts, “Nishiddha” and “Dhoashar Tamate Rong”.
Rafiquzzaman Rony said, "I'm overwhelmed and speechless. I thank the hosts and the jury for choosing me."Avishek Sarker said, “I am honoured to receive such a prestigious prize.” The jury board included poet Sajjad Sharif, poet Mridul Dasgupta, poet Kumar Chakraborty, Professor Mostak Ahmed and writer Papri Rahman.
One of the most talked-about sessions this year took place at the Abdul Karim Shahitya Bisharad auditorium, where Indian writer and diplomat-turned-politician Shashi Tharoor, journalist and historian Afsan Chowdhury, and former secretary Kamal Chowdhury, also a poet, deliberated on the topic of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujiubur Rahman’s leadership.
Former Indian minister of state for external affairs and writer Tharoor reflected on the vitality of Bangabandhu's leadership after partition.
“The original postcolonial liberators had the advantage of fighting for freedom from a foreign power ... [but] in the case of Sheikh Mujib, he had already witnessed that moment of liberation. The foreigners were gone ... he became the first leader in the postcolonial system to interrogate what identity it meant and to do so through enormous struggle," he said.
He further mentioned that during his term as Prime Minister, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman articulated the four pillars of the state very well to guide the nation.
“He had a tremendous ability to move people with his oratory, his language. He had a vision,” said Shashi Tharoor.
Afsan Chowdhury noted that since partition Bangabandhu sought for a state free from all kind of oppression and added that Bangabandhu “was never loyal to Pakistan”. He mentioned that Bangabandhu realised the power of the peasantry of Bengal region very well and won them over with his leadership.
"Sheikh Mujib was not interested in any other region, he just wanted a Bengal that was a region for the peasants," he said.
"In 1947, Pakistan comes into being. In 1948, first strike against Pakistan is called for by Bangabandhu. If Sheikh Mujib was pro-Pakistan, then he'd have never called the strike," he added. Poet Kamal Chowdhury highlighted the contributions of Bangabandhu in rebuilding the country after liberation. "Bangabandhu's whole life is an epic tale," he said.
“India Against Itself” was another special attraction of this year’s list of seminars at DLF on the last day, where again Shashi Tharoor, very much the star attraction of this edition, talked about how “the most powerful and economically strong country of South Asia” contradicted its own views on several aspects and themes, from time to time. C R Abrar moderated the session.
Australian-Pakistani hip-hop artist Zohab Zee Khan, who tantalized the audiences of this year’s DLF on the performing stage, attended Malaysian journalist Sharad Kuttan's session on 'Imagine' on the third day. It made for an interesting intervention as Zohab spoke about his childhood and entry into hip-hop genre, “My journey was never easy,” her said. He also mentioned about criticisms he faced socially and religiously for his love for poetry and art performance. However, he dismissed those and encouraged the audience to pursue their dreams and said the key to success is hard work, routine life and most-important of them all- self confidence.
As part of 'Celebrating the Year of Indigenous Languages', a session had Chakma King Debashish Roy with researcher Muktashree Chakma where he spoke about representation of indigenous people. He said formation of a language neutral race is needed while speaking at the Bangla Academy's poet Shamsur Rahman Seminar room.
Debashish Roy said, ‘A nation's culture is integrated with its language. All small communities have to fight not only economically, but also for their culture and language.’ He urged all stakeholders to step forward in end the linguistic discrimination faced by all indigenous communities.
Sadaf Saaz spoke at the closing session and expressed their heartfelt thanks to the attendees of this year’s DLF- signing off with the hope to return this literary extravaganza on an even bigger margin next year, which is going to be themed and dedicated on the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.