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Kanchan Basu
‘Kumbha Mela’ of Indian Literature was celebrated for three days in Shimla Hills on June, 2022 organized by ‘Sahitya Akademi.’ At the moment there is no Ananta Murti, no Mahasweta Devi, no Ayappa Panikkar, no Sunil Gangopadhyay, and no Girish Karnad in Indian Literature.
But they stand lit in the corridors of Shimla’s aristocratic British colonial that housed the royal Gaiety Theater. Such a big ‘Literary Festival’ has never happened before. Four hundred twenty-five authors and sixty-two languages. Keeping the ‘Jaipur Literature Festival’ in mind, I am saying that there is only one festival bigger than Shimla and that is in Toronto, Canada. The name of the festival is ‘International Festival of Authors’ (IFOA).
Congratulations to an earring wearing idly eating hairless 55 year old Teetotaler Telugu young man named Srinivasa Rao, who never forgot to write a line of poetry. He has read everyone’s writings all his life. Who has worked with his entire team for two months without bathing and drinking?
Three things are very important. First, New Indian Literature. Second, Celebrities Reduce Dependency. Third, Who Are They?
Let’s talk about the second one first. Poet Gulzar has been a celebrity in the Indian subcontinent for the past fifty years. He is a star. He would have been a modest Bengali poet Binoy Majumder if he only wrote poetry. He won an ‘OSCAR’ for writing songs. He got ‘Dadasaheb Phalke’ by making cinemas. He has won the ‘National Award’ ten to twelve times.
When Gulzar took the stage, the crowed rose to their feet. That’s exactly what happened here. Crowds flock to see the newly ‘BOOKER’ prize Gitanjali Saree. It will happen. Few days ago, those who walked past her on the streets of Delhi did not look; today they are running for a selfie. Among the 425 authors, these two are a storm in the teacup. Fortunately it was so that one can wait peacefully at the Poem Reciting Session for the 90 years old poet Raghuvir Chaudhary, who received ‘JNANPITH’ award the year before renowned Bengali poet Shankha Ghosh, like ‘Shravan Cloud’.
He spoke in a voice as unheard as poet Shankha Ghosh about how Gujarati poet Umashankar Joshi was staying awake at night translating Rabindranath’s poems. He used to translate from Bengali characters to Gujarati characters by day and not by night. Poet Raghuvir Chaudhary’s lonely words from eighty cameras in a packed hall are far more mysterious and deadly for everyone present.
What is ‘New Indian Literature’? Shimla Literary Festival took a big risk? Shimla Literary Festival asked us all to look where we don’t look but speech elaborately. Indian Marginal Literature. Indian Aboriginal Literature. Indian LGBT Literature. From this so-called lower floor in society, more than a hundred poets and writers have been brought up and installed in the Royal British Theatre in Shimla.
Another India has emerged with the ‘Oral Tradition’ of those or writing of those who sit in the shade of camels in the mountains, forests, deserts or islands. That India has been brought up for several years in various programs of Sahitya Akademi. This time it reached the climax in Shimla Literary Festival.
We grew up with gentlemen’s literature touching our heads. So called backward people’s literature is honor now. Rabindranath himself started that work by honoring Lalon Sain and translated Tukaram and Dohe of Sant Kabir into Bengali. When a ‘Shepherd’ from Rajasthan or a ‘Kathuria’ (wood cutter) from Chhatrisgarh or a Camel Guard recites poetry, the elite India are shocked. It’s time to discover them.
Did you listen to LGBT’s poem, asked a famous poet from Mumbai? The poet from Mumbai remained silent. The questioner again said he heard the ‘Poetry of Transgender’. The poet who came from Mumbai stood up and said that “I did not come to Shimla to listen to the ‘Poetry of Hijras” (Transgender). If we cannot get out of this terrible mindset, literature will not survive. But the new India of literature has to be recognized. Now how much honor the Bauls get calls home to abroad, French ladies come and sit in the arena. If Rabindranath had not written about the Bauls in his writings, would we have known them?
And thirdly, who are they? Means who are invited to ‘Shimla Literary Festival’? Eighteen people got invitation from West Bengal. Each invitation has a rationale. Three Sahitya Akademi Awardees, three Youth Sahitya Academy Awardees, three Translation Sahitya Academy Awardees, two Women Writers, two Marginal or Dalit Writers, two Bengali Literary Outsiders called ‘Diaspora Literature’, former Convener, Brand new Writers two. Sahitya Akademi has to work with respect to all branches of Literature.
Just a few days ago there was a ‘CHANDER HAAT’ (Market of the Moon) with Mahaswata- Subhash, Niren-Sunil-Shakti-Sankha, Shyamal-Sandipan, Moti-Debesh in all Poet and Writer. Now the Moon is gone and the Market is over. This phenomenon is not only in West Bengal but also in other languages of India. Although we all know nature does not leave empty space. She creates stars for her own needs. After Shelley-Keats died, British poetry had to wait until Tennyson-Browning, and after they were gone, until Eliot- Yeats to fill the cry that descended on British Poetry. Hundreds of Poets and Writers were introduced but only one or two remained.
There are Eight hundred Fifty more out of the Four hundred Twenty-five who received invitation in Shimla Literary Festival. This is very good news. Such a big country will not have healthy competition.
There will never be a ‘CHANDER HAAT’ (Market of the Moon) in all ages. Literature has no scoreboard and Literature is no longer Cricket. John Dunn did not get a name during his lifetime and now his writings are taught in all the Universities of the World. Jibanananda Das a Poet, Writer, Novelist and Essayist in Bengali Language did not get any runs in his lifetime, now he scores a Century when he enters the field. Literature is a big dangerous field. Who today after the death of Star is no body?
Literal space is not ‘Twenty-two Yards’. Literal area is ‘Twenty-two thousand Yards’. Because the ‘Space of Literature’ is spread so long, some writers take Two hundred years to become ‘Writers’. Then it seems that the Shimla Literary Festival is just ‘Three-Day Game’. Looking at this list of Writers hundred years later, a Novice Researcher of Literature can guess – who they are? Another Researcher of Literature can say that – I was looking for them.
But it is true that more ‘BOOKER’ Prizes will come in India in the future. ‘Marginal Literature’ will take a bigger place. From among the new Poets and Writers, the new Vijay Tendulkar will emerge, the new Khuswant Singh will emerge, the new Kamala Das will emerge, and the new Subhash-Niren-Biren will emerge. At the moment, in Songs, Movies, Poems, Stories and Novels, this time is going very dry. We are looking with thirsty eyes at the new ‘Indian Literature’.
(The author is a Columnist and Member of Indian Journalists’ Association)

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