Literary and political jamborees

  • Literary festivals are like theatres where writers, readers, the media and social activists meet in close proximity and create something positive to celebrate.
- Abhi Subedi

Apr 14, 2019-

A literary event, the so-called ‘Deumai literary festival’, organised by the youths of Ilam in a lovely township called Mangalbare made me pensive about the semantics and purpose of festivals in Nepal. I reached, with a certain sense of uncertainty towards giving a long discourse at the opening of this two-day festival chaired by its president, Moti Gautam, and dovetailed by Som Suseli, on April 6, 2019. The day was downcast. As I was speaking about the tension between Kathmandu, or the Nepal metropolis, and the moffusil, it started to downpour. I was disappointed when the big tent gave way under the heavy rain, just when I was saying in the presence of high level politicians, and writers who were mostly youths, that the capital attracted not only poets and writers to whom this city was like a big metropolis of the world, but also politicians who formed various governments, activists and others who created a strange melange of dreams, hopes, crony capitalism and a culture of not achieving or not reaching (as symbolised by the Melamchi water project). The city is ripped open everywhere to welcome this life giving water whose flow is perennially obstructed.

This festival created panel discussions among literary writers, politicians, youths, experts of local Limbu culture, and women writers, and organised readings of poetry by the poets of that region. A certain purpose, a plan to open this lovely hill place for tourists, had guided the youths of this place to embark on this festival. Literary festivals in Nepal, it is believed, open new possibilities. As a writer, I feel great when people take that confidence. I shared this feeling with the renowned novelist of Lincolnesque stature Narayan Wagle as we returned together in a vehicle driven by an overworked angry young man who should have been going to college.

The literary festivals have become regional, which is a good development. Ajeet Baral’s Book Worms foundation has chosen Pokhara; Ujjwal Prasai and friends have chosen Kakarbhitta, and now the youths of Ilam have chosen their lovely hill town Deumai. Local youths, and at least half a dozen media giants originally from that place who work in Kathmandu, echoed the belief that such festivals would bring the place to light.  

I have often heard organisers of literary and political festivals call these big meetings ‘jamborees’. Though the literary meetings lasting for some days do not quite match the political grand meetings, the expression seems to have a certain charm about it. The semantics of the idiom is festivity.

The commonalities between these two types of meetings are few and far between because the literary gatherings have the mood of a festival, but the same does not remain stable in the case of political jamborees. But the term literary festival is appropriate. The reality is that political meetings are not festivities, even though they are presented on a grand scale. A certain undercurrent of the political power struggle, a certain malaise, a confused sense of contestation and some raw anger lurk behind the façade of the political jamboree. In this short piece, I cannot draw exhaustive comparisons between the two types of festivals.

But one thing is certainly worth noting when comparing the two modus operandi, which is, the nomenclature ‘literary festival’ has interestingly become popular among Nepali writers as well as among some politicians who sometimes feel they have become border intellectuals. That means they want to be part of both literary and political activities. But the organisers of literary festivals have understood that psyche, and have started creating interactive programmes among them. Broadly, writers feel that the politicians and political intellectuals, or we may say elites in some contexts, want to broaden their scope by participating in literary festivals. It is good for literary organisers to welcome them, listen to them and organise interactive programmes.

To answer why Nepali writers often like to organise literary festivals and meetings, we should look at the history of the same here. In Nepal, literary festivals were related to power and creativity at the same time. For writers to organise literary festivals was a clever forte for valorising free expressions. Festivals were organised under the aegis of some literary organisation or writer who could find the resources to organise them. I am referring to the famous literary festivals that were organised in the later years of the sixties of the last century. One much touted historic literary festival was organised on the bank of the Narayani river in Chitwan in the mid-sixties. Another big literary festival was organised in Chandragadhi Jhapa in 1965. That was my first such experience. Attended by almost all the major writers of Nepal and Darjeeling, this festival was an historical event.

The other explanation is that Nepali writers find literary festivals as the appropriate occasions to interact with politicians, insofar as they find common themes to discuss with each other. The sense of a loss of one’s space has often haunted politicians. The writers on their part in Nepal and outside that I have seen are occupied with a sense of breaking some new grounds in writing.

Politics is directly related to loss and victory, but literary writers’ sense of loss and victory should be seen from a different perspective. I want to quote from a seminar paper I presented on this theme at Agra SAARC literary conference in March 2009 because I find that conclusion still valid today:

“Writers and artists however have never lost any battles because their defeat would be the defeat of all creative human efforts. They hold mirror up to nature. They traverse the uncertain zones, and they keep their specular positions as the source of strength. Out of that specular position what they have created has been the source of moral strength in the world and will continue to be so.”

Nepali literary festivals seek to retrieve values that are derailed in the process of adjustments. But the organisers of literary festivals should remember that they are not book production meetings. Instead, they are meetings where people discuss published and available books. Literary festivals are like theatres where writers, readers, the media, and social activists meet in close proximity and create something positive to celebrate.

Published: 14-04-2019 08:24

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