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Shujaat Bukhari, The Hindu / SRINAGAR, August 14, 2011.
The very attempt to keep politics out of the first ever literary festival to be held in Kashmir has set off a controversy with some leading writers from the Valley questioning the organisers’ agenda in making the event apolitical.
Nevertheless, coming as it does in the wake a relatively calm summer after successive summers of discontent, the organisers are working overtime to make the festival a ``grand success’’. Titled `Harud’ (autumn), the festival is expected to bring scores of writers from outside and within Kashmir to the Valley to make it resonate with the sound of poetry, literary dialogue, debate and discussions, and readings from September 24 to 26. Mainly the event will take place at the Delhi Public School (DPS) in Srinagar with a special series of symposiums and discussions at the Kashmir University.
The objections raised by New York-based author of `Curfewed Night’, Basharat Peer, and London-based Mirza Waheed – who debuted this year with `The Collaborator’ – has cast a shadow over the festival being organised in response to the Kashmiri people’s desire for such an event.
Within Kashmir, opinion is divided over the issue. While Peer and Mirza contend that every word they have written is political and contest the use of the word `apolitical’ by organisers in their initial media releases, others see it as a “good beginning” for giving an opportunity to young Kashmiri writers to interact with a different world.
Peer and Mirza also object to packaging the festival as evidence of ``normalcy in Kashmir’’ which has been writhing in the pain of conflict for the last 20 years. “I would rather go to jail in Srinagar and read my book to young people who are still imprisoned there,’’ Peer was quoted in The Guardian.
Writer and colmunist Z G Muhammad, however, has a different take on it. “I think it is a good beginning,” he told The Hindu. ``Whatever the forum, we should be able to tell our story in straight talk. If you are asked to give the message of Allah in a synagogue or a church, will you say no? I think if you have faith in your beliefs, the forum for telling the truth does not matter.” And, Muhammad is not alone. Sources said majority of Kashmiri writers have agreed to attend the festival but names are not yet available.
Festival adviser and noted author Namita Gokhale said: ``We do hope to create a platform for different voices in a literary fashion.’’ On the controversy surrounding the festival, she said ``I respect every point of view” but refused to elaborate. “It will celebrate the vibrant and layered literary tradition of the region, provoke dialogue and communication and create a platform and inspiration for a new generation of readers and writers,” she added.
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