Many Indian languages are consumed by English today. Thankfully, we still have the likes of Sahitya Akademi’s Festival Of Letters to pin our hopes on
Even as the world celebrates the beauty of Urdu, popular poet Majid Deobandi, at a poetic soiree a few years ago, had rued the decline of Ghalib’s language. He raised a flutter with his remarks with not many able to comprehend the profundity of his words. However, what Majid said then holds good even today. Not just for Urdu, but very many Indian languages. They are slipping off the big stage, big time. Unsung, they are being relegated to the status of the language of the working classes, the have-nots. Like Sanskrit lost out to Pali and Prakrit, like Turkish lost out to Persian, and Persian to English, Indian languages are being consumed by English today. While Indian language newspapers and magazines have not helped in maintaining the purity of the language, it is the literature festivals that are the worst culprits. In literature festivals held in India, Indian language writers are relegated to the shadows, writing in Indian languages is just ‘bhasha’ work or worse, vernacular.
Foreign authors, often those who are relatively unknown, hog the limelight, prime time and the rest. And seasoned authors of Indian languages are seldom given a similar slot. They are ‘adjusted’ on the sidelines, in sidewalks, in little tents, in workshop arena. That they don’t quibble about it just goes to show the neglect of Indian language authors. Many seem grateful for little crumbs. They, however, undoubtedly deserve better.
I had a unique but chastening experience at the Jaipur festival recently when a seasoned Rajasthani author with multiple awards under his belt stood quietly under a tree, having a kulhar of tea all by himself even as the media, the students, and the guests all ran after an English language author, who had just made his first ever appearance at a literary meet!
Under the circumstances, the good old Sahitya Akademi is doing a valiant job of correcting the anomaly through its Festival Of Letters. In the land of hero worshippers, they have happily resisted the temptation to invite populist authors. Instead, the focus is on the tried, the trusted, the well-read and the well-meaning. No short cuts, just a straight focus on men of mettle. For instance, the section on Literature And Cinema does not feature any Bollywood biggie — they are pretty regular on the literary circuit — but well-respected: Sa Kandasamy, Arun Khopkar, Ganesh Matkari and Kiranmayi Indraganti. None of them may ring a bell with people who believe films are all about the Khans, but for discerning students they could be real gems. After all, there is more to cinema than foreign locales and storylines that skim the surface.
The festival gives a platform to distinguished filmmakers Adoor Gopalakrishnan and Girish Kasaravalli who chair a session each. Neither of them can come even remotely close to those film award functions that proliferate at this time of the year. Nor are they likely to make the cut at literature festivals looking for a quick Bollywood fix. But they are just the right representatives of cinema that evokes, questions, moves. Similarly, Keki Daruwalla gets to anchor a session on Literature And Performance. He may not be the best orator in town, but he comes with an enviable body of work. With the likes of Ashok Vajpeyi, Namwar Singh and Gopi Chand Narang hosting sessions, the Festival Of Letters might just prove that literature is less about glamour, more about substance, that men of letters can talk, engage, evoke and charm. They need no help from popular stars.
Nor do they need to resort to populist gestures. Controversies can lie low, as authors discuss, deliberate and debate, all over sessions of art, literature, cinema, media and the question of aesthetics to round it off. Here is to gainful listening. Hope curators of other festivals will be there too as will be the Rajasthani author. This time not in the shadows.