Samanvay IHC Indian Languages Festival 2013 aims to establish a difficult dialogue between Indian languages

In a country where literary festivals are a dime a dozen, the representation of authors from Indian languages continues to be marginal. In 2011, Samanvay IHC India Languages Festival was held for the first time, with a view to address this situation.

“In the literatures of our languages there is a lot of beauty, a lot of meaning, a lot of purpose, and it is necessary to dialogue with them,” says Satyanand Nirupam, editorial director of Rajkamal Prakashan Group and festival creative director.

A festival of Indian languages might give some the impression of an anti-English stance. However, the festival’s focus does not exclude Indian English writers, points out Giriraj Kiradoo, founder-editor of bilingual journal Pratilipi and also a festival creative director. “We were tired of this English versus other languages binary…we have used this language for several years now, it has become our own.”

The third edition of the four-day festival, starting this Thursday at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi, brings together 20 languages and dialects. Such a depth would not have been possible, the creative directors say, without the involvement of festival advisors Alok Rai, K. Satchidanandan, Om Thanvi, Mahmood Farooqui and Temsula Ao among others.

The theme of the festival this year is Jodti Zubanein, Judti Zubanein; about the connections languages make, and the connections between languages. This theme has evolved, Kiradoo says, from the concerns of the festival in the previous years.

While the inaugural edition concentrated on the various literatures of the country, and the dialogues and confrontations between them, the second brought in dialects. “Just as there is an English hegemony there is also a Hindi hegemony in North India. Some of the dialects have felt completely usurped…We were trying to bring people from bolis, and highlight their relationship with Hindi…All kinds of margins have had a big presence here, and the boli is also a margin.”

This year too, the attempt is to bring the marginal centre stage. Apart from sessions on Telugu poetry, the relationship between two Urdu and Punjabi, on tradition and modernity in Hindi literature, and the oral literatures of Karnataka, there are sessions on Khasi, Rajasthani and Bhojpuri.

“Rajasthani and Bhojpuri were part of a bigger separate cultural milieu but were appropriated into a nationalistic framework,” says Kiradoo. While Bhojpuri has been given a lease of life by its cinema and music, there is a movement underway to get constitutional recognition for Rajasthani, he adds. Khasi was considered an endangered language until recently, but has now been able to safeguard its status.

Additionally, there are sessions that focus on sexual violence and civil society activism. “We decided that our festival was not going to be a showcase of Indian languages, but an authentic representation,” says Nirupam, talking about the planning behind the festival. For the same reason, the panellists this year include people from a variety of disciplines. Some of them are Gulzar, Sanjay Kak, Kavita Krishnan, Tenzin Tsundue, Kancha Ilaiah, K. Sivareddy, Ro Hith, Jerry Pinto and Shashi Deshpande.

The directors are hopeful that the festival will see a greater participation from audience this year, and reach newer languages and dialects in the coming years.