Politics or religion cannot unite, they only divide people. Only literature can act as a binding force, said well known Odiya writer and recipient of the Jnanpeeth Award Pratibha Ray.

Addressing the inaugural session of the annual Vijayawada Book Festival at Swaraj Maidan on Tuesday, Ms. Ray said language may be regional but literature is universal. “Language is not a barrier, it is our strength,” she emphasised. Describing books as treasure houses of words, she said literature ignites culture. “A writer begins the book and the reader finishes it. I think all books are left incomplete, as a writer takes the reader into the subject and leaves him to draw his own conclusion,” she said citing the example of the holy scriptures of Geeta. “When Gandhiji was asked who inspired him to practice non-violence, his answer was ‘Geeta’. Nathuram Godse, who killed Gandhiji, was also asked who inspired him to kill Gandhiji and his answer was the same –Geeta.”

Churning out dismal statistics of use of books among the younger generation, she said ‘time constraint’ was often cited as the reason. “But writers still continue to write. Time is never a constraint for a writer.”

Speaking about the banes of globalisation, she said “since it is our destiny now, we must try and find out ways to protect our language, literature and culture.”

Ms. Ray announced amid applause that the Book Festival inaugural was the first public function being attended by her after she received the coveted award. “It was Lord Balaji’s plan I should touch this holy land.”

Secondary Education Minister K. Parthasaradhy complimented the Society for their commendable task of bringing people close to books. “People of Vijayawada city are otherwise not known to extend patronage to books.”

He said the thumping success of the World Telugu Conference because of the overwhelming response it evoked was an eye-opener. “We had our own fears about public response because it is neither a political, nor a communal or a religious gathering.

At one point, we even thought of mobilising schoolchildren kids to fill the venue. But people proved as wrong. Language and literature transcend all other aspects,” he said.

He said the Government was also keen on developing the ‘once-neglected’ grandhalayas. The Minister underlined the need to inculcate book-reading among the present day youth. “Otherwise there is every possibility that they may deviate and become tools in the hands of unscrupulous elements in society,” he warned.

Akkiraju Ramapathi Rao, convenor of Telugu Advisory Board of Sahitya Academy, called for steps to inculcate book-reading habit among school children. He said there was no dearth of good writers in Telugu language but it was only that their works did not reach wider population as they were not translated into Hindi and other languages.

Krishna district Collector Budhaprakash Jyothi presided over the meeting.

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