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Pondicherry Literature Festival – The Inaugural Day

The first Pondicherry Literature Festival was launched on 17th of August evening in a somber mood due to the on-going national mourning for the demise of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  The central theme of the festival is “Bharat Shakti”.  The Festival brochure says

Years after her “tryst with destiny,” India stands, yet again, at new crossroads. Only this time, it is abundantly clear that until she reconciles the ideological frameworks that compete to define her svabhava, she will continue to suffer threats of political, economic, and social convulsion, remaining, in the words of economist John Kenneth Galbraith, a “functioning anarchy.”

Indeed, if India has to realize her full potential and fulfil her destiny as one of the great ancient but still living civilizations, she must assert her strengths, re-conceptualize the narratives that define her, and vigorously but rationally answer her critics.

This, then, is the broader task that “Bharat Shakti: The PondyLitFest sets out to address, aspiring to be different, if not unique, in the circuit of arts and ideas festivals in India and abroad.

The Litfest, of which Indic Academy is a proud sponsor, has brought together some very fine minds from across the country – Dr Makarand Paranjape , Sanjeev Sanyal, Anand Ranganathan, Justice Chandru, Swapan Dasgupta, to name a few. We can expect a weekend filled with stimulating discussions on India and it’s culture.

The official venue for the Pondy Literature Festival is the Sri Aurobindo Society Head Office (aka “Beach Office”). Previously, a different venue was decided upon, but it had be changed due to pressure from certain groups outside. Alliance Francaise, Puducherry had agreed to host the Literature festival on it’s own premises but it backed out at the last moment. Tremendous pressure was brought on Alliance Francaise in Pondicherry, compelling them to find another venue at the eleventh hour.  Dr.Sampadanand Mishra of Sri Aurobindo Society, a Sanskrit scholar of national recognition worked out the necessary modalities to host the fest at the SAS office.

The inaugural was held last evening at the SAS Beach Office premises. The evening began with a tribute to Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee by noted journalist Kanchan Gupta. He spoke of Vajpayee the leader – someone who wanted to see India take it’s place in this world. It was Vajpayee who broke India from both it’s ideological and economic shackles. Kanchan Gupta recounted how Vajpayee put his foot down and had the nuclear tests conducted – knowing full well the repercussions that would follow in the form of sanctions. India’s image forever changed as a result for the better. Similarly, he dwelt on Vajpayee the statesman and also shared a few anecdotes which depicted the former Prime Minister’s humorous side. It is well known that Atal Bihari Vajpayee was also a very good poet and hence paying him tribute at the beginning of the Pondicherry Lit Fest was most apt. A few of his poems were then recited by Dr Parikshit Singh, showing the depth and expanse of his thought.

Dr Makarand Paranjape then spoke about how the Literature Festival was about celebrating a
confluence of various thoughts and does not reflect a particular political wing or ideology as is being made out in some quarters. Neither was it excluding local authors and artists! He touched upon the work of Aurobindo Ghosh, rooted in spiritualism and nationalism. This was the Bharat Shakti being spoken about , and it had a universal application.

Dr Paranjape eloquently explained the whole essence of the title of the Lit Fest. He mentioned that Aurobindo Ghosh had written one song in Sanskrit which sets out this ideal of Bharat Shakti. The nation here is likened to being a mother in distress and she is calling out to her children, irrespective of their differences, to come save her.  Shri Aneesh Raghavan, a student of the Aurobindo International School at Pondicherry then sang this song in a deep sonorous voice to the attentive audience. One of the organisers gave a talk on the Lit Fest in Tamil, in consonance with the city in which the venue is based.

The audience observed moments of silence for the former Prime Minister as well as for those who left us on account of the floods in Kerala.

Finally, the event was thrown open to the public by lighting the lamp – with Mr and Mrs Debroy, Vivek Agnihotri and Pallavi Joshi doing the honours.

The organizers must be commended for doing a fabulous job done in putting together this first  Pondicherry Literary Festival, inspite of the troubles received from certain quarters. Many of the volunteers are young college students, but their organizational skills were excellent. We can now look forward to two days of books, talks, discussions, authors and much more.

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