Lit Fest Fantastic

Valley of Words in Dehradun was a memorable literary festival

1/2/2018 8:03:54 PM
written By : Ashali Varma Print

The recent literary festival in Dehradun (17-19 November), was an exhilarating experience even for someone who has been to many. Valley of Words – held for the first time in Dehradun – brought together artists, poets and authors to discuss and debate ideas and get to know each other. 

It was not too big and overwhelming and yet its panels and discussions brought together 200 professionals from different walks of life including art and poetry, bureaucracy and the environment.  The participants came from all corners of India and the world.

For me personally it was about how a hero is remembered by other heroes; how a fiction writer comes up with a riveting story like The Taliban Cricket Club where a young girl disguises herself as a boy during the deadly reign of the Taliban in Afghanistan to teach boys to play cricket; what we can do to arrest terrorism and take care of internal security; what the carvings in our most famous temples mean; how we can reach young children through comics; what is life like for a bureaucrat; and, best of all, how India was one of the greatest maritime civilisations. 

The last to me was an eye-opener. Sanjeev Sanyal, who wrote The Ocean of Churn,  spoke about how the Indian Ocean shaped Indian history. It is tragic that we in India are just realising it. Sanyal is actually a finance whiz, but he got interested in the cultural reach of Indian civilisation when he found out very connected Singapore and East Asia were to India before the Arab invaders came.

I was enthralled by the way Sanjeev goes into historical records of different countries, archeological sites and local oral tales to establish the significance of India as one of the greatest trading nations with ties to ancient Greece and Rome, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam among others. 

This is history seen through the eyes of medieval and ancient dynasties in India that, unfortunately, is not taught in our schools. Sanyal writes about how India was selling cotton, spices and even the best steel and ships.  How it connected the eastern and western hemispheres from ancient times till the 12th century through maritime routes. How our kingdoms, culture and trade flourished all the way from Indonesia to China and Japan. We all know that a Hindu king by the name of Suryavarman built Angkor Wat, but we are not taught in schools our own history how he got there. I would recommend The Ocean of Churn to every school and college in India for the younger generation to be proud of what we achieved and how bright young Indians are now connecting the dots and revealing our history through their resolve and dedication.   

Robin Gupta in his beautifully written memoir, And What Remains in the End,  describes the myriad lives of a bureaucrat with fun and finesse. How difficult it can be to buck the system and stand up for what is right. How political will or lack of it can affect a nation. My favourite chapter is on his interaction with PV Narasimha Rao, one of our most brilliant statemen and Prime Ministers, forgotten by his own party. Steeped in the spiritual and religious traditions of India, he did not need to “Discover India”. Former President  APJ Abdul Kalam described Rao as a “patriotic statesman who believed that the nation is bigger than the political system”. 

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