Universities are the shrines of education and knowledge, catered by the rightful guidance of the dedicated professors, thus channeled into the minds of the students. However, this process of learning and developing is further catalyzed in an interesting and delightful manner through literary festivals. And what could be better if that festival is organized by the students of the university, themselves? Shouldering all the responsibilities from organization to management, competing in equal footing with the experienced and financially powerful corporate sector. Yes, the young talented students of Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) Debating and Literary Club (UDLC) organized the fourth version of the national Literary Festival as a part of Sir Syed’s bicentric celebration from 9th to 11th of March. Till now, it is the only literary festival in the country that is solely organized by the students.
The three-day event featured many known and popular faces from the field of literature, media, and arts. The event was inaugurated by the opening speech of eminent journalist and the present roving editor of the Telegraph, Sankarshan Thakur on the eye-opening topic “The Necessity of Speaking”. The Kennedy Auditorium, where Thakur was delivering his speech was engulfed in a pondering silence as he brought to the attention the rising problem of the wide circulation of fake news, media houses letting go of its duty of being the “watchdog” of the nation, and people accepting everything that is delivered to them on the news and social media without using the correct critical reasoning. He also encouraged the students in the audience to start reading the newspaper. “The position is not that we would be blindly critical of everything that comes our way or is done or is said or is presented to us. But to view things with a critical faculty. I think to bring to any discourse a critique is very important and…I think that has gone missing from our midst,” were the words of the eminent journalist.
After an awakening speech, the serious atmosphere of the auditorium was given a vibrant and tone down hue by Dastan Goi, which is a popular Urdu oral storytelling. The spot-on performances delivered by Shadab Husain and Meera Rizvi had the audience cruising with them through their expressive narratives. It was produced by film director and screenwriter, Anusha Rizvi and directed by Mohammad Farooqui. And thus, the first day came to an eventful conclusion giving everyone something to take with them and yet, come back for the other two days.
The second day, had a delightful beginning with Padhant, which is an Urdu prose and poetry recitation by AMU student, Azharduddin Azhar. It was followed by a detailed discussion on ‘The Present and Future condition of Urdu’. The panelists, who were Rekhta founder, Sanjiv Saraf, Urdu writer, Athar Farooqui and Delhi University (DU) professor and Urdu poet, Khalid Alvi, took the audience through the dynamic changes that Urdu is going through, bringing to light the threats that Urdu is facing in this modern era. And also, the advancements that it is silently making. As it has been pointed out by them that although the writers of the Urdu script are decreasing but its learners are steadily increasing. “Earlier, if you try to get an estimation, only two to three Urdu newspapers were released. Right now, 36 Urdu newspapers are released from Delhi so, of course, it’s Urdu readers who read it. In Hindi, the best-selling books are of Urdu Shayari.” Alvi cited. However, the impure, rowdy language that has been injected in Urdu by the media is a serious threat and it needs to be strongly discouraged. The next panel centered around another major language of the world. It was on a book reading session by the New Delhi based writer, Chandrahas Choudhary and Neyaz Farooquee, a debutant author. Choudhary read a few excerpts from his latest novel ‘Clouds’ and Farooquee from his ‘An Ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism’. Both the authors, who represented two widely different genres of English Literature unveiled some behind the pages details and also gave some invaluable pieces of advice related to writing to the aspiring writers attending the panel. The second panel discussion of the festival took the already warm atmosphere a few degrees higher by discussing on the topic India is still struggling with. The panelists Satish Deshpande, University of Delhi (DU) professor, and artist and writer, Shuddhabrata Sengupta discussed on ‘Case/Curse of Caste in India’. “Caste is one of those concepts that suffer a very natural kind of truncation…when we say caste we think lower caste, just as when we think gender hardly anyone thinks of male…when you say race, you don’t usually think of white people.” Deshpande pointed out. They discussed the deep-rooted nature of caste-system in India. Diving into the past and connecting it with the present to show how deeply, indeed, the whole of South Asia is plunged into the problem of caste system. Sengupta said “Dr. Ambedkar in his first essay on ‘Caste in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development’ had said that caste is a problem of India (at that time it was undivided India) and wherever Indians will go in the world they will make sure that it is a problem of the world.” The DU professor pointed out that the present remedy to the omnipresent caste problem is reservation as it is the only policy among all the other governmental policies, which wants to gives something to those who have nothing. The final panel of the second day was on ‘Populism in the Age of Conspicuous Consumption’. Its panelists were Mumbai based independent journalist and media consultant, Kalpana Sharma and Jawaharlal Nehru University professor, Saugata Bhaduri. They discussed on how the media has suddenly become consummative with the entrance of corporate in the field, thus, discarding their primary duties. “But I would say more as much as cultural and political, I think it’s the economics of the media that is actually being a very big reason for the manner in which we have reached this point where as far as television news is concerned we are calling it the ‘Bathtub Journalism’”, Sharma was quoted saying. However, the journalist did agree that online media outlets like Newslaundry are doing an amazing job. They bring the controversial issues to the limelight thus building a pressure on the traditional media to telecast or print those issues, the death of Justice Loya, for example. The essence of this panel discussion reminded the audience of the previous day’s strong-worded speech of Sankarshan Thakur and thereby bolstering the impact.
The last day, i.e. the third day was kickstarted by a panel discussion on ‘Life Imitating Literature or Literature Imitating Life’ by Chandrahas Choudhary and AMU professor, Asim Siddiqui. They discussed the role that literature can play in changing the world. Since it was a university event so they did touch on the problem of student’s struggle with understanding the need to study literature. Light was also shaded on the growing consumerism in Literature.
The next panel discussion was a mind-boggling one. Indian Institute of Technology, Madaras professor, Hemchandran Karah, and writer and editor Jyothsna Phanija discussed on ‘Disabled Literature: Creative Writing, Pedagogy, and Politics of Disability Representation’. The panelists conversed on the basic, yet often unacknowledged challenges that a disabled person has to go through and how writing becomes a good source for them to liberate all those vent up feelings. They successfully portrayed the challenges that a disabled writer faces.
The last panel discussion of the festival was by DU professor Apoorvanad Jha and AMU professor, Asmer Beg, on ‘People as Numbers: Re-engaging with Politics and Democracy in India’. The panelists spoke on the way people are converted into mobs to cover-up the crimes. They also urged that social relationships should not be made on the basis of religion but on ideologies.
The three-day event was given a rightful memorable conclusion by scriptwriter and radio storyteller, Nilesh Misra with his ‘The art of Story Telling’. The professional storyteller had the jam-packed auditorium fall in a pin-drop silence with his captivatingly descriptive narrations. The master storyteller had everyone sitting at the edge of their chairs as he proficiently weaved his mesmerizing stories.
Thus, apart from being a roaring success; the AMU literary festival was indeed a perfect amalgamation of literature stringed with media and politics through a fine selection of burning topics of a developing India. A true combination of awareness in the rightful expression of words. It provided a much-needed platform to matters that need to be talked over and delivered them to an audience that requires being saved from running into the crisis of ignorance. Thus, it won’t be wrong to say that this literary festival is definitely one of its own.