Dhaka Lit Fest- A fiesta for book lovers

Rummana Ferdous Fagun

Dhaka Lit Fest was a three day soirée for literature connoisseurs from November 16 to November 18. Like every year since 2012, DLF arrived like a gust of wind and left like a storm. Though there are many things you can do here, the sessions with the authors and leading personalities are the soul of Lit Fest. There are 4-5 sessions going on at a time in the different auditoriums and podiums of the Bangla Academy premise. It is not physically possible for a person to catch all of them, so sifting through the schedule according to your interests is the way to go.

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Upon entering the Bangla Academy premise one was welcomed by the sound of trees, birds chirping, along with footsteps and an air of festivity much like the Ekushey Book Fair. There is a stage at the bot tola (banyan tree) and another one in front of the Burdwan House. Few bookstalls were set up ready to welcome you with a collection of books both in Bangla and English. There were four more auditoriums holding back to back sessions throughout the day. This time the highlights of the fiesta were the sessions of Tilda Swinton, Ben Okri, David Hare, William Dalrymple, Lionel Shriver, Esther Freud, Helal Hafiz and Nadia Kabir Barb.

One of the most celebrated writers of this year, Ben Okri’s work is bordering on the realm of magic realism and fantasy. Despite the author’s protests many critics consider Okri’s work as magic realism. Speaking of magic, his recently published book, ‘The Magic Lamp’ is a collection of 25 of Rosemary Clunie’s paintings and 25 of his stories to go with them. During the session here, his discussion with the moderator Ashok Ferry revealed a lot about the way he thinks.

‘Each time a story is written the writer dies once it’s finished, he isn’t the same person he was, he leaves a part of his self in it,’ says Okri. Leaving one place for the other can be a tough job. In his book ‘The Famished Road’ (Man Booker price recipient, 1991) he tells the story through Azaro, an abiku (a spirit child), who in the Yoruba tradition of Nigeria exists between life and death. In the session he tells the story of the book through Jerry Pinto who not only read the book but had in-depth knowledge about it. Okri has a very witty and engaging way of talking.

While trying to explain one of his writing styles which leads the readers to believe that the story was moving in one direction though in reality it was moving in the opposite, Okri jokingly termed it as the Maradona style of writing. In his third session he recited a few of his poems for the audience which was equally enchanting as his stories.

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The enchantress from Narnia herself, Tilda Swinton also recited a few poems alongside Ben Okri. She had a number of sessions, among which an interesting one was the film screening of ‘The seasons in Quincy: A tribute to John Berger’. It was made up of four short films which are a collaborative effort of a number of people. The fourth one of the quadrant was directed by Swinton and remembering Berger she said, ‘This film was made so that we miss him less when he is not with us’.

Though she and John Berger shared the same birth date, November 5, born 34 years apart, they still managed to find a connection beyond explaining. Before starting the screening of the film she read out passages from one of Berger’s works and his Booker Prize acceptance speech from 1972 condemning how the European Booker sponsors gained their money from 130 years of trading in the Caribbean and potentially involving them in slavery. Ironically, he shared his Booker prize with the Black Panther Party, who was an organisation dedicated to stand by the oppressed African Americans.

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Oppression and injustice are ever-present in this world. Many of the authors talked about controversial topics of how the society needs to improve. Touching on sensitive issues like religious discrimination and issues of how people of colour are being neglected in the publishing companies came up in the discussion by Lionel Shriver, an American journalist and author. One of her writings got rejected from a publisher supposedly because it had a woman of colour as the girlfriend of the protagonist. In her opinion the young people’s horizons are becoming narrower to avoid these unwarranted issues which are essentially stopping them from utilising their full potential.

There were so many more sessions worth reminiscing over but not all of them can be put into words. In short, Dhaka Lit Fest was enough to keep you on your toes for three long, eventful days and this year wasn’t an exception.

 

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