While popular literature will naturally feature in this year’s South Asian Literature Festival, it is the non-literary issues to be addressed that particularly lend relevance to the event
When it comes to celebrations and festivals, London is known for its wide cultural variety. More often than not there is a week-long festival taking place celebrating a niche in music, art, theatre or fashion. One such cultural celebration running over the next two weeks is the South Asian Literature Festival. Spanning 1 to 11 November, this is the third year it will be providing a stage for literature and, significantly, its associated themes.
The opening events will all be held at Bush Theatre and comprise four days filled with theatre, workshops and talks. The festival will then span out across several venues including the British Library and even restaurants such as Dishoom.
Some of the most popular events look to be those focusing on Shakespeare and his everlasting impact on literature. In fact the opening sessions present Shakespeare in South Asia and the influence Sanskrit literature had on him, as well as the manner in which the Bard has formed the storylines of many Bollywood films. In addition, the festival will also be screening performances which took place during the popular Globe-to-Globe season at Shakespeare’s Globe last summer. These include Taming of the Shrew in Urdu and Twelfth Night in Hindi, providing a second chance to see the highly successful productions again for those who missed it.
Yet, while the foundation of this festival is literary, what makes it so prevalent is the fact that it does not simply present literature. Instead the festival provides a platform for many prevailing debates taking place within the South Asian sphere. The festival covers Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, as well as issues concerning these countries.
One example is the event marking the 40th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda by Idi Amin and their resettlement in the UK. Exodus 40 delves into the Ugandan expulsion on this significant anniversary. The event also will be launching Exiles, a new oral-history project which records and shares the stories and experiences of the Ugandan-Asian community.
In a similar manner, Power of the Pen: Literature from Afghanistan discusses the significance of the current surge of contemporary Afghan literature in conveying messages to the wider world. This provides an alternative perspective in a context where most audiences are only presented with reports focusing on foreign troops and external threats.
Moving away from cultural and political issues, the festival also deliberates on the economy with Can Indian Thought Solve The World’s Problems? India has a growing global economy in the face of much financial strife and this session questions if Indians inspire a new principle of economic ethics.
In this manner there is an array of choice on the schedule. Nonetheless, some of the literary highlights of the festival for me include: Exploring India: The Story of a Nation, investigating if non-Indians can write about India without facing criticism from the ‘insiders’, as well as South Asia from the Panchatantra to the Brothers Grimm, where fairytale expert Neil Philip will be exploring the South Asian origins of fairytales.
The festival finally culminates with an exhibition on Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at the British Library, which will also host a closing night of celebration, full of music and spectacle inspired by a Mughal Palace, just in time to combine with Diwali celebrations.
The South Asian Literature Festival will present new and established literary talent over the next two weeks. But the significance for me lies in the fact that it will also demonstrate the power of literature and the ability it has to bring current issues and ever prevalent debates to the forefront of discussion in an alternative way. These events are not political debates or rallying speeches, yet they all cover important cultural, political and even economic issues. In this manner, literature will provide a space where sensitive yet significant issues can be conferred and confided.
The full program for the festival can be found online here.
Tickets can be bought through the festival website or by calling the Box Office on 020 7205 2510, Mon-Sat, 10am-6pm.
Image from: http://southasianlitfest.com/
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