Dhaka Saturday August 18, 2012

Hay Festival

Hay is Back!

Sadaf Saaz Siddiqi

Photo courtesy: Hay festival

Hay festival Dhaka was held, to much acclaim, on November 21st, 2011 at the beautiful premises of British Council in Dhaka. Over 800 authors, poets, students, academics and enthusiasts attended the day-long international literary event, which was jam-packed with panel discussions, readings, book launches, recitations, and an open- mic competition; with much debate and discourse between celebrated International and Bangladeshi authors. It received widespread coverage in the local press, as well as in international media, including The Telegraph in UK. There was no denying the enthusiasm, the intellectual fervour and the energy of the Dhaka audiences, which took our international visitors by surprise. Peter Florence, Director, Hay Festivals, expressed his excitement afterwards, 'This felt like an extraordinary moment and focus for the English language writers in Bangladesh and perhaps for post-1971 Bengali writing too; and it's a real turning point for the Hay Festival team. We've never had such a thrilling debut anywhere. I think we've all fallen for the city, and were captivated by the robust intellectual energy and joy of the audiences. At a stroke, it's leapt up the list of our international priorities and aspirations for development'.

Hay Festival Dhaka has now become one of 15 international Hay festivals across the five continents. Even though requests for Hay festivals come from all over the world, Hay ensures the right fit before they proceed. The idea behind International Hay Festivals is to enable international writers to come together to push the boundaries of thought and imagination beyond the limitations of culture and genre, in an effort to foster understanding, mutual respect and the exchange of ideas. It is befitting that Hay festival is being held in Dhaka, with our rich literary heritage, as well as our innovative contemporary English and Bengali writing. Our inaugural event last year has already had a catalytic effect on the literary landscape of Dhaka encouraging writers, and inspiring the formation of book clubs and informal writers collectives. It has also resulted in spin-off events including writing and poetry workshops, as well as the launching and growth of the new literary journal, Bengal lights.

As an annual event, which we hope to build on, Hay Festival Dhaka is an excellent vehicle for our emerging community of English writers to be plugged into the global literary scene. We want to take our Bengali literature beyond our borders, as only a fraction of the huge repertoire of our Bengali writing has been translated or promoted abroad (whereas in comparison for example, South American writers are household names globally). We hope Hay festival will encourage publishers to take on translation projects.

Hay festival for literature and the Arts, was started in a small town in Wales Hay-on Wye around a kitchen table in 1987, and has now become one of the largest literary festivals of its kind in the world, set in spectacular Welsh countryside of the Brecon Beacons. Famously called 'the Woodstock of the mind' by Bill Clinton, Hay has brought together writers from around the world for 25 years, to debate and share stories. Hay Festival believes that the exchange of views and meeting of minds that their festivals create inspire revelations: personal, political and educational. It celebrates the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking and pushes the boundaries of traditional literature, by gathering poets, writers, film-makers, scientists, lyricists, comedians, novelists, environmentalists, politicians and musicians together to inspire, delight and entertain.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Hay Festival and 10-day celebration on the occasion in June in Hay-on Wye in the UK proved to be a real feast for the mind, with stories, ideas, laughter and music from more than 900 events, attended by more than 80,000 people. The theme this year was Imagine the World. Writers see how the world might be, and thus enable us to reconnect with the world of imagination that we drew on as children. This is a powerful tool, which we can use to remake the world where human rights will be respected; where we all will have right to live, love and die in freedom. Especially freedom of the imagination. In a special project in celebration of 25 years, 25 questions important questions were put to guest speakers over the 10 days; resulting in a range of interesting responses. What freedoms are you prepared to trade for security? If you were a leader of your country what would you fix first? What one book, film and album would you contribute to a library? Does technology kill the spirit or will it liberate us? The discussion on technology raised the issue of how it can rob us of a sense of culpability. Salman Rushdie, one of a plethora of renowned guests invited to Hay, erudite as ever, spoke to Peter Florence in a packed auditorium of over 1500, as he talked of different forms of English. The legend James Watson, discoverer of the double helical structure of DNA, and now in his eighties, spoke at length with novelist Ian Mcewan, touchingly remembering Francis Crick. Michael Ignatieff, the well-known Canadian novelist, academic and politician, gave a brutally honest account about his foray into Canadian politics. Specially commissioned Hay medals, commemorating 25 years of Hay, were also awarded; for poetry to Simon Armitage, and for prose to Jeanette Winterson. All in all, Hay Festival's 25th anniversary was a delightfully stimulating, memorable and inspiring experience.

We invite you to Imagine the World in Dhaka this November!! Hay Festival Dhaka is back again, building on last year's success. This year it will be held on November 15th, 16th and 17th at the spacious and serene grounds and facilities of the historic Bangla Academy, with The Daily Star as Title Sponsor,

British Council as global partner, and Jatrik as project partner. It is exciting and apt that the Hay Festival Dhaka is being hosted by the Bangla academy, the seat of literature in Bangladesh; thus establishing its place on the literary calendar of Dhaka. With Hay festival Dhaka in November, and our famous Boi Mela in February, Dhaka reinforces its importance in the literary arena, building on its literary past, with a contemporary freshness. Hay Festival Dhaka 2012 hopes to offer poets, writers, academics, students, literature lovers and the general public a literary treat, with a range of exciting events being lined up, showcasing both English and Bengali literature, from home and abroad. With partnerships with the major public and private universities, we are also hoping to tap into the youth to inspire them to read, write, share ideas and stories, and imagine. We hope Bangladeshi audiences will relish this opportunity to take part in this upcoming international literary event and ensure its success, enabling it to be a platform to showcase the best of literature from Bangladesh to the world, as well as to expose our audiences to great literature from abroad, in all its forms.

(For more information please check out our web site www.hayfestival.com, and email us at dhaka@hayfestival.com )

Sadaf Saaz Siddiqi is co-producer of Hay Festival Dhaka. She is also a poet.