Indigenous Australian Authors Tour Indian Literary Festivals

Mridula Nath Chakraborty is leading a bicultural literary project between Indigenous Australian authors and writers in India. Read about her exciting role-model project that spans four Indian festivals and seven cities.

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Indian literature offers an embarrassment of riches, not only in the literature in English that has been spectacularly successful in the West, but also in its 22 regional languages that have centuries-strong literary traditions.

In the past decade, a dozen or so literary festivals have cropped up on the Indian landscape. These festivals are wonderful opportunities not only for hobnobbing with some of India’s sharpest minds and for meeting international visiting writers, but also to see something special of each of the cities in which they are hosted. The states of India are divided linguistically, and each region offers it own special flavour.

Twelve Indigenous Australian writers are travelling to some of these festivals in the Indian winter of 2014-2015 as part of LITERARY COMMONS! Writing Australia-India in the Asian century with Indigenous, Dalit & multilingual tongues. The project is funded by the Australia Council for the Arts, and convened from the University of Western Sydney. It will see luminaries like Alexis Wright, Nicole Watson, Ellen van Neerven, Jared Thomas, Marie Munkara, Brenton McKenna, Jeanine Leane, Anita Heiss, Lionel Fogarty, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Cathy Craigie and Dylan Coleman, travel to the various literary festivals.

Each festival is accompanied by a specially-convened engagement with regional universities to showcase Indian scholarship on Indigenous writing across borders.

Let me take you on a journey through these festivals!

Four of the project’s Australian writers went to the Bangalore Literature Festival in September where the focus was on issues of voice, marginalization, classical languages and the phenomenon of India Rising. BLF prides itself on being a no-logo festival, though the five-star hospitality, shining cast of writers, musical performances in the evening and engaged crowds that thronged it for three days, belies their modesty.

The Australian writers then traveled four hours amidst pouring rain to Mysore University with its lovely eucalyptus-lined avenues. There, they attended a special Australian Indigenous Literary symposium, After Dreaming ,where six books by Indigenous Australian authors were launched in translation into Kannada, a language spoken predominantly in the state of Karnataka.

Mysore Palace, and indeed the whole city, was gloriously lit-up for its famed Dassara festival. The writers also got to see the 13th century Somnathapuram Temple and the 18th century Summer Palace of Tipu Sultan. Our three days there were replete with the many delights of Karnataka food and tender coconut water on village roads. Book your engagement for next year’s BLF and Mysore’s Dassara festival now!

Five more writers are going to the much-anticipated, volunteer-run boutique Goa Arts and Literature Festival. In its 5th iteration, GALF promises to be extra-special this year, with significant representation from Singapore, Nepal, Pakistan and the Seven Sister states of India. Australia has pride of place as “Country in Focus” and our extra-special group of writers is sure to kick-up a sand-storm, inspired by Goa’s very own feni and pork vindaloo. And, if this isn’t enough, we’ll leave for another special Indigenous conference at the University of Madras in Chennai, listed in Lonely Planet as one of the top ten world cities to visit in 2015.

Our final destination is a ‘two-in-one’, as they say in India. Starting with the Apeejay Kolkata Literature Festival in India’s very own City of Literature, three of the Australian authors will also participate in a Jadavpur University workshop to have their work translated into Bengali, the sixth-most spoken language in the world. The writers will meet Santhali artists and activists in Shantiniketan where Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore, the first Asian Nobel Laureate in Literature, founded the Viswa Bharati University. After feasting on Bengali food for thought and stomach, the writers then head off to Jaipur Literature Festival, which in the space of seven years has carved for itself an enviable reputation as the world’s largest free literary event. If you go to JLF, to see-and-be-seen, your literary career is made!

The world flocks to these literary festivals. For more information, visit APWT’s Events page and Literary Commons and come join us in this exciting journey across India. Who knows, next year you might be undertaking your own exploration of the commons that unites literary imagination everywhere in the world!

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 12.59.08 pmMridula Nath Chakraborty was a speaker supported by the Australia Council at the APWT’s ‘Bridging Cultures’ conference in Singapore in July 2014.