The festival witnessed a low footfall but it is believed that it has potential to grow in future as a prominent literary event
Srimanta Sankardeva Kalakshetra, a cultural centre, situated in a fairly green suburb of Guwahati, was base for the second edition of the three-day Brahmaputra Literary Festival (BLF) held between February 8 and 11. BLF was organized in association with the the National Book Trust (NBT) and the Publication Board, both wings of the Government, and was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Assam Sarbananda Sonowal.
The Publication Board claimed that BLF is going to be the biggest literary event in the Northeast region with the idea of making it as popular as the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF).
So What was the Festival Like?
BLF, Guwahati, which jumped into the bandwagon of cities hosting literature festivals just last year, is still at a very nascent stage in the region. Unlike other events in the city that rely on heavy publicity, this festival lacked coverage on online as well as print media, and witnessed a low footfall.
The road that led you to the festival—had only one single banner—installed not very far away from the venue making it confusing for people to understand what was going on.
Similarly, the event’s Facebook page too was not updated after last year. It could be said that it was word of mouth that brought most people to the festival. ‘I was told by a friend that there’s a literature festival going on in the city. I had no idea about it. This may partly be because of less promotion in the mainstream media,’ said a city-based lawyer, over the phone.
Journalist, writer and broadcaster Bee Rowlatt who was present during the festival for a session on ‘Literature in the Market Place: Publishing, Lit fests and Book Fairs’ talked about how a good festival must have a social and community outreach. ‘There should be interaction with schoolchildren, college students and local people.’
Bee also felt that writers and journalists or people who have these similar kinds of jobs can come and talk about their ideas, meet people at such festivals. ‘It can be instructive for people who want to pursue that kind of career but never really imagined themselves in it.’
It must be mentioned that there were regional writers such as Kula Saikia, a cop from Assam who has made significant contribution to literature and had won the 2015 Sahitya Akademi Award for his short story collection ‘Akahar Chhabi Aru Ananya Galpa’. Some of these writers are popular among readers of regional writings and are household names, but not very well-known among the English speaking schoolchildren, for instance.
What Could be Done?
As there were no comprehensive reports on any news portals about the festival, Guwahati-based senior journalist Nava Thakuria who was part of the organizing committee last year, felt that publicity needs to be done at least three-four months in advance.
He also felt that more writers and journalists from the Northeast region must be discovered and included in the panel discussions. ‘We don’t get people from Mizoram at all. NBT has its issues and should pursue other writers from the region.’ Not having a corporate body in the Northeast to fund such an event, Thakuria said, ‘If we can manage that, it could be great. When it’s funded and organized by government bodies then it is obvious that the government will have its interest in it.’
However, many believe that BLF has the potential to be the best literature festival from the Northeast region.
Novelist Dhruba Hazarika, over the phone, shared: ‘The quality of the interactions and the sessions were better this year even though the footfall was low. The interactions were more effective. Last year, there was a scattered dissemination of topics to the writers.’
Now, slowly Northeast literature by itself has started to play a role in pan Indian literature, so Hazarika feels events such as BLF need to be sustained. ‘The first five years may be low profile but people will slowly get to know that this is happening here.’
Mentioning the Northeast Writer’s Forum, Hazarika said that it has been around for the last twenty years but they are not a moneyed organization. ‘NGOs that are competent in the management of such events and have a passion to propagate literature should be roped in by the Publication Board and the NBT.’
This year BLF had around 120 speakers (writers, journalists, illustrators and filmmakers). Some of whom included popular writers such as Mamang Dai, Mitra Phukan, Zac O’ Yeah and Bee Rowlatt. There were more than 30 panel discussions on various topics ranging from books to cinema in Hindi and English as well as regional languages.
Written by Sanskrita Bharadwaj
Photos: Sanskrita Bharadwaj
This Story Appeared in the March, 2018, issue of Eclectic Northeast