What an astonishing thing a book is. It’s a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you’re inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs, breaking shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic. To celebrate this magic for the sixth time in the history of Bangladesh, the Dhaka Lit Fest kicked off on November 17, 2016 in the capital’s Bangla Academy premises.
This three-day festival was inaugurated by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul with the hope of sharing the literary knowledge in a congregation of local and international authors. Alongside the Trinidadian Nobel Prize-winning British writer known for his comic novels set in Trinidad and Tobago, the Finance Minister AMA Muhith and Cultural Affairs Minister Asaduzzaman Noor also graced the opening ceremony of this literary extravaganza with their presence.
The fest was lit with the excitement of a profoundly enthusiastic crowd musing over the various types of book stalls and bringing out the bookworms in themselves. Starting from Sir Vidia and Pulitzer Prize winner American-Indian poet Vijay Seshadri to the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner Deborah Smith and winner of 2014 European Union Prize for Literature Evie Wyld, some of the most inspirational names in the history of literature were featured in this celebration. Over 200 talents and more than 60 guests of the literary world from 18 countries participated in the event. What further added to the colors of the festival were the different cultural programs, folk performances, poetry recitation, editing workshops, children’s programs and film screenings with almost 100 panels. The celebration also succeeded to translate the beauty of Bengali Literature to the world. Furthermore, the country’s beautiful culture and history was underlined through the traditional music programs like Jaari Gaan, Behula Lokhindar and Pala Gaan.
The Main Stage, KK Tea Stage, Lawn, Brac, Cosmic Tent and Bottola of the Bangla Academy showcased some of the most enticing performances by notable artists during the fest. Imagine yourself witnessing the discussion between post-colonial researcher Amina Yaqin, women’s rights activist Tasaffy Hossain and entrepreneur Hanium Maria Chowdhury discuss why women’s and not men’s bodies, movements, and now even their choice of clothing is so frequently an inter-cultural flash point and a matter of control at the Lit Fest. Thrilling, isn’t it? If you are interested in superheroes and monsters, the BRAC Stage could welcome you to the conversation between Samir Asran Rahman, creator of the comic book Shabash series and Chador Wangmo, the Bhutanese children’s writer to reflect on storytelling and the power of imagination. Have you ever wondered about the myths and tales that swirl around muslin- a cloth so translucent that, yards of it effortlessly passes through a ring? If so, then the Muslin’s Mystique at the BRAC Stage would surely excite you as celebrated crafts personalities, authors and economists brought to life the story of this unique fabric, its cultural history and legacy, and its place in our nation’s future. Besides, panels depicting Spiritual Songs, Girl Power, Tales from Small Ethnic Cultures of Bangladesh and Poetry of Transition could keep you deeply seated during the three-day fest.
Let’s talk about the stalls now. Alongside the tremendously awe-striking caricatures by the Cartoon People and the delectable dishes served by the food court comprising of names like Bread N’ Beyond and Meena Sweets, some of the greatest attractions were the book hubs in the field. There stood the stall by Bangladesh Tourism Board exhibiting books on tourist spots of Bangladesh right next to BD Culture & Books which not only sold books on the country’s culture but also showcased related ornaments, postcards and memoirs. Writer’s Ink, Dhaka Comicon, Bengal Light Books, Annanya, Homes of Bangladesh, Jamil’s Comics & Collectibles, Shomoy Prokashoni and Phathak Shamabesh Pvt were some of the other stalls that presented books ranging from comics, Tagore’s collections, English novels, Bengali literary works, and original academic books of Science to poetries of different languages, translations and manuscripts. Special discounts were being offered on selected copies during the festival. Anya Prokash was one of the most visited stalls during this literary celebration where fans of Humayun Ahmed embraced their beloved writer’s work. However, the stall that stole the show was that of Bookworm. Equipped with books from different parts of the world, suited to the needs of people of all age, meeting demands of bibliophiles, this particular shop received the best reviews from visitors.
After the Gemcon Awards in the main stage and the Teenage Poetry and Recitation in Bottola, this eventful festival was brought to conclusion in the evening of 19 November, 2016. “This has been such a fabulous celebration of knowledge, literature, sharing of ideas… it’s a chance to celebrate Bangladesh today through our culture and literature,” said Sadaf Saaz, co-director of the festival, at the closing ceremony at Abdul Karim Sahitya Bisharod auditorium of Bangla Academy. She also added how the festival served as the largest English literary event in Bangladesh, hosting more than 100 sessions which were visited by over 20,000 people. Zafar Sobhan, editor of the Dhaka Tribune, said “in a time when the world stands divided over so many issues, the DLF brings together writers and journalists of the highest calibre from all over the world in a celebration, bridging the gap between Bangladesh and the rest of the world.” Sir Fazle Hasan Abed, founder of Brac and the chief guest of the closing ceremony led down his remarks about the event. Although he had not been able to attend the event on all three days, he strongly acknowledged the success of the festival and remembered Syed Shamsul Haq, a celebrated Bengali poet and lyricist who passed away in September. The closing ceremony was followed by the wonderful Tribute to Baul Rob Fakir by Shikor Bangladesh All Stars.
The honored foreign guests who attended the festival this year were also contented to see a vivacious literary scene in Bangladesh. “My face has been hurting because in the past three days I have smiled too much. I smiled at my fellow authors, my incredible organisers, and I smiled while meeting the ordinary Bangladeshi people,” said Catalan writer Carles Torner. “I have to say, as an author, my life has been in the sitting room. But to be here is a complete revolution for me. I am delighted to be here and I love it.”
The festival, which allowed free registration for the public, was produced by Jatrik, with Bangla Academy as the co-host and the Ministry of Cultural Affairs as the special partner. The British Council served the gold partner, Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune as title sponsors, Brac as platinum sponsor, and Energis and Purnava the gold sponsors.