Words. What do they mean to us? What are they really? Words are a means to make our thoughts and imaginations manifest. A means to preserve and disseminate our legacy. Words, especially in written form, are an attribute uniquely inherent in us humans. And as such, written words are the most potent expression of what it is to be human. It is our greatest invention, for this invention has helped us discover who we are, the world that surrounds us, how we view the world and each other, and share our views indiscriminately.
Dhaka literary Festival is a tribute to the power to the power of words, and those who empower words by writing and reading them. It is a celebration of the human mind’s indomitable tenacity to explore our capacity for imagination, using language as a medium. Bangladesh is the most appropriate setting for such a celebration, because Bangladeshis have a strong affinity towards language, evident in the great lengths we have struggled and the many lives we were compelled to sacrifice simply to exercise the right to practice our native language. We respect the power that language maintains in shaping our thoughts and personalities, be it Bengali, Sanskrit, Urdu, Arabic or English. Hence, it is no surprise that so many hearts and minds in Bangladesh today are expressing their thoughts, feelings, and ideas using English. These glorious thinkers and wonderers, scattered across the landscape, have never had a platform that could unite and represent them and their work. They finally have a platform now, in the form of Dhaka Literary Festival.
Originally named “Hay Festival”, this movement was started four years ago by Sadaf Saaz, Ahsan Akbar and K Anis Ahmed, all three of them prolific writers and passionate practitioners of literature. In the words of Akbar, “I wish something like DLF took place during my teenage days in Dhaka! Getting to see, hear and meet some of the greatest writers and thinkers of our time, all in our hometown, and for free, is such a wonderful annual treat.”
What began as a dream of these three wonderful dreamers have since blossomed into a massively successful event that managed to draw more than 20,000 visitors last year. Visitors had a chance to encounter a diverse array of intellectuals, such as the great Indian politician and writer Shashi Tharoor, the mesmerising Iranian-born poet Mimi Kalvati, Miss Lucy Hawing, daughter of the great astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, and Bangladesh-born Zia Haider Rahman. This year promises to have an equally diverse array of participants. With panelists that include Nobel prize laureate American cancer researcher and author of “The Art and Politics of Science” Harold Varmus, bestselling Indian authors Kunal Basu and Shobhaa De, Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, Cuban science fiction author Jose Miguel Sanchez Gomez, better known as Yoss, and the doyen of Indian poetry, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, audiences are guaranteed to witness the most stimulating and interesting of discussions and dialogue.
As Ahmed has said, “For the past few decades, there has been a lot of really great writing in Bangladesh, but it has been in isolation. It has not been in conversation with the literature of the rest of the world. These festivals provide a meaningful and fun platform for those engagements to begin”. I find myself completely in agreement with his remarks. Bangladesh indeed contains very talented writers, with stories to offer that readers around the world would enjoy and appreciate. But these writers never had a means to reach the global audience, and thus these talented individuals remain unknown, hidden in plain sight. But the directors of DLF have worked tirelessly over the last four years to connect these writers with the global community of readers, and I can’t help but applaud their efforts. DLF is truly an extraordinary achievement. It has broadened the horizons of Bangladeshi writers, amplified their ability to connect with audiences and make their works known, and for the first time in Bangladesh, it has made possible for the dreamers and thinkers to consider writing as a full time profession and a means to achieve sustainable livelihood. This is the biggest reason I consider the success of DLF worth celebrating many time over, and as a student of anthropology, I extend to the organisers my utmost gratitude for making this event possible, for adding one more cultural event in the list of Bengali culture that we can all be immensely proud of. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The world needs more dreamers, for without them life is bleak. I am proud that my culture finally has a means to share our dreams and imagination with the rest of the world. I for one am going to enjoy partaking in this celebration of words. If you are reading this, please come by, and join me and many other dreamers, as we marvel and revel at the glory of our dreams using that great invention: Words.
Tarif Sharafi is a businessman and student of Cultural Anthropology at IUB. Amateur folk musician, guitarist, flautist and photographer, Tarif is an avid reader, and aspiring writer.