Dhaka Lit Festival begins

Cultural Correspondent
Singers sing a song at the inauguration ceremony of Dhaka Lit Festival at Bangla Academy on Wednesday. —Snigdha Zaman

Singers sing a song at the inauguration ceremony of Dhaka Lit Festival at Bangla Academy on Wednesday. —Snigdha Zaman

After weeks of buildup and speculations, Dhaka Lit Festival is back in town – with ‘something for everyone,’ as Ahsan Akbar, one of the directors of the event, said.
As the festival rolled around, the whole ground of Bangla Academy wears a festival look with a number of colourfully decorated book and food stalls, and arrangements for both indoor and open-air sessions and performances.
There will be a total of around 85 plenary sessions, 11 children’s workshops and a number of cultural shows with about 250 writers from 14 countries taking part in the event, the organisers said.
The three-day festival, formerly known as Hay Festival Dhaka, kicked off on the hallowed grounds of Bangla Academy on Thursday, featuring a host of events including book launches, plenary sessions, readings, performances as well as literary hangouts.
The fifth edition of the festival was inaugurated by finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith with cultural affairs minister Asaduzzaman Noor, Indian writer-activist Nayantara Sahgal, local writers Syed Manzoorul Islam and Kaiser Haq in attendance.
In her keynote speech, Nayantara highlighted the importance of freedom of expression with reference to the recent spate of protests in India by writers and intellectuals who, disturbed by growing religious intolerance in the country, have returned their awards.
‘How can there be any celebration of literature unless the freedom to speak and write thrives?’ She said, adding that writing is also a ‘political activity’ in that it requires writers to have ‘politically conscious imagination.’
Noted poet Kaiser Haq, who writes in English, traced the development of the festival since 2011 when it began as what he said a ‘one-day international’ and its shift in attitude to ensure greater representation of Bangla literature in the predominately English literary festival.
This year’s festival features talks by Nobel Prize Laureate Dr Harold Varmus, Indian bestseller Shobhaa De, British journalist and TV presenter Jon Snow, Cuban science fiction writer Yoss, Kenyan children’s storyteller Muthoni Garland, Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir, Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan, novelist Amit Chaudhuri, and acclaimed filmmaker Leslee Udwin, among a host of other luminaries.
Harold Varmus, attending a session titled ‘The purpose, potential and politics of science,’ gave a wide-ranging talk covering the excitement of basic science research, government and science policy, and the future of global healthcare.
The festival has also a number of sessions featuring talks by local and Indian Bangla writers and poets.
‘Bringing the world to Dhaka was only half the goal,’ said Kazi Anis Ahmed, writer and one of the three directors of the festival. ‘Just as important to us was the need to taka Dhaka to the world. The change of the festival’s name to Dhaka Lit Fest boldly signals this ambition.’

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