Insider/Outsider: Writing India's Dreams & Realities
In his editor’s “Introduction” to the groundbreaking anthology, New Indian Writing (1974) Adil Jussawalla writes: “It has been said that the Indian personality isn’t well integrated, and that, unlike the Western, it fails to make a coherent synthesis of different elements in its experience. It must be remembered that the elements the Indian is expected to synthesize are more various and further apart from one another than any within the national experience of a contemporary Westerner.”
Further commenting on the plight of the Indian writer who has to deal with a world where religious ritual co-habits with scientific experiment, astrology stays alongside astronomy, asceticism does not exclude sexual pleasure, Jussawalla says: “A dissociated sensibility is at work and the metaphor of dismemberment is one of its products.”
Four decades, a National Emergency, a few space missions, wars, Bookers, riots, and many celebrations of the new glocal hence, the Indian writer is still faced with the same predicament of being a critical insider and a creative outsider to his milieu, one with a ‘dissociated sensibility’. ILF Samanvay, the annual Indian Languages Festival of the India Habitat Centre has since its inception been keenly conscious of, and open about, such conflicts involved in the culturescape that forms its mandate. In fact, the festival’s inaugural edition (2011) was a meta-exploration of sorts that tried to address the problematic of bringing various literatures under the master signifier, Indian. The subsequent themes ‘Boli, Baani, Bhasha: Gaon, Kasba, Shehar’ (2012), ‘Jodti Zubanein, Judti Zubanein: The Language Connections (2013)’, and Bhashantar, Deshantar: Translation/Transnation (2014) continued this inquiry through different routes and figures.
The fifth edition of the IHC Indian Languages Festival is scheduled from November 26-29, 2015, and is themed Insider/Outsider: Writing India’s Dreams and Realities. This theme emphasises the liminality of the creative individual in any given context. All the sessions explore this notion quite intensely, thus lending the festival a uniquely organic and sustainable design.
While the changes ushered in by the pace of our Age many a time give rise to a sense of bafflement, incomprehension and a dreadful sense of uncertainty to the commoner, it also offers a great promise of liberation of thought and expression to her. It is against this double-edged context, that ILF Samanvay 2015 attempts to understand the contemporary writer as an Insider/Outsider. The festival thus presents itself as a dynamic site of relevant thought and collective action towards transforming the hour of terror into a moment of choice.
ILF Samanvay is a contemporary call to reawaken the Indian genius for cultural co-living, cooperation and commemoration. In 2015, at its fifth edition, the festival for the first time promises, manifests and projects a design that visualizes the confluence of eight rivers of activities happening at different venues across the India Habitat Centre campus in New Delhi— The Portal of Beginning, the Trans-verbal Corridor, the Inner Courtyard of Words, the Heart of the Discourse, the Studios of Sounds, the Backend Workshops, the Foyer on the Edge, and the Inner-Outer Stage. This spatial flow runs parallel to eight intangible facets of the festival – politics/ aesthetics, insider/ outsider, languages/ texts, awards/ recognitions, translation/ transcreation, exercises/ experiences, agents/ change makers, yes band/ young at heart. Each river beginning with a letter of the word SAMANVAY written in English, represents a particular direction and spirit of the festival. The first seven of these – Sabarmati, Alaknanda, Mahanadi, Amaravati, Narmada, Vaigai, Ajay also align with the seven colours of the spectrum, with the final Y – the profile of the festival and Delhi’s own Yamuna – taking on the possibilities offered by white, black and the VIBGYOR as a whole. Thus embodying a curious interplay of the tangible and the intangible, the festival brings an extraordinary experience of the different regions of the country collaborating in a profound and intensely beautiful play of interculturality. Eight streams thus incessantly flow in and out of one another through the vision, formation and direction of ILF Samanvay; they are hoped to be understood and lived in myriad ways through the future editions of the festival.
In an endeavour to emphasise its aspiration to influence India’s cultural destiny vis-à-vis its variegated politicality on the one hand and the destiny of humanity at large on the other, in its fifth year, the festival has been reconceptualised to reflect the responsibility of Indian writers, artists and other creative thinkers to transform the multi-centred country into a space of true cultural camaraderie. The way our languages – oral as well as written, verbal as well as trans-verbal – have remained performative, mutually interactive and culturally connected, despite all pressure to function under centralised powers, is awe-inspiring. This terrific play of resistance has been the greatest illustration of how culture continues beyond narrow political/ polemical contexts. Hence, while staying within the very phrase ‘Indian Languages’, our languages ironically offer their most silent yet strongest resistance to be subsumed under the myth of homogeneity embedded in any construct of a single Indian brand.
Thus, the new design of ILF Samanvay and its physical, intellectual, and virtual sites manifest a profound concern about how creative individuals and communities can think and play themselves out freely, yet responsibly, in our paradoxically homogenising and fragmenting times. ILF Samanvay 2015 with the theme Insider/Outsider is thus an urgent call to reawaken the Indian genius for cultural cooperation – a call to retain our primal cultural diversity within our contemporary national unity.
A vibrant yet nuanced initiative to facilitate genuine comradeship at the intersections of Indian languages, ILF Samanvay celebrates the diversities embedded in the transnational matrix of the country. Through multiple verbal as well as trans-verbal media, and various modes of translation, the festival interprets Indian Languages beyond word-limits and explores the socio-historical connections among the idioms of literature, visual arts, philosophy, music, performance, and technology. Towards fulfilling this larger vision of creativity and institutionalising its enterprise, the inclusive framework of this edition of ILF Samanvay presents a range of interconnected verticals that hold together as eight rivers from different geographies of the country, eight colours which form the spectrum and white light; it includes panel discussions and readings, workshops, performances, art, book events, awards and contests, food, and outreach.
This coming together, this living together, this remembering together seem crucial for our times that demand from creative spaces a collective strength to hold forth, resist, survive and thrive. Ghalib’s words must tell us of this power that the creative artist must embody, to remain the critical insider/outsider of every epoch, since the beginning of human time:
“Shedding tears of blood is no game;
A strong heart, a steady nerve, are needed.”
At ILF Samanvay, our team holds that the countdown is not a set of numbers reminding one of a future festival date, but the very way we live and march on today, this moment… We hope, audiences on the ground as well as those across the globe witnessing the live streaming of the sessions, would relate with these concerns and joys, anxieties and aspirations, embedded in the celebration of Indian languages at the fifth edition of the IHC Bharatiya Bhaasha Mahotsav, ILF Samanvay 2015. Salutes!
Rizio Yohannan Raj
Creative Director, ILF Samanvay