Edinburgh World Writers' Conference » India http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org The website for the 2012-13 Edinburgh World Writers' Conference Thu, 31 Oct 2013 16:37:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 EWWC Highlights Film http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 15:43:51 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=5435 EWWC Highlights Film Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the festival throughout the past year]]> Watch this video showcasing the highlights of the EWWC festival throughout the past year, and read more about the Conference on our About the Conference page. ]]> http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/all-presentations/ewwc-highlights/feed/ 0 Selma Dabbagh: On Participating in the Jaipur Literature Festival http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/selma-dabbagh-on-participating-in-the-jaipur-literature-festival/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/selma-dabbagh-on-participating-in-the-jaipur-literature-festival/#comments Wed, 06 Feb 2013 21:11:48 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3768 Tahar Ben Jelloun (speaking), Selma Dabbagh, Reza Aslan and Jonathan Shainin

Tahar Ben Jelloun (speaking), Selma Dabbagh, Reza Aslan, Ahdaf Soueif and Jonathan Shainin

Selma Dabbagh took part in the EWWC panel on Maps of Love and Hate: Nationalism and Arab Literature, at the Jaipur Literature Festival last week.

There are few events on the literary calendar that compare with the scale or the desirability of the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), which in previous years has hosted Oprah Winfrey and last year had a flare up with Salman Rushdie’s presence being denied. This year, one of the writers, the dapper gangster/60s Fanon revolutionary attired Jeet Thayil who was international Man Booker shortlisted on the first day of this year’s Festival spent most of his time there surrounded by a four man police escort to protect him from possible backlash after he read sections from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses at last year’s event.

As a debut novelist, who came to literature late, I arrive in Jaipur at 6 am feeling rather daunted. I also have no schedule. In the car that takes us to the venue I meet a writer who also does not have a schedule and has flung his welcome pack (together with the Penguin Edition of The Path to Tranquility: Daily Meditations by the Dalai Lama) against his hotel wall in exasperation. All he needs is a schedule, he says and to wash his cricket whites which are baked with red sand after a week as part of the JLF Writers’ Cricket Team which was merrily thrashed in different locations around India by professionals the previous week.

I realize as I arrive that when I imagined the Festival venue, Diggi Palace, I was actually thinking of Rambagh Palace, where writers had glamorously dined and boozed the night before for the opening event. Diggi to me, is delightfully Egyptian. It is not a place of business venue like efficiency and aluminium encased one legged information placards typed in Arial font, but an endless sprawl of courtyards, halls and stalls linked together by roofs, secret staircases and gardens, where piles of bound leaflets sit in the corners, three legged desks lean backwards at the edge of corridors, wires dangle half painted from the ceiling and signage is written out in hand with large pens that curl capitals. Fading grandeur, courtyards, dusty trees, an alleyway of red and pink Chinese paper lanterns, old telephones, policemen well past retirement age in green with sticks and time on their hands. The place is surprisingly scruffy, confidently gorgeous. When I arrive, talks are going on everywhere, attendants offer to escort me to all of them, a group of devout Buddhists in orange mutter and pray on the sidelines.

Everyone gives me different directions to the Author’s Lounge, which is behind the stage. Flashing my Author ID, I push past half-hearted resistance at a gate and walk straight into a tight, moving crowd. A round familiar face rises up, as the crowds surge: metal framed glasses, the large smile of a saint, possibly because he is one. It’s the Dalai Lama, a metre in front of me about to be winded to death by a crowd, he dips, then rises beaming again, as though nothing could be more fun, like a child on a roller coaster as he is jostled away in an unending group of backs.

There’s too much to choose from. You don’t know where to begin or how much to event-hop. Ten minutes listening to the Afghanistan panel and there is agreement that the coalition forces died for nothing, that they created problems where there were none, that suicide bombing did not exist in areas until coalition forces arrived, that Guantánamo created a new fervor of resistance. The Short Story panel is composed of the best: Nicholas Hogg, Richard Beard and Yiyun Li, who say the short story lends itself to solitary figures, that it compresses time, that you need to tell as well as show, that sometimes the story decides the space it needs, that the short story is being revived, that it is gaining in popularity. Himmat Shah, an artist whose work is now sold at Christies, launches his book Terracotta, about Indian visual arts. The moderator is full of affection for his guest, ‘He used to be so poor, he could only offer me dhal and rice, with always a little ghulum juman at the end.’

Next to me a T-shirt proclaims, Screw Calm, It’s Boring.

The Pakistani writer Nadeem Aslam is The Real Thing. The Festival is agreed on this. His desire to write made him drop out of university, into working on construction sites to save so he could write, he has papered up his windows to focus on his first novel and bound his eyes for three weeks to research blindness for his last novel, The Blind Man’s Garden. Aslam’s sensitivity and modesty combined with his heartfelt assertions, each one, it seems, dug from moments of doubt and self assessment, his ability to quote other writers at length, seduces the large audience that surrounds him.

A somewhat glitterati North London Panel (Lawrence Norfolk, Zoe Heller, Linda Grant, Howard Jacobson and Nadeem Aslam) for the Novel of the Future, expertly moderated by Anita Anand, agree there is something funny going on, people are reading less (except in India where book sales are up by 45%) buying less books (except e-books), but the number of people wanting to write (even those who don’t read) is increasing all the time as are the number of literary festivals. Could it be that all the readers are becoming novelists, or that there are just people who like going to Festivals to touch writers?

The Man Booker dinner on the first evening in the CityPalace is elephant painted splendor and I am hijacked from the bar by a man with a long tragic oval face and blinking eyes that seems a little lost in his absurd outfit. I had seen him at Festival that day, in even more extravagant attire (Elton John eyewear, red knickerbockers, long red socks, a bolero). He is trying to cajole large quantities of hard liquor out of the bar staff in plaintive, yet fluent sounding, Hindi as the next two days are Dry Days in Rajasthan and he is very scared. He insists that I join his table to meet a woman who used, she said, to do serious things in Afghanistan but now mainly writes about men’s crotches. Her brother, an academic who spends several months each year in North Korea, is delegated to the job of funnelling vodka into a small Evian bottle under the table. ‘My job is so boring, I have to dress like this at the weekends,’ sighs my flamboyantly dressed companion, who I later find out works for the Potato Board and once had a prang in Delhi causing his driver to be knocked out by the impact of the car’s disco ball on his cranium.

Outside the palace I wait for a taxi by the wrong elephant entrance, in a traffic-devoid alleyway of fortress walls and baying stray dogs with prancy feet before I find an exit where a group of well-heeled Britishers who could be hedge fund managers, await their drivers. One of them wanders off to stroke a dark cow that grazes by a tree that props up a bicycle. A rickshaw trundles towards us, ‘You better take that,’ says a woman, waving a moisturized limb and creating a flurry of beige silk, and I’m off, bumping past ditches, graffiti offering tuition, pinky orange buildings and shops with all kinds of things I would like to buy to make my children look more Indian.

When the police question the Indian intellectual, Ashis Nandy, they bring him into the Author’s Lounge (a courtyard with trees and very small cups of tea) after his on-stage comments about the ‘dalit’ or (an Indian term, not mine, ‘backward’) castes/classes were tweeted, misinterpreted (according to Nandy) and caused an outrage. I am sure that there were people online in New York who had a far better idea as to what was going on than we did. As I sit on the edges of the fountain with Jonathan Shainin trying to prepare for a panel on Arabic Literature where I am to share a stage with Reza Aslan, Tahar Ben Jalloun and Ahdaf Soueif, the scrum of policemen and onlookers containing Nandy is spitting distance from us. It’s a matter of talking over an excitable crowd, which just seems to be the order of the day in Jaipur. When the jostling becomes extreme, I ask a school age volunteer who appears bedazzled by her own prettiness, what’s going on, she informs me that it’s the cricket player. It is only when the cricket player, Rahul Dravid, who raises mass hysteria every time he appears, wanders unassumingly in the courtyard, crowd and police-free, that I start to suspect that she may have got it wrong.

On the second night, my editor, Alexandra Pringle, hosts a dinner for all the Bloomsbury writers on the roof of her hotel, where wine is drunk (despite the dryness of the day) provided by the capable of fixing anything, anywhere, anyhow Mr. Raj. We have a placement  which places me next to an Italian separationist from the state of Veneto (Carlo Pizatti). Carlo passes Orange Prize winner, Madeleine Miller a Greek quote, ‘The whole world is a tomb for enlightened man,’ which she is tasked to decipher and identify (It’s Pericles, silly). Lawrence Norfolk quizzes Simon Armitage on poetry referred to in Bolaño’s Savage Detectives. William Dalrymple (aka Willy), like Tigger, seems to have the most extraordinary amount of bounce. He also has disarming eyes. Alexandra thrives in India and in crowds of her writers and buzzes and engages in her hugely personable, yet paradoxically regal way. The Bloomsbury writer Gary Shteyngart is missing, but on the panel on Jewish writing that afternoon he had proclaimed to the masses that all he really wants to do is go someplace and be licked by his dachshunds, so maybe that’s where he has gone.

At buffet lunch at the Diggi, I connect with two Indian gentlemen and wander to a table where a younger man’s eyes widen at the sight of the company I am bringing to join him. My companions know the younger man’s father, but don’t like to be called uncle. The younger man seizes the opportunity to make a book pitch to my influential book show host companion, he has Ivy League credentials and an interesting idea that he pitches well. Before the meal is over, e-mails have been sent to a leading Indian agent, advice given and the electric word ‘auction’, is being bandied about.

I miss many events while at the Diggi being interviewed by some of the brightest and most canny journalists I have ever come across with questions about Kashmir, diaspora politics, novels being used as rationales for intervention and whether 9/11 changed the novel as Ian McEwan predicted it would. I also meet my ideal reader in the form of a journalist who tells me that he initially avoided my novel because he doesn’t like politics, but then he sat down to read it and didn’t get up until it was finished.

One of the many highpoints of the Festival for me is the EWWC panel on Arab Literature, introduced by Dalrymple, which challenges common conceptions by presenting writers from the Arab world and of Iranian origin (Reza Aslan) who write in languages other than Arabic (i.e. English and French). Knowing that readers from outside the region may be relying on novels to provide a disproportionate amount of understanding of the Arab or Muslim worlds (or in my case Palestine), places particular responsibilities on the author. I have struggled with these issues, in the large part on my own, so to be in conversation with writers like Soueif and ben Jelloun is an honour and an inspiration, making me want to continue the discussion long after we have to stop. The questions from the audience are excellent: on using the language of the oppressor (not a problem as far as we are concerned) and ethnicity preventing writers from writing on certain subjects (no problem either as long as writers are responsible and sensitive to their subject matter, is our conclusion).

At Jaipur airport, I group up with a band of novelists and journalists who make intrepid trips back through security to access the Smoke Room, their iPhones twittering with news of a fatal accident allegedly caused by the drunk driving of a Festival sponsor. In the queue for the plane, a journalist with an infectious laugh says he will write about Nandy who he admires. I suggest that if he really wants to get into trouble he should compare Nandy’s treatment by the authorities to how any case against the Festival sponsor proceeds. He laughs, has a musing think and thanks me for the idea.

The official who peruses my immigration form slowly behind his desk in New Delhi is impressed that I am a writer. He asks how many hours a week I work, where I get ideas and how he can get published. I give him advice, take out my phone, contact a leading Indian agent and the electric word ‘auction’ starts buzzing around the immigration hall.

Selma Dabbagh is the author of Out of It (Bloomsbury, 2011)

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John Burnside on the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Jaipur http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/john-burnside-on-the-edinburgh-world-writers-conference-jaipur/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/john-burnside-on-the-edinburgh-world-writers-conference-jaipur/#comments Mon, 04 Feb 2013 12:48:45 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3748 burnside girl.jpg largeJohn Burnside is one of Scotland’s finest and also most prodigious writers, with an oeuvre that straddles the genres of poetry, novel and short stories. His most recent work is Something Like Happy, a collection of short stories. Last week he participated in the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference: Jaipur, and we caught up with him on his return to chat about the dynamism of India, the long game of dissident politics and the Dalai Lama’s incredible laugh.

EWWC: You took part in the EWWC event at the Jaipur Literature Festival in India last week. What was that like?

JB: There was huge energy there, it was buzzing – I came back buzzing! It was my first time in India and the overwhelming sensation I had throughout, from the moment I arrived, was a sense of dynamism. A sense of people with really passionate beliefs pursuing things with great dynamism. One guy I met worked for a software company; he had sat down and said to his boss: ‘I want to set up a book club here. I want to do it in office time and I want you to pay for it.” and the boss said “Yeah!” So he went out and bought books for people and it grew from one person to a hundred.

The thing that I heard over and over again from people is you can become prosperous but if you don’t keep your culture, if you don’t keep your intellectual and spiritual values, what use is all that prosperity? I was heartened to hear that because from the outside, people will see a country like India as pursuing just its material prosperity – and god knows they deserve it, they’ve been denied it long enough – but it’s nice to hear people saying let’s not forget our traditions, let’s not forget our values, our art and culture.

And – I saw the Dalai Lama, which was amazing! He has an incredible laugh; it made me believe everything he said.

EWWC: Any downsides?

JB: One thing I didn’t get a chance to do, which was a bit frustrating, was some birdwatching. There’s a wonderful area about 70 miles away from Chennai where you get painted storks and flamingos and all sorts; it was tantalisingly close. But it was an amazing place and whole new experience for me.

DSC02450.smallEWWC: How did the discourse of tone the debate [Censorship Today] compare with the one in Edinburgh?

JB: It was very focused on free expression and the notion of taking offence. It could have gone on for four hours and no-one would even have noticed, because there was just so much urgency and the questions were so impassioned. The questions were very bound up with Indian politics; there was a lot of discussion about various local issues which were of strong urgency to the people there. The two local writers on the panel [Basharat Peer and Shoma Chaudhury] directly shared a lot of the concerns of the people in the audience. It seems that a certain section of the population in India does take offence very easily.

It made me think about the writer Shirley Jackson in the United States. She wrote this wonderful story called ‘The Lottery’; for her it was just an intriguing idea that was published in the New Yorker, but then she just started getting sacks of mail, often from people who felt somehow that she had offended them or even that it shouldn’t have been written. [The story was about a woman who was stoned to death to preserve the wellbeing of the community]. Things can be interpreted the wrong way; but you can say ‘it’s not for me, I don’t care for it’ without feeling offended.

EWWC: I’m interested to know what you think about literature festivals and the role they can play in society, particularly given your recent experience in Jaipur.

JB: The first thing to say about Jaipur [Literature Festival] is it’s free. It was great to see school kids, students and other young people from all walks of life, all highly engaged – it adds a certain vibrancy to the atmosphere. People often had quite strong feelings and strong opinions, and it’s nice to hear them.

I had the chance to go and see Javed Akthar, the poet and Bollywood scriptwriter; I’m very interested in the ghazal song and verse form, which he talked about. I can’t think of any poet, not even Seamus Heaney, who would get on stage and sing or recite in his traditional form and people in the audience would be really participating in such a spirited way, calling out and bursting into spontaneous applause. His message was, ‘let’s always listen to our hearts. Let’s use our brains and make ourselves more prosperous but let’s also remember the natural world and people’s traditions.’ It felt very ‘real’, the reactions there at Jaipur; quite different from the kind of simple liberal consensus you might get in other places.

EWWC: In Edinburgh at the EWWC you spoke several times about the role of writers as dissidents. In the debate on ‘Should Literature be Political?’ you said “Maybe the question should be ‘should literature be dissident, rather than political? I follow Emerson in that I believe every state is corrupt. Our duty is to resist it.” How does that statement square with your experience of larger perhaps more complex societies, such as India?

JB: The thing I get most worked up about is the environment. There was a lot of interest in that India, and of course people like Arundhati Roy have made big sacrifices and have done a lot to try and raise awareness. But there are a lot of other questions and issues that are so urgent in there, that questions about the environment seem to have to wait.

But I do think the writer has a duty one way or another to play a political role. Whether it’s to give a model, such as ‘I refuse to accept the BS that they’re giving me. I’m going to investigate it for myself and find out what’s really going on.’ Or whether it’s simply what a poet does, which is insist on the more sophisticated, subtle and meaningful use of language as a way of not capitulating to the kind of forces that make language simplistic, so they can control the market or control the way we think about things. I think that’s what all writers do: they renew language. And that’s a start, a fundamental, the biggest building block of them all.

I think also we have a duty as citizens to be dissidents. To question ‘Well, is that so? Is that the best thing for us? Best for the 1% or for the 99%? I’m not saying that writers should be going on marches all the time, but that they should be asking questions, even if that is in quite indirect ways. It can be boring if a writer stamps around overtly proselytising. In my writing, mostly in fiction, I’ve tried here and there to make people aware of issues to do with, for example, pollution. During the Conference discussion in Jaipur we were discussing the kind of things that are being done to people by the state or police, where real physical human rights are being taken away from people. My message was this: once they’ve given up doing that to you, this is how big business or whoever it is will do it next time. But it’s not much use to the people there now who have much more urgent things concerning them, such as getting colleagues or family members out of jail.

EWWC: You were one of the most actively engaged of the 50 writer participants during the EWWC week in Edinburgh last summer. Five months on, do you have a view on the potentiality, usefulness or otherwise of that concentrated series of writers meetings?

JB: Even if nothing concrete had happened, nothing at all, there were still some good discussions. I’m not suggesting that some writers getting together and signing a petition is going to turn everything around just like that, but when Junot [Diaz] raised the issue about what was happening in Arizona, and we decided we wanted to put our names to an objection to that, at least it made people aware about the situation; a lot of people don’t know that sort of stuff happens in America, the land of the free, so that itself was a result.

I think in politics we tend to think too often about the kind of result you get in sport; are you breaking the record or winning or losing the race. In politics it’s a lot slower. It’s about awareness raising and consciousness raising, and it takes a long time. At the moment I’m researching a novel that has at its centre the politics that started in the late 50s in the United States. Many people think that those politics died out in the mid 70s – the civil rights movement, students for democratic society, the peace movement – that they formed a cycle and died with the Reagan years. But that’s not how it is at all. People who are activists now in many ways are inspired by or have had conversations with the guys who started it all and who we think of as historical. For example Bill Ayers; he’s still a political figure, just focusing on it in a different way, through education. It’s a much bigger and longer picture; there have been breaks here and there but the line continues in some other way, it meanders, it’s not straight. I think that’s important, that chipping away. It’s that old sandpile thing, how many grains of sand before it becomes a sandpile? I think that’s how politics works. You keep on going. It may not feel like you’re making any progress but any time you raise anybody’s awareness – even just one person – that’s a step forward.

There were some surprises at Edinburgh too. I think it was Janne Teller who said that ‘All I want is to make a living from my writing’; someone in the audience said ‘Well, get a job then’ – so writing’s not a job for that person? We’re a culture that doesn’t respect the intellectual; if that had happened in Italy, for example, that guy would have been laughed out of the auditorium. I don’t have much time for writers and thinkers who don’t do their homework, who don’t do their best to be informed and say ‘Well I’m going to say something, and it might not be a very big thing, but I’m going to try anyway.’

EWWC: And do you think that a group of serious, engaged writers have real power in that sense?

JB: I’m not sure if they have power but they have the power of the word and of conscience. There was a picture in a newspaper in India of women in the street who had tied black blindfolds over their eyes as a symbolic gesture of defiance against the systemic problem of misogyny. Two pages later there was a story about how some boys had harassed a woman in police uniform. So for those women to stand out in public with symbolic blindfolds over their eyes in a place where even the women police officers are harassed – that’s exemplary, that’s something amazing. Will it change things? Maybe a little bit, because it changes consciousness.

EWWC: And finally … If you had to be exiled permanently to one of the EWWC cities – Edinburgh, Berlin, Cape Town, Toronto, Krasnoyarsk, Cairo, Jaipur, Beijing, Izmir, Brussels, Lisbon, Port of Spain (Trinidad), St Malo, Kuala Lumpur & Melbourne – which would you choose and why?

JB: I would choose Berlin. Because I love it so much, but also because due to a stupid accident I missed the Berlin Conference event I was scheduled to take part in. I have had an immense affection for Berlin for a few years now. It’s such a great place, there’s so much going on – again there is that sense of dynamism and creativity in technology and the arts. There are some who want to turn it into another Munich; the Tacheles cooperative, that’s something that Berlin should be proud of – but instead they’re shutting them down. But as long as it retains some of that dynamism – and also there are some damn good writers in Berlin – I’d go there.

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Harrison Kelly on EWWC Jaipur Day 2 – Nationalism and Arab Literature http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/harrison-kelly-on-ewwc-jaipur-day-2-nationalism-and-arab-literature/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/harrison-kelly-on-ewwc-jaipur-day-2-nationalism-and-arab-literature/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2013 18:01:13 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3685
Tahar Ben Jelloun (speaking), Selma Dabbagh, Reza Aslan and Jonathan Shainin

Tahar Ben Jelloun (speaking), Selma Dabbagh, Reza Aslan and Jonathan Shainin

The Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference returned to the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival today, as panellists from across the Arab world discussed the idea of nationalism in Arabic literature.

In a session titled ‘Maps of Love and Hate: Nationalism and Arab Literature’, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Selma Dabbagh and Reza Aslan joined Jonathan Shainin to discuss the presence of a national literature within the Arabic speaking world along with Ahdaf Soueif, who delivered a key note speech on the same topic this summer in Edinburgh.

The debate kicked off with Aslan arguing that it was writers who defined the Arab identity and not the nation state. “The literature of this region is a cradle of storytelling,” he said.

When asked if categorizing writers as ‘Arabic’ is useful or necessary, author of Out of It, Selma Dabbagh said, “Because I am so hybrid, every time I get snug in a category that I move towards, I inevitably get kicked out by the purists who will kick me out of it. So with some of the definitions of Arabic literature I just wouldn’t fit in at all.”

Similarly Tahar Ben Jelloun shared this resistance to a strict categorization as a Moroccan – French writer. “People ask me if I am an Arab writer or a French writer, particularly when I am crossing through customs. If I say I am a French author the Arabs are going to say “You traitor!” If I say I am an Arab writer, the French will say “How ungrateful!” So that is a terrible dilemma and I prefer to answer that my homeland is my language, and you are allowed to have several homelands,” said Jelloun.

When asked if there are common themes that unite Arab literature, Soueif highlighted the shadow of colonialism as being present in contemporary fiction. “The great common experience is the experience of colonialism, as well as the fight for liberation and of what form the fight will take. That is a major theme in the Arab novel to a certain point, and then if we look at the novels of the 1980s and 1990s, they tend to explore the social issues of the day, and what direction these societies want to go in. However it is not very useful to isolate themes and say they are particular to Arab writing.  Take a novel like George Elliot’s Middlemarch. Now, that could be an Arab novel, in the sense of the themes that it deals with, or The Mill on the Floss, it is just the local details that are different,” said Soueif.

The discussion then moved on to the idea of an author writing on a topic from the outside, peering in with an external gaze. “You always write from the exterior. A writer will always live in exile, even when he is home,” said Tahar Ben Jalloun, pointing to a tension between the individual and the collective, which he argued was characteristic of Arab literature. “I wanted to explain why the Arab tradition is poetic. Why did the Arab writers only arrive to novels recently within the last century? Zayab was the first Arab novel was only published in Egypt in 1912, because Arab society did not recognise the individual, so you recognise the clan or the tribe. Therefore it is very difficulty to put forward the one character of a novel,” he said.

During the audience debate Jelloun responded to an audience question of whether or not you can write in the language of your oppressor, with a particular nod to Palestinian writers who write in Hebrew. He said, “You can write in any language, including that of the oppressor. Emile Habibi was a great Palestinian writer who wrote in Hebrew and in fact brought humour to his work through a Yiddish charm.”

The hour-long session finished on an optimistic note with Soueif stating that after the Arab Spring writers have created their own freedom, “If you look at Arab literature you will not find literature that is written in imprisonment. It is free and will get freer.”

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Soueif, ben Jelloun, Noble & Dabbagh – A National Literature? http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/soueif-ben-jalloun-solange-dabbagh/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/soueif-ben-jalloun-solange-dabbagh/#comments Mon, 28 Jan 2013 11:15:01 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=2510 Jaipur Literature Festival
Monday 28 January 11:15am IST Maps of love and hate: Nationalism and Arab Literature With Adhaf Soueif, Tahar ben Jalloun, Anne-Solange Noble & Selma Dabbagh. In conversation with Barkha Dutt. Introduced by William Dalrymple. ]]> Should Literature Be Political?Jaipur Literature Festival

Monday 28 January 11:15am IST

Maps of love and hate: Nationalism and Arab Literature

With Ahdaf Soueif, Tahar ben Jelloun, Anne-Solange Noble & Selma Dabbagh. In conversation with Barkha Dutt. Introduced by William Dalrymple.


Author Biographies:

Ahdaf Soueif’s The Map of Love (1999) was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and translated into 30 languages.  Her most recent books are her memoir: Cairo: my City, our Revolution (2012) and, as editor, Reflections on Islamic Art (2011). She is the Founder and Chair of the Palestine Festival of Literature (PalFest).

Tahar ben Jelloun is one of France’s most celebrated writers. His first novel, Harrouda’, was published in 1973. Since then, he has written numerous novels, short stories, poetry, and essays. He is perhaps best known for his trilogy: ‘The Sand Child’ (1985); ‘The Sacred Night’ (1987: for which he received the prestigious French literary prize, the Goncourt, making him the first Maghreb author to do so); and ‘The Wrong Night’ (1997).

# Anne-Solange Noble has been working in publishing for many years, heading the Rights Department first of Editions Flammarion and now of Editions Gallimard, a 100-years-old family-owned publishing company where she promotes translation rights of many prestigious authors such as Nobel-Prize winner J.M.G. Le Clézio, and of best-selling novels such as ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’.

# Selma Dabbagh is a British Palestinian writer of fiction based in London. Her first novel, ‘Out of It,’ (Bloomsbury, 2011) has been listed as a Guardian Book of the Year in 2011 and 2012. Her short stories have appeared in anthologies published by Granta, International PEN and the British Council. She was the 2005 English PEN nominee for the David TK Wong Short Story Award. She is currently working on a second novel about expatriate living.

Chair/Moderator of the ‘A National Literature’ event, Barkha Dutt is Group Editor with NDTV, India’s premiere news and current affairs network. She is one of India’s best known journalists and television anchors and is also the youngest journalist to receive the ‘Padma Shri’, one of the country’s highest State honours. In a career spanning sixteen years she has won over forty national and international awards for journalism. In December, 2012 she won “International TV Personality of the Year’ at the AIB (Association for International Broadcasting) awards in London and “Best Current Affairs Presenter” at Asian Television Awards in Singapore.


http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/national-literature/soueif-ben-jalloun-solange-dabbagh/feed/ 1 Burnside, Peer, Kampfner, Chaudhury & Figes – Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/burnside-kampfner-garton-figes/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/burnside-kampfner-garton-figes/#comments Sat, 26 Jan 2013 12:30:52 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=2505 Jaipur Literature Festival Saturday 26 January 12:30pm IST Freedom of Speech and Expression With John Burnside, Basharat Peer, John Kampfner, Shoma Chaudhury & Orlando Figes. In conversation with Timothy Garton Ash. ]]> JBJaipur Literature Festival

Saturday 26 January 12:30pm IST

Freedom of Speech and Expression

Keynote by Basharat Peer, with John Burnside, John Kampfner, Shoma Chaudhury & Orlando Figes. In conversation with Timothy Garton Ash.


Author Biographies:

John Burnside‘s last two books were the novel, A Summer of Drowning, shortlisted for the 2011 Costa Prize, and his poetry collection, Black Cat Bone, which won both the 2011 Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. His Selected Poems was published in 2006, alongside his memoir, A Lie About My Father. The second volume of his memoir, Waking Up In Toytown, was published in 2010. His new collection of short stories, Something Like Happy, has just been published in the UK.

Basharat Peer is the author of Curfewed Night, an account of the Kashmir conflict, which won the Crossword Prize for Non-Fiction and was chosen among the Books of the Year by The Economist and The New Yorker. He has worked as an editor at Foreign Affairs and was a Fellow at Open Society Institute, New York. He has written extensively on South Asian politics for The New Yorker, Granta, Foreign Affairs, Financial Times magazine, and The Caravan, among other places. His next book about religious politics and the aftermath of the Partition of India and Pakistan will be published by Random House in India and Simon and Schuster in the United States.

John Kampfner is Adviser to Google on freedom of expression and culture. A journalist of long standing, he was Moscow and Berlin bureau chief for the Daily Telegraph, then after spells at the FT and BBC became Editor of the New Statesman in 2005, taking the magazine to 30-year circulation highs. A documentary maker for TV and radio, he is also Chair of the board of Turner Contemporary, one of the UK’s highest profile art galleries. He is working on a new book on the history of the super-rich. His previous books include, Freedom For Sale, and the best selling Blair’s Wars.

Shoma Chaudhury is Managing Editor, Tehelka. In 2000, she left Outlook to join Tarun Tejpal, and was among the team that started Tehelka.com. Shoma has written extensively on several areas of conflict in India – people vs State; the Maoist insurgency, the Muslim question, and issues of capitalist development and land grab. She has won several awards, including the Ramnath Goenka Award and the Chameli Devi Award for the most outstanding woman journalist in 2009. In 2011, Newsweek (USA) picked her as one of 150 power women who “shake the world”. In May 2012, she also won the Mumbai Press Club Award for best political reporting.

Orlando Figes is Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London, and the author of seven books, including A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution 1891-1924 (1996), Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002), The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin’s Russia (2007) and Crimea: The Last Crusade (2010). His latest is Just Send Me Word: A True Story of Love and Survival in the Gulag (2012).

Chair/Moderator of the ‘Censorship Today’ event, Timothy Garton Ash is the author of nine books of political writing which have charted the transformation of Europe over the last thirty years. He is Professor of European Studies in the University of Oxford, Isaiah Berlin Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford, and a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His most recent book is ’Facts are Subversive: Political Writing from a Decade without a Name’. He is currently leading a major Oxford University project on global freedom of expression in the internet age: www.freespeechdebate.com

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Frances Sutton on the Censorship debate at EWWC Jaipur http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/frances-sutton-on-the-censorship-debate-at-ewwc-jaipur/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/frances-sutton-on-the-censorship-debate-at-ewwc-jaipur/#comments Sat, 26 Jan 2013 11:40:50 +0000 tanyaandrews http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3660 26 January 2013 at Jaipur Literature Festival: Freedom of Speech and Expression

Panel:  Shoma Chaudhury, John Burnside, Orlando Figes and Basharat Peer, Chair: John Kampfner

The new venue at the Jaipur Literary Festival, the Char Bagh, was packed this morning for the first of two EWWC events at the Festival.  A lively discussion was chaired by John Kampfner who opened the session by expressing concern over the state control of the internet although he conceded that there was no ideal jurisdiction, no paradigm for free expression.

Shoma Chaudhury explored the right to free expression in India, saying that as a society we are too quick to take offence.  True freedom of speech and freedom of expression will only come when we accept, and assert, the right to be able to hurt people’s sentiment and to cause offence.  We should be able to question each other’s beliefs without disrespecting the believer.

Orlando Figes looked at the example of Russia, an authoritarian state, saying that the founding principle of freedom of speech was the marketplace of ideas.  People must be able to think independently before free speech, or free exchange of ideas was possible.  He believes that after years of state domination, the Russian people do not have that independence of thought and it concerns him that they knew this and appeared to be quite happy about it.

Basharat Peer spoke on sedition and the state from his own experiences as a journalist working in Kashmir.  He remembered the crackle of static that marked the tapping of his cellphone, and the questions of the policeman responsible for the monitoring of journalists in the area.   He spoke of the growing threats to the media from the state – hundreds of small newspapers published out of state capitals and the smaller cities of India are being threatened with economic failure in the state’s attempt to control them.  He believed that this is a legacy of colonialism – the need to control the population.

John Burnside introduced the more insidious threat to freedom of speech from the private sector.  After the state, commercial interests control what we know, how we share information and what information we share.  He spoke of his environmental work, and his own experience of ‘green-washing’ – companies working in the energy sector who put a great deal of money and effort into ensuring their products are perceived to be environmentally friendly, resorting to various tactics to prevent further investigation including surveillance and specious legal threats which activists cannot afford to fight.

He said “While we get exorcised by state control and oppression, the threat from the private sector is more subtle but just as dangerous to freedom of expression.”

The debate opened to the panel and moved to a discussion on the issues of freedom of speech online.  Shoma called for a more precise definition of the exact conditions under which freedom of speech can be curtailed.  She said that the current law in India covering online content is so restrictive that we might as well all be silent.  Almost every journalist or non-fiction writer could be charged under the current law on any given day.

Shoma closed by saying “I stand by the right for people to offend and provoke me (but not incite violence) and Orlando Figes agreed with her saying “We have to be much more robust and allow people to be offended.”

John Kampfner opened the debate to the engaged and enthusiastic audience, and was overwhelmed by the number of questions.  Renowned Indian producer and theatre director, Javed Ahkter challenged Shoma, asking her to define who decides whether someone is inciting violence or hatred.  Is it right to include caveats in the right to freedom of speech? Shoma responded by differentiating between the ability to exercise choice.  In art, theatre, cinema and books it is possible to exercise choice – if you don’t like it don’t engage with it, and here she said she was a “freedom absolutist” however, when it was not possible to exercise chose, we need clear definition – and she said it was absolutely possible for incitement to hatred or violence to be clearly defined.

Other questions from the audience covered anonymity on the internet, self censorship and the oppression of the freedom of speech of minority groups – be it women, Muslims or Dalit.  A Nepalese visitor to the festival stated that those who have the national or international limelight have a duty to push for freedom of expression, and it is they who are most silent.

The lively discussion closed with the chair, John Kampfner, calling for an audience vote asking whether they believed that there is too much freedom of expression in India, not enough freedom of expression or just about the right amount.  While dozens of hands were raised for the two other options, the overwhelming majority supported the statement that there is no enough freedom of expression in India.

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Peer in India – Keynote on Censorship Today http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/peer-in-india-keynote-on-censorship-today/ http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/censorship-today/peer-in-india-keynote-on-censorship-today/#comments Sat, 26 Jan 2013 06:30:01 +0000 maceymarini http://www.edinburghworldwritersconference.org/?p=3637 Peer1Censorship Today

Keynote address given by Basharat Peer

First presented at the Jaipur Literature Festival, India

Basharat Peer Keynote text: “The Memory of a Censored Story”

The experience of censorship is as varied as the human experience itself. On an April morning in 2002 I was a young reporter working for an Indian news-portal and writing frequently about the war-torn Indian-controlled-Kashmir, where I grew up. Reporting from a place like Kashmir was a fraught exercise, walking through a minefield of words and their consequences. I found a mentor in an older Kashmiri reporter, who had already been witnessing and reporting the horrors of our land for more than a decade when I met him. He would sit behind one of those first generation PCs in a semi-dark newspaper room, and between sips of tea and puffs of cigarette smoke tell me the stories of Kashmir.

I owe him a large part of my political education, my sense of writing from the field. One afternoon in April 2002, I was in his office when the news came of a young Kashmiri girl being raped in a small village in the southern mountains of Kashmir by Indian paramilitary soldiers. A tense silence followed. I wanted to leave immediately for that village; it was an hour from my ancestral village in south Kashmir. I could take a cab and get there and write the story. My friend smoked another cigarette and sighed. His memories of reporting similar cases filled the room. “Justice is rare here. Hardly any soldier gets tried and punished in a court of law for such crimes,” he said. He had a wide range of contacts in the local civil service and police and by the evening he had enough details to file a report about the incident for his newspaper. Only later, I understood his reluctance to travel to her village. It was painful even in your detached role as a journalist; my friend had been to innumerable sites of atrocities.

But I was young and earnest and I was determined to visit her village. “Go in the morning,” he said. Travelling in the evening was dangerous in Kashmir; people stayed home after sunset. Nobody wanted to be mistaken to be a militant by the Indian troops and fired upon; nobody wanted to be detained at a check post. “Be careful with your story. It is not safe to be seen by the government as a reporter who is launching a human rights campaign against the troops.”  I had a fair sense of that. Censorship in Kashmir could take the form of threatening phone calls, and in the worst cases, assassination and attempts at assassination.

One of the few reliable sources of information when the conflict in Kashmir was at its most intense in the early nineties was the BBC World Service. Yusuf Jameel, its much-respected correspondent, survived several assassination attempts. One afternoon in the early nineties, someone from the military dropped a packet at his office; his friend, Mushtaq Ali, a video journalist, opened the parcel. The bomb went off, killing Ali. The separatist militant sought to have the news to serve their purposes. In the very beginning, in 1989, as the war began in Kashmir, Mohammed Azam Inquilabi, a senior separatist who later became leader of a militant outfit, sent a bullet with a letter asking local editors to change “as the times have changed”. By the mid-nineties, counter-insurgents working for the Indian army led by a notorious brute named Kuka Parrey routinely kidnapped, threatened, and humiliated reporters and editors. In the past few years, as the insurgency in Kashmir has waned and been replaced by a series of mass protests, new forms of censorship have arrived. The most effective is the political economy of patronage; small, provincial newspapers depend a lot on the advertisements from the government, and the provision of advertisements is implicitly tied to sanitized reporting.

But lets return to that April day in 2002, when my friend advised me to be careful. I did not travel at night and left Srinagar early morning in a taxi for the raped girl’s village. We drove for three hours through scores of check posts, past military convoys rumbling down the roads, and up a dirt road into a tiny village of small cottages circled by high mountains. I interviewed the girl and her relatives, returned to Srinagar and wrote a report. I was still struggling to teach myself to write; yet by the standards of a newspaper, it wasn’t bad. The tone was a little harsh, but the piece was never printed. I never heard back from my editor. My friend laughed, “It happens all the time.”

Last month in the Indian capital, New Delhi, a 23-year-old student was gang raped in a moving bus. After a few weeks in multiple hospitals, she died while being treated in Singapore. The shock of the brutality brought thousands of protesters to the streets in Delhi. A bumbling government eventually responded with setting up a judicial commission to review India’s laws on sexual assault. The Commission headed by a former Supreme Court of India chief justice, Justice J S Verma made a series of important recommendations. One of the more important ones being repealing a law called Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which provides complete impunity to Indian soldiers and policemen posted in zones of conflict, like Kashmir and Manipur. Justice Verma has recommend appealing the AFSPA to exclude the soldiers and policemen from impunity regarding crimes of sexual assault in such zones of exception. We don’t know yet if the Indian parliament will accept the recommendation.

As the Commission deliberated, a lawyer friend, who was trying to write to the Verma Commission asked me about cases of sexual assault in Kashmir. I ran a search in my email and an old, censored, unpublished story—the account of that girl who was raped in Kashmir in April 2002—surfaced from a folder. I read it after 11 years and was carried back to a younger self, a darker time. A writer shall publish when he can and I can’t think of a better rebuke to the cultures of censorship that to share with you that story. I am inclined to reproduce it here in its original form, but will paraphrase it for the paucity of space.

The village of Kuller in Anantnag district of India-controlled-Kashmir is home to a few hundred families of semi-nomadic Gujjar shepherds. Indian troops routinely patrolled and searched the village, looking for separatist militants. The villagers, living in mud and brick cottages, farmed and raised cattle to eke out a living—often travelling to higher pastures in summers with their flocks of cattle. Zainab, a seventeen-year-old girl was home on that April 2002 morning. She had never been to school and was helping her mother with household chores. A group of soldiers from India’ Border Security Force stationed nearby passed through the village, questioning the villagers about militants. Her uncle Ghulam Hasan had returned to the village after an errand. He sat by a walnut tree in their courtyard and played with his three-year-old daughter. It was 11.00 in the morning. Yet another group of sixteen BSF men arrived. The group commander walked up to Hasan, and demanded his identity card. Hasan duly produced the card, following the imperative to prove his identity.  “As I was showing my identity card, some money fell from my pocket and I bent to pick it up. The next moment the BSF officer started beating me up,” Hasan told me. The soldiers formed a circle around his house. His neighbours looked on helplessly; the BSF men pointed their guns towards them.

Hasan struggled to save his child from injury, as the officer hit him. His sister shouted and tried to rescue him. Her daughter, Zanib, who was inside the house, rushed out to help her uncle.  As she stepped out of the door, three soldiers carrying assault rifles pushed her back and forced their way into the house. One of them hit her in the stomach with his gun; she fell on the floor. They bolted the door. “They raped me taking turns. Then I lost my senses,” Zainab told me after much effort.

Half an hour later, her family found her unconscious, bleeding. “She was lying unconscious on the floor. They had torn her clothes. She was bleeding from mouth,” her cousin, Abdullah, who witnessed the crime from the next house. Hasan carried her on his back through dirt roads to the nearest hospital. A police officer I met a few days later told me she had identified the perpetrators and they had been arrested. But they couldn’t be tried in a civil court, shielded as they were by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. Zainab seemed to have shrunken, when I met her. When she slept, her nightmares woke her up. I remember her the intense sadness of her black eyes, the slow movement of her parched lips, and her last words to me, “If they are punished, it will deter others. Maybe some other woman would be saved.” I lost track of her. Zainab and her family had left her village out of shame and moved elsewhere. I don’t know what happened to those soldiers either. Eleven years later, I still feel the regret that I had failed to stop her story from being censored.

Basharat Peer is the author of Curfewed Night, an award-winning memoir of the Kashmir conflict.

Copyright: Basharat Peer, 2013.

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