The Spirit of the Festival

The Spirit of the Festival

‘I have never heard the word ‘sex’ uttered by Bangladeshi women as often as in this last hour!’ That exclamation came from an audience member during the launch of ‘Lifelines’, a anthology of writing by Bangladeshi women – and in its mix of humour, frankness, and underlying seriousness it does well to capture the spirit of Hay Festival Dhaka.

 

Before I came here a friend sounded a note of caution – given the brutality meted out by the Pakistan army to Bangladesh at its birth in ’71 she thought I might have a difficult time here, as a writer from Pakistan.  In fact, I can’t think of any event I’ve participated in during my 14 years as a published writer where I’ve felt greater generosity from the audience than the session on writing about 1971. It was a reminder also of what can be so valuable about literary festivals -the opportunities to have conversations across borders which everyone recognises as both difficult and necessary.    There are festivals where you forget this – festivals where writers have the weary look of people on the road too long, who want to be back at their desks, who don’t understand why they’re in this place or why people are coming to listen to them.  There is none of that in Dhaka.  Last night, after a full day of listening to writers, talking to audience members (and perhaps a tiny moment of shopping/sightseeing) I was sitting beneath the stars, beside a lake, listening (along with a few thousand other people) to a concert with a fantastic lineup of Bangladeshi musicians when I found my thoughts being spoke out loud by my friend Faiza S Khan, editor at Random House India – ‘I’m just so happy’.