Kicked off on Friday, the three-day literature festival will host more than 40 authors, cultural activists, historians, journalists and filmmakers.
According to the organisers, it was in 1936 that something like a literature festival was first organised in Patna, when the city hosted a Bangla authors meet featuring noted authors Bibhuti Bhushan Bandhopadhyaya and Nirad C Chaudhari.
Over the years, Bihar has contributed immensely to not only Hindi and Urdu literature, but also to regional languages like Maithili, Bhojpuri and Magahi. Writers like Ramdhari Singh Dinkar in Hindi and Vidyapati in Maithili and Sanskrit have attracted readers not only in Bihar but also across India and the world.
However, in the last few decades, there has been a steady decline in the showcasing of literature and the arts, across Bihar.
The 90’s and the early 2000’s saw enormous social and political churning, with former state chief minister Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi at the helm of Bihar. And the state came to be known more for under development and caste killings.
Since Nitish Kumar took over in 2005, the killings have fallen and Bihar’s human development indicators have improved. People like heart surgeon Ajit Pradhan, who promotes art and culture through his NGO, the Navras School of Performing Arts, say they are keen to revive the state’s lost literary scene. Mr Pradhan says, “In the last 30 odd years, society was crushed. Patna was a very vibrant city. There was a lot of awareness. Organising this has been a nightmare. Not enough sponsors. The second biggest problem is to get people around to come.”
And so the Patna Literature fest is trying to be different. More than 50 percent of the sessions involve authors in regional languages, providing people like Maithili author Tarananad Viyogi a platform to showcase their work. Mr Viyogi says, “If you work on the same concepts as festivals outside, then there’s nothing new. Work in Indian languages should be brought forward and I am happy this is happening.”
The Patna Literature Fest is also trying to juxtapose literature with art and craft. This session for instance, discussed ‘Art and Literature in an unequal society”, and featured artist-photographer Dayanita Singh and sculptor Patna-born Subodh Gupta.
There are some detractors like cultural activist and documentary film maker Anees Ankur who feel that the fest could have been better organised. Ankur said, “More than decorative importance there should be more focus on the regional languages. I feel the standard of the sessions need to improve too.”
The star attraction at the festival, author Vikram Seth, will debut his English translation of the Hanuman Chalisa. Seth says, “It is difficult not to see this as a positive. I spent my formative years here. To me this is the centre of the universe.”