10th SAARC Writers Conference: Writers agree on the power of the pen
* Minister Jalal wants action not empty rhetoric
* Cancer-stricken VP Singh unable to attend
By Mahim Maher
LAHORE: It is the responsibility of the writer to work towards establishing peace between countries, agreed some 70 poetry and prose writers on the opening day of the 10th SAARC Writers Conference, which opened Friday.
Delegates from seven nations of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation gathered at the Alhamra to exchange views on the literature of the region and on their role in society, and on self-defiance and self-assertion in feminist literature.
Pakistan’s Ahmed Faraz opened with a Pushto proverb, which, loosely translated, says, “I will not plant flowers by the sea for they will be swept away by the tide.” Mr Faraz said the works of the writer are simply swept away by the tide of politicians.
Dr Fouzia Saeed of Action Aid Pakistan, one of the cosponsors of the event, said the people of the region should think of themselves as South Asians and not see themselves through the prism of religious or national identity.
Sri Lankan scriptwriter and filmmaker Tissa Abeysekara said that, as writers like Salman Rushdie have proven, English is no longer the vehicle of only English culture and has been appropriated by the people of South Asia. “It is the only language that we can speak to each other in,” he said referring to the linguistic diversity of SAARC countries. “When culture has unity, it aspires to express itself in political terms.”
Dr Mubashir Hassan cited Edward Said and said writers today could not be writers unless they were political, in the sense of having a worldview. “This view clashes with the powers that exist and is naturally good for the weak and bad for the strong,” he said.
Dr Javed Iqbal bucked the trend and spoke in Urdu. He noted that poverty was the one thing every SAARC country had in common. “Writers need to provide politicians with a vision and help (eradicate) poverty,” said Mr Iqbal, adding that India, the region’s largest economy, should make “sacrifices” to help its neighbours.
Playwright Prof Abhi Subedi of Nepal said all seven countries had a common cultural heritage. “We have great common Indic roots in all our countries, which come from the power of creativity,” he said. Mr Subedi added that Nepal was “not a peripheral land but a great meeting point of all cultures.” He said all seven countries had much in common, “We all share the same sense of the broken links of history.”
Journalist Abdur Rahim of Bangladesh credited a former president, Zia-ur-Rahman, with conceiving the need for SAARC in 1979. “We all say the same things and we all have the same, common goal of emancipating the people,” he said.
Speaking on the occasion, Zubaida Jalal, federal minister for education and chief guest, said the 12th SAARC summit held recently in Islamabad had given hope to the over one billion people of the region. She said the conference must not end merely on proclamations of good will but yield a result-oriented strategy for achieving objectives.
Meanwhile, VP Singh, former Indian prime minister, who had been expected to attend the Writers Conference here, will not be able to attend, said event organisers.
“Mr Singh is in hospital for kidney failure,” said Ajeet Cour, who is heading the Indian delegation, “he is also suffering from bone marrow cancer and has to undergo chemotherapy as well as regular dialysis. He regrets not being able to attend.”