Books in South Asia
The latest in a rash of regional literary festivals
Sep 17th 2011 | KATHMANDU | from the print edition
OF THE things that unite South Asians, a love of words and an alacrity with language are often noted. While the book trade struggles in much of the world, Kathmandu is the latest city in the region to launch an annual literary festival, which begins on September 16th. Big-name international writers will be there, as well as dozens from Nepal’s own energetic literary scene. Several thousand Nepali bibliophiles, most of them young, are expected to attend three days of fizzing discussion.
The fashion for literary gatherings in South Asia spread from the Jaipur festival in India, founded on a shoestring in 2006 and now a huge international success. Pakistan, where the Karachi Literature Festival had its second outing this year, showcases relatively young but internationally liked authors. Bhutan, Galle in Sri Lanka, and Goa and Trivandrum in India have joined in. But a new annual festival in Srinagar, capital of Indian-controlled Kashmir, has just been postponed indefinitely after threats of violence and a perverse campaign by some authors who argued that it was wrong to talk about books in a place where liberties were curtailed.
In contrast to bleak conditions in Western book markets, the Indian divisions of international publishers are busy signing up new authors. London’s literary agencies have opened offices in India. Namita Gokhale, a novelist and one of the Jaipur festival’s organisers, says that South Asia is having a “literary moment”. It is “exploring its place in a new world” in English, while also maintaining traditions in the region’s native languages. She believes making sense of South Asia’s many upheavals has something to do with the outbreak of writing and reading.
Nepal’s literary scene is smaller and less heralded than India’s and Pakistan’s. But Sanjeev Uprety, a novelist who writes in his native Nepali, says it has been energised by the country’s social revolution and turbulent modern politics. Book clubs and bookish events are now common. Several recent works (including his own) have been bestsellers. There is much good writing in English, in which the Nepali flag is flown most prominently by Manjushree Thapa, whose recent novel, “Seasons of Flight”, describes a young woman’s self-discovery as a migrant in America; and by Rabi Thapa, with his tales of upper-class youth, “Nothing to Declare”.