Jaipur Literature Festival and beyond

Lionel Fogarty

Reflections on a tour of India, literary conversations and culture

by Lionel Fogarty

This tour was a pleasurable and challenging experience. My first point of entry was Jadavpur University in Kolkata and I found the students had already immersed themselves into the translation of my poetry. It was a pleasure to perform for them, and participate with them on further translations and understandings of my poems. The reciprocal concert by the students was much appreciated; the translations done by a black country outside my own black country. It touched my heart when the translations were orated by the students. Kolkata Literature Festival showed me the high-class side of the writers industry. It was good at the Banyan Tree hotel as I had the privacy to write. The Opening event at the India Museum was a cultural experience, although other events at the festival really showed the gap between the rich and the poor. The trip to Santiniketan outside Kolkata was an eye-opener to a wider population, and a wider country to encapsulate. Santiniketan seems to be a resort outside Kolkata of high intelligence, away from enclosement. Learning about Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and first Asian Nobel Laureate in Literature, and visiting his museum showed me how much he is revered. Visiting the outside villages was important to establish contact, and to meet tribal people. This was one of the highlights. The symposium at the Viswa Bharati University was a great diplomatic exchange, including meeting young organisers from the Dalit activist communities. I think that they were very happy to meet me. We also met filmmakers and linguistics, and learnt through film, song, and poetic exchange.

The next stop, Venkateswara College in New Delhi, was the host of a session shared with Ali Cobby Eckermann and Christos Tsiolkas. On arrival I was told the university knew my poetry well, and had taught it for many years. This gave me respect. Again we did student interviews for various magazines, and networked well with students and staff. The visit to the Australian High Commissioner’s residence was a good experience, and believe this should be done whenever we travel abroad. On my way to Jaipur by train, I had a glimpse of the enormity of India, and the impact of its diversity. Jaipur Literature Festival was so highly organised, and the accommodation at the Marriott was too much. The view from the window looking out over homeless families living in the rubble was difficult. This gave me the notion to speak more strongly than before, to capture the crowd to know about the many Aboriginal writers in Australia. This Jaipur Festival was entertaining, fairly open minded intelligence of little restriction for me. At times they appreciate the invaders tongue (English), whilst keeping their original languages too. I found it difficult to understand this appreciation of English.

These activities contributed tremendously to my creative process. For a start, what was achieved by the students at Jadavpur University will become a book of translation, which will be a great achievement. I also spoke about the reality of having my children’s book translated, and illustrated by one of the University’s best artists. At the same time in Delhi when I was observing my experience with fresh writings, I met Anand from Navayana Publishers. Again we discussed future projects for publications, and it was great reuniting with him at the Sydney Writers Festival 2015. I had the opportunity of being on India television. The media was intense at Jaipur, and not always graceful to my visit. The networking with other writers showcased the different views and life experiences. Stories can make a reality experience, but sometimes falls into the fantasy of entertainment.

In the future, the translation and publishing of my poetry will prompt a return trip to India, hopefully in 2016. This will be another highlight of my career. The passion of the students gave me more of a revolutionary exchange, a true alliance. It felt like a blessing to be there. The questions by the students and the diligence of their translations was something I had not experienced before. It almost created a sense of family, the shared respect for literature and the understanding and sharing that can be gained. The more I explained about my life story, the closer we seemed to grow together.

I believe it is important that cultural exchange continues. History is on our side to maintain our cultures’ alliance, and to understand each other’s political problems. I found that in some places people were aware of indigenous Australia, and interaction with more Aboriginal writers would increase this awareness. I found that the language and cultural destruction seems equal in knowing that this happens and revitalised to relive. Literature is a way to make sense and share thoughts of this. At times I saw parallels on a cultural basis, bits and pieces. Yet on a same level the poor scenery glimpsed me back to my childhood and youth, to see the present day in my own country.