By Beatrice Le Bohec
JAIPUR, India – Asia’s biggest literary festival, in India’s “pink city” Jaipur, has given pride of place to troubled Indian Kashmir, whose literature has been marked by more than two decades of rebel violence.
In recent years, the Jaipur festival has become the literary event not to be missed in India
Muslim-majority Kashmir has a rich literary tradition dating back to the 14th century, but few outside readers are familiar with its beauty because little has been translated.
But now a growing number of Kashmiri works are appearing in English as reader interest in a region beset by a separatist insurgency since 1989 is growing, festival organisers said.
Invited to appear at the five-day Jaipur Literary Festival, which began on Friday and is billed by organisers as the biggest in Asia, poet Naseem Shafaie read her work to a mainly English-speaking audience at a seminar.
Her translator Neerja Mattoo then took the floor to render the rhythm and words of Shafaie’s verse in English.
Shafaie’s haunting poetry evokes the pain she felt when her husband, a journalist, was the victim of an attack, and the distress of dispatching her son to New Delhi to keep him safe from the unrest in Kashmir.
Shafaie is the first woman to have published a book of poems in Kashmiri, entitled “Open Windows”.
“I see a growing interest in Kashmir because of the political situation. People want to read to learn,” Shafaie said through her translator.
The insurgency against Indian rule in Kashmir has claimed more than 47,000 lives, and the presence of hundreds of thousands of security forces in one of the most militarised regions in the world has fuelled the anger of residents, especially among jobless youth.
Last summer more than 100 people were shot dead by security forces during a wave of demonstrations triggered when a teenager was killed by a police tear gas bullet.
The Himalayan region is held in part by nuclear-armed India and Pakistan but claimed in full by both.
“In Kashmir, politics is inseparable from everyday life. No family was spared by the violence,” said Indian journalist Rahul Pandita, who originally hailed from the area and has reported in conflict zones such as Iraq.
“But it takes time for problems to find a place in the local literature, and it takes even more time for them to be translated into English.”
Kashmiri literature translated into English will develop in the next five years, he predicted, especially as “poetic expression grows in certain forms of misfortune.”
Mattoo, who has translated three books of Kashmiri short stories and poetry into English, said there were limits on the number of English versions that can can appear because of a simple lack of translators.
In recent years, the Jaipur festival, which began in 2006 with a handful of authors and participants, has become the literary event not to be missed in India.
More than 200 authors were invited this year and organisers expect more than 50,000 people to attend the event, which offers discussions, readings and concerts in the scenic setting of a 19th-century hotel in Jaipur known as the “Pink City” because of its rose-coloured buildings.