A pre-event interview with Mitra Phukan – Guwahati Literary Festival – 2014

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If you need to snap out of that humdrum life of yours or if you need some substantial food for thought, whether you are an aficionado of literature or a shameless bookaholic, then, this December end, Guwahati city is the place to be! Jerry Pinto, Mark Tully, Namita Gokhale… the crème de la crème of the literary world, and a mini constellation of literary heavyweights from the region, are poised to kick up quite a storm at the very first edition of The Guwahati Literary Festival. This brilliantly curated event promises to be an intriguing affair with poets, playwrights, journalists, publishers and authors brainstorming on a scintillating array of panel discussions and talks.

On the eve of the fest, Fried Eye had tête-à-tête with the vivacious Mitra Phukan, litterateur and artiste par excellence, who is a panelist and speaker at the fest.

FE: How does is feel to be a part of the debut edition of The Guwahati Literary Fest?

MP: I’m excited..very excited. You know Book fairs have always had these parallel meets where highly acclaimed writers come and speak and go away. But there’s this new genre or form, shall we say, of the lit fest which is special because of the scope of interaction between writers and their readers.glf-mitra-phukan2

I’ve been told that in India, literary fests, both old and new ones, number somewhere around a hundred. There’s Jaipur of course, the big daddy of them all and the one in Bangalore which is crowd funded…they’re very proud of that and have every reason to be. And then  there are these small intimate affairs happening in Goa and Shillong which are lovely in their own way. But it isn’t easy of course…two things, funds… and once that’s in place, a group of committed people.

What’s unique about the Guwahati lit Fest is that it’s under the Publication Board and it’s got the stamp of the government, so to speak. For the government to allow this kind of a meet where there’ll be alternate views and a diversity of opinions..writers tend to speak their mind, you know.. So, it’s special and it makes me proud. And it’s wonderful how eclectic the participation is..

FE: The intellectual magnitude of the participants does stand out. There’s Mark Tully, Arnab Goswami, Urvashi Butalia…Namita Gokhale, John Elliot, Somak Ghoshal and many others.

MP: Indeed! In fact, there were ambitions for a lot more heavyweights…Whenever I’m at one of the Pan-indian meets, I always have writers coming to me and saying, “Why don’t you organize something in the Northeast? We’d love to come!”  They’re very eager to explore the region because it isn’t overexposed. A lot of invitees have sent in their regrets as they had prior engagements, and of course, they’ve promised to come next time.

FE: Tell us a little about your sessions. There’s one with Namita Gokhale?

MP: Yes. I’m doing a talk called ‘Remembering Dr Indira Goswami’ and Namita is chairing it. It’s wonderful to be sharing space with her. I’ve always had great respect for her boldness..her personal courage..the things she’s managed to achieve. Speaking on Mamoni Baidew has always been special. It’s sending me back to her stories…I’m discovering things, seeing her stories in a new light.

And then of course there’s the panel on Music and Literature that I’m moderating..glf-mitra-phukan

FE: Ah! Your twin passions!

MP: Yes. I’m very lucky that I have two loves..it keeps things interesting

FE: Which explains your vibrancy and your freshness

MP: (laughs) A very clever way to couch a compliment..

But yes, this panel is especially interesting because there’s a meld, you know, between music and literature… there always has been. We have a strong oral tradition with chants and melody..music acts as a memory enhancer… the interaction between the two is very interesting and they complement each other.

This topic is particularly relevant because parts of our region are only now emerging from the oral tradition and entering the literary sphere…the written world. While it’s important to encourage this, it’s also essential that we don’t lose the oral tradition..it has its own richness, its own value..

The panelists are very talented…there’s Rakshanda Jalil, Akhu. It’d be wonderful if they’d break out in song; I’m hoping to achieve that. And I’m hoping I can do justice to both my sessions.

FE: You certainly will! Fried Eye wishes you the best and hopes the Lit Fest will be a resounding success!

For more details : Guwahati Literary Festival

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