The written word has the power to cross barriers and unite groups in a way that few other things can. The FOSWAL writing Festival in Delhi, which has long supported local writing, is perhaps one of the finest examples of this. Through literary and cultural exchanges, FOSWAL (the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature) has laboured to foster and bolster the cultural ties between the SAARC member nations since its founding.

The goal has always been to encourage conversation and discussion among people in order to promote peace and tranquilly in the area. This festival’s founder and director, renowned author Ajeet Caur, is still in charge with help from her daughter, artist Arpana Caur, and a capable staff. After a string of institutional mishaps, the latter directly sponsored this edition of the event.

The event this year was held at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature in Delhi’s Siri Fort Institutional Area from March 26 to 28. Nasser Munjee, Chairman of the Aga Khan Foundation, attended the ceremony as the special guest of honour. Ramendu Majumdar from Bangladesh, Dr. Kunzang Choden from Bhutan, Bhisma Upreti from Nepal, and Kanchana Priyakantha from Sri Lanka were additional guests of honour. Dr. G.N. Devy, Ambassador Suresh K. Goel, and Ambassador Deepak Vohra were also present from India. Bangladesh contributed 16 authors, Bhutan contributed 3, Sri Lanka contributed 9, and Nepal contributed 14. Over a hundred people arrived from various regions of India, including Kerala, Bengaluru, Jaipur, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, and others.

Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, a former president of Bangladesh, was honoured for his contribution to literature at the start of the event. Following that, Ajeet Cour gave an emotional address to the audience.

She said, “I am elated that eventually we are here, basking in the cosiness of our togetherness, hugging each other after five years! Though we have met online, it has been devoid of the feeling of togetherness and the warmth of your embraces.”  In her inaugural speech, Cour narrated the story of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature, specifically highlighting the wonders of Track II’ diplomacy that cultural organisations like this one enable.

“We helped with locating the village and the family of Ajmal Kasab, the terrorist who was caught alive after the 26 November attack in Bombay, through our close friend Hamid Mir of Geo TV, Pakistan. We requested that he locate Ajmal Kasab’s village and his family. After he succeeded in doing so and the father confessed that Ajmal Kasab was his son, the government of Pakistan, which had been denying any involvement of the country in the 26/11 attack, was silenced. In silence, they accepted Pakistan’s involvement in the treachery in Bombay,” she said.  

On this occasion, several prizes were also given out. For authoring the first novel in both Bhutanese and English, Dr. Kunzang Choden of Bhutan was awarded one.

Others went to distinguished authors, poets, and academics, including Dr. Rinzin Rinzin of Bhutan, a former member of parliament, Prof. Hampa Nagarajaiah of India, a scholar from Karnataka, poet, writer, and translator Bhisma Upreti of Nepal, and author and publisher Kanchana Priyakantha of Sri Lanka, the chief coordinator of FOSWAL in Sri Lanka.

 “It was a meaningful meeting of intellectual minds and writers from across borders. Everyone was outstanding. We had participants like Mofidul Hoque from Bangladesh, who conceived and built the War Liberation Museum in Dhaka, and writers like Suman Pokhral, who have reached across the borders with their creativity: Pyinngeinda and Inzananyani from Myanmar, Phramaha Niran Chueachit from Thailand, and Le Quang Nhan from Vietnam. Our other honoured guests included Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter Tara Gandhi Bhattacharjee, Sant Balbir Singh Seechewal, a Member of the Rajya Sabha, and a renowned environmentalist from Punjab. All of them brought breath-taking, intellectual views to the festival,” says Arpana Caur.

The foreign delegates went on a planned excursion to see the Qutab Minar on the third day of the festival because a festival that is all business and no play would be boring. In summary, Ajeet Cour says “In the end, over tea and pakoras, there were hugs and hugs all the way! We wished our delegates a safe journey back home and requested that they keep coming back. They are our own migratory birds from across the borders. Our own daughters and sons, our own sisters and brothers They are FOSWAL’s extended family!”

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