Today’s FOSWAL literature festival in Delhi includes talks on the crises between Russia and Ukraine and Israel and Palestine.

The goal of novelist Ajeet Cour’s 1985 conception of the FOSWAL (Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature) festival was to recognize and engage writers from the area in conversation. Over three decades later, the goal is still the same as Cour negotiates international politics and their effects on the event.

From December 3 to 6, the festival, which is being held at the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature in Siri Fort Institutional Area in New Delhi, will feature discussions centered around the two current armed crises in the world: the one between Ukraine and Russia and the one between Israel and Palestine.

“Someone should be sorry about the wars. If writers and poets, who are usually sensitive and responsive, don’t feel anguished, then who will? In India, we have suffered so much because of terrorism and conflicts that have continued for so many years now,” says Cour, president of FOSWAL.

In addition to participants from six nations—Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and NN Vohra, the former governor of Jammu and Kashmir; professor Ashis Nandy; and Priyanga Wickramasinghe, the deputy high commissioner of Sri Lanka—the festival will also feature Shankar Prasad Sharma, the ambassador of Nepal to India.

“Given India’s relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan, delegates from those countries are no longer part of the event, but several authors still reach out to me. Authors in the region want this forum to continue and that is what is keeping it going despite the fact that the government funding that we used to get earlier has now stopped. We are sustaining it on our own, and from the earnings of my daughter (artist Arpana Caur),” says Cour. 

She remembers that ten Pakistani writers, including Intizar Hussain and Ahmed Faraz, attended the first literary gathering she organized in Delhi in 1987.

To open with Cour’s address, the festival’s opening day on December 3 will also see a session on “Bhakti, Buddhism, Sufism”. The following days will include poetry readings in Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi, reading of excerpts from fiction and papers, and a session dedicated to translation.”We spend months researching, curating and reaching out to people who we think should be part of the event,” says Cour.

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