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Curtains come down on Doon's literary extravaganza

Though initially doubtful about attending a literature festival in Dehradun, I was surprised by an unexpected number of literature enthusiasts crowding the event on its very first day. The second edition of 'Valley of Words' – a three-day extravaganza aiming to further the literary pursuit of Doon – got underway on November 23 and concluded on a Sunday afternoon at Hotel Madhuban, Dehradun.

Amidst the scenic ambiance and hustle-bustle of the crowd, VoW was inaugurated by Governor of Uttrakhand Baby Rani Maurya, who also released the special first-day postal cover. Following the grand opening, Economist and Author Bibek Debroy gave a keynote on 'Universal Learnings from Sanskrit Classics'.

The festival brought together best of writers, critics, painters, photographers, academicians, and other literarians to have compelling panel discussions across various fields. Among the 70 plus sessions, what caught my attention was the one on 'India's wars since Independence: (With a special tribute to Gen Zorawar Bakshi. Featuring notable names like Major General VK Singh, Major General Randhir Singh and Moderator Maj Gen Ian Cardozo, the session highlighted how Britishers identified the potential of Indian soldiers in fighting even the deadliest wars. But Indians in today's time fail to acknowledge the contribution of their own soldiers. Cardozo concluded the session stating, "Events like Valley of Words give an opportunity to reminisce stories of the soldiers before and after Independence.

Another highlight of day 1 was a session on 'Women Extraordinaire by Dr Suchita Malik: A saga of the lives of five women of indomitable spirit, who refuse to crumble under pressure or give up because of the cruel twists of fate.'

Juggling between different halls of the hotel which hosted varied panel discussions, exhibitions, and book launches, I managed to get the final glimpse of this session where Malik talked about her book being the solid supporter of marriage – a crumbling institution. "This is the era of divorces, separation, and fights. Tolerance level has reduced to zero and we are not ready to rectify the problems, talk of compromises or adjustments in marriages. But I believe that marriage is an institution which gives us the anchor to society. You just need to give space to your partner and learn the art of tolerance. And as a writer, I believe that I have the creative freedom of highlighting different aspects of a situation/concept," she stated.

When asked about beautifully intertwining partition in the backdrop of the story, Malik drew parallel as to how Kaushalya's story (lead protagonist) and India's story (transformative stage of partition – pre-partition, partition and post-partition are synonymous with each other. "They grow up together, evolve together, face life together, struggle together and build up a new life," she said.

From theatre, journalism, music to politics and history – all of which influence literature directly or indirectly, gripping discussions around every possible field occupied other slots of the day.

The evening got even more interesting when students from Graphic Era Hill University presented a Nukkad Natak that brought forth the pitiable condition of women in today's society.

First up for day 2 was a Hindi debate on 'Bollywood ne Hindi ko Aabad/barbaad Kiya hai', featuring Leela Dhar Jaagudi, Budhinath Mishra, Sangeet Gupta, and Kumudini Nautiyal. Rather than sticking to my chair, I decided to explore the exhibitions and craft expo presented by maestros as well as budding talent. 'Gossamer Dreams' by a 4 year old Ayan Gogoi Gohain, 'A bird came down the walk: An ode to the birds in Mussoorie', 'Philately: Icy Continent and Indian Expedition', 'Images and Words: From a village in the valley' and many more art shows were truly a feast for eyes. What stood out from the rest was 'Glimpses of Last Shangri-La – The spirit of celebration', an exhibition highlighting the aspects of the celebration of Indo-Tibetian Buddhism prevalent in the north-eastern Himalayan belt of India.

The spiritual attainment in this 'Land of the Lamas' is evident through the use of enigmatic chantings, cosmic sounds of their traditional cymbals, wind instruments and drums. There is also a bountiful use of vibrant colours in their traditional attires which are used in their religious dance forms. The artist has attempted to represent these aspects in his artwork.

Heading back, I took a seat to hear another panel discussion on Jairam Ramesh's 'Intertwined Lives' which threw light on the life of PN Haksar. Jairam, who was in conversation with eminent journalist and author Sir Mark Tully, and Sekhar Raha elaborately talked on the relationship that Haksar shared with Indira Gandi. During the discussion, Jairam evidently mentioned Haksar's voluntary exit from the sanctum sanctorum after he realised how things changed because of Sanjay Gandhi.

Manish Tiwari in conversation with Manoj Jha, DP Tripathi, and Tarun Vijay were part of this edition's Vox populi: 'The best debate occurs outside the parliament'. Manoj Jha spoke of how people are unaware of the essence of 'Debate'. "Debate is more about listening to other person's point of view and countering it with a witty remark. The very essence of debate is wit, humour, addressing the point that your opponent makes and the ability to turn even the most intense conversation into an engaging dialogue."

Other sessions of the day including 'Raga Bollywood by K L Pandey (where he introduced audience to the patterns of notes in a song), 'Murder in Mahim' (Author Jerry Pinto discussed his latest novel with RVS Kapur) were equally appreciated by the audience.

Up next, on the stage was Vidya Sagar Group from Srinagar, singing folk songs of the valley to an enthusiastic audience. People couldn't control but dance to their tunes until they ran out of breath. Soon after, 'Cash and Russel show' proved another treat for the music lovers who were enthralled by the duo's (Vicky Cash and Sharon Russel) guitar showmanship.

Organised in collaboration with REC (Rural Electrification Corporation) and Shivalik Hills Foundation, Valley of Words also offered a platform to young authors and poets to showcase their work.

The third and final day had some of the best sessions of the festival but unfortunately wasn't attended by many people.

Speaking about 'Literature in School', the discussion among Syeda Imam, Matthew Raggett and Bijoya Swain was punctuated with interesting insights as they shared their views on 'why today's students lack interest in literature'. One of the panelists said, "This is the age of loneliness. Each member of the family is living in his own universe, unaware of the other person. But if we come out of our shell and start sharing our stories with others, we can in a way instill the love for literature within us as well as children. Because literature to me is 'a sense of sharing'. We need to look beyond the books and experience life."

The next session titled 'Yes Chief Minister' was perhaps the most interesting of all. Prem Shankar Jha was in conversation with three biographers Dola Mitra, Khushwant Singh, and Shantanu Gupta, who have written about Mamta Banerjee, Amarinder Singh, and Yogi Adityanath respectively.

The session started on a lighter note where the three of them talked about what struck them to write books on their respective subjects. But the panelist got into a heated argument after Jha questioned Shantanu Gupta about not maintaining neutrality in his book.

The festival closed with acceptance speeches and valedictory address by Tarun Vijay.

Syeda Eba

Syeda Eba

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