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Literature across borders

January 27, 2013

IT is unfortunate that two Pakistani diplomats posted in New Delhi were barred from proceeding to the Jaipur literary festival. Yet it is significant that a group of Pakistani writers did make it to the event, in the face of threats by some Indian hardliners. This was no doubt a victory for those wanting to sit together and debate. True, those who oppose people from both sides of the border coming together continue to be around. But even if their number does increase after the recent Line of Control violations, the windows through which the two neighbours can have an exchange of thought are now harder to shut than before. There is no bigger proof of this than the non-official contacts that can broaden dialogue and widen the constituency for peace. In this category, the ‘literary contact’ is critical. It is frank in admitting the problem, and delivering the response. The writers’ eloquence is in addition.

For long this literary contact had been restricted to writers and their readership across the border. Initially, one saw more Pakistani writers travelling to India to collect their share of praise. Then, with tensions easing, Indians started coming to Pakistan. This exchange has contributed to a situation where literary festivals in India have seen Pakistani writers as the star attraction and Indian writers featuring as major crowd-pullers in Pakistan’s literary fairs. The expanding body of literature in the English language in both countries and the demand the writers of these works have created across old divides have facilitated this process of coming closer. As Karachi readies itself for a new edition of its literary festival next month and Lahore prepares to initiate one of its own, the trend that has defied the hardliners in Jaipur must continue in the interest of freer mingling.