Indian sentiment is not against Pakistan because people in the country are open to cultural exchanges with the neighbouring country, says Ajeet Cour, the founder president of the Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature (FOSWAL)."
"When the National School of Drama refused to hold the performance of Madeeha Gohar's play 'Kaun hai yeh ghustaakh?' it was the people of Delhi who organized two shows for them instead of one, Ajeet Cour told IANS in interview here.
"This is a secular and democratic country and people here understand that differences between governments and armies should not be allowed to interfere in the people-to-people contacts," Cour said.
The Foundation of SAARC Writers and Literature will organize the SAARC Festival of Literature in Agra March 10-12.
Cour is a multi-facetted personality. An accomplished writer, she presents in her writings a mix of realism, biting social commentary and a masterful use of free indirect speech. Her two-volume autobiography, "Homeless Nomads (English translation, 'Pebbles in a Tin drum') and "the Residue" (Khaana Badosh and Koorha Kabaarha), tells the tale of her enduring odyssey - literary, social and cultural. She is a peace activist and promoter of literature in the South Asian region.
Cour says SAARC is not just about India and Pakistan.
"It encompasses eight countries. The aim of my Foundation is to serve long-term goals. Sporadic incidents are not our concern, and almost all the SAARC countries are today democratic, sovereign nations. Each has a law of the land and is entitled to use it as and when necessary," she said, adding that the literature from the region reflected unique national issues of the respective nations.
Explaining the reason for choosing Agra as the venue of the SAARC Literature Festival, she said the main reason of course was that "Agra has one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal, and every visitor to this country wants to visit it".
Cour is proud of her role as a cultural bridge in the region.
"I am very proud of the fact that writers from all over the SAARC countries treat me as an elder sister, the younger ones treat me as a mother. They wish to avail my invitation, most send requests to be included. It means they treat FOSWAL as a platform where serious deliberations are held and, meaningful work in literature is appreciated," she said.
Cour said the "facilitation of this sharing, I believe, has been "my greatest achievement".
"Besides, of course, is the fact that I have slogged for more than 25 years to convince the powers that be that such track II-initiatives are a necessary part of the peace process; that culture is the backbone of friendship, and mutual co-existence is something that only writers and artistes can talk about convincingly," she said.
She clarified that the SAARC festival, unlike many others, was not aimed at making headlines.
"We are trying to bring about slow, steady and sustainable development in the field of writing," she said.
She said the Foundation had a chain of coordinators in each country who recommend writers and encourage these writers "to send us their works".
"The screening committee goes through these works and then we make the final selection. However, we do keep languages in our mind while we are selecting. South Asia has so many languages and we try to have representatives from as many as possible each year. When some language goes unrepresented we try to get a writer from that language in the following year," Cour told IANS.
In response to a query on young writers in the region, Cour said she was satisfied "that the bulk of writing has increased and so many young people are indulging in creative writing".
(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)