The Hay Festival – Promoting Bengali Literature

With the goal of bringing together Bangladeshi and British authors to share ideas and promote the benefits of reading, the Hay Festival of Literature and Arts recently took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The event was held in the grounds of the British Council in Dhaka and was well attended. This is the first time that the festival has taken place in Bangladesh and organizers used every opportunity to promote Bangladeshi literature to the many delegates and visitors in attendance. The Hay Festival originated in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, in 1988 and has since been hosted in a number of venues around the world, including Kerala, Nairobi, Segovia, Xalapa, Beirut and Cartagena.

Promoters of Bengali literature have noted that language creates a barrier preventing authors from sharing their work with the rest of the world. With this is mind, experienced translators were among those attending the Hay Festival, where they could network with authors and arrange to collaborate on translating literary works from Bengali to other languages, with the emphasis on English. Speakers at the festival emphasized that Bangladesh has a rich cultural heritage and a wealth of literary talent which has the potential of being recognized and appreciated internationally. It was noted that India has accepted English as a second language and it would be beneficial to do the same in Bangladesh. Addressing an attentive audience, Professor Kaiser Haq of the University of Liberal Arts suggested that English should be officially accepted as a second language in the country, pointing out that it was already being used as such in an unofficial capacity.

With the festival coinciding with the 150th birth anniversary of Rabindranath Tagore, many of the discussions featured the works of this legendary Bengali poet, novelist, playwright, musician and artist. Events taking place throughout the day-long festival included intellectual and cultural programmes, eighteen literary sessions, dance recitals, music concerts and a theater production. Guest authors included Selina Hossain, Jon Gower, Tahmima Anam, Firdous Azim, Tiffany Murray, Kaiser Haq, Andrew Miller, and Shazia Omar.

Declared to be a “history-making event” by Gowhar Rizvi, the international affairs advisor to the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, it is anticipated that the Hay Festival will be the start of an era where the literary talents of Bangladeshi authors and poets will be appreciated on an international level.