Munawwar Rana (1952-), the Urdu poet who had turned down his 2015 Sahitya Akademi prize, was the spirit of the Valley of Words International Literature and Arts Festival which took place last winter (November 2017) at Dehradun.
Rana held his own, protesting communalism and went on to declare fearlessly that this India that we celebrate is One. By his own admission, Rana declared that nowhere but in India that he could flourish and in the presence of a majority-Hindu audience Rana celebrated his Islamic identity in Urdu poetry unsurpassed anywhere in the country now.
As a nation, Valley of Words showed, we are well, alive and our souls yearn for connection with the numinous through the arts for our hearts are darkened with the sorrows of this passing world. A world where we perforce live in tears; where we are confused as on a darkling plain and nothing but poetry can save us from unknown horrors. Yuimi Vashum, Agrima Nidhi Sharma and Madhulika Mohta read their poetry. And the world imploded.
While Munawwar Rana spoke of the power of poetry in healing us, women spoke of their sorrows for being women in this cursed world.
Valley of Words is the brainchild of Sanjeev Chopra, a man who reads every one from Shakespeare to Amrita Pritam to Thomas Mann. It is his passion for reading and for art which makes VoW possible. There is a desperation in Chopra to find meaning in a cooling and abandoned world; in a world which is otherwise empty of all meaning. The troubles of the moment would destroy us, only the Vajrayana of the arts can now save us; thus Chopra has decided to begin something green.
As there was poetry aplenty, there too was hard, steely non-fiction. VoW 2017 saw the aged welcome the young. Traditions were exchanged. There was a time to dance, a time to sing, a time to be serious and ask those questions which matter in the final analysis:
what is the nature of man that s/he craves for art? What is art that one is drawn to it?