One of my highlights of this year’s Sharjah Book Fair has been the India focus in the cultural programming. The Book Fair brought out some huge name Indian authors –Shobhaa De, Shashi Tharoor, Ruskin Bond, Chetan Bhagat and others – and all the events were packed out by the enormous local Indian community. And when I say packed, I mean packed - it felt like there were a thousand people screaming for Chetan Bhagat at his event in the huge external hall at the expo centre. BIG TIME.
In addition to the India meet-the-author events, there was a panel on Arab-Indo Literary Relations that discussed the state of, well, Arab-Indian literary relations. This kind of event is important because it helps to contextualise the India program, to go beyond simply showcasing Indian authors to discussing how their work is perceived here and vice versa. Unfortunately the panel didn’t really go there; they talked a lot about the historic relations between the Arab and Indian world, though they also mentioned the need to translate regional books into languages like Malayalam, which is spoken by a large number of Indian migrants and expats living in the UAE. (To be fair, I think quite a bit got lost in translation at this event.)
It’s great to see the Book Fair cater to the diverse interests of the Sharjah community in their programming, and good to see such culturally diverse events, featuring writers from India, the Arab world and Europe. (The children’s program is even more diverse and featured writers from Argentina and China as well.) The UAE is a melting pot of nationalities, cultures and religions, and it’s nice to see that reflected in the cultural events at the Fair. However it was a bit of shame that attendees at the events weren’t always as diverse – for example, with few exceptions I only saw Indian people in the audiences for Indian authors. It would be great to see more integration, perhaps by doing more cross-cultural panels with authors of a variety of backgrounds (such as thewomen’s writing panel, which was fab!).
(Aside: It’s really cool seeing how a multilingual country gets along. Multilingualism just works here, everyone finds a common ground, and translators are used when required, no biggie.)
I’ve wanted to visit India for a long time, but now I’m really dying to get there. It’s such a reading, writing and publishing powerhouse of a country. As Shobhaa De said:
India is not just shining now but dazzling. The India growth story is astonishing, and there is so much ahead of us. The business of books in India has exploded. It is one of the few countries in the world where new bookshops are constantly opening up, where newspaper and magazine business (print) is actually growing.
It’s also been fun to read novels by Indian authors that aren’t of the literary heavyweight variety. So far I’ve read YA by Chetan Bhagat and a love story by Shobhaa De. As was said in the crime writing panel and translating panel, contemporary popular novels can create just as much insight into other cultures as high lit.
I feel like the India focus has really set a benchmark at Sharjah Book Fair. It will be great to see what countries are featured at future Fairs!