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DLF 2016 Programme Highlights



Shikor Bangladesh All Stars features super-stars of traditional Baul and folk music in Bangladesh, brought together by Band leader Dhol maestro Nazrul Islam. Shikor’s London debut in 2015 at the Songlines Encounters Festival, followed by the mega international stage at WOMAD UK secured Bangladesh’s place on the ‘World Music’ map. The performance was hailed on BBC Radio 3 as ‘One of the highlights of the festival.’ London Jazz noted the ‘seriously incredible rhythms, incredible vocals, and later (in workshop with LoKkhi TeRra) awesome cross-cultural collaboration. Performing here in memory of the beloved late Baul Rob Fakir, the band’s lead vocalist, who had also performed at our very first festival in 2011.



Filmmaker Dina Hossain talks to director Yousuf Arif and Mountain Echoes Literary Festival director Tshering Tashi.


The documentary, Blockade, highlights how communities outside Bangladesh stood up against the Pakistani military's brutal oppression in 1971. When two Pakistani military ships were coming to the Eastern Seaboard of the US to load up arms supplied by the US government (without Congressional approval and despite official ban), peace activists and Bengali expatriates in Philadelphia eventually forced some of those ships to return empty. Tshering Tashi, director of Bhutanese literary festival, Mountain Echoes, adds how Bhutan was an early supporter of Bangaldesh, and one of the first to recognize the newly independent state in 1971.




Daniel Hahn with Nicholas Lezard, Anjum Hasan, Marcia Lynx-Qualey and Amy Sackville. Authors, reviewers and translators from West and East discuss the latest trends in global fiction. A year that has seen a small novel from South Korea take the Man Booker International Prize is definitely a year to take stock of how we listen to stories from other cultures and other languages.





Alex Preston, Evie Wyld, Nael Eltoukhy, K Anis Ahmed with Nicholas Lezard. The four authors on this panel represent four different continents—Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia—and vastly different thematic preoccupations. Yet, they have all addressed politics in their writing. Can literature ever be anything but political? In a post-Marxist and increasingly post-capitalist era, can it even afford to be apolitical? Is literature about the political even when it is most intensely personal? With Nicholas Lezard, described as the ‘most influential’ reviewer in Britain, and a regular at Guardian Books.





Bappaditya Chakravarty and Shazia Omar with Saad Z Hossain: Historical novels about two fascinating figures of sub-continental history: Chandragupta, the ancient emperor, and Shaista Khan, the Mughal plenipotentiary of Bengal. Saad Z Hossain, internationally published novelist, will ask his peers why they turned to the historical, and why those particular periods? The panel will explore how Chakravarty and Omar handled the eternal contest of facts and fantasy in any fiction, but especially in the historical form.





Fakrul Alam and Syed Manzoorul Islam with MK Aaref. Fakrul Alam’s translation of the epic Bishad Sindhu (An Ocean of Sorrow), is the first English translation of this late nineteenth century novel by Bengali novelist Mir Mosharraf Hossain (1847-1912). Bishad Sindhu is widely acknowledged as one of the earliest classics of Bengali literature, and the first substantial work of fiction by a Bengali Muslim writer. It is part historical fiction, and part epic narrative, and was inspired by the story of the travails of the prophet’s grandsons Hasan and Husayn, and their unnatural deaths at the hands of their enemies. The work is remarkable because of its enduring popularity as a novel as well as part of rural performances, particularly in the month of Muharram. The session marks the publication of this translation, and will include renditions of folk performance, followed by a short film, and a discussion with Fakrul Alam, writer Syed Manzoorul Islam and Director of the EMK Center MK Aaref. 





Antara Ganguli with Iresh Zaker. Using the instrument of letters between two protagonists—Tania Ghosh in Bombay and Tanya Talati in Karachi—Antara Ganguli’s debut novel narrates the highs and lows, and the joys and pains of growing up as a girl in the subcontinent. The themes of love, suspense and power are brought alive through their correspondence. At a time when political tension between India and Pakistan is at its highest in decades, this is an important debut work that celebrates a commonality and need for empathy between the citizens of the two countries. Antara speaks with Iresh Zaker, the actor, producer and television personality.





Karthika VK, Arunava Sinha, and Nicholas Lezard with Charlie Campbell. In this age of fast-paced technology and social media hype, is the death of literary fiction, and literature, inevitable? One on hand, independent publishers are squeezed out of the market, and on the other, writers can't make a living on their work. However, literary fiction and occasionally poetry still hit bestsellers’ lists, and give fifty or more shades a run for their money. Bookshops, too, have seen a surge in their sales after the initial dip caused by electronic reading devices. As long as civilization exists, will literature remain? Or will it somehow be killed, and how, why and by whom, inadvertently or not?





Amy Sackville and Evie Wyld with Karthika VK. Every one of us has lied at some point in our lives, and it is often the case that we were compelled to lie to avoid a sticky situation. But why do we lie to ourselves? Possibly for the very simple reason to feel better about ourselves. But sometimes the truth hurts, and in the short term, a lie may work better—if for nothing else, for the sake of self-preservation. Using that rationale, does lying to oneself mitigate the immediate crisis; and moreover, can it actually facilitate in one's long-term growth?





Nael Eltoukhy and Marcia Lynx Qualey with Kelly Falconer. The rich tradition of Arab fiction, as we know, dates back to A Thousand and One Nights. Stories in the epic volume cover everything from romance to science fiction. It was, however, in 1988 when Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize for his Cairo Trilogy, that Arab fiction was put in the pantheon of contemporary literature. Aside from Mahfouz, there have been several masters of the modern Arab novel, most notably Abdel Rahman Munif, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Sonallah Ibrahim, and so on. But how does their collective legacy stand up to a generation of new writers in the region? Celebrated Egyptian writer Nael Eltoukhy and founder-editor of Marcia Lynx Qualey talk to Kelly Falconer of Asia Literary Agency.





SJ Fowler, Maqsoodul Haque and Vuyelwa Maluleke with Anjum Hasan. Poetry is arguably the most complex, independent, romantic and most definitely, powerful form of literature. It is the art of compression of raw, unfiltered emotions that gives it such potency. When this art is applied to dissent, it can cause revolutions in the heart and on the streets. From John Milton to Emily Dickinson, from Bangladeshi National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam to American jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron, they all have used the formation of words in poetic forms to protest injustice and the ills of our society. Join three poets whose words light fire on the pages in discussion with one of India’s leading literary editors.





Arunava Sinha, Kaiser Haq, QP Alam, and Syed Manzoorul Islam with Daniel Hahn. Ten stories in translation that create a literary map of Dhaka, from the torturous days of the independence war to the chaotic splendour of its expanding presence. The stories also represent ten of the strongest voices from the country, in marvellous new renditions. A collaboration of the ULAB Dhaka Translation Center, Comma Press of UK, along with Commonwealth Writers, English PEN and the British Centre for Literary Translation.





Barkha Dutt, Jeffrey Yang, Ben Judah, Marcia Lynx-Qualey, and Kazi Nabil Ahmed with Sriram Karri. Dutt and Judah have just come from covering the recent US elections. Yang is an American poet, and Lynx-Qualey is the leading curator of Arabic writing. Ahmed is a Bangladeshi politician and keen observer of American and global politics. Karri, an Indian writer and journalist, will engage this motley crew in spirited speculations of the world in the Age of Trump.





Max Rodenbeck, Ben Judah, Rosamund Urwin and Zafar Sobhan with Justin Rowlatt. Ever since 9/11, the world has appeared more full of conflict and instability. In addition to America's ‘war on terror,’ countries have erupted into protests leading to civil wars, and tensions are rising between America and its rivals—old and new. The financial implosion of 2008 continues to haunt the global economy. Leading journalists discuss with Dhaka Tribune editor Zafar Sobhan how this tumultuous new world can settle, and how much more trouble it might see before it does.





Nael Eltoukhy, Marcia Lynx Qualey, and Justin Rowlatt with Max Rodenbeck. The Arab Spring created great expectations; but besides Tunisia, the uprisings only led to brutal crackdowns. People who know the region well discuss what comes after a season of such hopes, so brutally dashed. Egyptian writer Nael Eltoukhy and Arabic translator Lynx Qualey are joined by BBC's Rowlatt and the Economist's Rodenbeck.





Ahmed Mustafa, Hamid Ismailov, Kanak Mani Dixit and Prabda Yoon with Romana Cacchioli. Bangladeshi author Mustafa faces a death threat from extremists, Dixit has been forced to shut down his celebrated news magazine, and Ismailov is in exile and Prabda Yoon is a prominent publisher in Thailand. Why are wielders of brute power so sensitive to works that often reach very few people? Are words and ideas really that frightening to the powerful? PEN International Director Cacchioli leads the discussion.





Naresh Fernandes, Manjula Narayan, Sriram Karri with Max Rodenbeck. Intolerance is on the rise and pluralism in retreat in India, the world's largest democracy, with freedom of speech and space for dissent a casualty from JNU to Kashmir. Leading journalists from three streams of media—Barkha Dutt of NDTV, Naresh Fernandes of and Manjula Narayan of Hindustan Times—along with writer Sriram Karri discuss reasons behind the worsening trends. Max Rodenbeck, South Asia bureau chief of the Economist, asks how things have come to such a pass, how much worse things could get, and what has to happen for them to get better.





In the tumultuous age of Trump, two American poets Vijay Seshadri and Jeffrey Yang discuss their changing homeland. What is a citizen—and an artist—to do when the very idea of ourselves becomes a matter of bitter conflict. In discussion with Eddin Khoo.





Bee Rowlatt with Firdous Azim. Paying homage to her childhood idol Mary Wollstonecraft, Bee Rowlatt embarked on a journey around the globe tracing the footsteps of the great feminist, except Bee takes her baby boy Will with her. Travelling with an infant can be both challenging and joyous, and much of it depends on the nation and the attitude of its people—some are more welcoming than others. Bee Rowlatt’s book In Search of Mary seeks to answer as well as raise some important questions on motherhood and emancipation, whilst paying a fitting tribute to Wollstonecraft, whose writings are just as relevant today.





A non-linear film on the modern dilemmas that are faced by young couples in this war torn and unforgiving world. Filmmaker Indranil Roychowdhury discusses trials and tribulations of contemporary life with writer Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay in conversation with Syeda Sadia Mehjabin. (Bilingual)





Filmmaker Dina Hossain talks to director Yousuf Arif and Mountain Echoes Literary Festival director Tshering Tashi.


The documentary, Blockade, highlights how communities outside Bangladesh stood up against the Pakistani military's brutal oppression in 1971. When two Pakistani military ships were coming to the Eastern Seaboard of the US to load up arms supplied by the US government (without Congressional approval and despite official ban), peace activists and Bengali expatriates in Philadelphia eventually forced some of those ships to return empty. Tshering Tashi, director of Bhutanese literary festival, Mountain Echoes, adds how Bhutan was an early supporter of Bangaldesh, and one of the first to recognize the newly independent state in 1971.





Aniruddha Sen's documentary, The Saints of Sin is a lyrical journey of eight Bengali women.  In intimate conversations recorded over three years, the women acknowledge her propensity towards a sin and their negotiations with it. They discuss their struggles against entrenched patriarchal notions, family expectation and the pressures of their own conscience. The conversations are interlaced with songs by popular Bangladeshi women singers Anusheh Anadil, Armeen Musa, Nashid Kamal and Aanon Siddiqua, and the all-women Ghaashphoring Choir.





Traditional folk music merges with powerful narratives of tolerance, humanism and grassroots empowerment in the play Bondhon, by Onirban Gononatok Dol from Gazipur. The play takes a stand against hate and prejudice. It is a celebration of cultural and religious freedom, a call to come together and a reminder that our strength comes in our unity. The performance, like all of BRAC's popular theatres, uses the Third Theatre approach, where the performer relies on direct communication with the audience.





In the tradition of pala gaan, a Bangladeshi folk style of storytelling through song, this performance deals with the current situation linked with conflicting ideologies within Islam. The performance is structured as an argument in song between a mystic and cleric





Monosha Mongol Shomprodoy from Barisal have been enacting the epic of Behula Lokkhindor for decades. Unlike most others, where the performers are exclusively men, their performances feature women. This is especially important given that the story is an ode to the Goddess Manasha, and a celebration of the power of women, through Behula’s heroic and defiant journey to bring her husband back to life.





Neda Shakiba will chant and recite, in the tradition of the Bahá'í community of Bangladesh, the words of God prescribed onto mankind in five languages including Bengali, English, Farsi, Arabic and Hindi.





Long and short poems curating the experience of Black womanhood from varying points, interspersed with the stories that each poem is based on. The poems pose questions of language, identity, race, country, mental illness and self love. They seek to resist ideas of ‘beauty’ and ‘womanness’ formed in relation to whiteness. They seek to show this Black woman body as she is, flesh, and person pushing against ideas of ‘the strong black woman.’ With the aid of multimedia and music, the narrators of the poems search for someplace to belong, sometimes that place is silence, or death, or country.






Bauliana Caravan is a snapshot of the ‘original culture’ of Bangladesh. For 300 years or more the agnostic Baul’s have spoken for and about humanity. Their verses and songs have ready answers for the cause and reasons of our millennium ailments—the conflicts and division among races, colours, sexes, belief and creeds.


Bauliana Caravan features Darbesh Hossain Ali Shah, Fakir Bazlu Shah, Baul Shahjahan Munshi, Baul Shahabul, Shahnaz Belli, Dilruba Parvin Borsha, Kohinur Akter Golapi and Anjali Das Gupta. Musician Maqsood Haque will talk us through the Baul tradition, conveying the mystery of their practices for an urban sensibility.




Ben Judah, Alex Preston and Rosamund Urwin with Justin Rowlatt. London Bridge is not falling down, but the Pound Sterling has taken a nosedive since the seminal referendum that cost David Cameron his job as Britain’s prime minister, only months after winning a landslide election. Is it all doom and gloom from here? Was this a victory for the UK’s far-right? Contrary to what a lot of experts may have predicted, post-Brexit, the British economy have been buoyant, and maybe this is the beginning of the end for the grand European project. The three writers on this panel—Ben Judah, Alex Preston and Rosamund Urwin—have strong opinions on Brexit and they will be responding to curious questions from BBC’s South Asia bureau chief Justin Rowlatt.




‘I would say that when I write prose I’m a more socially responsible person. I’m much more a citizen of the world. But the instability of the poetry, the emotional jaggedness, is also me’—Vijay Seshadri. 

Born in Bangalore, Vijay Seshadri moved to the US at the age of five and won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for his collection 3 Sections. One of the leading poets of our times, Seshadri is also known for his essays and literary criticism. He is currently based in New York and an editor at The New Yorker. Hear what Seshadri has to say to one of the leading editors from India, VK Karthika, about being a citizen of the world, the creative process of writing poetry, his influences, and the strangeness of growing up in Columbus, Ohio in the 1960s.


One of the greatest living writers, Nobel Prize-winning VS Naipaul, in conversation with DLF director Ahsan Akbar about his literary work. Fifty five years ago, A House for Mr Biswas placed Sir Vidia as one of the youngest fellows of the Royal Society of Literature. Described by TIME magazine as ‘a master of the modern novel,’ he produced literary masterpieces such as In a Free State, Guerrillas, An Area of Darkness, The Mimic Men, The Enigma of ArrivalA Bend in the RiverAmong the Believers and many other modern classics in both fiction and nonfiction. This is Sir Vidia’s first ever trip to Bangladesh and he comes as a guest of honour of Dhaka Lit Fest. 



Bring your pen and pad for this interactive session! Everyone attending this event may submit a text of up to 2,000 words, in any genre of fiction or narrative non-fiction. Two texts will be chosen at random and distributed to the audience in advance. Novelist, non-fiction writer and National Academy of Writing director Richard Beard will then publicly edit these texts, working on the principle that writers face similar challenges and an edit for one is an edit for all. Send your submissions to [email protected]; deadline for submitting: 12 November 2016.



Deborah Smith, Arunava Sinha, Carles Torner, Kaiser Haq with Daniel Hahn. From ancient times to the very present, translations have remained a vital aspect not only of literature but indeed all learning. There is now a unique urgency of translations in a globalized era as we are forced to contend with other cultures with increasing frequency. This panel brings the winner of the Man Booker International 2016 and publisher at Tilted Axis Press, Deborah Smith; PEN's translation and linguistic rights director, Carles Torner, Dhaka Translation Center's director, Kaiser Haq; and series editor of the Library of Bangladesh, Arunava Sinha. The four will celebrate the unveiling of new titles from the Dhaka Translation Center while discussing—with Daniel Hahn, major Spanish-to-English translator—the issues of cross-border communication.



Lady Nadira Naipaul, Barkha Dutt, Evie Wyld and Deborah Smith moderated by Bee Rowlatt. The now-infamous pejorative used by US presidential candidate Donald Trump has been embraced by feminists worldwide as a badge of honour. Journalists Lady Naipaul and Barkha Dutt, writer Evie Wyld and publisher Deborah Smith, will be in conversation with writer and journalist Bee Rowlatt, delving into cultural prejudices that make it easy to denigrate strong, accomplished women. The panel will explore how they are carving out their destinies despite what ‘society’ thinks, says, enables, or doesn't.



For five years Tim Cope took to the life of a nomad, travelling over 6,000 miles on horseback across the Eurasian steppe from Mongolia, through Kazakhstan, Russia, and the Ukraine, to Hungary retracing the trail of the founder of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan. Join Tim Cope’s unmissable session to hear a very personal story of extreme adventure and endurance. There is action, drama, romance, history, and the expression of ultimate freedom in the nomadic way of life, all of which Cope encompasses in his award-winning bestseller.



This staged enactment of Haq’s short novel Neel Dongshon, one of the great classics of modern Bangladeshi literature, pays tribute the great writer who passed away in September of this year. The novel, republished last year in a smart new translation from the Dhaka Translation Center, hinges mainly around the interrogation of a young man during the Liberation War of 1971, who is mistaken by his Pakistani captors to be the great poet Nazrul. The contest between brute power and the word—by turns innocent, absurd, sly and treacherous—holds as much power today in a time of shrinking freedoms, as it did when first released in the 1970s. 



Vijay Seshadri, Khademul Islam, Jeffrey Yang with Amina Yaqin. ‘There’s no money in poetry, but there’s no poetry in money, either,’ quipped Robert Graves. Publishers may be less and less keen to publish poetry and one would be hard pressed to find a literary agent specialising in representing poets. The paradox, however, lies with the number of poets emerging with every passing year and the undying love for recitations. One of Bangladesh’s leading editors and a self-professed poetry lover, Khademul Islam, joins two of New York City’s leading poets, Vijay Seshadri and Jeffrey Yang, in a conversation moderated by Amina Yaqin, who teaches contemporary poetry as part of postcolonial studies at SOAS, University of London.







Chador Wangmo with stories from our neighbouring Bhutan, drawing from a tradition of folk storytelling, tries to understand why things are the way they are.




Little Asha learns that even the scariest, most unfamiliar journeys can lead to wonderful, magical adventures if you keep an open mind! A storytelling session under the banyan tree for children, ages five to seven years.





None of the family members believed that little Minu could fly the kite as she was a special-needs child. As the proverb goes, ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way.’ Minu is about to surprise everyone with sheer force of effort. A story-telling session under the banyan tree for children of all ages.





A multimedia performance using live performance and animation, about the history of Muslin. For children seven years and older.

2016 Speakers

speakers list