The ‘Sundance of literary festivals’ in India*
From its inception in 2010, the unique, homegrown, volunteer-driven and non-profit Goa Arts and Literature Festival (GALF) has slowly emerged as one of the premier cultural showcases of India. GALF was founded to celebrate the margins, taking inspiration from an idea developed by the late Eunice de Souza, a renowned poet of Goan origin, that there are ‘different ways of belonging’. For GALF, this has translated into a consistent emphasis on writers and artists from Goa, from India’s North-East and Kashmir, as well as from countries like Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. GALF has also devoted substantial attention to themes such as Dalit writing, poetry, graphic novels, and translations.
GALF is held annually at The International Centre Goa, or ICG as it is commonly known as, in the first half of December. ICG is a non-profit autonomous society founded in June 1987 under the Societies Registration Act, 1860. It was inaugurated by the former President of India, the late Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma, on 18 June, 1996. General Sunith F. Rodrigues (Retd) (PVSM, VSM) served as ICG’s founding Director. ICG was conceived as a forum to bring together thinkers/intellectuals, academics, writers, public policy experts, artists, industrialists, community leaders and all other kinds of achievers and creative people from both India and abroad.
Since its founding, ICG has emerged as a hub of socio-cultural activities, political dialogue, economic debates and a variety of other programmes including film festivals, exhibitions, workshops, concerts, plays, quiz contests, painting competitions and even social evenings. The diversity of programmes that ICG hosts is a true reflection of its strength as an ideational centre. These programmes attract a fairly large number of people of all ages to its green campus. Approximately 20,000 people visit ICG on an annual basis for various reasons and contribute to making it a vibrant and lively place in the quiet suburb of Dona Paula. Visitors to ICG have included former prime ministers the late I. K. Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh as well as several other senior political leaders.
Despite its small size and modest budget, GALF has become a magnet for some of the most acclaimed writers and poets from across India and the rest of the world world. Over the years, the inaugural address has been delivered by the late U. R. Ananthamurthy, Gulzar, Amitav Ghosh, the late Eunice DeSouza, Mridula Garg, Meera Kosambi, Mitra Phukan, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Edwin Thumboo, Goa’s own Wendell Rodricks, Dayanita Singh, and Keki Daruwalla. In addition, a range of exciting new talent has debuted at GALF for the first time, including Nigerian-American novelist Teju Cole, the Pakistani novelist Bilal Tanweer, the award-winning Samanth Subramaniam, and French graphic novelist Nicolas Wild.
The First Edition in 2010, inaugurated by Prof. U. R. Ananthamurthy, exceeded all expectations with three full days of art, music, photography, lectures, debate and discussion that attracted large numbers of people to ICG.
The Second Edition, inaugurated by Gulzar and Amitav Ghosh in 2011, coincided with the 50th anniversary of Goa's liberation. It was an opportunity to reflect on the idea of India portrayed through the perspective of cultures, communities and writers on the margins of the grand historical narrative of the country. There was a particular emphasis on Diaspora, on the Goan and other Indian migrant communities across the world which retain different ideas about what being Indian means, as well as on the North-East of India and its art, music and literature.
The Third Edition in 2012 was inaugurated by eminent writers Mridula Garg and Eunice DeSouza at the Kala Academy Goa. Shri. Bharat Vir Wanchoo, Hon. Governor of Goa was the Chief Guest while Hon. Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir, Shri. Omar Abdullah was invited to be the Guest of Honour, as the Festival incorporated a unique Kashmir initiative, with participants from Jammu and Kashmir, including many renowned authors, artists and senior journalists. The award-winning Bhand Pather theatre troupe, directed by M K Raina, was a unique addition from Kashmir.
The Fourth Edition in 2013 was inaugurated by eminent writers, Meera Kossambi, Mitra Phukan and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, again at the Kala Academy Goa. Shri. Bharat Vir Wanchoo, Hon. Governor of Goa again graced the occasion as the Chief Guest. This year, the festival exclusively showcased the arts and literature from the state of Assam. The highlight of the Festival was a performance by Uttar Kamalabari Satra led by Sri Sri Janardhan Deva Goswami.
The Fifth Edition marked a big leap forward for GALF. The eminent Singaporean poet Edwin Thumboo and internationally acclaimed fashion designer and author, Goa’s own Wendell Rodricks inaugurated GALF 2014. In addition to some of the best writers and artists from different parts of India - including Goa - there was a strong presence of distinguished writers and artists from Australia, Nepal and Singapore, the three focus countries. The overwhelming response from the locals, especially school and college students surpassed all earlier records. At this edition, an unprecedented lineup of senior journalists from around India discussed the changing nature of the national media: Rajdeep Sardesai and Sagarika Ghose, Sreenivasan Jain, Naresh Fernandes, Samar Halarnkar, Priya Ramani, Govindraj Ethiraj, Sachin Kalbag, Prashant Jha and Cyril Almeida of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper. The Defense Minister of India, Manohar Parrikar released Sardesai’s best-selling ‘2014: The Election that Changed India’. In 2014, the Ambedkar Lecture Series was launched Varsha Ayyar and Chandrabhan Prasad to underline GALF’s commitment to the important voices that often go unheard in the mainstream culture.
The Sixth Edition was yet another achievement in itself. The edition opened with an exclusive film screening of “Volume Zero The Work of Charles Correa” by noted film-maker, Marathi writer and critic Arun Khopkar. World renowned artist and photographer, Dayanita Singh, and eminent poet and author, Keki Daruwalla inaugurated the Festival in 2015. About 150 speakers, including about 30 from abroad, participated in the various sessions. 24 books were launched. With history as a broad theme for discussion, Singapore and Bangladesh were the focus countries.
At the Seventh Edition, GALF showcased writers and poets from a wide range of languages for the first time: Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil and Bengali. Acclaimed writer and activist, P. Sivakami and former Secretary of State for Culture, Portugal, Jorge Barreto Xavier delivered the keynote addresses at the inaugural function. A prime focus of this edition was the art, poetry & literature from north eastern states of India; featured at an exclusive pavilion on the North Eastern Region. Manipur based folk rock band, Imphal Talkies and the legendary rock musician for Meghalaya, Lou Majaw staged exclusive performances at GALF 2016.
The Eight Edition was inaugurated by Mini Krishnan, a leading advocate for translation in India, and renowned historian and author Ramachandra Guha. As in earlier editions, GALF once again showcased writers and poets from a wide range of languages: Irish, Assamese, Assamiya, Gujarat, Kannada, Kashmiri, Urdu, Maithili, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, and Telugu. For the first time ever, GALF featured a ‘Books Quiz Contest for Schools’ supported by Maria Crescencia Menezes Memorial Educational Trust and conducted by The Sunday Evening Quiz Club (SEQC). And quite fittingly, GALF 2017 began and ended with a session in remembrance of the late Eunice de Souza, the noted poet of Goan origin, who was over the years closely associated with GALF. The Ambedkar Memorial Lecture was delivered by Bama Susairaj, a well-known Dalit writer and activist. One of the highlights of this edition was release of Securing India the Modi Way by Nitin Gokhale at the hands of Manohar Parrikar, the Chief Minister of Goa. Other prominent releases were The Portuguese Impress by the late Teresa Albuquerque at the hands of Archbishop Felipe Neri Ferrao and the sneak preview of How to become Miss India by Sathya Saran and featured the renowned fashion designer, Wendell Rodricks. Manipur based Naga Folk Blues Legend, Guru Rewben Mashangva was the highlight performance.
GALF has hosted exclusive launches for some of the most important books of recent times – Ranjit Hoskote’s translations of Lal Ded, Taj Mahal Foxtrot by Naresh Fernandes, the graphic novel Adi Parva by Amruta Patil, From Bullet to Ballot Box by Aditya Adhikari, The Black Hill by Mamang Dai, and many others. The Indian-American rappers Chee Malabar and Himanshu Suri both made their international debut at GALF, as did the Pakistani satirical musician Ali Aftab Saeed and American artist, Daisy Rockwell.
GALF has consistently hosted some of the best lineups of contemporary poets ever assembled in contemporary India. The 2013 edition included an unprecedented reunion of the great ‘Bombay School’ of poets who emerged in the 1970’s, including Eunice de Souza, Gieve Patel, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Manohar Shetty. The 2014 edition featured an extraordinary “poetry relay” with Mustansir Dalvi, and four of the five finalists for the first-ever Khushwant Singh Prize for Poetry, Ranjit Hoskote, Keki Daruwalla, Arundhathi Subramaniam and Sridala Swami.
Everyone knows Goa is one of the most sought after tourism destinations of the world – famous for its beaches, stunning architecture, and unique culture. But there is much more that remains less known: some of the best artists and writers of India, a vibrant theatre, music and film culture. An enthusiasm to share all this, and to develop Goa further as one of the unquestioned culture capitals of the world, is another motivation for GALF, which remains a unique labour of love and collaboration between The International Centre Goa, volunteers from the vibrant Goa Writers group, and a number of national and state bodies including Sahitya Academy, National Book Trust, and Department of Art & Culture - Government of Goa and Ministry of Culture – Government of India.
Over the past 8 years, the GALF has grown in size, stature and significance while retaining its emphasis on, both, serious deliberations and convivial atmosphere, as well as building meaningful connections with the finest writers, poets, artists and musicians from around the subcontinent and beyond. This year’s exciting edition promises to be the most exciting in the history of our event. Right alongside the best from Goa we will continue to showcase the extraordinary talent from different parts of India and the world.