The festival was organized with participation of 575 writers and poets of 13 countries and 102 languages
By Misna Chanu | India
The first edition of UNMESHA, the International Literature Festival was held at one of the beautiful hill stations of India called Shimla (Himachal Pradesh), popularly known as The Queen Of Hills, in the year 2022. The festival was organized by the Union Ministry of Culture and the Sahitya Akademi with support of the State Department of Art and Culture as part of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav celebrations from June 16 to June 18, 2022. It was the first time I physically attended any literature festival after the dreadful invasion of the first and the second wave of coronavirus. When I got the invitation from Sahitya Akademi, I was very happy and excited to be a part of such a prestigious literature festival organized by Sahitya Akademi, the most prestigious organization of Literature of India. But I was also worried as coronavirus and impact of coronavirus on human mind and heart were not totally wiped out from the face of the Earth. Perhaps, it will take many decades to diminish the color of loss and despair that have been etched vividly on the history of Earth. However, my love and passion for literature won over my fear and I made it at last. There, in the historical Gaiety Heritage Cultural Complex of Beautiful Hill station, Shimla, I presented my poems in my mother tongue, Manipuri (Meiteilon) on the second day of the festival, 17th June, 2022.
The 1st Edition of the Literature Festival was held in Shimla from June 16 to June 18, 2022
This year, on 23rd June, I got the invitation from the office of secretary, Sahitya Akademi, New Delhi for the 2nd Edition of UNMESHA via email. It was mentioned in the email that the festival would be held in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh – the heart of India. I felt honored for getting the invitation for participating to the UNMESHA again this year. The 2nd Edition of UNMESHA: Festival of Expression, Asia’s Largest Literature Festival was held in Rabindra Bhavan, Bhopal for four days, starting from 3rd August to 6th August, 2023, with the participation of 13 countries, 102 languages and 575 participants.
On 2nd August, I travelled to Bhopal from New Delhi by flight and when I reached Terminal-1 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, I met many poets, writers and scholars whom I met in the first edition of Unmesha in Shimla. Three fourths of the flight passengers were invitees of the Unmesha, travelling to Bhopal that day. When we reached Bhopal airport, we were welcomed by a large banner, written over that in Bold Letters were the words, “WELCOME DELEGATES” followed by the lines as “UNMESHA, ASIA’S LARGEST LITERATURE FESTIVAL”. There were people of Sahitya Akademi at Bhopal airport to assist us. When I reached my hotel, I was greeted with a welcome kit, marigold garland, tika (application of vermilion on forehead as Indian tradition) and an envelope containing the invitation of the inauguration of UNMESHA. Opening the envelope with my name “Misna Chanu” written on it and finding an invitation card for the inaugural event of UNMESHA where the President of India, Smt. Droupadi Murmu would be the chief guest was really a moment of delight and honor for me. My accommodation was arranged in Lake View Hotel at Shymala Hills, Bhopal. As its name, the hotel is ideally situated near the beautiful and mighty Bhopal Lake. From the balcony of the hotel room, I could enjoy the pleasing view of Bhopal Lake and the flickering city lights like the stars of the Earth on the other side of the lake, in every late evening during my five nights’ stay in Bhopal.
On 3rd August, 2023, I reached the gate of Rabindra Bhavan sharply at 10.45 am as we were requested to be seated before 11 am. That day Rabindra Bhavan was beautifully adorned with the arts of Madhya Pradesh. Around 12 noon, her Excellency Smt. Droupadi Murmu, the President of India, inaugurated The Festival of Expression: Unmesha 2023, Asia’s Largest Literature Festival and Utkarsh – festival of folk and tribal expression at Rabindra Bhavan, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The other dignitaries of the event were Sri Mangubhai Chhaganbhai Patel, Governor of Madhya Pradesh, Sri Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh, Smt. Uma Nanduri, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Govt. of India, Sri Madhav Koushik, the president of Sahitya Akademi and Dr. Sandhya Puretha, the chairman of Sangeet Natak Kala Akademi. The inaugural ceremony was followed by the performance of incredible and various forms of Indian dances by the wonderful artists. One could see the entire Indian cultures and traditions on one single stage that day.
After the inauguration of the event, I had the honor and pleasure to present my poems in my mother tongue, Manipuri (Meiteilon) with English translation during the first session of UNMESHA entitled “Poetry Reading on India@75” at Jayjaywanti Hall of Rabindra Bhavan along with eminent poets of India; V.P Joy (Malayalam poet), Gayatribala Panda (Odia poet), Chander Bhan Khayal (Urdu poet), Udayan Thakker (Gujarati Poet), Shriram Parihar (Hindi poet) and Amit Goswami (Bengali poet). The well-known Bengali poet, writer and editor Subodh Sarkar was chairing the session. Although I was born and brought up in Assam, one of the North Eastern States of India, being a Manipuri by birth, how could I ignore to recite at least one poem, written on the ongoing violence and despair in Manipur due to the communal conflict between Manipuri (meetei) and Kuki tribes! I recited a poem in my mother tongue, Manipuri named “Imagi Inafi” (My Mother’s Sari in English) with English translation along with two other poems. Below is the English Version of the poem “Imagi Inafi”:
My Mother’s Innafi
(Innafi* is the traditional attire of female in Manipuri community. It’s half the length of Indian sari)
My brothers and sisters
Are killing each other.
My mother’s eyes are wet
And her chest is split open
By hatred and ignorance.
Her innafi (sari) is half burnt,
And half drenched in blood of
Her children and her tears.
Hills and lands are covered
With smog and ashes
Of the flesh and bones of her children,
Once played dearly on her lap.
Poets from the faraway lands
Are writing their poems on her pain.
Artists are making their arts with anguish.
Activists of the land are trying very hard
To smear their points
On the face of the earth,
Dipping their brushes with her tears.
Some are playing their dirty politics
Behind the curtain of fake peace.
Let me ask you all just once
How many of you have cried for her pang
Before your words lined up to make a poem?
How many times your hands were shaken
When you hold the brush
To give details of her shame?
Didn’t you ever remember your God!
Oh human! Who are playing the role of Divine!
In this land,
While you search the profit of your own
Among the scars and wounds of
Half burnt, half naked bodies
Of my sisters and brothers?
Maybe I could tell a story
Maybe I could tell a story
With my eyes full of tears and my heart broken,
But I wonder!
I wonder how I could gather words
For there’s no word to explain
The deep pain of this world!
– Misna Chanu
On the second day of the festival, I had an interview with the DD News Channel of India at the venue. I was asked about the festival then, about the ongoing issues of Manipur, I assumed that’s the main area of their interest. The answer was not easy because it’s easier to take side but what’s hard is to know and to make people understand that there’s no other here but only us.
Other than me, the participants who represented Manipuri language in the festival were Sri Rajen Toijamba, the convenor of Manipuri Language Board Sahitrya Akademi, Sri L. Joychandra Singha, the former convenor of Manipuri Language Board of Sahitya Akademi, Lennin Laishram, the recipient of Yuba sahitya Award, Sahitya Akademi, N. Kiran Kumar, the former convenor of Manipuri Language Board of Sahitya Akademi and the Kala Aademi awardee Smt. Maya Nepram.
No doubt, Literature festivals give the participating poets, writers and scholars a golden chance to meet each other, interact with each other and learn many things through their poems, songs, stories, visions and values of life. We can exchange knowledge; we can learn something new and learn how to unlearn the things or ideas that no longer serve our higher vision and purpose of life. Some of the poets and scholars, I met and interacted for the first time were Ibrahim Wahed, an academician, a writer, poet, musician and television personality from Maldives, Mami Yamada, an eminent poet and writer from Japan, currently serving as the Director for the Japan-India Association, Hiroyuki Sato, an eminent Japanese writer and translator from Japan, Anne Tannam, an eminent poet from Ireland, Maya Puri, a scholar and translator from Poland who is currently living in India and Sanjoy Roy, an entrepreneur of the arts, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts. I presented my poetry books “The Silent Whispers” and “A Little Piece of Melancholic Sky” and my short stories’ book for children named “Once Upon A Time” to my new friends. However, I could meet some of the friends whom I met in other literature festivals of India like Tualsi Diwasa, an eminent Nepali writer and folklorist from Nepal and Bhuchung D Sonam, Tibetan writer and poet who lives in India and etc. On the second day of festival, I also had the pleasure to meet my friends, Ms. Nitu, an eminent poet and Inspector General of CRPF, Salma, an eminent Tamil poet and Ms. Streamlet Dkhar, an eminent Khasi writer and member of Sahitya Akademi’s General Council.
During the festival, other than poetry and short stories reading, some interesting topics were also included as Panel discussions. The topics were; “Eco-criticism”, “Global Literature for Globalized World”. “Importance of Mother Tongue”, “Cinema and Literature”, “What Freedom Means To Me” “Literature- Doctor Prescribed, “Promoting Indian Literature in Foreign languages”, Cultural heritage Of India”, “Poetry Sans Boarders”, “Rise of Machines- Authorless Literature”, “Ocean Literature”, “Fantasy and Science Fiction and etc.,
One of the important things, I noticed was for the first time in the history of Sahitya Akademi, the LGBTQ writers and poets were not participating in different sessions like “LGBTQ Poets’ and Writers’ Meet” but with all the other poets and writers according to the field they are specialized. I must say it was really a powerful movement in the history of Indian Art and Literature.
But whatever begins, eventually ends too. Finally, it was the last day of UNMESHA. In the evening of 6th August, the closing ceremony of the UNMESHA took place gracefully at Rabindra Bhawan, Bhopal with Sri. Madhav Koushik, the president of Sahitya Akademi, Smt. Kumud Sharma, the vice president of Sahitya Akademi, Sri. K Sreenivasarao, the secretary of Sahitya Akademi and all the participants who were still in Bhopal. So, with the participation of 13 countries, 102 languages and 575 participants, UNMESHA, the Largest Literature Festival of Asia was successfully held in Bhopal, the Heart of India, in the month of August, 2023. My sincere gratitude and heartfelt congratulations to all the members of the Sahitya Akademi for organizing such a huge event of literature, so gracefully!