In August, Itanagar, the capital city of Arunachal Pradesh will host what is arguably the state’s first literature festival. The group of 15 organisers claim they are “testing the waters.” They also claim that they are all “artists at heart” even if they come from diverse professional backgrounds. “It’s gutsy to choose the arts as a full time profession,” says Karry Padu, one of the main forces behind the Arunachal Pradesh Art and Literature Festival (ALAF). “In Arunachal Pradesh, it’s all about finding a government job. Nobody pursues art, not seriously anyway,” she adds.
“Unlike other Northeastern states, we don’t have a market for artists. So many end up making it their secondary profession,” says PT Thongchi, a government employee, who teamed up with Karry for the festival. He adds that the idea first came to him at an art exhibition in Itanagar about six months ago. “There was so much talent. In February, we organised a small poetry festival called ‘Vivid’. Later, I called up Karry and suggested the idea of a festival that combines art and literature.”
Thongchi also involved the Arunachal Pradesh Literary Society (APSL) — a group of authors and poets from the state who meet regularly for book readings and other related activities. “The members belong to the older generation and a common complaint amongst them is the lack of interest from the youngsters,” he says, adding that the move was welcome by the APSL members. “The festival is a result of an interesting mix of voices — both young and old,” adds Karry.
In the run up to August 4 and 5 — the two days the ALAF is slated for — the team has been busy populating the event’s Facebook page, with teasers about the strictly “Northeastern” lineup of authors and artists.
The ALAF includes panel discussions, poetry sessions, workshops and performances. The line-up will feature Shillong-based author Ankush Saikia, historian and writer Dharamsing Teron from Karbi Anglong, filmmaker and cultural activist Moji Riba and artist Bengia Zarjo from Arunchal Pradesh, architect Kallol Kishore Brahmadutt, artist Throngkiuba Yimchungru from Nagaland, Shillong-based doodle artist Rinchen Choden, among others. Publishing houses from the Northeast such as Tullika Books and the National Book Trust will also be present.“We wanted it to be representatives of only Northeastern voices because there is so much talent here, and not enough platforms. Just our way of saying ‘hello, we are here, too’,” Karry says.
Karry signs off as festival director and Thongchi is the festival’s president. “But we are all just team members really,” says Karry, “We have divided ourselves into groups: the art team, the literature team, the branding team etc. The art team has teachers, students and cartoonists. The lit team has a photographer and a policeman who writes poetry. The food team has my brother who works in the government!”
The organisers have also received help from the State’s tourism department. “But our budget is still tight. We haven’t outsourced the organising activities to any third party — this is a platform for artists, and by artists,” says Thongchi.