Autumn was to have been the season of hope; a time for words and ideas, listening and learning. A time for the Harud (autumn) literature festival which would have made Srinagar join that membership of cities in the region that host litfests - Jaipur, Kovalam, Karachi, Galle and Thimpu.
Kashmir is a long way from Jaipur where the same organisers, Teamwork Films have managed to achieve such iconic status that hardboiled journalists like Tina Brown call it the 'greatest literary show on earth'. It was also at Jaipur this year where the organisers attempted a tentative test-drive with two sessions on Kashmir including one that featured Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night), Mirza Waheed (The Collaborator) and Kashmir-born journalist and author Rahul Pandita.
But Harud was doomed to be an autumn of discontent. Even before the authors could be announced, Facebook went viral with innuendo. Some reports suggested, erroneously, that Salman Rushdie had been invited, leading to the creation of a Facebook page that called for a boycott, hate mail and death threats. Now that the festival is off, the Facebook page has mysteriously disappeared.
That was just one of the problems. Earlier this month, Peer and Waheed wrote an open letter, signed by over 200 other writers, journalists and citizens listing various misgivings. To hold a literature festival in a state where 'basic fundamental rights are markedly absent' would be a travesty, they said. Moreover, the use of the word 'apolitical' by festival adviser Namita Gokhale (to whom I am related) became a red flag. In a state where 'political reality is denied, even criminalised' how could a literature festival be apolitical? The choice of venue, DPS School and Kashmir University, became contentious. And finally, there was apprehension that the festival was part of the 'state's concerted attempt to portray that all is normal in Kashmir'. The organisers said there was no state-funding or patronage, to no avail.
Full report here Hindustan Times