Conscious Incrementalism – 6
By Sanjeev Chopra
Five years ago, just around this time, Garhwal Post had carried a news item regarding DELTA: Dehradun Literature and Arts Festival. The literati of Doon – starting with the veteran Raj Kanwar and including Dr BK Joshi, Arvindar Singh, Jaskiran Chopra, Ira Chauhan, Nitin Jugran, Priyanka Tolia, Avinash Joshi, Satish Sharma, Upendra Arora and Anjali Nauriyal had met and discussed the possibility of organising a literature and arts festival in Dehradun. The idea was to showcase the best of Dehradun writers, and take up themes that do not get centre space in conventional festivals: issues like military history and strategy, besides environment and ecology. The focus on ecology and environment was important as this forum was also a tribute to the legendary Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand, Dr RS Tolia, and it was a humble attempt at carrying forward the legacy of his ideas, and his deep commitment to issues connected with forests, livelihoods and rural development.
DELTA soon morphed into the Valley of Words as we realised that, while Dehradun is an ideal city to host a festival, it must have authors from across the globe, representing different genres, viewpoints, ideas and thoughts. It must be inclusive – but it must also aim to be exhaustive. And, with this background, we conducted four festivals in Dehradun, and thanks to Garhwal Post and its digital edition, we were able to extend the reach of the festival. In fact, in the first two years of the festival, together with the GP, we ran a series of author interviews, which became quite popular. Then we shifted the focus from ‘author interviews’ to ‘select book reviews’ – because it was not possible to cover all the authors and it was difficult for us to chose which author to focus on! We will continue the same pattern this year, and starting from July, this column will give synoptic reviews of the short-listed books in each of the eight categories of the PFC VoW Book Awards.
How has VoW evolved consciously and incrementally over the years is also an interesting story. We were greenhorns in year one (2017), and reaching out to authors, publishers and sponsors was indeed a daunting and challenging task. We had to explain who we were and why we were doing this festival. We had to reach out to the schools and colleges of Dehradun to explain to them what VoW stood for and that we were a not-for-profit initiative with a very clear objective of spreading the love of learning and the arts! We had Bobby Cash write and sing a song for us, and the lawns of Madhuban were abuzz for three days with poets, authors, professors, generals, school and college students, grandparents with their grandchildren, serving and superannuated officials attending sessions, and engaging with the Crafts Bazaar that was showcasing some of the best products from the self-help groups and livelihood missions from the Himalayan states. We had puppet shows, cultural programmes, bloggers, morning walks and many conversations.
Of course, there were many lessons to be learnt – the foremost among them being that we had to connect institutionally with schools, colleges and universities by giving them a forum to discuss, debate and interact with their peers. We made a modest beginning with the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan in the second year, and from the third year we tied up with the Mantrana Debating Society of DAV College. We received excellent support from the Principal, Ajay Saxena, and the faculty co-ordinator Dr Onima Sharma.
Another lesson was that we should have a standard criterion for selecting books and authors, and this could be done only by institutionalising awards in different categories and following a rigorous procedure to select the best books published in the last calendar year. VoW is extremely proud of the fact that its winners have gone on to win Awards in other festivals and forums as well!
This year, VoW is spreading its wings as we aspire to become India’s first multi-city festival with institutions across the country co-hosting our sessions, besides organising cultural programmes, book launches and plenary conversations. We will reach out to newer audiences in a wide range of geographies – even as the Acceptance Speeches and Awards will be hosted in the city of Dehradun, itself. Stay tuned for the next update, next week!
(Sanjeev Chopra is a historian, public policy analyst and the Festival Director of Valley of Words, an International Literature and Arts festival based out of Dehradun. He was a member of the IAS, and superannuated as the Director of the LBS National Academy of Administration.)