Commonwealth English must assimilate: Hay Fest founder

New Delhi: English is a mongrel language and its strength in the Commonwealth world depends on the way it has absorbed new words and ideas from across the globe, says Peter Florence, director of Hay Festival, one of the biggest literary carnivals.

"English is a mongrel language and its strength depends on the ways it has absorbed," Florence told reporters.

The festival, which debuted in India last year, is on its way to Kerala again Nov 17-19 with a kitty of world literature in a plethora of languages and big names like Germaine Greer, Jung Chang and Anita Nair at the Kanakakunnu Palace, the former retreat of the Travancore royal family in Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.

"Malayalam and Kerala are welcoming visitors. That`s probably the greatest advantage of the Commonwealth," Florence said.

Florence, who is also the founder of the Hay Festival Kerala, said the "festival was a souk for people who wanted new ideas, new characters and new stories to share, to trade and to exchange."

"In an ever-more digitized world it is more vital now than ever to sit together, to talk and to listen. You`ll find familiar greatness and discover new voices," Florence said explaining the festival`s focus on language this year in India.

The Kerala edition of the festival, which will primarily focus on literature in languages like Spanish, Tamil, Malayalam, Hindu, Welsh, Icelandic and English in India, also plans to introduce a variety of new subjects like science, film and cosmology to the audience.

A spokesperson for the festival said the line-up included feminist writer Greer; Jung Chang, author of "Wild Swans" and biographer of Chairman Mao; BBC World anchor Nik Gowing; Oscar-winning film maker Andrew Ruhemann; author Anita Nair; award-winning French novelist Agnes Desarthe; science journalist and writer Simon Singh and noted poets like K. Satchidanandan, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Arundhati Subramaniam.

Commenting on the special section on poetry at the festival, Florence said "poetry is the highest of all the literary arts".

"It is the most intense and beautiful use of words. You can`t always translate it, but the greatest poets speak to us all beyond the definitions of language," he said.

However, Florence said: "The impact of Indian writing on the rest of the world was still in its early stages."

"(Vikram) Seth, (Salman) Rushdie, (Rohinton) Mistry and (V.S.) Naipaul may have blazed a trail, but they are just a few of the world class English language writers in a multiplex nation of many cultures. Every new generation will create its own heroes and poets," Florence said.

Florence said the "Hay Festival Kerala took its pleasures seriously and with exacting standards".

"The distinctiveness is in the blending of storytelling and idea-bending. It wants to be elitist without being exclusive, to be serious without being solemn, and to be the best conversation you can ever have with new friends," Florence said.

Sanjoy Roy, the producer of the festival, said "what was exciting about festivals like Hay Festival Kerala was that one could expose the best writing in diverse languages to those who have previously had no access to this".

"The language has to play the most important part in any literature gathering. It is a whole new world of discovery and needless to say audiences, publishers and literature lovers are delighted to have so much more on offer," Roy said.

Roy said the Hay Festival Kerala has already been listed as the 10 most important tourism related activities in India.

"Local crowds are always primary as they form the bulk of all audiences (even in Jaipur) but as the festival grows in stature, we hope that more and more people from different parts of India and the world will come to Kerala," he said.


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