Thiruvananthapuram: Kerala became an important destination on the world literature map Friday with the inauguration of the first Indian edition of the famous British Hay on Wye Literature Festival at the Kanakakunnu Palace here.
The festival, which promotes new age literature, has been described as the Woodstock of the Mind by former US president Bill Clinton.
Christened the Week Hay Festival, the three-day extravaganza of literature and performances themed on literary genres, was inaugurated by Kerala Education and Culture Minister M.A. Baby, Malayalam superstar Mammootty and Lok Sabha member from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor.
The star-spangled festival will play host to intellectual heavyweights and performers like Irish musician, writer and activist Bob Geldof, filmmaker and writer Adoor Gopalakrishnan, analyst Simon Schama, writers Vikram Seth, Michelle Paver, Miguel Syjuco, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy, journalist-novelist William Dalrymple, Sahitya Akademi Award winner O.N.V. Kurup and several others.
The festival is being sponsored by the Week newsmagazine in association with the Hay Festival (Britain), Qatar Airways, Teamwork Productions, DC Books and the British Council.
Delivering the inaugural address, Baby said the festival was in keeping with the objective of the state to "inculcate literary and artistic interest among school children".
Kerala is the only state in the country which boasts of total literary; and a rich literary and cultural heritage dating back to nearly 1,000 years.
Baby, who quoted from the works of Malayalam writers to establish the importance of Kerala as a literary destination, said the state was "opening its doors to writers of repute from foreign countries and Nobel laureates to interact with children and students on school campuses".
The volume of literature being produced in the state was high and prolific, he said.
"Children as young as sixth graders are writing books and their works are being published by respective schools," he said.
The minister said the state was trying to ensure that "literature flourished independent of government control and orthodoxy in the spirit enshrined by the country`s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru, whose writings were of impeccable literary quality".
"When Nehru was invited to attend the first meeting of the Sahitya Akademi, an institution which he helped establish and of which he was president, he said he would not allow the government to interfere with its functioning," Baby said.
Outlining the reasons why Kerala was chosen to host the festival, writer-MP Shashi Tharoor said: "Kerala was in so many ways the right place to host the festival because it had come through a lot of struggle."
"As a child, when I came to my village in Kerala with my mother, I found my uncles and cousins reading translations of world classics. Many of them could not speak good English," he recalled.
"The nature of my early Kerala experience has been one of important literature, ideas and words...What my cousins were reading, thinking and being taught were what I was learning in expensive schools," he added.
Kerala was the microcosm of "what was best of India`s diversity and plurality", Tharoor said. The writer-MP, who had been invited to the first Hay on Wye Festival in Wales 20 years ago, said it was "a challenge to bring the festival to Kerala".
Connectivity was the primary hurdle because of the absence of direct flights between the national capital and Thiruvananthapuram, he said.
The MP exhorted the visitors at the packed Palace Hall - teeming with foreign guests and participants - to enjoy the delights of the culture, sea, sand and the lush natural splendour of the state in the course of the festival.
The festival was introduced by managing director of the co-host Teamworks Production Sanjoy Roy, executive director of the Hay Festival Lyndy Cooke and founder-director Peter Florence.
The highlights of the first day were a discussion on books by Vikram Seth and conversations featuring Adoor Gopalakrihsnan, Hannah Rothschild and Simon Schama.
The Kanakakunnu Palace was a summer retreat of the erstwhile royal family of Thiruvananthapuram.