By Christine F. Godinez Ortega
The din of war could be heard from nearby Marawi City, creating such uncertainty that the first Philippine Indian Literary Festival would not have pushed through.
The Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology (MSU-IIT) wavered in its commitment to hold this literary festival envisioned to be festive on June 5-6, barely two weeks after the clashes erupted in Marawi City between the terrorist group Maute and government forces.
The exchanges between the lawyer-novelist Pranesh Prasad and this writer, who convened the local literary festival, bordered between anger and frustration. Arguments were also exchanged between the MSU-IIT Administration and the faculty of the Department of English and the Office of Publication & Information, hosts of the event.
But this writer-convenor’s resolve and belief that the war would not spill over to Iligan based on events in history proved correct. Iligan had always been the R&R place and thoroughfare of colonizers, from the Spaniards to the Americans and it is no different for today’s rebels.
Fresh from the Philippine delegation’s triumph at the 8th Hyderabad Literary Festival in January 2016, lawyer novelist Pranesh Prasad broached the idea to this writer to hold the first Philippine Indian Festival to further cement bicultural relations between our countries.
If in the Hyderabad Literary Festival things were indeed festive and grand, this first Philippine Indian literary festival proved to be subdued and downscaled.
The eruption of hostilities between the Maute group and government forces and the influx of evacuees to Iligan City 40 kilometers away began to sink in as well.
But, through sheer grit and going by our instincts that the problem will not escalate and spill over to Iligan, this writer lobbied hard with the MSU-IIT administration as well as with Pranesh and his group of five Indian writers to be in Iligan to realize the literary festival, a first in the country.
Fortunately, several universities in Manila hosted the Indian writers to lunches and dinners– De La Salle University’s Bienvenido N. Santos Creative Writing Center through Dr. Shirley O. Lua; the University of the Santo Tomas Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies through Ralph Semino Galan, Dr. Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, and Lito Zulueta’s The Varsitarian and its editors; Luna Sicat Cleto, Lily Rose Tope, and the UP Center of Creative Writing; the National Commission for Culture & Arts International Desk through Annie Luis, Veronica Amboni, and National Artist Rio Alma; the Intramuros Administration and Tourism Office; the International Center of Philippine PEN hosted by National Artists for Literature F. Sionil Jose and Bienvenido L. Lumbera; and Mt. Makiling’s Philippine High School for the Arts with its President, Vim Nadera.
The afternoon tea at the Embassy of India in Manila hosted by the Charge d’Affaires N. Ramakrishnan was another event with support from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) through representatives Rona Beth Goce, Director of the DFA Asia Pacific Affairs Desk and Stacy Danika S. Alcantara of the DFA Office of Public Diplomacy.
All these activities happened after the successful three-day literary festival at the MSU-IIT and at the Xavier University’s Xavier Center for Culture and Arts through Hobart P. Savior.
While at MSU-IIT, the Indian writers headed by Pranesh and members of the Indian delegation: the novelist and journalist Sriram Karri from Hyderabad, the translator and creative writing professor Subashree Khrisnaswamy from Chinnai, the writer and literature professor of Virginia State’s William and Mary College R. Benedito Ferrao from Goa; and Aishwarya Manivanan, a Silamban performer from Chinnai and one of 51 outstanding women across India.
The lively group sampled Philippine food and took in local scenery despite having been confined to certain areas after an early curfew around Iligan was imposed.
The love for literature, culture, and the arts over threats to everyone’s security simply held. Risks to life and limb are faced daily. This one was, to this writer, another challenge. Besides, this writer simply believed that despite the declaration of Martial Law, her second experience would be different.
It was faith in humanity and the faith that writers or artists are loved that simply came through.
Highlights of the event at the MSU-IIT were literary readings, forums on the impact of globalization on creative writing, translation, and literature, indigenous music, and a performance between Silamban artist Aishwarya and local performers from the MSU-IIT Sports Development Office of Kali (better known as Arnis, the country’s ancient martial art form). The performance of Davijon de Ocampo and his group plus the lectures of the two martial arts forms by Cesar Miguel provided a rousing finale that also included the Maranao dance Pamalong-malong by the MSU-IIT’s resident theatre company, the Integrated Performing Arts Guild (IPAG).
The Indian writers were each gifted with souvenirs like malongs and were taught to wear these before the audience. Aishwarya’s performance of the ancient Tamil martial art form Silamban was a hit, especially when she performed to the indigenous music by the MSU-IIT Kalilang Ensemble.
In Xavier University, the interaction between the Indian writers and the audience was as stimulating as the interactions between Filipino writers and the Indians in Manila, even as the Indian writers relished the reunion with some members of the Philippine delegation at Hyderabad Literary Festival that included Nelia Balgoa, Luna Sicat Cleto, Vim Nadera, Jun Cruz Reyes, Kooky Tuason, Marty Tengco, and this writer.
If there was one thing, the first Philippine Indian Literary Festival taught us, it was the affirmation of friendships between the two nations, and the celebration of commonalities between India and the Philippines through culture and the arts.
The impact of this first Philippine Indian Literary festival has yet to be felt, but already we are looking forward to the next Philippine Indian literary festival in India next year.
Photos by Jez Timonera Orbe and John Daniel O. Enriquez, MSU-IIT Office of Publication & Information