Under the Mango Tree

Many with spacious abodes, with ancestral properties that go on for an acre or two, want to bring home their respect for histories, art and culture by first and foremost providing the space.

Published: 31st March 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 29th March 2019 05:38 PM   |  A+A-

The restlessness to give back to society, the urge to return to nature, is in the air. In this bid to match the earth’s rhythm, the old idea of home-stays is now expanding itself to involvement and engagement beyond simple tourism. Literature lovers, for instance, are literally hosting literature at home – by turning their houses into libraries, book clubs, reading sessions, meet-the-author evenings and even literature festivals. 

Many with spacious abodes, with ancestral properties that go on for an acre or two, want to bring home their respect for histories, art and culture by first and foremost providing the space. Thus do lit-fests move from a spectator sport to more intimate interpretations, by re-imagining mehfil and mahoul—the latter a word impossible to translate into any other language, according to writer Syeda Hameed. 

In this road to reclamation—of traditions, storytelling modes of yore, awakening the conscience to burning issues via the written word—private lawns, courtyards and gardens play a large part in making it all one-on-one. With most publishers, book fairs and fest organisers realising the paucity of profit in such ventures, it’s mandatory for those initiating such moves to have their hearts in the right place and eyes firmly on the book. 

Literary agent and editor Preeti Gill turned her Amritsar residence, Majha House, into one such bustling hub amidst bougainvillea bushes and green grass. This year’s sessions on March 23 and 24 went into visions of freedom, explored in notion form and intense passion by writers and readers alike. From Navtej Sarna’s concern about the Jallianwala Bagh area being reduced to a tourist spot with peanut-sellers, from Rakhshanda Jalil’s quiet confidence in fiction being a relevant footnote to the historical tragedy in that very spot, to the drug problem in the state squarely addressed by journalist Hartosh Bal, writer Amandeep Sandhu, psychiatrist Anirudh Kala and poet Sarbjot Singh Behl, and how the Partition tore hearts as assessed with deep sadness by Alka Pande, Syeda Hameed and Harsh Mander, the focus was firmly on the four walls of a larger home called Punjab.

Says Gill, “When we inherited this 40-year-old bungalow in Amritsar, what I wanted was to keep the house alive, to create a space for literature and culture where writers, poets, performers, artists can come to share their ideas and work. I wanted to do this especially for Punjab’s young because there are no such spaces in Amritsar. The home is now a public space and an effort to create a ‘memorial’ of a different sort, one that is creative, liberal, evolving, non-intimidating.”

It takes nostalgia and aesthetics, selflessness and gigantic will to turn your home into everyone’s home. To boost reading, to make books accessible, to pinpoint books relevant to the times and to ensure that books find their way somehow into reader hands in a cosy and familiar ambiance. Perhaps you have to have dreamt it as a child, that one day your turf will be opened out to others. That someday a poet will recite verses under the mango tree you climbed as a child.shinieantony@gmail.com

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