WE, THE MAD DREAMERS

—AJEET COUR–

Meeting of creative minds is always a miraculous experience. Throughout the history of civilization, it is the written word that has endured. It is creative thought and its expression that has overpowered and transcended Time and Space, because Word is the Universe.

This historical, first-ever SAARC Writers Conference is witnessing the dawn of a new era of creative dialogue between creative writers of the seven South Asian countries which will definitely usher in Culture of Peace in the region.

As for myself, I am a mad person. Instead of sitting quietly and writing my novels and short stories, I get concerned, rather entangled in some of the cultural, social, creative, even non-creative environmental and heritage issues, because there is a whole vast ocean of them crying out for compassionate attention. I get madly, passionately, overwhelmingly involved and try in my own small way to deal with these concerns.

Our Academy of Fine Arts and Literature was born twenty-six years ago out of such concerns and beliefs, and out of this junoon was born the idea of this SAARC Writers Conference.

Way back in early 1975 I started giving shape to this cultural institution, the Academy of Fine Arts and Literature, though it was launched in my mind and my thoughts much earlier.

I sought and got the comradeship and help of fellow writers like Khushwant Singh, my painter daughter Arpana Caur, journalists, academicians, women activists, painters, performing artists. And Academy of Fine Arts and Literature gradually took shape, blossomed, did useful and creative work in the field of visual and performing arts, encouraging literary gatherings and translations of classics from one language to the other, promoting modern art forms and traditional crafts, imparting creative education in different forms of visual and performing arts, promoting literary and cultural activities, and also initiating the process, perhaps historically significant process of introducing the poor and the downtrodden to visual and performing arts, literature and theatre.

In its aesthetically designed building – incidentally it was designed by a non-architect novice like me, and built brick by brick over a period of twelve very long years, without any help from the Government, from any foreign or Indian funding agency, from any corporate house – at 4/6, Siri Fort Institutional Area, the Academy has two large Art Galleries which are free for upcoming and talented artists, a free Library and Reading Room, an Amphitheate for plays and poetry symposia, a literary Research Centre, a Bharatanatayam Hall, a Kathak Hall, space and infrastructure for Painting, Art, Pottery and Sculpture classes, a Conference Hall for literary gatherings, Music Concerts, Plays, Dance Performances, Seminars and Discussion Group Meetings, Mushairas and other important cultural events, infrastructure for Aesthetic Awareness courses, a hall for Yoga and Pranayam classes, a hall for Theatre Rehearsal, and a Women’s Empowerment Centre, particularly for the young girls who have never been to school, who are cleaning utensils in the posh neighbourhood and playing small mothers to their younger siblings. We give them non-formal education and teach vocational skills.

Our work in providing skill-oriented informal basic education to the women living in marginalised urban villages and the slums has been one of our key achievements. Hundreds of jhuggi-basti girls have in the last 26 years benefited from this programme, getting not only education, vocational skills and general awareness but also dignified employment in most of the cases. They are also encouraged to actively participate in the Theatre groups, Bharartanatyam and Painting classes, and all the other cultural activities going on in the building. All this has been achieved without asking for and getting any grant from any funding agency here or abroad. One of the major thrust areas of our Academy is to take art and literature out from the age-old confines of the elite, to the most neglected sections of society by promoting awareness about visual and performing arts and literature among individuals and groups, especially women living in the slums and jhuggi bastis. I honestly believe that history is being created in our Academy, and I hope other cultural institutions will also join in, because that is how ‘movements’ are built up. You start walking alone, like-minded visionaries keep joining in, and it becomes a caravan.

Our Academy is the only cultural institution in Delhi which is an open house for all creative people. We also provide beautiful rehearsal space to individuals and groups free of charge.

Our Environment and Historical Heritage Awareness programmes include not only young students but also ordinary citizens and the people living in the sprawling slums of Delhi.

We keep fighting ideological battles with the authorities too for preservation of environment and historical heritage of Delhi, for improving the living conditions of marginalized sections of society, the fringe people, so that they can live in dignity.

All our well-wishers, friends, helpers, all right-minded people keep the effort alive. Because it is only the genuine concerns of mad peop