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Insights into Valley of Words 2019 – Interview with the Curator Dr Sanjeev Chopra

Insights into Valley of Words 2019 – Interview with the Curator Dr Sanjeev Chopra

Insights into Valley of Words 2019 – Interview with the Curator Dr Sanjeev Chopra

To mark the count down to the 3rd edition of Valley of Words (VOW) 2019 we had a conversation with Dr. Sanjeev Chopra, Honorary Curator of the 3 days Festival of Literature and Arts. He gave us an insight into how VoW was conceptualized, tells us the plans for this year’s festival and his vision for the future.


VoW 2019 is now just 200 days away. What do you feel about the preparations for this edition?

Well, as you are aware, this is the third edition of Valley of Words. That gives us many advantages, and also poses some challenges – but I must say that the advantages far outweigh the challenges. The advantages are that we already know the formats in which the discussions have to be curated, and our Principal Adviser Robin Gupta has really looked at the feedback and experiences of the last two editions meticulously. He has ensured that we give adequate time to each of the authors, make the selection of books and authors more diverse, and involve the faculty and students from Dehradun in the conduct of the sessions. Our institutional partners : United Services Institution (USI) for Military history and Strategy and Sustainable Development Forum of Uttarakhand (SDFU) for the RSTF sessions on Himalayan Ecology and Environment are fully geared to discuss issues which have contemporary salience .

Thus in VOW 2019, we are looking for an even wider range of authors- from authors from the North East, authors with a lot of global experience, authors who have done very well in their respective genres, or those who are doing good work in various regional languages, especially translations.

And rather than authors conversing with authors, we are encouraging teachers of institutions in Dehradun- schools, colleges and universities to read and review books which have been nominated for the REC -VOW awards. And the best reviews will not only be published, some of the reviewers may also get an opportunity to be in conversation with our authors.

You are a career bureaucrat, as well as a Curator of Literature Festivals … do you ever feel a conflict of interest?

No, not at all. Literature, music, photography, art, culture and the

Promotion of these finer elements is a must not only for civil servants, but for everybody.

And just because a person is a civil servant, it does not take away from him his duties and responsibilities as a conscious citizen of this country. Rather, when you are in the IAS, your responsibilities and duties to the larger society are of an even higher order. And in that context, the promotion of literature by encouraging the habit of reading is definitely something I not only love to do, but also feel privileged to be able to contribute. And reading is not just reading the text literally, it includes critical thinking. It is promoting the questioning of the world around you and getting people across all ages together. It is about appreciating excellence in others .It’s also about dialogues and conversations.

In fact there are very few forums in our country where people across ages come together.

One of the biggest challenges in our country today is to get the youth to talk to people who are elder to them, and vice versa!

And promoting dialogue, promoting diversity is very much a part of the life of a civil servant.

Could you recall a memorable episode during your college days, or tell us about a book that has had a profound impact on you?

While in college – it must have been year one of college -which I was introduced to Mulk Raj Anand’s works. Three of his books – Coolie, Two leaves and a Bud, and Untouchable, left a lasting impact on me. Now of course, many years down the line, so many people have written about social issues, but, coming from a privileged background and living in a campus in a cantonment town, I had no personal experience- either of untouchability or of extreme deprivation. We understood rank, but not caste, and the hierarchy was prescribed through stars and stripes.

These books transformed my perspective in life. I started reading a lot of literature in Hindi and Punjabi, because I also realised that reading literature in English would not give you a fair idea of the larger complexities, and the larger diversity of life as it exists in our country.

What is your vision for this year in particular?

I hope that many more volunteers, institutions and Reading clubs get involved in all our activities – from placing bookshelves in cafes to writing blogs for the website. I hope that it carves a niche place for itself as a festival of books and authors, music, theatre and all creative genres. It will have much greater interaction with the participants and as I said before, we hope to have a greater diversity of participants. In our exhibition section we hope to cover all the Himalayan states, and many more regions from the country.

We are introducing two new categories this year i.e. translations into Hindi or English from a regional Indian language, which means that regional languages in India will get much greater significance than in the previous years. I hope that the festival really becomes a pan India celebration of the ‘word’ in its manifestations!

About the Interviewee:

Dr Sanjeev Chopra is the Honorary Curator of Valley of Words.