Singapore Writers Festival 2016- soul-enriching, thought-provoking and passion-igniting.

Insightful Talks

"You need to be so objective that you should review your grandma and her cooking. If you can do that, then you are reviewing with an objective."- one of the speakers shared his own experiences, and gave pointers on writing good reviews of films, music or graphic novels during the Singapore Writers Festival 2016, a regional juggernaut in the literary world. Reviewing was about critical thinking backed by evidence.

Seated in the first row in the screening room at the Arts House, just about half a metre away from the speakers, I was taking notes of what they were saying, in my smartphone. Once the talk ended, I looked at what I have scribbled and apprehended that this was indeed a reassuring talk. It gave me a little more confidence to review films. Being an avid lover of Indian films, and when I started sharing my thoughts about films on Facebook a few years ago, I didn’t know it would grow as an unswerving passion in me. Now, reviewing a film has kindled a spark in me and that was the main reason why I started this blog. Something that I love doing, other than writing stories and making short-films.

If you were an amateur, established or whatever type of writer you were, attending Singapore Writers Festival 2016 held from 4-13 November, was indeed the best way to pamper oneself with myriad intellectual massages. This event has evolved to be acclaimed as among the finest literary festivals in the country. A reputation earned due to the festival's literary qualities, high caliber talent and atmosphere of conviviality. From an art exhibition on love using bookcases made of wine crates to a debate on whether Singaporeans are “in the mood for love”, the Singapore Writers Festival “sayanged” its audience this year by hosting more than 100 talks, panel discussions, book readings and classroom series.

Listening to the panel discussion about inculcating reading habits in Singaporeans brought me on the verge of an excitement-induced brain hemorrhage. It was so pleasant to just sit there for hours listening to all these great authors, writers, journalists and home-grown talent, my favourite local writer, like Pooja Nansi who mentioned, “One of the horrendous ways to encouraged reading is that 30-minute silent reading during school morning assemblies.” I clapped, I cheered and I whistled. I completely agreed with that. Reading has been forced and schools, to a large extent, kill any curiosity and interest that a student has.

Flushing my self-esteem down the longkang

The panel discussion titled ‘teen writes’ had 4 teenage writers who discussed about their writings. One of them, only 12, had published 2 books. Another writer, aged 19, had authored 11 books. Another sec 3 girl was now doing translation work of her previously released Tamil book. They were not only writers, some were also dancers and some were athletes. By now, 90% of my inner soul was inspired, and 10% of my 30-year-old self-esteem severely bruised and washed down the ‘longkang’ (drain) upon hearing the glorifying achievements of the indomitable literary warriors who were half-my-age.

When asked about their source of inspiration, they attributed it to reading and surprisingly, one of the girls was co-authoring her current book with her mother. One of them shared about how the essay that got her a bad grade, actually got her the honorable mention award in Golden Point in 2013. They emphasized on how writing in school may not be a good gage of the writer in you. And some parents raised questions on why schools do very little about creative writing, making me a little guilty. Yes, we do very little in school to encourage creative writing. It is always about writing an argumentative essay or discursive essay in a matter of 2 weeks followed by a graded assignment for which most students fail and curriculum pushes us to focus on another writing skill, leaving behind the trails of failed grades and confused students who, after 4 years or 5 years in school, still struggle to understand the nuances of writing.

Mr Indian Guy

Spotted an unoccupied seat in the 2nd last row of the National Gallery Auditorium. The screen read “CREATING A SOCIETY OF EMPATHY by Jonathon Friesen”. I was looking at my phone to check the venue and time of the next talk. This talk by Jonathan was about to start in 10 minutes. The 200-seater auditorium was probably the best place to train for a mannequin challenge because you can literally freeze effortlessly. I hugged my bag tightly and closely to my chest hoping that it would provide more warmth. The lights dimmed, signaling the start of the lecture. Jonathon was introduced on stage. At that instance, an Indian guy appeared beside me, expressing his interest to get a seat in that row. I slided my foot back to allow space for him to move in.  He grabbed the empty seat beside me.

Jonathan Friesen was sharing his personal experience with Tourette syndrome and epilepsy was the inspiration behind his highly lauded novel, Jerk, California. As he was explaining about looking at the world through his eyes, and understanding how kindness and empathy were even more crucial in today’s crisis-riven world, something brushed against my arm. It felt as though the gateways to amazon jungle was instantly opened. It was none other than Mr Hairy Indian guy experiencing goosebumps hearing the lecture.

Jonathan was that inspiring especially when he talked about creating a world filled with bleak darkness as he went through 2 years of self-house-arrest due to school bullying. Whenever there was an awe-inspiring moment in Jonathan’s talk, I felt the ‘hair-rising’ moment from Mr Hairy Indian guy. I couldn’t help but had to lean sideways to get through freezing-cold condition and at any point of time, atleast a part of my elbow was on the arms of the seat that was in close proximity to ‘amazon jungle’. There was another reason why I didn’t mind keeping my arms in that way. It was actually my way of showing empathy towards this man who was unforgivingly given truckloads of hair by God.

Just like how Jonathon emphasized on asking these 2 crucial questions to create a more inclusive society- “Do you see me? Do you see what you like?” I did my part instantly.

I sometimes wonder how God created Indian men. Perhaps, it was some last-minute assignment on a Friday evening given by the Boss. And the god who was in-charge, wanted to finish the creation and get out of office for a Friday night drinking party that he instructed the trainee Gods, “Hurry! Hurry!”

The trainees, being a blur sotong, heard it as “Hairy! Hairy” simply placed more hair on Indian fellows and that unfortunately, became the part of their DNA.  

Tamil Language Writers- Panel Discussion

Beaming with pride, I attended the talk about local Tamil writers, a discussion led by my ex-Tamil Teacher and a few other writers and film-maker. As much as the national art council and other platforms give monetary support and writing chances to promote reading and writing in Tamil, we see very little success of it among local-bred youngsters. One of the points highlighted was the lack of a strong reading culture among Tamil-speaking families. 

It is still annoying that many of us are obviously blaming the language and the prospects of learning it and asking the same century-old question, “How does learning Tamil help get a job in the future?”

There were questions such as “Writing comes from experiencing hardship. If that is the case and since our nation is well-settled now, there is nothing much to write about. Is that why no one writes as much as they are expected to?”

It was well-rebutted by the poet who was in the panel discussion as he elucidated that stories were in abundance everywhere. In a nation like Singapore, one has to find those stories hidden in our lives. It may not be glaring at our faces like developing nations and finding stories to write is another interesting challenge that Singapore writers face, particularly Tamil Language writers.

Closing debate

The closing debate about Singaporeans was always in the mood for love, was exhilarating. There was something magical about being one of an enthusiastic crowd. We cheered at the same moment, felt the same happy emotions together as the speakers cracked jokes about love, sex and Singapore. Cacophony of applause and palpable excitement buzzed through the charged air.

This festival, as much as it was therapeutic, it also made me question some of my abilities as a writer-
Do I really write reviews well?
Do I have to do it all the time?
Should I write more stories then?
Or should I just focus writing in only Tamil?

Whatever the outcome is, I am really appreciative of the fact that this festival gave me a chance to rediscover what I am good at and what I can be good at. Ended the night with a triple-chocolate milkshake as the heart did a mini-somersault in happiness as I fruitfully spent the past 10 days in a soul-enriching, thought-provoking and passion-igniting festival.