Photographs: How the colours of the Dhaka Lit Fest put out the darkness of anxiety

Held under the shadow of Islamic unrest, security concerns, and an atmosphere of uncertainty, the festival dispelled the gloom with its celebration of books and writers.

"The simple pleasure of reading becomes a subversive act, a revolutionary act," said poet Kaiser Haq as the Dhaka Literary Festival got underway in the middle of a strike called by the Jamaat-e-Islami, a security advisory from Western governments and a social media blockade.

Nayantara Sehgal gave the keynote address 

Hay Dhaka, which has shed its Hay affiliation and gained "independence", as Haq put it, as the Dhaka Literary Festival had a point to prove despite many nervous guests cancelling at the last minute because of security concerns. "Once you start capitulating where do you stop?" wondered festival co-director Kazi Anis Ahmed. All of it just made Nayantara Sahgal's opening keynote about freedom of expression that much more pertinent.

The Bookworm bookshop

With the launch of a book about a gigolo from Kalkatta and one about a snake goddess from 14th century Bengal, DLF had no problem captivating its audience. "What should I read?" asked Kunal Basu, author of Kalkatta. "Sex or violence?" "Both," responded the crowd.

Farukh Dhondy and Amit Chaudhuri

The audience took part in feisty debates about feminism with the likes of Urvashi Butalia and Shobhaa De, heard Ramachandra Guha compare T20 cricket to local hooch, and cheered Arvind Krishna Mehrotra and Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan as they read poetry.  If a Nobel-winning writer failed to make the festival, never mind, there was a Nobel laureate on hand – cancer researcher Harold Varmus.

Shobhaa De in conversation with Antara Ganguli 

There was even a bona fide rockstar in Yoss from Cuba, whose camouflage pants, bandanna and boots made him the clear favourite for shutterbugs.

Poetry, music, dance, film – everything was in place. But as the festival ended with the social media ban firmly in place, DLF 2015 was faced with the existential question. If a litfest was not Facebooked, could it be said to have happened at all?

Poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra

All photographs by Sandip Roy.

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