84th PEN International Congress in Pune to focus on truth, freedom and diversity

The 84th PEN International Congress, hosted by PEN South India, first time in Pune, India, started with a with a silent prayer offering tribute at Kasturba Memorial, Agakhan Palace on 25 September. The event, which will focus on truth, freedom and diversity, is on until 29 September 2018. The event will run alongside the year-long commemoration of the life of Mahatma Gandhi, whose celebrated autobiography ‘My Experiments with Truth’ is the theme of this year’s Congress, with events and panels focusing on the values of truth and non-violence.

26 Sep 2018 | By Dibyajyoti Sarma

Carles Torner, executive director, PEN International; Jennifer Clement, president, PEN International; GN Devy, PEN South India, offering tribute at Kasturba Memorial, Aga Khan Palace in Pune

The annual PEN International Congress is an opportunity for contemporary literary voices, both leading and emerging, to celebrate literature, discuss pressing threats to freedom of expression and exchange ideas and stories.

For the conference, over 400 writers and delegates from around the world gathered in Pune, including Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Ashok Vajpeyi, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Ashis Nandy and PEN International president Jennifer Clement.

Speaking on the occasion, Jennifer Clement, president, PEN International, said, “We are honoured to bring together our global membership of writers in Pune, India, in celebration of the life of Mahatma Gandhi at a time when peace-building and the pursuit of truth are becoming ever more challenging and essential. PEN has a long history of bringing together a diversity of voices in celebration of the written word, in storytelling and exchange, and we look forward to inviting new members into the PEN community.”

In a special lecture on “Why PEN, why Pune?, GN Devy, PEN South Asia, said, “Pune speaks a language that has a continued history of 1,500 years. Marathi, together with other Indian languages represents the very best in Indian thought and that thought is the foundation of Indian civilisation. Through the history of this great civilisation, diversity has always been celebrated and diversity is at the heart of democracy. PEN today celebrates diversity in the hope that freedom and truth will prevail. Gandhi, the greatest advocate of truth, is at the heart of this PEN Congress.”

More than 80 countries are represented at this Congress. Together, they represent more than 4,000 languages.

“Together we stand united in the defence of all these languages and the creativity in those languages. The process of economic globalisation has posed a serious threat to language, voice and thought. United we defend the threatened,” he added.

Several programmes have been planned for the five-day conference. Among the major events is the inauguration of a world language park ‘Bhasha –Vana’, (where writers from each country participating in the conference will plant a tree), There will also be a play on Kasturba Gandhi, by Ramdas Bhatkal, translated into English by Yashodhara Deshpande.

Hosted by PEN South India, the Congress will also consist of literary events such as visits to schools and universities by PEN members, and a celebration of literature and the diversity of languages.

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents.