THE granddaughter of legendary Indian revolutionary Mahatma Gandhi paid tribute to hunger striker Bobby Sands during an emotional keynote address to the Jaipur Literary Festival at the weekend.
Billed as the ‘biggest free festival in the world’, the festival has expanded from the Indian city of Jaipur to a series of international destinations, the latest being Belfast.
Over three days, prominent Irish, British and Indian writers and thinkers gathered at the Lyric Theatre and at the Séamus Heaney Homeplace to share ideas and swap stories in a shared celebration of the power of art to transform lives.
“At the end of the day, it’s really people who reach out to each other,” Jaipur LitFest director Sanjoy Roy told the opening night audience in the Belfast Harbour Commission offices.
“We can stand together and make our voices heard collectively across this din [of Brexit]. We are here to build upon everything you have done in the past and will do in the future. We are here to build bridges and to celebrate with each one of you.”
Guest of honour at the first Jaipur Literary Fest in Belfast was Mahatma Gandhi’s granddaughter, Tara Gandhi Bhattcharjee, who is a revered international peaceworker and advocate of non-violence who has worked with the Pope and the Dalai Lama.
The 86-year-old peace and green campaigner revealed that she always dreamt of visiting Ireland and was well aware of the shared use of hunger strike in both Indian and Irish culture.
She paid tribute to Irish writers who had inspired her, including Bobby Sands, who invoked Gandhi when he started his 1981 H-Block hunger strike as a favourite.
Ms Ghandi Bhattcharhe described her invitation “to the land of W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Bernard Shaw, Seamus Heaney and, of course, Bobby Sands,” as a “beautiful gift”.
“They were all romantic names when I was studying literature in my late teens. I have that iridescent love for these writers,” she said.
“It remains the same iridescent love today as I proceed on my 86th year of my life. How inspiring to be in the land of Seamus Heaney and Bobby Sands.”
She continued: “Our literature and poetry can be the vision and the sound without boundaries. We are gathered together to pay homage to the sound of the soul without bearings. I have received the message of peace and non-violence here from all of you, and I thank you for this message.”
Among the audience were DUP leader Arlene Foster and South Belfast MP Emma Little-Pengelly as well as Fra McCann of Sinn Féin – a H-Block comrade of Bobby Sands.