Painters- traditionally male, have had muses- usually female, for inspiration. But does an author or a poet have a muse in that parochial, matriarchal sense?
This question was posed by Paul Blezard to authors Yann Martel and Bahaa Taher and poet Imtiaz Dharker at the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in the InterContinental Hotel at the Dubai Festival City, Dubai.
Perhaps not a physical muse. But inspiration for creation can come from anything, said the authors. It could be a trigger, an inner voice, a circumstance or a place. For Yann Martel, it is a sense of disquiet with the world that causes authors to write.
Dissatisfaction with the status quo may spur authors to scribe, but it can also inspire events. Realization that Dubai, for all its gleaming buildings, lacked a community event that could unite disparate people around a central theme of books, literature, creativity and expression was what led to the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature in the first place. Or Lit Fest, as it is fondly referred to by the involved community.
Dubai has always been good at bigger, better and possibly ostentatious. Perhaps what has been lacking is a sense of community involvement. The Lit Fest, however, involves the community to the extent of a sense of ownership, resulting in people from all walks of life volunteering their time and efforts into helping - be it through day-long coverage on traditional and social media, taking photographs to feed a central repository, or acting as chaperones and ushers.
The Lit Fest may be garnering attention because of its all star cast, with the likes of Martel, Martin Amis, Rachel Hore, Chris Cleave, Shobhaa De, Alexander McCall Smith, Robert Lacy and Caroline Lawrence, among many others. But its real fascination is in how it has galvanized interest and action from the city's residents.
Today, winner of the Arabic Booker Prize, Bahaa Taher, quoted a minimalist poet, "I will sleep comfortably at night, and others will fight about the meaning of my poetry."
But while everyone involved either in organizing the Lit Fest or volunteering their services for it might stay awake while others sleep, their stimulant will be a sense of achievement. And there will be little dispute on the meaning or import of the event either. For all the celebrities that may have meandered over the red carpet to attend the opening ceremony, the Lit Fest will be for uniting a diaspora, if for four days.
The poet Imtiaz Dharker said that poetry is a pessimistic compulsion. It may be hopeless, but one cannot but write. So it is for the Lit Fest. It may not change the world, either commercially or in hierarchy, but that is no excuse to not do it. For a few days, reality can be left to deal with itself.
Bahaa Taher is adamant that one should not write without inspiration, because there is no beauty in such writing. But sometimes, the very act of creation can lead to inspiration. That is what has happened with the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature. It has inspired us to step up and take ownership. And that, in its own way, is a work of beauty, in a city that is often accused by outsiders of being culturally deprived.