The first edition of Shillong Cherry Blossom Literary Festival was a three-day event that took place at Ward’s Lake from the 25 to 27 November 2021. It was inaugurated by the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, Conrad K Sangma in the presence of the Ambassador of Japan to India, H E Satoshi Suzuki, among other dignitaries. The festival was organized by the Tourism Department as part of the 50 Years of Meghalaya celebrations.
The program included a wide range of perspectives through the lens of language, literature, words, stories, and the many intersections with living cultures and the environment. The long list of speakers and performers included – authors, poets, journalists, scholars, artists, musicians, designers, filmmakers, and literary enthusiasts such as Amitav Ghosh, Naseeruddin Shah, Shekhar Gupta, Namita Gokhale, Ritu Menon, Devdutt Pattanaik, Kynpham Singh Nongkynrih, Patricia Mukhim, Arak Sangma, Khasi Bloodz, Iba Mallai, Careen J Langstieh, Ramona Sangma, Bijal Vaccharajani, Daisy Hasan, to name a few – from the state, and across the country.
The festival also included the Reading Hub – a bookshop, library, storytelling, and book donation space. The shortlisted entries to the earlier launched ‘Youth Engagement Programme’ inviting submissions for short stories, essays, poetry, art, and photography were also announced during the literary carnival.
The sessions varied from conversations on climate change to lyrics, fashion to publishing industry insights, film scripting to language and literature, mythology to art practice, and much more. A few books were also launched by authors Devdutt Pattanaik, Daribha Lyndem, and Balaji Vittal. There were also sessions around food that highlighted busting myths of our local cuisine, talks on archaeological sites found in Meghalaya, and sustainable eco-tourism. The program ended with Naseeruddin Shah in conversation with Lapdiang Syiem, leaving all attendees inspired.
To quote from his memoir “One Actor, one Audience with the roles interchangeable’ had now become ‘Actor and Audience are one’.” – Naseeruddin Shah, And Then One Day: A Memoir
Taking inspiration from the Cherry Blossom trees of Meghalaya, and what Autumn evokes – harvest, preservation, and maturity, the organizing team had envisaged a program centred around these ideas.
The Festival was located at the iconic century-old Wards Lake or Nan Polok as it is locally called, in the heart of the city of Shillong. It serves as a space that locals and visitors alike go to enjoy a gentle stroll, a quiet space to sit and read, to row a boat, and admire the flowers that bloom in the different seasons. An ideal place to celebrate Autumn and bring the community together, to host guests from near and far, and together experience the best of what Meghalaya has to offer. Many new perspectives took seed among the audiences at the venue and those who attended the Festival remotely via its live broadcasts.