The Indian Literary and Art Society of Australia was founded in June 2010 to promote Indian languages, literature, art and culture in Australia and to build bridges between the two countries.
Languages, literature and arts play an important role in the passing of India’s rich cultural heritage to the younger generation, especially in a foreign land. According to a report published in the New York Times in 2007, linguists say that out of about 7000 languages spoken in the world, nearly half are in danger of extinction and are likely to disappear by the end of this century. In Australia, several aboriginal languages are now extinct.
Indian languages, once largely confined to India and its South Asian neighbours, have started to spread around the world, along with their speakers. Indians have travelled to Australia in the past few decades in search of economic opportunities, and in doing so have brought India’s languages and cultural traditions with them. Regardless of one’s connection with India’s culture and its religious and linguistic diversity, it is now impossible to escape its influence in Australia.
That was not always the case, even as recently as a decade ago.
In 2010, Sydney’s Rekha Rajvanshi founded the organisation ‘Indian Literary & Art Society of Australia (ILASA) Incorporated, through which she has been organising various events to promote Indian art and literature in Australia and to build bridges between Australia and other India. Since its establishment, ILASA has played a crucial role in the preservation and promotion of India’s rich culture at a time when there were very few organisations working for this cause.
At the time, there was a big gap in accessing Indian literature (in Hindi and other regional Indian languages) and art in Sydney. Without a forum, readers did not have the means to access the work of Hindi writers across Australia, India or the world. As a poet and writer, Rekha Rajvanshi felt passionate about bridging this gap. ILASA brought writers and artists together on one platform, offering opportunities for them to showcase their talents.
“We have now completed 10 successful years of our journey this year. Most of our events are listed on ILASA’s digital magazine. We have directors in most of the major cities of Australia who work together to promote literary activities (mainly, Hindi literature). Our Patrons are well-known Indian personalities– the renowned poet and Padmashri Dr Ashok Chakradhar, the Chancellor of AISECT University and CV Raman University, Mr Santosh Choubey, and the Chancellor of the Academy of Arts and Founder of Film City Noida, Dr Sandeep Marwah. Australian patrons include Dr Peter Friedlander from the Australian National University in Canberra; Dr Ian Woolford from La Trobe University; Mr Murli Bhojwani, the CEO of MNB, Gambhir Watts OAM, the President Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan; and Neena Badhwar, Editor of the Indian Down Under. ILASA is also supported by Mala Mehta OAM; Avijit Sarkar at the Natraj Academy; Sheba Nandkeolyar, the CEO of Multiconnexions; Saba Zaidi Abdi from the Adakar Theatre Group.”, Rekha Rajvanshi told NRI Affairs.
What has ILASA achieved in the 10 years since its inception?
Rekha Rajvanshi says in the past ten years, ILASA held more than 65 literary and art events.
She said, “We published an anthology of 40 poets from six cities of Australia, which was launched in Vishwa Rang Tagore International Festival of Literature, Art and films at Bhopal, India in 2019.”
“We have also been celebrating Hindi Diwas since our conception. ILASA organised a youth Hindi poetry competition at NSW Parliament house in 2015, which was supported by the Consulate General of India in Sydney and Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan Australia, along with participants, MPs and MLAs from Sydney and Canberra”
ILASA also organized a Hindi Conference at the University of Sydney in 2016, with many Hindi lovers and community leaders present.
Dr Ian Woolford, a Hindi lecturer from La Trobe University, chaired the panel. Dignitaries present at the conference included the Consul General of India, Mr Vanlal Vawna and MP Jodi McKay. At Parramasala festival, ILASA along with Word Travels organized a slam poetry competition and also supported SAFAL (South Asian Film, Art & Literature festival for two years and organized various panels.
“We have also arranged “Meet the Author” events with English writerand Sahitya Academy Award winner Kiran Nagarkar; Urdu writer Khushbir Singh Shad; Nandi award-winning Telugu poet Ande Sri; Satyarthi award-winning Malayalam writer Dr R Surendra Arsu; Hindi writers from the UK, Usha Raje Saxena and Divya Mathur; along with Dr Kunwer Bechain, Dr Rekha Dwivedi, Dr Gaytri Singh, Vasudha Gadgil from India,” said Ms Rajvanshi, adding that during Covid-19, ILASA continued to organise many Kavi Sammelans virtually.
“Last year, we supported the International VishwaRang ,a virtual three-day festival that brought many artists, writers and Indophiles together. This year on Hindi Diwas, ILASA organised an International Kavi Sammelan and an Australia-wide short stories, skits, and short films competition,” she told NRI Affairs.
Organisations like ILASA play a prominent role in keeping our country’s culture alive. ILASA’s motto is ‘Our Culture, Our Identity’. Poets, writers, and artists join groups like ILASA to satisfy their creative urge and stay connected with their roots, while becoming cultural crusaders and ambassadors in their host country and vice versa.
It is the passion for Hindi that has kept this organisation going. Rekha Rajvanshi shares most of the members are passionate about their homeland, as well as the host country.
She elaborates, “We know that there is little money in arts and literature–ILASA doesn’t have a membership fee, and anyone can be a part of ILASA’s activities. When we organise events, we just charge enough to pay for the venue and the food. But we hope and are glad that ILASA is able to make a difference in people’s lives. Most of the work is done by our hard-working team members, who are mostly committed volunteers.”
This year, ILASA is planning to publish a collection of stories written by Australian-Indian writers, in both Hindi and English.
Ms Rajvanshi says she hopes to do more in developing good literary content for children.
“We are also planning to organise creative writing and drama workshops for budding writers and artists. We have a few more creative projects in the pipeline, we will reveal them as we go,” she added.