From left to right: Abdul Ghaffar Hussain, Chairman of Emirates Human Rights Association, Shaikh Majid Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Isobel Abulhoul, Director of Literature Festival and Mohammad Al Murr, Vice Chairman- Dubai Culture & Arts at the opening ceremony of the Emirates Airlines Festival of Literature 2011 at Cultural and Scientific Centre, Al Mamzar. Image Credit: Pankaj Sharma/Gulf News

Dubai: The third Emirates Airline Festival of Literature officially opened Tuesday, with performances from more than 500, including school children and authors.

Shaikh Majid Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority (Dubai Culture), which supports the event, attended the varied display by more than 500 performers, including school children from around the UAE and festival authors.

“The vision of our Lit Fest is to be all-inclusive and to provide as wide a range of writers and genres as possible so that everyone who comes along will find a session or maybe 10 sessions that will delight and entertain them, whilst at the same time engaging their brains. Everything at our festival is live, and you feel alive being part of it,” Isobel Abulhoul, Festival Director said at the opening ceremony.

“At the very heart of our festival is a need, an ambition, to take non-readers and turn them into people who derive enjoyment from books. I believe we need to help as many people as possible through that magic door into the world of books and enjoyment. I hope that our festival will bring that about for many, many people over the next few days. Every single person here can assist in the fight against illiteracy,” she said.

The Emirati Youth Choir opened the ceremony, at the Cultural and Scientific Association, Al Mamzar, with a performance of the haunting “Pearl Divers Song”. Aerial performance artists swooped across the stage to the rhythm of the traditional drums, taking the audience back to a time when pearl divers collected oysters from the sea bed.

The participation of the community in the annual event is very important, and gives the younger generation opportunities to formulate creations that distinguish the city, Mohammad Al Murr, Vice Chairman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority said at the ceremony.

Al Murr is also a writer and will be appearing at the Lit Fest.

Poets Dha’en Shaheen and Roger McGough recited poems written especially for the opening ceremony by them, before author Michael Morpurgo spoke about the theatre adaptation of his book “War Horse”.

The Emirates Airline choir performed two songs, conducted by Stuart Squire.

“I came here 33 years ago and have seen decades of change in Dubai, all for the good. The performance is a reminder of the hardships the pearl divers had to endure. The pearl divers had to stay underwater for five minutes and didn’t survive to 40 years old,” Sir Maurice Flanagan, Chairman, Emirates Airline, said at the ceremony.

“I’m delighted that such distinguished authors are here,” he said.

Emirates steward and former music teacher Yousuf Khan composed the Lit Fest anthem, this year entitled “The Mystery”, which was performed by 350 primary school students.

The students comprise the Massed Primary School Choirs of Dubai and were combined school choirs from the Dubai English Speaking School; English College Primary School; JSS International School; Own English High School; Repton School; Royal Dubai School; and Star International School.

The first sell-out Gala Evening, with guests Michael Palin and Wole Soyinka, was held Tuesday night, and Wednesday features Margaret Atwood, Simon Armitage, Nathalie Handal, Dha’en Shaheen, Yang Lian, Benjamin Zephaniah and music from the Dubai Sinfonia.

Abulhoul concluded: “Some thoughts I would like to leave with you today are: No skill is more crucial to the future of a child, than literacy; Literacy is not a luxury, but an essential skill; At the heart of our festival is the goal of improving literacy through celebration; You can help 'spread the word'.”
Celebrating literature

Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is a celebration of literature in all its forms. As the Middle East’s largest annual literary festival, it offers residents and overseas visitors the opportunity to meet famous authors, attend literary debates, listen to readings and participate in workshops.

Gulf News will be sponsoring five sessions at the Lit Fest: BBC veteran correspondent Kate Adie; The Hub’s Nick Gowing; chef extraordinaire Madhur Jaffery; and Ibn Battuta expert Tim Mackintosh-Smith, are the guests of the five sponsored sessions.

Attendees can also enjoy many Fringe activities that are held as part of the Festival.

Emirates Lit Fest 2011 will take place from 8-12th March at The Cultural and Scientific Association at Al Mamzar and the InterContinental Hotel, Dubai Festival City.

For ticketing information, logon to www.eaifl.com

Poems composed and performed especially for the opening ceremony of the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, 2011:

Take Comfort, by Roger McGough

Take comfort from this.

you have a book in your hand

not a loaded gun or a parking fine

or an invitation card to the wedding

of the one you should have married

but were too selfish. Always imagining

there would be someone better out there

but there wasn’t, and you missed the boat.

And now you’re pushing forty, what are the chances

of your finding that perfect elusive partner? Highly unlikely.

Like an empty glass on a bar room counter, loneliness beckons.

Not an empty glass, or a bottle smashed on a bar room counter.

a photograph of the one you will always regret not marrying

not a letter from the hospital, the results devastating.

After the disaster, the dust and the screaming

a child’s arm thrust out from the rubble.

You have none of those in your hand.

A dirty syringe or a deadly scorpion

a Molotov cocktail or an overdose

not a loaded gun or a parking fine

you have a book in your hand.

Take comfort from this.

The Knight of the Tribe, by Dha’en Shaheen

He is the master of our passions; the voice for

All our sounds; the start of all beginnings;

He is the light of the morning;

He is the Knight of the tribe.

With no rest he’s saddling his horse in our troubled universe.

Racing against time, water and wind,

he’s coming to heal our deep wounds,

leading us to fresh pastures and Spring’s

green shoots.

O you are a master of time, passion

and sound.

A massive web of misfortunes is besetting us.

Those who drooled their sympathy on orphans

and women, left with their horses.

We survived a misery-ridden night;

All the households were listening to the

knocks of despair at their doors;

The chants of angst were heard everywhere.

Here’s the voice of “Layla” being libeled

and betrayed.

Here’s the beginning.

An alien voice far away is heard,

Echoing through the corridors of our lives:

No matter how diligently we strive,

No matter what we do,

Blood will continue to be shed.

But despite the distance,

You shall cross the way.

And come to limit these dreadful days.

I swear you shall come,

Soon you will come.

Saddling your horse in our troubled world.

I saw your boat pass not far from our sun,

Saving our wishes from being sunk,

Assuring the brightness of our lives is not gone.

O master of our time:

Our lives are thickly sown with thorns.

We’ve dreamt too much;

We’ve cried too much.

We slept listening to the sounds of the seagulls

Cawing from the East,

Luring us into ethereal lands of spacious lawns and calm,

Where we could whisper our secrets in the mist.

Oh our dreams: we’ve lived and slept plenty.

But our dreams dissolve in the blind darkness of

night, blocking the morning’s rays.

Living the exile’s life has left the traces of the

torturer’s whip indelible in my eyes.

But still do I have this flow of purity in my heart.

My laboured poetry strives to weave this bond

of loyalty to you,

Revealing your voice,

Resurrecting your continued inspiration that fills

us with zest for life and passion.

I am destined to long for you

Longing only for you