Sharing ideas and so much more at the Ubud Writers & Readers Festival

Press Call UWRFI’m in Ubud for the annual Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. It has only been a day since I arrived and it’s been fantastic. Even though I’m here alone, with no skills to ride or drive, getting around is easy. Today’s a relatively free day before the next four busy days attending session after session on just about everything – from writing and politics, to cooking, coffee and the arts.

The media meet just concluded and on board the panel were such authors as Amitav Ghosh and Elizabeth Pisani, festival founder Janet DeNeefe, and Azyumardi Azra, a prominent Muslim scholar, among others. They addressed the many reasons for their being there at the festival. Interestingly, the theme of UWRF 2014 is Saraswati, the goddess of wisdom and knowledge. DeNeefe aptly mentioned that she was happy that this arts festival coincided with Ubud’s ongoing festival dedicated to the goddess.

Amitav Ghosh shared his thoughts on his works saying, “In Asian history there has always been some sort of a profound silence; it’s a problem that we face because there’s so much that hasn’t been documented.”

“For instance, from 1938 onwards, many Indians and Chinese left for Fiji and Mauritius as labourers. They left behind no sources, but using objects like immigration papers, it has been possible to reconstruct this occurrence in history. I’m also greatly fascinated by the opium trade. Again, this trade that financed European colonial trade hasn’t been documented,” Ghosh concluded.

Elizabeth Pisani, who has travelled for innumerable months across Indonesia said that her approach to writing and covering Indonesia is the same as the way she approaches everything else in life – to have a coffee. She recounted several instances of extraordinary happenings over a simple cup of coffee, or kapi, as it is known here.

“I got on a boat with no plan, but I found different stories everywhere I went. Indonesians are without doubt the most generous and hospitable people I have met on my travels, and I have travelled extensively across the world,” she said.

This was an exciting start to the festival with plenty of busy days ahead. To be a part of the media and to be able to cover such a great festival has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while. It’s proof that dreams do come true.

Off to Ubud, Bali’s cultural heartland

A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield
A session in progress-Photo credit Matt Oldfield

The day has finally arrived. I will be leaving for Ubud in Bali. Indonesia, specifically to attend the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. While each of the five days presents an exciting line-up of authors, artists and speakers that I plan to attend, I’ll be making the best of the days after the festival to discover this charming little town. You can look forward to my new blog posts on Ubud shortly. I hope to blog much about town in between all those sessions and my much-needed ‘me time’. In the meanwhile, here’s a piece that I had written for The Label that outlines a few reasons to get your self to this fantastic festival.

Take a yoga class, learn to cook Balinese food, or explore your love for surfing when you aren’t attending fascinating literary sessions 

There are a rising number of festivals for writers and readers, a seemingly endless list for music lovers, and still many others if you love the arts. And then there are festivals like the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival. The main idea behind this festival—now in its 11th year—is to gather like-minded appreciators of the written and spoken word in an idyllic little town, abundant in paddy fields and artists. Still, it’s a well-rounded and inclusive festival; one that gives anyone with even the mildest interest in the arts, a good chance to experience a new destination. Poetry slam events, cultural workshops, music, films and more will keep you busy through the festival.

Stellar line-up Like always, the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival 2014 features an exciting literary line-up. Taking the stage, among the 150-odd writers from over 25 countries, is British travel writing great Colin Thubron and Japanese novelist Minae Mizumura. Master novelist Amitav Ghosh and a host of award-winning writers, including Hassan Blasim and Eimear McBride, are also big draws. This year onwards, the festival will host the winning author of the annual DSC Prize. So we’ll be seeing 2014 recipient Cyrus Mistry (Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer) land on Indonesian shores.
A festival ticket will get you a seat at most of the events. But it’s the more intimate ones that you should also aim to be at. Hosted at partner restaurants and venues, you’ll be privy to freewheeling talks by writers and artists in an intimate setting.
Yoga with a view Five days of session-hopping might leave you craving for some less intense modes of relaxation, like yoga. Bali, particularly Ubud, is famous for its yoga studios and retreats; which is why the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival offers festival-goers free yoga sessions everyday at a location facing the stunning Campuhan Ridge.
Surf’s up Bali is big on surfing since it gets the full force of the surrounding ocean swells. This year, events around surfing will be hosted at the festival. When you aren’t on your surfboard or attending one of the sessions, head to some of the free surf-related events. Although it begins before the opening of the festival, on September 28, veteran filmmaker and photographer Dick Hoole’s photography display will showcase his works documented since 1973, when Bali first experienced a surge in the surfing scene. Amateur and pro surfers shouldn’t miss the panel comprising champion surfer Rusty Miller and author Phil Jarrat.
One of last year's performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield
One of last year’s performances at the festival-Photo Credit Matt Oldfield

Culture unhinged In between all those sessions, it’s natural to want to soak in the rich culture of this town. You can always opt for a solo experience. But with such a rare line-up of cultural workshops, you might be better off saving those explorations for later. Learn to prepare a lavish Balinese feast at the Honeymoon Guesthouse’s cooking school while you sip on local rice wine, after you return from a guided spice and herb tour to an Ubud market. Or, you could learn to whip up a three-course Balinese meal at a workshop by the Mozaic Cooking School. Although these are special events that come at an extra price, you can be assured that they are worth your time and money. You can also receive a hands-on apprenticeship in the iconic art form of Batik, or embark on a fascinating herb walk that will introduce you to Bali’s wealth of natural remedies.

Besides, there’s much to be experienced in Ubud, other than the much-awaited festival—from its many art museums and botanical gardens, to a sacred forest full of curious monkeys.
This piece was first published on The Label, a lifestyle magazine by Louis Philippe.