Writers, academics discuss meaning of goodness, the theme of Singapore Writers Festival

Tamil Murasu partners up with the National Arts Council to showcase Tamil Language and culture at the Singapore Writers Festival 2017.
Tamil Murasu partners up with the National Arts Council to showcase Tamil Language and culture at the Singapore Writers Festival 2017. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - What is goodness in different languages and how should it be practised?

This question was put forth at the Singapore Writers Festival on Sunday (Nov 5) morning, as writers and academics debated the meaning of the festival's theme - Aram - across linguistic and cultural boundaries at an intercultural dialogue moderated by Professor Kwok Kian Woon, a sociology professor at Nanyang Technological University.

The event was held at The Chamber at The Arts House.

The polysemous Tamil word "Aram" connotes "goodness" or "doing good" and appears notably in Thirukkural, a classic Tamil text.

Speaking in their mother tongues, the participants - academics Dr Sa'eda Buang, Dr Nazry Bahrawi and Associate Professor Chitra Sankaran; writers Sithuraj Ponraj and Fei Xin; and theatre practitioner Neo Hai Bin - suggested equivalents for Aram in their own languages and strategies to practise it.

The panel's contributions ranged from a recitation of early 19th-century Malay poetry to an irreverent pantun inspired by 1961 film Gado Gado.

Although the notion of purity of mind arose often in discussion, Prof Kwok cautioned against purity devolving into morally problematic purism.

Sithuraj said: "There may be a push to make Aram a set of rules, such as giving to charity, that you can fulfil to feel good about yourself, but I prefer to think of it as giving space to others.

"My job as a writer is to pick up these possibilities for space."

The 10-day SWF, organised by the National Arts Council, opened on Friday and features more than 300 programmes.

More than 340 writers from Singapore and abroad will take part in this year's events. They include acclaimed names such as Pulitzer Prize-winners Junot Diaz, Rae Armantrout and Ian Johnson.

This year marks the 20th edition of the SWF, which started as a biennial event in 1986.