The Singapore Writers Festival got off to a tender start yesterday evening, staying true to this year's bittersweet theme of sayang.
Author Noor Hasnah Adam and her daughter, budding short story writer Nur Aisyah Lyana, performed the festival's first non-English commissioned work for its opening ceremony at the Victoria Concert Hall.
Co-written by the pair from Singapore as a dialogue sung and recited by mother and daughter, Genggaman Sayang (Love's Grasp) pays tribute to the love and sacrifice that define the maternal bond.
As Madam Hasnah, 42, voiced her fears that her daughter would slip from her grasp ("As you grew up, your grip loosened. My heart began to worry."), 19-year-old Aisyah reassured her: "The older I am, the more I loosen my grip on you. But have faith, Mother. Our fingers are still intertwined."
Genggaman Sayang set the tone for the 19th edition of the festival, which charts the emotional highs and lows of sayang - a Malay word that can be used variably to express endearment or regret.
Festival director Yeow Kai Chai said at the opening ceremony: "With its dual meaning, 'sayang' aptly represents how the stories which speak the most deeply to us - whether written, spoken, danced or sung - are centred on love and loss.
"In fact, what other word could be more apt, in the current global climate of unrest and suspicion?"
The 10-day festival, which ends on Nov 13, is not shying away from tough issues confronting today's world, from the burgeoning refugee crisis in Europe to the threat modernity poses to endangered languages and traditions.
Over 310 personalities - among them novelists, musicians, film- makers and academics - from Singapore and abroad are involved this year. They include heavyweights such as manga titan Gosho Aoyama, the man behind the Detective Conan series; Pulitzer prize-winning poet Vijay Seshadri; and investigative journalist Frederik Obermaier, one half of the German duo at the heart of the Panama Papers.
The guest of honour last night was Senior Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth Sim Ann. In her speech, she noted that the festival has become an established event in the arts calendar, with a scope that extends beyond literature to include film, music and theatre. "For many readers like me, the opportunity to meet the creative geniuses behind our favourite books would have been few and far between in the past," she said.
"The Singapore Writers Festival has made such opportunities regularly available to fans of the written word, and has helped to place Singapore on the literary world map."
•The Straits Times is the official media partner of the Singapore Writers Festival. For more stories on the festival, go to http://www.straitstimes.com/tags/ singapore-writers-festival-2016