Singapore Writers Festival starts on a tender note, with the theme of "sayang"

Author Noor Hasnah Adam (left) and her daughter Nur Aisyah Lyana performing their commissioned piece, Genggaman Sayang (Love's Grasp) at the Singapore Writers Festival opening ceremony at Victoria Concert Hall on Thursday (Nov 3). ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Writers Festival got off to a tender start on Friday (Nov 4) 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 defines 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 told the crowd 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?"

This, he added, is why it is more important than ever to give voice to different perspectives - "to learn more about the issues that move and shake our world, to bridge distances, whether between languages, art forms, mediums, stories or, most importantly, people."

The 10-day festival, which runs until 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.

This year too, the festival boasts more inclusive programming, with sign language interpretation being offered for some sessions.

"Looking at the programmes we have lined up for audiences this year, I can safely say that it will be really 'sayang' if you miss this year's Singapore Writers Festival," added Mr Yeow to laughter.

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 Singapore Writers Festival has become an established event in the local 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

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