Women part of the 'Granth Dindi' - the book march - perform fugdi on the eve of inauguration of Akhil Bhartiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan which will be held at Pimpri between January 15 to 18.Photo By rajesh Stephen,15.01.16,Pune.

The 89th Akhil Bharatiya Marathi Sahitya Sammelan, whose build-up was embroiled in a controversy, got off to a cracking start with a grand “granth dindi” (symbolic procession of books) drawing maximum crowd on Friday.

The first day remained confined to the “granth dindi” and the real show will take off on Saturday with sammelan president Shripal Sabnis promising to once again speak his mind, especially on the raging issue of “atmosphere of intolerance” prevailing in the country.

The four-day literary meet, being held in Pimpri-Chinchwad for the first time, is taking place on the biggest open space in the industrial city – at the HA grounds in Pimpri.

The sammelan is being organised by Dr D Y Patil Vidyapeeth Society, which has sent out a record 75,000 invitations and set up a record 400 stalls at the venue. The colourful “granth dindi” took off from PCMC headquarters where Sikkim Governor Sriniwas Patil, who was once the municipal commissioner of PCMC, flagged it off by performing a pooja. Except for former mayor Mangala Kadam, other politicians were conspicuous by their absence.

Unmindful of the presence of bigwigs, the “dindi”, where youngsters and women resplendent in their “nauvaris” participated whole-heartedly, provided the much-needed spark to the start of the sammelan. College youths and schoolchildren, drawn from institutes across the industrial town, remained at the forefront as they shouted slogans praising the sammelan and Chhatrapati Shivaji and danced. Women, especially housewives, played the traditional “phugdi” as the passing vehicular traffic ground to a halt to witness the procession.

Sanjeevani Pandey from Chinchwad, sporting a saffron “pheta” and walking along the “dindi” all the time, summed up the sentiment among the participants. “It is a celebration of Marathi language by Marathi manoos in the way they could… This is moment to savour for residents of Pimpri-Chinchwad.”

For a barely two-km stretch, the “dindi” took more than two hours to reach the HA ground where reception committee chief P D Patil and several others welcomed it amidst loud cheers and thunderous clapping. At the venue, a stage set up on a 40-acre land stood tall and shone brightly in the evening sun.

On the second day of the sammelan on Saturday, literary meet president Shripal Sabnis, who created a controversy with his anti-Modi remarks in the run-up to the event, will deliver his inaugural speech. Sabnis said his speech was of 135 pages and he would try to touch upon every aspect. “Be it the issue of secularism, communalism, farmers’ suicide or the current raging issue of atmosphere of intolerance in the country, I will try to speak on everything,” he said.

Asked if it would not create a controversy if he spoke about the issue of “intolerance,” Sabnis retorted, “That (intolerance) is my favourite subject… It will remain on top of my speech. I am quite agitated about it. Whatever is happening in the country is not good at all. And that’s why I will speak my mind…”

Sabnis seemed unperturbed about how the BJP will take his speech. “I know they have said they will put my speech under the scanner. But my right to freedom of speech has been guaranteed by the Constitution of the country drafted by Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. It is not a right by guaranteed by somebody, least by a political party. I will speak what I think is right and nobody has the power to take away my right.”

There is speculation whether Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. who is supposed to attend the event, would actually turn up on Saturday. “I am Sabnis, he is Fadnavis… I am a symbol of culture while Fadnavis is a symbol of truth. The Chief Minister has nothing to worry about…,” Sabnis said, hoping that the CM will make it and hear him “speak the truth.”