In this interview, Ambassador Hans Jacob Frydenlund talks about the nature of the cultural interaction between India and Norway, association with the Jaipur Literature Festival, impact of immigration on the contemporary cultural scene in Norway.
The Norwegian Ambassador to India Hans Jacob Frydenlund is an economist by education who prior to this was the Director for UN Policy in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He has previously served in Chile as well as at the Norwegian Mission to the European Union in Brussels and the Norwegian Mission to the United Nations in New York. He has also been the Norwegian Representative to the Palestinian Authority. He has worked for thirteen years in different capacities with conflict resolution in Africa. He has also served as the Press Spokesperson for International Development in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
There is so much to look at when one talks about the cultural connect between India and Norway: be it the popularity of Norwegian playwright Henrik Johan Ibsen in India, or the growing popularity of the Norwegian dance group Quick Style in India, or the fact that the noted Indian actor Adil Hussain bagged the Norwegian National Film Award for Best Actor for the 2017 film ‘What Will People Say,’ Norway’s official Oscar entry for the 91st Academy Awards.
In this interview, Ambassador Hans Jacob Frydenlund talks about the nature of the cultural interaction between India and Norway, association with the Jaipur Literature Festival, impact of immigration on the contemporary cultural scene in Norway, and the importance of the India-Nordic summits helping drive the dynamics as well as in strengthening the cooperation between India and Norway, among other things.
Q. How do you see the cultural interaction between India and Norway over the decades?
A. It’s less than what would want but much more than you realize. I was impressed how well known Ibsen is and how much actually he is ingrained in the theatre ambiance in India. Ila Arun has been instrumental in adapting the works of Ibsen for the Indian audiences and demonstrating so well how you can use the same text in different setting. But still India being such a huge place there is a lot to work with music, dance, and above all literature. Things tend to disappear in this big country. Having said that there is no denying the fact that a lot of people in India do know about the Norwegian literature or for that matter music. Alan Walker, the Norwegian music producer and DJ is very popular in India. He has toured India so many times and his concerts in Mumbai, Delhi, and Bengaluru are always a big hit. So the impact is definitely there but we often tend to overlook it.
Q. Speaking of literature, tell us about you association with the Jaipur Literature Festival.
A. We have been partnering with the Jaipur Literature Festival for 9 years i.e. 8 years with the Jaipur Bookmark and 1 year with the main festival itself. The association is based on strengthening the literary connect. Norway is a small language group and so it’s important to spread it and with the noble reason of engaging translators to bridge the gaps of language. So translation for us is very important. That’s why NORLA – Norwegian Literature Abroad was established 25 years ago because prior to that nobody wanted to buy the rights of the book as well as pay for the translation. So we started translated our books in other languages and it’s been very successful. The popular Norwegian crime fiction writer Jo Nesbø, for example, has been translated into several Indian languages. Also, when we come to Jaipur Literature Festival, it’s also about getting Indian literature in Hindi as well as various regional languages translated into languages that we understand.
Q. How do you look at the impact of immigration on contemporary cultural scene in Norway?
A. The growing popularity of the Norwegian dance group Quick Style in India shows how the worlds get smaller. And it’s a consequence of the immigration that started about 50 years ago with substantial number of Pakistanis coming to Norway. Seeking better life, perhaps at first, they wanted to come for a few years to work at first with plans of eventually returning to their home country. But as things turned out they got settled there and now we are seeing their third generation. Now, there are also around 25000 Indians living in Norway today. The Pakistanis came decades before the Indians with a different objective. The Indians coming into Norway in recent times are highly qualified people who come to Norway as part of career growth. During the last decade we are seeing an increasing integration between Norway and India with regards to hi-tech. Major Norwegian engineering companies are all here. For example, offshore engineers from Norway support tunnel engineers in Maharashtra. Also we are very much here when it comes to metallurgical engineering. Similarly, most of the major Indian tech companies are operating in Norway. That doesn’t necessarily show up in the trade statistics but there’s definitely an increasing economic integration which is important. Now, the spinoff is that you get this cultural amalgamation.
Q. How do you look at impact of pandemic on the state of art and culture and the nature of interactions between India and Norway?
A. It’s been disastrous as cultural interaction depends on people traveling and meeting each other. But of course travel was heavily restricted during the last couple of years owing to the pandemic. On the other hand, we did find ways to bring people together through digital means. In fact that’s how Quick Style became known here in India. There certainly have been many setbacks but things are picking up again and I am sure that we will fully recover in the longer run.
Q. What will be your key areas of focus as an ambassador to boost the cultural ties?
A. The focus is on the visual front. We look into how we can work with music and dance. So definitely we are making a push in terms of performing arts. Then some of our Nordic Noir shows have always enjoyed a healthy audience base here in India. Since it’s already pretty popular here we know for sure that it will only grow in terms of reach. All I can say about the crime fiction genre is that it’s really not the real reflection of the Nordic countries, which are extremely peaceful. Jo Nesbø may murder more people in one of his books than the actual number of people murdered in Norway in many number of years and that too in far more gruesome manners (chuckles). So it’s pure fiction but its popularity is beyond doubt.
Q. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi participated in the 2nd India-Nordic Summit along with Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of Norway and other Nordic leaders. How are these summits impacting the ties between India and Norway?
A. The next summit will be happing next year and what’s really exciting for us is that it will happen in Norway. These summits are definitely playing a vital role in helping drive the dynamics as well as in strengthening the cooperation, helping us keep the focus at the top. For example, our task force on Sustainable Blue Economy would have really taken off if it wouldn’t have been for the very strong engagement of Prime Minister Modi and Prime Minister Støre. So, these summits are really very important.