The Jaipur Literature Festival takes place every winter. It has grown from its conception in 2006, with only 14 visitors, into the current, “Greatest Literary Show in South Asia.” This year there were over 300 authors from around the world, 150 poets, musicians and performers, with 150,000 visitors in attendance.
The JLF lineup of presenters was said to, “give visitors a taste of what it might be like to attend a top-notch Ivy League university”(1), and with many names from the Who’s Who, of the literary world presenting, JLF did not disappoint. There was something for everyone, and no, you didn’t have only read literature or be an intellectual giant to enjoy it.
I was able to attend part of the festival this year and the best part was gaining access to the knowledge and expertise of authors and speakers from all over the world, who are known to be the best in their particular fields. In addition, admittance to the literary festival is free, so the symposium is available to everyone. At any one time, there were at least five panel discussions going on, so it was difficult to choose which one to attend.
For me, JLF can best be portrayed in a series of questions or statements that I found particularly though provoking:
“Do the religious minded ladies, who offer incense, flowers [to gods] often chanting, know what they are meaning? (chuckling, and shaking his head back and forth)… I suspect.”—Dalai Lama, commenting on the religion vs. faith.
“Those people who say, ‘I, me’ have greater significance of heart attack. If you want heart attack, just think, I, I, I.” — Dalai Lama, discussing human selfishness.
“You rebel against your parents, until you become them. One day you look in the mirror and you see your father’s face.” —Pico Iyer, commenting on his book, The Man Within My Head.
“I see the patient in the computer, in theory the patient gets great care, but in reality the patient is lacking.” —Abraham Verghese, during a discussion of the influence of his medical practice on his writing.
“Is the novel dead? Does it have a future?”—Zoe Heller, opening a debate on the relevancy of the novel, in a world with increasingly fewer readers.
“Comedy works because there’s an element of actuality to it. Strongest humor needs reality. It has to be spot on. There can’t be comedy without tragedy…. I live in a country desperate to be offended. I have now developed a personality not to care.”—Manu Joseph, speaking on the humor in his novel, The Illicit Happiness of Other People.
“What is a classic?”—discussion on what makes a book a classic moderated by Homi Bhabha.
“Narcopolis mixes fantasy and reality to create a powerful story.” –K Satchidandan, announcing the selection of Jeet Thayil’s novel as winner during the DSC Prize event, hosted by Kabir Bedi.
DAY THREE: (Indian Republic Day)
“Most corrupt people come from Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.”—Ashis Nandy, author and sociologist, during a discussion on corruption in India. The comment prompted protests by Dalit activists outside the festival and a call for Nandy’s arrest due to the perceived casteist remark.
“What about his lyrics? You haven’t said anything about his lyrics!”—a young woman shouting at Punjabi writer, Ravindir Singh for his support of rapper Yo-Yo Honey Singh’s work, which celebrates and illustrates the act of raping a woman.
“Where is home? I didn’t become myself until I left home.”–Akash Kapur, American-Indian writer, during a seminar on The Global Soul.
“We failed to learn the lessons, which were there, if anyone had bothered. Anyone who is ignorant of history is destined always to carry it on repeating it.”—-William Dalrymple, on his book Return of a King.
Two subjects that came up repeatedly by presenters and attendees in the sessions. The first was the brutal gang rape and murder of the 23 year old woman from New Delhi. The conscience of the country has been awakened by this vile act and there was much discussion, emotion and anger directed at the not only the perpetrators, but toward the attitudes of any society that condones such behavior.
The second subject often mentioned, was the poorly written, pornographic book (I won’t call it a novel), Fifty Shades of Grey. Time and time again, its sales success was touted as an appalling example of the demise of the intelligent woman reader. I find it sad that readers are wasting their time and energy on a book that was forced to be self-published, because no agent would represent the forth-grade level writing, and then gained popularity only because of the graphic sexual images. I’ve never read it and I won’t read it. Instead, I encourage any reader to choose a work of literature, created by a true artist, which is written to edify, promote contemplation and enlighten.
As someone who loves reading books and writing, attending a literary event of this caliber was a dream come true. I wish I could have attended the entire festival. Next year the Jaipur Literature Festival takes place once again in January—and I’ll be first in line at the gate.