Confluence of ideas
In its 11th year, the Jaipur Literature Festival has more or less reached the pinnacle of fame and there’s a lot to look forward to
Thousands of literary enthusiasts will be converging at the Diggi Palace for the next four days to auscult 380 speakers from across the globe. The eleventh edition of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival kickstarted with invigorating music by performers from Gujarat, Assam and Rajasthan — the atmosphere was heady and energetic; as crowds thronged to the beat of ceremonial drums, music and dancing. Rajasthani performers wove their way through packed audiences as Festival Producer Sanjoy K Roy welcomed the extensive gathering of Ambassadors, dignitaries, authors and readers from across the world, brought together by the sheer love for literature. The festival promises some pleasant surprises with British playwright Tom Stoppard, Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, Pico Iyer and Helen Fielding.
The keynote session by Pico Iyer had thousands of people standing, patiently waiting for him to share some wisdom. The award winning writer stated, “In the 19th century, the centre of literature was London; in the 20th century it was New York; and there is no doubt that the global capital of 21st-century writing is Mumbai. The single most important state of all is the one we have the most control over: the state of our imagination. We can’t erase nationalists and terrorists, but our words, ideas and rigorous imagination can take us past simplicity, and remind us that ultimately, we change the world by changing how we think. Literature is more essential than ever, because imagination is no respecter of boundaries — we speak over, under and around the wall.”
The open front lawns found Philip Norman and Ajoy Bose in conversation over the Magical Mystery Tour: The Beatles in India. While, “Each of The Beatles was like Louis XIV” for Philip Norman, Ajoy Bose said, “I fell in love with them as a teen rebel in Kolkata.”
Then there was intrepid undercover investigative journalist Suki Kim in conversation with Michael Breen in Undercover in North Korea: Facts and Fictions. Suki revealed, “Fear that is instilled by the state where the constant message is “we are at the brink of war”.
Legendary BAFTA awardee playwright Tom Stoppard was in conversation with Sanjna Kapoor, theatre personality and daughter of Shashi Kapoor. He spoke about his childhood memories, India connection and advice for forthcoming playwrights. Stoppard spoke about his childhood in Darjeeling. He said that he has a huge nostalgia for his life in India. “It made me a touch more exotic than the farmers’ sons of Nottingshire.” He believes that the society is all about the artists. Without them, the physical world would be a “dystopia”. “We are all believers. We aren’t drones… we’re born to fulfil our unique destinies,” said he. His advice to aspiring playwrights: “It doesn’t actually happen unless you have a pen in your hand.” Instapoet Rupi Kaur who’s new book Milk and Honey lived up to its fame as she came onstage amid loud cheers and performed poetry based on her experiences of being brown in a predominantly white world.
The Charbagh saw Rajasthan focused session The afterlife of James Todd’s Rajasthan with Giles Tillotson, Norbert Peabody and Rima Hooja in conversation with Mrinalini Venkateswaran. While Vishal Bhardwaj launched India’s Heritage of Gharana Music: Pandits of Gwalior by Meeta Pandit, there was the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus who caught the attention of one and all when he discussed the three zeros: zero poverty, zero unemployment and zero net carbon emissions in The Three Zeros.
In A world turned upside down: India in the 18th century, where art historian B N Goswamy and Harvard professor Maya Jasanoff were in conversation with William Dalrymple. Goswamy said, “I don’t think we have had a world more upside down than today.” Dalrymple quipped, “The festival this time around is happening under the shadow of Bollywood.” In the session Ghatotkacha: Master of Illusions, revolving around the book, Lost in Time: Ghatotkacha and the Game of Illusions by Namita Gokhale, Ujan Dutta the illustrator of the book was found stating, “My lack of knowledge on Indian epics pushed me to pursue fantasy art. Wanting to know more is so important.”
Scouring the edge of reason for answers were sessions like the book launch of Padmini: The Spirited Queen of Chittor by Mridula Behari and sessions like Banned in India with Mridula Garg. The baithak had a more jovial ambience where poet Sampat Saral indulged in satirical verses in Hasso, hasso, phir hasso and was launched Chhote Haath Badi Baat published by Bal Bhavan Jaipur featuring an anthology of literary and artistic works created by young children from diverse educational and socio-economic backgrounds throughout the various workshops and celebrations organised by Bal Bhavan Jaipur over the past year.
The majestic durbar hall hosted Indian Women Mystics: From the Rishikas to the Bhakti poets featuring Arundhathi Subramaniam and Atmaprajnananda Saraswati who was found stating, “Vedas are source book for all discipline,” in conversation with Philip A Lutgendorf. There were some intriguing sessions focused on minorities such as Shalom: Indian Jewish Fiction with Esther David who stated, “Take the Indian Jew anywhere, but you cannot take India out of the Indian Jew.”
Samvad resonated with poetry and myriad voices in Poetry Hour 7x7: Kavita Nirantar with a posse of poets such as Adriana Lisoba, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Era Tak. The effervescent and feisty Mira Nair held the stage with The Personal and the Political where she spoke about her work, beliefs and obsessions, in conversation with Vir Sanghvi. Said she, “I am still attracted to stories about people who are considered to be on the outside of society.”
The day ended on an invigorating note and reinforced the role of culture which facilitates not just knowledge but the ability to dissent.
Over the next five days, tens of thousands people will gather daily at the Kumbh of literature, to mingle with prizewinners, particle physicists, Rajasthani and Instagram poets, novelists and economists. This year’s festival will explore a multitude of ideas and themes, including Translations, Poetry, Women and the Environment.
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