This was my second consecutive visit to Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). During my last visit, I reserved myself mostly to the sessions and had little or no interaction with the fellow attendees. But this time, I made sure that I interact and take away more from the largest literary gathering of the world.
I visited on the 23rd January, 3rd day of the event. My first stop was Front Lawns that had house full attendance. I am too young to associate with Woodstock but this place was closest literary version of Woodstock. In the cold winter morning, huge crowd was waiting for the session on “The Conflict of Dharma in the Mahabharata” with the panel consisting of co-director of JLF Namita Gokhale, Shiva Trilogy sensation Amish Tripathi and Bibek Debroy.
Audience were the most diversified group you will ever witness in any cultural gathering in India. The proportion of outsiders were higher than locals. Tourists, resident Westerners in India, families of different foreign diplomats, Authors, Journalists, students and other literature enthusiasts were sipping masala chais & listening to the session on the world’s largest mythological tale from India. It was great group to be part of.
JLF- On going session with Co-director William Dalrymple in center
More crowd may not mean better quality
Seema has been visiting JLF since 2009 from Noida. She has witnessed this event to grow in to stature and become a mark-off event in the calenders of all literature lovers around the world. However, she miss the previous versions of the event when crowd was lesser and authors/speakers were more approachable. I somewhat agree with her. There were many noisy groups in the lawn that had no idea why they were at JLF. Also, arrangements were insufficient for the gathering as in most of the sessions, there were audience waiting behind the rows of chairs and there were always long queues for washrooms, bookstore and book signings.
Great writers are not always great speakers
Eleanor Catton is the youngest booker’s prize winner that she had won in 2013 for her brilliant novel The Luminaries. However, during the session on Art of Historical Fiction, she was very nervous and could not translate her thoughts in to words. To be honest, it was a relief to see an author to be nervous in public speaking. Most of the authors are projected as great speakers but it’s reassuring to find some of them humanly imperfect.
Empathy is high on Literature lovers
In the session “The Twilight Zone: Between Arabs and Israelis” moderated by former Indian representative to UN Security Council, Hardeep Singh Puri hosted a very outspoken and pragmatic panel. While popular Israeli journalist Gideon LeBor was critical on the Israel’s right wing politicians, the famous poet Fady Joudah brought the much needed Palestinian point of view in the discussion. I saw lot of empathy in the audience, even few had moist eyes when Fady read out one of his poems on the children of Palestine.
Discussion on the tension between Arabs & Israelis
Kids don’t know how lucky they are
Many schools in Jaipur had organized a trip for their students to JLF. The idea was good and I was really envious of these kids for the kind of opportunity they have in this age. I spoke to Megha and Raghav, who were looking visibly bored in their maroon blazers. They were here to attend a session by the former President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam but they were not really trilled about it, particularly considering it was a Saturday afternoon. “I don’t care much about books and literature, I will rather stay at home & watch TV” said Raghav. I wish he could unsay that.
Politics and Literature don’t necessarily go well together
Shashi Tharoor is one of the best author from India. Currently, he is a Member of Parliament and active member of Indian National Congress. His session was mostly taken away by his mocking of Government’s Clean India mission and gaining sympathies from the majority of the politically liberal audience on his reservation of the current conservative government of India. I would rather listen to Shashi Tharoor discussing his books & writing on Lit Fests, than the usual TV news channel kind interviewique talks.