Jaipur Literature Festival: Here’s A Showcase Of New Ideas And A Short Peeve List
The Jaipur Literature Festival staged new storytellers and new ideas, but could have done better on the regional language domain and steered clear of politics.
Here are 10 books that can be added to the reading list.
As a voracious albeit non-discerning reader of English literature, my expectations out of any literary events are simple - make sure I come back with more names (books and authors) to check out and eventually add to my reading list than I went with. If the purpose of reading is broadening of one’s mind, then surely it would help to define an event related to books in terms of how much it pushed the edges on both sides.
Viewed in the above-mentioned context, my maiden outing at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), where I went as the official representative of this platform, was a modest success. While I did not exactly come back brimming with ideas and books, I did not come back empty-handed either. Like Bruce Willis tells Timothy Olyphant towards the end of Die Hard 4 “I have my moments!”
So here is a quick list of what worked and what could have been better at the JLF from my perspective.
Enthusiastic Crowds, Professional Organisation
Frankly speaking, I went completely unprepared for the kind of crowd the event drew. While all the veteran attendees told me it was nothing out of ordinary, a newcomer like me was flabbergasted by the 3 lakh odd crowd that visited the festival over over days. As an aspiring writer, it was really heartening to see so many people interested in the written word and those who write it. Sessions of popular writers like Devdutt Patnaik, Shashi Tharoor and Sanjeev Sanyal were packed to the rafters and audience engagement was 100 per cent. People were making notes and asking mature, studied questions for most of the part. Viewed with that backdrop, the video clip showing college girls talking about coming to see Rishi Kapoor did not seem to be a true representation of the crowds. The organisation too was mostly professionals with a special shout-out to the 300 odd enthusiastic and bright volunteers who let neither the crowds nor the physical nature of their tasks get in their way of working with a smile.
New Storytellers, New Ideas
From Sanjeev Sanyal, who wrote the ground breaking The Ocean Of Churn, to Hindol Sengupta, who wrote about his idol Swami Vivekanand in The Modern Monk, and from the RSS office bearers being part of the political discussion to Shashi Tharoor discussing his book about the British Raj, it was nice to see a lot of fresh faces at the lit-fest. This point was made by several veteran festival goers who told me they were happy to see people from different ideology being given platform. And the crowd response was a validation of this stance.
The Novel Reader’s Delight
Adam Thirlwel, Allan Hollinghurst, Richard Flanagan, Paul Beatty, Ashwin Sanghi, need I say more? The few sessions where the overseas fiction writers were on the panel, were sheer delight for the fan of novels. These guys spoke almost extempore, did not take themselves too seriously and still gave plenty to the audience to mull over. Sanghi’s session, where he discussed his creative collaboration with fellow bestselling author James Patterson, and Manu Joseph talking to Richard Flanagan about Flanagan’s Man Booker Prize winning The Narrow Road To The Deep North were pick of the lot.
Writer should try not to bore. I think precision is the opposite of boring.Adam Thirlwel
We love the novel because it allows us to live thousand lives which we know we could have lived. There are infinite possibilities for human beings.Richard Flanagan
The Book Store
The book store featuring books of the panellists was a big draw as expected. Equally heartening to see was one aisle devoted to Hindi books. It would have been nice to have books in regional languages though. Authors dropped in from time to time and readers had a good opportunity to interact with them outside the structured panel Q & A sessions.
Having said that, there were a few things that jarred a little or things that could have been done better. So here is a peeve list. I have tried to keep it short.
What’s With All The Politics Folks?
While as a reader I am completely ok with sessions expressly discussing various aspects of politics and economics in a literary festival, moderators’ insistence of asking politically loaded questions in pure literary sessions was baffling. And naturally, they all discussed Donald Trump, didn’t they? Manu Joseph spent valuable time asking Flanagan about Trump’s election, time he could have spent talking Flanagan’s book or simply letting the author read one more chapter from his book. Same pattern repeated in Manu’s session on novel writing, where he opened the discussion by pointing out that all six on the panel were men (thanks Manu, I would have never noticed otherwise). Political posturing of this type was peppered in almost all sessions and it kept getting in the way of the literature.
Very Little Representation Of Regional Language
While I noticed a few sessions on Hindi books, there were almost no writers/publishers from regional languages. A senior editor working with a prestigious publisher is on record saying that some of the most interesting literary work is taking place outside English language in India. Sadly, there was very little representation of that. Standing in the queue at the book-store for billing, I heard two middle aged, obviously well cultured, ladies lamenting why even the Hindi writer panels were conducted in English. Worth pondering over!
The Whole Taslima Controversy
While it is not clear if JLF is not going to invite Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen next year in view of the protests held against her, I feel a large, powerful event like JLF could have chosen to take an unequivocal stance and use their platform to send a loud and clear message that free speech is absolute and non-negotiable. Since the organiser had a panellist with a dog named Om on one hand, any message apart from categorical support to Nasreen, shall only serve to reinforce the notion of bias towards one ideology.
These are the books that I added to my reading list as a result of my JLF trip.
The Sellout - Paul Beatty
The Narrow Road to the Deep North - Richard Flanagan
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
Private Delhi - Ashwin Sanghi and James Patterson
The Line of Beauty - Allan Hollinghurst
Parul a Love Story - Harsha Dehejia
Half Lion - Vinay Satpati
The Modern Monk – Hindol Sengupta
23 Things They Didn’t Tell You About Capitalism - Ha-joon Chang
The Unravelling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq - Emma Sky.
Any event that gives you 10 new names to your reading list is a good event. This I firmly believe.
Image credit: facebook.com/JaipurLitFestOfficial
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