Jaipur Literature Festival is more than just a meeting place of authors and their readers. It has become the hub of discussions, debates and conversations that flow into the minds of the people who attend it and savor the variety that it offers. The discussions range from cricket to music to every thought that does not or does occupy the human mind.
As I sat on my chair listening to Shashi Tharoor, author and member of parliament (MP), Rajdeep Sardesai, news anchor and author of many books and Gideon Haigh, the Australian journalist who is known for his books and articles on cricket, talk to Keshava Guha and reminisce about their romance with Indian cricket, I looked at the teeming crowd around me. People sitting on their chairs were glued to their seats while the people standing around the tents hung on to every word uttered by those on the stage. Those sitting on their chairs ensured that they covered every inch of their current property lest someone comes and sits on it.
Almost every other dialogue uttered by Shashi Tharoor and Rajdeep Sardesai was followed by applause and whistles by the enamored listeners who just couldn’t seem to get enough of these authors. After all, the game of cricket was more than India’s passion, it was their religion and some would even equate it to their alma matter. However, for people like me, cricket is only interesting when it is a match between India and Pakistan. But, as the people on the stage talked, I was increasingly entranced by their conversation around the game. Though Tharoor himself acknowledged that he was no player of the game, his passion for the game has remained unbridled. They talked about the romance between Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma, Tiger Pataudi and Sharmila Tagore which entranced the crowd even more.
This is perhaps the beauty of the Jaipur Literature Festival. There were many sessions like these which weren’t centered around a book. When Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the best-selling novel Eat, Pray, Love talked about how she wrote her books by compiling all her research in index cards which were then placed in carefully labelled shoe boxes in a session titled ‘where does fiction come from,’ the crowd roared with laughter as the comic novelist Howard Jacobson declared that his next novel would be about a shoe box which would have nothing but a bunch of shriveled human bones because there would be no notes in the shoe boxes. He said that he would finish the book and be here to sign it in the next year’s JLF which earned him a round of applause from the enthusiastic crowd. When Elizabeth Gilbert demanded that she should get a commission out of this new novel, Howard Jacobson replied that his acknowledgment of her in his novel would be enough.
Face of Jaipur
William Dalrymple’s session on his new novel Anarchy was a presentation of sorts where he talked about the East India Company whose motto was to ‘loot’ India which was according to him the first Indian word to enter the Oxford dictionary. As the audience hung on to every word, Dalrymple with his words and pictures led them on an insightful journey which was about the India’s annexation by the East India Company.
The music lovers swayed to the rendition of the poetry of the well-known poets Faiz and Firaq and kept clapping their hands and singing along as Saif Mahmood, Chinmayi Tripathi and Nishtha Gautam took them on a musical poetical journey.
Lisa Ray, the actress and the model who was in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy talked about the realization of her dream to become an author and how she was never really looking to become the actress and model which she is today. She talked about how as a sixteen-year-old she was catapulted into the world of glamour without having an iota of knowledge about how to deal with all the fame and pressure that accompanied her seemingly successful life.
As we were treated to the very personal glimpses of the lives of these celebrities and youth icons, it is easy to understand why over all these years, Diggi Palace Hotel has become the very face of Jaipur Literature Festival. As a visitor, I felt like I was attending a grand party in some one’s house. There were people sitting on chairs and sofas talking and listening to authors. Many people were busy in their own discussions, some of which were about the prevailing political scenario and some on the books that featured in the festivals. Students of literature sat in the sun-kissed lawns of the hotel and made notes about their observations and inferences.
I remembered Namita Gokhale’s session with Shashi Tharoor and Shunali Khullar Shroff where she had talked about her new book Jaipur Journals which was based on the Jaipur Literature Festival and said that the JLF has a life of its own. She was right I realized as I saw a young couple arguing about which session to attend because their favourite sessions were in different tents. Perhaps, the clash in their ideologies will cause them to rift apart or perhaps they will reconcile to their differences and agree to disagree. I did not wait for their squabble to end.
There were some who were the part of the eternal fashion brigade with their carefully made up hair and over-the-top make up desperate for some one to notice them and pass a comment or two. I do not know if they succeeded in their mission to show case their fashion because I was busy looking at my festival program which was falling to pieces since I kept folding and unfolding it. For this once, I wished I could split my self some how and attend every session that was happening in every hall at the same time.
When the sessions ended and I made my way to the main gate, I realized that this festival supports an entire ecosystem. There were home owners who were busy selling home made eatables to the people who walked past their shops and stalls in the small gali of the Diggi Palace Hotel. Everyone was busy displaying their wares whether it was dresses, furniture or jewelry. Some people made their way to waiting hotel shuttles while some had plans to go shopping in Jaipur’s walled city.
With chockablock hotels and streets teeming with tourists from other countries, Jaipur’s literature festival has become a Mecca for book and music lovers who come here to soak their minds into the knowledge streams that flow in ever session. I have been to Literature Festivals in other parts of the country including Goa and Kerala but nothing comes close to what JLF has done for Jaipur or Rajasthan or India. It has ensured that India figures in the calendar of every literature aficionado in the world and author who wants to either hear people speak or get heard.
This article by Shailaza Singh appeared in Rashtradoot’s Arbit section on 29 January, 2020. We’ve featured it on this blog for those who would like to read it but do not have the access to the newspaper.