Was Jaipur Literature Festival really a Festival in 2023?

In response to my article ‘From Jlf to It can be anywhere conference’ a reader argued that this was the best JLF in all these years. The reader’s letter along with my response. Please refer to the previous blog post for the article.

By Rakshat Hooja

How is it a festival without celebrities?

I am actually neither a fan or a friend of the organizers ( though we know each other – and hopefully may become friends ) but this was the best organized festival of its “18+ years” 

My first point why I would never even consider going back to Diggi Palace Hotel is that the sound was audible in all the venues. In Diggi Palace Hotel, you had to strain to hear even in Durbar Hall. 

About 270 sessions, no overrunning in any session of note. Authors would get stuck in a venue in Diggi and not be able to reach the next venue for their own session!

Another counter to S’s article there were atleast 5-6 private sessions per day for the Friends of the Festival ticket holders which were not listed in the general schedule and shared only with the FoF – (the Rs 13000 lady) with private book signing, and there were only 10 -12 people in the session.  No idea where that lady was going to feel she did not get exclusive access to authors.

There was also an exclusive pool side area available to the FoFs which was such an oasis from the crowded festival venues. But somehow one foreign family and I seemed to be the only one using it. 

The Jaipur Book Mark also took place year and was open to all Media – the excellent sessions were interactive with audiences of under 30. Really good. The media just used the venue for the all day snacks outside. Never saw a media person at a session! 

Regarding bathrooms – the bathrooms outside the media lounge always had a line for the ladies while the gents was always empty. The participants seemed equally divided so not really sure what was happening there! 

I hope Arbit will consider this a letter to the editors and publish it with its grammar and punctuation mistakes as it is typed as a quick immediate reaction.

By Shailaza Singh

Where is the spirit of the festival?

It is understandable that the long-time fans and friends of JLF would not have liked the article ‘From JLF to It can happen anywhere conference’ which was published on January 24
However, despite some voices of dissent, I maintain my stand that this year’s JLF wasn’t the JLF that Jaipur has grown used to. From the time of its inception in Diggi Palace Hotel till today JLF has been proclaimed as the ‘greatest literature festival’ in the world. There are different versions of JLF all over the world which are based or inspired by the original JLF.

Once, while addressing a gathering at Ashok Club in Jaipur, Sanjoy K Roy, the co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival was quizzed on what criteria does he select the venue for the many versions of JLF across the world. At that time, rumours were rife that JLF will be shifted out of its original home in Diggi Palace Hotel. He replied that he was constantly looking out for venues with a lot of heritage value and a feel-good factor. He said that for him it was important that the venue was a place which had its own history and stories that could house and integrate the spirit of the festival.

While it is understandable that owing to its location or other factors, it may have increasingly become difficult to house the rapidly burgeoning crowds and manage the logistics in Diggi Palace Hotel, however, that should not mean that the festival should be held in a business hotel like Clarks Amer, which hardly has any heritage value attached to it. It is just another hotel with white walls and can hardly match up to the cultural and historical legacy of the festival. What happened to Sanjoy K Roy’s idea of heritage or the feel-good factor that was such an integral part of his plan for JLF? Even if one would argue that Clarks Amer has excellent facilities, I beg to differ. The washrooms had queues, the interviews with the authors were difficult to record since the entire media section was housed in a hall where sections were created by mere plywood walled ‘rooms’ which had no sound proofing and hence if you were conducting an interview with another author in one of the ‘rooms’ amidst a press conference in the main hall, only God can help you with your recording or interview as you strained to hear what the author had to say above all the din. The food that was served was merely ‘sustenance’ as many people described it. Simply including dal, batti, churma or gatte ki sabji does not transform hotel food into authentic cuisine of Rajasthan which is another integral part of the legacy and culture of Jaipur.

The point is when it comes to Jaipur, there is no dearth of heritage and yet modern hotels or venues that could have been logistically and economically possible venues for a festival of this stature which has been taken to the different parts of the world mostly on the basis of its heritage value and the city and the culture it represents. Funding doesn’t seem to be a problem with JLF with government ads being published in its brochures and numerous sponsors in its kitty.

The fact of the matter is that one does not hold a music festival in the middle of an industrial area where the sounds of lathe and other machinery will simply kill the music and the atmosphere which a music festival creates. Similarly, a purely business hotel like Clark’s Amer cannot be the venue for a festival which prides itself on being such an ambassador for art and culture for the world. Just like a beautiful painting cannot be put in just any frame, JLF needs a venue which creates the ambience it speaks of.

As far as the crowds are concerned, people have always wanted to go out and explore different things. Gathering a crowd is not a difficult thing to do. Put a three-legged man or anything different or strange in the middle of the Panch Batti in M.I. Road and you can get a crowd there too. Even flop movies or movies of Govinda or David Dhawan have the ability to attract crowds but that does not mean that they are classics or they should be recorded in history as works of art or representatives of the culture of any place.

The question is not about the crowds or celebrities or even food; the question is about the spirit of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Where is the JLF which breathed art and culture and created an atmosphere where people could imbibe the centuries old ambience of Jaipur City? Where is the JLF where you felt that you have entered into a parallel world of literature where stories came alive and you could actually not just talk with the creators but also meet them and understand them as living and breathing humans and not just stars?
JLF 2023 is merely an event where sessions happened, books happened and authors came but the festival did not happen.

These articles were published in Rashtradoot Newspaper’s Arbit section on January 26, 2023


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