The Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 had everything it promised to offer and much more. A cold evening welcomed me as I reached the city in an auto-rickshaw. On the way, admiring a new place was a must and Jaipur didn’t disappoint. It hinted of being the same city from which I had left for here a few hours ago, but had quite a few secrets up its sleeves. And it was up to me to search for them in the next two days.
January, Friday arrived in an eye’s blink and the world’s largest free literary festival began with a keynote address given by Amartya Sen. The Nobel Laureate greeted the cold Jaipur morning with his feeble voice and got us all warming up to him pretty soon. He began to demolish the stereotype that each of us has in our minds of development. The argumentative Indian knit a story with two protagonists. His encounter with the God of Medium Things (GMT) where he asks her for seven wishes had us all forgetting the chilly day that it was and patiently listening to him. In the end, he got a well-deserved standing ovation.
After the inauguration ceremonies were attended to, the literature festival was officially announced open and people began to swarm over to different places. Get this: there were six venues inside the big venue that was the Diggi Palace ground and there were sessions happening simultaneously at each of these six locations! So, each time we choose one, we were letting go the inspiration we could have got from the other five and that was just sad.
Be as that way, there was next a ‘Freedom of Expression’ workshop. Ananda Devi talked about ‘Words without borders’ in the next session. She is from France and her works have been translated ample of times and there were no dearth of fans waiting outside the signing booth for her after her one hour conversation. One thing to keep in mind is that ten minutes before the end of each session, the floor is thrown open to the audience who could bombard the author(s) with their questions, doubts or praise.
A creative writing workshop by Anita Roy was the next thing on my agenda. She had founded the publishing house called ‘Young Zubaan’ – it mainly publishes children’s and teenagers’ books. I surely was excited, as were the dozens who were standing due to lack of seats. However, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment, as she talked about anything but creative writing. Sure, there were a few references, but I am sure that was not what everyone there had gathered to listen to.
Next on the table was the session called ‘LitCrit’ which turned out to be something very important. Carsten Jensen, Geoff Dyer, Chandrahas Choudhary, Philip Hensher, Rana Dasgupta and Homi Bhabha took part in an intense discussion over book-reviewing that I paid great attention to. It came to me as a surprise that many authors didn’t like reading their own reviews!
The Second Day
Day Two of the fest brought forward a great start with renowned author Jerry Pinto, who was in conversation with Mita Kapur, the author of the bestselling novel ‘The F-Word’. It mainly focused on the bestselling author of ‘Em and the Big Hoom’’s style of writing and how writing had shaped his life from the age of sixteen. More excitement came along in the second session of the second day with C.P Surendran, the editor of DNA who chatted with the Malayalam masterpiece writer M.T Vasudevan. He had first been published at the mere age of 14 and since then, had grown to become one of Kerala’s most cherished author. Along with the duo was Gita Krishnakutty, who is M.T’s trusted translator and friend.
The third hour of the fest brought African writing into the limelight. Maaza Mengiste, Nadifa Mohamed and Taiye Selasi spoke about writing from the roots and how difficult their life had been. From which they’d taken lessons and brought forward their respective works. Being greedy was never an option for them. Hearing about their back-breaking journey made us feel very humble and thankful for all that we had in life.
After lunch was the most-awaited session of the day – ‘Making Words Dance’, a writing workshop with none other than the energetic Jerry Pinto! In that one short hour, he opened everyone’s eyes to writing and gave us small but meaningful tips that I’m sure none would forget. At the same time, the beautiful Jhumpa Lahiri was holding the fort at another venue talking about women and their issues. And of course, there were talks about her writings. And then, later in the evening, the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature was announced. As we all know now, Cyrus Mistry won it for his novel ‘Chronicles of a Corpse-Bearer’.
.. To Conclude
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the remaining three days due to time constraint. Nevertheless, these few days were an eye-opener for me in many terms. The countless authors I met and interacted with, places I got to walk around and the electric atmosphere of the crowd there made it so enriching! There’s something about this place that first shouted out welcome to me.
I often wondered why people call Jaipur the pink city and I was still pondering upon the same question as my fantastic three day trip came to an end.