In a few days, the grounds and chambers of the heritage 17th-century Diggi Palace will ring with informed debate and profound observations as writers and intellectuals from India and all over the world gather for the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), one of the largest such literary gatherings in the world, beginning Jan 17.
An annual pilgrimage for many book lovers, the event this year boasts of 200 authors from varied backgrounds like history, environment, human nature, regional literature, international relations, Bollywood, theatre, travel, art and photography at the five-day festival which is in its seventh year.
In this eclectic mix, prominent names that need not much introduction are Nobel Prize winners, Amartya Sen and Harold Varmus, Man Booker Prize authors Jhumpa Lahiri, Tash Aw, Alison Macleod and Jim Crace, Bollywood actor Irrfan Khan, Olympic bronze medalist and boxer Mary Kom, and lyricists Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi.
Unlike last year, rows fuelled by Professor Ashis Nandy’s remarks about corruption in Dalit ranks, and controversial writer Salman Rushdie’s participation cast a shadow, this year, so far, the festival seems set deliver its commitment of offering “insightful” debate about trends – literary and otherwise.
Hopefully, without ticking off any controversy.
“Every time a conversation arises, there are many aspects of looking at it and not to merely seek controversy out of it. These conversations can lead to larger debates,” festival co-director Namita Gokhale told IANS.
“Someone once told me, conversations are like installations, you don’t know what will erupt when and where. Ideas, too, are like installations, unfolding many times with different layers,” said Gokhale, a leading author herself, adding the festival covers subjects like science, environment, and human nature among others.
Butressing Gokhale’s assertion, the presence of British historian Antony Beevor, who has to his credit books on the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War, Iranian-American scholars Reza Aslan and Vali Nasr, philosopher Michael J Sandel, activist and feminist writer Gloria Steinem, British journalists Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott Clark, who co-authored “The Siege” about the 26/11 Mubai terror attack and Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, author of “What If Latin America Ruled the World?” gives an assurance of offering rich conversations.
Others to look out for are Mary Beard, an authority on the classical Greek and Roman world, Jim Al-Khalili, known for his science books for the common man, leading Urdu scholar and critic Shamsur Rehman Faruqi.
From India, writers Jerry Pinto, Anita Nair, Amish Tripathi of the popular Shiva trilogy, and Anand Neelakantan, who has presented a reinterpretation of the Ramayana from Ravana’s viewpoint and is now doing the same with the Mahabharata from the Kaurava perspective, will lead the front.
Over these years, JLF has ensured that in the marriage of international and Indian writers who write in the link language, regional literature too finds a comfortable space and mingles with the audience.
This year, too, is no different.
Renowned literary critic and activist Ganesh Devy will hold an interesting session “Writing India, Speaking Bharat”, Prasoon Joshi and Shekhar Pathak will discuss on endangered languages in session “Raag Pahadi: Losing Himalayan Languages”, and Linguistic professor Anvita Abbi will moderate a session “Vanishing Voices: The great Andamanese Languages”.
“Every session is as important as the entire festival put together, and each sessions builds an orchestra of incredible, different voices,” pointed out Gokhale.
The JLF is an annual event, billed these days as the world’s largest free literary festival. The first of these festivals began on a small scale as part of the Jaipur Heritage International Festival in 2006. It ends Jan 21.