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Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: One festival with numerous corners

Jaipur Literature Festival: 20th - 24th January 2012, Diggi Palace, Jaipur, India

Book fairs and seminars on the literature trend, workshops and discussions on the responsibility of literature hold in the aspect of the modern day times aren’t any sorts of uncommonness. But while describing the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) 2012, the event goes beyond par excellence, leaving the impact on the literature enthusiastic. In the 5th edition of this one of the most celebrated literature festival across the globe, there was everything that had made this festival the most significant one out of all the editions. A festival that included personalities from all segments of the society, encompassing a wide range of activities including debates, discussions, readings, music and workshops, and not to forget the rich interactive sessions featuring the worldly noted literature personalities, truly, it had every reasons to call it the prestige symbol for Indian literature background. Indeed, this is the Kumbh Mela of the literature field.

The event kicked off with all possible glittery, and the heritage rich Diggi Palace was the perfect place to host such a big and hugely acclaimed event that celebrates literature beyond boundaries. The five-day DSC Jaipur Literature Festival witnessed over 200 renowned speakers from around the world at the historic Hotel Diggi Palace in Jaipur. The venue was all set to host what Newsweek editor Tina Brown has called “the greatest literary show on earth.”

The festival programs featured debates, discussions, readings, workshops, and even live music. Guests at the festival will include celebrated authors VS Naipaul and Michael Ondaatje, playwright Tom Stoppard, Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri and Annie Proulx, who wrote ‘Brokeback Mountain’, which was later adapted into an academy-award winning film. The New Yorker editor David Remnick along with The Economist editor John Micklethwait will also be in attendance. As a result of last year’s successful discussion on the Sufi poet, Bulleh Shah, that drew a crowd of over 3,000 people – this year too shall focus on Sufi and Bhakti traditions. Other thought-provoking topics up for discussion will be the link between Gandhi, Ambedkar & Anna; vegetarianism; and censorship. In the evening the festival will host performances by Meesha Shafi and Arif Lohar from Coke Studio Pakistan along with an ethio-jazz and reggae band from Addis Ababa called Dub Colossus. Speaking about the festival, its co-director William Dalrymple quoted: “This is our best line up so far. I am particularly proud to have brought Tom Stoppard and David Hare, two of our greatest living playwrights, to Jaipur this year. We’ll also have dynamic writers of non-fiction like the Tiger Mother’s Amy Chua, Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker amongst us. There’ll be discussions on the Arab Spring as well as on the art of writing for stage and screen. We will also be analyzing the fascinatingly interwoven relationships of Tolstoy, Tagore and Gandhi.” Talking about the personalities to participate in this hi profile literature fest, he said “Besides showcasing the best of Indian-language and English writing from India, this year the festival will be importing a Nobel laureate, a winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize, two Booker Prize winners and five winners of the Pulitzer Prize for literature, as well as leading writers from the world of history, biography, literary criticism, and travel, in addition to the stars of the world of fiction and the novel”.

After an introduction and welcome by Festival Producer Sanjoy Roy; the famous poet, literary critic, academician and activist Purushottam Agarwal spoke on bhakti poetry over the ages. He talked about the element of God as a child in bhakti poetry and about the poet’s equality and partnership in the relationship. No matter how bright today's individual literary stars shone, luminous Diggi Palace eclipsed them all. Clothed in vivid oranges, pinks and blues, glinting with Rajasthani mirror work, bedecked with little jewels of stalls, festooned in strings of light, and crossed and re-crossed by trails of beautiful people, it’s no surprise all the litterateurs were digging on Diggi. In their keynote address, scholar Purushottam Agrawal and poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra will be talking about Kabir and other mystic poets of the Bhakti movement. Booker Prize-winning novelist and poet Michael Ondaatje, best known immediately followed their address for “The English Patient,” and he was in conversation with Indian writer Amitava Kumar. 'The Arab Spring: A Winter’s View' Kamin Muhammadi Navdeep Suri, Karima Khalil, Raja Shehadeh, Hisham Matar, Max Rodenbeck in conversation with Barkha Dutt and 'The Truth of Poetry and the Truth of Politics’ Kapil Sibbal in conversation with Ashok Vajpeyi were the other highlights of the opening day, and the last session before the night was the interesting discussion, involving authors Sunil Khilnani and Tarun Tejpal, about how India had progressed in the last 60 years, including the successes and challenges.

Day Two watched even more footfalls, perhaps stimulated with the grand opening and hugely appreciated inaugural session, and Chetan Bhagat was surely among the names to pull the crowd to the auditorium. When asked about the negative comments that his books often attract, he replied with some words of wisdom that everyone could all benefit from. Those are, “We don't spend enough time on people who love us, and loving them more. Instead, we waste our energy trying to convert those who don't like us into liking us”. Like it or not, Chetan wants to bring about change in a fun way that the masses can relate to, and his books are written in a simple style that reflects this. The second last session included book readings by a group of travel writers, lead by William Dalrymple. One book to watch out for is ‘India Becoming: A Portrait of Life in Modern India’, by Akash Kapur. Due out mid March 2012, it contains real life tales of the impact of development on Indians, both young and old, across the country. Akash's book reading was a particularly poignant tale of a rural landowner who was troubled by the changes in his village and nostalgic for the past. For the contemporary biography lovers, Lucknow Boy by Vinod Mehta is the one that found the spotlight, who's possibly the finest contemporary editor in Indis, and his note was the perfect one that could have had the crowd riveted and laughing along to his life stories.

Day Three was more than literature than the eager wait for the talk show queen Oprah Winfrey. For her Sunday morning session, visitors started queuing up hours before, eager to snatch one of the coveted seats with a good view of the stage. And the talk show queen did not disappoint. With lots of wit, heart and compelling stories, she charmed her audience and kept them spellbound for an hour that passed only too fast. Asked about the one thing that struck her about India, Oprah told Ms. Barkha Dutt that there were, in fact, three. ‘My first impression was that of chaos! And then, I started noticing the underlying calm.' The other thing she admired and respected was the all-pervasive sense of karma and spirituality. “People here don't just talk religion, they live it.” That was enough to set the madness for the day, and was beautifully counterbalanced by the calm acts in the musical session. Quite surprisingly, the evening began with a poetry reading by young poetess Tishani Doshi. But this aberration was more than welcomed by the audience, as they sat, mesmerized by Tishani's recitation, some inspired by Neruda, some anti-love, from her collection, "Everything Begins Elsewhere”. This was followed by another reading by poet Sudeep Sen, who chose poems about spirituality and the four-letter word which rocks everyone's world, love. Child prodigy Satvik Bhatt, 13, who could identify 45 ragas when he was just three-year-old, and was a Limca Book Record holder for the same, tuned in with some peppy stuffs like Kolaveri Di. What followed Satvik's act was a performance by Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, and a jazz performance by Dub Colossus, an Ethiopan band. Their female lead singer, Sintayehu 'Mimi' Zenebe, completely stole the show, with her disarming namaste after every number. At 10pm, when it was time for them to pack up, nobody was willing to stop the revelry, and scores of people kept yelling 'encore' even after the performers had said 'shukre' about 20 times more and exited the stage.

Day Four involved a bit different one, and One of the sessions featured a panel of authors, including Aman Nath and William Dalrymple, who'd all contributed short stories to a recently published book called Journeys Through Rajasthan: From the 16th to 21st Centuries. If you're interested in Rajasthan and want to get a better understanding of the state, this is the book to read. The wide and varied stories in it range from historic to contemporary pieces, with topics including everything from an amusing look at honeymooning couples at Mt Abu, to a tale about the endangered oral epic of Pabuji. Festival fatigue on Day Five of the Jaipur Literature Festival was effectively remedied by the simple prescriptive of taking the weight off the feet. Seats available for almost everyone who needed to sit, and everyone still here, did. The self-selection of only the fittest literary enthusiasts also meant that the open Q&A session was more robust than usual. Getting people out of work on a Monday morning to listen to poetry is not a hard task if you are Javed Akhtar or Gulzar. So the turnout at the 10 am session titled Kahani Kisko Kehte Hai? - featuring Bollywood's most wanted poet-lyricists with their younger counterpart, adman Prasoon Joshi, and filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj - was no big surprise. The session took off with the launch of photographer Rohit Chawla's calendar made especially for the festival and then progressed into an hour of satirical limericks, inspiring poetry and a series of pleasant exchanges between Akhtar and Gulzar, who pretty much took over the session, given that they are excellent public speakers, and both Joshi and Bharadwaj are the shy reticent types. However, the Rushdie issue dominated the penultimate day as well as the rest of the festivals, and DSC JFL finally came to an end with a debate about man and god. The festival organizers had to cancel a video address by Salman Rushdie, the writer of ‘The Satanic Verses’ after protests from some Muslim groups.

The Jaipur Literature Festival has had a ripple effect, with similar events springing up all over South Asia. They include the Karachi Literature Festival, a three-year-old event which Ameena Saiyid, a Pakistani publisher, says she was inspired to do after attending the Indian fest. The music program each evening at the Jaipur Literature Festival should not be forgotten. The music lovers in particular were greeted with some marvelous music pieces from the eminent names in musical industries. Starting every evening at 7:30 pm, after the literature sessions had finished, the musical program combined Indian and western, contemporary and classical music in an eclectic mix of performances. This year, those looking forward to hearing one of India’s (in)famous brass bands could do so with the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band, followed by Rajasthani musicians, fire-eaters and dancers on the first night. Performances by Gods Robots, Dub Colossus, the Sabri Brothers, Shruti Pathak, Duncan Bridgeman from 1 Giant Leap and many other musical highlights rounded off each stimulating literary day perfectly. A special treat was the poetry night with Jeet Thayil, Sudeep Sen and Tishani Doshi on Sunday. Despite the chilly nights in Jaipur at this time of the year, the venue was packed each evening with revelers enjoying every moment of the performances.

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