Jaipur Literary Festival 2015 / The Hindu Businessline / Writers

Jaipur Literary Festival

Lawyer and politico Ram Jethmalani catches up with writer VS Naipaul during a session at the JLF at Diggi Palace on Saturday. ROHIT JAIN PARAS

\All week, the 2015 Zee Jaipur Literary Festival has been churning out headlines – from the announcement that Amish Tripathi’s much anticipated new book The Scion of Ikshavaku will be about Lord Ram, to the cordial meeting of the once bitterly-estranged writers Paul Theroux and VS Naipaul.

The last drew some of the biggest crowds at the festival. At a well-attended afternoon session, an unabashedly emotional Naipaul declared “I had a great faith in myself and my talent and I felt too that if I wasn’t true to my talent and I wasn’t true to myself that would be the end of me as a person.”

Meanwhile, the 29 year old author of The Luminaries, Eleanor Catton spoke of the trust fund for aspiring writers she intends to set up with her winnings from the Man Booker Prize; a conversation between the iconic actress Waheeda Rehman and her biographer, the filmmaker Nasreen Munni Kabir, was punctuated with outbursts of thunderous applause from a full house, and the enfant terrible of British letters Will Self elicited mixed responses with his declaration “I no Je Suis Charlie.”

In an inspiring talk at Ford’s Samvad, India’s 11{+t}{+h} President, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam discussed how to achieve greatness and how he realised his lifelong ambition to take to the skies.

Prose points

Rain and cold tested the cheerfulness of attendees, but the world’s largest free literary festival maintained its momentum. Held at the historic Diggi Palace in the fabled Pink City, the eighth edition of JLF featured the likes of acclaimed novelists Hanif Kureishi, Sarah Waters, Neel Mukherjee, Kamila Shamsie and Jeet Thayil.

Legends of the silver screen Naseeruddin Shah and Shabana Azmi brought glamour to the events, leaving attendees routinely spoiled for choice, with up to six parallel sessions running every hour.

The festival reaffirmed its dedication to championing regional language literature, showcasing the works of people like the Marathi Dalit writer Urmila Pawar, Hindi writer Vinod Kumar Shukla and the living legend that is Girish Karnad.

Verses aplenty

Poetry proved an obsession, beginning with the keynote The Poetic Imagination on the front lawn delivered by the impressive trinity of acclaimed writer and translator Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Sahitya Akademi Award winner Ashok Vajpeyi and Pulitzer Prize winner Vijay Seshadri. Subsequent sessions continued to explore the subject, with audiences hanging on a rhyme through a discussion between Jeet Thayil, Vijay Seshadri, Neil Rennie, Ashok Vajpeyi and Ruth Padel on 52 ways to look at a poem.

The panel concluded with the announcement of the first Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry, the honour going to – Arundhathi Subramaniam. Accepting the prize, she said: “Poets can sometimes end up feeling a little inconsequential and unheard…an award like this is far more affirming than one might imagine.”

Another prize winner was Jhumpa Lahiri who was awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in absentia with The Lowland, beating out Bilal Tanweer for The Scatter Here is Too Great, Kamila Shamsie for A God in Every Stone, Romesh Gunesekera for Noontide Toll, and Shamsur Rahman Faruqi for The Mirror of Beauty.

Girl power

Elsewhere, women were left uninterrupted in the second round of the popular series which debuted last year. Supported by UN Women to mark the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Gender, Women Uninterrupted sessions featured reporter and anchor Amrita Tripathi, Bangladeshi authors Maria Chaudhuri and Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay among others.

Though rain on the second day forced organisers to trim sessions into disappointing 30 minute slots, the 2015 edition seems to have only built on JLF’s reputation as an event unlike any other – egalitarian at heart, it celebrates literature’s ability to bridge all that might otherwise divide us, and speak to some of the most pressing issues of our times.

Published in The Hindu Businessline on January 25, 2015. Words by Smriti Daniel. Pix courtesy Jaipur Literary Festival. 

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