Seventh edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, a mega annual gathering, kicked off in Jaipur on Friday with a keynote address by Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen.
Directors of the festival, which is expecting around 200,000 people to attend over a period of five days, say they are unfazed by apprehensions of controversies that had surrounded the event in its past few editions.
"Societies can only progress with debates and discussions. We haven't done anything to avoid controversies, we just want to ensure that freedom of being able to present the views exists," litfest producer Sanjay Roy said.
Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva who opened the festival by lighting the official festival torch said JLF had made Jaipur "the Kumbh of literature" in recent years.
Here is a "Twitter-cloud" presentation of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Click on any word of your choice to see the tweet.
"Democracy isn't just about elections or street corner demonstrations, it is about public discussions and dialogues. We need to think about the institution of democracy with a larger perspective and celebrate the coming together of ideas and arguments," she said.
Elaborate security arrangements have been put in place with a posse of police in plainclothes inside the venues along with a reserve contingency staff. "The organisers said they had asked participants to be careful and not to do anything which might lead to a problem," a senior police officer said.
In 2012, writer Salman Rushdie had to cancel his visit following protest by some religious groups. The controversy did not stop at that but was stoked further when some authors read out a passage from his banned book 'The Satanic Verses'.
The festival was marred by another controversy last year when sociologist Ashis Nandy allegedly made "derogatory remarks" on dalits, tribals and OBCs at a panel session.
Spread over six venues at heritage resort Diggi Palace, the litfest is set to feature about 240 authors at over 175 sessions. Co-director William Dalrymple said, "No wonder how Indian democracy works in the coming years, we cannot deny the fact that books matter to the democracy, authors matter and debates matter the most. Over 60 literary festivals, that have sprung up in imitation of JLF is an example of it."
The coming five days will witness sessions on ‘endangered languages, and the challenges of linguistic diversity’; ‘crime and punishment’ which would look at issues of accountability, responsibility and culpability through the prism of detective fiction and 'democracy dialogues' would look at the larger issues of political and social evolution.
The event is set to represent a slice of the vernacular history with over 20 Indian languages while authors and domain experts from over 15 countries would make their presence felt.
The line-up includes Jonathan Franzen, Javed Akhtar, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gloria Steinem, Shashi Tharoor, Ashok Vajpeyi, SR Faruqi, Ved Mehta, Reza Aslan, Samantha Shannon, Ganesh Devy, M T Vasudevan Nair Mahesh Dattani and Narendra Kohli.
This year the publishers are participating in a parallel event ‘Book Mark’, to discuss challenges and opportunities in the rapidly changing sector. It would feature discussions on the challenges of translation, content and format in a digital age and intellectual property, as well as a dialogue with chairman of the newly formed Penguin Random House, John Makinson.
Musical flavour to the festival is set to provided at a nearby hotel. The 'JLF Music Stage' running nightly till January 20 would feature a line-up of musical talent from Sufi to Soul, including Karsh Kale, Kiran Ahluwalia, Midival Punditz and the cream of Rajasthani musicians and dancers, who will share the stage with Grammy -winning band Tinariwen.