Jaipur Literature Festival has started on a note of allegations -- be it the issue of reverse racism or it being slammed as a
. William Dalrymple, director of the festival, clears the air in a tete-a tete with
Critics have panned the festival as just a big tamasha. How do you tackle this criticsm?
It is a big tamasha, a big mela, but at the heart of it is the writer. Why need the two be separate? Why need a tamasha be separate from the business of writing? Writing is interesting, joyous, lively, sad and depressing and we cover all these things.
We create an atmosphere, we come out on gorgeous property, with great food and musical festivals, once we've lured everyone in this honey trap, we assault them with Pamuk (Orhan), Coetzee (J M) disturbing new writers from Kashmir and Dalit poets. It's an old fashioned view that you need to be a dhoti-clad Sahitya Akademi to talk about intellectual issues.
The great achievement of the festival is that it's completely free and egalitarian. You can see Bengali activists, angry feminists and Dalits from the South all gathered here. We don't stop anyone, be it someone in Fabindia or Dior glasses everyone is allowed. If we can get the social set talking bout Pamuk than polo or fashion week then we're upgrading. Every year the footfall doubles, its shows that we're doing at least something right!
Why do you think a sense comes through that a certain kind of literature is being promoted at the festival?
The controversy doing the round that Jaipur Literature Festival is promoting British authors is being generated by a journalist who has never visited the festival. Anyone who comes can see that two-thirds of the participants are desi and at anytime you find an international writer writing in English and sessions in many languages.
We try to keep that in balance and this is the premier platform for regional writers in India. This is the only platform where writers -- Mallus, Bengalis, Northeastern -- can come up North and speak in front an all-Indian audience. The journalist has just imagined it as something quite opposite of what it is; if he comes I hope he has fun too!
At such an intellectual gathering how do you bring in the fun element?
If writing is to be fun, great writers are usually very witty people. When you have minds like that of Pamuk, Coetzee, Akhtar, it is like touching paper to fire and then see the explosion.