William Dalrymple has apologised. No, not to critics who call the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival — of which he is an organiser — an elitist English party, but to the authors of the Bihar-Bengal belt, after he said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal, that few would’ve turned up had the festival taken place in Patna.
"I apologise for saying that, and I love Bihar. But, Jaipur is a lovely place, which is why more people come here," explains the author. Many writers at the recently concluded Kolkata and Ranchi lit fests had raised objection to Dalrymple’s comment, claiming that Bihar was the first Indian state to set an example in regional literature, which the Jaipur Lit Fest claims to promote.
Indian-language writers aren’t the only ones who’re upset. News magazine Open panned the festival for being representative of the "British literary establishment", after which an aggressive rebuttal session between the author and the magazine followed. Questions are also being raised about who originally established the event. Many book lovers say that the five-day fest, which took off at the Diggi Palace in Jaipur on January 21, is more about highbrow hobnobbing and tourism than literary exchanges.
"I love words and I love Jaipur. But not the combo and certainly not the page3-ism. It feels like the Glitterati Fest. There’s no way a true book lover will get a quiet moment alone with an author or a fellow book buff," says Mohit Hira, a marketing professional. Author Raksha Bharadia says, "Sadly, it does overlook regional literature."
Dalrymple defends, "99.9% authors at the fest are Indian, and it’s a platform for regional authors, too. It’s just that an exchange between international and Indian authors helps, and the place adds to the pleasure. It isn’t easy to get people to sit through a philosophy lecture otherwise. And, you don’t have to wear Fabindia to be part of it."
Authors at the lit fest