JLF 2015 Diary

  • Hindustan Times, Jaipur
  • Updated: Jan 25, 2015 15:43 IST

Day 1
When 7 deadly sins led to lusty laughter
During the session ‘Seven deadly sins in our time’, cultural and literary theorist Homi K Bhabha asked fellow panellists Ashok Vajpeyi, Esther David, Eimear McBride, Namita Gokhale and Anita Raghavan about their favourite sins. While Jewish-Indian author David said that she considers her inability to do anything during the Gujarat carnage a sin, Gokhale said she believed anger was the deadliest one.

Hindi litterateur Vajpeyi said his was adultery. What elicited the most laughs was British-Irish novelist McBride’s response: lust. She clarified it wasn’t in the context of her personal life but in that of her novel. Bhabha then asked the audience to raise their hands if they liked lust. One gentleman enthusiastically raised both. “He is the horniest!” Bhabha proclaimed, which provoked much laughter.

Vikas Khanna’s health mantras
Chef Vikas Khanna, who released his latest Masterchef India Cook-Book at the festival, had women eating out of his hand: “Sir, how come you have such a good physique? Most chefs aren’t like that!” To which Khanna responded smoothly with a set of do’s and don’ts: “Don’t eat late; don’t smoke; have safe sex!” The lovefest proceeded unabated with another admirer gushing that the celebrity chef looked like a gulab jamun! Clearly, men who cook are the flavour of the season.

One for ‘meaningless Masakalli’
Talking about the popular song ‘Masakalli’ from Delhi 6, lyricist Prasoon Joshi revealed that he had made up the word himself and that it was utterly meaningless! “We were listening to some tunes that AR Rehman had created for the film and I coined the word just like that,” he said.

Day 2
The funny poet
Pulitzer-winning Vijay Seshadri drew much hearty laughter from the crowd with his razor-sharp wit. To a question on how winning the coveted prize had changed his life, the Brooklyn-based poet deadpanned, "It's nice. I recommend it to everyone."


Vijay Sheshadri address as Arvind Krishna Mehrotra (R) and Ashok Vajpayee (C) looks on at Jaipur Litrature Festival in Jaipur on Wednesday, 21 January 2015 (Photo by Mohd Zakir/HT)

Speaking of women
What is a feminist voice? Authors who participated in the session 'Writing Back' including Meena Kandasamy, Eimear McBride and Pakistani author Kamila Shamsie said that they were not sure exactly what a ''feminist voice'' meant. "We have not been able to crack this one," Ramita Navai.

Mutual admiration society
Deputy chairman of the Niti Ayog, Arvind Panagariya, said at the JLF that the state of Rajasthan was soon moving out of the BIMARU category -- a tag used to denote socially backward states in north India.

"The observation that Rajasthan is a part of BIMARU is not based on facts," the economist said adding that the per capita GDP of 11 states are lower than Rajasthan.

"Moreover, in a few years Rajasthan will cross even West Bengal in per capita GDP," he said appreciating the efforts of the state's chief minister Vasundhara Raje "who is willing to make changes which others are not."

Island life
Taking a dig at fellow Sri Lankans, Ashok Ferry asked Samanth Subramanian, author of This Divided Island, and Romesh Gunesekera, whose books include Reef and Noon Tide Toll, among others, how easy it was for them to elicit information from Sri Lankans.

"I wonder how you did it because we are good at drafting answers depending on who is asking the question. We don't open up to outsiders easily," he said.

Day 3
The art of selfie
The title of the session 'Selfie: The Art of the Memoir' was a misnomer for many who attended it thinking it would discuss the latest trend of freezing memories by clicking pictures in smartphones. The panelists including Anchee Malik, Mark Gevisser and Basharat Peer discussed the processing of penning a memoir and inspirations for the same. Minus selfies.

Happy meals
A contrast from the relative jumble that's the rest of the literature festival is the luncheon lounge, displaying a fine picture of orderliness. VIPs and the rest queue up for dal-roti and more, with even those seeking second helpings falling in line. Talk about happy meals.


Visitors sips warm tea in earthen mugs on a cold day after many sessions got cancelled or changed due to overnight rains that washed the Jaipur Literature festival venues at Diggi Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India on Thursday, January 22, 2015 (Photo: Himanshu Vyas/HT)

China lacks Gangnam Style
In a session on entrepreneurship in India and China, an audience member mentioned reading an article that said "China lacks Gangnam Style" and wondered if it was true. Much to the amusement of the audience both panelists -Tarun Khanna and Rahul Jacobs -agreed with the gentleman. Jacobs went on to tell the audience of an incident when China's when US satire website The Onion declared North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as the sexiest man alive and China's government-run People's Daily Online when on to publish the story on its website, thinking it's true.

He signed off the session with "Yes, China lacks Gangnam Style and perhaps its media, a sense of humour."

Day 4
The election that changed India
Rajdeep Sardesai's session 'Deconstructing Change: The Election That Changed India' that had him conversing with Madhu Trehan and Mihir Sharma was very well attended with the celebrity journalist generally basking in the appreciation of the audience. Sardesai spoke the reasons for the Congress defeat and about his love-hate relationship with Narendra Modi.

"Journalists are supposed to ask questions from the PM and not take selfies with them. I will keep asking questions. At the worst, what will happen? They will invite Swapan Dasgupta but not me but for Obama's dinner and they may give him the Padma award, not me," he said. Then taking a dig at Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep recalled the time when they had co-hosted a show for NDTV featuring Narendra Modi: "You can imagine the voice level of that show!"

The obliging audience burst into laughter.

A rockstar welcome
At 83, former president APJ Abdul Kalam showed on Saturday that he has still has it in him. The scientist-turned-administrator received a rock star welcome at Jaipur Literature festival, drawing loud cheers, whistles and applause from a massive crowd, especially from young people.

"Oh my God. He's so cute," gushed some young women fans.

"No sir, they have come to listen to you, not me," said economist Bibek Debroy, who introduced Kalam, when the former missile scientist asked him to participate in the discussion.

Arundhathi Subramaniam announced as the winner of the innaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry
Arundhathi Subramaniam has won the innaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry for her latest collection of poems When God is a Traveller. The award, worth 2 lakh, was established earlier this year by Suhel Seth in memory of the late Sardar Khushwant Singh and is open to Indian poets writing in English or Indian language translation to English.

The jury included Ashok Vajpeyi, Jeet Thayil, Namita Gokhale, Pavan K Varma and Soli SorabjeeOther contenders included "Escape Artist" by Sridala Swami (Aleph Book Company), "Central Time" by Ranjit Hoskote (Penguin Viking), Fire Altar" by Keki N Daruwalla (Harper Collins India)", and "Selected Poems" by Joy Goswami translated by Sampurna Chattarji (Harper Perennial). Arundhathi Subramaniam, a poet, critic, poetry editor and curator also has a biography of contemporary mystic Sadhguru (Sadhguru: More Than a Life) and The Book of Buddha to her credit.

Day 5
Are you wired?
The floor of the press area at the literature festival is a treacherous terrain with webs of wires, backpacks and electronic equipment littered all around - quite a stumbling block. Power sockets are much in demand with desperate colleagues prepared to pull the plug on your laptop or phone if you look the other way. After all, news comes first.

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