The misty mornings in Jaipur gave way to a lot of sunshine over the weekend, giving the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival organisers and visitors some much needed relief from the cold winter wave. Among the celebrated authors who visited JLF over the weekend were Jhumpa Lahiri, whose twin sessions titled ‘The Global Novel’ and ‘The Interpreter of Stories’ ran to packed houses, leading to a few arguments over who stepped on who. Authors Reza Aslan and Jerry Pinto also conducted houseful sessions through the day. Another highlight at JLF was the Jaipur BookMark, the Festival’s new platform for the publishing industry. Cyrus Mistry won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature 2014, for his novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer. From a shortlist of six, the winner of the US$50,000 (approx `30.7 lakh) award was announced at JLF.
Sunday: High on grey matter
Two of JLF’s most anticipated speakers, Javed Akhtar and Barkha Dutt, couldn’t make it to the festival at the last moment. But that clearly did not mean that the audiences were left disappointed. Day 3 saw some powerful sessions, on topics ranging from war to love, mythology to science, faith to rational thinking. In fact, people turned up in huge numbers for author Amish Tripathi’s refreshingly light-hearted and candid session. He talked about the days when he was an atheist, and the repeated rejections he faced before getting published. This was followed by famous playwright Mahesh Dattani, who read excerpts from his play, Where Did I Leave My Purdah?
Authors Jhumpa Lahiri and Amish Tripathi
However, it was American political philosopher Michael Sandel’s session, Justice: What’s the right thing to do? that impressed the most. Finally, Karsh Kale and Midival Punditz gave the day a fitting end, with their exuberant performance at the Music Stage, where guests and delegates let their hair down, sipped on wine and prepared for the next day.Amrutha PenumudiParty all night!
After the sessions got over on second day of the fest, we decided to go back for some festivities. Initially, when we entered Diggi Palace around 9pm, a washed-out venue met us, with the absence of the hustle and bustle of morning sessions. But, as we followed the noise of a jazz-infused, soulful jamboree, we reached a small section of the palace earmarked for an afterparty. Complete with charming fairylights, paper lamps and vintage decoratives, live music by bands like Curtain Blue, gourmet pizzas and alcoholic beverages — this other side of JLF was a delightful surprise!
Steinem speaks her mind
Legendary feminist and activist Gloria Steinem, who was one of the firebrand speakers at JLF, said that her attachment with India has grown deeper over the years. “My relationship with India is permanent. I have a deep attachment with the country, the music, colour, joy... everything,” she said. When asked to respond to Pope Francis’ recent statement calling the practice of abortion “horrific”, The 80-year-old said, “I’m not listening to the Pope and I hope no one else is listening to him either. What we need to know is that the Catholic church approved of abortion well into the 1800s. But it was declared a mortal sin by Pope Pius IX... it wasn’t before that,”she said.
Steinem was also happy that several women’s liberation movements around the world have been keeping the topic relevant. “Most of the justice movements that I know of, take the bad words that are directed to them and turn them into good words. Take the SlutWalk for instance,” she said.
Talking about the horrific December 16 gang-rape incident, Steinem said, “My reaction was like that of other Indians. Empathy, sadness, anger that turned into gratitude for Indian men and women who came out to protest.”
Too much ‘brand’ baaja?
The spoiler at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival was the sponsorship overkill. Almost every aspect of the lit fest was sponsored by a brand. While it is an understandable practice, the ubiquity of brands at almost all venues and in the name itself (Zee JLF, Mahindra Durbar Hall, Ford Samvaad, Google Mughal tent and British Airways Baithak), somehow gave it a commercial flavour, not befitting a fest of this stature.
While the quest for literature was going on elsewhere, hair makeovers were being carried out in another nook of the fest premises. No wonder, at a session titled Art Of Biography, we heard one of the speakers saying “People are so fashionable here! Imagine what would happen if the fest was held in the summer season!” Another big draw at JLF was the abundance of stalls selling handmade and jute bags, stoles, handicrafts and literature-inspired merchandise.