Jaipur Literature Festival 2021: Lit minds, on a virtual path

Over 300 speakers and performers representing about 25 Indian and 18 international languages from more than 23 nationalities are part of the 14th edition of JLF.
Jaipur Literature Festival used to be held at Diggi Palace, Jaipur until last year.
Jaipur Literature Festival used to be held at Diggi Palace, Jaipur until last year.
Updated on Feb 20, 2021 02:25 AM IST
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ByHenna Rakheja, New Delhi

It’s a little late than usual, but once again the lit minds have conglomerated. The fact that this event acquired its name from the Pink City of India, might be contested now that the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) goes virtual in 2021. But, the good part is that littérateurs from across the globe can hear various authors, speak their mind, as well as soak in some soulful music while being in the comfort of their homes and without having to worry about travelling during the pandemic.

The discussions at the festival this year will span over 10 days, and cover a plethora of topics. At one session, English author Philip Pullman will share his thoughts on alternative reality whereas at another, Indian novelists Deepa Anappara and Annie Zaidi will speak about their writing processes. The long list of speakers include names varying from actors Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Nandita Das to badminton coach Pullela Gopichand.

Authors Annie Zaidi, Avni Doshi, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni will be part of the sessions this year.
Authors Annie Zaidi, Avni Doshi, and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni will be part of the sessions this year.

One wonders if going virtual posed a challenge to curate the festival line up, but William Dalrymple, writer and festival co-director says, “In my case, the problem really was to persuade people to apply for visa and go on a flight, and set off for a week or 10 days to the other side of the world. And my job became much easier this year because all I had to do is pursue people to go on a video call! Mark Haddon, for example, is scared of flying and one year he tried and just pulled back at the last minute! But he’s going to be there this time speaking about his inspiration to write. So, quite a few people like that – Robert Macfarlane, one of my favourite writers, he takes his teaching very seriously at Cambridge, and has always turned down the invitation because he was to look after his pupils; he’s appearing this time. Noam Chomsky is also not too well to visit India, but he said yes too.... we’ve also got two amazing Nobel Prize winners, and they all said yes because they didn’t have to come all the way.”

Shye Ben Tzur and Kutle Khan are some of the artistes who will perform at this edition of the fest.
Shye Ben Tzur and Kutle Khan are some of the artistes who will perform at this edition of the fest.

Although happy that the “festival is happening”, historian Rana Safvi says she’ll miss the “physical camaraderie”. Recently, author Ira Mukhoty tweeted a picture of Safvi and herself from a previous edition of this festival, which reinstates the thought that not everyone feels that virtual might match the experience of the physical event. Safvi, who will be moderating two sessions this year, opines, “People like us, we feed off the audience reaction, but in a virtual scenario we are like in a fishbowl, and we don’t know what is it that the audience wants. When you are in front of an audience, and you see them react, you conduct the discussion differently; but that isn’t possible virtually.”

The regulars might miss clicking selfies with vibrant bunting in the backdrop, which was a fixture at the physical space in the festival’s previous editions, but there won’t be any dearth of literature for bookaholics to devour. “We have attempted to capture the essence of the festival online by incorporating the many components that our audiences have loved. This includes an online book store, a curated crafts area, morning and evening music, and we are even shooting our links from Diggi Palace to provide a sense of nostalgia, and keep to our philosophy of bringing together the arts and built heritage while celebrating the written word,” says Sanjoy K Roy, festival producer.

Catch It Live What: Jaipur Literature Festival 2021 Where: https://online.jaipurliteraturefestival.org When: February 19 to 28

Author tweets @HennaRakheja

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Thursday, May 26, 2022