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JLF 2017: Dalrymple welcomes all to ‘the Ibiza of world literature’ once again

Historian-writer William Dalrymple, who is also one of the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, talks about how the now famed literary extravaganza grew over the years and its significance for the reading-writing community.

Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 18, 2017 13:58 IST
William Dalrymple
William Dalrymple
Hindustan Times
JLF 2017,The Jaipur Literature Festival,Jaipur Literature Festival 2017
Chief minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, at the inaugural ceremony of JLF 2015.(HT archive)

The Jaipur Literature Festival is a unique and joyous celebration of writing that has grown into something far bigger and more wonderful than anything we could ever have hoped when we first conceived this festival exactly a decade ago. From only 14 guests turning up in our first year, most of whom were tourists who took the wrong turn; in 2007 we had a big enough crowd nearly to fill the Diggi Durbar Hall.

About 500 people came in 2008. Last year, we had over a third of a million footfalls. The success of Jaipur has inspired a whole galaxy of nearly 90 other literary festivals not only in India but in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Nepal and now Burma. We are as surprised as we are proud of this.

Poet-novelist Margaret Atwood at JLF last year. (HT archive)

All events are completely free; there are no reserved seats for grandees; our authors mingle with the crowds and eat with them on a first-come, first-served basis. People also know that when they come here they will have a lot of fun. As Time Out put it nicely, “It’s settled. The Jaipur Literature Festival is officially the Woodstock, Live 8 and Ibiza of world literature, with an ambience that can best be described as James Joyce meets Monsoon Wedding.”

But the scale and reach of the festival is something that still takes us all aback. When we ask an author to come to Jaipur, they very rarely say no, and this year we are proud to present a galaxy of the world’s greatest writers and thinkers, including constellations of Harvard, Yale, Oxbridge and St Stephens faculty as well as glittering cohorts of Booker, Pulitzer, Sahitiya Akademi, Vodafone/Crossword and Samuel Johnson winners — completely for free. Its like a super-university pitching it tents in Jaipur for five days and opening its doors to all comers.

Noble laureate VS Naipaul at a session during JLF 2015. (HT archive)

Anyone who wishes to see the draw should visit Jaipur railway station one evening and see all the book-loving students camping on the platforms. They may not be able to afford a hostel bed, they’ve found ways of getting to Jaipur from Tamil Nadu, Assam and Kashmir and super-charge their minds. Our audiences are the youngest, brightest and most enthusiastic of any festival I know.

This year we have so much to offer that it is difficult to know where to begin. My colleague Namita Gokhale has written eloquently on the extraordinary list she has put together in all its multi-linguistic glory. I am equally proud of my international list which this year is, I believe, the most cerebral, intellectually-stimulating and high-powered we’ve ever fielded.

Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri attended JLF in 2014. (HT archive)

We have gathered talent from across the globe — from Jamaica to North Korea and Tasmania to Zimbabwe — to present writers of genius as diverse as the war correspondent Dexter Filkins , the economist Ha Joon Chang and the amazing European aesthete and polymaths, Roberto Calasso and Neil MacGregor. We import some of the world’s most admired playwrights and novelists, including Mark Haddon,

David Hare and Man Booker Prize winners Alan Hollinghurst and Richard Flanagan as well as arguably the world’s greatest living archaeologist, Barry Cunliffe. We delve deeply into areas of world literature we have so far failed to explore, notably the novelists and poets of the Caribbean, Turkey and Iran, while returning to examine eternal classics such as the work of Homer, Ferdowsi, Yeats, Nabakov and the Thousand and One Nights.

Girish Karnad and Naseeruddin Shah during JLF 2015. (HT archive)

We will explore a vast range of subjects from the history of scent to the rise of the Trilobites; biography from Jack the Ripper to Queen Victoria via Napoleon and Anne Boleyn; tales of the spice trade to the eruption of Krakatoa; we look at Jamaican rap and mediaeval mystic poetry and the art of film and screenwriting and ask whether the page is mightier than the screen; we probe the reason for the Fall of Rome, the dilemmas facing Edward Snowden, KGB assassination techniques and the secrets of the Panama Papers; the agonies of Syria and the pleasures of Ottoman Istanbul as well as enjoying the decadent swagger of the Rolling Stones 1970 World Tour. Come and join us: it’s going to be an incredible few days.

Click here for our full coverage of The Jaipur Literature Festival 2017.

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First Published: Jan 18, 2017 13:55 IST