JLF has got the recipe of a successful literature festival just right
Despite the overdose of Bollywood, a halfhearted RSS onslaught, and a few boring sessions, the 10th Jaipur Literature Festival was surprisingly enjoyable.Jaipur Literature Festival 2017 Updated: Jan 23, 2017 21:35 IST
Recipe for a successful LitFest
1. A long line outside the Gulzar book signing
2. One Prasoon Joshi and one Javed Akhtar holding forth on everything from education to the deterioration of song lyrics
3. Imtiaz Ali with carefully messy hair and bodyguards
4. A provocateur famous for being famous
5. One famously crotchety old film star who is the son and grandson of film stars and has succeeded in producing a son who is also a film star. Ho hum
6. A goodlooking Shashi Tharoor brandishing his latest book
7. A few Booker prize winners suitably overwhelmed by India’s madness and the crowds, the crowds, the crowds
8. A generous sprinkling of foreign writers who aren’t wildly famous but could get there some day
9. Thousands of enthusiastic young people who might even read all the books they buy at the Books Tent
10. Some tetchy RSS types in over-starched underwear keen to storm every bastion of Left-Liberalism, one litfest at a time
11. One Taslima Nasreen to dispel the notion that the Sanghis are taking over, while also avoiding pandering to the mad mullahs
12. A crowd of fundamentalist protesters (of whichever currently crazed religious or caste persuasion) at the gates
13. A loud debate where everyone displays their photogenic tonsils without really saying anything important
Method: Vigorously mix all ingredients, allow to ferment, and voila, the perfect JLF.
Serve in style at quaintly crumbling haveli with too few loos.
The Jaipur Literature Festival celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. When you began covering it, your hair was still black and you didn’t look longingly at clinics advertising botox shots. UPA2 was tottering about like blind dipsomaniac, the festival was smaller and prone to being hijacked by the controversy du jour; and the only Hindu fundamentalists on the panels were the suave ones in disguise. Last year’s festival ended with a crowd shouting ‘Modi, Modi’ drowning out a not-so-genteel discussion on the freedom of expression.
There was plenty of freedom of expression on display at this year’s JLF. So free was it in fact that the RSS sent two of their er best brains to hold forth on their grand plans of World Irritation. Hindutva is a way of life they said; RSS has no influence on the BJP they said; Ancient India treated everyone with dignity without persecution they said (wink, wink); caste quotas are great but hey, not for Muslims they said; bleddy Left-Liberals and damn secularism is a dirty un-Indian word, they said; religious values cannot be kept out of the classroom, they said. By the end of it all, you wanted to break a coconut on your liberal head – an auspicious ceremony that could mark your ghar wapsi to that brand of Demented Hinducus long jettisoned by even your grandparents.
But this year’s JLF wasn’t all about Hindu Right Wingers wailing to be accepted by the amazingly intellectual gang of “Left Liberal Land”. It was about Taslima Nasreen calling for a uniform civil code and a rejection of intolerance and fundamentalisms of every sort, about the impossibility of silencing women voices any longer, about Rishi Kapoor proving that he could still pull in the crowds, about Bollywood’s centrality in our lives – there’s a reason Gulzar, Prasoon Joshi and Javed Akhtar return year after year; Where else could they get such a rapturous reception, and quite amazingly, about Shashi Tharoor’s undiminished star power.
He could have been babbling about reparations or the Kohinoor or ancient forms of contraception – it didn’t matter. Every time the man opened his mouth, the crowd erupted into joyous screams, the sort usually reserved for shaggy-haired adolescent rock stars. And then there was the irrepressible Suhel Seth being silenced by a panel of feminists during a session on Manelists, Misogyny and Mansplaining. Why he agreed to be the “token man”, in feisty British writer Bee Rowlatt’s words, on a panel of feminists is an enduring mystery.
He was back to his irrepressible self, however, during the concluding debate on whether ‘We Are Living In a Post-Truth World’. In between attempts to rile up the crowd on demonitisation during a discussion focused largely on fake news and the Trump phenomenon, he and Swapan Dasgupta took potshots at Barkha Dutt, who, no stranger to trolling, held her own. The crowd loved every bit of it, especially when journalist Luke Harding, he of The Snowden Files, told Swapan Dasgupta, esteemed member of the upper house, to “shut up”. The debate was inconclusive but left you feeling like you do after a particularly shouty Arnab debate – none the wiser but fully entertained.
Finally, it seems like JLF – despite a few sessions that sent you to slumberland, and a few others that felt like they had been conceptualized by Eng Lit undergraduates – has got the recipe just right. Even the appearance of Taslima Nasrin accompanied by a police escort was perfectly timed – on the afternoon of the last day. Before the religious crazies could whip themselves up into a righteous rage she had already said her piece and, like Elvis, had left the building. Yup, surprisingly, a good time was had by all.
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