After the dust (read stardust) has settled down on the sangam of art, culture, cinema and literature potpourri at the Jaipur Literature festival, it is time to do the Math as a first time attendee.
|Raising the bar- Writers and co-Founders, Jaipur literture Festival, Namita Gokhale, William Dalrmple with Sanjoy K Roy, Teamwork Arts
Cut a Long story short…
Free speech is the prerogative of the one questioned too and not the sole domain of the questioner. At an open panel, and a festival ‘free and open to all’, it’s great to ask a question, as an audience member did, on why in a session on ‘violence’, present day threat of the Karni Sena holding the state to ransom wasn’t even touched upon? It should then be equally palatable to accept a a deflection or diversion as a response.
Most reportage of the Festival in its 11th year, dealt with the lack of spunk amongst the panelists in addressing the elephant in the room. Some moderators began their sessions by a disclaimer of steering clear of specifics of censorship. The media feeding the frenzy of the masses and its obsession with the binaries of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ (read right and left), should not be abetted. Reality check- It’s a literature festival, look for 5 second high decibel arm chair wars in T.V studios.
Why would you go to a literature fest and all things sublime, to look for trolling engagements and social media echo chambers? My submission to those Twitter keyboard warriors frothing from the mouth for some meaningless harangues and endless argumentations, is to watch the idiot box. When headlines grab eyeballs and the rest is a blur, thankfully, I can still steer clear of this clickbait writing form. So read on!
|Legendary BAFTA awardee playwright Tom Stoppard was in conversation with Sanjna Kapoor where Stoppard was disarmingly charming!
The Literary Immersion
Why not throw yourself into the throes of the mad footfall and seat grabbing rush (half a million footfall over five days – a record number and higher by around 23% over last year!) to pick on great minds, to know that there’s plenty left to learn, to gush over the fact that Dutch tradesman ferrying Mughal paintings back could well be the inspiration of the chogha wearing figures, a point brought out by curator Stephanie Schrader’s etching out similarities between Mughal paintings and those of Rembrandt van Rijn. Or how in the session on Fashion and Modernity Paola Antonelli, of the Museum of Modern Art, outlines the impact of the sari on the fashionscape, that makes the cut in her 111 piece curated list of garments that have shaped fashion history, in the Twenty First Century. Especially engrossing were the panels on Media and journalistic practices that had ace journalists from India and across the world.
In Spotlight: The Hunt for Truth the renowned Portuguese-American journalist Michael Rezendes who is a Pulitzer Prize award-winner for his investigative work as a member of The Boston Globe’s legendary Spotlight Team was in conversation with Sreenivasan Jain. He spoke of the power of traditional and local reporting, the values, veracity and commitment required for investigative journalism as well as the changing definitions of news in the current media landscape. In Undercover in North Korea: Facts and Fictions, Suki Kim, the South Korean author of the award-winning novel The Interpreter and the bestselling Without You There Is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea’s Elite, speaks of her six-month undercover investigation embedded within North Korea in conversation with Michael Breen author of The New Koreans: The Story of a Nation, and talked of her rare encounter with the world’s most dangerous and unpredictable country and of the privileged young men she calls ‘soldiers and slaves’. Conversations on the final day showcased a multiplicity of voices, from debut novelists to experts and veterans.
The Best Bits
Considering 60 % of the visitors at the festival were under 25, there’s something for everyone there- dissent,dissing, agreeing and synergising! Where else could you rub shoulders with Kiran Nagarakar right after the session on where amongst other things he talked about his failure as a writer! As the day began, in the session The Fictional Leap, celebrated Kannada author Vivek Shanbhag asked the prolific author Kiran Nagarkar what he considers to be his greatest failure in writing. Nagarkar replied that his novel God’s Little Soldier was an example of an instance when he could not convey his message to readers. The book, about a child named Zia Khan who, after having turned into a terrorist, is confronted with the question, how many people should he kill for his god, got a lukewarm response from readers. The author felt that he had failed to transmit to his readers the essence of the book that “there is only one god and that is life; everything else is irrelevant”.
Of course celebrities were present and were mass pullers but they indeed were the most lack lustre of them all- with Nawaz taking an hour in his sonorous voice to address the maddening crowd, last seen ‘lending a ear’ to Mark Antony, and not saying much-in-matter later too. Or the shrill din of Vani ‘s voice drowning that of Anurag Kashyap’s calm reticence.
There were then those long-winded questions that I amongst others raised a furore about, earlier (check my tweet!) and were thankfully later, obliterated by the dhols at the panel venue. God also help those that asked a question after a session on Chatwin, mistaking it for the one on Elephants and asked a query about marshlands! To William’s credit- well played, without a hint of exasperation. The press terrace, in its maddening frenzy wasn’t devoid of questions that define the fine national discourse and of our mass obsession with frivolity- Question from an honourable member of the media to Zakir Hussain after he’s spoken of a social syncretism that india is symbolic of- ‘aap itne khubsoorat kaise hain abhi tak!’
Method in Madness
Aside from literary debate and dialogue, the Festival showcased amazing art, cultural and musical offerings setting this grand celebration of the word against the backdrop of built and cultural heritage. All in all, stay clear of getting influenced by most write ups on the festival, that to my mind, paraded a festival fatigue that could well be a legit mid-life crisis!
Is the best yet to come?
Yes, with Neil Gaiman topping the ones confirmed for 2019 edition of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival from 24th – 29th January!