“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you're not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is what happens when you are a part of the Jaipur Literature festival. It has been Asia’s biggest literary festival since 2006 where writers, critics, historians, musicians, journalists, poets, activists, politicians and orators from all across the globe come together at one place for five days of readings, debates, and discussions. The festival takes place in the month of January in Jaipur and has been aiming to be a place of open expression.
With humble beginnings, the festival started in 2006 with only 18 writers including William Dalrymple, Hari Kunzru and Shobhaa De. Diggi Palace in Jaipur has been serving as the venue of the festival since then. The lawns and hall of the audience of the palace are where the sessions and discussions are held simultaneously. In 2007, the festival grew with artists like Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Shashi Deshpande, poetry readings by young poet Jeet Thayil, and discussions between Suketu Mehta and William Dalrymple on encounter killings, bar girls and gangsters.
Over the years, Jaipur Literature Fest has given uninterrupted voice to many famous personalities like Kapil Sibal, Ravish Kumar, S. H. Raza, Devdutt Pattanaik, author of bestseller Babyji- Abha Dawesar, Ian McEwan, Donna Tartt, Dev Anand, Tishani Doshi, Sampurna Chattarji, Coleman Barks, Javed Akhtar, Derek Mahon, famous historian- Pushpesh Pant, Prasoon Joshi, Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka magazine- Tarun Tejpal, Irish novelist and screenwriter- Roddy Doyle, Lawrence Wright and Niall Ferguson.
With aromatic masala chai as an all-time companion, the fest has witnessed several storytelling and poetry readings, the most famous being - poetry reading and storytelling sessions by Ruskin Bond. Another interesting sessions included a poetry reading called Kuch Shehar Kuch Ped, Kuch Nazmon Ka Khayal by Gulzar and Pavan Varma, a discussion on Survival Strategies in the Time of the Twitterati by Chetan Bhagat, Suhel Seth and Shashi Tharoor, a talk on the freedom of speech by journalist Shoma Chaudhury and poetry sessions by Jeet Thayil.
Any artistic expression has the potential to speak for its own time and there was one such moment when people from all over the world witnessed the contradictions of modern India. In 2012, writer of The Satanic Verses - Salman Rushdie was silenced from giving a speech at the event, primarily because the police expressed that hitmen had been hired to assassinate him. There was a huge controversy surrounding the event due to which, Salman Rushdie had to cancel his India tour. Not only this, he was also not allowed to speak via video link from London due to protests by several communities in India.
Apart from the Salman Rushdie controversy, all eyes were on the Jaipur Literature Fest of 2012 because of an interesting conversation with famous entertainment host- Oprah Winfrey on the contrast of chaos and calm in India.
Organised by the Teamwork Arts, the Jaipur Literature Fest of 2015 was graced by V.S Naipaul, Hanif Kureishi, Neel Mukherjee, Paul Theroux, Kedarnath Singh, Amish Tripathi, and Ram Jethmalani. Although all the writers were part of several intriguing sessions throughout the festival, almost everyone was waiting for one particular session on the fourth day of the festival. Such was the aura of the speaker that the crowd gathered at the set venue 3 hours before the scheduled time. The speaker, Late APJ Abdul Kalam, arrived on time and the session began with him greeting the crowd amongst deafening applause. His session, appropriately titled ‘The Visionary’, included him inspiring every person attending it to do something for the country; to be someone. The hour-long session ended with the attendees wanting more but satisfied to the core. Probably this is the reason that the festival of 2015 set a record of around 245,000 footfalls over five days.
New year in the northern part of India is usually very cold but it still doesn’t stop literary enthusiasts from all over the world to flock to Jaipur. With artists like Stephen Fry, Margaret Atwood, Ruskin Bond, Steve McCurry, Bant Singh, Ben Macintyre, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi and Shahzia Sikandar, 2016 is going to bring yet another bright event for Jaipur which shouldn’t be missed.