With over 40% increase in the footfall and the average age of visitors being 15-25 years old, ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival kept us wanting for more this year. With people from over 30 countries, 200 sessions, 360 authors and 100 musicians from all around the world, Zee JLF was the perfect getaway one could ask for.
Day 1- The literary festival was inaugurated by Shri Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan and was filled with a mesmerizing performance by classical singer Gaayatri Kaundinya. Margaret Atwood held the audience spell bound with the opening keynote address ‘Writing is the means whereby light is shed on darkness. There are many darknessess but also many voices.’ The much awaited discussion of Ruskin Bond at the Char Bagh Tent was a dream come true for all his fans. Via discussion on his life as a young boy, I was transported back to the times when secretly reading his funny, poignant, and heart-warming stories in mathematics class was a daily affair.
Another session on Red Signals, Green Hopes with Ajay Mathur, Director General of the Bureau of Energy Efficiency was very enlightening as it highlighted India’s approach to clean energy and the struggles- one mainly being that 20% of Indians still do not have access to electricity, which is why a mandatory transition to clean energy is not realistic for all.
The session with Subhash Chandra, chairman of ESSEL Group and ZEE was extremely inspiring wherein he shed light on how perseverance and belief can lead you to achieve big ambitions.
Another very interesting discussion between Molly Crabapple and William Dalrymple on the experience of creating illustrations and subtext for work on Syria was a major highlight. Her poignant images were displayed on a projector for the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival audience to see, some of them on the aftermaths of bombings. Crabapple said that she draws because she wants to ‘restore the dignity of people’ when war takes it away.
The Pakistan Paradox shed light on the idea of Pakistan, both- the instability and resilience, the history of democracy in Pakistan in the context of Islam, ethnic strife and an entrenched elitism. For someone who lives in India, this session was a strange mirror-like overview.
In another session, Christina Lamb told audiences how the West has left Afghanistan as one of the poorest and most dangerous nations on Earth in Farewell Kabul: From Afghanistan to a More Dangerous World.
The Ballad of Bant Singh was a thoroughly invigorating session in which Bant Singh and Desraj Kali in conversation with Nirupama Dutt talked about Singh’s battle against the oppression of the Dalit in Punjab.
The first day came to an end with the amazing music programme by Kutle Khan and performance by Midival Punditz.
The daily headlines on wars, unrest and the conflict in the Middle East is something that cannot ignore anymore. With these sort of destruction comes the destruction of cultural heritage and second day at the JLF was all about discussing this.
One of the most famous travel writers, Colin Thubron also discussed about his journey and book called A Mountain In Tibet.
In a very interesting journalistic session, famous war correspondents Dexter Filkins, Christina Lamb, Don McCullin, David Grossman and Samanth Subramanian shed light into the glamour of being a war correspondent versus the reality.
Margaret Atwood, winner of a Booker Prize was one of the most cheered authors at the festival. On second day, she talked about her writing and inspirations.The appearance of Anil Kumble and Baichung Bhutia in India at Play roused the sports fans among the crowd.
One of the funniest session of the JLF 2016 included Stephen Fry, Brigid Keenan, and Esther Freud and was based on the memories of their memoirs.
The third day kicked in with Steve McCurry recalling how he walked into a tent to avoid the harsh 11am sun in war-torn Peshawar, Pakistan and seeing Sharbat Gula, the green-eyed 13 year old girl who ended up being the Afghan Girl. He also talked about his new book called INDIA.
With actress Kajol professing her love for books, and Thomas Piketty’s session on “democratization of economic knowledge”, the fest moved to more interesting sessions that were lined up.
Stephen Fry, renowned for his mastery of the English language, let a little secret out for eager young writers. He suggested Graham Greene’s technique to end a session with an unfinished sentence so that the next day could begin with ease.
Another session that was worth looking forward was where Sidin Vadukut, Suhel Seth and Meera Syal explored what makes South Asians laugh where they talked about the expectations from a funny person or a script and comedy. They also questioned if South Asians have a sense of humor. “In India, people usually laugh on other people’s pain”, said Suhel Seth. Day three was also about recognizing talents. The second edition of the Ojas Art Award was presented to Santosh Kumar Das and Mahalaxmi and Shantanu Das, the first editions of the Shri Dwarka Prasad Aharwal Award was awarded to upcoming Hindi writer Prabhat Ranjan, and the Kanhaiya Lal Sethia Poetry Prize which was won by Rituraj.
By evening, the audience was held together by Mrigya and Karsh Kale.
A packed hall on the fourth day welcomed Gulzar with huge cheers and applause, as he spoke of nostalgia and mesmerized his audience with a recital of his poetic gems.
In one of the most interesting sessions, Shashi Tharoor, Desraj Kali, Anustup Nayak and Sanchaita Gajapati Raju looked at “Swacch Bharat”, the causes and possible solutions of the problem. Shashi Tharoor called for an attitudinal change and said that a majority of people in India don’t own responsibility for their surroundings.
For most of us, Gaza is a place (if not a word) associated with conflict and pain. Palestinian writer Susan Abulhawa, Omar Barghouti, and artist Molly Crabapple discussed the tragedy of the Palestinians in Eyeless in Gaza. What it is to be a ‘war victim’ was also discussed by Jonathan Shainin, Molly Crabapple, Omar Barghouti and Laleh Khalili. Incarnations, Reincarnations with Sunil Khilnani in conversation with William Dalrymple populated the timeline of India’s past with the tangible presences of characters and personalities, their idiosyncrasies and the actions and reactions that resonated in the country’s history.
A jury from Dainik Bhaskar Group and ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival also selected Prabhat Ranjan as the winner of the first ever Shri Dwarka Prasad Agarwal Award for an upcoming Hindi writer. The magical evening came to an end by Swarathma and Delhi 2 Dublin.
One of the beginning sessions of the last day of the fest was on Indian Media’s influence on judicial cases wherein journalists Avirook Sen, Shoma Chaudhury, and Madhu Trehan discussed this further. Another session was Eating Books: A Cosmopolitan Cuisine where contemporary art world was the main focus.
Talking of conflicted areas, can Kashmir be far behind? The reality of Kashmir- amidst the snow-laden valley lies the conflicts of identity and it was all portrayed in Kashmir Readings.
Another session by the author of Headscarves and Hymens: Why the Middle East Needs a Sexual Revolution- Mona Eltahawy talked about the sexual revolution that women need in the Middle East.
One of the most awaited sessions on the last day was The Travel Session which had William Dalrymple, Colin Thubron, Anthony Sattin, Salil Tripathi, and Gerard Russell. These prominent travel writers read excerpts from their books and gave a chance to the audience to pick their brains.
Notable moments over the 5 days included Margaret Atwood making her debut, Ruskin Bond delighting audiences, Ashwin Sanghi in conversation with Kajol and Sudha Sadhanand, Stephen Fry taking selfies from the stage, Karan Johar’s candid discussion of his life, the story of Bant Singh, Steve McCurry’s insight into his photography and his new book India, Gulzar reciting his gems of poetry, Javed Akhtar, Uday Prakash and Booker Winner Marlon James., and the world’s top war reporters David Grossman, Christina Lamb, Don McCullin and Samanth Subramanian gathered in a moving discussion based around their experiences.
Other highlights over the five days included strong debates on major contemporary issues such as The Need to Listen: Dialogue versus Rhetoric with a panel including Sudheendra Kulkarni and Pinky Anand with Shashi Tharoor; sessions on Indo/Pak, Sexuality, Ancient stories, Suhel Seth’s witty remarks, Bollywood glamour; Eyeless in Gaza which drew strong stories from Omar Barghouti, Molly Crabapple and Laleh Khalili.
With interesting sessions like these, ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2016 came to an end and left us wanting for more. Can’t wait for 2017, when my week of January from 19 to 23 would be graced again!
Picture Credits- Siddharth Juneja