Letters from the Festival Directors
As the lawns of Diggi Palace resonate with Bhojpuri and Maithili, Rajasthani and Santhali, Hindi and English, Spanish and French, Arabic, Farsi and Urdu, Sanskrit and Punjabi, Sindhi, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, and many other languages, it is an occasion to celebrate a vibrant Indian multivocality.
Jaipur in January is a time of renewal for thousands of committed readers, writers and lovers of literature who make this annual pilgrimage. The world visits Jaipur and Jaipur visits the world, as my co-director William Dalrymple and I welcome writers and creative minds to five days of readings and dialogue. We have compared the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, a literary congregation of epic proportions, to the Kumbha Mela. This year, as South Asia sees more than 30 festivals celebrating literature emerge across the subcontinent, we invoke a new metaphor. Our festival is like a spreading banyan tree, with ever-extending roots and branches giving strength and sustenance to each other, a symbol of interdependence and the blossoming of collective human knowledge.
The keynote address, ‘O to Live Again!’ will be delivered by Mahasweta Devi, the legendary writer and iconic voice of human rights and women’s awakened consciousness. The surge of national solidarity on women's issues finds echoes and resonances as poems, stories, readings, and panels discuss the multifaceted experience of being a woman, and the search for gender equity and justice.
'Remembering Sunil da, pays homage to the genius of the great writer, with a recorded reading from his talk in 2009, and tributes from Sharmila Tagore, Amit Chaudhuri, Aruna Chakravarti and Arunava Sinha.
Sessions such as ‘The Language of Literature’ will have Ambai, Sitanshu Yashaschandra, Benyamin Daniel, Udaya Narayana Singh and Manil Suri in discussion about the particular genius of their mother-tongues. This and other panels question the impact of English and world literatures, and search for commonality and difference in subject, language and literary usage.
The focus on poetry has Javed Akhtar’s inspired evocation of the Ghazal as an enduring literary form. A masterclass of Indian poets includes Ambika Dutt, Ashok Vajpeyi and Gagan Gill in Hindi, K. Satchidanandan in Malayalam, Jeet Thayil and Tishani Doshi in English. The creative interplay of film and literature comes alive through sessions like ‘Lok Geet, Folk Geet’ which discusses folk traditions and the new Bollywood musical vocabulary.
The festival has found sustenance in the soil of Rajasthan. A range of writers from the state, including C.P. Deval, K.C. Malu, Suman Bissa, Malchand Tiwari and Nand Bhardwaj, talk of the ‘Nirwali Pichhanh’, the unique cultural and literary intangibles of Rajasthani identity, in its many dialects and intonations, traditional forms and contemporary interpretations.
Sessions around ‘The Buddha in Literature’ are centered on the immense literary and cultural expanse of the Buddhist legacy. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel laureate and global spokesperson for peace, will be in conversation with Pico Iyer. In ‘Women on the Path’, Ranjini Obeyesekere from Sri Lanka, Kunzang Choden from Bhutan, Ani Choying from Nepal and Indian writer Swati Chopra discuss the place of women within Buddhist theology. In ‘The Aesthetics of Impermanence’, cultural historian Benoy Behl examines the ethical and artistic underpinnings of the Buddhist creative legacy. Ajay Navaria and Kancha Ilaiah share Dalit perspectives on alternative paths to social justice with Nirupama Dutt and Patrick French.
Like the Bodhi tree under which Gautama Buddha found enlightenment, the banyan tree remains an enduring symbol of Indian culture and identity. Also called Kalpavriksha or the ‘wish-fulfilling tree’, it is known variously as Nyagrodhah in Sanskrit, Vata in Hindi and Marathi, Peral in Malayalam, Ala in Kannada, Alamaram in Tamil, and Peddamari in Telugu. It can grow in any soil and flourishes across India, bringing to life the rich tapestry of our interdependent culture.
Over the last six years, the banyan tree of the DSC Jaipur literature festival has become a site of collective energy, exposing its audiences to a constant flow of ideas. It provides a space to dare, dream, and imagine. This January, it will once again spread its branches and extend its roots, as another joyous edition of the lit fest continues the tradition of books, music and shared creativity.
- Namita Gokhale, January 2013
The Jaipur Literature Festival is a unique celebration of writing that has grown into something bigger and more wonderful to anything we could ever have hoped when we first conceived this festival less than a decade ago. From only 14 guests turning up in 2005, most of whom were tourists who took the wrong turn; in 2006 we had a big enough crowd nearly to fill the Diggi Durbar Hall. About four hundred people came in 2007. Last year, we had 120,000 footfalls, and the success of Jaipur has inspired a whole galaxy of other literary festivals not only in India but in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and now Burma. We are as surprised as we are proud of this.
Jaipur remains the one of the world’s most beautiful cities, with a rich literary and cultural heritage and a proud tradition of local literature. As ever, we still pride ourselves on being the most democratic and egalitarian book festival in the world. All events are completely free; there are no reserved spaces 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 last year: “Its 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, literary seriousness and reach of the festival is something that still takes us all aback.
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 Indian list she has put together in all its multi-linguistic glory. I am equally proud of the international list which this year is, I believe, the most cerebral, intellectually-stimulating and high-powered we've ever fielded. We are pleased to present two of the greatest poets in Europe, Simon Armitage and John Burnside. In fiction we have Commonwealth Prize winner AminattaForna, Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, two Orange Prize winners Linda Grant and Madeline Miller, and Abraham Verghese- without doubt the most successful writer of Indian origin in the US. We have two of the most respected novelists in the Arab world, AhdafSoueif and Tahar Ben Jalloun and welcome back two of Pakistan’s most celebrated literary wunderkinds NadeemAslam and Mohammad Hanif. We introduce Indian audiences for the first time to my favourite historical novelist, Lawrence Norfolk, and three of Britain’s most popular literary writers, Sebastian Faulks, Debbie Moggach and Zoe Heller, whose award-winning books have been adapted into the highlyacclaimed movies Birdsong, The Exotic Marigold Hotel and Notes on a Scandal.
Our non-fiction list is especially strong this year. We have no less than three winners of the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction, Frank Dikkoter on Mao, Wade Davis on Everest and Orlando Figes on Stalin’s purges, while Pulitzer winner Andrew Solomon will speak on his remarkable newbook, Far From the Tree. From Harvard we have Diana Eck, whose book India: A Sacred Geography has been one of the hits of the year, the philosopher Michael Sandel who brings his popular BBC Radio 4 series, "The Public Philosopher," to Jaipur and the leading cultural theorist, Homi K.Bhabha. From Columbia comes the much-revered post-colonial and postmodern literary critic and thinker GayatriChakrovortySpivak and from Oxford comes acclaimed authority on Eastern Europe, Timothy Garton Ash and the Shakesperian Christopher Ricks. We present three of the world’s most acclaimed artists in conversation: AnishKapoor, Marc Quinn and William Kentridge. Nandan Nilekani will discuss Breakout Nations with Ruchir Sharma, author of this year's bestselling book of non-fiction. Some of the most admired essayists in the world will also be speaking: Elif Batuman of the New Yorker, Pico Iyer of Time Magazine and Tim Parks and Ian Buruma of the New York Review of Books. We have sessions on subjects as diverse as the history of miniature painting and war reporting, the Jewish novel, the 18th century sexual revolution, detective fiction and the literature of 9/11. We focus on new writing from Latin America and Iran; examine the economic prospects of India. We'll look at the mixed legacy of the British Empire, the decline of America and the rise of China. On a lighter note to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the James Bond films we have a special session featuring Sebastian Faulks, who wrote the latest book in the franchise, Devil May Care, and Ian Fleming’s biographer Andrew Lycett. Finally from London we welcome the Writer's XI who will be playing the Rajasthan Royals.
It’s going to be an absolutely extraordinary five days and only wish it were possible to clone oneself so that one could attend five sessions simultaneously.