Closing Debate JLF 2014

21 Jan 2014

By Beatrice Champ, Sunny Kumar, Yuvraj Malik

In the light of India’s looming general elections, the closing debate of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2014, interpreted the famous quotation by Winston Churchill “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others.”

Indrajit Hazra conceded that democracy is not faultless “- it is not a perfect “spouse” – but argued that if people have witnessed both democratic and undemocratic regimes, they prefer the former in support of Churchill’s hypothesis.

Kazi Anis Ahmad defended democracy the most fervently: “I am unapologetically, unabashedly for democracy”, pointing out the obvious: democracy is a system for which people give their lives, whereas other systems have taken many lives: “People who don’t have democracy give their lives for it, those of us who have it should guard it with our lives “

Lily Wangchhuk spoke about her experience of democracy in Bhutan, which, in a strange twist, had democracy forced upon it, but that it is now considered “our sacred gift and responsibility”. She argued democracy is the best from of government because it gives power to the people. The reality is that “no political system is perfect but it is the leaders who make a difference”: the leaders can either break or make their democracy.

Peter Godwin asked us to look at what happens when there is a lack of democracy, since it is the best argument in favour of democracy. Although democracy can seem undisciplined and unstructured, “it is important to allow a society to express itself”. We are not here to practice democracy, we are here to defend it: pseudo-democracies may hide under that title, but he quipped “it’s not just who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes”.

Shazia Ilmi’s opinion related personally to Indian politics. She was loath to agree with Churchill, “considering what a racist bigot Churchill was”, as she explained that a democracy is when the common man is part of a structure where he is able to decide for himself, something that has been forgotten in India: self rule. She hoped that India would deepen the democracy and fine tune it until it is completely democratic

Pavan Varma directly addressed the middle class and said that “please note that you and I, we are going to be participants in what is happening before us”. Although he said he was pro democracy, he insisted that people must try to avoid the slightest of temptation of trying a different form of government, using the example of Hitler’s regime.

Murli Manohar Joshi believed that democracy was both a spirit and a way of thinking; a celebration of diversity where people try to tolerate other people’s views. Contrary to common understanding, he said that India not Britain was the mother of democracy. He argued that the flaw with Indian democracy was the lack of transparency by elected parties when questioned by the public.

The panelists were all clearly pro-democracy, so the debate then focused on democracy in terms of its Indian context. Each panelist concluded briefly by summing up what they believed:

Inderjwt Hazra: “Democracy, more than coming up with the best, protects us from coming up with the worst”.

Peter Godwin: “The greatest foundation of democracy is freedom of expression, the right from which all other rights flow”

Murli Manohar Joshi: “The basic need for democracy is that it is and should be an accountable system, the right to ask questions.”

Shazia Ilmi: “Until when the common man feels special and the special man feels like a common man complete democracy is not achieved”

Lily Wangchhuk: “I hope the educated elite are here tonight, because through their participation only will a change become visible “

Kazi Anis: “The right to freely asks all questions of your eminent leaders”

Pavan Varma: “The biggest problem in the way of democracy is the accountability by elected leaders”

Finally ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Producer Sanjoy Roy concluded the dynamic debate by challening the audience;  “Does anybody believe in democracy? Will you fight for it?” The answer from was a deafening “yes”.

Sanjoy Roy introduced the debate “democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest” by recalling a puzzling statement recently overheard “The only person who can insure we can have democracy is the army”.


As the closing debate of the ZEE Jaipur Literature festival unfolded, Nathoo Solanki‘s infamous drumming was as usual very popular with the panelists. Kazi Anis Ahmed ironically started by saying “what pleasure it is to be reminded of that noise”, whereas Peter Godwin wanted to “avoid death by drumming”

HAIKUJAM EXTENDED DEADLINE – FREE signed copies of books by Michael Sandel, John Ralston Saul, Amish Tripathi and Vikram Chandra!

By Dhrupad Karwa

We planned to announce the winners today, but due to the amount of interest, we have decided to extend the competition deadline till 1st February 2014!

In order for a chance to win some amazing free signed copies of books by ZEE JLF Festival Authors, one must complete two magical steps:

1)    Download a free iPhone/iPad app called HaikuJAM

2)    Write a line of haiku through the app


The titles of the signed prized books are as follows:


The Immortals of Meluha by Amish Tripathi

Justice: What’s the right thing to do? by Michael Sandel

Voltaire’s Bastards by John Ralston Saul

The Collapse of Globalism by John Ralston Saul

Red Earth and Pouring Rain by Vikram Chandra

Mirrored Mind by Vikram Chandra


But what is a haiku?

A haiku is a 3-line syllable based poem. The first line has 5 syllables; the second line has 7 syllables, and the final line has 5 syllables. The final line of a haiku should include a twist!


And what is HaikuJAM?

Through HaikuJAM, people write haiku together, line by line by line! Here is one example that was created through the app just a few hours ago:


Zee Jaipur Literature Festival

A hamlet of thought

Unlocking doors of the soul

Inviting you in

Dhru, Shubham & Neer


Dhru set the theme “Zee Jaipur Literature Festival” and wrote the first line. Shubham spotted this and collaborated, adding line number two. Neer saw this live creation and crafted the magical final line!

Three different people, with three very different stories to tell, connect and create something beautiful.


So how do I win those marvelous signed books?


Quite simply, follow the above two magical steps! We will monitor all of the entries via the app.


On 1st February 2014, we, together with a celebrated author, will select the winning haiku collaborations! We will send individual emails to the victorious collaborators- their names will also be announced through our social media channels. And we will post the signed books to those talented folks.


(For a greater chance of success, repeat the second magical step, over and over again, i.e. write lots of lines!)


What are your social media channels old sport?







If you have any questions whatsoever, please feel free to email


Thank you and we look forward to your beautiful lines!


Finding your Voice: Sonam Kalra

By Harman Preet Kaur

The last day of ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival may have experienced gentle showers throughout the day, but nonetheless, it made no difference to the number of people who kept pouring in to enjoy the free festival.

This session on Sonam Kalra and her brainchild band The Sufi Gospel Project presented the magic of music and life, was the cherry on top of an extraordinary week.

The energy and enthusiasm of the audience gathered was tangible, as people removed their shoes before entering the room, saying they felt like they were entering a temple. Music is treated with the utmost reverence in India, and The Sufi Gospel Project were more than worthy of that, as they laughed, cried, and sang their mesmerizing compositions, a beautiful amalgamation of “poetry, prayer and music,” including the lyricis of Kabir, Bulleh Shah and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. The teary eyed audience clapped and sang all the way.

Kalra shared personal instances of her life that really shaped and motivated her into ‘finding her voice,’ not only as a singer, but the “voice of the heart, of the soul,” and it is this voice that the multitalented artist continuously strives for. Kalra narrated how having survived the 1984 Sikh riots of Delhi and the 2004 Tsunami in India made her contemplate the purpose of life, and the need to express her voice.

The band’s sarangi player, Ahsan Ali Khan also spoke about his encounter with hurdles and doubts on the way to finding his ‘voice’. They all agreed that it was ‘faith’ that ultimately brought together these amazing musicians, irrespective of religion, caste, gender. Their joy and talent was living proof of music as a bridge to the divine.

The Writer’s Life: Artemis Cooper, Lara Feigel, Maya Jasanoff, Nicholas Shakespeare, moderated by Sarah Churchwell

Char Bagh, 21st / Tue



By Shivangi Rajendran

Writers who write about writers… The panel was a leading line-up of literary biographers discussing the life and work of their subjects and laying it down in prose.

Moderator Sarah Churchwell, biographer of legendary writer F.Scott Fitzgerald and The Many Lives of Mailyn Monroe, joked that whilst writing about Fitzgerald, the constant voice in her head was that of a hostile reader saying, “It (the book) is okay but shame she doesn’t write as well as Scott Fitzgerald.”

Artemis Cooper, biographer of travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor, spoke of the challenges of writing a biography when her subject, ‘Patty,’ was still alive, wryly observing, “This is his life and he’s still living it”. Cooper also stressed the importance of not judging your subject’s mistakes, advising the audience to “Look at everybody’s sins with the forgiveness you hope for your sins.”

Lara Feigel, whose book The Love Charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War tells the stories of crime writers in WWII said she felt when writing about Stephen Spender, “I was the person he needed to protect the reputation that he wanted.”

Maya Jasanoff, a historian with a keen interest in the British Empire, uses real life stories of ordinary people to relive history in her book Liberty’s Exiles. Jasanoff, currently working on a biography of Polish author, Joseph Conrad said she was trying to “take a life and see history through it. We need to treat non-fiction with the same skepticism we reserve for fiction.”

Nicholas Shakespeare  described how he actually followed the journeys of famed English travel writer, Bruce Chatwin as closely as possible in order to do justice to his subject. He also spoke of his latest book Priscilla: The Hidden Life of an Englishwoman in Wartime France, a story of World War II as lived by his aunt Priscilla.

All the biographers shared a common experience of becoming friends with their subjects, even falling in love with them, and mad searches spent in archives for undiscovered material. They questioned whether the internet was a credible source of information for today’s biographer, and spoke of the challenge of telling the truth without being judgmental.

The session ended on a hilarious note, with a question from an audience member about the literary hierarchy of literary biographers, to which Artemis Cooper replied, “We’re right at the bottom, we’re almost critics.”

Is there an Indian way of thinking? John Elliot, Geetanjali Shree, Pavan Verma, and Ashok Vajpeyi

Char Bagh, 21st / Tue

By Srishti Chaudhary

The session aimed to analyse what exactly was the Indian way in of thinking and creating in the realms of fiction, poetry, music, arts and lifestyle.

Ashok Vajpeyi kicked off the session with the statement ‘hota hai’ (‘stuff happens’), the quintessential Indian way of approaching life, according to him.

The panel quickly arrived at a consensus that there cannot be AN Indian way of thinking, because there are definitely multiple Indian ways of thinking, which might even be contradictory, or ‘incorrigibly pluralistic’, as Vajpeyi termed it.

Geetanjali Shree pointed out that there was no rigid, territorial border to this Indian way of thinking and that Indianism was certainly not an exclusivist way.

Pavan Verma analysed what being Indian consisted of:“somewhere, there is this great streak of individualism in us,” he said, giving the example of the Indian tendency to keep their own house clean, and throw their litter out on the road. He said this illustrated a concern with one’s own sphere: “People see themselves and their society in terms of an individual, concentrated prism.”

The second trait Verma emphasized was that Indians wered particularly prey to moral ambivalence, and that they believe that their every action can be justified in a context: “There is no absolute notion of good or bad, and Indians internalize contradictions effortlessly,” he said.

John Elliot believes that in India, the debate is more important than the result of the debate, and the result of the debate is more important than the decision that would follow it. He interpreted the Indian way in terms of the two words: ‘jugaad’, which he said crudely translated into ‘fix it’, and ‘chalta hai’ which implies, ‘it’s alright on a night.’ He suggested this laidback approach had its drawbacks: “As long as India relies on jugaad and chalta hai, it will not succeed”.

Verma responded to Elliot’s views by iterating how centuries of competing ‘for the same spot’ had taught Indians to think out-of-the-box and find a new or different solution to every problem, which is probably what contributed to ‘jugaad’.


Book Launch: Travelling In, Travelling Out, Ed. Namita Gokhale

By Shivangi Rajendran

Travelling In, Travelling Out is ‘a book of unexpected journeys’ that sews together a collection of twenty five stories, some journeys into the mind, others journeys across lands.

Namita Gokhale, Festival Director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival and Editor of the collection, introduced the book as a “patchwork quilt of stories about internal journeys and outward ones.”

The book was officially unveiled by Gloria Steinem, author and a leading voice of the feminist movement across the globe. Steinem spoke about the real meaning of travel, observing that “we falsely divide ourselves’ between settling down and traveling. “It is an artificial decision. We are meant to travel with the seasons and the crops, we are not meant to be stationery. It’s part of our cellular memories.”

This was followed by a reading from one of the authors, Urvashi Butalia, from her poignant tale of partition about Veer Bahadur Singh, who went back to his village in Pakistan after fifty two years,

Also present at the launch were Sanjoy Roy, Producer of ZEE JLF, Sheuli Sethi, Executive Producer of ZEE JLF, and the Editor of Harper Collins, India.

We the Drowned – Writing the Sea: Carsten Jensen, Samantha Weinberg, Nayomi Munaweera, moderated by Samanth Subramanian

Front Lawns, 21st / Tue

164 drowned

By Ivan de Klee

The distinguished panel aptly took refuge from the wet weather to discuss their fascination with the sea and what it holds.

Carsten Jensen, author of the novel We, the Drowned, explained that he never wrote about the ocean using romantic language. The novel, which was voted best Danish Novel of the last twenty five years, revolves around freight sailors from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s and depicts the ocean as one of the most dangerous places in the world, killing Jenson’s characters and keeping families apart. Jenson argued that at that time, the ocean was a way of life, not a romantic ideal.

Author of bestselling novel, A Fish Caught in Time, Samantha Weinberg told the audience that often books about the ocean involved a ‘quest,’ giving the examples of The Old Man and the Sea and Moby Dick. In keeping with this, her book was about the true story of JLB Smith’s mission to discover and investigate the Coelacanth fish, and reveal the secrets it kept locked away with the mystery of its existence.

Prize-winning author Nayomi Munaweera observed that the “relationship [of people] with the sea is very complicated and difficult”, that it can change from being a monster, to a pleasure, to a resource. In contrast to Jensen, Munaweera did write romantically about the ocean, for the Sri Lankan characters in her book look out on the ocean rather than made a life through it. She suggested that everyone had a different relationship with the sea, it was ever-changing and unique to each individual.

Prestigious journalist Samanth Subramanian, who has written several essays on coastal life in South India, opened the floor to questions. The panel were asked to comment on the destructive human impact on the ocean in recent decades. Weinberg, who has not eaten fish for eight years, went so far as to say, “we are raping the ocean,” whilst Carsten agreed that “the ocean has been fished empty”.

This sad final revelation was a poignant juxtaposition to the amazing treasures that the ocean held in each of the authors’ stories.