Keynote Address

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Gulzar and Anne Waldman

 

Prachi Bhagwat, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger

 

The tenth edition of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival opened today in the sprawling Front Lawn of the Hotel Diggi Palace in Jaipur, with the Keynote Address given by two extraordinary poets of repute: Gulzar, whose poetry reaches across generations, and Beat poet and activist Anne Waldman, who infused the festival atmosphere with her passion.

Gulzar congratulated the festival for completing ten glorious years as a unifying platform for writers and readers, young and old. In India, he said, where we celebrate colour with the festival of Holi, and kites with Sankranti, it is only befitting that we celebrate books with festivals like the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Gulzar went on to speak about the many languages that populate the landscape of the country, commenting that the term ‘regional language’ did great disservice to the beauty and potency of those languages. He observed that there is an extensive body of vibrant literature being produced across the country in a plethora of languages, making special note of the wonderful by poets in the North-Eastern states of India.

Gulzar spoke poignantly of the need to remain grounded, employing the metaphor of a tree, which can never reach astounding heights unless its roots hold firmly to the soil beneath. Similarly, he noted that if one’s feet are not firmly placed on the ground, the ink in one’s pen gradually runs dry.

An exuberant Anne Waldman offered a cautionary note on the times we live in. The performance poet and activist recited the poem-song Anthropocene Blues, which paints a portrait of a broken age, in which ‘nothing is not affected by the hand of man.’ Waldman drew on Agamben’s philosophy, arguing that to be contemporary is to ‘recognise the darkness of our age.’ She stated that ‘the purpose of art was to help the world to wake up to itself,’ and for that to be possible, one must not be paralyzed by this darkness, but move deeper into it.

On the eve of the Presidential Inauguration in her homeland of America, Waldman expressed her joy at being present in blood, pulse and heart, feeling sustained and surrounded by love at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Waldman described the current political environment – the post-truth world – as essentially ‘a war on imagination.’ She called out to her fellow sisters, mothers and all the women who will be marching on the streets of Washington after the inauguration, urging them to never let go of ‘the love and devotion for imagination.’ It is in exactly this context that literature and poetry can be used as ‘spiritual practice’ and ‘to break into action.’

Concluding her address with a poem derived from the mantra of Chenrezig (the embodiment of compassion in Buddhism), Waldman urged us all to ‘push-push against the darkness’ and try to ‘perceive the light’ in its midst.

 

Photo Credits: Rajendra Kapoor

 

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