By Arjun Bhatia, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
In 2006, India’s Pink City hosted a fairly unremarkable event, where 100 or so people gathered to listen to some 20-odd writers talk about literature. Some of them ‘appeared to be tourists who had simply got lost,’ quipped Co-Director William Dalrymple about the festival’s humble beginnings. The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, which began as that little gathering, recorded a footfall of 330,000 last year. It has grown to be the world’s largest free literary festival in just ten years.
The Jaipur Literature Festival has attracted people from all over the world, speaking a myriad tongues. Festival-goers have been treated to an unprecedented glimpse of diversity, ranging from the confluence of international languages to the expression of tribal folklore. The festival has been graced by literary luminaries such as Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Vikram Seth, and VS Naipaul, Bollywood veterans of international repute like Amitabh Bachchan, Aamir Khan and Naseeruddin Shah, global superstars like Oprah Winfrey, and spiritual leaders including the Dalai Lama, Deepak Chopra and Sadhguru, to name just a few. Themes have ranged from serious matters of politics, racism and gender to the plots and characters of Bollywood movies, food and sports.
‘We have two missions at Jaipur: to showcase Indian writing to the world and to bring the greatest writers in the world to India,’ says Dalrymple. It is with this goal and spirit that Jaipur Literature Festival champions marginalized voices originating from the hidden corners of India, writers in foreign languages, and works of global renown in equal measure.
But the Jaipur Literature Festival has not only enriched the coffers of literature. ‘Our collective belief is that the arts create tangible wealth,’ says Sanjoy Roy, co-founder and managing director of Teamwork Arts, the company that produces the Jaipur Literature Festival. A survey of local vendors and hotels in Jaipur, conducted five years ago, revealed that the event’s contribution to the city’s economy was in the range of Rs 200 million.
Over the last two years, the Jaipur Literature Festival has created a sister festival, Jaipur BookMark (JBM), to provide a platform for the business side of literature. In addition to giving aspiring writers an insider’s view of the publishing industry, JBM also gives them an opportunity to meet publishers, literary agents, and translation agencies, talk business, and perhaps even sign a book deal.
The Jaipur Literature Festival has also become synonymous with world-class music events. As the sun sets, concerts at Hotel Clarks Amer host stalwarts of Indian classical and folk music, as well as pop and fusion artists such as Beth Orton and Karsh Kale. Coupled with Heritage Music sessions at iconic locations like Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal, Jaipur Literature Festival has grown into a true festival of the arts celebrated across the city.
In 2017, as India completes 70 years of independence, the Jaipur Literature Festival is celebrating its birthday too, with the theme ‘Freedom To Dream: India at 70’. We are excited to welcome over 300 speakers including the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty, Man Booker International Prize co-winner Deborah Smith, and BAFTA award winning British playwright David Hare, poetry icons Anne Waldman and Kate Tempest, as they join the likes of popular Bollywood actor Rishi Kapoor and Hindi poet and lyricist Gulzar.