Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, Anne Waldman, Gulzar, Sadhguru
By Louisa Tomlinson, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
The Jaipur Literature Festival celebrated its tenth birthday in grand style today, with a glittering inauguration featuring Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje, celebrated yogi Sadhguru, iconic Beat poet and activist Anne Waldman, and legendary poet Gulzar Sahib. The beautiful Front Lawns of Diggi Palace Hotel in Jaipur were packed with dignitaries, readers and writers from India and all over the world, brought together by a love of literature and its capacity to inspire and entertain.
The festival opened to a fanfare of ceremonial drumming and horns by Rajasthani musicians led by Nathoo Lal Solanki. This was followed by a beautiful and rousing concert of popular, folk and classical music by the Shillong Chamber Choir. The Choir’s Manager, Kynsaibor Lyngdoh said, “This is our first time at the Jaipur Literature Festival. Our journey has been incredible. We have been around since 2001. We went mainstream after winning India’s Got Talent in 2010. We opened for Coldplay at The Global Citizen Festival and have performed for Obama.’ The Shillong Chamber Choir is the only professional chamber choir in India, and Lyngdoh believes it has a powerful role to play in boosting morale in troubled times: ‘We feel proud that as a choir we bring good news to India. As young people, it is very important that we become good news. Newspapers are full of bad news. So stay inspired and make good news.’
Festival producer, Sanjoy Roy of Teamworks thanked Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia, the keynote speakers and Sadhguru, Chairman of ZEE and Mahindra Groups Subhash Chandra, The Shillong Chamber Choir, Festival Directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, Ram Pratap and Jyotika Singh of Diggi Palace Hotel, dignitaries, authors and the overflowing audience for their support of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival.
Roy observed that at the time of the festival’s humble beginnings, ‘we couldn’t have imagined that in ten years, we’d be here on the Front Lawn welcoming the world, thank you all.’ Roy spoke of the original intention behind the festival, saying it had been set up as ‘a place for freedom of expression, a place where all sorts of voices can be represented, a place of equity where people can come together across the world and across India, and a place that is free.’ The Jaipur Literature Festival is the largest free literary festival in the world, and Roy emphasized the importance of it remaining free: ‘The only thing that brings about transformative change is knowledge and education.’ Everyone should have equal access to that knowledge and education, because ‘the only thing that can help us make sense is literature, writing, wisdom.’
Festival Director Namita Gokhale addressed the audience in Hindi and English, observing that ‘we live in the best of times, we live in the worst of times but literature remains undisputed.’ Gokhale expressed her excitement at this year’s programme, which covers themes as diverse as our changing times, ideologies, ancient and epic literature, young writers, new languages, the visual shorthand of technology, translation, knowledge systems, real politik, and the importance of the imagination. She observed that over the last decade, as well as knowledge, ‘all emotions and opinions have found place at the Jaipur Literature Festival’ (हऱ भाव, विचारधारा ने जयपुर साहित्य महोत्सव मे पक्ष पाया है).
Gokhale remembered John Singh, who passed away last year, observing that ‘the legacy of this festival rests on John Singh, the inspirational figure who, along with his wife Faith Singh, laid the foundations of this festival.’ She concluded that we are here at the festival ‘to interrogate, argue, agree and disagree, expand the sum of our understanding’ in a spirit of gentleness, compassion and fearlessness, since साहित्स से आपसी मन मोटाव हटते हैं और दुनिया करीब आती है (‘Literature can help cure polarity and bring the world together’).
Festival Director William Dalrymple spoke of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival’s modest start in 2006, joking that ‘the first reading took place in the Durbar Hall, and about 20 people were there:16 of them were Japanese tourists who had got lost.’ Dalrymple spoke of the astonishing phenomenon of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s success, which has created open access to Nobel Prize winners, Harvard and Oxford scholars, and literary prizewinners across the world. ‘For five days, the greatest minds in the world are free.’ He predicted that the tenth Jaipur Literature Festival ‘is going to be madness and mayhem’
The lamp was then lit to a fanfare of rousing drums, didgeridoo and fireworks, by yogi, mystic and New York Times bestselling author Sadhguru, Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia, and keynote speakers Anne Waldman and Gulzar.
Chief Minister of Rajasthan Vasundhara Raje Scindia welcomed the audience, authors and dignitaries to the festival, revealing that the Jaipur Literature Festival is ‘one of the high points of my year, the coming together across the world of wonderful writers, wonderful minds, and young people.’ She talked of how thrilled she was that the festival had spawned over 120 copycat festivals, observing that ‘literature has gone like a forest fire’ across India and across the world.
Vasundhara Raje Scindia expressed her delight that the festival was hosting a facsimile copy of the 13th century Magna Carta this year, considered to be the founding document of human rights and democracy. As the largest democracy in the world, ‘it is a huge tribute to us’ in India that it has come here, she said. She commended the city of Jaipur as an exceptional cultural experience, observing that ‘Jaipur is looking its finest in many, many years.’ She talked passionately about the many education, health, infrastructure, water and women initiatives that are unfolding across Rajasthan, stating that ‘it is not possible to ignore the girl child with a woman Chief Minister.’ She called on everyone to ‘please walk with us down this path,’ since ‘when we do things together, things happen, things change,’ noting that change doesn’t require money, only ‘a rich heart, a large heart.’
Shreyasi Goenka, Content Advisor for ZEE Entertainment, principal sponsors of the festival, congratulating the Festival Directors and Producers and said it was ‘an honour’ for ZEE to be an integral part of the festival for the fourth, consecutive year, which sought to ‘challenge notions, inspire opinions.’
Over the next five days, tens of thousands people will gather daily at the world’s largest free literary festival to mingle with over 400 speakers of great renown. This year’s festival will explore a multitude of ideas and themes, including a look at the nation. Freedom to Dream: India @ 70 looks at India today in the context of its history as well as its future. Other festival themes include Translations and World Literature, Women and Marginalised Voices, Sanskrit, and Colonialism and the Legacy of the Raj.
Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor