In January every year, book lovers converge in the pink city for the ‘Zee Jaipur Literature Festival’ (JLF). People browse through a remarkable collection of books and also listen to and interact with celebrity authors/writers over five days of debates, lectures and discussions. A huge attraction is of course the eclectic bouquet of live music at the famous heritage sites such as the Amer Fort and Hawa Mahal.
This year, over 300 national and international thinkers, writers, including Nobel laureates and Man Booker prize winners graced the 11th edition of the JLF held in the majestic ambience of Diggi Palace, decked up in Rajasthani royal décor.
The inaugural session had Meeta Pandit and Nathulal Solanki mesmerising the crowd with their native music and dance performances. The jam-packed front lawn on Day 1 saw a young poet Rupi Kaur perform and recite her heart-touching poems in the session Milk and Honey bringing tears to the eyes of the listeners. Other parallel sessions included Sir Tom Stoppard in conversation with theatre personality Sanjna Kapoor; and book launches of The Maitreya Chronicles and The Golden Dakini, authored by Charu Singh.
A unique feature of JLF this year was sessions on feminism and women’s rights. People flocked to listen to noted politician Margaret Alva in her session Women and Power. She shared the session with Helena Kennedy, a British barrister and Labour MP and journalist Arati Jerath was the moderator. They discussed issues such as gender equity, women’s position in society, etc and unanimously agreed that women are harassed universally and the ultimate challenge for them is to break the administrative hierarchy which is male-dominated. In the session, Visible Work: Invisible Women, important questions on women at the workforce were raised.
All five evenings saw a cocktail of genres and styles that included Rajasthani folk music sprinkled with Sufi and Bollywood mix, jazz and other performances.
In his session The Great Survivor, Hamid Karzai, former President of Afghanistan, shared his perspectives on his country and its relations with India. A session by journalist Victor Mallet discussed the relevance of the Ganga River to India’s future and prosperity, while the session Why we must protect the Aravallis, focused attention on the crucial need to protect these hill ranges.
Filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj discussed the launch of his poetry book, Nude: The Poet Within, and reflected on the challenges of adapting Shakespearean plays into film. In another freewheeling session, he took the audience on a personal journey of love, denial and self-discovery.
Veteran actress Sharmila Tagore and daughter Soha Ali Khan Pataudi made a joint appearance for Soha’s recent book The Perils of Being Moderately Famous. MP Shashi Tharoor touched on a range of subjects like fiction and nonfiction writing and the difference between Hinduism and Hindutva across various sessions.
Seasoned writers including Hugh Thomson, Pico Iyer, Raja Shehadeh, Redmond O’Hanlon, Bee Rowlatt and Robert Dessaix related their unique travel experiences. Lyricist and Central Board of Film Certification chief Prasoon Joshi, along with a few other celebrities like poet Javed Akhtar, Shabana Azmi, who are regular contributors to the JLF, missed the fest due to the Padmaavat controversy this year.
The panelists unanimously agreed that women are harassed universally and the ultimate challenge for them is to break the male-dominated administrative hierarchy.
The concluding day at JLF saw an intense and powerful debate on Me too: Do Men still have it too easy, based on atrocities against women and leadership of women. The panelists argued that across the globe, men find it easy to exploit and harass women. The session brought out that worldwide only 10 per cent leaders are women while in India it is merely 3 per cent.
Speaking in the session, The Dance of Democracy, politician Sachin Pilot made a debatable proposition that only politicians, and not people, can reform the system and empower the citizens.
British journalist Matt Frei, author of Only in America and maker of a documentary called The Trumps: From Immigrant to President, explained the Trump phenomenon and what it means for American and world politics. Sessions featuring Amy Tan, Pico Iyer, Hamid Karzai, Zakir Hussain, Salman Khurshid, Chetan Bhagat, Sonal Mansingh, Suki Kim, Micheal Ondatjee, Mira Nair and Helen Fielding, among others, were all well-attended.
With the growing popularity of JLF every year the number of international and national visitors is increasing enormously. This year, a record half a million footfalls, higher by around 23 per cent over last year, were recorded.
A crowd puller of the event, however, was the tea-sellers dressed in traditional safa and dhoti-kurta dishing out tea in kulhads (clay cups).
Pictures by Anubha Agarwal