Sunday, February 01, 2015

An article about JLF in The News International

TNS – The News on Sunday

Literary pilgrimage to the pink city

Monstrous in its size, this year the JLF 2015 hosted more than 400 writers, poets, journalists, film personalities and musicians from all over the world and witnessed a total footfalls of almost a quarter million
Literary pilgrimage to the pink city
Literary jamboree.
Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) is the largest literary festival of the world which has become some sort of an annual literary pilgrimage for the connoisseurs of literature and book lovers. Monstrous in its size, this year the JLF hosted more than 400 writers, poets, journalists, film personalities and musicians from all over the world and witnessed a total footfalls of almost a quarter million.
Spread over five days (January 21-25), the eighth edition of JLF had 170 sessions at the lawns of the beautiful Diggi Palace hotel which remains to be the main venue of this literary jamboree.
Like every year, the literary enthusiasts from every nook and cranny of the globe gathered in the pink city to participate in the JLF 2015.
But what brings so many people to this festival? Reply comes from the young banker and poet Mohammad Zahid who hails from Anantnag district in Kashmir — “For the booklovers it is a rare opportunity to meet the writers they admire. And for aspiring writers, the festival provides a platform to have a chance to interact with their favourite authors and learn the tricks of the trade. Some people also come to see their favourite film stars or celebrities from other fields”.
Zahid’s friend, Jose Varghese, standing next to him, from the Indian state of Kerala seconded his views and added that he had been to other literary festivals also but they were nowhere near to the majestic JLF.
This year, the famous names that attracted the maximum crowds at Jaipur were Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul and actress Waheeda Rahman.
On January 21, the festival was inaugurated by Vasundhara Raje, Chief Minister of Rajasthan, followed by keynote speeches by three well-known poets, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Ashok Vajpeyi and Vijay Seshadri. The Pulitzer Prize winning Poet Seshadri said that “imagination is the foundation of a democratic society because it permits us to act as equal partners in nature and society.”
This year, the famous names that attracted the maximum crowds at Jaipur were Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, former President of India, Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul and actress Waheeda Rahman.
Later, a session on V.S. Naipaul’s much celebrated novel A House for Mr. Biswas drew a packed house as four eminent writers, Paul Theroux, Hanif Kureishi, Amit Choudhuri and Farukh Dhondy, discussed the book. Paul Theroux, the novelist and travel writer, who once used to be Naipaul’s friend and then fell out with him, had all praise for the Nobel Prize winning writer. In his words, A House for Mr Biswas was the most complete novel he had ever read.
Another session which was hit with the visitors on the first day was a show titled Gata Jaye Banjara of Javed Akhtar which was about the lyric writing in the Hindi film industry. The lyricist and poet lamented that there was decline in the quality of lyrics as poetic imagination has been replaced by vulgarity.
The second day of festival was marred by intermittent rain and all sessions had to be conducted indoors. Despite bad weather, there was marginal decline in the number of visitors. In the middle of the drizzle, an interesting discussion titled Descent into Chaos — Pakistan on the Brink featuring Ahmed Rashid, Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri, G. Parthasarathy, Anatol Lieven was moderated by Indian journalist Suhasini Haider. During the discussion the former foreign minister of Pakistan said that the expectation of talks between India and Pakistan and a resolution of conflicts was “not just a glimmer of hope but a lot more.”
The main highlight of the second day was the announcement of DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. To everyone’s surprise Indian-American writer Jhumpa Lahiri walked away with the prize money of $50000 which had contenders like amazing Sri Lankan-British writer Romesh Gunasekra and the renowned Urdu novelist from India, Shamsur Rahman Faruqui. Two very talented Pakistani writers, Bilal Tanveer and Kamila Shamsie, were also in the shortlist. Later, when Romesh Gunasekra was asked to comment on the DSC Prize, his reply was: “What can I say? I was there. Hopefully the books gained a few readers.”
The JLF is also known for promoting new talents. And in this series, a session titled A Thousand Stories: Tales of Hope & Dispossession had two debutant novelists Aruni Kashyap and Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar. Both the authors have got rave review for their respective novels. Sowvendra Shekhar who was shortlisted for this year’s The Hindu Prize for Fiction for his novel about the tribal life The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey, feels that the JLF provides a huge platform for the authors like him and helps them to reach out to the wider readership.
On the subsequent days, there were many exciting and insightful sessions, including a discussion on the Pakistani contemporary art with Salima Hashmi and Kamila Shamsie, Nissim Nicholos Taleb’s delineation of his famous ‘Black Swan theory’ and Farukh Dhondy’s conversation with V. S. Naipaul.
Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was cynosure of all eyes as all his programmes were overcrowded and at times there were chances of stampede. The debate on Israel Palestine issues saw Israeli Journalist and Haartez columnist, Gideon Levy, lashing out at the Israeli government for its illegal occupation and inhuman treatment of Palestinian people. Famous tv journalist Ravish Kumar attracted huge crowd at the book release of his short story collection Ishq Mein Shahar Hona was released. Later, young readers were seen thronging the book signing counter.
India’s top two bestselling authors in English and heartthrobs of the generation X, Chetan Bhagat and Amish Tripathi had also been part of this year’s JLF. Tripathi, the author of The Shiva Trilogy, was part of two well attended panel discussions about mythology and faith. Tripathi also announced his next book series which is going to be based on Ramayana, amid thunderous applause of his fans.
Chetan Bhagat, on the other hand, arrived in Jaipur on the last day of the carnival to talk about a wide range of topics and that included his writing and its impact on his readers, and also about the political scenario in India.
This year two new prizes related to art and poetry were instituted. Mumbai based poet Arundhati Subramanian was awarded the inaugural Khushwant Singh Memorial Prize for Poetry for her poetry collection When God is a Traveller and Artist Bhajju Shyam became first winner of Ojas Art Award.
The JLF ended with the news that the festival would now travel to international shores as the festival would have a British incarnation at the South Bank Centre in London in the month of May and also have an American edition in Colorado, USA in autumn season.

Abdullah Khan

The writer is based in New Delhi and is a literary critic. He can be reached

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