Jaipur Lit Fest remains secular in spirit — ends on great democracy debate
Jaipur, Jan 2014
The literary carnivalat Jaipur ended onJanuary 21 amidheavy rains, wispymists andchill as the weather took a turnfor the worse. A debate, "Democracy is the Worst Form of Government except for the Rest" saw fiery exchange of words and ideas between the speakers Murli Manohar Joshi, Pavan Verma, Lily Wangchuk, K. Anis Ahmed and Shazia Jimi.
Earlier in the morning, the festival was forced to move all its "discourses indoor" — because of heavy rain. The shift of outdoor venues allowed visitors to share "closer space" with writers like JIm Grace, Alison Macleod, Tash Aw, Justin Cartwright, David Cannadine and sports icon Mary Kom.
On January 20, the weather lifted marginally to show the sun after three days of bitter chill and a shroud of mist that had cast its shadow on the vibrant colours of Rajasthan. The usually busy Monday (Jan 20, 2014) — beginning of a working week — could not douse the fervour of book lovers and hundreds of school children who flocked to the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 for kicks of the intellectual kind at the Diggi Palace in the heart of the city. The 17th Rajput haveli (mansion) has become synonymous with all things literary in northern India over the last seven years — when the festival opened to a handful of literary buffs. The festival, now a fashionable intellectual do — has often been described by the media as the mecca of Asian literary destination that combines with the rich heritage of the city to draw visitors from all over the world.
A rough estimate by the members of the festival organising committee said the more than 100,000 people have logged their presence in the last three days.
On Monday, the thrill frills were provided by Mumbai movie-maker and priducer Ekta Kapoor, who was the eye of a teacup storm when a group of Rajput Karni Sena ( a local forum) protesters mobbed her alleging that "a television serial 'Jodhaa-Akbar' she was producing for Zee Television had been portraying princess Jodha Bai, Mughal emperor Akbar's queen from the ancient town of Amber in Rajasthan, had been denigrated in the serial and the state had been portrayed in a bad light".
History says Akbar married Jodha Bai (known as Maryam us Zamani) in a strategic alliance to establish control over Amber in the 16th century — and put the princess in a position of power. She was known to control Akbar's maritime fleets and minted coins in her name. The Rajput princess was the mother of Akbar's son Jahangir. The producer refused to react to the protest, saying "she was happy to be at the festival".
Delhi- A changing capital
The capital chronicles are taking a fresh look at the changing soul of India's eclectic capital which has been integrated into the "consumerist culture" of the neo-elites — moving away from the old world commitment of the Punjabi elite which gave the city its post-Independence maturity and a touch of class. Delhi noir writer William Dalrymple handed over the reins of his capital saga to Commonwealth Literature prize winning writer Rana Dasgupta — separated by a space of 20 years — describing Dasgupta's non-fiction, "Capital: The Eruption of Delhi" as the biggest title of the year at the festival. Dalrymple, who shot to limelight with his visitor's odyssey of the capital's odd alleys in the "City of Djinns" conceded change.
"I spent 18 months interviewing people—speaking to hundreds of people from all walks of life," Rana Dasgupta said. "How the culture of consumption and money has become evident with inner changes as well— with changes in relationships and kinships".
Dasgupta mused about the "life in the city in this decade which has become one of great intensity". "I spent a certain amount of time with the new rich in the city - the new luminiaries of Delhi," Dasgupta said. The book exlpores "a traumatised Delhi's transition to the 21st century drawing on the capital's past— from the Mughals to Partition as the microcosm of urban India with its assualts on ideas of communities and citizenships and influx of migrants looking for new livelihoods. New lives.
Crime Writers' AssociationA wave of crime writing is better than a wave of crime, said co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival Namita Gokhale on January 20. Gokhale was at the forefront of a new literary initiative, Crime Writers' Association of South Asia, launched at the festival with the unveiling of a website. Gokhale led a panel of crime writers and reseachers of the genre, Kishwar Desai,
Writer Adrian Levy on Jan 20 probed the mind of terror mastermind David Headley analysing the events tha shook Mumbai from his book, "The Seige: Th 68 Hours Inside the Taj Hotel"— which he co-authored with Cathy Scott Clark.Headley, a wily operator found a toehold in the ranks of the Lashkar- e-Taiba after he identified the chinks in LeT armour and the oragisation's "schisms" with other terror outfit — especially the al-Queda. The more Headley came close to the radical faction of the Lashkar— the more he became visible to the American intelligence. He was an American passport holder. :"He was a slippery fish," Levy said.
Criticising the Indian intelligence agencies, Levy said the government had no knowledge of Headley's network of information. After finding his way into the organisation, Headley came to know that Mumbai could be well be a target - something spectacular was going to happen in India.
"A lessons learned committee, a commission of inquiry, etc., exists in some form in every jihad organisation," Levy said, "yet the state here couldn't put one together. I was told that it would happen internally, (but) I don't think that's the right way to go,."Levy said.
He suggested that the Mumbai terror attacks were a fallout of the changing nature of the terror politics in Pakistan — where the politics of heroin was being replaced by the politics of jihad.
In the book,Levy and his partner, both former journalists, brings out little anecdotal information about the terrorists and the victims at the Taj Hotel in Mumbai that was attacked 26/11 — about the lives of the victims, survivors and the assailants who were the proxy frontline of the real parties at war — innocents and lame ducks and univerity of terror that supplies organised deaths. "There will be another story on Headley soon," he said.
On Sunday the post-lunch session of the festival took on a serious note when Indian foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid on January 19 unveiled a volume of six books on how Indian foreign policy has been made since the era of the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, after the nation wrested its Independence from British rule in 1947.
The books are a collaboration between the Australia-India Institute and the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies, Colombo. The volumes are made of contributions by 87 authors, Mallika Joseph of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies said. The contributions, which were collated over 18 months, "stand for the collaborative nature to that context of the rise of India and China - and how the different countries in the region need to match up to these two countries". "Given India's growth, the essays explore whether there is scope for south Asia to work together,: Joseph said, summing up the volumes.
Unveiling the books, foreign affairs minister Salman Khurshid, who arrived in Jaipur late afternoon (january 19), said "it was encouraging that foreign policy was a matter that attracts so much attention from the best possible minds at a place like the Jaipur Literature Festival— the throbbing heart of the soft power of India". "We are the people who have made stunning contribution to the making of modern Asia. In our democracy, we often talk about expanding its contours and make it participatory— what people feel and the positions governments take," the minister said. He said Indian was once integral to the non-aligned movement, but now "it was part of G20- seen as partly developing world". "We were once the leader of the third world, but we now have a place in the global order," the minister said.
Outlining a tentative map for the country's future of foreign policy, Salman Khurshid said "he saw a major collaboration in the years to come between India and Australia" in the perspective of the growing strategic importance of the India Ocean — as a zone of trade, diplomatic and military leverages — in Asia. Gatherings such as literary festivals would be of importance in terms of "public debates and discussions" on the country's policies and relationships with the rest of the world from the people's perspectives .
Replying to a query about the thorny nature of the India-Pakistan relation in the last six decades, the minister said he was confident that with a little bit of thought Pakistan can resolve its "unresolved" differences with India. The minister said Pakistan must understand that its claim that 1947 was an unfinished agenda was "just an idea". It could not act upon it.
The foreign minister ruled out support by India to the electoral process in Bangladesh saying "the country has not supported any election in Bangladesh." "You cannot dictate solutions to another country. We help other countries arrive at sustainable solutions. India merely assisted with logistics support to say you must decide your own destiny," the minister said. The foreign minister said "India was helping the world community find a solution to the crisis in Syria as well". The days of insulation were over. "We have played a major role in keeping hopes alive that there was greater chance for peace," the minister said.
At the festival venue
The pink city has rolled out the red carpet to more than 250 writers from across the world — several of whom are first time visitors to the historic city. The major draws for this tribe of "first-timers" are the rich colours of Rajasthan, the "incredible energy of the country" and the nebula of the realisation that "something new was happening in India".
The seventh edition of the festival which began January 18 at the Diggi Palace— a heritage retreat in the heart of the city — with a keynote address by eminent economist (and Nobel Prize winner) Amartya Sen, has seen veterans like Jonathon Franzen, Jhumpa Lahiri, Jim Grace, Xialou Guo , Mark Mazzeti., Harold Varmus and Reza Aslan in the last two days.
The festival has also launched half a dozen books — on art, travel, cookery and culture.
One of the major attractions other than writers, discourses and a book shop — is an array of food vends doling local and global fares, to sate "epicurean thirsts".
“Literature was built by a world of misfits,” jested acclaimed American novelist Jonathan Franzen to a crowd of festival-goers as
Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Mark Mazzeti discussed his new book, The Way of the Knife, which analyzes the evolution of the CIA from a spy agency to a precise, covert killing machine. Commenting on the international relations, Mazzeti observed “the war in Iraq under the Bush administration was a hammer, while the Obama administration handles it more like a scalpel”. Mazetti was accompanied in his "analysis" of western internationalism by former American advisor to Afghanistan Barnett Rubin, who explained that one adverse effect of trying to pursue peace dialogues whilst simultaneously proceeding with military strikes was that “you may end up killing someone with whom you wanted to talk to.”
In a session titled, ‘Chronicles of a Culture’ M.T. Vasudevan Nair, affectionately known as MT, was joined by his award-winning translator Gita Krishnankutty in a fascinating discussion about his novel Randamoozham, generally considered his masterpiece.
MT, who is one of the most prolific and versatile authors in Malayalam literature, talked about his motivation to write. He said every writer "bears a wound that drives him and his were loneliness and hunger".
The festival is hosting 80 publishers from across the world at the Jaipur BookMark — a b2b platform — for the publishing industry to set up new business interlinkages.
Crime writing, democracy and art are the three broad highlights of the festival in 2014. A section devoted to crime writing in India and around the world has brought to the dais Homi K. Bhabha, Director of the Mahindra Humanities Center at Harvard University, for a series of discourses on Crime and Punishment, beginning with The Bangla Whodunnit, a celebration of Bangla crime writing featuring Gautam Chakrabarti. How Not To Make Money: The Price you Pay featured two debut crime novelists, Raj Kundra and Somnath Batabyal, Kishwar Desai and Jørn Lier Horst, a former senior Investigating officer, whose debut novel, "Key Witness", is based on a true murder tale.
In a powerful session titled "Prisons of the Mind", four writers, Rani Shankar Dass, Preeta Bhargava, Vartika Nanda, Margaret Mascarenhas, discussed the therapeutic role of creativity within the flawed Indian penal system and the nature of retributive justice with special reference to women prisoners.
The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival has partnered with a collaborative poetry app called HaikuJAM allowing Festival-goers the chance to co-author poems with best-selling writers and other lovers of literature.
The app, which can be downloaded free from the Apple App Store, allows users to write one line of a Haiku, whilst other users of the app complete the poem. The initiative, launched in October 2013, is the brainchild of London based tech firm, HaikuJAM, co-founded by 3 students of University College London (UCL).
Haikus are 3-line, 17 syllable based poems, which originated from ancient Japan.
The first line is five syllables long, the second is seven, and the final line is five syllables, usually with a twist. Through HaikuJAM people can write haikus together; line by line by line.
By partnering with the app, who knows which acclaimes authors Festival audience members may just find themselves writing poetry with!
Dhrupad Karwa, Co-Founder & CEO of HaikuJAM, said, “We are thrilled to bring HaikuJAM to India! Since launching the app, a few months ago, JAMMERS from all around the world have created incredible haiku collaborations and shared them via Twitter and Facebook. We cannot wait for the attendees of ZEE JLF to craft haiku together and splash even more colour into what is already a mesmerizing event! We are also insanely excited to see which esteemed authors get involved!”
William Dalrymple, Co-Director of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival added, “ZEE JLF brings people from all walks of life together through the love of literature. We are delighted to be partnering with HaikuJAM who will use technology to share this experience with fans of the Festival across the globe. Whether you are having your breakfast in New York, or dinner here in Jaipur, the app will allow people to write poems together and I am sure we will see our Festival authors getting involved.”
To kick start HaikuJAM at ZEE JLF – the Festival student volunteers produced haiku on the theme of ‘FESTIVAL’.