The opportunity to see writers in the flesh, to hear them speak about and explicate their work, and to get your favourite books signed, are all experiences that seal a strong bond between the reader and the writer. And for the same reason, the Jaipur Literature Festival is a unique and interactive space that humanizes those authors whom we have only conceived of as disembodied projections of words on a paper.
Since its inception in 2006, Jaipur Literature Festival has been the mecca for literature enthusiasts and aspiring writers. Bringing together some of the greatest minds and writers from across the world, this winter fest is regarded as a cultural catalyst within the country and around the world. It has introduced patrons to new ideas and modes of thinking and articulating. From Nobel prize winners to writers in the vernacular, established men of letters to debut novelists; every January, the most remarkable and brilliant collection of authors come together for 5 days of readings and discussions at the Diggi Palace in Jaipur. Pro-tip, rent a car in Jaipur to take you around because there would be a lot of traveling involved.
The Past Chapters
As an ardent reader and an aspiring writer, I had made it a point to attend the JLF when I was first introduced to it in 2012. Despite becoming more popular and accommodating more and more visitors, the festival has maintained its stately elegance. The tedium of standing in a queue to get the festival pass is attenuated by the promise of the bright chirpy decorations that grace the venue and the cheery and welcoming hubbub of noises that leaks through to the outside. Grabbing a bite at one of the kiosks (selling multi-cuisine food items including French snacks, Chinese delights and the Indian thali along with the obligatory Kulhad Chai) is another constant of the JLF experience. With the 12th edition of JLF just around the corner, I look back upon my 4 past experiences… #nostalgia.
Courting Controversy in 2012
2012’s fest was dominated by the cancellation of a live video chat with the author, Salman Rushdie. The organizers called off the video conference (due to protests by Muslim groups who were offended by his 1988 book, The Satanic Verses) and I was heartbroken, disappointed and extremely indignant.
2013 – The Year of Lama
I remember it was a great journey to Jaipur. We had booked a superb taxi service from Jaipur to Delhi and we had a lot of fun on the way. While the whole buzz in 2013 was around Rahul Dravid attending the fest, I was eagerly waiting for the conversation between His Holiness Dalai Lama and Pico Iyer, on Kinships of Faiths: Finding the Middle Way. The session was heartwarming and life-affirming leaving me with a smile on my face (although I was gasping for air in the overwhelming crowd). The witty chat with Javed Akhtar was also a memorable moment at the JLF 2013.
2014 – Literary Rockstars
With keynote speakers like Amartya Sen and writers like Jhumpa Lahiri, 2014’s fest highly concentrated on interacting with the best of the best. With Filmi Jazz like Irfan Khan also making an appearance, JLF 2014 may have felt more like a showcase of popular sentiment than a serious lit fest to some, but it was nevertheless, a wholesome mixed bag of speakers and writers.
A Star Struck 2018
Diggi Palace, last year, was crowded with people from not only India but South Asia as well. And my experience began on a sour note, as I had to wait for approximately 45 minutes to reach the Front Lawns, where the main event was to take place. The crowd was waiting for Film Director, Vishal Bhardwaj to share insights on his films, his life, his father and his renowned idol, Shakespeare. Despite the crowd, my mood grew better as Vishal’s scintillating speech came to an end
After this insightful peep into the life of a successful director, I headed to another solid session, featuring a talk between Nandita Das and Nawazuddin Siddiqui on their film, Manto. In the words of the bard- ‘All’s well that ends well’; the festival closed on a hard-hitting note with a debate on the mercurial #MeToo movement.
A Promising Future
Offering a mix of experiences, every successive year, the Jaipur Literature Fest is the country’s biggest literary party. Between the ‘glitterati’ and the ‘literati’, 2019 brought a great experience with more than adequate representation from the Indian subcontinent and the rest of the world. The 2019 edition featured some of the most powerful women from different walks of life, who have defined and carved their own paths and encouraged many others along the way including Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Mithali Raj, Manisha Koirala and Priyamvada Natarajan.
The co-director of the JLF 2019, William Dalrymple brought together the strongest Jaipur lineup ever. 2019 edition definitely paid close attention to the upheavals and transformations in the struggle for gender equality.
And now finally for 2020, The Jaipur Literature Festival has announced its first list of 25 speakers out of the nearly 250 figures who will be attending the literary extravaganza at the Diggi Palace Hotel.
It includes among others the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stephen Greenblatt. To be held from 23-27 January 2020, the JLF will also be attended by Anand Neelakantan, author, columnist and screenwriter; Asma Khan, the first British chef to feature on Netflix’s famed show, Chef’s Table; writer Chitra Mudgal, the first woman to be the recipient of the Vyas Samman for her acclaimed novel Avaan; and Frank Dikötter, the 2011 winner of the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
Historian William Dalrymple, co-director of the festival said of the line-up, “This is unquestionably one of the best lists we’ve ever gathered: five days of non-stop genius.”
This year, the focus is going to be on understanding and reflecting on the ever-changing world around us.
So JLF 2020, here I come…