DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011: best as ever!

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Asia’s leading literature event – DSC Jaipur Literature Festival – was all that it promised …readings, talks, literary lunches, debates, performance, children’s workshops and interactive activities held in the beautiful heritage property, Diggi Palace in central Jaipur, Rajasthan.

The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival is considered as Asia’s leading literature event, celebrating national and international writers and encompasses a range of activities including film, music and theatre. This year, the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011 (January 21–25, 2011) drew to a close after a fascinating five days of readings, discussion, laughter and contemplation, enjoying the beautiful gardens of the Diggi Palace, host to the festival. Thousands of literature lovers and authors came together on a common platform to listen to leading various panel discussions, authors debate and reading sessions.

The inauguration…

Inaugration of Jaipur Literature Festival 2011, Timothy Reomer, US Ambassador to India; Ashok Gehlot, chief minister of Rajasthan and guest of honor Dr Karan Singh.The inaugural day of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011 showcased strength and diversity of literature and saw leading national and international literary figures including Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk address sessions along with a host of other literary luminaries. The festival was inaugurated by the chief minister of Rajasthan, Ashok Gehlot; the guest of honour Dr Karan Singh; the ambassador of The United States to India, Timothy Roemer and renowned scholar Sheldon Pollock.

Addressing the inaugural session, Dr Karan Singh emphasized the need for the preservation of India’s unique literary heritage and creative writing. Keynote speaker Sheldon Pollock expressed concern over the future of classical Indian languages and literature. He said, “Without the critical care of cultivating Indian classical literature of the past, literature before 1800 may disappear within two generations. Becoming involved is the key to saving it.

Festival co-director, William Dalrymple said, “The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival speaks about the current anxieties of the place of literature in the face of growing interests of the youth in social networking, gaming, and other technologies.” He called the festival a gathering place and place intellectual ‘nuclear fusion’ of the greatest minds in Indian literature.

While, festival co-director, Namita Gokhale said, “This year, the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival promises more joy and literary stimulation than ever before. In 2011, we have continued to showcase the strength and diversity of writing in Indian languages and include sessions in Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Bangla, Assamiya, Oriya, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Nepali, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani.”

Sanjoy Roy, managing director, Teamwork Productions, thanked Faith Singh and John Singh of the Jaipur Virasat Foundation for their vision of heritage conservation across Jaipur and Rajasthan and for initiating the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Few interesting activities
on day 2…

In a fascinating discussion on Bhojpuri cinema, sponsored by Kingfisher airlines and held amidst the colourful and cozy ambience of Baithak, writers Amitava Kumar, Sharmila Kantha and Avijit Ghosh shared their ideas and views on the resurgence of Bhojpuri cinema and literature on the cinematic and literary canvas of the country.

While, Nilanjana Roy, a well known journalist and literary critic, introduced award-winning writer Jim Crace, author of eleven books. Storytelling, to Crace is the “one of the jewels in the crown of the human species. No other creature does it.”

There was an interesting discussion on the importance of books in this highly digitalized world where the common perception is that printed books are losing in popularity. The discussion kicked off with the Booker Prize winning author Kiran Desai describing her memories of growing up with a living library in her house and the loss of it to Gargi college after her father’s death. She also believes that the Indian market has been very attractive to international publishers as there is huge scope of extended sales. The only anxiety that a writer face these days according to her is “some publishers send their authors for media training.”

Another interesting session was titled ‘Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi?’ S Nirupam sat in a discussion with Mrinal Pandey, Sudhish Pachauri, Prasoon Joshi and Ravish Kumar. The speakers agreed upon the fact that Hindi is not an ‘endangered’ language because of its evolving and assimilative nature, its wide base of followers and the rich cultural background.

The third session on ‘Gaata Rahe Mera Dil: The Songs that Moved Us,’ saw a phenomenal turn out. Gulzar saab talked about the history of songs in Indian cinema. Prasoon Joshi added that India had a song for every occasion and since songs ‘suspend logic’ and strongly evoke emotions, they have been an integral part of Indian culture for the ‘collective consumption of emotions’. Javed Akhtar also drew upon the history of songs in drama forms like Jatra, Nautanki and older Sanskrit plays.

Other interesting activities
on day 3…

An interesting activity was Barkha Dutt in conversation with Ahmad Rashid, Atiq Rahimi, Jayant Prasad, Jon Lee Anderson and Rory Stewart-supported by the Scottish Government & Edinburgh International Book Festival. The talk started off with a brief etymology behind ‘Afpak’, its coining, its origins and implications of the policy prescriptions. The initial part of the discussion explored the reasons for why different nations felt the need for their presence in Afghanisthan.

In a fascinating discussion on women and their tryst with the autumn of their life, writer and director of DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011, Namita Gokhale was present to discuss about the delayed sequel to her first book Paro: Dreams of Passion, written way back in 1984. Author Bulbul Sharma was also present to discuss and read out sections from her recently published books Eating Women Telling Tales and Now that I am Fifty.

Marina Lewycka, British writer of Ukranian origin, and Swedish writer Zac O Yeah read extracts from their books in a fantastic session, introduced by author and academic Malashri Lal.

While, famous lyricist and adman Prasoon Joshi entered the colourful canopy of Kingfisher Airlines Baithak, saying Jai Maya Ki. Deepa Agarwal, speaker and translator of Chandrakanta soon assuaged audiences’ curiosity as she introduced the wonder tale, reading from Prasoon Joshi’s introduction to her translation. One of the first bestsellers in Hindi, Babu Devki Nandan Khatri’s Chandrakanta (1888-92) became a rage in the late nineteenth century India. Joshi told how the novel was hugely influenced from the traditional narrative structure of oral tales in India and the dastangoi tradition that came from Persia. A gripping fantasy as it was, Chandrakanta became hugely popular among its audiences, so much so that people learnt Hindi in order to read it.

There was an interesting discussion on ‘blogs’, a very contemporary and interesting phenomenon. Avinash made a very valid point that this space has removed the distance between the writer and the reader. People can instantly get feedback on their works and opinions. Ravish added that a lot of people from different regional backgrounds, languages and dialects have come on the same plane to discuss issues which has really benefited local dialects and languages. Manisha agreed that the blog has provided a new kind of confidence to people, especially women who did not have many avenues to express themselves.

One of India’s most popular and enduring storytellers, Ruskin Bond, spoke in a conversation with Ravi Singh and read from his works. Impressed with literature festivals such as this one in Jaipur, Bond said that there were no book fairs and promoting and publishing books in India was difficult for the authors. The title of the talk, ‘Boys will be Boys’, was a reference to eternal youth associated with him.

More interesting activities
on Day 4…

The Mughal Tent at Diggi Palace was the venue for the much anticipated conversation with Alex von Tunzelmann, the author of Indian Summer, and renowned columnist and television anchor Karan Thapar. Describing the book as a magnificent book and fascinating page turner, Thapar drew the audience’s attention to the book cover which has a photograph of Nehru, Louis Mountbatten and Edwina Mountbatten.

While, Roberto Calasso’s conversation with Devdutt Pattanaik in the Mughal tent was a conversation that was unlike the usual run-of-the-mill sessions that one has been attending. It was esoteric—transcending the material conditions almost to speak of essentials of Indian Philosophy—of aham and atman (which he translates as I and the self).

At a session called Mumbai Narrative, Madhu Trehan discussed the works of Gyan Prakash and Sonia Faleiro with the authors. While Sonia’s book is ‘microscopic’, presenting the lives of ‘Bar Dancers’ in Mumbai, Gyan’s book is a more expansive presentation of the city in all its grandeur and ugliness as he writes about media, architecture, popular music, films, writers and so on.

The fascinating session on ‘Pulp’ was chaired by Faiza S Khan, Pritham Chakravarty and Namita Gokhale. They talked about the interface between art, personality and translation, when popular art becomes a sort of serious institution in another medium.

Final interesting activities
on day 5…

Moshin Hamid discussed his novel ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ with Shoma Chaudhury. Chaudhury commenced the session by commenting on the style of Hamid’s books, stating that although they are slim, there is a lot of implication in his words, a lot is said. The pair then goes on to discuss the nature of the novel.

The session on ‘China Dialogue’ was titled after the Non Profit Organisation begun by Isabel Hilton, a Scottish journalist based in London to serve as a forum for dialogue between China and the rest of the world. The talk was moderated by Steven McCarty, the editor of the Asian Literary Review and the purpose of the session was to approach China in all its complexity as it was rendered in fiction and in journalism as well.

In the session, ‘Translating the Classics’, Githa Hariharan aptly introduced the session by making the audience aware of the nuances that translation as a process entails. Quoting Sujit Mukherjee, Hariharan says how “translation is a gift of love” which you give because you want the person to read something you have read and loved. Hariharan starts by saying how the act of translation and translator is a celebration of an act and actor—which is in many ways is a creative act. Arunava Sinha who has translated many Bengali works into English—eminent among them being the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.

This panel of writers gathered on the last day of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival 2011 beneath the Mughal tent to discuss the New Non-Fiction in both India and the wider literary world. Sonia Faleiro briefly introduced this heavy-hitting panel of best-selling authors, and award winning journalists. Among them were Ahdaf Soueif, Bashrat Peer, David Finkel, Martin Amis and Waheed Miraz. And what is the relationship between fiction and non-fiction? According to the panelists there are many. Faleiro started by saying that writers of noted non-fiction use the art of storytelling, without compromising facts with high quality prose and making stories almost cinematic. Martin Amis, a writer in the 80s fiction movement said the autobiographical novel is an evolutionary development within the form of non-fiction and non-fiction has a huge advantage over fiction, as history speeds up.

Book launch at the festival…

Nandita Puri’s latest novel Two Worlds was launched at the festival. The novel follows the story of two characters and is set in Imperial Calcutta, Bombay and finds its denouement in Wales. The book was ceremoniously unwrapped by William Dalrymple. Renowned Indian actor Om Puri read excerpts from the novel.

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