January 17th 2014, I was standing at the land of Pink city to attend the self proclaimed ‘largest literacy show on the earth – Jaipur Literature Festival.’ The Ninth edition of festival — that brings some of greatest thinkers and writers from across the world.
With two Noble Prize winners, four Man Booker Prize nominees, and two Pulitzer Prize winners and few of debut novelist, this January once again the most remarkable, witty, sensitive and brilliant collection of 248 speakers — famous, not so famous, anonymous and celebrities — come together for five days of readings, debates and dialogues.
The show venue, Diggi Palace was looking very attractive as it divided in larger number of sections like Front Lawn, Mughal Tent, Durbar Hall and all of them were draped in blindingly pink tents. This was my visit to JLF and I was very excited since I got registered for the event.
“We will not be bullied. We will draw a line in the sand.” Declaration made by festival producer Sanjay Roy surprised me. After discussing with my fellow colleague I was able to know that this statement of Roy was in context of some controversies happened in last year.
The very first event of the day was the keynote address by Noble winner Professor Amritya Sen, who started off with a glitch, albeit an entertaining one. As Mr. Sen walked up to the microphone to start his address the speakers at the venue broke into a loud and folksy song, accompanied by an equally unintelligible video that played out on the giant screen next to the stage.
Everyone was confused, the cacophony played on, and a bemused Sen waited patiently for his turn to speak. When he finally got a chance to speak, the economist’s speech had little to do with the beauty of literature and more to do with the banality of India’s “so-called entry into the elite club of nations”. The economist outlined about the woeful state of healthcare, nearly half the population defecating in the open, millions of children remaining undernourished, the re-criminalisation of gay sex and the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party.
“The goddess told me, the time has come for you to go to the Jaipur Literature Festival”. He said after hearing complaint about shortcomings of India.
For me the biggest attraction of day was one of greatest American novelist Jonathan Franzen who has been featured on cover of Times magazine. His book the Corrections and Freedom is one of my favorite and he read a couple of paragraphs with extreme reluctance and only after some amount of coaxing by the moderator Chandrahas Choudhary.
Next, at Durbaar Hall, featuring feminist icon Gloria Stienam got warmest greetings. As she took stage, audience cheered, clapped and whistled. Pornography, women’s reproductive rights, religion, prostitution and the Delhi gangrape were the highlights of her speech. She also explained her “permanent” relationship with India, her visit to India t age of 22 and how that visit changed her.
Other highlighted of day was “Number Mysteries” presented by Oxford professor Justin Cartwright. His learning techniques of mathematics highly impressed audience. In the last session of the day, the Front Lawn venue exploded with applause when, Bollywood actor Irfan Khan join the stage with some great Hindi Poetries.
As the curtain fell on first day of show, I was looking forward to attend the festival by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri and Katherine Boo.