An eclectic mix, Jaipur Literature fest sees spirited start

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS
Friday, January 21, 2011

JAIPUR - J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Junot Diaz, Martin Amis, Jay McInerney… amongst the literary stars who converged at the landscaped lawns of the 17th century Diggy Palace here, reflecting the eclectic spirit of the sixth edition of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, which promises to be the “biggest and the best”.

As they gathered for an informal dinner Thursday night, they pledged to debate, discuss and tickle the intellect with serious literature, helping India find a place on the global map of fine print.

The five-day festival, attended by 210 authors, kicked off Friday with a session chaired by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) president Karan Singh and a keynote address by Sheldon Pollock, a scholar of Sanskrit and Indian literary history from Columbia University.

The line-up of writers includes two Nobel Laureates and seven Booker prize winners.

The highlight of the festival this year, however, is a South Asian prize for literature sponsored by DSC for the first time.

According to festival co-director Namita Gokhale, the focus is on writing from the northeastern region and Hindi language.

The 2011 edition of the festival promises more joy and literary stimulation than ever before, she said.

Like every year, the festival is showcasing the strength and diversity of writing in Indian language. It includes sessions in Hindi, Urdu, Sanskrit, Tamil, Bangla, Assamiya, Odiya, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kashmiri, Punjabi, Nepali, Bhojpuri and Rajasthani. Debates and dialogues, poetry readings and music, what can be more intelligent a way to celebrate a new year, Gokhale said.

The festival has seen some controversy with allegations of racism and colonial hangover in media reports. But festival co-director rubbished these saying that two thirds of the authors at the literature festival were from India.

The lavish spread Thursday night made up for the birth pangs. The owners of the Diggy Palace, which plays host to the festival, dished out repasts made of Diggy thikana (clan) vintages, traditional Rajasthani family delicacies handed down the generations.

We have been preparing the menu for the last three months. We do not want to repeat dishes, a senior member of the Thakur Ram Pratap Singh Diggy household, which owns the palace, told IANS.

The palace traces its origin to the reign of Emperor Akbar in 1524 AD when Khangarji chalked out a political career for himself in the court of Emperor Akbar and created the aggressive and brave lineage of Khangarwat Rajputs. The Diggi branch of the Khangarwat Rajputs owes its genesis to Bhikharsinghji, the eighth son of Raja Khangarji.

It was converted to a heritage hotel in 1991.

Dalrymple said he almost restrained from hugging himself with pleasure and amazement when he saw the amazing list of names that have assembled this year.

It is by far the biggest and the best edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival. This time we have some of the best international names as well as Indian ones. But the foremost objective of the festival this year is to highlight lesser known authors. Very few people in India know about Atiq Rahimi, the Afghan writer and creative whiz, who is also a writer, Dalrymple told IANS.

Festival producer Sanjoy K. Roy, managing director of Teamwork Productions, said: We are delighted that the festival has grown to be one of the five biggest literature events in the world, the largest free literature festival and the largest festival in Asia attracting over 30,000 visitors.

Roy said the festival this year will host an abundance of young talented faces from the world of literature like Candace Bushnell, Chimamanda Adichie, Irvine Welsh, Jon Lee Anderson, Jung Chang, Kamila Shamsie, Kiran Desai, Mamang Dai, Mohsin Hamid, Mrinal Pande, Richard Ford, Rory Stewart, and Vikram Seth.

The magnitude and participation at the festival proves that the culture of literary festivals and exchanges have caught on in middle class reading and thinking India, he told IANS.

South Africa-born writer J.M. Coetzee, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1993, will be leading a panel discussion on the legacy of Imperial English.

The intellectual marathons will be interspersed by poetry recitations, Rajasthani roots concertos, devotional and progressive rock gigs.

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