A two day intellectual extravaganza in the Pink City
I have come to realise that the decisions that I have taken on an impulse and an intuition have, time and again, turned out to be the best decisions of my life. So this time around, when I felt an inkling to visit the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), I decided not let it pass. Soon after that, I was onboard a Deluxe Volvo bus on a wet morning of January, 18—the second day of the fest.
After a comfortable and sleepy six hour journey, we landed at the Narayan Singh Circle bus stand at 1 p.m. Although we had come to attend the JLF, finding food and shelter were our main priorities at the time and we hired an auto to search for a decent hotel to stay at and a cheap place to eat. Here I should mention that autos in Jaipur—like those of any other small town—and unlike those of Delhi do not run on meters and thus put our bargaining skills and patience to test. However, the delectable Rajasthani thali that we had at a dhaba made up for it, and after refilling our stomachs we went off to the Diggi Palace.
Situated in the heart of the bustling city, Diggi Palace is a converted haveli that is owned by the thakurs of Diggi till this date and has also been hosting the Jaipur Literature Fest since 2006. Although, each and every square inch of the palace was occupied by people and it was bursting at its seams, one could still imagine that the sparkling-with-sunshine, sprawling manicure lawns and the looming fuchsia colored bougainvillea would otherwise make for a tranquil and peaceful holiday. As we entered through the front gates we were welcome by the embellished and upturned umbrella roof, making it evident that we were in Jaipur.
On the left stood our first destination for the day, the Front Lawns, where the much celebrated author Jhumpa Lahiri was in conversation with Rupleena Bose about her latest Pulitzer Prize winning book The Lowland. Having arrived late we had missed a large part of the session but since I had read The Namesake and The Lowland was next on my reading list, I found the session interesting. Before leaving Lahiri advised upcoming writers to establish intimate relationships with her characters and know their secrets.
When we looked up the itinerary to decide which session to attend next we realized that almost all of them made no sense to us and thus we attended The Paradoxes of Growth and Development with Mukulika Banerjee and Ravi Venkatesan in conversation with Dipankar Gupta at Char Bagh. Being a commerce student who is interested in economics, the discourse was very delightful.
After attending this we went to take a sneak peek at the book launch of Travails with Chachi by Lousie Khurshid, taking place in the Front Lawns. Written by a prolific journalist, it is about a Delhi seen through the eyes of the Ambassador taxi—a ubiquitous symbol that for many decades defined Delhi.
Although we were tired, we decided to attend another session that sounded interesting—India at the Crossroads with Lousie Tillin, Sunil Khilnani and John Elliott, moderated by Meghnad Desai at Mughal Tent. The session threw light upon the changing landscape of Indian politics in the present scenario when we are seeing a sort of rebellion against the age old political class and their political methods. The panelists also discussed the Aam Admi Party, and the Congress’ corruption at length.
Having attended so many sessions on the first day itself, we gave ourselves a light pat and headed out of the Diggi Palace to our next stop—the Bapu Bazar. The girls went crazy shopping for bandhini dupattas, suits and sarees in bright colors while the mojari footwear got sold like hot cakes. And owing to the JLF effect the embellished umbrellas and the pagdis also became a popular choice for souvenirs. Shopping eating and merry making marked the end of the first day.
On the second day i.e. on the 19th there were quite a few sessions which I wanted to attend but the organizers had very unintelligently scheduled them early in the morning and thus I couldn’t attend the Freedom of Expression Workshop and The Writer Within: Creating Your First Book. We had reached by 1 p.m. and at that time the much acclaimed lyricist Prasoon Joshi was enthralling a packed Samvaad Hall with his poetry and the stories behind his songs. I guess since he was Bollywood celebrity anybody who couldn’t make sense of anything else around thronged the small hall, and I had to, once in a while, crane my neck and stand on my toes even if just to breathe since taking a look at him was absolutely out of bounds.
After strolling around for a while, we attended the session on the Casualties of Love and Sex: The New Gender Fluidity discussed by Margaret Mascarenhas, Mahesh Dattani, Sachin Kundalkar and Neelima Bajpai in conversation with Bachi Karkaria.
This was, by far, one of the best sessions that I had attended. It threw light upon the reality that every notion about gender, sex and sexuality is a social construct and not nature’s diktat, as is perceived by many. Questions by the audience mostly revolved around the upholding of the regressive section 377 by the Supreme Court of India on grounds of morality.
The last session that we attended for the day before heading back to Delhi was Justice: What is the right thing to do? by Justice Sandel, professor of political philosophy at Harvard. This was the most interactive session of the day as Justice Sandel threw open questions and situations pertaining to moral dilemmas at the audience and engaged them in a healthy debate.
This last session by Justice Sandel marked the end of our two day journey at the Jaipur Literature Festival and we bid adieu to the beautiful bougainvilleas laden Diggi Palace. If someone asks me about my experience I wouldn’t say that I understood everything that the speakers said or that I didn’t sleep through the sessions or that I always managed to catch their accent and didn’t miss out on anything, these minor glitches I think are mostly human.
But if I look at the larger picture, being a part of JLF was worth it—I met new people, made new friends and witnessed live discussions by some very accomplished personalities and it has added to my treasure of experiences.
So if you have the inkling along with some time and money to spare, then this world’s largest free literature festival should be visited at least once.
Did you attend the seventh edition of JLF? Write your opinions in the comment box below.
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