"Are you planning to go to the Jaipur Literature Festival?" is a question I have faced year after year, and I too was desperate to visit the biggest literary festival in Asia. But unfortunately the stars never aligned to make it happen. This year too it seemed difficult, but then at almost the last moment, things fell in place. And I found myself standing at the entrance of Diggi Palace, Jaipur.
If you are visiting the festival for the first time and reach the venue in the afternoon on the second or the third day, the first thing that will probably strike you is the sheer number of people walking in. And the number of young people among them. For someone who is forever worried about the bookstores closing down, this was a very comforting sight.
The festival authorities also take security very seriously (as they should!). And after passing through several security checks, I finally made it to the festival. The decor inside was classy and very festive, and the atmosphere electric. One look and I realized that all sessions will at least be houseful.
The first session that I attended was titled "Fry on Wilde" which had the legendary Stephen Fry talk about Oscar Wilde, an author he has always admired. Fry is an authority on Wilde. Throughout the talk his love for Wilde was very apparent, and the way he concluded the talk left us speechless. I don't think there was anyone in the audience who wasn't moved by it. Audience expressed its love for Fry by giving him a standing ovation. I am so glad I could attend the talk.
Next we sat through the launch of ShabdVedh, a book by Arvind Kumar. The book was launched by none other than Javed Akhtar. A huge crowd had gathered to catch a glimpse of Javed Akhtar, but the session on the whole was just average.
The third and the last session of the day was "A Room of One's Own", which had Ila Arab Mehta, Anuradha Roy, Ira Pande, Alka Saraogi and Ruby Hembrom, in conversation with Anjum Hasan. The panel started off with discussing Virginia Woolf's essay A Room of One's Own and went on to reflect upon how easy or difficult and how important it is for a woman writer to have a physical and metaphorical room of her own. On the whole, it was an interesting discussion expertly moderated by Hasan, who was the best moderator (of all the moderators I was able to see in action at the festival). Raghu Karnad came a close second, in my humble opinion.
We closed the day with a visit to the festival bookstore. Throughout my life I have never been able to come out of a bookstore empty-handed and this was no exception. Moreover, one of my favorite authors Jerry Pinto was signing books and I bought his book Helen simply so that I could get it signed by him. I came out with no less than 6 books.
We started the next day with the session "Nazm Uljhi Hui Hai Seene Mein" which had Gulzar Sahab in conversation with Pavan K Varma. They read from Green Poems, a collection of Gulzar Sahab's poems about nature, translated by Pavan K Varma. It was one of the most well-attended sessions of the festivals and the audience, though there wasn't an inch of free space, was very well-behaved. The session was exceptional and the jugalbandi between Gulzar sahab and Mr Varma was witty and fun, despite the fact that the melancholy in some poems gave me goosebumps.
We then headed for "Jaane kahaan Gaye Woh Din : New Books on Old Bollywood" but found ourselves losing interest soon. So we decided to take a break and have some food. The festival grounds were brimming with several eating options, all of them good quality and tasty. And they weren't too expensive. We had chaat, an all-time favorite. However, you could also go in for Pizza, burgers, pasta, nachos, and cakes, if you so wished.
After this we attended "Outside In, Inside Out: Decoding India's Visual Culture" for a bit and then walked in to listen to Armistead Maupin in conversation with Siddharth Dhanvat Shanghvi in "Tales of the City". Both the sessions were okay and enlightening in bits and pieces.
The session titled "The Biographers", which had Victoria Glendinning, Ben Macintyre, Hannah Rothschild, and Tristam Hunt in conversation with Raghu Karnad, was another interesting session and one we were hooked to right from the beginning. Not only were the views of the panel interesting in this session, even the questions from the audience were relevant and exploratory.
We attended a couple more sessions after this, but none of them matched up to "The Biographers", so I would rather not mention them here. However, there are a couple of other things worth mentioning. The washrooms were extremely clean despite the sea of humanity floating around. If Diggi Palace can manage this during Jaipur Literature Festival, there are absolutely no reasons why we can't have clean loos in our railway stations and bus stands too. I think it all comes down to the intent.
The final observation is that a lot of interesting conversations and meetups happen during the afterparties, so if one is interested and so inclined, one can find out the process of attending one. For us this year, the decision to attend the festival happened at the last moment so we were ill-prepared for the party. But next time I promise to be better prepared. Looking forward to JLF 2017 already.