Tag Archive for 'Jaipur Literature Festival'

The Nandy bully

S. Anand in Outlook:

Ashis Nandy is a reason-buster. That is his e-mail id, his raison d’etre. And when he makes totally unreasonable comments, his friends expect us to stand and applaud. His acolytes—who have predictably and unimaginatively started an online petition to save his right to free speech and have created a blog dedicated to him—tell us that the political psychologist (a term he uses to describe himself) likes to “illuminate through anecdote, aphorism and irony”. But apparently Dalits, adivasis and OBCs—he lumps together 70 per cent of the population—and those of us non-Dalits whose work requires us to actually know something about caste, cannot understand such nuances.

 At the outset, let me state that I am not for Nandy’s arrest—though an absolute right to free speech should make us defend the Thackerays and Akbaruddin Owaisi as well—under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, for that would trivialise the realities of caste violence. Like my friends Chandra Bhan Prasad and Kancha Ilaiah have said with such grace and maturity, let us forgive Nandy and not drag him to court.

 But first let us look at what exactly Nandy said in Jaipur. Here is a faithful, unedited transcript based on a YouTube video via ABP News. My comments figure in parenthesis, and these are necessary, for what transpired on stage was a performance with gestures, pauses and interruptions adding to the overall effect.

Nandy: How should I put it? Almost a vulgar statement on my part. [Raises his voice and speaks slowly, with deliberate emphasis on each word.] It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from the OBCs, and the Scheduled Castes and now increasingly Scheduled Tribes. And as long as this is the case, [the] Indian Republic will survive… [some interruption, with moderator Urvashi Butalia saying “Alright” as if sensing the tension and wanting to move on; TV journalist Ashutosh is raising his hand in protest, but Nandy soldiers on]. Also, I’ll give an example. One of the states with the least amount of corruption is the state of West Bengal, that is when the CPI(M) was there. And I want to propose to you, draw your attention to the fact that in the last hundred years [pause] nobody from the opp… [opposition? oppressed?], nobody from the OBCs, the Backward Classes, and the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes have come anywhere near power in West Bengal. It is an absolutely clean state. [Point made, Nandy wants to pass the mike.] More:

The Dalai Lama in conversation with Pico Iyer at Jaipur LitFest

Swing away from sanity

In The Telegraph, Mukul Kesavan on what’s wrong with illiberal arguments

I knew about Imran Khan in a second-hand way well before I’d heard of Salman Rushdie. India didn’t play Pakistan at Test cricket till 1978, so Indian cricket fans didn’t know that much about Pakistani cricketers through the Seventies, but we knew about Imran, mainly because of a three Test series in Australia in 1976-77 where Imran’s bowling made sure that honours were even at the end of it. This was a real achievement, given that the Australians had wiped the West Indies out, 5-1 in a six Test rubber not long before. Then Bishen Singh Bedi’s team toured Pakistan in 1978 and Indians got to see Imran in awesome action, in live, black-and-white telecasts. We lost 2-0 and Imran’s fast in-swingers had a great deal to do with that defeat. I remember thinking at the time that it was the first time I had seen a genuinely quick south Asian bowler in action.

Salman Rushdie became part of the collective consciousness of anglophone Indians in early 1981 when his second novel, Midnight’s Children, was published. For many desireaders of my generation, Midnight’s Children was proof that it was possible for a post-colonial Indian writer to write ambitious fiction in English. There had been many worthwhile novels written in English by Indians after 1947 but none that had used the language in this unafraid, proprietorial way. I was a graduate student in Cambridge at the time the book was published and I watched Rushdie collect the Booker Prize on television (it was the first year that the BBC did a live telecast of the event). There were similarities with my first sighting of Imran: I watched the telecast in black-and-white because a black-and-white TV set was all my friends could afford; also, it felt like a sporting contest. According to the bookies, the two main contenders for the prize were Rushdie and D.M. Thomas (for The White Hotel). Everyone in that room was a desirooting for Rushdie; our team won. more

On Rushdie visit and free speech

For a moment of statesmanship

Manu Joseph in Open:

The Indian government, on the other hand, is a direct beneficiary of not only electoral politics but of the powerful values on which this country was built. If the Indian government enjoys far greater dignity than the Pakistani government, if the Indian Army general has to plead his case with the government or fight in the Supreme Court against it for a one-year extension of his term while, historically, the situation has been the reverse in Pakistan, it is because of the philosophical foundation of modern India. But the government has often chosen the cowardice of practicality over the courage of morality. And it has, once again, failed to stand up against religious thugs because it is afraid that it will lose Muslim voters in UP and elsewhere, who are crying hoarse anyway saying that they are not so stupid. It is atrocious that a representative of such a government will allow himself to be a guest speaker at the Jaipur Literature Festival when his government has not guaranteed the security of Salman Rushdie. More:

It’s a two-way street

Namita Bhandare in Hindustan Times:

Three parables from modern India. A man writes a book that offends some people enough to ban it and, for good measure, demand his head. Salman Rushdie goes underground, in time the fatwa is forgotten, he emerges from hiding and continues writing and travelling.

Then, a curious thing happens. He is invited, again, to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival. His name appears on the programme, again. Out pops seminary Darul Uloom Deoband demanding his visa be revoked (in fact, as Rushdie tweets, he does not require a visa). It is no coincidence that a state election where Muslims are a sizeable presence, is around the corner. It does not matter that most have not read the still-banned Satanic Verses. Yet, a Congress spokesman replies cautiously that the government is ‘considering’ the request; others hint at law and order problems and Rushdie cancels his visit. More

Salman Rushdie and India’s new theocracy

Praveen Swami in The Hindu:

Salman Rushdie’s censoring-out from the ongoing literary festival in Jaipur will be remembered as a milestone that marked the slow motion disintegration of India’s secular state. Islamist clerics first pressured the state to stop Mr. Rushdie from entering India; on realising he could not stop, he was scared off with a dubious assassination threat. Fear is an effective censor: the writers Hari Kunzru and Amitava Kumar, who sought to read out passages from The Satanic Verses as a gesture of solidarity, were stopped from doing so by the festival’s organisers. More:

Vikas Bajaj in NYT:

Mr. Rushdie’s cancellation is the latest in a series of blows to free speech in India that have included a court challenge to Google and Facebook for what a petitioner claimed was content that is offensive to various religious groups, and a proposal by a senior Indian minister to prescreen content posted on social networking sites.

The Indian Constitution offers its citizens only a qualified right to free speech and allows the government to restrict speech if it deems it offensive or unacceptable to community sentiments. Moreover, the national government has often done little to protect artists, authors and others who have been singled out for violent protests by religious, ethnic and other groups. Maqbool Fida Husain, one of modern India’s greatest painters, died last year in London after living in self-imposed exile for the last several years because the government could not guarantee his safety from right-wing Hindu groups that criticized his paintings of Hindu goddesses. More:

At Jaipur LitFest, writers read excerpts from The Satanic Verses in support of Rushdie

Salman Rushdie persuaded to stay away from Jaipur Lit Fest

From The Times of India:

A major flashpoint ahead of the Jaipur Literary Festival has been avoided with a jittery Rajasthan government on Monday persuading organizers to ask Salman Rushdie, the main draw at the book-lovers’ jamboree, to call off his visit.

Rajasthan chief secretary Salauddin Ahmed is learnt to have called the organizers to discuss Rushdie’s presence that, sources in the state government said, would have created a huge security risk, given the threat of protests by Muslim groups.

“Rushdie’s trip has been cancelled. We have been informed,” said a senior Rajasthan police officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. The organizers, however, didn’t confirm the cancellation but the Booker Prize-winning author’s events on the January 20-24 programme were purged from the JLF website. More:

The slimy cowardice of the soft state

And now, a litfest for the troubled Valley

Will Autumn bring hope? The Kashmir Valley gets its first litfest. In TOI.

The Kashmir Valley has not seen a peaceful summer since 2007, but autumn may yet bring hope. In September, Srinagar will get its own literature festival: the Harud Lit Fest (Harud is autumn in Kashmiri). The three-day event, organized by the Jaipur Lit Fest team, will have the same mix of book readings, interactive sessions with authors and cultural programmes.

In addition to literati, people from the world of arts, music and cinema will show up. Aamir Khan will lead the film industry along with Naseeruddin Shah, poet Javed Akhtar and director Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The list of authors who will be present is not complete, but a source said it would certainly include Basharat Peer (Curfewed Night), Mirza Wahid (The Collaborator), Siddhartha Giggoo (The Garden of Solitude – considered the first authentic account of Pandits in exile) from the Valley. There is speculation that Salman Rushdie might drop by, while Mohammed Hanif, Fatima Bhutto from Pakistan and Victoria Schofield (Kashmir in Conflict) are also being approached. more

How to read in Indian

The long history of a literary argument that refuses to go away. Nilanjana S Roy in Caravan:

Outside the heavy wooden gates that guard the Neemrana Fort-Palace against unwanted day visitors, local villagers and the curious, a dusty, winding path leads back to the highway. In 2003, this path was no more than a narrow lane, so narrow that two vehicles could not pass side-by-side, and to find it blocked by the carcass of a dead pig brought a caravan of writers to an unexpected halt.

The writers had been brought to Neemrana by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations and a team of enthusiasts that included Namita Gokhale—now one of the directors of the Jaipur Literature Festival—who felt that India needed a festival of its own. Delhi, in particular, and India, in general, had been no stranger to such events in the past. The grand mushairas of the Mughals were so splendid, so challenging and so famous that Mirza Farhatullah Baig could create an imaginary Last Mushaira of poets from across the country, with imaginary sawaal-jawaabs, in the court of the last Mughal, Bahadur Shah Zafar.

The tradition continued, as Nirad C Chaudhuri recorded in 1937:

“I had a joyous feeling at the prospect of going to the conference at Patna. Such gatherings were a typical cultural recreation of the Bengalis working and settled outside Bengal, the expatriate Bengalis as they were called: the Bengali Diaspora, who never forgot their Zion in Calcutta. Thus in every important city or town in northern India there was a cultural club to keep alive the traditions of Calcutta life. Patna was a big city, the capital of Bihar and Orissa, and it also had a large Bengali population… The sessions of the conference were very well attended, actually in hundreds. In India lectures always attract very large audiences, however abstruse the subjects.”

One of the big questions at any gathering of this sort is a simple but unsettling one: What does this curiosity mean? The audience at Neemrana was missing—the idea was to allow writers to spend time with each other, undisturbed by the voices of the masses. They would return to Delhi and spend another two days discussing versions of the topics they had already discussed, this time with the public in respectful attendance.

The book launches and festivals of 21st-century Delhi were not precisely the kind of “cultural recreation” Chaudhuri had spoken of, which had its roots in the tradition of the adda, the teahouse discussions for which cities like Kolkata and Mumbai had once been famous. Book launches were symbolic displays of an author’s importance, often displays of status and power, in a city ruled by the need for both; they were, geographically, held almost exclusively in South Delhi, and areas like Pitampura, Badarpur, Shahdara and Shalimar Bagh lay well outside the charmed circles of the India Habitat Centre and Aqua at The Park. More:


India’s bold and brilliant daughter

Arundhati Roy took the world by storm 14 years ago with her book, The God of Small Things. Today, she is India’s harshest critic and its most fearless activist, writes Ian Jack in The Guardian.

Arundhati Roy will turn 50 this year. I hope to be excused of sexism (would one write this of a man?) when I say that she looks no more than 35 at most. Her vitality has always been striking. I remember her from one of her early visits to London as a slight, supple woman with an Indian cotton bag slung over her shoulder, and gleaming skin and hair that suggested yoga and aerobics, yoghurt and juice made from fresh limes. My wife had baked scones in her honour. Roy looked at the scones as though they might be deep-fried Mars bars, but eventually and daintily conceded to try one. In her bag was the manuscript of a first novel that was to make her famous and (by the standards of writers) rich, and though some of that future could have been predicted (the manuscript had caused a stir among publishers), no one could have foreseen the Booker prize and editions in 40 languages. What has happened since the success of The God of Small Things is even more surprising. Among Indian public intellectuals, a bright category that includes the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Roy is probably now her country’s most globally famous polemicist, as both a writer and speaker. Her essays are published across the world – the Guardian published a recent one in five parts – and she can pack out a big venue in New York and still have a few thousand listening outside. more

Is Generation Zia writing South Asia’s best fiction?

Tripti Lahiri in the Wall Street Journal:

It’s interesting to note the different place Partition holds for India and Pakistan. For India, Partition – a traumatic event in 1947 that created today’s Pakistan and India out of British India – is still a terrible historical mistake, but Pakistanis obviously think about it differently.

At a Friday session at the Jaipur Lit Fest, Urvashi Butalia, director of the publishing imprint Zubaan, kept coming back to the question of Partition and how it’s shaping recent Pakistani writing – only to be told that it’s not.

“For us ‘47 isn’t the big date,” said writer Kamila Shamsie. “Neither is ‘71.”

(The latter year is when East Pakistan split off from West Pakistan to become Bangladesh, and while it may not inform Pakistani writing that much, it is shaping new novels from Bangladesh, such as “The Golden Age,” by Tahmima Anam).

For a long time Partition, Ms. Shamsie said, has been a conversation Pakistanis her age feel forced to have with Indians before they can move on to more interesting topics. More:

Ane below, Margherita Stancati in WSJ:

A female Dalit poet fights back in verse

The categories into which Meena Kandasamy falls—Dalit and female—have put her among those Indian society has historically tended to oppress and marginalize the most.

Repeated humiliation pushed the 26-year-old to fight back—through her social activism and her inflammatory writing, in verse and prose.

In a recent interview at the Jaipur Literature Festival, Ms. Kandasamy, who is from Tamil Nadu in south India, said the aim of her poetry is to send a social message.

In her poems she addresses issues of caste and untouchability—something that stems from her being a Dalit, considered the lowest and most oppressed of India’s castes and formerly known as “untouchables”. More:

[Image: Meena Kandasamy]

Coetzee here, Amis there, the solid book in between

Sudeep Paul on Day 2 of Jaipur Literature Festival. In The Indian Express:

There’s nothing in a literature festival more literarily stimulating than the carnival atmosphere. Plenty of words, wordplay, a couple of Nobel laureates but without the sense of magnitude and detail — crowds, durbars, tents, tented lawns, tainted halls and painted faces — how would the global zeitgeist be captured even by the convergence of so much literary genius on a historic locale for colour, continuity and mock controversy? Are these writers on holiday, or writers at work?

A fitting question when every step you take can be crisscrossed by J M Coetzee walking to and from venues, with his sensitive look and sharp, detached eyes, dodging anybody remotely resembling a journalist. You may be tempted to sneakily click a snap, knowing that’s as far as you will get to this high priest who very, very rarely sits for an interview. (And Martin Amis, never shy of a chat, is not talking after an “incident” on Day 1 as the excuse goes.)

But Day 2 at the Jaipur Literature Festival, which saw H M Naqvi get the first-ever DSC Prize for South Asian Literature for his Home Boy, brought out that essential incompleteness and turbulence in the global story of literature — anxieties about the future of the book, concluding on the affirmation that the book matters and will last irrespective of its mutations.

Kiran Desai set the book in perspective in a morning session calling it the “one solid thing” in an age of television and Internet where fast words go over everybody’s head. Desai’s enduring, intimate object, “a hand that you can hold”, should survive the anxiety in the West about the death of the book, as John Makinson, CEO of Penguin, put it. Makinson himself thinks it’s the opposite — it’s time to enlarge and enfranchise new audiences. More:

More here on H M Naqvi wins first DSC Literature Prize for South Asia

A guide to Jaipur’s Literature Festival

In The Wall Street Journal:


11 a.m. “Pamuk & the Art of the Novel”

Famous for his novel “My Name is Red” and his memoir “Istanbul,” Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk will be in conversation with Mumbai-based novelist and book critic Chandrahas Chaudhury. If you miss him on Friday, you can still see him on Saturday afternoon with Kiran Desai. (Front Lawns)

5 p.m. “Bulle Shah”

This session is on the life and works of 17th-century mystic poet Bulle Shah. Speakers on this panel include a young star of Pakistan’s contemporary literary scene, Ali Sethi, composer, lyricist and script writer Madan Gopal Singh and Professor Christopher Shackle. Sanskrit scholar Sheldon Pollock will open the session. (Front Lawns)


Noon. “Gata Rahe Mera Dil/The Songs that Moved Us.”

Some of Bollywood’s most famous poets and lyricists will come together for this session – a journey in the world of Hindi film music. Among them Gulzar, famous also outside India for his hit tune “Jai Ho,” soundtrack of the Oscar-winning movie Slumdog Millionaire. He will be flanked by Javed Akhtar and star advertising writer Prasoon Joshi. (Durbar Hall)

2.30 p.m. “Hall of Shame: Caste and Its Exclusions.”

This panel focuses on writing by people who belong to a social group that traditionally fell at the bottom of India’s caste structure, Dalits. Speakers include young female writer and activist Meena Kandasamy, intellectual and professional maverick Chandra Bhan Prasad and British author Patrick French. (Durbar Hall)

2.30 p.m. “Imaginary Homelands.”

The authors at this session have focused on writing about countries they have often left but not forgotten. Speakers include Junot Diaz, whose Pulitzer-Prize winning “The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao” is set between the Dominican Republic, where he was born, and New Jersey, his home. Others include Marina Lewycka, author of “The Short History of Tractors in Ukranian,” who lives in Yorshire and Nepali author Manjushree Thapa who spends much of her time in Toronto. Pulitzer-Prize winner Kai Bird will also be on this panel. (Front Lawns)

5 p.m. “Out of West.”

If you missed out on Mr. Pamuk Friday, this is your chance to hear him speak again, this time with Indian Man Booker Prize Winner Kiran Desai and British-born author Rana Dasgupta. Other panelists include Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adiche and Sudanese author Leila Aboulela. They also will be addressing issues of language and identity. (Front Lawns)

Full program here; and at the Festival website

Jaipur Lit Fest organizers pick top books

William Dalrymple in Hindustan Times: Turn to Jaipur for a magical literary tour

Which kind of Jaipur Lit Fest visitor will you be?

In the Hindustan Times, answer this simple quiz by Indrajit Hazra to find out

It’s that time of the year again when the bookies get divided into two categories: one, those who trudge their way to Jaipur to listen and watch the writers and critics, baul singers and the gliterary set strut their stuff; and, two, those who don’t go because they won’t suffer the paperback masses (entry at the Jaipur Literature Festival is free), insisting all the while that they’ll skip it because they find  the ‘tamasha’ unbearable. Attending a book event is a totally different experience from reading a book. But attending a literary ‘performance’ can be a pleasurable experience. Like there is a good book and a bad book, there can be a good book event or a bad one, the latter usually marked by a droning sound from a stage.

So here’s a ready reckoner to tell you what kind of Jaipur Lit Fest visitor you will be:

1) You see Orhan Pamuk having a quiet moment with Kiran Desai. Your reaction is:

a) to saunter up and get a photo taken with them.

b) to conduct a quick comparative study of Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence and Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss.

c) to give Pamuk your manuscript and ask him to put in a word with some publishers. more

The Literary Raj: Hartosh Singh Bal vs. William Dalrymple

Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Click on the festival website and the first name that comes up is William Dalrymple: ‘the author of seven acclaimed works of history and travel, including The City of Djinns, which won the Young British Writer of the Year Prize and the Thomas Cook Travel Book Award; the bestselling From the Holy Mountain; White Mughals, which won Britain’s most prestigious history prize, the Wolfson, and The Last Mughal, which won the Duff Cooper Memorial Prize. He divides his time between New Delhi and London, and is a contributor to The New York Review of Books, The New Yorker, The New Statesman and The Guardian. He published Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India to great acclaim in October 2009, and the book went straight to the top of the Indian bestseller list. He is a director of the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival.’

I have been told that Dalrymple is a personable man, and in my own encounters with him I have indeed found him so, but what is of interest in this context is not Dalrymple the man, but Dalrymple the phenomenon. How did a White man, young, irreverent and likeable in his first and by far most readable India book, The City of Djinns, become the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India? More:

…And William Dalrymple takes exception to the piece:

“The piece you ran is blatantly racist”

From Open:

After all, I am hardly a pampered expat on a three-year expenses-paid stint. I have lived in this country on and off for more than 25 years—most of my adult life since I first came here in 1984—and have done so on the hard-earned royalties of my books. I have now written five books on India which, whatever their many failings, surely represents a serious commitment of time, work and love to this country.

I conceived, co-founded and co-direct the DSC Jaipur Lit Fest, which is now the largest in the Eastern half of the globe, and brings fine writers together in 12 of India’s 22 official languages. Thanks to the funding we work hard to raise, it does so entirely for free, for anyone who loves literature, in addition to which we raise money to provide bursaries for those who can’t afford it to attend from across India. To date, I and my co-director Namita Gokhale have been paid little more than expenses for this labour of love, which now takes up about a quarter of our year.

Over two-thirds of the writers I and Namita invite are desi. The British contingent, Brown, Black and White, make up a minority within the minority of the firangi contingent. This year our two keynote international speakers are Turkish and South African, and our special subjects are literature from India’s Northeast, from Palestine/Israel, and from the region now known as Af-Pak. The idea that this joyously multi-vocal festival, which has fought hard to promote Dalit, bhasha and minority literature, represents some sort of colonial hangover is both ignorant and extremely offensive, not just to me but to the whole team who labour to make it happen, and to the sponsors who donate funds to make it possible to present the writers without charge.

So why publish a snide and malicious piece that casually rubbishes both my work and the literary mela I helped to found, by someone who has never once attended the festival? More:

…and below, Bal joins issue:

Does Dalrymple know what racism really is?

I will ignore the snide remarks and innuendos that so liberally dose his letter, restraining my urge to reply in Punjabi, but I will answer a charge that cannot be glossed over—the charge of racism. This is the second instance recently that we at Open have been subjected to the argumentum ad hominem: Barkha Dutt and some of her supporters have suggested that the case against her was rooted in misogyny, and now William (his letter does imply we are on first-name terms), who has stated that my original article was ‘blatantly racist’. It is a serious charge, designed to deflect attention from the real issue. In elaborating this charge, William exposes the weakness of his case when he states: ‘If anyone was to suggest that Amit Chaudhuri shouldn’t judge the Booker Prize, or direct Britain’s leading creative writing course, because he was too Bengali… it would be regarded as blatantly racist.’

This is a complete misstatement of my premise. The equivalent of what I said would be the claim that ‘the fact that Amit Chaudhuri, a Bengali, judges the Booker Prize’ says something about the British literary scene. Of course, it does: it says something positive about a literary arena that had long been marked by exclusion. In the same way, I have claimed that William’s centrality (whether in Jaipur or otherwise), especially considering how he defines himself, says something about the Indian literary scene, except here it says something negative because the Indian and British literary scenes are not equivalent. The Indian literary scene is marked by a clear sense of inferiority to the British scene, and continues to be beholden to it. For this very reason William becomes a symbol of what is wrong with our literary life. More in Open

India’s groupthink on Islam

Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s talk at the Jaipur Literature Festival shows how globalization is changing the debate. Sadanand Dhume, the author of “My Friend the Fanatic: Travels with a Radical Islamist” (Skyhorse Publishing, 2009), in the Wall Street Journal. Dhume is writing a nonfiction book on the impact of globalization on India.

Speaking to a packed hall, with her burly bodyguard unobtrusively off-stage, Ms. Hirsi Ali spoke about Islam—and its problems with individualism, women’s rights and sexuality—with a frankness unfamiliar to most Indians. She described the faith she was born into as “a dangerous, totalitarian ideology masquerading as a religion.” She argued against the moral relativism that has prevented Western intellectuals from scrutinizing Islam as they do Christianity and Judaism. She asked why it seemed impossible to have a sober discussion about the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad without riling Muslim sentiment, and made the case for bringing the Enlightenment to the blighted lands of the Middle East and Muslim South Asia. Ms. Hirsi Ali touched upon India only briefly, to contrast the country’s success with the dismal state of neighboring Muslim-majority Pakistan. More:

Literary magic

Niall Ferguson, Stephen Frears, and Wole Soyinka kick off the fifth annual Jaipur Literature Festival. Olivia Cole reports for The Daily Beast

For over a hundred years, Jaipur, the so-called “Pink City,” was famously gray. It was only in 1882 that it was painted pink (the traditional color of welcome) in honor of a visit by Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort. That sense of hospitality is apt for its literary festival, opening today. Now in its fifth year, from the start the philosophy has always been that it should welcome as many readers as possible. Some 20,000 are expected, but this is not a place with green rooms, wrist bands, or VIP areas, despite the fact that this year’s lineup is just a few starry names shy of a large constellation. more

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the wildcard draw at the Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare from the Jaipur Literature Festival:

Her name was never on the official programme issued by the Jaipur Literature Festival, but Ayaan Hirsi Ali, often described as Europe’s most controversial politician finally managed to  get her visa to attend the fest only at the last minute. Despite her quiet, unpublicised entry, she drew packed crowds when she spoke to Shoma Chaudhury of Tehelka on Islam and her journey towards becoming an infidel.

The author of The Caged Virgin and Infidel spoke about how the Koran is viewed by Islamic believers as a complete book and how the Prophet is infallible. “Every discussion that is even slightly critical of the Koran leads to the accusation that the discussion is a sin, that you are an infidel,” Ali told the audience at the Diggi Palace Durbar Hall, venue of the Jaipur Literature Festival. “Islam is exempted from the kind of systematic scrutiny that, say, Christianity, is subjected to.”

Ali is a prominent critic of Islam and her screenplay for the Theo Van Gogh movie Submission led to death threats and to Van Gogh’s eventual assassination. The Somalia-born author, activist and feminist has been living under tight security in Washington, where she is a fellow with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, since.

Unlike other religions that allowed for criticism, Islam brooks no questioning, Ali said. “In Islam you submit your will to a force outside yourself, to a collective will,” she said. Describing the Koran as a book written within a certain cultural context in the 6th century, she said many values are outdated. For instance, she said, in Islam, men and women are not equal, homosexual relations are not tolerated, women found guilty of adultery are required to be stoned to death, and the list of obligations under Islam have led to an environment of bigotry where believers are obliged to distance themselves from non-Muslims.

Hirsi disputed the idea that Islam is under seige. “The idea that Islam is under seige is an Islamic idea. In the name of Islam you have many organised groups and states committing violence and terrorism,” she said. “Islam in this context is a danger to global peace.”

Also read in The Indian Express: ‘When fundamentalists run out of arguments, they call you an infidel’

“It is important to off-set Islamic values with Western values. In Islam, men and women are not equal, a woman’s testimony is worth half of a man’s, and homosexuality is not acceptable. Is there a way to have a discussion with Muslim fundamentalists about Islam without offending them? No,” says Ali, who feels that Islam needs to go through the same “enlightenment” process that other religions have gone though.

Come ye all to Asia’s biggest literature fest

William Dalrymple, Co-director, Jaipur Literature Festival, in the Hindustan Times:

In January in 2004, I was invited to give a reading in Jaipur at a new festival of music and dance that had just started in the Pink City. The reading took place in a small room at the back of the university. No one was able to find it and the event was sparsely attended —maybe 30 people, largely elderly aunties, turned up to hear it.

That evening, I suggested to the organiser, Faith Singh, that maybe something could be done to start a small literary festival around her Jaipur Heritage Festival, just as Edinburgh had its Book Festival running alongside the main Edinburgh International Festival.

Two years later, the festival finally kicked off with 18 authors. All were Indian-residents, “and two failed to show up,” remembers my co-director, Namita Gokhale, who has done more than anyone else to make that idea a reality. More:

Back with a bang: Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any bigger, the DS Jaipur Literature Fesival is back with Season V (Jan 21-25), with more international writers, more Indian writers and certainly a bigger anticipated audience than previous years.

Writers who’ve confirmed attendance include Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka, Booker Prize winner Roddy Doyle and Amit Chaudhuri, widely regarded as India’s best-known writer of his generation.

To pretend that there is a hierarchy or even a social pecking order at the fest would be misleading. There are no tickets; entry is free to all. Everybody queues up for lunch and dinner — everybody including Salman (Rushdie), Pico (Iyer) and Vikram (Seth). Writers and readers lounge in the winter sun, signing books, drinking coffee and gossiping (oh, the gossip).

The Lit Fest is the baby of writers William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale. Writing for The Guardian recently, Dalrymple said: “Wherever I appeared at literary festivals around the globe, all the usual celebrated Indian writers were there – everywhere, that is, except India.” 

And so, began India’s quest for a fest. Starting with 17 writers over three days, the fest will this year include 160 writers and performers. [See the complete programme and list of writers attending here.]

This year’s festival is set once again in the charming, heritage Diggi Palace, the haveli of the Thakurs of Diggi, a small princely state. The Durbar Hall with its Venetian mirrors and framed portraits of venerated gods and ancestors seats about 300. Over the years, however, as the number of writers descending on Jaipur has gone up, Diggi Palace has sprouted new venues. There’s the Mughal Tent (which seats about 100 people), Baithak (about 75) and the front lawn (can easily take upwards of 1,000).

It was at the front lawn, last year where Vikas Swarup received news that Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle’s film based on his book Q&A had received 11 Oscar nominations. The crowd erupted in a roar as Swarup made his hasty departure for the film’s Mumbai premiere. Jai Ho.

Every fest has its own little gem, its highlights: Salman Rushdie ticking off ‘hostile’ journalists for what he saw as unfriendly reports in the press. Vikram Seth getting ticked off by a local newspaper for sipping a glass of wine while speaking to his moderator Sonia Faleiro.

This year’s showstopper could well be a controversial, woman writer and thinker. Her name is not up on the official programme yet, because she is yet to get a visa. But, do watch this space. If she comes, fireworks.

Previously on AW

The greatest literary show on earth

Slumdog glory

Rough Guide to the Fest

Once I wanted to live and die in India. Not now

Ian Jack in The Guardian:

India’s hunger for the English language is manifested in the names of its schools. In Jaipur, the chief city of Rajasthan, under the letter B alone you can find the Blue Bells school, the Blue Birds school and the Bo-Peep school. Some don’t sound so salubrious: the address of the Modern Happy school is listed as “Behind Petrol Pump, Gapalpura Model Tank Road”. Many of them are likely to have been inspired more by profit than by educational ideals, their innocent nursery names disguising black-hearted entrepreneurs making a quick buck from Hindi-speaking parents who are anxious to promote their children into better jobs via familiarity with the world’s most powerful language. It is easy to imagine an Indian variant of the kind of school satirised by Dickens and Waugh – schools born out of similar middle-class ambitions – in which a poorly-paid Miss Gupta chants the class through Wordsworth’s Daffodils while dreaming in their inward eye of a couch in Bollywood rather than Windermere.

The one I visited in Jaipur last month, however, seemed a model of commitment. This was the Step by Step school, one of a chain of fee-paying English-schools in north India, and I’d been invited to talk to the pupils about “journalism, your life, those kinds of things”.


The greatest literary show on earth

The annual Jaipur Literature Festival might have met with lukewarm coverage by the Indian press, but the world press goes ga-ga.  Amulya Gopalakrishnan writes for Tina Brown’s The Daily Beast, calling it with considerable hyperbold the ‘greatest literary show’ on earth.  Brown was also one of the speakers at Jaipur.

gopalakrishnan-jaipurEvery January, the ancient city of Jaipur, India, celebrates the written word in a literary festival co-founded by Indian writer Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple, the British travel writer and historian, that easily places first in Asia for cultural cachet and star power. It’s hard to believe that the festival is only three years old, given the crackle and buzz around its events and personalities—Salman Rushdie chose the occasion for his first public appearance after the fatwa. And this year too, through five sun-drenched mornings and vivid, musical evenings in the dignified old Diggi Palace, the festival made headlines across India.


And Jeremy Kahn in the International Herald Tribune  says the fest has grown from a small, regional affair to one of international stature

In India’s headlong rush into modernity, Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, is hardly on the cutting edge. A fixture on the tourist circuit, it is best known for its pink-walled old city, its 18th-century Maharashtra’s forts and havelis, its classic jewelry and its traditional, technicolor patchwork textiles. But for a few days each January, this city lays claim to a place at the heart of the contemporary literary world.


Slumdog glory. But where is the author?

Posted by Namita Bhandare from the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Spot the author

Spot the author

On the day that Danny Boyle, A.R. Rahman, Anil Kapoor and the cast of Slumdog Millionaire lit up the red carpet in the film’s Mumbai premiere on Thursday, January 22, one man without whom the film wouldn’t have existed was airdashing from Jaipur to make it just in time to get news of the film’s stupendous 10 Oscar nominations. It was Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the film is based.

Swarup was clearly the star of the Jaipur Literature Festival’s first day’s events as a line of school children and other fans queued up to get a copy of their book signed by the diplomat-author. On the day the Oscar nominations were announced, Swarup slipped away to make it to the Mumbai premiere, although festival organisers said he was expected to return to Jaipur. Back in Jaipur it was another star associated with the film, lyricist Gulzar who basked in the glory of the announcement as champagne was popped and the audience broke into huge applause.

Swarup is chuffed about the film based on his novel reaping such huge dividends in the awards circuit (it won four Golden Globes, picked up 11 BAFTA nominations and has now received 10 Oscar nominations, including one for Simon Beaufoy for best screenplay adaptation). But he told author William Dalrymple, festival director with whom he had an hour long public interaction, that he had not been invited to the London premiere and finally had to buy his own ticket from Pretoria in South Africa where he is posted to London. “People kept asking me what I thought about the film and I hadn’t even seen it. So, I finally decided to buy my own ticket.”

Swarup seemed reconciled to the many changes and departures from his book in the film, although he said that the first draft of the screenplay had certain inaccuracies which he then had to fix. “However, the author becomes obselete once the film-makers come into play,” he said.

In Swarup’s book, the protagonist is named Ram Mohammed Thomas, a name changed to Jamaal Malik in the film. Salim in the book is not Jamaal’s brother but rather a street-smart friend. Even the title Q&A — which has a certain iconic ring to it, as pointed out by Dalrymple – was changed. Swarup defended the change saying that Slumdog Millionaire had a certain evocative quality. Moreover, he conceded that Beaufoy has been ‘faithful to the central premise in the book’.

But there were others in Jaipur who felt that Swarup ought to have been given more importance at the premiere and award ceremonies of Slumdog. “It’s a bit sloppy on the film-makers’ part to have left him out. I can only hope that it is an oversight,” said an admirer who didn’t wish to be named.

Swarup also brushed off criticism — most notably from Amitabh Bachchan — that Slumdog is too negative in its portrayal of a seamy underbelly of Mumbai. “India is so large and multifarious that a single book cannot represent the whole reality. It is at best only a slice of Indian life; not the only version of it,” he told Dalrymple.

Slumdog was to have premiered in Jaipur as part of the literature festival on Wednesday January 21, a day before the Mumbai premiere. The festival’s official programme lists the premiere in the presence of Vikas Swarup and Anil Kapoor, the film’s most recognisable Indian star. But the organisers announced that the premiere had been postponed to January 23 — and gave no reason for the decision.

Ironically, the copies of Q&A available at the festival venue (and the copies that Swarup signed in Jaipur) had a still from Slumdog the movie prominently displayed on the front jacket and was being sold as Slumdog Millionaire, the book previously known as Q&A! So, Slumdog could end up pushing the sales of his book. Don’t be surprised if he ends up having the last laugh. 

See reviews of Slumdog Millionaire in the Indian press here, here and here.

Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest

Posted by Namita Bhandare:

I know the organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival (Diggi Palace hotel, Jaipur, January 21-25, entry free to all) love to say that the festival is democratic and that they don’t want to pitch one session over and above the others but here’s what I think will be the star events at the Lit Fest:

1. The Indian premiere of Danny Boyle’s Slumdog Millionaire. That the film has reaped awards at the Golden Globe and is tipped to be an Oscar favourite has only added to the curiosity factor. And now that Amitabh Bachchan has blasted the film for daring to show the ‘murky under belly’ of Mumbai (has he taken over from where Raj Thackeray left off?), the pre-publicity hype has just got a notch hotter. As they say in showbiz, any publicity is good publicity. Anyway, to come back to the film: present at the premiere will be, no not Danny Boyle (he’ll be in Mumbai) but Vikas Swarup who wrote Q&A, the book on which the script is based, and also, apparently, Anil Kapoor. I’m a bit alarmed by the filmi flourishes which the festival’s PR guides seem to favour (they roped Aamir Khan in last year), but I guess they’re doing it because they believe it sells the festival. If you ask me, the festival (now in its fourth year) doesn’t need much selling. Continue reading ‘Bachchan, Slumdog & more: a rough guide to the Jaipur Lit Fest’

Writes of passage

Namita Bhandare in the Hindustan Times questions the wisdom of film star Aamir Khan’s presence as a delegate at the Jaipur Literature Festival 

I yield to nobody in my regard for Aamir Khan as a fundamentally decent human being. I doff my (metaphorical) hat at his courage to follow his politics and I applaud from my heart at Taare Zameen Par (TZP) as a sensitive, socially-relevant film that every parent, teacher and thinking adult should watch.

Yet, even I have to question the wisdom of Khan’s opting to attend the Jaipur Literature Festival recently, not as a participant — because surely it was his right to attend an event that has free entry for all — but as a delegate.

Now Khan may be a fine actor and a sensitive director, but he’s no writer; not at least to the best of anyone’s knowledge although he does post occasionally on his blog. His conversation with Tehelka’s Shoma Chaudhury had little to do with books (though someone from the audience did ask what he had read in recent times) and more to do with films, particularly TZP. Quite clearly, even Shoma, a lit fest veteran, was aware of the awkwardness, beginning her conversation by wondering aloud what Aamir was doing at a festival that celebrates literature.


Fatima Bhutto: I don’t want to be a political inheritor

NewsPostIndia caught up with the charismatic Fatima Bhutto at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival 

The lines between the world of books and politics blurred once again Thursday when Fatima Bhutto, the 25-year-old niece of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto, said she wanted to make her mark – but without the Bhutto tag.

The young author, who inherits the Bhutto legacy of politics from her father Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, her aunt Benazir and her father Murtaza all of whom died unnatural, brutal deaths, was the cynosure of attention at the ongoing Jaipur Literary Festival here.


Romancing with literature and culture

A grande dame and a man who can never grow old. Indrajit Hazra on day one of the Jaipur Lit Fest in the Hindustan Times.

dev-anand.jpgWHERE HAVE all the civilised gone? Nayantara Sahgal, resplendent at 80, received a standing ovation at the packed Diggi Palace hotel after she delivered the keynote address at the start of the third Jaipur Literature Festival.

Titled ‘Climate Change’, the author’s speech was (thankfully) not about greenhouse emissions, but about the current climate of change across the world in which cultural diversity is increasingly coming under threat either from religious quarters or from those hardselling globalisation. But it was her lament of people not listening and coming to terms with the ‘other voice’ today that left the Jaipur audience speechless.

Continue reading ‘Romancing with literature and culture’

Vidal drops out of Jaipur Lit Fest. Political nieces, Fatima Bhutto and Nayantara Sahgal will attend

An update on the Jaipur Lit Fest by Namita Bhandare

One day before the Jaipur Literature Festival kicks off at Diggi Palace, comes a press release that America’s most eminent man of letters, Gore Vidal will not be attending after all.

Vidal was slated for top billing and was scheduled for two interactions: one with NDTV’s Barkha Dutt on Saturday where he along with author and festival organiser William Dalrymple was to have spoken on The World Post 9/11. Vidal was also scheduled to have interacted with journalist Shoma Choudhury on Sunday on Life and Letters.

Continue reading ‘Vidal drops out of Jaipur Lit Fest. Political nieces, Fatima Bhutto and Nayantara Sahgal will attend’

Confidence and pride beyond political class

Indian self-confidence is despite and in spite of its political class writes Namita Bhandare in Mint
 Politicians aren’t known to be thin-skinned. Yet, even the thickest of this amazing breed must have noticed a serious image problem that just got worse this past one week.
In no particular order: Uttar Pradesh chief minister Maya memsaab had a birthday party—her own symbolic “let them eat cake” moment, with diamonds and a helicopter as gifts. Even as a shocked nation watched senior bureaucrats feed behenji her favourite cream cake in a spectacle of sycophancy came the news that one of New Delhi’s most awaited, and needed, expressways (to Gurgaon) was ready to roll but that the aam aadmi (common man) would have to wait.
The reason? No VIP was available to inaugurate this “very important road”. Despite a “people’s inauguration”, the expressway remains shut—it is now to be inaugurated by Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and other significant politicians later this week.
Then there was the absolutely unedifying hullabaloo over the Bharat Ratna.

Vidal, McEwan to attend Jaipur Literature Festival

New Kerala 

Jaipur is set for a literature festival which will see participation by Gore Vidal, Ian McEwan, among others

The pink city of Jaipur is set to host a five-day literature festival from Jan 23, with participation of famous writers including American novelists Gore Vidal and Donna Tartt and Booker Prize winning English novelist Ian McEwan. Continue reading ‘Vidal, McEwan to attend Jaipur Literature Festival’