February 5, 2012

Jaipur Literature Festival 2012: Musings

Entrance to the Jaipur Literature Festival

Greetings, dear readers - hope January treated you well and you are looking forward to what February has in store. As for me, I am back from my travels and now gradually slipping back into routine...

While I had been thinking of making a quick trip somewhere else, I eventually ended up in - well, you guessed it - Rajasthan:P once again and fortunately, my trip this time coincided with the Jaipur Literature Festival, which is held at Diggi Palace.

I had attended JLF in 2007 and 2008 when it was not quite the grand literary carnival/cocktail party/spectacle that it has now rather spectacularly transformed itself into and become the cynosure of the global literati and glitterati! Compared to the mammoth 75,000 people who attended JLF this time round, only 2500 people had attended in 2007, for example and I remember the wonderfully intimate, cosy atmosphere that pervaded the festival then. I remember participating in a creative writing workshop in 2007 and one of our first exercises had been to create a pen portrait of an imaginary character. I remember mine was called Chitra and the piece began with 'My eyes are bitter almonds.' Apart from appreciating the  lively discussions we had about creative writing in general as well as the feedback I received regarding my pieces, I kept on meeting the workshop participants for the remainder of the day and  they all  for some reason made it a point to address me as Chitra (while it was amusing the first couple of times, I became a bit weary afterwards, haha) I also remember meeting a lot of other interesting people and having great conversations sitting out in the winter sun, the cheery yellow exterior and royal interiors of Diggi Palace reverberating with activity. I had also happened to discover William Dalrymple's works then so it was thrilling to hear him speak and I also recollect a fantastic, jam-packed session in which Suketu Mehta spoke about his book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found.

This year, though, was a revelation. I happened to arrive right before Oprah Winfrey's session on Sunday, 22nd January and  experienced a virtual stampede that ensued as crowds poured into the Tata Steel Lawns to hear her speak with Barkha Dutt - and that was the sensation I continually had throughout the day, constantly bumping into people - so many people. Also, as I was returning after so long, it struck me that the festival had truly morphed into a carnival: the Indian fashion doyenne, Ritu Kumar's stall jostled alongside the Jaipur jewelry brand, Amrapali, boutiques, food stalls, installation art-works, and whatnot. While I couldn't help but be nostalgic about the previous JLFs I had attended, it also made me realise the sheer magnitude of the festival and the numbers and kinds of people it had attracted. It was a people-watching extravaganaza, whether it was celebrity spotting (the fashion designer, Narendra Kumar Ahmed, Outlook editor and author of his memoir, Lucknow Boy, Vinod Mehta, lyricist and ad-guru, Prasoon Joshi, and of course, the great Gulzar himself, to name a few), fashionistas, college kids, school-girls  tittering about escaping the watchful gaze of their chaperon-teachers, and of course, the authors themselves. 

By the end of it all, I enjoyed this frenetic atmosphere, - sure the crowds had increased manifold, there was barely room to sit and walk...and yet, what was overwhelming was the sheer presence of  vibrant energies, thoughts, ideas, speculations and discussions about books, writers, and the magical process of writing. I particularly enjoyed a wonderful session with Mohammed Hanif, Rabi Thapa and others in which authors talked about the significance of the place they lived in determining their writing, which is a subject close to my heart (Pakistani writer, Mohammed Hanif was especially popular during the question and answer session so much so that moderator, Urvashi Butalia had to put an embargo on questions to him! He looked on bemusedly:). Shabnam Virani's amazing lunch-time concert in which she performed her renditions of Kabir's poetry. Prasoon Joshi, Vishal Bharadwaj, Gulzar and Javed Akhtar's discussion about screen-plays and Javed Akhtar's incredible recital of poetry from his newly launched book, Lava: The Drama of Words, which I endlessly could have listened to. Vignettes from Stalin's life, taking me back to a time when I was seriously considering becoming a historian. Browsing through the Festival Bookshop and fortuitously discovering and buying Dayanita Singh's photo-novel, House of Love. Lamenting the fact that there were so many great sessions simultaneously going on that I wound up missing hearing Fatima Bhutto speak and having to settle on buying her book, Songs of Blood and Sword.

More than anything else, though, it made me contemplate the state of my own creative writing and how much I have allowed real life to neglect it. Hearing writers speak, being in company of writers, browsing through books - it was the best kind of inspiration and motivation that I had been looking for and hopefully, 2012 will see something concrete soon. Here's hoping anyway!

I leave you with a collage of images from JLF:

Durbar Hall

Flower arrangements at a cafe table

Would any festival in Rajasthan be complete without colors?

An installation piece

A lehariya [traditional Rajasthani striped textile print] canopy


  1. Nice to listen to personal musings on the JLF. I've heard so much about it in the news and there were so many campaigns (the signature kind) online that it all felt very political. You didn't mention the Rushdie row - I would have loved to read your thoughts on that. Personally, I agree that the atmosphere must have been energetic, but I can understand how you must have missed the intimate moments the festival had earlier offered.

    1. @Sandhya,I am glad you enjoyed reading my musings! Regarding the Rushdie row, honestly speaking, that itself warrants yet another post - and also, the matter is complicated at so many levels and which I am honestly speaking not qualified to dissect. Incidentally, I had seen Rushdie speak with Barkha Dutt in JLF 2007 but the dimensions of the event were far less than what they are now and perhaps because of that, the visit went off without a fuss...or so I perceive it to be.

      Yes, I personally missed the intimacy...but say, when present in the Javed Akhtar/Gulzar session and hearing the poetry amid the crowd, it felt nothing short of a mushaira - the energy was truly electrifying!

  2. "More than anything else, though, it made me contemplate the state of my own creative writing and how much I have allowed real life to neglect it."
    Ms Pinks Creative-Writer Sacheti...yes...get your act together :P Wow, think it really was a proper Literature thingee...psst...i dropped literature like it's hot in school...no offence to anyone...but...YOUR pieces...make me wanna read more and more and more....


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