Bigger, brighter and brainier: The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) will keep your grey cells busy this year. Although the central theme is the Buddha in literature, even a cursory glance at the programme reveals an overarching emphasis on women’s voices.
“The recent nationwide solidarity on women’s issues is reflected in our list this year,” says Namita Gokhale, co-director of the festival. From award-winning writer and social activist Mahasweta Devi, who will deliver the keynote address, to Zoë Heller, author of the best-selling Notes on a Scandal, now an acclaimed film, women writers clearly have an upper hand this time.
As in past years, regional languages have a strong presence, which is evident from some intriguingly titled sessions: “Stree Hokar Sawal Karti Ho?”, “Bhasha Aur Bhrashtachar”, and “Adhura Aadmi, Adhuna Naari”. A session will be dedicated to the late Bengali writer, Sunil Gangopadhyay, in which actor Sharmila Tagore will read out extracts from his works.
Alongside this “joyous confusion” of the global and the local, as Gokhale describes it, there will be amusement aplenty. “A cricket match between Royals XI and Authors XI is scheduled for 23 January,” festival producer Sanjoy K. Roy says. The former will include Sreesanth, Shashi Tharoor and Tarun Tejpal, while the latter will feature Tom Holland, Anosh Irani, and Charlie Campbell. There will also be a session on cricket with—take a deep breath—Rahul Dravid on the panel.
But frivolity aside, this year’s JLF is marked by a stunning international list. “I was somewhat irritated by the media’s almost single-minded focus on Oprah Winfrey last year,” says William Dalrymple, JLF co-director. “So this year’s international list is deliberately weightier, more scholarly, with a lot of intellectual firepower.” Arguably, with fewer popular names, JLF 2013, Dalrymple says, is meant for “those who know their books”.
One can scarcely argue with that. Wade Davis, one of the three Samuel Johnson Prize winners participating this year, is the author of an extraordinary account of George Mallory’s conquest of the Everest. Of the other two, Orlando Figes is a reputed scholar of Russian history, and Frank Dikötter is the author of Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-62 (2010). The roll-call of prize-winning writers continues with Aminatta Forna (Commonwealth Prize, 2011), Madeline Miller (Orange Prize, 2012), Linda Grant (Orange Prize, 2000) and Howard Jacobson (Booker Prize, 2010), to name a few. Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Jamil Ahmad and Mohammed Hanif from Pakistan are also expected to attend.
Among the academics, Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Homi K. Bhabha (“the gods of post colonialism”, to quote Dalrymple) lead the march, followed by Christopher Ricks, a former professor of poetry at Oxford and celebrated literary critic. Of the lesser-known, though no less brilliant, scholars is Kwasi Kwarteng, a Tory MP of Ghanaian descent and author of Ghosts of Empire: Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (2011). And then there is the inimitable Elif Batuman, a staff writer at The New Yorker and one of the finest essayists of our times, whose name evokes a collective gasp among seasoned bibliophiles. For those interested in art there is none other than the phenomenal Anish Kapoor, who will be participating in a panel on “What Is a Classic?”
A bunch of young, first-time writers bring up the rear: Ananya Vajpeyi, with her recently published book on the Indian republic; Monisha Rajesh, author of Around India in 80 Trains (2012); Ruchir Sharma, best-selling author of Breakout Nations: In Pursuit of the Next Economic Miracles (2012); and Anjan Sundaram, author of a forthcoming book on Congo, to mention a few.
Finally, given the range and catholicity of this year’s programme—the Sharia law, LGBT literatures, Dalit writing, God as a political philosopher, the making of James Bond—some challenging moderation is in order. “There has been some dissatisfaction with the moderation in the past. So this year we have selected the panellists with a lot of care,” Dalrymple claims. Going through the programme, one tends to agree.
The DSC Jaipur Literature Festival will be on from 24-28 January at Diggi Palace, Jaipur. For details, visit www.jaipurliteraturefestival.org
Authors to look forward to at the festival.
u Of Sierra Leonean and Scottish descent, Aminatta Forna won the 2011 Commonwealth Prize for her novel, ‘The Memory of Love’, a tragic story set in post-war Sierra Leone. Hear her on the panel, “Out of Africa”.
u Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for fiction, Madeline Miller’s novel, ‘The Song of Achilles’, revisits the tender love story between Patroclus and Achilles. She will be speaking on, no surprise, the epic imagination.
u Zoë Heller’s ‘Notes on a Scandal’, now a film starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett, explores the troubled friendship between two women. Paired with Monisha Rajesh on Day 1, Heller’s session is supposed to be one of the wittiest this year.
u Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, the grande dame of American academia, translator of Derrida and author of the path-breaking essay “Can the Subaltern Speak?”, will be speaking on “The Vanishing Present”, among other things.