From Nobel Prize-winning biologists to Dalit writers, from feminist scholars to female cricketers, the 12th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival will feature more than 350 speakers across genres and fields, offering new perspectives on a range of topics. The Mumbai curtain raiser of the 2019 Jaipur Literature Festival offered a snapshot of what’s on offer at the event which is touted as “one of the grandest literary shows in the world". The last edition of JLF recorded a footfall of over half a million people, giving it a new moniker, the Kumbh Mela of literature. The 2019 edition of the festival, which will take place from 24 – 28 January at the Diggi Palace Hotel in Jaipur, expects an even larger turnout. This is indeed a long way from the first JLF held in 2006 with an audience of only 16. “Of these, 10 were lost Japanese tourists who had turned up at Diggi Palace thinking it was Amer Fort," says festival director William Dalrymple.
The festival announced its list of speakers at a well-curated event on Wednesday evening at the 112-year-old Royal Opera House in Mumbai, a perfect setting for the synergy of culture and built heritage that are core to JLF’s ethos. A performance by Mooralala Marwada, a folk singer from Kutch, along with his group brought the sounds of the desert to the city and set the stage for the unveiling of the names, which include authors writing across 16 Indian and 12 international languages. The line-up included names like Yann Martel, author of Life of Pi; Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel Prize-winning structural biologist and author of Gene Machine; Dalit writer and winner of the Bangla Academy Prize, Manoranjan Byapari; Sohaila Abdulali, writer of What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape; American journalist and two time Pulitzer Prize-winner, Steve Coll; André Aciman, author of Call Me By Your Name which was adapted into a critically acclaimed arthouse film; Markus Zusak, bestselling author of The Book Thief; and British classicist and feminist writer, Mary Beard. The programming and sessions cover a gamut of topics.
“We have literature from every literary genre from high Pulitzer-winning fiction to chick lit and everything in between. Each year, we invite the big stars who have won the famous prizes and who come in from abroad with a great cavalcade and fanfare. But it’s quite often that the local Rajasthani poets, Dalit writers or other names that you wouldn’t normally expect to be top of the billing who get the largest and most enthusiastic crowds," says Dalrymple.
The writers will be joined by actors, historians, artists, politicians and thinkers who will also weigh in on all the relevant issues and ideas of our times.
“This has been a year with many upheavals and struggles for gender equity—from the landmark judgement on Section 377 to the watershed moment in the Indian #MeToo movement—and our programme this year reflects these issues and concerns with panels on rape, perspectives on gender and a series of rainbow readings," said Namita Gokhale in a speech read out by Dalrymple in her absence.
In keeping with this idea, one of the highlights of the Mumbai event was a panel discussion on ‘#Metoo and the culture of impunity with filmmaker Shazia Iqbal, writer and columnist Shobhaa De, queer activist Saniya Sheikh, Nandini Dias, CEO of Lodestar UM and filmmaker Vinta Nanda and journalist Namita Bhandare. This conversation was a part of a continuum – 2018’s closing debate at JLF was on #MeToo – incorporating all the big developments of the movement in the year gone by.