The last day of JLF 2015 was bittersweet for Yours Truly and the two Sidekicks; on the one hand, it marked the successful completion of this year’s festival while on the other, it meant going back to humdrum academic existence, with its marked lack of cute professors and colourful tents. But we beat on, boats against the current and other such Fitzgeraldian clichés.
The first event of the day was a session with Chetan Bhagat, interviewed by Meru Gokhale, at 10 AM at Char Bagh. As expected, the crowd was truly terrifyingly large. Yours Truly has made her dislike of Bhagat’s work amply clear so the reader might reasonably be wondering why she was there at all. It has everything to do with Sidekick 3 who is in Mumbai and couldn’t come with us but commanded us to go experience our cultural zeitgeist. Also, apparently, I hate a stable blood pressure. Bhagat went on to say a lot of very, very obvious things, to mad, mad applause. He spoke about his work process, the distractions of modern day life, his tryst with Bollywood etc. When asked if politics was the next step, Bhagat firmly said no for which I am truly thankful, considering our political situation is bad enough as it is. Bhagat also said, when asked to respond to what he thought of feminism in India, that he wrote strong female characters that drove the plot in his books. At this point, Sidekick 1 rolled her eyes so hard, I feared she might pass out.
The next session at Google Mughal Tent at 11:15 AM provided the much needed anti-dote to the previous one. Here, British historian Bettany Hughes was in conversation with Avantika Sujan about the former’s book The Hemlock Cup; Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life. Hughes is a wonderful speaker, lively and brimming with a palpable conviction in her subject. Quoting Socrates’ most famous line (‘The unexamined life is not worth living’), she said that inquiry has always been central to being human. She argues that what makes human beings unique as a species is their ability to communicate abstract information to each other, giving the example of Ayumu, a clever ape in Japan who excels at playing video games but does not communicate anything about it to her playmates. She also told the audience that what made writing the book more difficult was the fact that Socrates had left absolutely no written word behind. Therefore, historians like her rely chiefly on Plato’s accounts of him, the accuracy and truth value of which have been ascertained by recent archaeological findings. Hughes then enthusiastically opened the floor to a spirited Q and A session, ending it with taking a photo of the audience yelling ‘PHILOSOPHY!’
Next up was a talk at Char Bagh at 1:30PM titled “The Theatre of War” where Vedica Kant (If I Die Here Who Will Remember Me?), Amrinder Singh (The Last Sunset: The Rise and Fall of Lahore Durbar) and Burak Akcapar (Turkey’s New European Era) were in conversation with John Eliott about India’s unrecognised involvement in World war I. They told the audience that an estimated 1.3 million Indian soldiers were sent to places like France, England, Syria, Mesopotamia etc. to fight on behalf of the British army. They presented an absolutely fascinating slideshow of the photographs of the soldiers in their military finery and discussed the need to unearth such unheard stories from the obscurity of history.
After that, we headed back to Google Mughal Tent to attend the session titled “The Devil in the Grove: Racism, Murder and Rape in the Deep South” where Pulitzer Prize (for Non-fiction) winning author Gilbert King was in conversation with Akash Kapur. Gilbert’s eponymous book is an account of the 1949 case where four young African American men were falsely accused of raping a seventeen year old white girl in Groveland, Florida and were convicted by an all-white jury. Thurgood Marshall, the special counsel with NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund, represented the defendants and succeeded in getting the US Supreme Court to overturn the guilty verdict. In response, two of the four defendants were shot, one fatally and an NAACP colleague was murdered. King, a very commanding presence, spoke with great admiration about the work of African-American advocate Marshall and his courageous, and often thankless, fight against racial injustice in the Jim Crow South. Heartbreakingly, this conversation remains extremely relevant even today, in the light of the extremely public police brutality cases against young African-American men like Eric Garner, Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin.
This session marked the end of JLF 2015 for the three of us and we headed back, discussing the pros and cons of this year’s festival. The three of us agreed that the crowd was only going to get crazier next year. Sidekick 2, who is something of a fascist, suggested booting all the school children out but Sidekick 1 and I think booking a bigger venue will be the more appropriate solution. That gripe aside, I would like to thank the organisers for a truly fantastic and well-organised festival. The programme given to every visitor combined with the giant screens that air the live sessions at every venue ensure full audience engagement and all the volunteers are very polite and helpful. A last suggestion, on the behalf of perennially broke students everywhere, is to make the food at the venue more affordable for all.
Yours Truly and the two Sidekicks decided to end the night in style, going for dinner at Replay which is located on Tonk Road, opposite SMS stadium. It’s a rooftop restaurant, equipped with a bar and giant bowls of fire, very welcome on a January night. A delicious meal later, we were ready to say goodbye to Jaipur and come home, already counting down days till the next time.