The Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 concluded on January 21st, after 5 days of non-stop literary fun. Neha Yadav is already experiencing withdrawal symptoms!
The last day of Jaipur Literature Festival 2014 dawned cold, wet and grey- perfect backdrop for a Bronte novel but a real nuisance for event organisers. My two friends and I, in the pink of health despite ill-advised consumption of frozen yogurt and chilled Cokes, arrived at the venue fully expecting chaos and mayhem. We were however, very pleasantly surprised at the efficiency and good humour with which the organisers and the guests dealt with the whimsical weather. A number of earnest looking youth with wind-whipped pink cheeks were stationed at all the venues to inform guests about the various location and session changes.
The first session of the day was Jim Crace in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhry about his book Harvest, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2013. The interview took place in the toasty warm and consequently packed British Airways Baithak where Crace joked about feeling right at home (England) because of the weather. This was the third Crace session that I attended and in me, he has found another devoted reader. He spoke with deep insight and dry humour about the subject of Harvest- the beauty and dispossession of the 15-16th century Enclosure movement in England – and fiction in general.
A remarkable fact that he brought to our attention is the power that a narrative voices give one. The classic form of oral storytelling is the past tense (Once upon a time) thereby giving the teller complete control over the story whereas jokes are always told in the present tense, making them more democratic. There is a wonderfully pleasing lilting quality to his speech, made more effective by his largely matter of fact manner. I heartily recommend that everyone reading this try at least one of his works.
Next up was Jim al Khalili speaking in the Mahindra Durbar Hall Humanities Center about the white-washing of scientific achievements over the past centuries. Khalili spent his childhood and youth in Iraq before migrating to Britain and therefore, the routine effacement of the immense Arab and Persian contribution to science is a subject very dear to him. The warm lighting combined with the small size of the room imbued the session with the lovely intimacy of campfire storytelling. Khalili himself is a brilliantly warm and funny speaker, talking about heavyweight historical and scientific facts with such practiced ease that the audience has no trouble comprehending. For those interested in the specifics of the talk, I suggest Khalili’s book The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance.
The next session, titled ‘Red Blooms in the Forest’ featured Gujarati author Kaajal Oza Vaidaya and children’s books author Nilima Sinha reading from their respective books. Vaidaya’s latest book is a tale of Draupadi’s agony and woe, particularly in the aftermath of the war. It’s a laudable feminist rendition of one of our oldest myths. Red Blooms in the Forest marks Sinha’s first foray into adult fiction. This is a book that deals with the Naxalite movement through its protagonist Champa, a young brave girl swept by circumstances into the thick of the violence.
The last event of the day that we could attend featured Jack Turner speaking about his book Spice: History of a Temptation with Mary Beard. He spoke intelligibly about the spice trade between ancient Rome and India and the various discourses around spices- medical, commercial etc. It was quite surreal to realise just how expensive and exotic our now-humble pepper and ginger were some centuries back. The session ended, we took a last look around the venue, still beautiful in its bedraggled state and prepared to make the long journey home. We returned with what we thought wasn’t possible- a deeper love and appreciation for our subjects and the conviction that we’ll be back again. And when we are, I hope to see you there!