Neha Yadav from the IndiaBookStore team is reporting live at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2014. Read on to see what’s happening at the most happening literary event of the year!
We (yours truly and two friends) started out on the journey to Jaipur via Ajmer Shatabdi extremely sleep-deprived but full of the kind of nerdy excitement only people pursuing a bachelor’s degree in literature and history can. The train arrived half an hour late due to low visibility, making us miss the opening act. We checked in, threw luggage into the nearest available spot, finger-combed hair and rushed out to join the festivities.
Armed with shiny participant passes, we made our way through brightly-coloured sea of people, shivering with both cold and restless energy. The festival complex is a series of aesthetically designed tents and temporary shelters, decorated in greens, blues and yellows with a lot of intricate mirror work. Beside these, there are stalls for optimistically overpriced food, coffee, handicrafts, traditional attire and books.
The first event we attended was renowned feminist Gloria Steinem in conversation with Ruchira Gupta on the event of the launch of her new book As if Women Matter at Char Bagh. The topics under discussion were wide-ranging- prostitution and its legal status (“When men and women are equal, prostitution reduces”), patriarchies, division within the feminist movement etc. She ended the talk by reminding the audience that change begins at the bottom and urged strangers at the fest to interact and form new friendships, business contacts, love affairs!
Next, we rushed to the Front Lawns to attend Amartya Sen’s interview with John Makinson. Amidst a jam-packed seating arrangement and professionals with intimidating looking cameras, we quietly claimed spots on the ground and prepared to be awed. We were not disappointed. Professor Sen spoke about mathematics, morality, the Ramayana, his Nobel Prize Speech of 1991, Shantiniketan and various other subjects with endearing humility and incisive depth of perception. The highlight of the session for me was his answer on being asked for his opinion on AAP, where he said that AAP needs to decide who exactly the ‘aam aadmi’ is- those who wants cheaper electricity, gas and water or those without access to any of these.
After this was a session on Literary Criticism with Carsten Jensen, Geoff Dyer, Chandrahas Choudhry, Philip Hensher and Rana Dasgupta moderated by Homi Bhabha. This turned out to be the liveliest event of the evening, chiefly because Dasgupta is rather attractive and Bhabha, Dyer and Hensher are clever and hilarious. The five men debated, and not always with politeness, the importance and nature of modern criticism in relation to artistic production.
Last event of the day was ‘The Experience of Global War 1937-1945’, a talk by Antony Beevor, a military personnel and author of four novels and ten books of non-fiction. He spoke about the strategic military decisions during World War II and the ground-root reality of death, savagery, loss but also unexpected acts of compassion. On this poignant note ended a day of satisfying intellectual activity and we returned exhausted and ravenous, raring to do it all over again on Day 2.