The third day at the Jaipur Literature Festival featured several interesting panels; the difficulty being which ones to choose! Neha Yadav reports.
The third instalment of my Jaipur Literature Festival chronicles begins at 10:00 am in the morning with yours truly and two trusted sidekicks huddled shivering in the Mahindra Durbar hall, poring over our very helpful (and very colourful) Festival Schedule. The talk titled ‘Love and War: Literature, Danger and Passion in the Second World War Readings’ featured authors Alison McLeod and Lara Feigel reading from their books, Unexploded and The Love Charm of Bombs respectively. Both books deal with the “abnormal lucidity” of the war through the experiences of private individuals- exhilaration, terror, illicit love affairs, compassion, cruelty, hope and waiting.
Next stop was ‘Casualties of Love and Sex: The New Gender Fluidity’ at Front Lawns where Margaret Mascarenhas, Mahesh Dattani, Sachin Kundalkar, Neelima Bajpai and Bachi Karkaria discussed the tyranny of a society where supposedly personal matters of love and sex are in fact deeply regulated by public structures of law and social morality. They inevitably brought up the recent Supreme Court ruling on Section 377, citing it as unconstitutional and discriminatory. Other speakers of note during the day were Bollywood lyricist Prasoon Joshi, author of historical fiction William Dalrymple and Vikram Chandra. One constant heartache in this otherwise happy festivity is the task of making a daily choice between fantastic speakers and sessions.
At 3:30 pm in the Front Lawns began the session I and everyone I know, had been salivating over- ‘Jesus the Man, Jesus the Politician’ with author Reza Aslan, who is what we in the academic circles refer to as intellectual heartthrob. His two books Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth and No god but God: The Origins, Evolution and Future of Islam take controversial religious stances. Zealot is an impeccably researched book about Jesus as a historical personality, shaped by the forces of his time and culture, not the saviour or the Son of God. Aslan’s self-deprecating sense of humour, incisive wit and sincere immersion into his subject makes him extremely endearing. His obvious charisma was evident in the mile-long line of admirers in the book-signing line, one of which was me. At my turn, I asked him if institutionalised religion would exist in his Utopia, to which he replied with a ridiculously charming smile, “No, but spirituality will.” Sigh.
The last session of the day was a talk titled ‘Confronting the Classics’ with Mary Beard, Vidya Dehejia, Naman Ahuja and Alex Watson. Mary Beard, a Professor of Classics at Cambridge and author of Pompeii, specialises in Greek and Latin Literature. Naman Ahuja is a Professor of Ancient Indian Art and Architecture at JNU, Delhi while Vidya Dehejia is a Professor of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University. All three spoke with great warmth and affection about their respective field of research and reiterated the importance of engaging with our collective pasts since that is an integral part of identity formation. Mary Beard, who spoke with the intelligent candour that marks the best of professors, urged academia to forego ridiculous jargon and stop talking down to people on the outside, insisting that the purpose of all academic study, especially Classics, is to teach one a love for learning. On that idealistic note ended the talk, and I went away feeling immensely validated as a student of humanities.
We ended the day with a leisurely dinner at the Indian Coffee House on M.I. Road which I recommend to all readers if they are planning a trip to next year’s festival. The food is wholesome and inexpensive and it is located near the JLF site. I now bid the gentle reader an adieu, with a promise to return with an account of Day 4 tomorrow