Time for Jaipur to eat, drink and breath literature & art

The 13th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival offers its customary magical experience to all art, culture and literature enthusiasts, writes Chhavi Bhatia

For five days towards the last week of January, Pink City Jaipur eats, drinks and breathes only literature as authors – popular and unknown, intelligentsia, thinkers, bibliophiles and curious first timers make a beeline for Diggi Place. Bookmarked from January 23 to January 27, the grand dame of global literary festivals, the Jaipur Literature Festival, opens its 13th edition, providing its customary magical experience for all art, culture and literature enthusiasts.

With more than 250 authors, thinkers, politicians, humanitarians, journalists and popular culture icons picking their brains on polity, geopolitics, climate changes, gender studies, and other burning topics, and not to forget books, the JLF is rightly the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’.

The grand dame of literature festival that has spawned many less lustrous cousins across the country, will feature in its repertoire unique tales about food and the memories food inspires, in its 2020 edition.

The five-day literary extravaganza is looked forward to for the exemplary line up of speakers that it brings on the platform, and according to organisers, it is going to live up to the expectations it has set over the years.

Hosting some of the world’s best literary minds, experts from diverse fields such as literature, economy, environment, food and science take the stage for stimulating and thought-provoking conversations. This year’s stellar lineup includes eminent speakers such as 2010 Man Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson, Pulitzer-winning authors Stephen Greenblatt and Dexter Filkins, celebrated culinary expert Madhur Jaffrey, acclaimed author Elizabeth Gilbert, and leading Indian film director Vishal Bhardwaj.

The vast kaleidoscope has speakers representing over 15 Indian languages and 24 international languages as well as major awards such as the Nobel, the Man Booker, the Pulitzer, the Sahitya Akademi, the Ramon Magsaysay Award, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, PEN Award for Poetry in Translation etc. 

“This is our strongest Jaipur line up ever. We have an especially triumphant line up in non-fiction with a world-beating roster of award-winning historians, biographers, memoirists and travel writers including our biggest haul of Pullizer Prize winners ever with major international stars like Stephen Greenblatt, Dexter Filkins, Anand Gopal and Suketu Mehta,” says writer and festival co-director William Dalrymple.

“We also have an impressive line up of Booker-winning novelists including Howard Jacobson and John Lanchester, Leila Slimani from France and Elizabeth Gilbert from the US. Above all, we’ll have a special focus on climate change with world-leading experts like David Wallace-Wells,” he adds.

A major highlight of the five-day long event is Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee’s session ‘Poor Economics: Fighting Global Poverty’, where he talks about his innovative field research-based approach to development economics. He explains the need to understand and measure what happens in the real world to alleviate poverty, and the necessity of making the poor and their decision-making central to the process.

Political philosopher and provocateur Anand Giridharadas will take on the privileged classes in his hard-hitting new book, the bestselling Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. Investigating the global elite’s efforts to ‘change the world’- except using ways that threaten the social order and their position atop it, the author will get into a conversation that offers transformative perspectives to complex societal problems.

Memories of floods in Kerala, Mumbai, Chennai, Srinagar, Patna over the last few years when nature unleashed it fury, remain fresh, Experts have time and again reiterated that these were not isolated freak phenomena, but signal a deeper ecological devastation.

In a panel discussion consisting economist, environmentalist and politician Jairam Ramesh, authors Viju B and Krupa Ge in conversation with Marcus Moench, they will bring this calamity right at the doorstep, imploring to think about the consequences of societal folly in abusing nature.

China’s mammoth Belt and Road Initiative(BRI), straddling almost 70 countries, is an infrastructure project of staggering complexity. Bruno Maçães, author of Belt and Road: A Chinese World Order will discuss the ambitions and implications of BRI as it tracks new trade and energy routes, with particular emphasis of its feasibility and implications in India and South Asia in a session with Indian authors Manoj Joshi and Sujeev Shakya in conversation with former Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao.

Leading British foreign correspondent Christina Lamb will be in conversation with eminent journalist Suhasini Haidar in a talk about Nujeen who escaped the hell of war in Aleppo and travelled to Europe on a wheelchair. The session will touch sensitive issue of our times- immigration and asylum.

Speaking about JLF’s vast repertoire, author and festival co-director Namita Gokhale said, “Every January, a galaxy of writers and thinkers converge in the heritage city of Jaipur to celebrate the human imagination and the dreaming mind. We are the largest free festival in the world and also perhaps the youngest with 60 per cent of our audiences below 25. We look forward to these crucial conversations between cultures, communities, and generations.”

Women and their role in literature also takes centrestage this year with acclaimed biographers Bettany Hughes, Jung Chang, Lindsey Hilsum and Hallie Rubenhold discussing the difficulty of penning the lives of women in conversation, questioning how does one capture the life of a woman in writing, and how different is a woman’s biography from that of a man.

Moving to geopolitics, author and ex-Portuguese minister Bruno Maçães, ex-national security advisor to the Prime Minister of India Shivshankar Menon, and Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University Deepak Nayyar will discuss and dissect Asia’s place in the new world order. The trio has penned three different books, all focusing on the Asian story (development and economics) and its role in world politics.

Five of the world’s celebrated novelists— Elizabeth Gilbert, Leila Slimani, Avni Doshi, John Lancaster and Howard Jacobson will share their insights on the art of the novel with Damian Barr. The panel discussion focused on fiction writing will answer questions like where does fiction come from? What is the process of its creation? How does one make up characters and situations that are believable- and why should the reader care? Go on a nostalgic journey with acclaimed author and actor Madhur as she walks through her childhood during British Raj and how the food that she feasted on during her childhood in Delhi, her summer travels in the Himalayan foothills and during her eventual shift to Britain, shaped her life.