Jaipur Lit Fest: Amartya Sen, Reza Aslan and other speakers this year

While we wait for JLF to announce the final schedule, here's a look at the speakers you shouldn't miss.

Deepanjana Pal January 07, 2014 17:02:52 IST
Jaipur Lit Fest: Amartya Sen, Reza Aslan and other speakers this year

We're just about two weeks away from the literature festival that started the circus of 'lit fests' in this country. Once upon a time in the mid-2000s, Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was a modest, homely affair. Today, it is, as editor and author Tina Brown described it, "the greatest literary show on earth".

JLF is acclaimed for the glittering array of speakers the festival brings to India. There are some mighty impressive names in this year's line-up, though purists will wrinkle their noses at seeing names like Ekta Kapoor and Chhavi Rajawat on the list of speakers. While we wait for JLF to announce the final schedule, here's a look at the speakers you shouldn't miss.


Amartya Sen
One of the most renowned economists in the world, Sen is also a very engaging speaker. Expect some well-argued and provocative ideas.

Ashok Vajpeyi

With his wonderful erudition and sense of humour, Vajpeyi makes his speeches a great blend of fact, insight and anecdotes. Few are as learned in both English and Hindi literature as this poet, critic and essayist.

Cheryl Strayed

Strayed wrote a memoir about hiking the Pacific Crest trail and it became the bestseller Wild. If she speaks with even a fraction of the humour and sensitivity in her book, then this will be a fabulous session.

Dayanita Singh

Not only is Singh an internationally-acclaimed photographer, she's also a charming storyteller.

Gaiutra Bahadur

Bahadur wrote one of the best works of non-fiction this year, titled Coolie Woman. Making a book about indentured labourers unputdownable isn't easy, but Bahadur managed this feat.

Jaipur Lit Fest Amartya Sen Reza Aslan and other speakers this year

Geoff Dyer. Courtesy: Jaipur Literature Festival site

Geoff Dyer

He is undoubtedly one of the funniest and most engaging speakers you'll come across at the festival. Dyer is ridiculously well-read, self-deprecating and very, very funny. If he's speaking with Dayanita Singh, then you've got yourself a fantastic session on storytelling and photography.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

If you're a fan of food shows, then you know Fearnley-Whittingstall for his "real food" campaign. If you don't, then know this: the chef/writer/tv personality is an entertaining gent.

Gloria Steinem

She is one of the grand dames of feminism who has been an activist for decades. Provocative, scathing and not one to be cowed down by misogyny in any form, she's bound to raise a few chauvinist hackles.

Jim Crace

Crace was one of the favourites for the Booker Prize last year. The author is a curious combination of honest and secretive, so it will be interesting to see what he lets us see of himself in Jaipur.

Jonathan Franzen

He is one the grumpiest writers in American literature and also one of its poster boys, er, men. Franzen caused a stir recently when he was on the cover of TIME magazine but more important than how photogenic he may be, is Franzen's fondness for making sweeping statements that often raise eyebrows. And the fact that he's a really good novelist.

Joseph O'Neill

O'Neill wrote one of the most fun and charming books on cricket when he wrote Netherland. He's also great fun in his interviews, which means his session should be fun.

MT Vasudevan Nair

Nair may not be as well-known in the northern parts of the country as he is Kerala, but here's a man who can talk with equal ease about film and literature. If you can sneak a question in, then ask him why he's steadfastly maintained that he doesn't identify himself with any one political ideology.

Reza Aslan

Thanks to Fox News, Aslan's new book, a biography of Jesus Christ titled Zealot, shot into the bestseller lists. He has also written about Islam, in case you were wondering, and he isn't afraid of making provocative statements.

Her life has been the subject of a internationally-acclaimed film, but Salma has been charming people with her poetry well before she became the star of an indie film.

Shamsur Rahman Farooqui

Whether or not you've read the magnificent The Mirror of Beauty, don't miss a chance to listen to Farooqui. And keep your fingers crossed that he speaks in Urdu because the language sounds particularly lovely when he speaks it.

Shereen El-Feki

El-Feki has written about sexual politics and power play in the Middle East. She came to Mumbai last year and was part of a panel that included Eve Ensler and Urvashi Butalia. She began as the one nobody knew and by the end, she was the star of the panel. That's how fantastic a speaker El-Feki is. Plus, her book Sex and the Citadel is a great read.

Sunil Khilnani

He's probably better known as Katherine Boo's husband to some, but Khilnani is a brilliant historian and one of those people who can voice powerfully fiery opinions in a very polite and apparently mild manner. He's particularly well-read on the subject of MK Gandhi, for those who want to be prepped for his session.

Tash Aw

If you haven't read any of Aw's books, then get hold of Map of the Invisible World and Five Star Billionaire before listening to him.

Urvashi Butalia

Butalia is best known for her work as a feminist activist, but she's also an authority on Indian publishing. You'd expect someone like her to be extremely serious and stern, but Butalia is a delight to watch and hear.

Vikram Chandra

Polite, erudite and very witty, you can get a sense of how entertaining Chandra is from his new book, Mirrored Mind, My Life in Letters and Code. Geeks of all sorts are very welcome to this session. It's not too often that an author can appeal to literary types as well as computer programmers.

Homi Bhabha

He's one of the most well-respected academicians, but Bhabha is not a man for the masses. Make sure you've had a few shots of espresso before you attend his session.

Jhumpa Lahiri

Her writing is technically magnificent, but it must be said that Lahiri isn't necessarily the most electric of stage presences. Fingers crossed the people speaking to her are able to draw her out.


Adrien Levy & Cathy Scott Clark
From the look of things, they seem to know more about 26/11 than the Indian government. How can you not go hear them?

Amish Tripathi

You may not like his writing, but it's difficult to dislike Tripathi. Impeccably polite, knowledgeable and not weighed down by an ego, Tripathi is a crowdpleaser.

Andrew Graham-Dixon

Graham-Dixon belongs to the rare breed of art critics who can make you feel interested about an artist and their work even if you've never heard of them. This one should be fun.

Arshiya Sattar

As a lecturer, Sattar knows how to hold the attention of a room full of restless people. It helps that she's funny, teeming with insight and delightfully irreverent.

Benyamin Daniel
Goat Days is one of the most poignant novels about suffering and the human spirit. Ask Benyamin about how he came up with the story.

Chandrahas Choudhury
Literary critic, editor, novelist and all-round nice guy, Choudhury is quite the gentleman. You won't find fireworks in this corner, but you will find a fair amount of charm.

Farah Ghuznavi

She's sharp, witty, very well-read and surprisingly knowledgeable about pulpy Bangladeshi cinema. Columnist and author Ghuznavi is immensely entertaining. She's recently come out with her first volume of short stories, Fragments of Riversong.

Indrajit Hazra

Most of the time, Hazra has an aura of befuddlement about him, as though he's still wondering when (and why) we left the 1990s behind. Don't be fooled. There's a whole lot of trivia, sarcasm and debating experience hiding behind that facade.

Jerry Pinto

Flamboyant, full of stories and irrepressible, if there's an author who knows how to work a crowd, it's Jerry Pinto. Woe betide anyone who asks him a question that he thinks is stupid or regressive.

Jonathan Shainin

Until recently, Shainin was working with the magazine Caravan and is credited with playing an important part in the magazine's recent revival. Here's hoping he's able to make the panel he's part of set off a few fireworks.

Margaret Mascarenhas

Mascarenhas was recently in the eye of a controversy concerning a former member of the Goa Writers Group. If not anything else, it showed she's a helluva spirited woman, which means her session should be fun.

Neerav Patel

We don't get to hear Dalit poets often enough, so make the most of this opportunity and listen to Patel. Patel is considered one of the pioneers of Gujarati Dalit literature.

R Sivapriya

She's one of the main reasons Penguin India has such a fantastic catalogue of translated titles. If there's someone you should talk to at JLF about how to bring Indian regional literature to the fore, it's Sivapriya.

Rana Dasgupta

He's not the most charismatic of stage presences, but Dasgupta's got a fine sense of humour and he knows how to make an impression. Plus, he's a brilliant writer and has a new book coming.

Samanth Subramanian

A fine writer and an excellent journalist, Subramanian is someone who can speak knowledgeably about contemporary India. He's also a good moderator.

Shovon Chowdhury

He wrote perhaps the funniest Indian novel last year (The Competent Authority) and fortunately, he's almost as funny in person as he is in his writing.

Supriya Nair

Not too many literary critics can claim to be as knowledgeable about football and One Direction, but Nair is a woman of much expertise and great charm.


These are the people who have very little to do with literature, but are bound to fill venues. Just know that if you show up for celebrity sessions like Ekta Kapoor's, you will be judged (harshly).

Astad Deboo, dancer and choreographer
Chhavi Rajawat, sarpanch
Ekta Kapoor, Bollywood and television producer
Irrfan Khan, Bollywood and Hollywood actor
Javed Akhtar, lyricist and poet
Manavendra Singh, politician
Mary Kom, sportsperson
Prasoon Joshi, lyricist and advertising professional
Shashi Tharoor, politician
Yashwant Sinha, politician

Updated Date:

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