Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2018: Here's what to expect from the 'Kumbh Mela' of lit fests

The Zee Jaipur Literature Festival has been described in several ways — the Kumbh Mela of literature, the ‘greatest literary show on Earth' and 'a place where the socialites and socialists meet'. The preview of the 2018 edition of this festival showed that it is one more thing — a labour of love.

At the curtain raiser held at Mumbai's Royal Opera House, the festival's directors William Dalrymple, Namita Gokhale and Sanjoy Roy spoke about what attendees can look forward to this year and reflected on the previous editions, funny stories and some controversies, too. Though it has become widely successful and popular over the course of a decade, they said that they had come together and conceived of this literature festival "by accident". The 2018 edition boasts of a line-up with a vast range of writers, from Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones's Diary to Peter Bergen, one of the few journalists to ever interview Osama bin Laden, and even Rupi Kaur, who rose to fame with her brand of 'Instagram poetry'.

The festival's selection of authors and sessions is fuelled by Gokhale and Dalrymple's zeal to ensure that Indian authors and writing that is considered more academic than literary finds a place in the line-up. The White Mughals writer, who has brought many of the festival's most famous international speakers over the years, has managed to rope more than 20 Harvard professors for this edition. Gokhale spoke about how from the very beginning she was insistent about ensuring that authors who write in Indian languages, especially those who are not part of the mainstream narrative, find a place at the festival. "The only language that has not been represented is Bodo, and we'll make that happen soon" said Gokhale triumphantly.

 Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2018: Heres what to expect from the Kumbh Mela of lit fests

Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy Roy and William Dalrymple reflected on the previous editions of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival

Of these, Dalrymple's picks are playwright Thomas Stoppard, journalist Adrian Levy, former President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, and author Amy Tan. Gokhale spoke excitedly about sessions on varying subjects, such as the Chinese and Jewish minorities of India, Dalit writing, PG Wodehouse, and the women poets of the Vedas. She recommends the session that will be held about the significance of Hindi in today's world and why it seems to have turned into a "bureaucratic monster". Another event attendees can look forward to is the Oxford Hindi word of the year, which will be announced at JLF.

Many people have raised objections about the inclusion of Rupi Kaur in the line-up. "There are people who don't consider her a poet at all, and I have received so much heartbreak from very serious poets who ask why she has been chosen. But when you study her, you'll realise she is very intriguing, and I quite respect her work. She appeals to a large number of people," Gokhale explains.

Each of the festival directors shared one of their favourite memories from previous editions of JLF. William Dalrymple said that he watched in disbelief as a large crowd of people, including himself, sat silently and listened intently to JM Coetzee talk; he said that the author's cold brilliance forced the audience into submission. He was shocked that Coetzee had accepted their offer to speak at the festival, and talked about the many conditions he put forward before he agreed — a 45-minute-long book reading, four questions from the audience, a panel which he could choose to cancel. Namita Gokhale said that the moment which made her feel truly proud was when one of the authors who had spoken at JLF found herself placed in a 'manel' (male-dominated panel) at another literature fest. She raised a point about being sidelined by the men, adding that this was not true of the experience at Jaipur.

But Sanjoy Roy's favourite memory was the most heart-warming of them all; he narrated the story of how once an underprivileged man walking with his child was stopped by the security guard, because he "didn't look like he belonged". When Roy went up to the guard to resolve the issue, the man told him that he lives on the street across from the venue, and that he was hoping to take his son to the festival because he had heard that people tell stories there. He added that this was his only chance to regale his son with stories, because he did not have the money to send him to school. He and his son were let in, keeping in mind the 'free entry for all' principal of the festival.

The directors recounted how hordes of people who could not afford to live in Jaipur's hotels would end up living at the railway station at night. They also spoke about how teachers from small villages who had attended the festival went back and started reading clubs for their students. Such is the influence of the Jaipur Literature Festival, that it has inspired more than a 100 other literature festivals to emerge and grow, the directors said.

They seem to be largely disinterested in controversy, although the literature festival has consistently made headlines because of comments made by speakers or the choice of certain authors in the line-up, such as Taslima Nasrin. "Controversies are a nightmare, because they distract us from the things speakers want to say," says Roy.

He explains the festival has grown from having 250 attendees in the morning in its first year to be filled to capacity in recent years, and that name recognition is not a worry any more. "This has allowed us to talk about the arts, philosophy, math, the sciences — subjects that other festivals might find it challenging to do, because they wouldn't necessarily be a draw. Here, if you may not be able to get into one talk, you might end up going for another. And there is an assurance that everything you listen to will be exciting and interesting. This has helped us to increase the scope of what we are able to present," he explains.

In terms of vision and growth, all three directors assert that the only primary goal they set for themselves is to ensure that the quality of experience the festival provides keeps getting better. "We ask ourselves, 'How do we stay ahead of the curve without necessarily changing the core philosophy of the festival?' Because the philosophy will always be the same; it can never be mortgaged," explains Roy.

William Dalrymple says that it is a conscious decision to not have themed editions at Jaipur. "That inevitably means an overdose of one thing. Putting together a literature fest is kind of like cooking a meal; you want variety, a little bit of everything. What we do every year is get a mix of the big books each year and big authors, as well as our all-time favourites," he says. Gokhale calls these festival regulars, such as Prasoon Joshi and Javed Akhtar, their 'baaratis'.

How will this edition of JLF be different from the previous ones? Roy promises that attendees will get to know about writing that they may not be otherwise exposed to, or that they wouldn't discover anywhere else. "We've introduced a book club for the first time ever for young people. We have extended the music stage timings and we're going to have a lot of conversations about music, such as the session with Zakir Hussain and the one on the Beatles," he adds. Gokhale emphasised on how more space will be opened up this year to prevent crowding, and that this edition marks the fifth year of the Jaipur Bookmark which has been designed as a space where publishers and writers can interact.

"I think a whole generation of people have learnt to be writers here. They have met and admired writers, they have met agents and publishers. I know so many kids who were volunteers and today, they come as speakers. It has provided a platform of this kind," says Gokhale.

Here's the list of writers who will be speaking at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2018:

1. Abhijit Kothari

2. Gerður Kristný Guðjónsdóttir

3. Lorenzo Angeloni

4. Rajdeep Sardesai

5. Swapan Dasgupta

6. Adrian Levy

7. Akshaya Mukul

8. Amish

9. Anne Cheng

10. Anthony Horowitz

11. Anu Singh

12. Arundhathi Subramaniam

13. Ashwin Sanghi

14. Avinash Das

15. Bachi Karkaria

16. Cathy Scott-Clark

17. Charmaine Craig

18. Chika Unigwe

19. Chintan Chandrachud

20. Chitra Mudgal

21. Elizabeth Chatwin

22. Gaurav Solanki

23. Giorgio Montefoschi

24. Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

25. Ikram Rajasthani

26. Javed Akhtar

27. Julia Donaldson

28. Kiran Nagarkar

29. Lathika George

30. Leonora Miano

31. Lisa Randall

32. Lucy Hughes-Hallett

33. Makarand Paranjape

34. Maya Jasanoff

35. Mira Nair

36. Nand Bhardwaj

37. Nicholas Shakespeare

38. Paramita Satpathy

39. Peter Bergen

40. Pragya Tiwari

41. Pranay Lal

42. Raghvendra Singh

43. Robert Dessaix

44. Rohan Murty

45. Samhita Arni

46. Sampat Saral

47. Sampurna Chatterji

48. Shabana Azmi

49. Snigdha Poonam

50. Soha Ali Khan

51. Sreenivasan Jain

52. Suchita Malik

53. Suki Kim

54. Tishani Doshi

55. Tracey Spicer

56. Tridip Suhrud

57. Vimlesh Sharma

58. Vishal Bhardwaj

59. Vivek Shanbhag

60. Yotam Ottolenghi

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Updated Date: Dec 09, 2017 12:25:37 IST