Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019: Literary conversations, underwhelming debate bring Day 5 to a close

The final day of the 12th (and among the coldest) edition/s of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 kicked off with a conversation between Irvine Welsh and Chandrahas Choudhury.

Describing his work as a gateway drug, Welsh talked about how Trainspotting was picked up by many people who had never read a book before (it is also one of the most shoplifted books of recent times) and how it got passed around and read in prisons, putting it into the same category as the Bible.

The author spoke on how his work is about the world in transition; consumerism and its effects; drugs; what taking DMT is like; receiving drugs from fans — basically, drugs and more drugs.

Welsh also bought up his love for Ulysses and football, before briefly touching upon — almost obligatorily — Danny Boyle’s adaptation of his works.

On Firstpost: Irvine Welsh on writing Trainspotting, adaptations of his work, and how Edinburgh has changed over time

On a slow Monday afternoon, with the festival within hours of winding up, Ben Okri, who was attending JLF for the second time, took to the stage to discuss his latest work (The Freedom Artist), and talk about his life, inspirations and experiences.

Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019: Literary conversations, underwhelming debate bring Day 5 to a close

Glimpses of Day 5 at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019. Images via Facebook/@JaipurLitFestOfficial

The Man Booker Prize-winning author also spoke about the relevance of language in the field of literature. “We’re inflamed by the public language of politicians — the demonising language of politicians,” he said, and praised the liberating role of language in the field of literature. He made special mention of poetry in this regard, saying “poetry keeps language functional at the highest level”.

Okri also read from his new book and discussed the central idea behind it — “who is a prisoner?”

Watch: Ben Okri talks about his novel The Freedom Artist, and collaborative relationships among writers

Meanwhile, the book launch of Hardeep Singh Puri’s Delusional Politics: Back to the Future, attended by the author himself, along with Amitabh Kant, Vasundhara Raje, Navtej Sarna, and TCA Raghavan, during the lunch break provided a glimpse into what was in store for the closing debate of the festival, scheduled for later that day. (Hint: flaring passions, one-sided arguments and a lot of loud talking in the mic.)

André Aciman (Call Me by Your Name) and Claudia Roden (A Book of Middle Eastern Food) were later in conversation with Karima Khalil, discussing Alexandria, one of the liveliest and most prosperous ports on the Mediterranean during the first half of the 20th century. While the Greek, Italian and Jewish communities that gave Alexandria its particular flavour, it was above all a literary city, one that gave birth to the poetry and novels of Constantine Cavafy, EM Forster and Lawrence Durrell.

The trio (Aciman and Khalil, born in Alexandria, and Roden in Cairo) talked about their memories of a lost world and being uprooted and exiled from your home country. Roden described how she started collecting recipes from across the Mediterranean region and the people she met along the way; while Aciman talked about experience of being forced out of one’s country, the feeling of homesickness; the transit between the imagined home, the remembered home and the real home (which becomes a “bubble of nothing”); and horrible grandmothers in hell.

Also read: Call Me By Your Name author André Aciman on writing about love, desire, longing, and loss

At last, the final session of the day: a debate titled ‘Do Liberals Stifle Debate?’, with Kapil Sibal, Makarand R Paranjape, Mihir Swarup Sharma, Sagarika Ghose, Salman Khurshid, Sonal Mansingh, Hardeep Singh Puri and Vikram Sampath, and moderated by Sreenivasan Jain.

I could go into the details of who screamed loudest, and who made fun of whom, or who made personal attacks. But, of course, I won’t. It went as poorly as you could possibly imagine. There was no “debate” at all, just populist notions put forward by a panel as confused as the audience about the premise of the whole undertaking.

It was a bit disappointing to end on this note — this series of reports — and the fest itself. But it’s late and cold now and no one will remember any of it in few days anyway. So no point lingering, looking for a poetic end. Just grab what you can, and run.

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Updated Date: Jan 30, 2019 12:09:24 IST

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