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Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2019: With focus on younger audience, science fiction, #MeToo to take center stage at the annual fest

Ask the directors of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, William Dalrymple and Sanjoy K Roy, about organising this humongous five-day long literary and cultural extravaganza and they would say that it is similar to planning a ‘Big Fat Indian Wedding.’

The festival is the highlight of the calendar for thousands of readers, storytellers and bookworms, and the directors spend nearly a year organising it, gathering an interesting mix of journalists and authors to take to this platform and address the large crowds assembled on the front lawns of the Diggi Palace in Jaipur.

At the Mumbai curtain raiser of the 12th edition of this Kumbh Mela of literature, Roy said that the festival is such that you can sit on the chair in the front lawn and travel the world without moving an inch.

This festival in Jaipur is touted to be the largest literary festival in the world; the number of attendees increasing with each passing year. It is a space for young people to come in tens of thousands, Roy said. And the festival has especially seen an exponential growth and a massive gathering of the youth from across the country over the last few years.

Of this, Roy said, “It’s actually all an accident in the making.” He added that for the last 12 years the festival had hung on to some of its core principles such as having open access and a vision to invite more and more young people.

“For us, this is important,” he added, “because if we are not able to capture their imagination and their sensibilities, we are not going to make any progress and bring about any social change.”

The strands of the programming this time around have one of the best line-ups according to him with everyone from Man Booker winner Ben Okri to the author of Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman, to Yann Martel, who will be attending the event for the first time making it an exciting prospect.

A panel discussion at the Mumbai curtain raiser of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival on #MeToo and The Culture of Impunity.

A panel discussion at the Mumbai curtain raiser of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival on #MeToo and The Culture of Impunity. Image via Zee Jaipur Literature Festival

The 2019 edition is also set to feature writers, authors and scientists from the worlds of astrophysics, astronomy, genetics, artificial intelligence and related fields.

Priyamvada Natarajan, a Professor at Yale and one of the few Indian women scientists known for her work in mapping dark matter, dark energy, and black holes, will be one of the speakers this year.

Of such a line-up, co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), author Namita Gokhale said that William Dalrymple and she are always [caught] between history and myth but young audiences want to understand the future. Our world is changing very fast and it impacts our lives much more. According to her, artificial intelligence will change the way we tell our stories, it already has in some measure and today’s young readers need empirical thinking. While Indian sci-fi writers will take to the stage in the 2019 edition, the year after that Gokhale also plans to invite sci-fi writers from around the world.

“We are very keen to cross the divide between just liberal arts and science,” Roy said. People need to be exposed to new ideas and new thoughts and making that happen through literature and writing is something that the festival attendees will see much more of going forward," he added.

For his part, Dalrymple said that organising the JLF is like cooking a great meal in which diverse ingredients come together. He concedes that Gokhale and he are polar opposites so it rarely happens that both of them come up with the same set of names for the line-up which makes the event even more interesting.

Over the years, January and Jaipur have figured as important elements for him. “I got to meet all my heroes, both in music and books,” he said. This year, Dalrymple says that one can look forward to an interesting mix which includes two longtime writers at the New Yorker.

It’s a great space for young journalists to come and meet all these terrific speakers, he added.

In January 2018, the literature festival closed with a discussion on the #MeToo Movement and whether or not it was here to stay and within eleven months it was a matter of conversation at the curtain raiser of this festival with the issue garnering much attention over the last few weeks.

An all-women panel at the Royal Opera House discussed #MeToo and The Culture of Impunity: Conversations Across Generations during the curtain raiser, moderated by journalist Namita Bhandare. Panelists Shobhaa De, Nandini Dias, Shazia Iqbal, Saniya Sheikh and Vinta Nanda talked about the effect of the movement on workspaces, its inclusivity and the collateral damage it caused.

Sheikh, who helms many events at the Godrej Culture Lab said that the way she saw the movement unfurl, from the perspective of a queer Muslim woman, was that its language was not inclusive enough. Power structures, not just in terms of who is being called out but also who is calling out do need to be looked at. Whether or not we look at the movement in a binary language, as a relationship or an interaction between men and women also raises the question of inclusivity of the queer people in the narrative, she opined.

About the backlash that the movement has led to with many firms stating that they would fare better if they refrain from hiring women, De said that the it is not something that should discourage women from coming out. The war is already over if women succumb to bullying and it is about time that we name names, she added.

Gokhale said about the movement, “I believe in the fundamentals of the #MeToo Movement. Women should be able to reclaim their dignity and autonomy in personal and public spaces.”

In light of these conversations and debates, the directors also said that two very important women writers, classicist Mary Beard and historian and author Bettany Hughes will be among the key speakers at the festival.

The curtain raiser of the literature festival also featured a performance by Mooralala Marwada, a folk singer from Kutch, Gujarat and his troupe, featuring a recital of earthy and soulful tunes of Sufi music.

The Zee Jaipur Literature Festival will go on from 24 January to 28 January 2019 at the Diggi Palace in Jaipur


Updated Date: Dec 06, 2018 12:39 PM

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