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Published on: Jan. 10, 2023, 2:58 p.m.
JLF’s ‘year of plenty’
  • Now, in its 16th year, Jaipur Literature Festival has, over the years, grown exponentially

By Suman Tarafdar

A little quibble to start with. As a regular at JLF, Jaipur Literature Festival of course, are you often left with regret at all the authors you did not get to hear, the sessions you missed because it clashed with another one, the writer you couldn’t get an autograph of, or meet, or even get a ‘selfie’ with? Yes, the unparalleled riches that JLF unloads over five days annually have spoilt us considerably.

If you are a ‘cup half full’ kind of person, accosting/smiling winningly at some globally acclaimed writers, hearing them live, getting your copy personally signed, you may just get a glow that often lasts till the next edition.

Or, if you are like me, you dwell on the misses. More than a decade and a half later, I am still chasing authors and often later bemoaning my lack of being able to be in two – or preferably four places – at once. For, the riches at JLF are vast and varied. This year’s edition has about 250 speakers yet again, ensuring that you will miss more than you meet. 

Who’s coming

Consider the stars – Nobel laureate Abdulrazak Gurnah; Booker Prize winners Bernardine Evaristo, Marlon James, Howard Jacobson and Shehan Karunatilaka; Baillie Gifford Prize winner Katherine Rundell; Ruth Ozeki, the winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction; Pulitzer Prize winners Siddhartha Mukherjee and Caroline Elkins; PEN Hessell Tiltman Prize awardee Rebecca Wragg Sykes; Wolfson History Prize-winning author Ruth Harris; winner of both Brage and Riverton Prizes Kjell Ola Dahl… Of course, International Booker Prize winners Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell can expect to be mobbed. Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar recipient Tanuj Solanki will also be there.  

Then, there are names that even if unfamiliar at present, you would be well-advised to look up -- Christopher Kloeble, David Olusoga, Aanchal Malhotra, Simon Sebag Montefiore, Chigozie Obioma and Jamil Jan Kochai, among others.  

Of course, JLF expanded the narrow ‘definition’ of literature long ago. So, there’s ceramicist Edmund de Waal, archaeologists Warwick Ball and Richard Blurton, a host of museologists, flautist Hariprasad Chaurasia, environmentalist Vandana Shiva, photographer Dayanita Singh, mathematician Marcus du Sautoy and mathematician-novelist (!) Manil Suri.

Go figure. Of course, expect to encounter Javed Akhtar, Nasreen Munni Kabir, Carol Black, P. Sainath, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Shashi Tharoor, Amit Chaudhuri, Anthony Sattin, Deepti Naval, John Keay, Alexandra Pringle, Gulzar, Onir and many other regulars.

You get an idea of how much you might miss! Sanjoy Roy, festival producer & MD Teamwork Arts, ascribes the number of unusually high-profile authors to the opening up after two years of hesitancy about travel. “We have had way more acceptance from some of the leading names than we would perhaps get in a typical year.”

“Every year, we try and raise the bar at the annual Jaipur Literature Festival, but 2023 will undoubtedly be our finest festival yet,” affirmed William Dalrymple, co-director of JLF, at the curtain raiser in Delhi. “We are proud to present almost all the year’s most decorated writers.” For Namita Gokhale, writer, publisher and co-director, JLF, “2022 has been an important landmark in the world recognition of Indian and South Asian literature.”

  • Roy, Gokhale and Dalrymple at the Curtain Raiser in Delhi

Regulars note, this year’s edition, is on slightly changed dates of 19-23 January, though it's thankfully back in January. Last year’s venue of Clarks Amer continues, albeit with an increase to six venues. The general entry is for Rs200, while students can access for Rs100. Of course, you can be a friend of the festival, which guarantees all kinds of insider access, at Rs13,500 a day to Rs56k for five days.

The festival will continue to be in hybrid format. Three of the venues will be broadcast live, while all sessions will be online. The Jaipur Music Stage returns, while a Buzzar is for retail diversions.

Roy points to the profusion of writing that happened during the pandemic, “not necessarily pandemic-focussed but what’s been happening around the world. Russia, Ukraine, much more on history and the sciences… We have tried to ensure we have a good mix. We have broad-based it as much as possible, so that everybody gets space, whether it’s writing or performing arts, photography. It’s a year of plenty, when you look at the number of Booker or other award winners.”

Legacy of the festival

Now, in its 16th year, the festival has, over the years, grown exponentially. While the festival itself loves to refer back to Tina Brown’s quotable quote of it being ‘the greatest literary show on earth’, it could be argued that it has grown or left its mark in oft-unacknowledged ways – from the global expansion it has had to the number of literary festivals it has spawned in the country.

“Looking back, the great achievement that we had is the spread of the JLF, our own and also all of the versions that have been inspired,” says Roy. “People look to us and have created platforms in different parts of the world. What is it that we are doing? This is not a publisher’s festival, where an author reads out from his/her book. Instead, it’s a discussion; it’s about exploring the idea behind the book. This is the behind-the-scenes aspect of the writer, who has written the book – what has motivated them; the whys and the where-ofs, etc.”

  • The trans-cultural musical factory of ideas Peter Cat Recording Company (PCRC) is part of the music stage this year

Also, we have been able to reach out to a large young audience, which is almost impossible in this day and age outside music, says Roy. “We hope this young audience gets influenced and hopefully goes on to do better things for themselves. Another legacy is in translation. This is something we had pioneered 15 years ago through Jaipur BookMark. Unless we are able to bring the stories from different languages out and make those accessible, we will be stuck in a particular kind of perspective which comes from writing in English.”

For Roy, the legacy JLF is most proud of “is that we get a diverse audience, not just PLUs. It could be the school-teacher, who comes from the village 40 km away and has set up a library there. It's about folks from economically difficult backgrounds being able to access … the hundreds of schools we send our writers to.”

JLF now has a number of international editions, spread right across some of the leading global cities. However, to have such a plethora of global stars attend the festival at its flagship venue is indeed a testament to its legacy. To avoid regrets, plan your itinerary well, and you shall have more trysts than misses! 

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