In its first year, the organisers of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival were hoping they would be lucky enough to have 300 people show up. Over 500,000 people are expected to attend its 12th edition, and if history is any indication, the number is going to be much higher.
Billed as the greatest literary carnival on earth, the festival's 2019 edition kicked off with a rousing musical performance by Pune-based classical musician Shruthi Vishwanath. She extolled the power of words in her set, which spanned languages ranging from Tamil to Bangla, and included the words of poet and saint Tukaram:
'Words are the only jewels I possess, words are the only clothes that I wear, words are the only food that sustains my life, words are the only wealth I distribute among people'
Her stirring performance was followed by a keynote address by Nobel laureate Sir Venkatraman ‘Venki’ Ramakrishnan, who talked about the need for bridging the gap between science and the humanities. He extolled the power of the impact that a mutual understanding between the two can play in fostering progress. A scientific approach isn't just limited to the classroom or laboratory, though; it can be applied to everyday life as well. "We need to realise when people use scientific language to propagate nonsense," said Ramakrishnan.
The rest of the day brought enriching conversations, ranging on topics from the political process and gender identity to manuscript restoration and writing about writing. One of the crowd favourites, though, was undoubtedly ‘#Tharoorisms’, a conversation with politician and writer Shashi Tharoor, who has become known for his expansive vocabulary. In addition to just discussing these Tharoorisms, though, he also spoke about juggling multiple roles. “Positions come and go," he said. "I’m already a former minister, one day I’ll be a former MP, but I hope to never be a former writer."
Another crowd-puller was
Because We Are: A Portrait of My Father, a chat with Gulzar and Meghna Gulzar, who decoded their relationship, and how it has affected each of them personally, professionally and creatively. The duo shared a series of delightful anecdotes, some of which appear in Meghna's book Because He Is...
When asked about how she maintained objectivity while writing about her own father, Meghna simply replied that she didn’t. “I’m actually proud of the subjectivity that is in the book," she explained. “There’s an emotionality that makes it more honest writing. It doesn’t feel like it is being censored, self-censored or edited in any way.”
Their engaging discussion was followed by insightful discussions featuring geneticist David Reich, Pulitzer Prize winner Andrew Sean Greer, Urvashi Butalia – the woman behind India’s first feminist publishing house – and Rajasthan deputy chief minister Sachin Pilot, among many others.
Meanwhile, at Jaipur BookMark, a B2B platform that runs parallel with the festival, the art and business of translation was the matter at the heart of the discussion. Though it was always relevant, it’s safe to say that the discussion has never been more timely. Some of the world’s most distinguished translators came together to deliberate upon the future of the craft, and how it can get the boost it deserves. This included – but was not limited to – industry veterans like Annie Montaut, Daniel Hahn, Ros Schwartz, Priya Sarukkai Chabria and Kalpana Raina, among many others. Minimum wage for translators, compulsory crediting, cultural exchange programs and mentorship were among their suggestions to give the craft its due. Meanwhile, publisher Ravi Singh – who co-founded Speaking Tiger – raised a call to action for his contemporaries, suggesting that ‘publishers small and big need to come together’ to effect lasting change.
Over at the Jaipur Music Stage, a day of enlightening discussions and thought-provoking ideas culminated in an exploration of the seismic shift India’s indie music landscape has seen in recent years. However, the real highlight of the evening came in the form of musical performances by artistes like Jasbir Jassi, Kutle Khan and the legendary Usha Uthup. Though they each put on exemplary performances, it was Uthup’s rendition of viral sensation With all this behind us, and a lot more still lined up, the next few days promise to be a hotbed of great ideas and conversations, some of the most noteworthy of which you can keep up with right here.
Why This Kolaveri Di that put the figurative bow on the ribbon of the inaugural day of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019.