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The Literary savoir faire at Jaipur Literature Festival 
 

Who says the younger generation is losing interest in reading books? The youngsters attending the sessions, asking insightful questions and standing for hours in long queues at the JLF Book Store and for author signing made me realise that that the literary heart of youngsters was alive and kicking, says Rachna Singh who was a part of the Jaipur Literature Festival 2024.  

 

When I received the invitation to the Jaipur Literature Festival, I was over the moon. I was delighted because this meant I would get a grandstand view of one of the most prestigious Literary Festivals in India, a festival which is a confluence of the brightest literary minds of the world. And I was certainly not disappointed by the literary fare on offer. Day 1, like all other days, was a star studded affair that began with a recital by Kalapini Komkali, as a part of the centenary celebrations of the doyen of classical musical, Kumar Gandharva. The formal inauguration was done by the Hon’ble Deputy Chief minister of Rajasthan, Diya Kumari. Then began the deluge of non-stop sessions with literary and creative wizards from across the world. There were 40 sessions scheduled in 4 venues and I scrambled from one session to the other, not wanting to miss any of them, be it the session with the well know Hindi/urdu poet and Jnanpith awardee Gulzar or a session with booker prize winner Paul Lynch or one with the former RBI Governor Raghuram Rajan or one with Bonnie Gamus, the bestselling author of ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ fame or one with Amish Tripathi of the Shiva trilogy or with the articulate and gracious poet, Arundhathi Subramaniam. In the middle of all this I had my session with award-winning authors Manju Kapur and Devika Rege which was not only enlightening but also very enjoyable, thanks to the savoir faire of my panelists. The day ended with some great music with The Tapi Project and Alif.

Day 2 started on a beautiful note with master Jazz saxophonist Phil Scarff and meandered through about 45 sessions that offered a lot of food for thought. All the sessions sounded extremely interesting. I was spoilt for choice and with great difficulty marked out 10 must-attend sessions. Luckily my own session, ‘The Eastern Eye’ with two prominent literary voices from Assam & Orissa was scheduled early, giving me time to attend other sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed the sessions with memoirists Mani Shankar Aiyar and Gurcharan Das, India’s place in the world with Amitabh Kant and 40 Years of Feminist Publishing in India with Urvashi Butalia. I especially loved the sessions On First Novels with Devika Rege, Bonnie Gamus & Koel Purie, discussion on the book ‘Treasures of Lakshmi’, edited by Namita Gokhale and Malashree Lal which started with an invocation by well-known singer Vidya Shah. My day ended on a poetic note with Poetry Hour where I listened in rapt attention to poetry by Arundhathi Subramaniam, a personal favourite, Ranjeet Hoskote and Naveen Kishore. After this sumptuous, poetic feast, I was unable to attend the Jaipur Music Stage which featured Prabh Deep & The Revisit project. I was, of course, severely reprimanded by my children for missing the ‘real fun.’

 

 

The third day for me was the most relaxing as I had no session and was free to leisurely stroll around and check out the bright, colourful decorations that gave the venue a festive look, immerse myself in the JLF Bookstore which was a treasure-trove of books, get the local artisan to craft me a bangle of lac, visit the face tattoo stall and of course talk to fellow writers over fragrant cups of tea and coffee at the Author’s lounge. I took lots of photographs and videos, trying to capture for posterity, the literary ambience of the place. I visited Nandghar Baghaan which had its own beautiful vibe customised for children, with workshops on candle making, ladoo making, bandini tye-dye and storytelling by writers like Bulbul Sharma, Arefa Tehsin and Asma Khan.  I still managed to catch some sessions; Paro turns 40 with Namita Gokhale, Anand Neelkantan's session on the power of the myth, Devdutt Pattnaik’s session on a Jainism and the riveting session with Damon Galgut. The evening ended with Chai on Toast, a fusion band.

Day 4, a Sunday, brought rain gods knocking at JLF’s doors. It rained off and on throughout the day. But that in no way reduced the enthusiasm of the participants or the attendees. My session, ‘Flying free: A Legacy of Strength’ at 11 a.m. in the morning with Pardis Madhvi and Ruchira Gupta at Baithak was attended by more than a thousand literary enthusiasts, despite the rain. The sessions I attended that day were equally jam-packed, whether it was the session with Sudha Murthy or Arefa Tehsin or Sarah Manickam or Lakshmi Puri, or Shashi Tharoor or Chitra Divakaruni. The sessions with Navtej Sarna on Punjabiyat and with Vishal Bhardawaj were also very interesting. A heritage evening was planned at Amer Fort with Grammy winner, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and Salil Bhatt. But rain gods would have none of it. The locals told us that this was the first time in JLF’s history that rain had played spoilsport. But the JLF team was ready for every eventuality. So the evening music soiree was shifted to the Durbar hall in Clarks Amer.   And what a stupendous, spellbinding evening it was! Not only did we hear the beautiful and intricate sounds of the Mohan Veena played to perfection by a musical genius, we also heard this great virtuoso sing ‘aaj jaane ki zidd na karo’, a ghazal made popular by the Pakistani Ghazal singer, Farida Khannum. He ended the concert with ‘vande mataram’ and the Indian national anthem, which had everyone in the hall standing up and singing with tear-drenched eyes. It was no surprise when the maestro received a long standing ovation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I walked into the last day of the festival with reluctance. I did not want this literary bonanza to end. It did but in great style. I enjoyed the session with Adil Raza Manzoori on Mirza Ghalib, Police Files with Meeran Chadha Borwankar and session on Ammu with Asma Khan. Much to my regret, I was not able to attend many sessions as my session ‘Reading Room: Across Genres’ was scheduled for the afternoon at Durbar Hall with Shinie Antony, Bulbul Sharma & Gaea Schoeters and I was somewhat preoccupied, trying to put my thoughts and ideas into a logical sequence for the upcoming session. Be that as it may, I was able to enjoy the sessions that followed. The cherry on the cake was the thought provoking closing debate on the subject ‘Free Speech will survive surveillance technology and privacy invasions’ which was moderated expertly by Vir Sanghvi. There was more to come. The Writer’s Ball at the beautiful Leela Palace, decked up like a bride, was a fitting end to this amazing literary extravaganza.

 

I came back home with mixed feelings. I felt inspired and invigorated of course but there was an element of regret that it had ended so soon. On a personal front, talking to renowned writers and poets had widened my horizons and opened doors that had stayed rigidly closed till now. I was also disabused of the idea that the younger generation had lost interest in books and reading and that publishers were no longer interested in print editions. The youngsters attending the sessions, asking insightful questions and standing for hours in long queues at the JLF Book Store and for author signing made me realise that that the literary heart of youngsters was alive and kicking. The unprecedented sales of print books made me conclude that the publishing industry was also healthy and robust. Instead of nodding my head in acquiesce, as I used to do, when these subjects were discussed in a sorrowful monologue, I now have reason and courage of conviction to gleefully dismiss the naysayers.

Gulzar in conversation with Rakshanda Jalil & Pavan K Varma

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Bonnie Garmus in conversation with Bee Rowlatt

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Raghuram Rajan

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Amitabh Kant

Gulzar

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Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

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Damon Galgut

Image by Kenny Eliason

A doctorate in English literature and a former bureaucrat, Rachna Singh has authored Penny Panache (2016) Myriad Musings (2016) Financial Felicity (2017) & The Bitcoin Saga: A Mixed Montage (2019). The latest book from her stables is  Phoenix in Flames, a book about eight ordinary women from different walks of life who become extraordinary on account of their fortitude & grit. Nurturing literature & art is her passion and to make that happen she has founded The Wise Owl, a literary & art magazine that provides a free platform for upcoming poets, writers & artists. 

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