It’s that time of the year when people start talking about Jaipur and literature in the same breath. Because come January, all roads will lead to Diggi Palace, as it hosts the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) from January 25 to 29, 2018. The 11th edition of the festival will host over 350 speakers from varied areas—writers, academicians, politicians, journalists, musicians and popular cultural icons—covering over 35 countries. The festival will also showcase over 15 Indian and 20 international languages. “Some of the highlights of this edition will be interactive sessions before music concerts, documentary film screenings and an additional venue. We will also be earmarking an area exclusively for delegates during the weekend,” says Sanjoy K Roy, managing director of Teamwork Arts and producer of the festival, at a curtain raiser held in the national capital recently. There are a few surprises in the offing. Poetry is going to be a dominant theme this year, as are sessions on women-centric writings. “An author to look forward to is Angela Saini, who wrote this brilliant book Inferior. Her book is about how women have been sidelined in the scientific world, which is arguably a hot topic of discussion currently,” says Namita Gokhale, the festival co-director. “I am also excited about Pico Iyer returning to the festival after many years,” she adds. The other two big names who are returning this year are British playwright Tom Stoppard and Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje.
“Finally, I have been able to convince Hamid Karzai (former president of Afghanistan) to come as a speaker to JLF. I am equally excited about having Amy Tan (Joy Luck Club) and Helen Fielding (Bridget Jones’s Diary) as speakers,” says William Dalrymple, the festival co-director. There is also a stellar line-up of names from the field of academia. “Almost half of Harvard University is going to descend on JLF 2018.We have around 25 of them speaking on subjects ranging from particle
physics and history to literature and dinosaurs,” he adds. Though the entire schedule is yet to be disclosed, visitors can look forward to bestselling novelist Adam Nicolson speaking about the resurgence in nature writing or hear Dominic Dromgoole, former artistic director of Globe Theatre, discussing Shakespeare’s universality from China to Syria. Also on the anvil will be cultural historian Alexandra Harris, a Virginia Wolfe expert, who will offer a fresh perspective on the English writer’s iconoclastic masterpiece Orlando. “We also have a session celebrating the Beatles and their visit to Rishikesh some 50 years ago. Another delightful session will be on PG Wodehouse and his puzzling and perennial appeal to Indian readers,” Gokhale says.
“Some of the dark horses of this edition are Matt Frei who made the Donald Trump documentary; Sujatha Gidla who works as a conductor on the New York City Subway (she wrote about the trials and tribulations of being born an untouchable in India); forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs whose books inspired the popular television series Bones; activist Ma Thida; and Dan Jones, the author and host of the popular Netflix series, Secrets of Great British Castles, to name a few,” says Dalrymple. Some key sessions to look forward to include Nasreen Munni Kabir in conversation with musical maestro Zakir Hussain, celebrated naturalist Redmond O’Hanlon talking about his fascinating journey deep inside Congo in search of a dinosaur, and actor Sharmila Tagore hosting a session with her daughter Soha Ali Khan, who has debuted with her memoir titled The Perils of Being Moderately Famous.
In the regional space, some prominent names include Akhil Katyal, Yatindra Mishra, Chitra Mudgal and Esther David. “A session on Sindhi writers across borders will have Shaukat Shoro from Pakistan share the stage with Rita Kothari from India and talk about literary heritage that survives borders,” Gokhale says.