A highlight of the JLF’s 11th edition will be a special session on democracy to mark 70 years of the Election Commission in India.
There is Germaine Greer to speak on #MeToo. Colson Whitehead on racism and Perumal Murugan on the Dalit push. To aid writers in making sense of the current combustible global society are artists Anish Kapoor and Marc Quinn. After two years of discussions over Trump’s America, intolerance in India and a post-truth world, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) will be back next month with a remarkable line-up of literary giants from across the world.
Life of Pi author Yann Martel will be finally making his appearance at the JLF. “I have been trying to get him to come to Jaipur for seven years,” sighed the festival’s co-director and author William Dalrymple, announcing the list of speakers at a curtain-raiser in Delhi this week. Years of emails back and forth between the Booker Prize-winning Canadian author and Dalrymple have apparently come to a fruitful conclusion. The last time Martel spoke at a literary event in Asia (Hong Kong International Literary Festival) in 2003, a year after he won the Booker, the JLF was still germinating in the minds of its founders, Dalrymple, Sanjoy Roy and Namita Gokhale.
Feminist Greer, who wrote The Female Eunuch in 1970, is certain to be showered with questions by a discerning Jaipur audience on her controversial comments on rape following the #MeToo movement. That is not going to slow her down though. Fatima Bhutto, who will be back with her explosive new novel, The Runaways, set in Karachi, is expected to be one of those adding to the voice on gender equality and justice, especially for women in the subcontinent. Nigerian author Ben Okri, an early Booker winner in 1991 for The Famished Road, will talk on African migrants in the West. The author, who lives in London, will be called on to give insights into his new book, Freedom of the Artist, to be published early next year.
A catch of the festival, to be held during January 24-28, will be American author Colson Whitehead. Expect emotions and passion at his session, as the audience would hear more about him writing The Underground Railroad, a Pulitzer Prize-winner last year, and its heroine Cora’s escape from slavery. Months after the Supreme Court struck down Article 377 and decriminalised gay sex, the presence of Andre Aciman, who wrote Call Me By Your Name, at the JLF will be significant for India’s LGBTQ community to further the dialogue on gay rights.
“I consider this the strongest programme we have ever put together,” said Dalrymple, who also reeled out names like sculptor Anish Kapoor, visual artist Marc Quinn, Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh, Pakistani author Mohammed Hanif, The Impressionist author Hari Kunzru, Bengali author Manoranjan Byapari, right-wing troll target American historian Audrey Truschke, Sacred Games author Vikram Chandra, Urvashi Butalia, and Irish novelist Sebastian Barry. For Anish Kapoor, it will be only his second artistic engagement with India after his impressive participation at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2014.
A highlight of the JLF’s 11th edition will be a special session on democracy to mark 70 years of the Election Commission in India. Two former chief election commissioners—SY Quraishi and Navin Chawla—will be launching their new books at the festival. “We have a rewarding pilgrimage ahead of us,” said JLF co-director Gokhale, alluding to the Kumbh Mela next year and the JLF’s moniker as the ‘Kumbh Mela of literature’. The 2019 edition lays emphasis on scientific temper with sessions on genetics, artificial intelligence, climate fiction and science fiction. Among the speakers in the science sessions will be Yale astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan, The History of Bees author Maja Lunde, and Australian AI professor Toby Walsh.
An educational outreach will be another strong point. “We will be reaching out to 100 schools in Delhi and Jaipur,” said festival co-founder Sanjoy Roy. “The Jaipur BookMark (the industry platform) will be attended by directors of 26 literature festivals in the country along with translators and publishers,” he added. According to JLF figures, a mammoth 100,000 books are sold every year during the festival. “Young people come to JLF in droves. We want to make a difference to them,” Roy said.
– The writer is a freelancer