The Jaipur Literature Festival has become so thoroughly entrenched in our cultural itineraries that it has become impossible today to even think of the city of Jaipur without having the scenes, debates and memories of the many previous editions of the JLF all spring to mind. Indeed, it has become impossible to think of Indian literature without thinking of this most central and popular of literary festivals organised in this corner of the world.
Preparations for the 2016 edition of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, an “annual carnival of the mind,” according to its organisers, are already in full swing. At a recent curtain-raiser event in Delhi, the JLF team gave us a taste of what’s to come with an “evening of dialogue, discussion and music”. The confirmed list of speakers due to attend the JLF 2016 includes over 200 names, which were announced at Thursday’s event.
The list of speakers is composed of the usual eclectic mix of literary and popular writers, representing several vernacular languages, as well as the worldwide Anglosphere. With star attractions like Niall Ferguson, Alexander McCall Smith, Margaret Atwood and Stephen Fry on the event’s billing, pulling massive crowds is not likely to be a problem for the organisers.
There’s always a quieter and purely literary side to the JLF. This is meant for those uninterested in the aura of celebrity or in rubbing shoulders with larger-than-life pop-culture icons.
But there’s always a quieter and purely literary side to the JLF. This is meant for those uninterested in the aura of celebrity or in rubbing shoulders with larger-than-life pop-culture icons. Which is to say, serious readers can always find something to cherish at the JLF.
The Irish novelist Colm Toibin, acclaimed for his restrained, understated and yet complex prose — in novels like Brooklyn and The Master — is likely to be one of the standout literary voices at this JLF, which is scheduled to be held from 21-25 January. Another writer to look out for is the relatively unknown Bosnian-American novelist and critic Alexander Hemon. The Israeli writer David Grossman is also scheduled to make an appearance here, as is the excellent New Yorker journalist Dexter Filkins — both masters of craft.
“Each year at Jaipur we try to produce a programme more remarkable than the year before, but this year has to be our most astonishing line up ever,” said the author William Dalrymple, who is the co-director of the festival. “Among the international authors appearing this year we present writers of genius as diverse as economist Thomas Picketty and humourist and polymath Stephen Fry.”
The list of speakers scheduled to appear at the JLF 2016 includes names of novelists Colm Toibin,Alexander Hemon and David Grossman — all masters of craft.
Writers from those parts of the world that are generally out of the international limelight, Dalrymple added, will also be present here. “We deeply delve into three areas of world literature,” Dalrymple said, “we have so far failed to explore — notably the novelists and poets of the Balkans, the Caribbean and Central America - while returning to examine eternal classics such as the work of Shakespeare, Proust and Andal. We will explore a vast range of subjects from Neanderthals to Hedge Fund Managers; the bleak depths of depression to the heights of the Silk Road; universal myths of the Deluge to the literature of the Sandanistas; Jamaican rap and mediaeval mystic poetry; the agonies of Gaza and the pleasures of the Kama Sutra. It’s going to be an incredible few days and I can’t wait for January so that we can get started!”
Over the years, the JLF has proved to be an important platform for showcasing and engaging with vernacular literature, which is why it is fitting to have this edition of the festival centred on themes like “bilinguiality”, “oral traditions” and “poetry translation” among others.
“This coming year, my new metaphor for JLF is that of the Katha Sarit Sagar, the sea of stories,” said JLF co-director and writer Namita Gokhale. “An entire cultural ecosystem has evolved around the festival, of shared narratives, of ideas, of dialogue and debate. At a time when our nation and indeed the world is taking up fixed and rigid positions, when we are in danger of forgetting our shared humanity, the Jaipur Festival is steadfast in upholding the value of dialogue, of responsible debate, of the free exploration of ideas, of listening in as well as speaking out.”