I attended the Jaipur Literature Festival for the first time this year. With five parallel sessions running on all five days of the festival, everyone was likely to find something or the other to suit their interests. There was definitely quite a bit that I enjoyed, and as was to be expected, the sessions I enjoyed added more books to my already huge reading list. In 2015, my resolution is to re-read some of the books I had liked in past. Adding new books to the to-read list doesn’t help, but a girl can dream, right? Of reading it all.
So, let’s see how the Jaipur Lit Fest added more and more books to my list.
Since I have read and liked White Mughals by Dalrymple and since he was the festival director, I figured it would be worth going to a session called “The First Firangis in a Strange Kind of Paradise” that he was hosting. This led me to these books by the authors who spoke at the panel:
Sheldon Pollock was a name we had heard earlier too. But after hearing him in the session “Why a Library of Classical Indian Literature” I think The Language of Gods in the World of Men has become a must-be-in-the-to-read list book.
Vedica Kant was very articulate about the human aspects of the life of Indian soldiers who fought for British Imperial army in the first world war. I would really like to read her book India and the First World War, but as an illustrated, hardcover book published by Roli Books, it is super expensive. I don’t think I am buying it any time soon. Probably someone could gift it to me 😀 . Mulk Raj Anand’s novel Across the Black Waters was mentioned appreciatively in the session. It is almost a shame to not have read Mulk Raj Anand, considering I’m an Indian, so I will have to put that one on the list as well.
Jung Chang, Ma Jian and Anchee Min were all superb in the session “Cultural Revolutions”. One has to look at China beyond its economic progress of the last decade or two. I have not yet decided which of their books I will read, but I must read at least one of these authors!
Some other moments, experiences and sessions from the festival are also worth mentioning.
Gideon Levy was heart-warmingly convincing in the session “Against the Grain”. In fact, none of the other panelists quite matched up to his experience in what going against the grain entails. In the same session, Aakar Patel made an interesting, though potentially controversial point (what do against-the-grainers care about controversy? 🙂 ).
He claimed, and supported with examples, that vernacular media and audience in India are really closed-minded. The media won’t publish what the audience do not want to hear and if they do dare to publish they are punished heavily by the audience, sometimes even forcing big names to shut down. English media, on the other hand, is more accommodating and dissenters who write in English in India are more fortunate that way.
The Murty classical library was another highlight of the fest- translated editions of work in classical languages are being published. Sheldon Pollock said something that reminds me of why we should read out of our comfort zone. According to him, the aim of reading a classical book is not to read something you identify with. Rather, it is to discover non-self, to discover the ways of being human that we no longer recognize.
Think about it. Isn’t that the reason we should read fiction too? To identify with characters who are like us and to empathize with those who aren’t. In the process, we widen our horizons and our tolerance of differences.
Fed up of the questions worrying about what is lost in translation, Arshia Sattar reminded the audience to celebrate instead the hundred things gained, which would have been lost but for the translation.
One of the panelists in the session “The Medium is the Message” had almost derailed the topic by rambling on about the ultimate truth. The only message everyone is looking for, he self-assuredly claimed, is the truth and there is only one truth! Co-panelist Ravish Kumar silenced him and brought the focus back by pointing out that if we started discussing that truth we’d all have to go to Himalayas or consult Babajis. Instead the focus of journalism is on worldly truths. In that realm, there are indeed many truths, and they are not always accessible, despite the availability of the newer and better mediums to disseminate them.
With an event organized at such a huge scale, it would be impossible not to come across some off-putting moments. But I am going to skip talking about them right now. Because it won’t do to just mention them– those moments raise some important questions about how we view literature, languages, life and its problems.
Some other blog post, hopefully!