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Curtain-raiser: Jaipur Literary Festival promises a sumptuous spread of ideas

“Sometimes I think they are writers who do not write. That “writers write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers that write at all.” 

It feels as if writer William Dalrymple and his team organises the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival just to disprove Renata Adler’s scathing take on the writing community in her novel Speedboat. And they seem to have been successful so far. 

The Jaipur LitFest, as it has come to be known, has established itself as the leading cultural pow-wow in the country. It has had its share of controversies, too, particularly when it comes to issues of freedom of speech, as happened three years ago when a number of writers decided to read aloud from Salman Rushdie’s still-banned Satanic Verses after the author was barred from attending over security inputs citing a threat to his life. 

The eighth edition of the event, scheduled from January 21-25, promises to be no different. The free speech debate has been re-ignited in the wake of the killings in Paris of journalists at Charlie Hebdo, as well as what is seen an ongoing attempt by the Hindu right wing to rewrite Indian history. 

Nonetheless, there will be numerous panels that promise to fulfil every book lover’s expectation, be it fiction or non-fiction. Here are a few talks that attendees ought not to miss:

FICTION:

Early Triumphs: This talk involves Eimear McBride, who rose to prominence with her searing debut novel A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing and Eleanor Catton, who won the Booker in 2013. We believe the writers will be talking about the success they achieved with their earliest work and what kept them going during the early days. Razia Iqbal is the moderator.

Writing Back: A stellar panel of writers, Sahar Delijani, Kamila Shamsie, Meena Kandasamy and Eimear McBride are expected to talk about breaking the conventions that pertain to female writers and the stereotypes that they are trying to unshackle. Ramita Navai is the moderator.

Clearing a Space: Between Fact and Fiction: Raj Kamal Jha and Amit Chaudhuri who are out with their respective new books, She Will Build Him a City and Odysseus Abroad, will in all probability be discussing the most important aspect of a novel: the fusion of fact and fiction and the seamless mixture. They will be in conversation with Ashok Ferrey.

52 Ways of Looking at a Poem: While it’s flummoxing what a galaxy of talented poets, Jeet Thayil, Vijay Seshadri, Kevin Powers, Neil Rennie, Ashok Vajpeyi, will have to say as part of a panel for little more than 52 minutes, we are not complaining as long as they give us haiku-like observations about poetry. Ruth Padel is chairing the panel.

V S Naipaul: Writer Farrukh Dhondy will be talking to the Nobel laureate on the occasion of the just-over-50th anniversary of the hypnotic novel A House for Mr Biswas. Dhondy will also be chairing a session titled “The Writer and His World” with Hanif Kureishi, Amit Chaudhuri and Paul Theroux who will speak about the same novel. In his Asian Age column Dhondy outlined the intent of the second talk: “I will ask them about the signification of its publication to them personally and how they would place it critically.”

NON-FICTION:

Descent into Chaos – Pakistan on the Brink:  Ahmed Rashid, Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri, G Parthasarathy, Anatol Lieven will be speaking on the purported rogue state that did its reputation further harm with the massacre of 132 kids at a school in Peshawar last month. Suhasini Haider will be the moderator.

Deconstructing Change: The Election That Changed India: Sardesai will be speaking at a talk, titled after his best-selling book, with Madhu Trehan and Mihir Sharma (the opinion editor at Business Standard) about the election of Modi and the enviable success of his book.

India’s Turn: Catalyzing Economic Transformation: Arvind Subramanian, Narayana Murthy and Rahul Jacob (the Managing Editor of Business Standard) will be in conversation and that automatically makes it a must-attend talk. All three speakers are more than capable of being critical of India and clear-eyed about its challenges.

And Then One Day: Actors and playwrights Naseeruddin Shah and Girish Karnad are touted to reminisce about their acting and writing days. A treasure trove of hilarious anecdotes guaranteed. Nasreen Munni Kabir will be introducing the talk.

Sri Lanka – Through the Looking Glass: Samanth Subramanian, Romesh Gunesekera and Ashok Ferry’s forthcoming conversation gains more gravitas as the island country recently had a change in regime and it would be interesting to see what that would mean for both fiction and non-fiction that will be coming out of the country in future. 

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