ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 begins with celebrating literature as a unifier of diverse voices

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The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival entered its 13th year on a chilly Jaipur morning with all of its characteristic joie de vivre intact. Early risers flocked to grab seats at the NEXA Front Lawn of the Diggi Palace Hotel, which itself was dressed in its colourful best and reverberated with heady beats from dhaaks and nagadas with its extravagant way of presentation, and listened to their favourite speakers – icons, writers and performers. Attendees were welcomed by much fanfare as life-sized puppets paved the way to the NEXA Front Lawn. Gandhi’s message was showcased by renowned puppeteer, Dadi Pudumjee as he presented an excerpt from his celebrated production, ‘Images of Truth’.  The Mumbai-based classical vocalist, Nirali Kartik took the stage by storm with Raga Gurjari Todi. She sang two bandish – Meri Akhiyaan Lage and Bhor Bhayee, followed by Mero Allah Meherbaan in Raga Bhairav – one of the masterpieces of the Legendary Pt. Jasraj Ji.

Music led the way to the inaugural session of the iconic Festival’s 13th edition which was graced by the Rajasthan Chief Minister, Shri Ashok Gehlot, Keynote Speakers Marcus du Sautoy and Shubha Mudgal along with Festival Directors and Producers.

Speaking about the Festival, Ashok Gehlot said, “I was the Chief Minister when the Festival began and so I’ve seen it from its first year. Namita Gokhale, Sanjoy K. Roy and William Dalrymple have done an exceptional job at curating the Jaipur Literature Festival which has put Jaipur on the world map”

In his welcome speech, Sanjoy K. Roy, Festival Producer and Managing Director of Teamwork Arts, emphasised on the power of literature which can fight any odd, as can the arts. All of us have a responsibility to do so.

While delivering her part of key note address, much loved Hindustani singer Shubha Mudgal said, “Hierarchies should have no place in the arts. As long as art exists in all its richness and diversity, we can dream of a better tomorrow.”

The session after the inaugural took us to the world of theatre in New York City of the 1940s, a story of showgirls, playboys, actresses and dancers. Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest novel, City of Girls, has a set of wanton and promiscuous young women who behave with incredible sexual recklessness and reap its consequences. While in conversation with British publisher, Alexandra Pringle, Gilbert talked about her life as an author; from Eat, Pray, Love to City of Girls, her experiences as a seeker and a storyteller, her chaotic experiences with the ‘strange’ institution of marriage and her intimate connection with shame. The audience chortled as the session went on in the lavish NEXA Front Lawns of the Diggi Palace.

The Festival’s first day focused on sessions which explored a woman’s right to be free of every societal stereotype including sexual freedom and finding her identity in non-conventional lifestyles. When Franco-Moroccan novelist, Leila Slimani, author of the powerfully unconventional Adèle, was in conversation with the art-writer and curator, Avni Doshi, she stated tellingly that some women want to be just objects!

One of India’s highest selling English fiction authors, Ashwin Sanghi, launched his book The Vault of Vishnu through Sonali Bendre Behl at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020. Keeping in line with his exciting amalgamation of myth and history, Ashwin unveiled the book as the sixth addition in his Bharat series.

To Brexit or to not? This crucial question which can alter the trajectory of Europe’s history has currently gripped Britain’s economy in a chokehold. Unlike all the high politics that usually surrounds the discourse on Brexit, Fintan O’ Toole, an award-winning Irish journalist chose a departure from the usual Brexit narrative in the session, and did not shy away from throwing in a few humorous punches. In a frank conversation with well-known journalist Suhasini Haider he chose to focus on a cultural as well as historical analysis of Brexit, and the very real vulnerabilities that the decision to go along with it posits.

In a session titled “Food for Thought: Gastronomy and Literature” at Jaipur BookMark, the B2B section of the Festival, renowned food & and travel writer Madhur Jaffrey said,” There’s no such thing as curry – no Indian will know what you’re talking about if you use that word.” 

In another session at Jaipur BookMark, public librarian Aspen Walker referred to her work with the Boulder Colorado library to outline some ideas for what a library should do.

In the Centenary year of Sethiaji’s birth anniversary, the fifth edition of the prestigious “Mahakavi Kanhaiya Lal Sethia Award for Poetry” was awarded to Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, a well-known name to readers of contemporary literature. The award was presented by the Deputy Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Shri Sachin Pilot.

Asma Khan, the first-ever British chef to have featured on Netflix’s Emmy-nominated Chef’s Table, shared her journey with food in a session “Darjeeling Express: Of Food and Friendship”. Her experience with food, which began as an attempt to overcome her feelings of homesickness, finally culminated in a restaurant in London. She shared why food, for her, was an important ingredient of collective memory and a powerful tool to bring down barriers. She also spoke of the challenges women face in the food industry and the common perceptions around women Chefs.

A series of soulful poetry readings were presented to the audience, relishing the magic of metres. Poets from all walks of life narrated their lines with enthusiasm and zeal, like, Annie Finch, the famed American poet, spoke about the therapeutic qualities of poetry.

Nandita Das was in a conversation with Kaveree Bamzai in a session dedicated to the one of the subcontinent’s most fiery and controversial writers, Saadat Hasan Manto. Manto & I is a book of images and words that traces the journey of making Nandita Das’ film, Manto.

In the session “The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World” presented by Aga Khan Foundation, author Peter Frankopan spoke of the famed trading ancient trading routes and their impact on global business today.

In a keynote address on Independent Publishing at the DC Books JBM Haweli, Michael Dwyer said, “As independent publishers, develop niches but do not become slaves to them.”

The first day of sessions at the colourfully bedecked Diggi Palace ended with the announcement of the winner of the Romain Rolland Book Prize, awarded each year for the best translation of a French title into any Indian language. This year, the Franco-Indian jury selected— the first three albums of the Astérix series: Asterix and the Golden Sickle, Asterix and the Goths and Asterix the Gladiator, translated into Hindi by Dipa Chaudhuri and Puneet Gupta and published by Om Books.

As the day time sessions came to a close, the Jaipur Music Stage at Clarks Amer kicked-off in style with scintillating performances by Grammy winner Ricky Kej and folk musicians The Rajasthan Josh Qawwali Experience and a buzzing Night Bazaar.

All Images have been sourced from: Jaipur Literature Festival Facebook Page

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