January 20 2017
IT started ten ago as no more than a small gathering of literary types and intellectuals but has flowered into something else attracting some of the best-known artists (and a few in-between) in the world…
THERE are not many days when you can hear from three very outstanding men who have vastly different backgrounds, but are all very high achievers and attract global recognition and respect.
One is among Britain’s most distinguished playwrights, another is a black American who is chronicling injustice and discrimination with biting wit and coruscating humour – the other is a man who took off on a bike around India as a young man and is now regarded as one of the most powerful global spiritual figures of the age.
But then, of course, there are really few gatherings, quite like the Jaipur Literature Festival (2017) which heard from Sir David Hare, Paul Beatty, the winner of this year’s Booker Prize and Indian mystic and bon savant (think about it), Sadhguru.
Amidst the opening flourishes – a resplendent Gulzar, poet, lyricist and screenwriter regaled the huge audience – well into the thousands, but mostly in Hindi.
Almost at the other end of the spectrum was Anne Waldman, a US poet who talked about the “war against the imagination”, which will be inaugurated officially today, when Donald Trump assumes residence at the White House.
She voiced her support for those mothers, daughters and sisters who will take to the streets in protest Trump’s inauguration.
Her poetry-ditty-songs left some a little bewildered but her charm, energy and positivity won over even the doubters.
Earlier, Sanjoy Roy urged festivalgoers to visit the facsimile representation of the original 1215 Magna Carta document. It is widely recognised as the very first step the world made toward democracy (since the Greeks or their ancient version of it). It will be on display for the duration of the festival and Roy thanked the British Library for making it possible.
Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje also urged festivalgoers to see the document. She felt Jaipur was looking good and it was down to the people of the state who had worked hard – not just on civic cleanliness but also in education and water conservation and consumption. She pointed out that indicators for these had really improved.
Before the official ceremony of fire and lights, formally opening the 10th edition of the festival, the three main festival organisers reiterated their commitment towards democracy and equality. Namita Gokhale, co-director and one of the founding members of JLF, along with William Dalrymple and Roy were all unequivocal about the need for learning and education and Roy stressed that keeping the festival
free was central to that.
He said young people travelled from all over India to listen to some of their literary heroes, or just engage in discussions and debates or simply get close to major global figures in art and culture.
Dalrymple put it succinctly and effectively when he declared: “The greatest minds are yours for five days.”
Perhaps he was thinking of Sir David when he said that. Hare has been among the most successful playwrights to have emerged in the post-war period in Britain.
Among his notable recent successes have been “Stuff Happens” and “The Blue Room”. He is also a hugely successful screenwriter, having adapted two books, “The Hours” (Michael Cunningham) and “The Reader” (Bernhard Schlink)from novels.
In a wide-ranging discussion with Raja Sen, illuminating much of his entry into the theatre, and subsequent success, Hare confessed that he had begun quite inauspiciously.
“I was working with a theatre company and we simply didn’t have anything to put on, so I wrote a play,” he revealed.
The actors liked the dialogue but Hare conceded as a play it didn’t really hang together.
He said he was often his own fiercest critic and had a poor opinion of reviewers, not helped by one (unnamed) who got both the title of his play wrong and went onto say it had been performed in one theatre when it was in another!
Theatre, in Britain, he felt, as with most art there, had become commoditised and he appeared to suggest the only basis of success in theatre these days was audience numbers and ticket sales.
He told the audience that he liked to write about topics that challenged him (a reason for taking on Cunningham’s time-shifting novel) and it was a way one of finding out whether others thought the same about subjects as he did.
For him, three major events have already defined our century and he dismissed Brexit and Trump’s election victory as aftershocks that followed the really seismic events – 9/11, the invasion of Iraq by western military forces and the financial crash of 20008.
Almost a world away from all that was Sadhguru. The Indian mystic has a huge following and if the crowds for the opening ceremony were large, they tripled as he and Roy took to the stage to discuss ‘Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy’.Sadhguru’s concepts appear to lean on ancient Hindu philosophy but he has a disarming way of presenting those ideas and his book as he revealed at the beginning of a later press conference, frames the approach for joy and inner knowledge in a scientific frame. He is most
certainly a scientist of the soul – if not for the soul.
After all that came the wit and wisdom of Paul Beatty. The Booker Prize Winner’s novel “The Sellout” deals with the fallout of a police attack on a young black man’s father. The response is unexpected, as it as is shocking and along the way, Beatty riffs and hums all sorts of thoughts few people would ever imagine seeing in actual printed form.
“I write from an uncomfortable place and the book is so me and it is very American,” he told moderator Meru Gokhale.
It was a captivating day and a sure sign that the tenth edition of JLF has got off to a great start.
*More pictures to follow…
Seen our day 1 video?
ACV JLF 2017 https://t.co/UtHyuwGW7w
— asianculturevulture (@asianculturevul) January 19, 2017
Our coverage continues…
Highlights to look out for from day 2
Anita Anand and William Dalrymple about The Kohinoor.
SS Rajamouli, director of ‘Baahubhali’ taking about the follow-up
AN Wilson and Indian and UK-based journalist and historian Shrabani Basu on Queen Victoria
Rishi Kapoor talking to British academic and Bollywood aficionado Rachel Dwyer
Alan Hollinghurst with Chandaras Choudhary on The Line of Beauty
Vikram Chandra on The Poetry of Amazement with Tishani Joshi.
Lucy Beresford and Shuba Vilas, and Shazia Omar on ‘Learning to Learn: Creativity and Happiness’.
Don’t forget to see things in real time or catch up – follow on Twitter & Facebook
For full listings, please check http://www.jaipurliteraturefestival.org