Often referred to as the world’s biggest literary festival, this year it is a mix of digital sessions and in person events…
By Mamie Colfox
EARLIER today one of Britain’s best known writers Monica Ali talked about the themes of her latest novel, ‘Love Marriage’ on the final day of digital author sessions at this year’s Jaipur Literature Festival (March 5-15). The festival becomes an in-person event in Jaipur from tomorrow (March 10).
Discussing her fifth book with journalist Bee Rowlatt, Ali said that Islamophobia sometimes revealed itself in strange ways and not in the manner most people might think.
The story of ‘Love Marriage’ is precisely that – in South Asian culture, this type of relationship where two people meet independently is described as a ‘love marriage’ as opposed to a union where other people and often families might bring people together for a marriage. It’s a casual phrase you will hear in some Asian households.
This tale follows British-Bengali doctor Yasmin Ghorami, and her fiancée, fellow medic Joe Sangster. As their wedding day approaches, Yasmin’s conservative Muslim parents get to know Joe’s white feminist mother, with family secrets and betrayals beginning to unravel.
Speaking of Islamophobia in the book, which was published last month, Ali talks of Joe’s overbearing mother, Harriet, as an example of white privilege and that her enthusiasm towards Yasmin’s culture sometimes had the opposite effect: “Harriet is keen for a Muslim ceremony, which Yasmin and Joe don’t actually want. She’s keen to challenge Islamophobia,” pointed out Ali. She went on to speak about how Yasmin’s father and brother, Arif, handle their faith differently and are an example of two generations handling racism in different ways.
“Arif wears his religion on his sleeve, and his father is always angry at him because of the fear that he is at more risk of being profiled”, explained Ali, whilst his father remains far more conservative on his views.
Yasmin lacks compassion at the beginning of the book and is particularly worried about both families meeting. She has a “heightened belief that her family is not normal, and that the other family is normal”, something which Ali admits is a common worry.
Yasmin is on a journey to empathy, and her judgmental attitude towards Joe’s mother is part of a journey of self-discovery, even when Harriet embraces Yasmin’s culture a little too much, as Rowlatt pointed out in the discussion.
On a personal level, Rowlatt asked Ali about the experience of ‘shame’ of being a writer, both culturally and what it meant to be in the public gaze as one.
Writing or being an artist – especially an aspiring one – can be viewed with suspicion, even contempt in some quarters and many immigrant cultures prefer the professions, well-paid employment or entrepreneurial activity.
Ali reflected on the strange dichotomy being a writer involves, with the paradox between the personal solitary work it takes to write a novel and then the process of releasing it into the public.
“There is shame through the whole project of writing a novel, and the thought that I could be oing something more useful”, Ali admitted.
She went on to talk about how releasing a book into the public sphere is “like being naked in public”.
The digital section of the festival has featured Nobel Literature Prize winner, the Tanzanian-born British-based, Abdulrazak Gurnah speaking to publisher Alexandra Pringle about colonialism and the writer’s relationship with language. Damon Galgut, a JLF regular and last year’s Booker Prize winner talked more ‘The Promise’ and the divides in society. His book chronicles the fate of one white family and one black in his native South Africa.
Malala Yousafzai and her biographer, Christina Lamb had a frank conversation with moderator and festival producer Sanjoy K Roy, about the realities of war.
JLF continues until March 15
To watch previous author sessions and more information about the festival: https://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/
Monica Ali, ‘Love Marriage’ (published by Virago)– https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Monica-Ali/Love-Marriage–The-new-instant-Sunday-Times-Bestseller-fr/25588866