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Jaipur Literature Festival 2023: Brits with Indian heritage talk history, culture and change…

Jaipur Literature Festival 2023: Brits with Indian heritage talk history, culture and change…

Often referred to as the greatest literary show on earth, it returned to being a totally in person edition and there was a strong British presence, as we look back…

By Mamie Colfox

PARTITION’s generation of survivors who fled their homes in 1947 saw atrocities which have been overlooked in Britain and other parts of the West for decades.

This year, the Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF), marked its sixteenth year and welcomed broadcaster Kavita Puri, amongst many others, to speak about her work delving into these stories of the partition generation.

Running from January 19-23 in the pink city of Jaipur, Rajasthan, the festival produced by Teamwork Arts, hosted over 250 speakers from all different nationalities, as well as recipients of awards such as the Nobel, Booker and Pulitzer.

Kavita Puri, Manreet Sodhi Someshwar and Navdeep Suri

British authors included: Sathnam Sanghera, Anita Anand and 2021 Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah, as the keynote speaker on the opening day.

Puri’s 2019 book ‘Partition Voices: Untold British Stories’ came after her successful radio documentary on BBC 4 of the same name. Her latest work also led to a new play, ‘Silence’ last year, playing at both the Donmar and at Tara Theatre, and adapted fromher updated, ‘Partition Voices’.

Alongside novelist Manreet Sodhi Someshwar, who is author of ‘Lahore’ and ‘Hyderabad’ from her own Partition Trilogy, they discussed with translator and former Indian diplomat Navdeep Singh Suri, the inspiration and roots of their narratives, as well as their cultural and historical significance of trauma and its legacy. Some 15 people were forced to move from their homes – and a million are estimated to have lost their lives in the violence that followed. Suri has translated his acclaimed grandfather Nanak Singh’s Punjabi novels into English.

“My generation were not taught about Partition or Empire in schools”, Puri said talking about the British education system.

She explained that even people who are second or third generation are sometimes unfamiliar with Partition.

“People of second or third generation may not even know their parents, or may not even know that their grandparents have a partition story”.

Following the festival, Puri posted a photograph on her Instagram expressing her joy at attending JLF. She posted: “Was at @jaipurlitfest in Jan 2020 just before the world shut down. So it was doubly wonderful to be back this year with friends old and new, to hear great minds, see the huge crowds and the crammed bookshop…and of course the best parties. Hats off to @williamdalrymple and @sanjoykroy (managing director of Teamwork Arts) for organising this incredible festival and making it accessible to so many”.

William Dalrymple, Anita Anand and Bee Rowlatt

Journalist, writer and emerging cultural historian, Sathnam Sanghera spoke to politician and social activist Emily Benn about his award-winning book ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Shaped Modern Britain’, which focused on encouraging acceptance of Britain’s imperial past in order to understand the present and future.

When discussing the English language, Sanghera posited that the English language will always be a part of India.

He said: “Getting rid of English phrases is ultimately impossible, because the English language is so embedded in India.

“When I started researching I realised that English Literature began as a subject in India 50 years before it started being studied in Britain.”

He posted about his excitement at being part of the festival on Instagram: “Such great final day (for me) @jaipurlitfest. Talked to @emily_benn about Empireland, talked to @axrenton about Bloody Legacy, fanboyed @marlonjameswriter (who has written a fantastic intro to the US edition of #Empireland), felt in awe of @simonsebag_montefiore (who thinks I should be less shy about calling myself a historian, I’m thinking about it), bowed down before @katy.hessel who has changed the national conversation about art (at the age of 28!), hobnobbed with media legends, and until now, Twitter friends @virsanghvi and @spectatorseema, and took a selfie in the toilet. Thanks again for the invitation @williamdalrymple.”

Sathnam Sanghera and Emily Benn

Journalist and broadcaster Anita Anand spoke with JLF co-founder and director William Dalrymple about their joint podcast ‘Empire’, which went straight to number one when it was launched in August 2022. The podcast looks at how Empires rise and fall, and they discussed with journalist Bee Rowlatt why there has been a rising interest in the topic of Empire.

Dalrymple posted about the conversation on his Twitter account: “@tweeter_anita & @BeeRowlatt in terrific form for our @JaipurLitFest season on @EmpirePodUK and how the pod has managed nearly five million downloads in as many months”.

The 2021 Nobel Prize winner for Literature, British-Tanzanian writer Gurnah spoke to publisher Alexandra Pringle about how the world is “more cruel” to immigrants than it used to be, calling on his previous experience of racism as an immigrant in the UK in the 1960s from the island of Zanzibar in Tanzania.

He also spoke of what led him to writing, “The feeling of loss and hostility and adventure was what started me off writing. I wouldn’t have called what I was doing as ‘writing’, it was more working things out and trying to reflect. It was not intended for anybody to see”.

Among the other participating British authors were Bernardine Evaristo, Katherine Rundell, Moin Mir, Alex Von Tunzelman, Alex Renton and Orlando Figes. Among the prominent Indians were politician Shashi Tharoor, Ravish Kumar, broadcast anchor; Amish Tripathi, Amit Chaudhuri, actor Shabana Azmi, Javed Akhtar and Gulzar.

Book Links to main article

Kavita Puri, ‘Partition Voices’ (2019), published by Bloomsbury:–Untold-British-Stories—Updated-for-th/26699222

Manreet Sodhi Someshwar

Sathnam Sanghera, ‘Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain’ (2021), published by Penguin:–How-Imperialism-Has-Shaped-Modern-Britain/25901845

Anita Anand and William Dalrymple, ‘Empire’ (2022), Apple Podcasts:

Previously covered the Jaipur Literature Festival in person from 2015-18 and has been a community partner to the London edition of JLF at the British Library.

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Written by Asian Culture Vulture