With speakers like Margaret Atwood and Colm Tóibín, we show you how to navigate the ninth Jaipur Lit Fest
If the last eight editions of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) have taught us anything, it’s that the crowds are only going to get bigger. And with the programme list sporting names like Canadian poet and novelist Margaret Atwood, English comedian and actor Stephen Fry and academics like Thomas Piketty, we have no doubts that the audience will exceed last year’s head count of 2.45 lakh. And considering that multiple sessions will be taking place simultaneously, a plan of which speakers you want to listen to is imperative. While writer-publisher Namita Gokhale, one of the directors of the festival, promises that every session is special in some way, she does have a word of advice for attendees who are in a dilemma on which speakers sessions to attend. “Go for a bit of whimsy. Pick the things you’ve not learnt about,” she says. While that seems like a perfectly good suggestion, we take stock of some of the must-listen speakers over the five days of the festival, for those who want to behold the big guns.
Atwood kickstarts the JLF with a keynote address at the Front Lawns. Soon after, Irish novelist, playwright, journalist and poet, Colm Tóibín—who has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize multiple times—will be in conversation. We would not miss both, though the conversation with Ruskin Bond, happening simultaneously, is equally appealing. Scottish storyteller Alexander McCall Smith and Jamaican author of A Brief History of Seven Killings, Marlon James, are the other speakers not to miss on the first day.
Day 2: Busting myths
Start your day at the Durbar Hall with a lesson in history from British philologist and assyriologist, Irving Finkel, who will reveal a new interpretation of the Noah’s Ark myth. Then head to the Front Lawns for Selfie, where British comedian, writer, actor Stephen Fry (among others) will share pointers on capturing yourself in your writing. Don’t miss journalist Barkha Dutt’s discussion with writer Shobhaa De about the former’s anticipated first book, This Unquiet Land.
Day 3: Money matters
Get personal with Fry on the third day as he talks about his life and how he entered the world of theatre, radio, television and film at the Front Lawn. If you’re business minded, don’t miss UTV founder and entrepreneur Ronnie Screwvala’s discussion with Shobha Dee, on the role entrepreneurship plays in India’s future. Towards the end of the day, head back to the lawns where celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty will talk about his latest book on the politics of inequality Capital in the Twenty First Century.
Day 4: Back to back
Fans of Shakespeare are in for a treat, as Columbia University professor of English, James Shapiro, discusses his book, 1606: William Shakespeare and the Year of Lear at the Mughal Tent. We also suggest staying put at Charbagh for two back-to-back sessions. One on the ancient Indian knowledge systems featuring writer and economist Bibek Debroy, writer, biologist and broadcaster Aarathi Prasad and poet Sitanshu Yashaschandra. And another on how to write an effective biography with writers Tristram Hunt, Hannah Rothschild and Ben Macintyre.
Day 5: poems & more
On the final day, Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson gets chatting with parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, about her book Empire, that puts a positive spin on British imperialism. Post that, catch Jamaican poet Kei Miller and Anglo-Guyanese poet Fred D’Aguiar talk to dancer, novelist and poet Tishani Doshi about how family intrudes into their writings. The festival comes to a close with a discussion titled Is Freedom Of Speech Absolute and Unconditional?, with Shashi Tharoor, Kapil Mishra, Salil Tripathi, P Sivakami, Suhel Seth, Madhu Trehan and Anupam Kher.
Being JLF smart
Festival regulars (who have been to the JLF at least five times) share pointers on making the best of the five days:
You need to be there by 8 am for a good seat. Keep water and food at hand because if you get up even for a quick break, you lose your seat. The programmes get shuffled a bit, so take a look at the final schedule that is handed out on the day. And talk to the people on either side of you. They could be famous authors, celebrities or people with great stories to tell.
— Sujatha Giri, entrepreneur
It has been getting more crowded year after year. I avoid the weekends because they see the most crowd. Instead, spend the weekend shopping, sight seeing or squeeze in a polo match. Try to see how the indigo dyeing and block printing is done. But don’t miss the evening music at the festival.
— Anu Nagappa, designer
Chai & shisha
While there’s no dearth of food stalls at the JLF, it’s the kulhar wali chai served by vendors in turbans that gets the most attention. But though stepping out for lunch involves braving the crowds, do set aside time to visit popular restaurants like Choki Dhani and Laxmi Misthan Bhandar for the vegetarian thalis, and Handi Restaurant for its laal maas. Shop for joothis, Rajasthani sweets, Jaipuri quilts and mirror work fabrics (shisha).
Where to stay
If you have not been lucky enough to land a room at the Diggi Palace that is also the venue of the JLF, there are plenty of alternatives ranging from the regal Taj Rambagh Palace to the traditional Samode Haveli. Other options include:
@ Hotel Madhuban: An initiative of the royal family of Patan, it is located near the heart of Jaipur. Rs. 2,099 onwards. Details: 0141 2200033
@ Umaid Bhawan: A heritage three-star hotel featuring Rajasthani style accommodation with balconies, courtyards and open terraces. Rs. 2,500 onwards. Details: 9314503423
k OYO rooms this Jaipur Literature Festival season and avail a discount of 35 per cent. Details: oyorooms.com
Every attendee of the JLF swears by the evening musical performances and this year begins with Rajasthani folk music by the Kutle Khan Project and a fusion of clarinets and Jew’s Harp by Yom & Wang Li. They are followed by artistes like fusion duo MIDIval Punditz, electronic fusion expert Karsh Kale, Canadian world music group Delhi 2 Dublin and folk band Swarathma on the subsequent days.
From January 21-25. Register on jaipurliteraturefestival.org
— Team Indulge