Quietly with not a sermon, the Jaipur Literature Festival struck some sacred notes. Even as much of the talk surrounded the overwhelming attendance, garm chai and plummeting mercury, there were authors and a section of the locals who gave the festival something more durable than mere discussions which ended in a matter of half an hour or so. Removed from the glamorous world of the likes of Ekta Kapoor and Raj Kundra, JLF made space for faith in all its multiple hues. From the lane leading to Diggi Palace to Baithak to Mughal Durbar via Front Lawns, every venue came alive with words of deities and messengers, prophets and believers. Again, ever so imperceptibly.
The sign of things to come arrived with Amish’s session. Amish is among the more popular names on the literary firmament and has in the past been known to be an atheist. At the festival though, he had a revelation for the media when he declared, “I am a Shiv Bhakt, a true devotee”. Speaking on the sidelines of a session, Amish, the man with the successful Shiva trilogy, credited his success to the deity. “Shiva has seen me through. I have turned from a non-believer to a believer over the course of the book,” he said. Now he is studying Krishna and Ram, possibly for his next book.
A little later, Reza Aslan, the author of the hugely-successful The Zealot — which is the story of Jesus of Nazareth not Jesus, the Christ — held multiple sessions with the multitudes seeking to pick his brains. Some sought his opinion on Jesus as a human being, others confined themselves to his religious teachings. Reza, though, insisted that his book was not religious. “I have studied Christ but concentrated on his life in West Asia, not as a miracle man who could heal. I have looked at him as human being in the world in which he lived, allowing that world to define who he was.” Apparently, people were very keen to discover Christ anew, judging from the lines of autograph hunters at the end of his sessions.
Then came the turn of the Blue God. During a session in the Mughal Tent, seasoned authors Pavan Varma and Lord Meghand Desai exchanged verbal volleys on Krishna. Kajal Oza Vaidya, the author of Krishnayan, claimed, “My book is about the human side of Krishna, which we never look at. Krishna is that character of Mahabharata that was created to make an ideal, someone who could do everything like a Bollywood hero but was basically a very nice human being; he was a head of his family, he was a political scholar.” Even as Lord Meghnad differed, Pavan added his bit. “Krishna is the most popular Hindu deity,” he said to a warm applause. In another session featuring noted author Anita Nair, Anand Neelkantan said, “Krishna is the most favoured deity. Ram is regarded as the perfect one but most our film heroes draw inspiration from Krishna”, attracting a peal of laughter.
Meanwhile, in the press lounge, a day after their session “Behind the Veil”, women writers from the Islamic world moaned the departure in practice from the teachings of Prophet Mohammed. “I believe in the Holy Quran and Prophet Mohammed’s Hadith but not in the Shariah interpreted by some mullahs,” claimed one. Another, who lives like a nomad, claimed “Only Allah sees me through.”
God! So many interpretations of religion, faith, messengers, deities! I had had my fill for the year. As I stepped out of the Diggi Palace premises, a voice called me back. “Sir, have a copy of the translation of the Holy Quran.” A young man beckoned. It turned out to be an English translation by Maulana Wahiduddin. I gratefully accept the book and move on. Again a young man calls me. This time he quietly passes on a book of Hadith. I take that too. I reach the end of the lane. I find a Hindu saint in saffron. “Want to learn about Krishna,” he half asks. As he passes on a booklet about the avatar of Vishnu, I get into the car. I have had enough teachings to last a lifetime.