Numbers say a lot, and at the Jaipur Literature Festival — which kicks off on January 25 — they speak volumes. Try 3.5 lakh footfalls in the last edition, over 380 speakers representing 15 Indian and 20 international languages in 2018, and three international outposts — in Boulder, New York and London — for size. But what gives JLF its iconic status is not just its staggering size, but also its depth, feels co-curator Namita Gokhale. “When we do the programming, we put an enormous amount of work into the research and background. In my mind, JLF has become a place where India hears itself think and listens to itself argue,” she says.
The five-day festival promises some pleasant surprises. “We have three big writers who are returning — British playwright Tom Stoppard, Canadian poet and novelist Michael Ondaatje, and Pico Iyer, who brings an oasis of quiet and sanity wherever he goes,” says Gokhale. She is also looking forward to the sessions by Helen Fielding and Amy Tan. “This is Fielding’s first time in India, and she will be one of the stars. Her Bridget Jones series have become a mirror of how women perceive themselves in their self anxiety, and we are all very excited,” she adds.
Feminine voices are being highlighted in the 11th edition, with an important session around Angela Saini’s new book, Inferior. “She is somebody I am looking forward to. Her book is about how women scientists have been ignored or marginalised,” she says. The poetry element has also built up hugely, and Gokhale promises some excellent sessions for young readers, along with literature from India’s northeast. “I have edited a new book, The Himalayan Arc - East of South East, which will be released during JLF. It is about the area from Nepal to Myanmar and the cultural continuities there.”
The music and art experiences are always a highlight, and she asks us to prepare for a rousing show. After all, Zakhir Hussain, Kailash Kher, Shilpa Rao, and the Skavengers will be present, along with Afro Celt Sound System, Trippy Sama & Barmer Boys and others.
Where the crowds are headed :
From January 25-29. Details: jaipurliteraturefestival.org