More Indian voices at Jaipur lit fest next year

By Mohita Nagpal, IANS
Thursday, February 3, 2011

NEW DELHI - Over 60,000 visitors, 225 speakers, 140 sessions, four halls, over 9,000 books sold…the show is barely over at the sixth Jaipur Literature Festival and plans are already afoot to make it hi-tech and get more Indian voices next year.

For five heady days in January, Diggi Palace became the toast of the literary world, reverberating with talk of books and authors through the day and sounds of Sufi music and rock towards dusk.

“The real success of the festival lies in the fact that it’s becoming a good platform for new writers. Next year, we’ll try getting more Indian voices,” festival director Namita Gokhale told IANS.

Where else would you have found Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee reading from his book on a sprawling lawn or another Nobel winner, Orhan Pamuk, speaking of love or a candid Vikram Seth reciting “The Frog and the Nightingale” for school kids!

And the esteemed guests were charmed by the royal Rajputana hospitality showered on them.

“All of them were impressed by the energy and colour of the festival. In fact, author Richard Ford and columnist Tina Brown, on a number of occasions, mentioned that they had never been to a festival like this,” festival producer Sanjoy Roy said.

The Jan 21-25 gala celebrated the spirit of literature, pulling in the young and the old alike. It educated with back-to-back sessions by authors. It inspired, so much so that India’s budding writer population could see a jump.

The focus this time was on regional and Hindi literature with sessions like “Aisi Hindi Kaisi Hindi”, “Rajasthali” about Rajasthani poetry and “These hills called home” about voices from the northeast.

But the festival palette had something for everyone. From the purists to pulp lovers, everyone had something to take home and ponder upon.

If there was artist S.H. Raza painting a vivid picture with his words, there was also “Sex and the City” author Candace Bushnell making heads turn. The ‘reluctant fundamentalist’ Mohsin Hamid from Pakistan spoke at length while iconic Indian poets and lyricists Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi and Gulzar went on a nostalgic Hindi film music trip.

There were many evening attendees who just came for the free booze and music.

Bangalore-based Sanya Ralhan, an aspiring writer, said: “I lost count of the number of acquaintances I bumped into. My school friends, my college mates, everyone was there!”

It is, however, set to get more organised.

Roy, managing director of Teamwork Productions, has a few ideas up his sleeve. “Next year, free bars will be moved away from the stage area where the evening performances are held.

“Also, entry for these performances will be ticketed. We are planning to add one more venue and increase the size of Mughal Tent venue which will help accommodate 1,000 more people.

“We are also planning to go hi-tech by using using technology for registration, giving electronic IDs and stuff like that,” Roy told IANS.

With four simultaneous sessions at a time, visitors had to take many a tough decision every passing hour - on what to pick and what not to choose.

From the trauma of Kashmir to the past and future of Pakistan, the state of American fiction to the parallels between Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara and Mahatma Gandhi, there was never a dull moment.

While murmurs of how the festival was better and less commercial last year were rife amongst the literati, the author list boasted of the likes of A.C. Grayling, Martin Amis, Junot Diaz, Jay McInerney, Irvine Welsh and of course Coetzee and Pamuk descending on Pink City.

If Coetzee’s aloofness made headlines, then Pamuk and Man Booker Prize winner Kiran Desai’s appearance kept the paparazzi busy.

If Karachi homeboy H.M. Naqvi won the first ever DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, then Vikram Seth disclosed plans of “A Suitable Girl” after the stupendous success of “A Suitable Boy”.

As Gokhale puts it, the challenge of organising such a big event “is to stay rooted and not get carried away by our own hype. At the end of the day, people come to grow and learn. Size does not matter, quality does.”

(Mohita Nagpal can be contacted at

will not be displayed