When the seventh edition of the most famous Jaipur Literature Festival opened at Diggi palace in Rajasthan (India), the charter was set by none other than the famous economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. And, what did he want for the country, the third world nation which on the throes of turning into a vibrant economy?
Sen batted for several aspects that were to be taken forward by the intelligentsia and the policy makers. He wanted the poor to get more subsidies, religion-based hate politics to be shown the door, the breaking-news-at-break-neck-speed media turning more sensitive, among others. As for education he wanted the focus to equally turn towards studies in humanities, with as much emphasis as the pure sciences got.
The economist dreamt of an Indian democracy with an underlying objective of turning into a welfare state cared for its less-fortunate sections, the people from vulnerable communities.
Jaipur Literary Festival (JLF) has none other than the celebrated British author William Dalrymple for its founding father who organized it first in 2006, has seen a lot of success in terms of being replicated in many parts of the world, including several states and metros within Indian nation.
At a time when one of the fundamental rights, freedom of expression - whether it is that of an author, artist or performer - is being snubbed, threatened and sometimes even tramped over; JLF reaffirms the thought that not all's lost with the Indian society yet.
The festival, at the core of which is the interaction between authors, thinkers and readers, has seen a surprise draw with people from all over the world, participating year after year.
Writers weave their thoughts with words for their readers. However, it is rare for a reader to get to meet his author; despite his close connection with the latter through his words. That's the closest literature gets to the lives of people who scamper through a mundane existence in the modern, technology-driven world. At JLF, authors meet a cross section of readers who arrive to see/hear them. That's been an astounding success for a literary event, even as cries of 'people don't read anymore' get louder. May be, we are really ignoring some important pointers from readers themselves, when we hear such claims?
Sessions at JLF were packed with audience from a cross section of the society. There were college-goers and then there were veterans. But, a space for all was certainly available. The event is regarded as the cultural catalyst which is exposing its audiences to constantly emerging ideas for a better society. It's a space to dare, dream and imagine, say the organizers.
The panelists ranged from local language writers, foreign authors, Nobel Laureates, Man Booker Prize awardees, first time authors, et al. Names were impressive and sometimes mind boggling. And yes, there were a handful of politicians too, just in case they thought they fit into the scene!
Jaipur Literary Festival was initially about thought-provoking works by authors and their interaction with their readers. Eventually, as everything turns 'fluffy' with celebrity-hood attributed to any event which draws crowds, the Lit Fest here too seems to have turned rather glamorous.
Through the years, instead of sharpening the focus, there have also been noises and opinions that JLF has turned into an 'all pomp and show' kind of an event where people arrive to 'be' at the event, than having to 'participate' in it, for their share of take away.
Like all literary events where thinking and thought-provoking lectures turn the main fodder are faced with moments of threat and intimidation, JLF served its time on this front when the renowned and equally controversial author Salman Rushdie was supposed to attend in 2012.
Despite a huge number of fans waiting to hear the author speak about his works and what inspired them, were in for a huge disappointment. Rushdie didn't turn up since he had received 'serious death threat' if he were ever to set his foot in India. Rushdie's book 'Satanic Verses' is banned in the country.
In a statement sent to the event's organizers, Rushdie explained why he chose to stay out. According to a news channel, it was because he had 'learnt' that the hit men were already on their way to Jaipur to kill him. Later, he also tweeted saying he had received this information from Rajasthan police, who may have invented the theory to keep him from participating in the event, claiming it to be a conspiracy against him. "I have investigated and found that I was lied to. I am outraged and very angry," he had said, amidst feverish rebuttal from Rajasthan police who stuck to their version that threats were genuine.
Amidst this spat, the event continued with its activities. And, year after year, the event seems to have gathered more glitter, at the cost of departing from its vision to 'dare and dream', feel the participants.