Jaipur Literature Festival

Day 2 of JLF 2023 brings in award-winning writers and diverse themes

The second day of the 16th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival opened with a powerful Carnatic music performance by Aditya Prakash accompanied by the violin and the mridanga.

Some of the concluding sessions from the first day of the Festival featured one of India’s leading pop icons and playback singers, Usha Uthup in conversation with the translator of her biography, Srishti Jha, along with journalist Sathya Saran. While sharing her journey of how she became one of India’s leading pop icons, Uthup said, “…actually I was thrown out of class, my music teacher Davidson said that she couldn’t fit me in anywhere in the choir but they all knew I had little music in me…so I said okay and I stood on the side, of course, my lips did twitch a little bit…actually, I realised very early in my life that it was not music that was my business but communication and how better could I communicate with everybody while I am on the stage.”

International Booker Prize winner Geetanjali Shree, translator Daisy Rockwell were in conversation with Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar recipient Tanuj Solank. While talking about Geetanjali Shree’s novel, Maai, which was published about 30 years back, the trio also discussed how a daughter’s point of view differs from that of others and how the book breaks all stereotypes.

One of the cruel ironies of the climate crisis lies in the paradox of how those who have done the least to bring it about are the greatest victims and sufferers. An expert panel consisting of the Managing Director, Teamwork Arts and Festival Producer, Sanjoy K. Roy; recipient of the prestigious Eleanor Roosevelt Prize for Human Rights, Lakshmi Puri; the UN Resident Coordinator for India, Shombi Sharp, Padma Bhushan Shyam Saran; writer Tshering Tashi; and the Ambassador of the European Union, Ugo Astuto, critically examined the way forward post-COP27. Roy emphasised on the severity of climate change and how the Jaipur Literature Festival strives to be plastic-free. Sharp emphasised the importance of Sustainable Development Goals, stating that the IPCC 2022 report appears severe to the point of being unrealistic and that the world requires drastic change. Speaking of his perspective on the issue of climate change, Astuto took his turn on the panel saying that it is an existential challenge, and there is nothing that can be done, so he feels the need to rush in terms of mitigation and sense of urgency.
At the Festival today, author Tripurdaman Singh, celebrated author and politician Shashi Tharoor discussed the crisis of democracy. Addressing the role of public demonstration in a democracy, Tharoor, said, “The streets are only effective on an issue like that…for demonstrating how vehemently or strongly large sections of society feel… policies still need to be made by people made in offices.”

Philanthropist and writer Sudha Murty in conversation with renowned journalist Mandira Nayar discussed Murty’s first publishing experience when she was 29. Murty further emphasised the importance of her mother tongue, Kannada, and the culture of the land. While talking about the importance of being real and holding your own perspective and ideas, Murty said, “I connect to the people because I tell the truth. I don’t act.”

Hindi, spoken in several countries in the world today, has acquired diverse repertoires deriving from cultural and linguistic interactions with the ambient environment. Eminent Sanskrit scholar and Director of the Instituto Cervantes in New Delhi, Oscar Pujol and the Ambassador of Poland to India Adam Burakowski brought glimpses of the popularity of Hindi in Europe, as they were seen in conversation with author and Indian diplomat Abhay K. at a session titled ‘Global Hindi’. Burakowski shared his experience of the last twenty-five years in India and how “Bharat” captivated him and drove him to learn Hindi and specialise in India as a political scientist. While talking about the importance of Hindi language, Pujol said, “I think Hindi is going to become a global language.”

Celebrated personalities – iconic poet, lyricist and screenwriter Javed Akhtar and acclaimed actor and social activist Shabana Azmi discussed the differences and similarities between their respective fathers – poets Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi – and their perspectives on love and romance. Akhtar spoke about the progressive writer’s movement and its origin from the All India Congress Conference which was presided by Munshi Premchand.

Acclaimed journalist Ravish Kumar spoke with editorial director of Rajkamal Prakashan Satyanand Nirupam and publisher and co-founder of Speaking Tiger Books Ravi Singh about ‘fear’ and its role in politics today. Kumar also spoke at length about political prisoners, the rich and the judiciary —are all afraid of the state. On talking about the impact that people can make in the country, Ravish said, “It takes time. To get out of colonialism too it took a long time. To get out of this too, it will take a lot of time… until the people change, and until they are aware.”

Indian Revenue Service officer Nirupama Kotru was in conversation with award-winning author and playwright Kishwar Desai at a session called The Longest Kiss: The Life and Times of Devika Rani. The session explored Desai’s novel of the same name and discussed legendary actor Devika Rani’s intensely private, controversial, and enigmatic life and death.

Biologist and author Merlin Sheldrake in conversation with writer Janice Pariat talked about his book Entangled Life and shed light on the enchanting world of fungi and how they are intrinsic to our existence. Sheldrake also talked about how deeply linked the arts and the sciences are and that the passion for both emerges from a place of wonderment and curiosity.

Nobel Prize winning author Abdulrazak Gurnah shared his life’s experiences that have shaped his literary work. In conversation with publisher Alexandra Pringle, Gurnah took the audience through his childhood experiences, where he led a life of naivete and simplicity.  In the context of the relationship between memory and writing, Gurnah said, “It is important to me that those events are not forgotten because what often happens, particularly with authoritarian states, is a new narrative is made, forced on you – the people, the citizens – in order to just make everything work the way in which the government or authority wishes. So it is important in my conception of writing not to submit to that, to keep the memory of what happened alive, to try and hang on to the things we know.”

Abdulrazak Gurnah, Alexandra Pringle at Jaipur Literature Festival 2023

Panellists C Raja Mohan and Bibek Debroy discussed their recent work Grasping Greatness: Making India a Leading Power in conversation with Lakshmi Puri. The book is a collection of essays, an earlier volume of which was called Getting India back on Track. Together, Mohan and Debroy shared a brief history of India’s economy in the post-Independence era. Talking about the changing status of India, Mohan said,“We have seen how India thinks about itself, and how India relates to the rest of the world – have changed. And this change has been facilitated by material resources on the economic front, and the willingness to think about the world differently, and think about our role differently.”

Javed Akhtar’s conversational biography Talking Life, featured him and the author Nasreen Munni Kabir in conversation with Managing Director, Teamwork Arts and Festival Producer Sanjoy K Roy. Akhtar spoke about his journey and his experience with meeting various actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Salim Javed. Akhtar also recalled his experience with Rajesh Khannna while making the famous movie Haathi Mere Saathi. Sharing an anecdote from his life experiences, Akhtar said, “We envy the freedom of a villain, we envy the freedom of a man eating a tiger somewhere… At the same time we admire him… He has no moral binding. This power, this freedom is admired by normal human beings. So that is why when I write them I feel lighter, I am not getting the baggage of morality…”

India’s relations with China have seen many ups and downs. From the 1962 war to the peace maintained by negotiations in the 1990s, leading up to the recent turmoil and unrest. An expert panel consisting journalist and author, Manoj Joshi; former Foreign Secretary and former ambassador to China, Vijay Gokhale; former Ambassador to Myanmar, Indonesia and Nepal & former foreign secretary Shyam Saran; and journalist and foreign policy expert Suhasini Haidar  examined the rising tensions at the unresolved LAC, and what that means for the region.

One of India’s most respected scriptwriters, directors, and leading poets, Gulzar was in conversation with award-winning translator, writer, and literary historian Rakhshanda Jalil, to discuss A Poem a Day, a volume of Indian poetry selected and translated by Gulzar.  Gulzar sahab said, “You will get the sense that shayari is not something that can be kept in the textbooks. It is as alive as you are, and the way you breathe, the poem breathes… I am giving you 365 days so that I can present to you a new shayar and language every day, and so that you can experience its breath.”

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