The festival began with the launch of Namita’s novel, Jaipur Journals.
The launch of the 2020 edition of Jaipur Literature Festival on the terrace garden of Delhi’s Taj Mahal (Taj Mansingh) Hotel, was both welcoming and cold. Welcoming because of co-director and hostess Namita Gokhale’s vivacious personality and the fact that she made sure everyone was enjoying themselves, and cold, well, because the temperatures had dropped to nine degrees Celsius on Monday night. The waxing Gibbous moon watched over the purple lilies and white chrysanthemums and a breeze made the flames sway in the tall firepots planted around the tiles to keep the guests warm.
The festival began with the launch of Namita’s novel, Jaipur Journals. It is a metafiction on her experiences at the JLF which will soon complete its 15th year. Next year's edition will be attended by writers as diverse as Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, Christina Lamb, Dexter Filkins, Forrest Gander, Howard Jacobson, Javed Akhtar, Paul Muldoon, Prasoon Joshi, Shashi Tharoor and Stephen Greenblatt. Speaking from the podium, Namita said, “Our vision for Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 is one of inclusiveness, bringing together literary excellence and interdisciplinary conversations from around the planet. We are plural, diverse and multilingual, representing over 35 languages including 14 from India. We are each other's stories.”
Sanjoy Roy, who is managing director of Teamwork Arts and producer of the fest, took a measured pride in the festival being able to manage such bountiful diversity. He reminded the audience that 80 percent of festival attendees are below the age of 29 years and looked forward to maintaining its core value of engaging young people. The youngest writer that they have invited is Anay Saxena and he is all of nine years old!
In a brief chat with Namita, I asked her, what was the hot new literary genre that has enraptured the publishing world? Without a pause, she replied that it was cli-fi or climate fiction which, she added, has taken off in India via Amitav Ghosh’s latest offering, Gun Island. Who is the most exciting new writer in India or abroad who has caught her imagination? She could not name any at that moment. Asked what event she most looked forward to, she said it was always the people who rose from unknown, even non-literary, backgrounds who had for her the most interesting stories. She is looking forward to listening to Manoranjan Byapari (There’s Gunpowder in the Air, Interrogating My Chandal Life) next year. Then she rushed off to her book launch but not without promising a longer email interaction later.
As the music played and the liquor flowed, I cornered William Dalrymple, drink in hand. History and memoir have made a comeback in India in the last 10 years, said William. He cited the example of his own book, The Anarchy. It has sold 60,000 copies in two months, he said. Stephen Greenblatt, whose biography of William Shakespeare, Will in the World, was on the New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks, and who has won the Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction in 2012 and the National Book Award for non-fiction in 2011 for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, is his favourite of the moment. William looked forward to hearing Avik Chanda, writer of the elegantly rendered Dara Shukoh: the Man Who Would Be King, at the festival.
It was nice to meet Urvashi Butalia (publisher, Zubaan; writer, Speaking Peace: Women’s Voices from Kashmir) on the terrace after a year’s gap. She was as kindly as always.
Now, solitude was calling. It was time to catch the Metro home.