The one thing that strikes about the event is the sense of fellowship that extends beyond readings.
Jaipur: Independent voices speaking on multifarious subjects on numerous panels are a welcome relief at a time when free speech seems to be muffled. And events like the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) serve as an ideal platform for Indian writers to attack the ‘right wing’ interference into common man’s life. The only regret is: it all comes in a piecemeal as these voices tread softly and cautiously. The one thing that strikes about the event is the sense of fellowship that extends beyond readings.
The chilly morning session on the fourth day started with discussions. However, there is not much to take away from writers if they fail to sort out the tangled thoughts in your mind. That’s why it’s important to have chatty moderators.
The discussion on The Art of the Novel: On Writing Fiction moderated by journalist writer Manu Joseph wasn’t bookish or scholarly: it was lifeless. Writers Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Neil Jordan, Paul Beatty and Richard Flanagan were the panelists. Mr Joseph had a straight set of questions such as — “What tip would you offer to aspiring novelists?” or “What makes a novel boring?” To which, none could come up with an explanation. Even his next question (How do you write on sex?) that might have flummoxed an Indian writer did not manage to amuse the panelists.
Irish film-maker and novelist Neil Jordon shied away from answering it with, “I don’t write on sex since sex stops the development of my stories.” But when Mr Joseph complimented English novelist Alan Hollinghurst about writing “good gay sex”, the visibly embarrassed writer said meekly, “That is the nicest compliment I have ever received.”
MP and writer Shashi Tharoor’s inclusion as a panelist on ‘Nanhi Kali: Nutrition and the Girl Child’ surprised many. He looked reluctant but went on to narrate how he faced embarrassment when he once misheard ‘breastfeeding’ for ‘press freedom’ and gave his nod to the discussion he was invited to. Sharing the stage with actress Nandana Sen and activist Ruchira Gupta, he confessed to not being too familiar with the subject, but found it an ideal platform to lash out at the current government.
He said his tenure as a minister during the erstwhile government gave him access to some undeniable facts about policies, which he finds missing today. Ms Gupta also criticised curtailing budget allocations to midday meal and child health. It was left to moderator Keshav Desiraju, former secretary in the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to balance out session.
Another session on Rewriting History: The Art of Historical Fiction had panelists British novelist Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Indian American writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Bangladeshi novelist Shazia Omar in conversation with moderator Sunil Sethi. The panelists tried to construct how they took out characters from history, but Ms Omar had a pretty sorted view. She said, “I wrote Dark Diamond to take a look at Shayista Khan, the Moghul viceroy of Bengal during Aurangzeb’s reign, and I discovered a poet, warrior, Sufi and visionary in him. Though Bengal flourished under his rule, he occupies only a few dry lines in history.” But do books alone act as the uniting factor among readers here? Nah...it’s also the sumptuous food that can make the world go round!