Jaipur revels in lit fest warmth as curtains come down
The spirit of democracy won hands down at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2013 that logged nearly 200,000 footfalls up from 120,000 in 2012.
More people cutting through social divides mingled in a spirit of egalitarian camaraderie in their response to the intellectual rapid-fire as custodians of knowledge from the elite hubs worldwide reached out to connect to the "aam admi" in the Pink City.
The sounds of revelry gave away to silence at sundown on the bustling lawns of the Diggi Palace in the heart of the city Monday when the curtains came down on the five-day Festival with a animated debate, "The House Proposes that Capitalism Has Lost Its Way". The enthusiastic House rooted for a progressive brand of inclusive capitalism - paving the way for yet another year of pure fun.
The din raised over the last four days by 290 intellectuals on a wide spread to explore the new waves in homegrown and international literature, Buddhism in literature, core semantics, art, social issues and feminism fanned its share of duels.
A spat between Bollywood lyricist and MP Javed Akhtar and noted Dalit writer Kancha Ilaiah over religion, outrage over leading social commentator Ashis Nandy's remarks about corruption in Dalit ranks and media misquote of Minister of State for HRD Shashi Tharoor's address followed by a public apology gave the gala grist to live up its reputation as a platform of free but often prickly expression that the organizers strive to uphold.
It was almost a carryover of the controversy stoked by the cancellation of writer Salman Rushdie's participation at the festival after Muslim hardliners raised the banner of revolt against his "Satanic Verses".
The Muslim and Dalit groups invited Rushdie and Nandy for debates on religion and corruption respectively in open forums on the last day of the festival. "This festival has showcased as much possible Dalit literature in the last six years. We brought 35 Dalit poets in one of the editions," festival co-director William Dalrymple told the media.
The Delhi gang-rape occupied fore-stage as the retinue of more than 40 women writers, culture protagonists and performers raked up the slide in the country's law and order, justice delivery system and gender injustice. They were joined by a handful of men of international repute - who expressed solidarity with the gender insecurity inherent on the Indian socio-cultural canvas.
"Women's lives are dispensable," novelist Shobhaa De said.
"We are living in a changing society. Our forefathers did not see the amount of changes in the last 3,000 years that we have seen in the last 10 years," festival co-director Namita Gokhale said of the nature of the discourses.
On a lighter vein, Bollywood and cricket shone amid the intellectual melee. Padma award recipients Sharmila Tagore, the Bollywood actress of yesteryears, and Rajasthan Royals skipper Rahul Dravid fought for attention with the 14th Dalai Lama and 87-year-old iconic writer-activist Mahasweta Devi, two other stars of the festival. Man Booker prize nominee Jeet Thayil was honoured at home with the DSC South Asian literature award
Down on the ground, the news was mixed. While collateral business accessories and food - laid out in array of 10 pay counters - boomed, the festival run up a loss of around Rs 1.7 crore with sponsors pulling out at the last moment. "Everything here comes for a price...Even the glasses. But we will recoup," producer Sanjoy K. Roy said.
The sale of books at the Full Circle store - the lone shop - slumped. "It was less than last year," Priyanka Malhotra, CEO of Full Circle said. The total of Rs.50 lakh in 2012 fell short by at least Rs 20 lakh this year. The sale capped at Rs 30 lakh Monday.
The top of the sale line was led by Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson trailed by Pico Iyer, Ruchir Sharma and Nadeem Aslam, Malhotra said.
The day ended with a Writers' Ball at the 15th century Amber Fort.
And in writer William Dalrymple's words, "the world came to Jaipur and Jaipur went to the world".
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)