Jaipur festival will celebrate literature, language, music, dialogue, and debate

The 13th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival, which will take place from January 23 to 27 in the Pink City’s Diggi Palace, will host more than three hundred authors, thinkers, politicians, journalists, business leaders, and popular cultural icons from more than twenty countries.

Author and festival co-director Namita Gokhale says that the organisers’ vision for the 2020 festival is one of inclusiveness, “bringing together literary excellence and interdisciplinary conversations from around the planet”.

Gokhale added: “We are plural, diverse and multilingual, representing over 35 languages including 14 from India. We are each other’s stories, and the 2020 Jaipur festival will once again share the joy of narratives, of music and poetry, dialogue and debate.”

Writer and festival co-director William Dalrymple (pictured left) described the 2020 non-fiction line-up as “a world-beating roster of award-winning historians, biographers, memoirists and travel writers, including our biggest haul of Pulitzer Prize winners ever”.

The 2020 line-up also features “an astonishing line up of Booker-winning novelists”, Dalrymple says. These include the Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson, who has written more than 16 novels including his most recent book, Live a Little.

The five-day event is the largest free literature festival in the world and has so far hosted nearly 2,000 speakers and welcomed more than a million book lovers.

Other prize-winning authors who will be speaking this year include Elizabeth Gilbert, who is best known for her memoir Eat, Pray, Love; John Lanchester, whose five novels and four works of nonfiction have been translated into thirty languages; and Franco-Moroccan journalist and activist Leïla Slimani, who won the Prix Goncourt for her second novel, Chanson douce, and is the author of the nonfiction book Sexe et mensonges about the sexual life of Moroccan women.

Dalrymple added: “We also look forward to hearing our most talented ever pool of poets including Lemn Sissay, Simon Armitage, Forrest Gander, and Paul Muldoon. Above all we’ll have a special focus on climate change with world-leading experts like David Wallace-Wells.”

Lemn Sissay is also a playwright, performer, and broadcaster. He has read on stage in a host of venues ranging from the Library of Congress in The United States to the University of Addis Ababa.

Armitage has published 12 full-length collections and is a recipient of the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Gander is an eminent translator and author of the Pulitzer-winning collection of poems Be With. Muldoon is the author of Moy Sand and Gravel, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003.

Wallace-Wells is is the author of the international bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. He will be taking part in two sessions, “Client Earth” on January 24, and “Uninhabitable Earth” on January 26.

This year’s speakers will also include Nobel laureate Abhijit Vinayak Banerjee, who is the Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, a founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, and the co-author of Good Economics for Hard Times. Banerjee was also co-winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2019.

Nicholas Coleridge (pictured left), who is chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, former editorial director and managing director of Condé Nast Britain and former president of Condé Nast International, will also be at Jaipur this year. Coleridge is the author of 14 books, including his memoirs The Glossy Years, Paper Tigers, and The Fashion Conspiracy.

Other speakers include The New Yorker journalist Dexter Filkins, who won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009 for his work in a team of reporters who covered Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pulitzer winner Stephen Greenblatt, who has written 14 books, including Tyrant: Shakespeare on Power, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, and Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, and the celebrated culinary expert Madhur Jaffrey will also be speaking at this year’s festival.

Jaffrey (pictured left) is also an award-winning actress. She won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 1965 Berlin Film Festival for her appearance in Shakespeare Wallah and has appeared in a host of films, TV series, and theatre productions.

Also in this year’s Jaipur line-up is the intrepid TV anchor, journalist, and writer Ravish Kumar, who is a Ramon Magsaysay Award winner; the former Minister of European Affairs for Portugal and author of The Dawn of Eurasia, Bruno Macaes; and bestselling author Åsne Seierstad, who has worked as a correspondent in Russia, China, the Balkans, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and has received numerous awards for her journalism.

Seierstad’s nonfiction book The Bookseller of Kabul was translated into more than forty languages. One of Us, about the far-right terrorist and mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who committed the 2011 attacks in Norway, was selected as one of the ten best books of 2015 by The New York Times and was awarded the Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding in 2018. Seierstad’s latest work, Two Sisters, about two Norwegian-Somali sisters who joined ISIS in Syria, was awarded the Brage Prize in Norway.

The 2020 line-up will also feature the former US Marine captain Anuradha Bhagwati, who wrote Unbecoming: A Memoir of Disobedience, an unflinching and critically acclaimed memoir that chronicles Bhagwati’s journey from being the dutiful daughter of immigrants to becoming a radical activist; journalist Ravish Kumar; the reputed Indian poet Arvind Krishna Mehrotra; and Parvati Sharma, who wrote the historical biography Jahangir: An Intimate Portrait of a Great Mughal.

Bhagwati, who is also a yoga teacher, founded the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which brought international attention to sexual violence in the US military.

SWAN advocates for and supports the needs of service women and women veterans. It works to open all military jobs to service women, expand access to reproductive healthcare services, hold sex offenders accountable in the military justice system, and eliminate barriers to disability claims for those who have experienced military sexual trauma.

Also at Jaipur this year will be the reputed scriptwriter, lyricist, and poet Javed Akhtar, who is also a respected social commentator and activist and a former Member of Parliament. Akhtar was the driving force behind the 2012 Copyright (Amendment) Act.

Irish columnist Fintan O’Toole will be in conversation with Suhasini Haidar in a session entitled “Heroic failure: Brexit and the politics of pain”.

On the last day of the festival, in a session entitled “Climate Emergency”, UN Advocate for the Sustainable Development Goals Dia Mirza; the UN’s resident coordinator in India Renata Lok-Dessallien; writer, educator and filmmaker Shubhangi Swarup; solar energy innovator and educationist Sonam Wangchuk; author Apoorva Oza;  and journalist Namita Waikar will be in in conversation with Samir Saran, who is president of the Observer Research Foundation and co-founder of the Raisina Dialogue, a multilateral conference about the most challenging issues facing the global community, which is held annually in New Delhi.

Also on the last day, there will be a session entitled “Textile Heritage: stories of changed and shared futures”. Himanshu Wardhan, who is the managing director of the online shopping platform Etsy India; academic Annick Schramme; the prominent designer Manish Malhotra; and the chairman of aesthetics and management at the University of the Arts London, Ian King, will be in conversation with the founder and director of the ARCH Academy of Design, Archana Surana, about textile and fashion legacies from around the world.

Some of the other themes being explored this year include “How the internet can end poverty” and “The digital and virtual futures of mankind”.

Surveillance capitalism, privacy on digital platforms, and data harvesting are just some of the topics that will be tackled by John Lanchester; Marcus du Sautoy, who is the Simonyi Professor for the Public Understanding of Science and professor of mathematics at the University of Oxford; and the founder of the advisory firm Digital Matters, Jaspreet Bindra. The three will be in conversation with the author of India Becoming: A Journey Through a Changing Landscape, Akash Kapur.

Author and science journalist Roger Highfield, who is the science director of Britain’s Science Museum Group, will be talking to author Keshava Guha about magic and science and Guha’s latest novel Accidental Magic, which is set in Boston and Bangalore and is the story of four very different people whose lives are brought together by Harry Potter.

The book is about the tension between duty and the individual pursuit of happiness and is described as being “an extraordinary novel about how flawed relationships can be; how we battle loneliness, live on hope and search for that perfect connection – often settling for imperfection”.

In a session entitled “The Art of Innovation” Tilly Blythe will be in discussion with Payal Arora (pictured left) and Tarun Khanna about the connection between science and the arts.

Blyth is co-presenter of a landmark twenty-part BBC radio series that looks at the shared cultures of art and science over the past 250 years. She is a trustee of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, a UK-based charity that works to enable people all over the world to harness the power of digital technologies.

Tarun Khanna is the Jorge Paulo Lemann Professor at Harvard. He works primarily with entrepreneurs across developing countries, focusing on entrepreneurship as a means to social and economic development. He is the author of the books Winning in Emerging Markets, Trust, and Billions of Entrepreneurs.

Arora is a Professor at Erasmus University, Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and the award-winning author of several books, including The Next Billion Users.

In another session entitled “Tech Horizons: The Next Billion Users” Arora and Jaspreet Bindra will be in conversation with technology and business reporter Vindu Goel.

The climate emergency is a major theme this year, says Sanjoy K. Roy, who is the managing director of Teamwork Arts, who produce the Jaipur festival.

“You’ll see many sessions on the climate emergency, and, on the music stage, you’ll have Ricky Kaj talking about the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, ” Roy said.

The climate emergency theme runs through a number of sessions that are not listed as being specifically about climate, for instance the session about the Himalayas, Roy says. There will be a session on the second day of the festival about the floods that have ravaged India’s urban landscapes with unprecedented fury over the past decade.

The organisers of JLF have launched a new initiative to offset the festival’s carbon footprint. Visitors are being encouraged to sign up to have a tree planted for 100 rupees (about $US1.4).

The JLF team has been working with an NGO to calculate the carbon footprint that is created by the festival, for instance by people flying in, and how many trees need to be planted to offset that footprint.

People who sign up get a tree planted for them by the NGO in Neemrana on the border between Haryana and Rajasthan. “It’s in a new plantation area that’s been created just for this purpose,” Roy said.

Talking about the current political context in India, Roy said: “The festival has never really looked at the most popular book of the moment, or the most popular idea at the moment. What we’ve looked at is what are some of the consequences that follow up from that?”

India is this year celebrating the 70th anniversary of its constitution so there will be a series of sessions about that.

Much of the change that is occurring in India is being driven by women and young people, Roy says. There is a whole series of sessions in which young people give voice to their concerns, he adds, and the series on women “continues to celebrate that they are the people coming out to the forefront today”.

There won’t be a specific debate or discussion about the controversial amended citizenship Act or the National Population Register (NPR)

“I think there’s enough being said out there, and, in terms of a debate, it’s every hour, every minute, so I don’t think we can contribute anything.

“There’s no new major book that’s been written on that. But it’s certainly been written on the constitution, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at. A far more deep dive.

“This is not a television debate, in which you can bring five people to the panel to shout and scream; it’s really about getting a perspective, being able to understand much more the fundamentals of what’s bringing about the kinds of change that we are seeing; what’s bringing about the kinds of movements that we’re seeing; and what’s bringing about the return to some extent of tribalism and nationalism.”

This return to tribalism and nationalism is not just happening in India, Roy says. It’s happening across the world. “It is very much the return of the city state, where it’s about me as opposed to being about all of us.”

The Jaipur festival, Roy says, reflects change. “It reflects a whole new world with science and technology and artificial intelligence. And this is something that I’m looking forward to exploring with people like Marcus du Sautoy.”

An artificial divide has been constructed between the arts and sciences, Roy says.

“Without creativity, you’re not going to envision going to space and, without the sciences, you’re not going to be able to bring to reality the creativity that you may have within you.”


Science and creativity

Roy and Marcus du Sautoy will discuss artificial intelligence and creativity in a session on Day 4 of the festival.

Du Sautoy and Shubha Mudgal will give the festival keynote address about “The Arts, Sciences, and Creativity”. Mudgal has specialised in the Hindustani classical genres of khayal and thumi-dadra. She is the recipient of several national and international awards. Her debut collection of short stories revolves around the music that has nurtured her and helped her to find her voice. Du Sautoy is the author of six books, including his most recent work, The Creativity Code.

Shashi on Shashi

The long-time festival regular, MP and author Shashi Tharoor, will be taking part in numerous sessions, including one entitled “Shashi on Shashi” in which he will talk to the managing director and publisher at Hurst Publishers, Michael Dwyer, about the personal and the political and the beliefs and ideas that have anchored him in his public life and literary career.

Tharoor is the author of 19 fiction and non-fiction books, including The Great Indian Novel, An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India, and the recently published The Paradoxical Prime Minister, about Narendra Modi.


Acclaimed authors and poets

The 2020 line-up also includes numerous Sahitya Akademi winners, including Ashok Vajpeyi, who has written thirty books of poetry and criticism published in Hindi.

Chitra Mudgal will also be at Jaipur 2020. Mugdal is the author of Avaan, which has received worldwide acclaim and portrays the era of the trades union movement during the time of Datta Samant.

The highly respected Urdu poet Javed Akhtar will also be there, along with Keki N. Daruwalla, who has written 12 volumes of poetry, six story collections, and three novels, and the poet, cultural theorist, and curator Ranjit Hoskote, who is the author of Vanishing Act, Central Time and Jonahwhale.

Other speakers include Anand Gopal, who was a Pulitzer finalist in 2015 for No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban and the War Through Afghan Eyes; Britain’s leading foreign correspondent and prize-winning author Christina Lamb; the author Jung Chang, who has won numerous awards; and the British author Miranda Carter, who wrote the award-winning Second World War novel Anthony Blunt: His Lives, and The Three Emperors: Three cousins, Three Empires and the Road to World War One, which is about the dysfunctional family relationships of European royalty before the First World War. Carter has also written an acclaimed series of historical thrillers, the first of which, The Strangler Vine, is set in India in 1837.

Poet, essayist, editor, and photographer Chris Agee, who founded Ireland’s premier literary journal Irish Pages: A Journal of Contemporary Writing, will also be at Jaipur this year, along with Thant Myint-U, who is the author of books on Burmese and Asian history and a former adviser to the president of Myanmar.

Myint-U has served on three United Nations peacekeeping operations. He is the founder and chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust and chairman of U Thant House, the residence of former United Nations secretary-general U Thant, who was his grandfather.

U Thant House was renovated for reuse as a museum dedicated to U Thant’s life and a centre for lectures, seminars, and other public events about the former UN secretary-general and his work.

A host of languages

A total of 35 languages, including 15 languages from India, will be represented at Jaipur this year. The festival will host speakers from the vast canvas of Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, Nagamese, Oriya, Prakrit, Rajasthani, Sanskrit, Santhali, Tamil and Urdu writing.

“The programme explores the magnificent legacy of these languages while examining contemporary trends in writing,” Gokhale said.

Speakers will include authors from the Czech Republic, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Nigeria.

Gokhale said: “This year, once again, we have endeavoured to get as many speakers from varying genres and languages to attend. We are eagerly looking forward to welcoming them and to the literary revelations they will bring with them.”

Sanjoy Roy (pictured left) says the event continues to build upon its core values of engaging young people “and creating a democratic and accessible platform, which offers free and fair access”.

The music stage

Speaking about the Jaipur Music Stage, which is set up every evening from January 23 to 25 at the Clarks Amer hotel, Roy said it was “a celebration of the word, connecting people across continents”.

In addition to the nightly performances, there will be music workshops and master classes and a bustling night bazaar.

This year’s performers include the popular folk fusion artist Aabha Hanjura, who stormed up the charts with her Kashmiri folk pop number Hukus Bukus. The festival will also feature the Dublin-based singer-songwriter Gavin James and the contemporary Indian group Parvaaz, whom Rolling Stone magazine have called “India’s most exciting band”.

The internationally acclaimed composer, environmentalist, and professor Ricky Kej will be performing on the first night of the festival. Kej is a Grammy award winner and a Kindness Ambassador for UNESCO’s MGIEP (Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development).

For his album Shanti Samsara, which was launched at the United Nations COP21 climate change conference in Paris, Kej collaborated with more than five hundred musicians from more than forty countries.

The Jaipur festival begins each day with the calming strains of Morning Music. This year’s performers will include  the sitar maestro and recipient of the president’s award for best instrumentalist Purbayan Chatterjee, the leading Carnatic veena player Saraswati Rajagopalan, and the renowned Carnatic vocalist Supriya Nagarajan.

This year, for the first time, there will be yoga sessions on the Front Lawn before the Morning Music from Day 2.

Jaipur BookMark

The festival’s B2B arm, the Jaipur BookMark (JBM), which will be held from January 22 to 25, is now in its seventh edition. It brings together publishers, literary agents, translation agencies, and writers.

Last year, a new initiative, iWrite, was launched for emerging writers looking to find publishers. Entries that make it into the Top 10 shortlists are shared with international publishers, literary agents, translators, and other industry experts in a face-to-face pitching session for a potential book deal.

Entries range from short stories and poetry to works of long fiction and non-fiction from published and unpublished writers across India.

“All of us have a story to tell,” said Namita Gokhale (pictured left).“iWrite helps give voice to aspiring writers, inspires them to grow and evolve and develop their craft.

“It’s an important platform to nurture talent and take the narrative forward.”

The JBM also recognises excellence in the industry with three awards: the Vani Foundation Distinguished Translator Award, which is given to a translator of Indian origin for his or her body of work in the field of translating between two Indian languages; the 2020 Romain Rolland Literary Prize, which recognises publishers and translators working on translations of French works into Indian languages; and the Oxford Bookstore Book Cover Prize.

Heritage events

One of this year’s heritage events at the Jaipur Fort will be “Jaan”, an exploration of public spaces through poetic whisperings” by Les Souffleurs Commandos Poétiques, which is a collective gathering of forty artists, comedians, writers, dancers, musicians, and plasticians.

At the Amber Fort, nine of the whisperers will give a specially curated performance in which they will explore India through selected texts by Indian poets writing in English, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Guajarati and Bengali.

There will also be a tribute to the late Ravi Shankar by leading sitarist Shubhendra Rao and his wife, the renowned cellist Saskia Rao-de Haas.

Indian classical dance will also be celebrated in a performance by the renowned Kathak dancer Rajendra Prasad Gangani, who will be joined for a grand finale by an ensemble of dancers and musicians.

While the Jaipur Literature Festival is free for those who have registered by a certain date, attendees can buy a special delegate’s ticket, which gives them access to the exclusive lunch and dinner areas and the delegates’ lounge, entry to certain special events at heritage sites in Jaipur, and an invitation to the “Delegates Only” session.

This article has been updated.