Read alert in Pink City
This year’s Jaipur Literature Festival brought its share of famous faces,
FIVE years is not a very long duration, but it took just that much time for the Jaipur Literature Festival to blossom into Asia’s biggest literatary event as also the biggest completely free festival of literature in the world. So, what has made this festival a huge success? Said William Dalrymple, a writer himself and one of the organisers, "There is no competition; no other book festival in Asia, though there is a huge appetite for reading books and meeting authors. For instance, people may have read Vikram Chandra’s books but nobody has ever seen him. So, if you bring such authors to the festival, the booklovers will come to meet them". He also attributes the festival’s success to his collaboration with writer Namita Gokhale, who is also an organiser. both have extremely good contacts in different areas. While I know many international authors, the same holds true for her when it comes to Indian writers in various languages".
On the difficulties that they had to face, he said, "We worked very hard for raising funds. Initially, we were making losses and in 2007, we were virtually collapsing when sponsors like DSC came to our rescue and covered a third of our cost. This year, it cost us Rs 2.4 crore, which we just managed to raise. We are yet to pay the organisers and it has been entirely honorary work at the moment".
And it’s not only the organisers who went gaga over the success of the event, those attending it had a word of praise, too. "I’ve been to hundreds of literary festivals but this has an amazing mix of writers and people. It's boisterous, I love it," said Tina Brown, Editor of The Daily Beast and former Editor of Vanity Fair. "The fact that it is the only literature festival in India and that, too, in an exotic city like Jaipur has contributed to its popularity," said Sri Lankan writer Romesh Gunasekera. Similarly, British writer Geoff Dyer said Jaipur was unusual in providing a level playing field. For Ajay Navaria, a Dalit writer, the festival provided a forum he was denied in the Hindi literary community, which he described as generally "caste-based and feudal". "Even in mainstream Hindi literary seminars and conferences, Hindi Dalit writers are often set aside. This festival was more democratic. My voice got heard," he added.
Apart from a lively mix of the literati, the festival also had a generous dose of the glitterati. An array of Bollywood stars brought in the glamour quotient. Dalrymple was candid about it, "They certainly contributed hugely to our profile. However, we have a strict rule that they must have a literary reason for being here". Obviously, this year was no different with noted actors like Om Puri, Shabana Azmi, Girish Karnad, Deepti Naval and Rahul Bose attending a better part of the festival. Not to forget lyricists Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi who, too, participated in various sessions. While Shabana read from her mother Shaukat Azmi’s memoirs, Kaifi and I, on the inaugural day, Om Puri interacted with the audiences over his biography, An Unlikely Hero: Om Puri, which is penned by his wife Nandita Puri. This year the festival focused on Dalit writings. "Dalit literature is a powerful new voice in India which has not been projected. We wanted to introduce writers whose works have been translated into English and Hindi," said co-organiser Gokhale.
Addressing a session, "Outcaste: The search for Public Conscience", Dalit writers made a passionate case for why the caste system would not go unless Hinduism went. "The reason most Hindus don't get worked up enough about atrocities against Dalits is that their conscience is not a public conscience but a caste conscience, imbued with values derived from caste," said P. Sivakami, a Tamil novelist.
Kancha Illaiah, author of Why I am Not A Hindu, turned up the heat further, by stating, "Hinduism is spiritual fascism".
"Being called a Hindu is like a gaali (abuse) to me because we are being called Hindu for vested interests but are being denied the rights of a Hindu. We cannot enter into their temples, we have to fight for it," said Om Prakash Valmiki, and added that caste enveloped every aspect of life in India.
According to him, Gautam Buddha and Guru Nanak made a huge effort to put an end to the caste system. "However, you look at Punjab today, Sikhs stand divided on caste lines. They’ve forgotten the message of their gurus who were strongly opposed to the caste system". He said a good Dalit writer hardly got any visibility while Dalit consciousness was not visible even in the writings of Ismat Chugtai, Nagarjun or Premchand. "The upper-caste Hindus have told us what they think about us but they don’t want to know what we think about them. The day they will know our viewpoint everything will change". He stressed on a review of the syllabus being taught in the schools. "Today’s education is not producing patriots but is turning children into narrow-minded Hindus".
Valmiki maintained that Dalits continued to be shunned in the realms of culture, literature and arts despite 60 years of Independence and numerous laws guaranteeing their fundamental rights. Coming from the southern part of country, Sivakami has had her share of experiences about the struggle of Dalits. She felt that that the Periyar Movement in the South failed to uplift the Dalits. "I think any revolution starts from the lower end of the society. However, Periyar picked up in-between groups and put them on to positions of power while the lowermost strata of society, Dalits, were left out. The movement didn’t achieve its goals as it didn’t touch key issues regarding social reforms ".