ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020
A plethora of conversations on everything from Spirituality to Citizenship and War Reporting to Writing Fiction
Day three of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 began with a soulful performance by Carnatic group Trayam who commenced their set with calming early morning Ragas. They combined music, meditation and literature seamlessly in their first song. Keeping in mind that they were performing at a literature festival, they celebrated the word and included various languages in their set – starting with Sanskrit, moving on to a Carnatic song, followed by spiritual poetry and a Kabir doha. The Trayam ensemble, made up of classical musicians BC Manjunath, Praveen D. Rao and Varijashree Venugopal, performed with an array of musical instruments – the South Indian flute, harmonium, tabla, mridangam, tanpura and kanjira and had vocalist Varijashree on vocals.
‘Of the People, By the People: The Indian Constitution’, a session on at the NEXA Front Lawn of the Festival explored how the Constitution of India, the world’s longest one till date and 70 years old in 2020, came into being. On the eve of our 70th Republic Day, the Festival presented a powerful session featuring Madhav Khosla, Margaret Alva and Navin B. Chawla in conversation with Saif Mahmood. Navin B. Chawla said, “People mustn’t lose faith in our institutions, in our Constitution. It’s time we must empower them, the Election Commission, the Supreme Court.” With a somewhat different perspective, politician Margaret Alva said, “Women in politics today bring out the human side of development at the grass-root level.”
“When you want to learn something about another world, you read the cookbooks of that world.” This sentence by literary critic and moderator Chandrahas Choudhury encapsulated why Madhur Jaffrey’s work is of immense importance for not only Indians, but also for everyone who wish to learn more about India. On the third day of the Festival, at a session presented by UFO Moviez, Jaffrey spoke about her life and how food became a natural part of it. Jaffrey shared that she grew up in a joint family in Old Delhi, where delicious food was available aplenty. While the women of the family ate Hindu food, the men, who had been serving in the Mughal court, ate meat. This exposed her to a wide variety of delicious dishes. At the end of her teens, Jaffrey said that she decided to be an actor. Consequently, she left Delhi to study drama in London. There were two things that disappointed her about London- the smog, and the food. She said, “The food in post-war London was awful. At the (drama) institute, all we got was watery potato, watery cabbage and see-through bread.” This experience prompted her to reach out to her mother, who provided her with some delicious Indian recipes which she could cook in London. This became the start of her now-legendary culinary journey.
Glamour, make-up, lights, camera, dresses, fame. How does it feel like to be associated with the fashion industry for three decades? Nicholas Coleridge, in his memoir The Glossy Years, gives us a glimpse into the world of glossy magazines through personal experiences and anecdotes. At his session titled “Vogue House”, presented by INOX Nicholas, Coleridge recounted, “I can still remember the precise moment I fell in love with magazines. At Vogue House, lifts were very interesting. When they opened, you never knew who you might see. When I joined Vogue, the editorial team just had fourteen people. Tina Brown was so ruthless that she fired everybody between number 2 and number 13 in the first year that I was there!”
Motwani Jadeja Foundation presented a session on the youth of the nation, about their aspirations, fears, vulnerabilities and their view of the future of their nation and planet. Bringing his decade-long experience in gender and sexual rights, Rafiul Alom Rahman said, “In India, spaces have failed us in many ways – we need a space where people can create stories in all their complexities and contradictions. Sometimes, we have to fight our own battles.”
At a packed session presented by INOX , on the book The Girl from Aleppo: Nujeen’s Escape from War to Freedom, bestselling British author Christina Lamb said, “It’s difficult…you see terrible things…but you get hope from people like Nujeen…these people give you faith in humanity.”
As we witness a boom in technology and access to it in developing countries, a diverse panel of digital experts discuss the future of technology in emerging markets, and how it can be harnessed most effectively for its growing user base. Digital anthropologist Payal Arora examines the online lives of millions of people in China, Brazil, India and across the Middle East in her insightful book The Next Billion Users: Digital Life Beyond the West. Jaspreet Bindra’s recent The Tech Whisperer speaks of digital transformations and disruptions, and the technologies that enable this shift. At a session presented by NEXA, they discussed the different aspects of emergent technologies and how to leverage them in a constantly-changing and ever-connected world, with particular reference to the needs and aspirations of the next billion users. Speaking at the session, Payal Arora said, “We often assume that the tech companies have their users in mind when putting out tech, but often this is not the case – if they actually did then imagine what could be!”
The JCB Prize for Literature series, conducted an enlightening session on ‘Literature for All’ with Ananth Padmanabhan, Dipendra Manocha and Siddhant Shah in conversation with Mita Kapur. The session talked about ‘inclusivity in literature’ for people with disabilities who can’t read or understand from printed books. The session highlighted the efforts taken by several NGOs and the publishing world in addressing this challenge faced by visually-impaired readers and stressed upon the need to make the solution affordable through the active participation of governments, the publishing industry and corporates as part of their social responsibility.
In ‘Shikara: The Untold Story of Kashmiri Pandits’ author and Journalist Rahul Pandita alongside film director, screenwriter and producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra in conversation with Shunali Khullar Shroff. Vidhu Vinod Chopra spoke about his upcoming film Shikara set against the beautiful valley of Kashmir. Described as a love letter to the land, it is a powerful, moving account of the true story of the exodus of Kashmiri pandits in the year 1990. With the region under national scrutiny at this time and recollections of past injustices abound, the timing of the release could not be more pertinent. Sharing his inspiration in making the film, Vidhu Vinod Chopra said, “In 2008, I began making a film on Kashmir. Shikara is a tribute to my mother. But it is also a tribute to all the mothers that have been exiled out of their homes in Kashmir.” Recounting from lived experiences and his book research, Rahul Pandita said, “Let me try to paint a picture for the audience of how Kashmir was in the 1980s – ‘86 onwards the situation turned drastically, ‘89 onwards there were bomblasts and after that, there were killings of Kashmiri Pandits. The Kashmir I lived was always going to result in a mass exodus.”
The session ‘Where Does Fiction Come From?’ explored the thinking process of fascinating writers of fiction. Moderated by Chandrahas Choudhary, the conversation revolved around understanding the place where fiction is brewed. For Elizabeth Gilbert, the best-selling author, fiction comes from a place that she calls “mothership”. She also lets the tone of the book decide what it wishes to be. “Does this book want to be a novel or non-fiction? You have to taste your way into it!”. When Franco-Moroccan writer, Leïla Slimani, began to write ‘The Perfect Nanny’, after having written 150 pages, she realized that she found her own work boring because the life of the nanny that she was projecting was very monotonous. “So, I decided she (the Nanny) was going to kill the children!” Slimani believes that when an author writes a novel, they want people to “turn the pages. For the fictional story to be interesting, “you have to work!”, said Slimani.
India’s Olympic Story by Nalin Mehta and Boria Majumdar traces India’s involvement in the world’s most renowned sporting event to the First World War, based on newly-found documents at the Public Records Office in London. A session featuring the landmark book’s authors, alongside athletes Deepa Malik, Devendra Jhajharia, delved into the stories behind some of our sporting stars who became national icons and their tales of triumph and indomitable will.
Dettol Banega Swasth India presented a session featuring Amitabh Kant, Namita Waikar and Parameswaran Iyer in conversation with Sanchaita Gajapati. Setting the narrative for the discussion, Sanchaita Gajapati highlighted the path-breaking initiative that Prime Minister Narendra Modi first spoke in his address to the nation on 15th August 2014. And then started the formation of an impeccable team of seasoned bureaucrats, technocrats and social workers to lay-out the planning and execution of a humungous national exercise. During the session Parameswaran Iyer said, “Swachh Bharat was a social revolution largely involving a behavioural change. It was not a story of one hero but a billion heroes across the nation.” Speaking about the key objectives of the campaign, Amitabh Kant said, “Swachh Bharat was never a toilet-construction programme but a behavioural change one. It is the people of Indore and Bhopal who have to be congratulated for making their cities ‘the cleanest in India.”
The Festival’s B2B platform Jaipur BookMark (JBM) ended on the evening on the third day of the Festival. Having started a day ahead of the Festival, the four days at Jaipur BookMark featured conversations steeped in literature and the various aspects of books and the book industry. On the sun-soaked terrace of the DC Books JBM Haveli hung an air of energetic anticipation of the iWrite presentations, a key mentorship programme of the Jaipur BookMark. As part of the programme aspiring writers got an opportunity to pitch unpublished manuscripts, short stories, poetry and works of fiction and non-fiction to international publishers, literary agents, translators and other industry experts and perhaps even sign a book deal! Mehool Parekh’s Bhoot, Bhavish, Bartaman read by Vani Tripathi Tikoo and Vikram Chandra speaking on The Writing Life set the tone for the events to come. This was followed by ‘A Master Class on Pitching’ which included panelists Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, Jan Stocklassa, Jayapriya Vasude-van, Kanishka Gupta, Mahendra Singh, Vineet Bajpai and Vaishali Mathur. Naveen Choudhary engaged the audience with a crisply succinct session on ‘How to use social media as a writer’.
The final day of JBM also featured two Festival Director’s Panels where 23 Directors and organizers of 21 book, literature and writers’ festivals from across 16 countries gathered to discuss the various aspects of running a festival. The first one had an opening presentation by Jean-Claude Perrier titled The Colour of Money. Following this, festival directors including Alexandra Büchler, Anne O’Brien, Elin Jones, Ilke Froyen, Jessie Friedman, Marion Regenscheit, Preeti Gill, Rashmi Ranjan Parida, Ravi Deecee and Vilis Kasims in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy discussed the issues of money and sponsorship support as an important aspect of their profession. The second Festival Directors’ Panel started with an opening statement by Namita Gokhale, Transforming Challenges into Opportunities. In conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy, Ana Filomena Amaral, Anisur Rahman, David McWilliams, Jessica Alice, Marisol Schulz Manaut, Mita Kapur, Namita Gokhale, Natalia Lomouri, Raghav Chandra, Ravi Deecee, Simon Westcott and Tziona Shamay discussed the autonomy of literary festivals in the contemporary cultural economy. Acclaimed festival directors discussed the challenges faced by them.
Jaipur BookMark marked its end with a Closing Ceremony featuring Aditi Maheshwari Goyal, H.E. Hans Jacob Frydenlund, Namita Gokhale, Naveen Kishore, Neeta Gupta, Ravi Deecee and Sanjoy K. Roy.