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ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020 ends on a high note of camaraderie and hope with massive footfalls and stellar conversations

ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2020

Ends on a high note of Camaraderie &Hope

The 13th edition of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival,  concluded with appropriate applause and fanfare today as the Festival announced a total footfall of around 4,50,000 over the last five days and hosted over 500 speakers and performers from around 30 countries including the United States of America, Israel, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Myanmar, China, Canada, Czech Republic, Mauritius, Nepal, Netherlands, Oman, Portugal, Ireland, France, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, United Arab Emirates and Nigeria. Festival-goers from India and across the world witnessed around 300 events including sessions at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, the Jaipur BookMark, the Jaipur Music Stage, A Majestic Evening at Amber Fort, Youth and School Outreach programmes among others. The Festival featured conversations, debates and dialogue spanning themes ranging from the investigative journalism, war, language, politics, environment and climate change, gender issues, business, science and technology, along with broader areas such as fiction, stagecraft, mythology, crime, history, cinema, art, travel and migration etc.

Conversations on the final day showcased a multiplicity of voices, from feisty novelists to experts and policy veterans, reflecting the truly global and relevant reach of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival. With a large chunk of the audiences representing the young, the Festival’s potential to shape minds and inspire imagination is tremendous. As always, the Festival empowered participants through the stories it told and the importance it continued to emphasise on the idea of dialogue to seek solutions – integral to a world divided by differences, borders and boundaries.


 The morning wellness programme by EkPrana conducted a session on mindfulness, guiding the audience through a relaxing 15-minute demonstration and kick-starting the day on a positive note.  The sublime strains of the sitar soon added to the calming atmosphere at the NEXA Front Lawn. One of India’s most celebrated sitarists, Purbayan Chatterjee took to the stage to mark the final day of Morning Music at the Festival. Purbayan belongs to the Senia Maihar Gharana founded by Baba Alauddin Khan. A recipient of numerous national awards, he is credited with conceptualising the first Indian classical band, Shastriya Syndicate. Accompanied by Zuheb Ahmed Khan on the tabla, Purbayan mesmerised the crowd as he played soothing morning ragas such as Miyan ki Todi and Mishra Bhairavi.

After a soulful start to the day, the first session at the NEXA Front Lawn, Climate Emergency explored the urgent and serious topic of climate change, recognising it as the defining issue of our time.   And the arts and cultural sector are no exception. Cultural organisations are in a unique position to challenge, inform and engage audiences in conversations about the environment. At a session concentrated on the topic, presented by United Nations India, panelists questioned the role of the organisation in the equation.

In ‘Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World’, author Avi Shlaim talked about the political unrest in Israel and shared his personal experience focussing on what is referred to as the ‘Iron Wall” method. “My family and I had to move to Israel because of the rise in Arab and Zionese nationalism. I wrote this book to rebel against the Zionese anarchy that was imposed on me.”

For the longest time, the Roman poet Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things was taught in schools since its Latin was par excellence. “It was beautiful but unbearable,” said Stephen Greenblatt in ‘The Swerve: How the Renaissance Began and World Became Modern’, and kept the audiences thoroughly engaged as he told the thrilling tale of the discovery of On the Nature of Things, in which one manuscript, plucked from a thousand years of neglect, changed the course of human thought and made possible the world as we know it. “I am going to talk about an obscure event of which I make an extravagant claim. No single event actually changes the world decisively. However, this occurrence turned out to have an extraordinary and rippling set of consequences,’’ stated Greenblatt on the event of Poggio Bracciolini finding the last copy of the poem.

In a candid conversation with noted historian Tom Holland, four biographers got together to discuss the journey they took to write a set of diverse biographies. Ranging from historical periods to lives of women that were buried in the past, their dynamic writings capture different capsules of history. On being asked “what prompted them to choose to write a biography?” by the moderator, Miranda Carter an English biographer, who has written the biography Anthony Blunt, replied saying that the story that you choose to tell has to have some kind of resonance, be something that touches you.” Ramie Targoff, another English biographer agreed, adding “Even when I wrote about a woman that I had very little in common with, I felt that I was constantly drawn into her story. In concluding her book, she said “I felt a sense of loss, almost postpartum-like, when I finished. A person who had occupied so much of my time was suddenly gone.”

Rashmi Dickinson’s Secrets of Amber was launched by the Hon’ble Tourism Minister of Rajasthan, Vishvendra Singh Bharatpur, with Dickinson’s husband Edward Dickinson joining them in conversation. A cardiologist by training, Dickinson shared how her interest in Amber was piqued. “I came to Amber almost 20 years ago, just as a tourist. I used to walk around discovering new things like a child,” she said. Around 2013, she started going for long walks in Amber. Eventually she realised that Amber needs responsible tourism to protect the social and architectural heritage of the town. “Responsible tourism would ensure that the visitors would like the monument more, and the locals would benefit too,” she said.

“When I began to translate Attar’s poetry, it changed my life. I found home. Are you ready to go on this journey with me today?” Iranian-born poet and playwright Sholeh Wolpé asked the audience as she celebrated Attar, the Sufi-mystic in the session, ‘Journey of the Soul’. In an enthralling session that combined poetry and performance, Wolpé collaborated with musicians to showcase her renditions of Attar’s Conference of the Birds.

In an engaging session presented by INOX, fashion designer Manish Malhotra, talked about his journey of 30 years in Bollywood with Safir Anand, a veteran in field of commercial and entertainment IP. Sharing his thought on what inspires or motivates him the most Malhotra said, “It’s okay to be wrong and make mistakes. All we have to do is to wake up the next day and say ‘it’s a new day’. We have to relentlessly keep working and wait for time to get back to us with results. The idea is to consistently re-invent yourself and not let filtered or layered opinions influence your works. When I meet youngsters, I try to learn what they say, how they look, what they wear and how they like to be looked. Observation and travel are my biggest teachers.”

In Forgotten Masters, William Dalrymple explored the artistic endeavour of the indigenous artists who painted for the East India Company.  B. N Goswamy, the celebrated art-critic and historian, introduced the author by describing his work as a “continuous pictorial narration”. Dalrymple traced the timeline of changing art forms and styles in India and how the originality and novelty of Mughal art slowly diminished around the 18th century. “There is a great deal of nervousness in Britain showing the artwork around the Empire, because it shows the facets of exploitation and rightly so,” the author commented on the emergence of a hybrid Mughal-European style during the British Rule in India.

“It is an attempt at a self-portrait of Caravaggio and you see in the painting two kinds of light. That weird window you see, it appears when you can’t afford glass- and the light hits the character of the young man. It’s an extraordinary violation of the usual form,” said Simon Schama, describing ‘The Calling of Saint Matthew’, painted by Caravaggio in 1600, at the session titled “Caravaggio” at Motwani Jadeja Foundation Durbar Hall.

The ‘autumn of terror’, during which five women were gruesomely murdered, spawned the legend of ‘Jack the Ripper’ which fast became one of Britain’s biggest cultural exports and even today remains a morbid tourist attraction. Even at the time of the murders in 1888, the story gripped not just Britain, but the whole world. While the murderer was never found, the ‘Jack the Ripper’ character that was created by the media became so famous that to this day, hardly any attention has been given to his victims. Historian Hallie Rubenhold’s book The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper aimed to set the record straight by shedding light on the stories of the victims. In an eye-opening discussion with writer and journalist Bee Rowlatt, Rubenhold separated fact from fiction, and turned the infamous legend on its head by looking into the lives of the women who have been forgotten by the history books. For 131 years, no one knew who these women were, the stories of their lives were hijacked by that of the man who took them, or by the gore of their deaths. The sensationalism of their story can almost be seen as having given rise to the tabloid media headlines that we see to this day – “if it bleeds, it leads,” Rubenhold exclaimed.

The day ended with the closing debate on if social media has divided society. Siddharth Vardarajan of The Wire, who was against the motion, said, “We forget who uses social media, what use they put it to. Medium does not divide society- don’t get worked up about it. We need to distinguish between those who use it as a method of communication and who use it as a method of division… I won’t name the villains but I urge all of you use social media in a creative and constructive manner to fight them.” Speaking for the motion, Makarand R. Paranjape said, “Social media does divide us in our convictions, but it unites us in our addictions. The worst of users can function under a fake screen; our terrible inner tendencies find a channel. We need to humanise our social media interactions.” He added further, “We need to resist being addicted to social media and the fake intimacy it affords.” John Lanchester brought the session to an end with these words: “We are living in a strange space. This stuff (social media) is new; it’s powerful. We haven’t developed the antibodies to resist it yet. However, I am sure that we eventually will and our grandchildren will ask us about this chaotic period of transition and if it really was like that.”

‘Social media has divided society’ at the 13th ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival ended with its characteristic fervour with a multiplicity of voices and opinions. The debate walked a fine line between blaming social media for societal divisiveness and accepting that people, in general, and throughout history, have been susceptible to being incited by outside forces  to form extreme perspectives.

Siddharth Vardarajan said, “It is not the medium on social media that defines its character. It is about the people who use social media to create real divisions. John Lanchester reacted, “Some social media apps are designed to deliver messages to susceptible people. This is because traditional media has been replaced (by social media) as a gatekeeper information.” Rana Ayyub was clear, “Social media shows a reflection of what society already is. In some cases, social media amplifies the voices of the dispossessed such as the protestors of Shaheen Bagh.” Faye D’Souza felt, “Social media allows individuals to have the power to spread viral messages. You can buy ‘virality’. Social media often takes away the nuance of our opinion.”

A true man of math, Marcus du Sautoy pointed out, “Studies have shown that 75 per cent of people polled believe that social media has divided society!” Makarand Paranjape however didn’t look at social media as a great divider if one could understand that, “it is important to humanise social media interactions and important to resist the attempt to be divided”. Mihir Sharma pointed out that “Social media has the great potential to unite. ”The Festival Bazaar with a vast array of artisanal products did brisk business and was a favourite haunt of attendees as was the JCB Prize for Literature Festival Bookstore, which stocked books by all participating authors and literary prize-winners. It was managed by Full Circle, and had a steady stream of bibliophiles going in to browse, buy and savour the feel and scent of new books.

Over 4000 people contributed to bringing the Festival together including a dedicated group of nearly 300 volunteers.

As the curtains came down on yet another milestone Festival chapter with a truly mind-boggling range of dialogue in both variety and depth, Festival Producer Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts announced the dates of the next edition as 28 January-1 February 2021 and mentioned some of the big-ticket authors who will be addressing the next edition of this truly incomparable literary carnival, which includes Alain de Botton, Christos Tsiolkas, Edmund de Waal, Eric Cronell, Geroger Saunders, Hermione Lee, Ian Rankin, Karen Armstrong, Lawrence Wright, Neil Gaiman, Nikesh Shukla, Peter Morgan, Prabhat Ranjan, Shehan Karunatilaka, Stacy Schiff, Vandana Singh-Lal, and Vikram Chandra.

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