Jaipur Literature Festival is a Sumptuous feast of ideas, amalgamation of unbelievable minds and talents —Sanjoy K Roy

Irfan Ahmad for BeyondHeadlines

The 12th edition of Zee Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is all set to begin from January 24 in Jaipur. This five-day literary event has become the biggest festival in the world. The Festival, a dynamic coming together of ideas, and a literary, musical, artistic, culinary and historic extravaganza, has hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcomed over a million book lovers in the past decade. The producer of the festival Sanjoy K Roy tells in details how it has become so big.

How has Jaipur Literature Festival become the biggest festival in the world?

The Jaipur Literature Festival is a sumptuous feast of ideas and amalgamation of unbelievable minds and talents. The past decade has seen the festival transform into a global literary phenomenon, having hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcoming over a million book lovers from across India and around the globe.

What began with only a few sessions, a handful of speakers and a couple of hundred participants has continuously evolved over the years and added new dimensions, spaces, affiliate programmes and participation opportunities for audiences. While the hub of the Festival continues to be its customary home at the Diggi Palace Hotel, it now has extension events across multiple locations in and around the city including the Amber Fort, the Jawahar Kala Kendra, the Nahargarh Fort and Clarkes Amer Hotel among others. The Festival presents not just stimulating conversations on literature and the written and spoken word, but also including performance as well as visual arts giving it a vivid cultural backdrop.

The wide spectrum of experiences offered by the festival are what keep it fresh and make it stand out even after 12 editions. This year, we have introduced a kaleidoscope of new activities and programmes. This includes Jaipur Writer Shorts, which is being launched in partnership with Hotstar and features 75 exciting episodes on conversations from the 2018 edition of the Festival. We have a Festival podcast called the Jaipur Bytes in partnership with Launchora and Celebrate the Word, a social media community created for the Festival by Vayuz.

Jaipur BookMark, the B2B arm of the Festival, returns for its 6th edition and has become a one-stop-shop for publishers, translators, literary agents, booksellers and writers to meet, discuss ideas, and ‘talk business’. Jaipur BookMark will feature sessions on the challenges of publishers, the fate of bookstores, skilling for the publishing industry, translations and rights, market trends, art and design work in publishing, distribution models and many engaging discussions. It also hosts iWrite, a platform for aspiring writers to share their work with industry experts and get a chance to become published authors. It succeeds the very popular First Book Club (2017, 2018) Mentorship Programme for first-time writers.

The Jaipur Music Stage, which runs parallel to the Festival features a power-packed line-up of performances. Rooted in the heart of India but flavoured with offerings from across the globe, Jaipur Music Stage features a variety of artists from the international spectrum showcasing a multi-genre abundance in style, sound, and history. Be it world music, ghazals, funk, rock or the Blues, the Jaipur Music Stage 2019 is a music festival like no other; embodying variety, excellence and collaboration.  We’ve also added conversations at the Jaipur Music Stage where one session every day will feature speakers from the world of music.

Our Outreach programmes have made the Festival really stand out in terms of our commitment to give back to the people, especially our youth, ensuring that a wide variety of children and young people are involved in the ambit of the Festival. Our School Outreach Programme with Pratham Books reaches out to over 100 schools where speakers from the Festival, along with many others, speak to young people at schools. Our Youth Outreach Programme with the Yuva Ekta Foundation continues to engage with dynamic young individuals from diverse backgrounds and this year features an intensive two weeks workshop and performance series focused on Boundaries: Understanding and Redefining Safe Spaces.

I strongly believe that people love the Jaipur Literature Festival and keep coming back year after year, simply because of the unmatched experiences it has to offer.

Over the years, the large turnout proves people love literature. Do you feel any challenges in the choice of speakers?

Considering we’re bringing together more than 500 speakers and expecting half a million footfalls, the challenge is always to curate sessions and themes that would appeal to a diverse and often very discerning audience. Our veritable power-house roster of speakers reflect the diversity of the Festival’s programming in books, themes, subjects, and ideas representing literature and thoughts intrinsic to both India and the world.

The list of speakers this year features a stellar line-up of Indian and international names covering issues as kaleidoscopic as the classics, war, espionage, intelligence, politics, environment and climate change, women and gender, management and entrepreneurship, technology, along with broader themes such as mythology, crime science, history, cinema. Some of the key speakers at this year’s edition of the Festival include names such as Nobel laureate Venki Ramakrishnan, Man Booker prize winner Ben Okri, author and New York Times columnist Colson Whitehead, cosmologist Priyamvada Natarajan, Pulitzer finalist Sven Beckert, diplomat Navtej Sarna, and writer and columnist Ira Mukhoty, amongst others.

Do you think Jaipur Literature Festival provides a platform for free speech?

The Festival’s core values remain unchanged; to serve as a democratic, non-aligned platform offering free and fair access. Every year, the Festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.

This is 12th edition of Jaipur Literature Festival. Critics say that Jaipur Literature Festival is just a hospitality destination. What do you have to say about it?

The question answers itself. This is the 12th year of Jaipur Literature Festival and it continues to be one of the most important and transformative forums anywhere to showcase books, writers and ideas. With each passing year, the Festival has grown bigger and better. I believe that the success of the Festival lies in its ability to merge the human imagination, beyond borders and boundaries.

What is the role of literature in today’s society?

Literature expands our minds, helps our imagination fly like the eagle it is, gives us heroes, a catharsis, an escape, and sometimes a laugh. Literature encourages democratic discourse, freedom of thought through a range of voices from India and abroad engaged in informed and enlightened dialogue and promotes above all a love for the language. In the present day, literature has expanded into countless libraries and into the minds of many as the gateway for comprehension and curiosity of the human mind and the world around them. Literature is of great importance to an individual’s foundation to define and differentiate between what is right and what is wrong, something which is imperative to the development of a person, and indirectly, development of our nation.

How is the festival attracting youngsters?

The youth is not just a repository of fresh ideas, they are also keen learners, veering towards the classical arts. They identify with our rich roots and recognize their potential in taking India places. Hence, the discussions at JLF are always topical and attract both young and old minds alike. The Festival’s contagious energy coupled with the rich literary offering becomes a major pull factor for youngsters. The reason why Jaipur Literature Festival is a huge celebration is that each year the festival presents delegates with a new way of looking at things, something the youngsters always crave for. Moreover, with each edition, we endorse and encourage young talent be it writers or musicians, which really make us more approachable to young adults. The core idea is to bring together people from all walks and ages of life under the same roof to share their thoughts and inculcate and grow their love and eagerness towards absorbing the richness of literature and that resonates with youngsters each year.

What is your objective? And what all have you achieved personally from the festival?

Our collective belief is that the arts create tangible and intangible wealth and through such festivals, we aim to transform the cultural landscape while making the arts an economically viable and self-sustainable proposition and, at the same time, building brand India through it. The creative industry is seeing unprecedented growth worldwide, but its potential is still largely untapped in India. Our objective remains that through our efforts, we want to highlight the importance of the arts and how the creative industry can boost the country’s economy if we develop the right infrastructure and a growing appetite for it.

On a personal level, through Jaipur Literature Festival, it gives me great joy to nurture and encourage young talent. Last year more than 60% of our audience was under the age of 25, something that’s never seen at literary festivals, really. The Festival has been able to inspire and also create a strong platform for many budding writers who, in the last 10 years, have transformed into authors.

(Irfan Ahmad is an independent journalist. He writes for top publications like The Hindu.)


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