Best books presented in Jaipur Literature Festival 2017

When a book lover and writer wanders off into India’s biggest Literature Festival, words are going to fly out. JaipurLitFest (JLF) had been on my mind for some time but 2017 was the year to be when JLF itself turned 10 years old. I have a bitter sweet relationship with books. They kept me awake at ungodly hours in early school days and I took my revenge by writing one years later. I thought the patience required to have a comprehensible story reveal itself in my words will teach me a lesson strong enough to not attempt it ever again but alas! The writer’s demons would not leave me alone and the addiction ran deeper than any booze or weed can induce. I worked on more books and articles including this one right after attending the ending ceremony of JLF.

To walk into Diggi Palace, the famed venue of JLF (described as ‘nashediyon ka adda that ye pehle’ by my auto rickshaw driver – that does make it perfect, doesn’t it?) is like walking into a cerebral riot. The festival when calling in stalwarts of Art/Lit fraternity such as Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, Shashi Tharoor, Richard Flanagan, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, Prasoon Joshi, Devdutt Patnaik, Vikram Chandra, Sadhguru and so on, has to rise itself to meet the standards of its guests. Teamwork team led by Sunjoy Roy, did exactly this by making the festival itself a piece of art. Be it a funky decorated scooter or tuk-tuk providing intravenue commute or the elegant tent designs or the kulhad chai, the festival radiates Rajasthan, Indian culture, art and more art. So that when the literary youths wearing a turban with boots enter the ground, they mingle in rather than standing at odds. The aesthetics not only spoke and listened to the crowd in its own language, inspired it to funk up its crazy quotient.
Here’s a roundup of my favorite moments and reading lists for you lazy fellows out there!

1. Gulzar sahab opening the JLF in his trademark graceful yet cynical note – ‘Don’t make me sit on that high Guest of Honor chair in which my feet are left hanging off the ground. When feet don’t touch the soil, pen stops respecting the ink.’

Gulzar at JLF

Reading List: He is a living poetry himself. His latest launch is Suspected Poems

2. Sadhguru: Watching the famed guru for first time on stage, expectations were high. This comment of his stayed with me ever since – ‘Our souls are constantly trying to expand so as to increase our capacity to experience the cosmos – be it through arts, creation, power or sex. It is just our deepest desire to expand our being.’

Reading List: Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy

3. When I casually strolled into the Mughal Tent session by Vikram Chandra on visual poetry of medieval Sanskrit times, I was just trying to escape the crowd thronging the front lawn where Rishi Kapoor was launching his book. But in hindsight, that was the hand of destiny shepherding me towards the genius of this talk. In this nerdy talk, it became clear that he has embraced the formal logic of computing as much as his comfort with ambiguities of literary narrative. Effortlessly weaving the narrative between seemingly disjoint worlds of sanskrit grammar, and geometrical structures, Chandra never lost the grip on his subject or the audience. He gave vivid examples of medieval sanskrit poetry which when written formed interesting geometrical shapes such as matrix, spokes of a wheel and so on. I felt compelled to read him end to end after this talk.

Reading List: Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code

4. Neil McGregor, a name I had not heard of before. The British historian’s talk on Shakespeare’s Restless World covered themes and the times in which Shakespeare wrote his plays. It was reliving the moments of Elizabethan era – what people were like, what they felt, ate or saw. The fantastic execution ceremonies of law breakers, conspiracy of murdering the kings and disguises were Shakespearean themes picked from the very streets of London life! This was the first generation that had house clocks – that heard the ticking of a minute in their households. This was the generation that read Bible in English but whose grandparents were still reading in Latin – a theme observed in Hamlet where old people use Latin terms more commonly. If someone can make art history as interesting as this person (who headed London National Gallery, refused Knighthood, presented Art series on BBC and so on), then that someone has to be an extraordinary orator and presenter of facts. The talk was one of the most thought provoking and enchanting sessions of the festival.

Reading List: Shakespeare’s Restless World

5. Shashi Tharoor received raucous applause every time I heard him speak in 3 different sessions. After his viral Oxford Debate, Penguin was savvy enough to ask him to write a full book on British oppression. And being the walking historical encyclopedia that he is, he did it with flair! His speeches/arguments are music to one’s ears – the clarity of thought, articulation and relevance to the point with pleasurable succinct is a deadly combination. Although it was mostly rehashing of the Oxford speech, that takes little away from his oratory or the ability to get the audience going. No wonder, he was the part of panel for closing debate moderated by Barkha Dutt.

Tharoor at JLF

Reading List: An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

6. Luke Harding is a journalist at The Guardian, who was contacted by Edward Snowden. He had the unenviable opportunity to sift through the cryptic, intricate documents from NSA sent by Snowden and received multiple threats from intelligence agencies in USA and UK alike. In his talk, he repeated what we have been hearing about how nothing we do on Internet is private. But perhaps it was listening to his own story of being spied upon in Russia or the fact that it was a real person talking about it in front of you live – he was able to generate that sense of creep in the public. According to him we are living in an era which has crossed Orwellian fantasies in 1984. Thankfully, he ended up on a not so glum note, giving us tips on how to stay more secure – use paper for writing important mails and switch your phones off in any important meeting. Ha! Interestingly, while Harding sympathizes with Snowden, he has a much less forgiving take on Julian Assange.

Reading List: The Snowden Files

So, that was the JLF special for me. And here are some memories