Report by India Education bureau, Jaipur: The charisma of ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival regular Shashi Tharoor and the passion of Dr Jon Wilson, author of India Conquered: Britain’s Raj and the Chaos of Empire, are a potent combination for any panel. When the discussion centres on colonial legacies, the magnetism is amplified a hundredfold. The thousand-strong crowd waiting for the session, expected a fiery debate and that is precisely what the speakers delivered.
The Empire, said Tharoor, was an ‘exercise in serving its own perpetuation.’ It was utterly self-serving and ruthless, and all the good that came of it was happenstance rather than intentional systemic change. ‘What the British Raj has deprived us of is our self respect,’ said Tharoor, to enormous applause. ‘That, ultimately, is the key issue of colonisation.’
Both Roberto Calasso and Devdutt Partaniak have helped to re-connect modern audiences to the ancient world of myths, and both have shown a laudable cosmopolitanism and interest in the myths and stories of other cultures. The two great mythologists sat together on the morning of the penultimate day of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival to make an impassioned case for the relevance of the Brahmanas, a collection of commentaries on the Vedas, written in the eighth century, which are rarely read or discussed today – indeed, the last recent translation of the Brahmanas was written over a century ago.
‘It’s a big mistake to dismiss the Brahmanas as obscure texts focused on abstruse rituals’, said Calasso. ‘Firstly, they’re the first great example of prose in the world. Secondly, they are fascinating philosophical explorations of consciousness. Modern scientists still know practically nothing about consciousness – if they read the Vedas they would have a shock.’
With increasing discussion on the significance of world literature and the need for giving marginalized voices a bigger platform, the role of literary translators has gained more importance than ever. However, opinions differ on whether translation does a service to the original work by taking it to a wider readership, or destroys its very essence in the process. In Lost in Translation the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival welcomed a diverse panel of translators from around the world as they shared their experience and opinion. Radha Chakravarty shared the joy of ‘connecting readers of one language to a foreign culture’ through translation. Iranian-American poet and translator Sholeh Wolpé seconded the thought: ‘Only literature, art and music can bridge the gap between cultures. To that effect, it is our moral duty to translate.’ But literature does not enjoy the same universality as art and music. ‘The essence of literature is language, which is usually specific to nations,’ making literature from a foreign culture much harder to appreciate, observed British novelist Adam Thirlwell.
India should do more to support the emergence of a South Asian free trade zone, according to Binod Chaudhary, the richest man in Nepal.
Speaking at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival in The Colour of Money, Chaudhary spoke of his efforts over several years to promote such a zone, and his disappointment at the lack of progress. ‘It hurts that this is the world’s poorest economic bloc. India is an economic powerhouse, it has a responsibility to pull up its neighbours.’
In a panel on money, it was inevitable the panelists would discuss demonetization. Suhel Seth, managing partner of Counselage India, was a vocal advocate: ‘I think Prime Minister Modi has done a splendid job. No pain, no gain. In two quarters the pain will be over. To hell with the IMF’s predictions of a loss of 1% of GDP. I’m delighted that people are being raided for not paying taxes. Lock them up!’ Hindol Sengupta, editor-at-large of Fortune India and the author of books including Recasting India: How Entrepreneurship is Changing the World’s Largest Democracy, thought the move was necessary to reduce the black economy, which he suggested was funding extremist groups: ‘It’s noticeable that the intifada in Kashmir has suddenly disappeared.’
Richard Flanagan believes that research is overrated, a rather surprising statement coming from a Man Booker Award winning novelist, widely considered to be one of the greatest living writers in the world today. Flanagan’s opinion about research however didn’t stop him travelling to Japan to meet a guard from the prisoner of war camp where his father was interned, as part of his preparation for his Booker Award winning novel, The Narrow Road to the Deep North.
Flanagan is one of Australia’s most famous writers. For a certain generation of Indians, Australia is all about its mighty cricket team and a particular cricketer who went astray. Joseph joked, ‘On behalf of Australians, would you like to apologise for Brett Lee’s music,’ which Flanagan answered with an unentertaining ‘No.’
After reading a passage from the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan quipped, ‘If a writer knew what the book was about, they wouldn’t write so many pages, they would just tweet it.’ He concluded by offering respite to aspiring writers, ‘Literature has no responsibility other than not being boring. Its role isn’t to change the world, it is an aspect of life,’ he observed.
Prasoon Joshi defies categorization: an award-winning lyricist, a poet, an advertising executive who has won numerous awards in each of the fields he works in. In an insightful session at the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival, Joshi talked about the trajectory of his career and the position of art in today’s society.
‘What gives meaning to life can’t be peddled as a product,’ he said, referring to poetry and people’s hesitancy to pay for it. Yuva Ekta Foundation trustee Puneeta Roy enquired what that said about his advertising career, to which Joshi replied, ‘There is a transparency to advertising: it never tries to hide its intent. But look at the media instead, who in the name of news, print paid things.’
The moral imbalances one can sometimes see in advertising is also a prominent feature of Bollywood. Joshi remarked on his ‘disappointment’ with the Bollywood songs that demean women. He added that he was just as disappointed with ordinary people normalising these songs by dancing to them or singing them. ‘The audience has to reject bad work so that good work can be promoted’.
The day continued with fascinating sessions from writers including Prasoon Joshi, Ashwin Sanghi, Paul Beatty, and Sebastian Smee. India’s leading teen authors Anusha Subramanian and Zuni Chopra gathered with Ira Trivedi to discuss their commitment to writing and the rewards and challenges of being teen authors. Historian Suzannah Lipscomb delved into the passionate relationship between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Javek Akhtar examined the heart of Bollywood cinema and looks at how the iconic figures are that personify our present day morality.
Philip A Lutgendorf and Shubha Vilas joined Arshia Sattar in a conversation about Lord Hanuman to discuss the deeper aspects of the revered monkey god. Photographer Christopher Sykes got the job of a lifetime commissioned by The Rolling Stones, the biggest rock band in the world at the time to photograph backstage through their monumental tour of America in 1975, he shares an intimate picture of his time with the band.
Historical fiction came under examination in Rewriting History: The Art of Historical Fiction looking at how you write a novel set in a period of history long before you were alive with some of the best in the world, Adam Thirlwell, Alan Hollinghurst, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Shazia Omar and Namita Gokhale. The day’s sessions were rounding off with Mallika Dua, a one woman band and viral internet sensation who stepped out to talk about her life as a full-time nautanki.
The Ojas Art Award, now an annual fixture of the festival celebrating and encouraging excellence in the tribal and traditional art space, was awarded today at ZEE JLF. Both master and protégé artists were recognised with the award which entails a cash prize of INR 51,000 and 31,000 respectively. For 2017, the focus is on Bheel Art, a tribal art from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
The Master Artist, Ojas Art Award 2017 for Bheel Art was given to Lado Bai, a Bheel artist who belongs to the pioneering early group of artists of this genre. With the encouragement and support of the Indian modernist Jagdish Swaminathan she developed a contemporary language based out of the traditional Bheel art. Her work can be seen on display at Diggi Palace during ZEE JLF 2017.
The Protégé Artist, Ojas Art Award 2017 for Bheel Art was given to Subhas Amaliyar. He has been painting for the last 4 years and learnt his art from his mother Gangu Bai, an eminent Bheel artist. His book Visit the Bhil Carnival, published by Tara Books is based on his artwork on the Bheel carnival of Bhagoria. His work too is on display during ZEE JLF 2017.
Tonight is the last day of Clarks Amer Music Stage which has been hugely successful in 2017. On its final night, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival’s music stage hosts the world-class line up of Lisa Hannigan, Aga Khan All Stars and The Raghu Dixit Project.
Lisa Hannigan’s haunting voice has featured on soundtracks for TV series Fargo and Oscar-winning Gravity, her new album At Swim is her most bewitching yet. Leading artists from countries along the ancient Silk Road will come together in the Aga Khan All Stars representing a present-day incarnation of the legacy of inter-cultural connectivity along the fabled Silk Route. Bringing Clarks to a close is the infectious happy music of one of India’s biggest cultural and musical exports, The Raghu Dixit Project.
This evening ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival also plays host to a BBC World Service radio show, The Arts Hour on Tour. Recorded in front of a live audience Nikki Bedi will introduce and interview live bands Raghu Dixit and Kabir Café, comedian Aditi Mittal and author Vikram Chandra in a programme jam-packed with music, humour and lively discussion. Nikki will also hear from singer and Bollywood actress Monica Dogra – half of Mumbai-based electronic rock duo Shaa’ir and Func and a judge on The Stage – India’s version of The Voice. The programme will air on BBC World Service on 30 January 2017.
Tomorrow is the final day of ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2017.