#JLF Brave New World completes 50 episodes of insights & ideas

New Delhi: As the world went into lockdown, Teamwork Arts, producer of the iconic Jaipur Literature Festival, launched ‘JLF Brave New World’, an online literary series of conversations between the world’s greatest writers and thinkers, in which the sprawling grounds of Diggi Palace were replaced by the boundless possibilities of the Internet. The ongoing series, which continues to explore themes critical to current times, along with a host of ideas and perspectives, is an affirmation of Teamwork Arts’s and the Jaipur Literature Festival Co-directors’ faith in the infinite power of the word and its ability to connect communities of book-lovers across geographies.

Over 90 speakers from across different genres of literature have shared their knowledge and views on diverse areas on JLF Brave New World. The series has reached out to over 3.34 million people with 5.1 million impressions in its first 50 episodes, held thrice weekly, with two sessions each day.

The series has so far witnessed multiple sessions with iconic speakers sharing their thoughts, trying to analyse the essence and relevance of literature at a time when suddenly de-globalisation has become the credo. It began with a session where former politician and author Bruno Maçães and writer and journalist Sujeev Shakya talked about these transformed times and how the lessons of Nepal, China and Europe highlight our past, present and future, and what the rebirth of these nations could mean for the world and global affairs. Writer and broadcaster Bee Rowlatt and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC explored the need to protect the forum internum – our private and mental space – from the incursions of digital technology. Exploring food, memory and culture, celebrity chef and restaurateur Asma Khan, alongside writer and translator Rakhshanda Jalil, spoke movingly of the bonds of food and memory, friendship and community, across cultures and continents, and in the special places they call home.

Namita Gokhale, writer, publisher and Co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “Our new digital platform, JLF Brave New World, has established a distinctive voice and identity of its own. We have had some of the greatest writers and thinkers in the world – from Margaret Atwood to Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, from Orhan Pamuk to Siddhartha Mukherjee and Peter Frankopan – address us from the intimacy of their homes. As we complete fifty sessions, we look back with pride on the stellar conversations and interactions – and the best us yet to come.”

William Dalrymple, writer, historian and Co-director of the Jaipur Literature Festival, said, “It has been both a pleasure and privilege to co-direct Brave New World and to be part of bringing such a fabulous, glittering stream of literary brilliance into so many homes at such a difficult time.”

Sanjoy K. Roy, Managing Director of Teamwork Arts which produces the Jaipur Literature Festival said, “JLF Brave New World and its viewership figures of over 700,000 in these 2 months have shown that world over, audiences are curious and seek  the free flow of knowledge, science, and information.”

Preeta Singh, President, Teamwork Arts said, “In the present unpredictable and changing times, JLF Brave New World offers brands a definitive and exclusive environment, to engage with their audiences and share new perspectives.”

There were also sessions concentrated on the coronavirus pandemic and how it will impact the world both in the shorter and longer terms. At a session titled “Poor Economics”, Nobel laureates Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo discussed the human toll of the pandemic in the world economy and the global south, and tried to highlight the measures and strategies to fight back the catastrophe, including the concept of a universal ultra-basic income. At another session discussing the Covid-19pandemic, writer, politician and public intellectual Shashi Tharoor and President of the Observer Research Foundation Samir Saran shared their views on the current crisis and how the international agencies should have acted to control the situation.

When Orhan Pamuk was asked what the Nobel Laureate thought about the role of writers in these extraordinary times, his answer cut through the mist, “First off, I’m not that utilitarian – literature can’t be that influential during an earthquake, a revolution, or a pandemic, but it doesn’t mean it’s not important. I am modest about the use of literature.” He also highlighted an important point about the impetus to write fiction – it is after all imagination that stirs the novelist, fired by a possibility to bridge the gap between the self and the other. In that context, it is no surprise that the greatest plague novels – Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague, Albert Camus’s La Peste or Manzoni’sThe Betrothed– were written by people who never actually experienced a pandemic. “Strangely,” he added, “people who lived through it could never fully form their ideas for novels. But remember,” he cautioned against being too dismissive, “the art of the novel was only formulated 170 years ago, and plagues are not so common.”

Tahmima Anam is an award-winning writer of the trilogy A Golden Age, The Good Muslim and The Bones of Grace. Together with writer and journalist Sandip Roy, she took audiences on a journey of her writing process under lockdown and dwelt on the importance of the written word in such perilous times. The series also saw India’s most beloved and prolific storyteller talk of his incredible journey – Ruskin Bond, who has penned over a 100 books, joined Namita Gokhale in an inspirational session to share his vision of the joy, spontaneity and clarity he brings to his writing and his life.

At a session concentrated on ancient Indian mathematics and astronomy, theoretical physicist Jim Al-Khalili talked to William Dalrymple about the discoveries of ancient Indian mathematicians and astronomers and how that reached the rest of the world via Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi in Abbasid Baghdad and Fibonacci in Renaissance Florence. “What we call Arabic numerals in the West should actually be called Indian numerals, as the Islamic polymaths had themselves acknowledged,” said Jim. He spoke about the early Islamic empire as the grand unifier of classical knowledge of the world.

Acclaimed playwright and screenwriter, Peter Morgan, in his conversation with filmmaker Ritesh Batra, talked and decoded his creative process with reference to his most recent work, one of Netflix’s most successful historical dramas, ‘The Crown’. As he elaborated on his creative process in writing about the British Royals, Morgan commented, “Originally, we thought, we know everything about them; where they were, what they did, every single day of their life. But, when it comes to imagining what they feel, that has to be to some degree, an act of creative imagination.”

Talking to author Avni Doshi at a session, from her home in New York, bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert enchanted her audience with life-truths that pierced the heart. She epitomised “unadulterated” and “bona fide” – gliding effortlessly from spiritual instructions to how her life has been “cancelled” in the last two months. Her description of love lost to cancer, two years back, and how that emerged as the most “interesting” twist in the plot of her life, was spoken with honesty that took the breath away of every listener. Gilbert said, “There is no experience in your life that’s too heroic …that if you don’t get very quiet, we can actually find the curiosity about how we are going to do this.”

The upcoming sessions of the increasingly popular series will see many more intriguing conversations. Educationist and solar energy innovator Sonam Wangchuk will examine the impact of the human health crisis on the balance of nature and the environment when pollution and emissions of various greenhouse gases have fallen across continents and the ozone layer appears to be healing. His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be in conversation with Pico Iyer and will speak of finding love and peace in our confused, divided and chaotic world, as well as of the universal value of compassion in these troubled times. At a session titled “An Orchestra of Minorities” Nigerian writer Chigozie Obioma,often described as ‘the heir to Chinua Achebe’, will speak of his books, telling us why he writes, and for whom, in conversation with writer and academic Aruni Kashyap.

The series engages a well-defined process involving a large team to make the sessions as interesting as the Jaipur festival. The sessions get livestreamed simultaneously on all official social media handles including FacebookTwitterand YouTubeAll previous sessions, session details and speaker details are available on the Festival’s official website.

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