Powerful themes, indomitable women to lend their voice to the 12th ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival


New Delhi: Described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival is the grande dame of discourse and seamless conversation. Having become a global literary phenomenon and hosted nearly 2000 speakers and a million book-lovers from across the world in the past decade, it continues to be a democratic, platform of literary and artistic traditions. The Festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s most renowned writers and thinkers to champion to espouse equality, inclusiveness, progress and empathy.

This year, the Festival will feature a host of powerful women whose talent has defined their own personal journeys and have transformed and inspired the lives of many.

In the inspirational session, ‘Mithali Raj: The Warrior Skipper of Indian Cricket’, unstoppable cricket captain and remarkable sportswoman Mithali Raj, all-time leading run-scorer for India and Arjuna and Padma Shri awardee, talks about her journey to the top and the challenges she faced as recounted in her recently-released autobiography. Raj stares down at gender stereotypes and skewed opportunities for women players with characteristic steel and discusses the way forward for an environment that actually rewards grit and talent.

There are few personalities like Usha Uthup – with immense joi de vivre combined with a voice that ricochets straight off your soul and the enduring strength of perseverance. Uthup, who sings in a dizzying 15 Indian and eight foreign languages, a magnet to many generations of music-lovers, will be in conversation with Sanjoy K. Roy in ‘I Believe in Music’, talking of what music means to her and her all-encompassing belief in its power.

The stark and unadorned ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Rape’ will have Sohaila Abdulali share her heart-rending story of being gang-raped as a teenager more than 30 years later. Abdulali, intrepid journalist and prolific writer whose 2013 Op-ed in The New York Times broke readership records, will discuss her latest book, written from the point of view of a writer, counsellor and activist and a personal and professional testament that reaches out to victims and survivors, feminists and mansplainers. Abdulali throws light on the tortured silences around rape.
Priyamvada Natarajan, Professor at Yale and acclaimed author of Mapping the Heavens: The Radical Scientific Ideas That Reveal the Cosmos, takes us on a tour to “map the heavens” across the greatest cosmological discoveries of the past century. Natarajan’s extraordinary gift for making scientific theory accessible to audiences and her commitment to developing strategies to enhance numerical and scientific literacy make for fascinating and powerful learning which the session promises to be.

In ‘Healed: Life Learnings from Manisha Koirala’, the actor shares the highs and lows of her life, career, relationships and her relentless battle to overcome ovarian cancer. A candid and no-frills session about the physical and emotional turbulence of her life post-diagnosis, the power of prayer, positive thinking and the long and intricate process of healing, this session will give the bare bones story of a dauntless journey and hard-won survival.

Silicon Valley-based classics scholar Donna Zuckerberg re-appropriates the legacy of the ancient Greeks and Romans and repositions it in a larger context, away from misogynistic, racist and patriarchal interpretations that are gaining currency in the digital age. In conversation with biographer, historian and academic Patrick French and writer and editor Sharmila Sen in ‘Not All Dead White Men: Classics and Misogyny in the Digital Age’, she dismisses the myopic and sexist vision which colours the study of the classics and the unparalleled wisdom found in Ovid, Euripides, Marcus Aurelius. Her book is a grim account of misogyny, toxic white supremacy and some very flawed history proliferated online by the Alt-Right to muscle its way into the venerable study of antiquity.

A session on the enigma of Radha, illicit-by-law consort of Krishna and yet paradoxically worshipped and revered as a goddess over his legally-wedded but ignored wife Rukmini, ‘Finding Radha’ delves into deeper social questions of cultural context and the play of perceptions. Namita Gokhale and Malashri Lal have co-edited the anthology Finding Radha: The Quest for Love. Pavan K. Varma, Yudit Greenberg and Devdutt Pattanaik have all contributed significantly to the collection of essays on Radha, and will share their insights and perspectives with Lal.

The ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 programming bouquet is a tribute to the unflinching power of the woman – a force that has remained constant not just in today’s empowered and digitally-charged world, but one that has played out over eras, generations and geographies with a dogged determination to survive against unbelievable odds. The themes aren’t manifestly feminist but question and discuss the countless, often subtle and mostly diverse, avenues through which male supremacy has insidiously and, more often overtly, led the way in our day-to-day lives: professional, cultural and personal. It is time to amplify the voices less heard and tell the stories less told. That is what the Festival set out to do at its inception and continues to do with fervour 12 years later.