Second day of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 vibrant with diverse explorations in writing, personal narratives and ideas on policy and religion



  • Morning Music by Usha Uthup filled up the Front Lawn with her powerful voice, kicking off a day of power packed ideas
  • Highlight speakers included diplomat Pavan K. Varma; Egyptian author and cultural commentator, Ahdaf Soueif; Pulitzer finalist and distinguished historian Sven Beckert, Charles Spencer, the Ninth Earl and younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales; a panel of some of the world’s most widely-read fiction authors- Andrew Sean Greer, Ben Okri, Sebastian Barry, Tania James and Vikram Chandra; dynamic duo from India’s cinema and poetry Shabana Azmi and Javed Akhtar; activists Aruna Roy and Harsh Mandar; winner of the JCB Prize for Literature, Malayalam writer Benyamin among others
  • The third day of Jaipur BookMark discussed the publishing industry and publishers, both independent and publishing giants, Copyrights, innovative distribution models, translations and gender equations in publishing.
  • R. Kichenamourty’s Tamil translation of La vie d’un homme inconnu(The Life of an Unknown Man) by Andrei Makine, published in France by Le Seuil and in India by Kalachuvadu, was awarded the Romain Rolland Prize for literary translation by The Ambassador of France to India, H.E. Mr Alexandre Ziegler.
  • The Jaipur Music Stage featured a conversation with Grammy winner and ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakram and performances by the Sufi folk duo Roohani Sisters and folk-rock pioneers Indian Ocean


Day two of the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival 2019 kept up the momentum set so effectively on the eventful first day. There was tremendous diversity in sessions, speakers, and themes, from the erudite to the effervescent.


The day’s highlights included many sessions relevant to both India and the world including a discussion on Adi Shankaracharya: Hinduism’s Greatest Thinker in which Pavan K. Varma was in conversation with Malashri Lal. Varma discussed Jagad Guru Adi Shankacharya in the context of today’s complicated understanding of Hinduism and examined the credence that modern science gives to his ideas.


Sessions with wit, grit and perspectives followed in quick succession.


The Battle for Egypt: Dispatches from the Revolution took place symbolically on the morning of 25th of January exactly 8 years after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution which was sparked off by a “Day of Revolt” on January 25, when tens of thousands of people stormed public spaces across Egypt to protest the increasingly oppressive regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Max Rodenbeck, South Asia Bureau Chief for The Economist, moderated a panel that looked back at the events of Tahrir Square, discussed whether it’s ever possible for a revolution to succeed, and looked ahead to what the events of the Arab Spring heralded for our global future. Recounting the drama of the revolution days, Egyptian author and cultural commentator, Ahdaf Soueif noted that it was a true grass-roots endeavour. “For a year, people were prepared to be out there in the street, to be in harm’s way” she said, highlighting how people from all over Egypt were willing to risk grave consequences in an attempt to usher in a new dawn of freedom.


In his book Seeds of Change: Six Plants That Transformed Mankind, author Henry Hobhouse described the potato, sugar, tea, quinine, cocoa and cotton as having altered the course of history forever.  In a session titled The Empire of Cotton, Sven Beckert, one of the most credible academics and writers in the study of capitalism, sat down with fellow historian Patrick French to chronicle the rise of capitalism through the lens of the ubiquitous crop. When asked what prompted him to pick cotton as the centre of his book The Empire of Cotton, Beckert likened it to air, noting that “We need it, we must have it, but we don’t think very much about how it comes about.” This, according to him, made it the perfect commodity to illustrate the evolution of industry, capitalism and mankind at large, from a truly global perspective. Walking the audience through the ways in which cotton has changed the way we live, Beckert touched upon slavery in the USA, which is inextricably linked with the crop and wondered, why do so many from the West choose not to remember that? “Because it’s not a nice history,” he said.


In To Catch a King: Charles II’s Greatest Escape where Charles Spencer, the Ninth Earl and younger brother of Diana, Princess of Wales was in conversation with British biographer and historian Jenny Uglow had the former describe the escape of Charles II, as “the finest six weeks of his life”, and as much a tale of terror and trauma as of luck and loyalty. Spencer’s book To Catch a King: Charles II’s Greatest Escape addresses the saga of Charles II through the prism of clear-headed historical research. Charles II’s childhood was a drama enacted against the backdrop of his parent’s relationship, which was arguably affectionate but also contentious. After his father, Charles I, was publicly beheaded in 1649 and Charles II himself suffered a massive defeat at the hands of Oliver Cromwell in the Battle of Worcester, Charles II had no option but to flee. On the day of the battle, Spencer remarked, “Charles II started the day as King of Scotland hoping to become King of England but ended the day as the country’s most wanted outlaw with a huge price (precisely £1,000) on his head”.


In Where Does Fiction Come From, some of the world’s most widely-read authors: Andrew Sean Greer, Ben Okri, Sebastian Barry, Tania James and Vikram Chandra – spoke about the creative process touching upon the novel vs the short story, the so-called confidence a writer is supposed to affect, which according to Ben Okri is all a “con”, the fascinating act of story-telling and the idea of a mentor as a writing guide, through the context of their personal experiences.


Javed Akhtar and Shabana Azmi are in the process of compiling the works of their legendary litterateur fathers – Jan Nisar Akhtar and Kaifi Azmi – in two unique anthologies with the forewords to each compilation to be written by the son-in-law and daughter-in-law of each poet. Discussing chapter, verse and the frontispieces of the lives of their fathers, both of whom were integral parts of the Progressive Writers Movement, was the dynamic duo from India’s cinema and poetry in the session Jan Nisar and Kaifi.


In The Right to Know, Aruna Roy and Harsh Mander in conversation with Urvashi Butalia, discussed the legitimacy of the ‘Right to Information’ which owes itself to the efforts of visionary activists. Aruna Roy, founder-member of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information and School for Democracy, shared glimpses of her journey quitting the civil services with the aim of working at the grassroots. She commended Rajasthan for nurturing the “best democrats,” and explained how the campaign for RTI itself grew out of a demand for transparency in wages for workers. Former civil servant and current human rights advocate Harsh Mander explained that he had been motivated to work as an activist when confronted with the face of massive corruption. In the late 1980s, he saw how loopholes in the system prevented provision of relief from a massive drought, and thought: “How can we have a democracy where people are allowed to starve?”


Butalia broached the question of cause-based mobilisation in pre-internet days. Roy recalled how people even then were very much attached to the spirit of democracy and demanding their rights. In particular, she narrated an incident wherein some journalist asked a companion of hers if she could understand the motive of the campaign. She had replied, “Mai 4th pass hoon- mai jaanti hoon! Mai apne bete ko 10 rupay dekar bazaar bhejti hoon toh hisaab leti hoon. Ye sarkar hamare arbon rupay rakhti hai – hisaab nahi loongi?” (I have studied till the 4th grade and I understand things! Even when I send my son with Rs. 10 to the market, I ask for account. Will I not do that when the government has crores of our money?)


Celebrating distinguished fiction by Indian writers, The JCB Prize for Literature is an annual award that emphasises literary achievement in India, and create greater visibility for contemporary Indian writing. A session on this year’s winner, Jasmine Days, was anchored by veteran journalist and Executive  Editor of MathrubhumiRajeev Punnoli Irupattil, who introduced this year’s winner, Malayalam author Benyamin, for his book Mullappoo Niramulla Pakalukal, translated to English as ‘Jasmine Days’, which explores the lives of South Asians in the Middle East. Benyamin, a recipient of the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award for his novel Aadujeevitham (Goat Days), expressed that “There are stories within me, and if I don’t write them, it will kill me”.


In The Gene Machine and the Culture of Science, Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, in conversation with Professor Priyamvada Natarajan, spoke about the mind-boggling properties of protein – the constituent of the ribosome; the role of antibiotics and the ongoing research in expanding their scope, the disturbing experiments in eugenics which modern science is in the process of conducting and dangerously aiming towards creating a “mono-culture” of superior humans of one kind disregarding diversity in genetic make-up, a highlighting feature of the human race. He described his own journey from humble and lesser-known universities and feeling like an outsider within the inner nexus of cutting-edge scientific research.


The third day at the Jaipur BookMark also featured several important discussions including Indies vs Giants, where Keynote speaker Vera Michalski-Hoffmann, the founder of the Jan Michalski Foundation for Literature and Writing in Switzerland, deliberated on the dilemmas of defining a publishing concern that is too large to be indie and not quite sprawling enough to be a giant. In the game of publishing, who has the upper-hand – David, or Goliath? Independent publishers with lower overheads are finding their niche position in the publishing industry around the world, even as publishing giants are consolidating their positions. This contentious question was debated at an intimate session that invited many anecdotes, serious introspection, and plenty of laughter. She elaborated on the workings of the Libella Group – a European confederation of publishers – of which she is president. The editors involved with the group all exercise a great deal of flexibility in choosing their titles, and while some publish as few as 8 titles a year, many others publish more than a hundred.


The Festival Directors Roundtable was an innovative session dedicated entirely to literature festivals nearly 40 festival directors from across the world connected with a host of industry experts and professionals at the JBM Pavilion to discuss the role of literature festivals in promoting freedom of speech. They narrated various and often touching stories of the impact that these festivals have had on their respective communities, and shared the challenges they have faced both from local governments and infrastructural realities.


With the support of Rajasthan Tourism, the ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival also brings together art, culture and heritage experiences in thoughtfully curated Heritage Evenings during the festival. On January 25th, the expansive amphitheatre of the iconic Jawahar Kala Kendra served as the perfect backdrop to bring to life “Clothing as Identity: a fashion show” presented by artisans of Kutch accompanied by Folk Music of Rajasthan, presented by “Craft Stories Under the Mango Tree”.


This vibrant showcase narrated the diversity as well as unity within the rich cultural dimensions of Kutch through its prevalent fashions in apparel and costume along with folk music. The costumes created by the ‘Artisan Designers’, brought together diverse folk traditions of Kutch on a single canvas with a stylish fusion of craft and contemporary silhouettes. Complex traditional textile techniques and skills: Bhujodi weaves, Block Prints, Bandhani and Dhebaria Rabari embroidery were showcased. Two spotlight exhibitions titled, ‘Painted Narratives: Preserving History through the Art of Storytelling’ and ‘Sacred Geometry in Contemporary Miniature Art’, are also displayed at the Sphatik Art Gallery at Jawahar Kala Kendra from 25 – 28 January.

The second day of the Jaipur Music Stage kicked off with JMS Conversations where in ‘3 G(enerations): How A Family Made The World Sway To Their Percussive Genius’ ghatam maestros Vikku Vinayakram, Selvaganesh and Swaminathan were in conversation with Namita Devidayal discussing their family’s love for music, performance and life. The evening’s musical performances started off with the Sufi folk duo, the Roohani Sisters; Dr. Jagriti Luthra Prasanna and Dr. Neeta Pandey Negi. The sisters set the mood for a magical evening which saw the audience swaying to their soulful songs. It was appropriate then that they were followed by the biggest name in Indian music; the folk-rock pioneers who’ve brought us everything from ‘Tandanu’ to ‘Ma Rewa’, the one-and-only, Indian Ocean.


The Jaipur Music Stage Night Market saw a lot of excited shopping which wasn’t surprising considering that one can get everything from clothes, to electronics and everything in between, right here. There were some interesting pop-up stalls on display as well as fantastic places to eat and drink, and spectacularly round off a satisfying day of debate and dialogue.