I have been lucky to be invited to attend this year’s 16th Jaipur Literature Festival, India, an event that has been on my bucket list since 2012 and it did not disappoint. I would go far as saying that everyone should at least once in their lifetime, experience JLF in India. It is like Glastonbury for books, where authors are rock stars.
The Festival beautifully combines books with music, creating its own culture and vibe; and te city of Jaipur could not be more perfect for the setting for this Festival. Jaipur is the capital of the state of Rajasthan, in India. Translated from Hindi, Rajasthan means ‘the land of kings’, and Jaipur, is defined by royalty. The 18th-century Maharaja Jai Singh designed the city to meet his every desire, with royal palaces, gardens and pavilions taking up almost a quarter of its footprint. Jaipur has kept its romantic atmosphere and regal air. The entire city was painted pink in 1876 to welcome the Prince of Wales and was refreshed to celebrate the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and, later, Diana, Princess of Wales. Today, Jaipur’s prolific royal architecture is fiercely protected.
All these details matter and the Festival is colourful and vibrant. The talks are held in beautiful tents that billow in the gentle breeze, which adds to the atmosphere of romance and imagination. Each Festival morning started with Indian classical music to set the vibration of the day; and one morning there was a fusion of guitar with Indian sitar and tabla (drums) players, which was mystical and atmospheric.
The past decade has seen the Festival transform into a global literary phenomenon having hosted nearly 2000 speakers and welcomed over a million book lovers from across India and the globe. Past speakers have ranged from Nobel Laureates J.M. Coetzee, Orhan Pamuk and Muhammad Yunus, Man Booker Prize winners Ben Okri, Margaret Atwood and Paul Beatty, Sahitya Akademi winners Girish Karnad, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar, M.T. Vasudevan Nair as well as the late Mahasweta Devi and U.R. Ananthamurthy along with literary superstars including Amish Tripathi, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Vikram Seth. An annual event that goes beyond literature, the Festival has also hosted Amartya Sen, Amitabh Bachchan, the late A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Fry, Thomas Piketty and former president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai.
The Festival brings together a diverse mix of the world’s greatest writers, thinkers, humanitarians, politicians, business leaders, sports people, and entertainers on one stage to champion the freedom to express and engage in thoughtful debate and dialogue.
Be prepared to learn while you are at the Festival…it’s like being on a crash University course. Your brain is kept busy as you listen to authors. I learnt about the writings of the royal Indian courts and Mughals; about wellness and Ayurveda; Russia; Wedgewood poetry; the Himalayas; climate change and sustainability; cell systems; nurturing democracy and so much more. My list is endless.
This year at JLF, the organiers had a special message about climate change and spoke about the Festival’s commitment to be more sustainable, plastic free and to reduce its carbon footprint, through innovation and better practice. While I was there this message was carried through and you could see that the organisers and volunteers were serious about their endeavours. The magic of the JLF is its serendipity, where you make new friends, find that you are staying in the same hotel as well-known international authors, sharing cabs with them…it’s a place that is a great leveller, and as I began this piece, it is an experience that everyone should have at least once their lifetime