Monthly Archives: January 2012

7 Writers I Would Like to See in JLF

So, the Jaipur Literature Festival 2012 is finally over. While this year’s festival will be remembered for the controversies that it generated because of participation/non-participation/video participation/video non-participation/… of Salman Rushdie, most of the sessions were excellent. Many were refreshing too.

However, I missed some aspects of literature. I have already articulated that in my earlier post, An Open Letter to the Organisers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. Here I go more specific with the seven writers/poets that I would like to listen to in JLF, ideally in 2013. I have taken care not to include anyone who has already participated, not to suggest that I do not like them. But these names that have still not featured in JLF.

#1 Devdas Chhotray

His name figures on top because the list is alphabetical. But I won’t be surprised if many people, even in his home state, Odisha, ask Devdas who? But hum a couple of lyrics by him and you get the association. That is the tragedy of being a lyricist. The singer gets all the credit. The composer gets some of it. And the lyricist is rarely acknowledged. But it is not just as a lyricist that he excels. He is a distinguished civil servant, educationist, poet, and story teller. In association with Odisha’s most popular singer of all times, Late Akshaya Mohanty, he has created work, that has had the most lasting impact on the state’s popular culture post independence. He is both articulate and interesting—the kind of people that audience would love to listen to.

#2 Jayanta Mahapatra

Arguably the most important living English poet in India, Mahapatra calls himself an Odia poet who happens to write in English. Yet critics call him “finest multicultural poet”. That old-fashioned ethos of poetry with extra modernist touches is exactly what makes his work more appreciated outside India than within the country. Not to have him once will remain as a permanent vacuum for JLF.

#3 Makarand Paranjpe

In an alphabetical list, it is a coincidence that the two of the most well-known Indian poets in English come one after another. While Mahapatra is the quintessential post modern experimentalist who wrote mostly on personal experiences, memories, nostalgia, and doubts, Paranjpe is a respected critic as well. In fact, many consider him to be, alongwith Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, the two most important poet-critics. Mehrotra was there in JLF 2012.

#4 Manoj Das

I am really surprised how Manoj Das has not yet attended JLF. At least, I did not find his name. Though he is versatile as a writer, his use of legends, fables, and myths and presenting them in a modern context to subtly but emphatically stress human values is an art by itself which has no parallel. A radical in his youth days who turned spiritual later, Das is exactly the kind of writer who would provide a balance in JLF which has got a little too much of literature of protest, identity, and conflict.

#5 Mary Kinzie

I hardly knew of Mary Kinzie but discovered about her work while doing some research on poetics. A full fledged session on poetics is a must at JLF and the author of A Poet’s Guide to Poetry can surely be the best to anchor it.

#6 Michael Lewis

If non-fiction is taken as literature, as it definitely is—in fact, there was a session in JLF 2012 called Journalism as Literature—then, one of the celebrity writers should be Micheal Lewis. Whether it is baseball or Wall Street madness, Silicon Valley of the 90s or the subprime crisis of the last decade, if you want to read the inside story, Michael Lewis is the man to turn to. I am sure an interview with him—and not a discussion in which is one among three/four panelists—would be great stuff for audience. Who knows, he may just decide his next book to be on JLF?

#7 Robert S Boynton

If we cannot have Tom Wolfe, let us have Boynton at least. The journalism professor and the author of New, New Journalism is the best person to analyze the art of non-fiction in America, about which, most of India knows very little—if it is not on globalization (war/international politics/IT/offshoring). Boynton will not just be able to talk about the craft but much about the kind of subjects that interests the current and past generations of American non-fiction writers and the role played by publications such as New Yorker or Rolling Stone.

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An Open Letter to The Organizers of Jaipur Literature Festival

Dear Ms Gokhale, Mr Dalrymple, and Mr Roy

With Jaipur Literature Festival 2012, making it to the national headlines for Rushdie/freedom of expression and such important issues, I thought I would like to draw your attention to some of the more “mundane” issues, which when tackled, can make the event far better–or so I think. I will not even pretend or try to speak on behalf of any “class”, “community” or a “type” of people and must take care to clarify that I speak only for myself. I am an admirer of your efforts and a fan of Jaipur Literature Festival. I am not too sure if that is identity enough but I am taking the plunge anyway.

Before I proceed to the points that I want to make, I must clarify that these are for improving the event. They are not about whether it is too commercialized or politicized. I have my own opinion on those aspects but many people, far more important than me, have already spoken about those and I do not see my opinion adding too much extra value to that debate.

I, instead, am focusing purely on how I feel it can be a better experience for most of the visitors next year. Many of the points, as you would expect, would be subjective.

Let me start with something that most writers and intellectuals would find most mundane of the issues. But many, I hope, would agree with my problem statement. And that is: the event has most definitely outgrown the venue. Don’t get me wrong. I love the place. But you would agree that there is no place to stand; getting from one session to another is often a nightmare; and it is often difficult for someone to finish a session, go for lunch, finish it and come back for the next session. While the crowds mean that people love it and television channels showing the crowd fall on one another is a definite measure of your success, this is the time to do some rethink on how you can handle it a little better next year.

Since I did give a problem statement—and I do not think many would disagree with me, though some of them may not like my making it such a big issue—I must offer a solution. That, of course, is far more subjective and I am under no such illusion that you would fall in love with it.

The simplest solution of course, is moving to a bigger venue or adding another close venue such as Maharaja College Ground. That will probably mean more cost but will solve the problem most definitely without any major change in your structure or rules.

But in case that is not possible for some reason, you need to find slighly more complex solutions. While I think your principle of allowing everyone without charging an entry fee is laudable, for the sake of managing, you may want to try out a little variation so that it does not get out of hand—and result in stampedes or something similar in future. I suggest you make it free for two days and get most of the celebrity authors on those days. For other days, you can allow paid delegates, media, authors, and selected students. You can handover a few “passes” to schools and colleges and let them have competition (literary most likely) to select which are the five/ten students that can “win” those. They will feel good about it. It will give a boost to active literal activities in schools/colleges. And you can manage the crowd better. In fact, instead of two exclusive days in the same venue, you can also look at taking the college ground for two days and repeat some of the sessions there, without changing the main programme at Diggi Palace. This can be over and above. You can think of qualifying non-students through any means other than delegate fees as well, though I cannot think of anything as simple.

I have my few cents on content too. That, of course, is even more subjective. Nevertheless, I am listing some of them here.

While I am not accusing you of diluting the content—that is a loaded argument—as a few others do, I certainly feel that some type of literature is getting a little preference over some others. I must clarify that it is not your doing but you can certainly positively influence that trend. I feel the literature of “rights”, “ethnicity”, “identity”, so called “voice” of different religious/political/ethnic groups are dominating the discussion while some other type of literature—such as those celebrating/exploring love, nature, human relationships which are more universal—are taking a backseat, though not exactly absent. I think you need to be sensitive towards that. Those may not generate too much tweets, but they are certainly as enjoyable, if not more.

I also feel poetry—especially Indian poetry—is not getting as much importance. In the last three years, there has been not a single session on aesthetics/poetics, though that is one of the most revered branches of literature. Poetry itself is restricted to popular Bollywood poets or non-Indian poets. Including Indian poets who write in English or Indian languages will surely broaden the scope of JLF.

Regional language itself can get a little more importance. Though there were some good authors like Cheran (Tamil), Prativa Ray (Odia) and translators like Jatin Nayak, they were lost in the session themes. I think regional literature itself—and the challenges that it is facing and its relationship with English—can be interesting topics of discussion. If we can talk about Jamaica and South Africa, we can surely have a little more of Karnataka and Odisha—and please, not only about those places where there is a political unrest, and where there is too much of “victimizationism” as Siddhartha Gigoo pointed out.

Traditional literature too should have a little more importance in the agenda—beyond getting some Western scholars of Sanskrit, though I have thoroughly enjoyed all their sessions. But there are many Indians too. And they can certainly be invited. Well, my point is not about nationality and skin colour. The point I am making is, in a discussion by Western scholars, invariably, the discussion steers towards the comparison of the Western and Indian thoughts and their interpretation. That is a good topic but there can be good discussions around Indian traditional literature itself and not necessarrily on how the West sees it. You will do a great service by popularizing the works of say Bhartruhari or Bhavabhuti or Dandin among the discerning crowd, who may be unaware of these.

These are just some suggestions based on what I would like to see. A good idea would be to actually ask your followers in Facebook to suggest what they would like to have. You can not just get popular topics, based on how many people want what, you can get ideas too. Today, when so many well-wishers can think for you, why shouldn’t you use their service? The decision, in any case, is yours.

At the end, I must congratulate you for doing a fabulous job. You call it the greatest literary show on earth. I think it is the biggest meeting place of minds in modern India.

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