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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.