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Eavesdropping at JLF 2016
Dibyajyoti Sarma | Saturday, 30 January 2016 AT 09:21 PM IST
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Sifting through what or who was hot and who was not at the biggest literary festival of India. Read on...

These days there are dime a dozen literature festivals; and it all started with Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF). Yet, it seems, no other lit fest has been able to replicate JLF’s success, or capture the cultural zeitgeist like it does.

So, what is so special about JLF that every year, people from all over the country, and abroad, throng the Diggi Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan for a five-day celebration of the written word? One answer would be glamour.

PIC: Margaret Atwood inaugurates the JLF 2016

We are a celebrity-obsessed culture. Authors are traditionally seen as drab creatures, who must be read, but not seen or heard. JLF combines these two and presents the invited authors as celebrities, with a great deal of help from Bollywood and Western authors, intellectuals. Remember in 2012, there was a near-stampede around Oprah Winfrey?

So, this year too, there were celebrities. The redouble Stephen Fry, actor, author and gay rights activist, for instance. The keynote speaker on the first day was none other than Margaret Atwood, who, too, inspired a stampede. Understandably so, because most of the readers/writers in attendance have grown up reading her works, from The Handmaid’s Tale to The MaddAddam Trilogy. What caught our attention were her quick wit and brilliant humour.

“Writing is the means whereby light is shed on darkness. There are many darknessess but also many voices,” she said during the address.

There was ‘The Master’ herself, the Irish author Colm Tóibín, whose novel Brooklyn was made into an Oscar-nominated movie in 2015. There was Alexander McCall Smith of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Cornelia Funke, German author of children’s classics like Inkheart Trilogy and Dragon Rider, Armistead Maupin of the Tales of the City series, Sunjeev Sahota, who was shortlisted for the Booker Prize this year and Atul Gawande (Being Mortal), among many other luminaries.

The real rockstars, however, were French economist Thomas Piketty and Jamaican-American author Marlon James. Piketty launched the Hindi translation of his bestseller Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and received thunderous applause from the audience when he said, “The Indian elites have to accept at some point that they will have to pay more taxes to finance more inclusive and sustainable development model.” James, spotting a dreadlock like the hero of his novel, Bob Marley, exuded equal charisma.
Despite it being the celebration of the written word, it’s physically impossible to attend the sessions of all your favourite authors or discuss issues. You are bound to miss most of them. But, yes, you can catch some interesting debates online at the JLF website. And, you can also gawk at the beautiful faces, celebrities, whom you can spot on the grounds of Diggi Palace and later bitch about them. This is the only place where it is possible to bump into Shashi Tharoor but you completely ignore him as you race to see yesteryear actor Shatrughan Sinha.

Sinha, who was here to promote his biography, Anything But Khamosh, drew a huge crowd. It was the same with Kajol, who launched Ashwin Sanghi’s new book. But it was Karan Johar, who received the best response when he narrated the tales of his childhood as an overweight, effeminate boy. He was promoting his book An Unsuitable Boy.

Oh, we forgot to mention our home-grown authors. All the important and interesting names were there like Amish Tripathi, Anita Nair, Anjum Hasan and Anuradha Roy. But none could compare the panache of author and columnist Shobhaa De. She is in a class of her own. And, yes it is always a pleasure to be in the company of Ruskin Bond.

Pune was well represented by two of our finest. Priya Sarukkai Chabria discussed her book, Andal: The Autobiography of a Goddess and R Raj Rao was present with Lady Lolita’s Lover and his translation of Me Laxmi Me Hijda.

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