Curtain Raiser – Jaipur Literature Festival 2011

In January last year, the Delhi fog decided to play festival pooper and kept some authors from reaching Jaipur in time for the literary mela. What with flight delays and bad roads, those who were to make it for the very first sessions did not reach Jaipur. It took some juggling by the organizers and directors to start the festival on time with careful and swift changes in the program, noticeable only to diehard festival regulars like yours truly who had studied the schedule, marked it with choices and followed it like a project plan.  A very visible black board (or was it a white one?) kept the attendees abreast of the changes in schedules.  Hopefully the fog will behave itself this time.
Now its that time of the year again, soon I will be packing my bag to go and spend five wonderful days at the Jaipur Literature Festival, henceforth referred to as JLF. Let me see what we have in store this time ….
At 10am on the Front Lawns of Diggi Palace will be the keynote address by Sheldon Pollock, professor of Sanskrit and Indian Studies at the Columbia University. The JLF website provides a longer bio of the esteemed professor. At the same venue an hour later, Orhan Pamuk the Turkish author of Istanbul, Snow and other books will be in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhary, the avid book reviewer, essayist of literature of The Middle Stage and author of Arzee the dwarf, his first novel. Now here’s the tricky part. At the time of listening to this conversation, there are three other sessions that I will be missing. What are those? 
Mathematics and Football: Alex Bellos at the Darbar Hall
Kuch Shehar, Kuch Ped, Kuch Nazmon Ka Khayal: Gulzar and Pavan Varma in The Mughal Tent
Fugitive Histories: Geetha Hariharan and Manju Kapur at The Baithak
For every session I attend, there would be atleast 2 or atmost 3 other sessions going on concurrently at the other halls that I will be missing. Get used to it, I’ve learned to tell myself. That is what life is like isn’t it? You can’t have everything.  Not at the same time anyway.
So what do we have lined up this time at Jaipur?
There are over 200 speakers, a majority of them authors. Others in conversations with them are editors, publishers and academics from literary spheres. 
You can find the complete list with bio of all the speakers  on the JLF website.
Authors to make a debut are Amrita Tripathi and Sangeeta Bahadur.  Among the authors  who will be there are Ruskin Bond, Patrick French, Orhan Pamuk, Kiran Desai,  Martin Amis, Amitava Kumar, Rachel Polonsky, Ali Sethi, Tishani Doshi, Annie Griffiths, Kamila Shamsie, Gurcharan Das, Kavery Nambisan, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Chandra Bhan Prasad, Meena Kandaswamy, Bettany Hughes,  Junot Diaz, Basharat Peer, Ahmed Rashid, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and many more.
The topics for discussion range from current affairs like Afpak, to importance of books,  to the Crisis of the American fiction.
You can buy as many books as you can pack in your bags from the bookshop or the publishers’ stalls on the Diggi Palace grounds.  But attending the sessions is completely free of charge. The kullad-wali chai with a dash of cinnamon or pepper poured out by a turbaned gentleman is also free. 

I will most definitely be there to enjoy it all. And write about it. So are you coming to Jaipur?  Yes? Then I’ll see you there. Can’t make it this time you say? Well, in that case, watch this space for my daily JLF posts and pictures.
For now, here are some excerpts from the 5-day schedule for English and Indian languages:
A snapshot of some of the sessions in English:
21 January:
Two Nations, Two Narratives: Muneeza Shamsie in conversation with Urvashi Butalia
The Bankers Who Broke the World: Liaquat Ahamed in conversation with Gurcharan Das
22 January:
Why Books Matter: Javed Akhtar, John Makinson, Patrick French & Sunil Sethi in conversation with Sonia Singh
Strangers in the Mist P.C.Sharma, Sanjoy Hazarika & Temsula Ao in conversation with Ravi Singh
Reporting the Occupation: David Finkel, Jon Lee Anderson & Rory Stewart
Moderated by Antony Loewenstein
Hall of Shame: Caste & its Exclusions Chandra Bhan Prasad, Meena Kandasamy & Patrick French in conversation with S.Anand
The Inheritance of Books: Kiran Desai in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh
23 January:
Boys will be Boys: Ruskin Bond in conversation with Ravi Singh
Now that I am 50…In Praise of Older Women Bulbul Sharma & Namita Gokhale
AfPAK: Ahmed Rashid, Atiq Rahimi, Jayanta Prasad, Jon Lee Anderson & Rory Stewart in conversation with William Dalrymple
India: A Potrait Patrick French in conversation with Amitava Kumar
The Crisis of the American Fiction Jay McInerney, Junot Diaz & Richard Ford in conversation with Martin Amis

24 January:
Half a Yellow Sun Chimamanda Adichie Introduced by Jasbir Jain
2×2 Readings by Namita Devidayal Introduced by Amrita Tripathi
The Alchemy of Writing: Truth, Fiction & the Challenge of India
Tarun Tejpal in conversation with Manu Joseph
Narcopolis: C.P.Surendran & Jeet Thayil in conversation with Jai Arjun Singh
25 January:
Stranger than Fiction

Arthur Miller & Eric Haseltine in conversation with Abha Dawesar
China Dialogues
Hong Ying & Isabel Hilton in conversation with Stephen McCarty
Writings the 1980s
Martin Amis & Jay McInerney in conversation with Nilanjana Roy
Live Scores: Manu Joseph & Shehan Karunatilaka in conversation with
                      Somnath Batabyal
Trainspotting: Irvine Welsh Introduced by Jeet Thayil

Notable among the literary sessions in Indian languages are:
21 January:
Urdu Jubaan with Javed Akhtar and Neeta Gupta 
Na Tshay Na Aks – Voices from Kashmir with Naseem Shafaie and Neerja Matoo;  Rajasthali with Aidan Singh Bhati, Ambikadutt Chaturvedi & Suman Bissa.
22 January:
Aisi Hindi, Kaisi Hindi with Prasoon Joshi, Mrinal Pande and others;  ;
Gata Rahe Mera Dil/ The songs we loved with Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and Prasoon Joshi.
Katha Samvad (Rajasthani Prose) with Habib Kaifi, Lata Sharma & Shyam Jangid

23 January:
Marathi Theatre with Mahesh Elkunchwar and Makarand Sathe in conversation with Vaiju Naravane.
Nayi Bhasha Naye Teevar – Avinash, Giriraj Kiradoo & Manisha Pandey in conversation with Ravish Kumar

24 January:
Kuye Bawri Talab
Anupam Misra, Rajender Singh & Shubhu Patwa in conversation with Om Thanvi

25 January:
Smaran: Agyeya, Nagarjun, Shamsher Bahadur Singh
Avinash, Mangalesh Dabral & Om Thanvi in conversation with S.Nirupam

From a recent news report in the Times of India, it seems that J K Rowling will also be there at the festival. I already have requests from a few Harry Potter fans to get her autograph for them. There were rumours in the past too about her attending the festival. Remains to be seen if she really makes it this year. 
The news has also reached MuggleNet and fans are ecstatic, even though most of them cannot make it to Jaipur. What a treat for fans who will be at the festival! Are we ready then?