Jaipur: Asia’s largest literary festival kicked off in pink city Jaipur on Thursday in a testament to the growing global influence of Indian literature and its appeal to both publishers and authors.
Regional language novelists and poets will rub shoulders with Nobel laureates and Booker Prize winners at the annual Jaipur Literary Festival where organisers will showcase works from India’s array of states and dialects to thousands of book lovers.
Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje, inaugurated the event which began with the playing of Rajasthani traditional folk music.
Hundreds of thousands of writers, critics, publishers and fans are expected to pack Jaipur’s streets for the five-day event from January 21.
From a handful of attendees in 2006, the festival has grown into the world’s largest free literary event, testament to literature’s surging popularity in an English-speaking country with a bulging roster of internationally celebrated authors.
Writers and Jaipur Literature Festival Directors Namita Gokhale and William Dalrymple welcomed everyone on the inaugural day.
“My co-director, William Dalrymple and I have worked through the year to create those feast for the dreaming intellect and we look forward to welcoming you under the blue marked skies, a drift with a few lakes and kites,” said Gokhale.
Also described as the ‘greatest literary show on earth’, the event this year will witness the presence of illustrious writers like Ruskin Bond, Margaret Atwood, Alexander McCall Smith, Blake Morrison, Colm Toibin, Margo Jefferson, Marlon James, Katherine Butler Schofield, Stephen Fry, and economist Thomas Piketty among many others.
Showcasing the national talent would be journalists Barkha Dutt, Poonam Saxena, author Kunal Basu and usual suspects with the likes of lyricist Javed Akhtar, Gulzar, and writer Shobha De.
Jaipur has become the place where people get access to writers they would not normally get an opportunity to read. Meanwhile, Rajasthan Chief Minister Raje emphasized on the habit of reading books.
“As a child, I remember that one thing I was passionate about was with books. As a child, I remember having to read under covers and I think a lot of you must have done that. The torch just under the covers, as you were not allowed to read. To date, I don’t think I can and there are many people here, I don’t think many of us can go to bed without reading a few pages of our books, however tired we may be,” said Raje.
Access to all the events is free, and with no VIP treatment for the best-selling writers and poets, fans can get unique access to their favourite authors. In addition to die-hard bookworms, the festival’s music and dancing events attract students, tourists, and even India’s celebrity glitterati.
Canadian poet, novelist and critic Margaret Atwood, the guest of honour at the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), said when she visited last 27 years ago then there was no concept of literary festivals in the country.
“To be among such welcoming hosts and readers and to see this festival, which started very-very small and has now become the largest book festival in India, and the largest free book festival in the entire world, that is an amazing achievement,” said Man Booker Prize winner Atwood amid cheers from her admirers.
The largest of its kind in the region, the festival heads a growing group of literary gatherings across South Asia, including the Galle festival in Sri Lanka, which begins the day after Jaipur ends, and an edition of the international
Hay Festival of literature which began last year in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Fuelled by an expanding middle-class and rising literacy rates, India’s publishing industry is growing at a steady clip, and Indian and international authors and publishing houses see exposure at Jaipur as important for sales.
Like every other year, the event is being held at Diggi Palace. On Wednesday (January 20), a court heard a public interest litigation which said the venue is too small to host such a large event. Last year, the location saw a daily footfall of at least 35,000 people, while Diggi Palace can barely accommodate 2,000.