Turning twelve is a decisive occasion in one’s lifespan. Whether people or entities, the 12th year is critical, when one explores and strives to expand perspectives. So when the 12th edition of Zee Jaipur Literature Festival opened on January 24, everyone, from the festival organisers — festival producer Sanjoy K Roy, festival directors William Dalrymple and Namita Gokhale, publishing houses, authors, speakers and importantly visitors were all looking at what the event would deliver.
Magic happens all the time On day one of the festival, among the star speakers, the father-daughter duo of Gulzar and Meghna Gulzar were the biggest crowd-pullers. Meghna’s book on her father titled, Because He Is, though published in 2004, continues to engage Gulzar’s fans across the globe. Talking about her approach to the biography, Meghna said, “It’s the lack of objectivity that is the charm of the book. There’s an emotionality that makes it more honest.”
But it was her recitation of a poem she had written as a child that evoked a roaring response. The poem read: “I have a father who gives me money. I’d hate him not rather, he loves me as honey. I love my father too, he polishes my shoe. He’s sometimes sweet, sometimes funny, but today, I want money, so away he is running!’ The session concluded with the father and daughter praising each other’s abilities to strike a balance, even as friends.
Of myths and writers
Day two started with a bang when heavyweights from the fiction genre — Andrew Sean Greer, Ben Okri, Vikram Chandra, Tania James — were in conversation with Chandrahas Choudhury about ‘Where Does Fiction Come From?’
Ben added his perspective: “Myth is not just what we make of life. It’s also cycles and rhythms.” He was referring to intuitional writing, which does not make a direct effort to replicate reality.
The more thunderous clapping, hooting and cheering was reserved by the crowd for the session, ‘Eleven Gods and a Billion Indians: Will Virat Kolhi be The Biggest Celebrity if Indian Wins the World Cup?’ — a discussion featuring Boria Majumdar, TV journalist Rajdeep Sardesai and MP Shashi Tharoor. The panel was in conversation about what makes the Indian cricket team worship-worthy.
Tharoor drew the maximum applause for his acidic yet witty remarks about the current affairs of the country within the cricket context. While the panel was divided on who makes for a better India story (the making of a hero from an ordinary Indian) — MS Dhoni or Virat Kohli — the concluding statements on the cricket World Cup winners prediction seemed unanimous, that India does stand a chance to win it.
The rich and mighty
Day three witnessed a medley of subjects that included travel, race, migration, colonisation, climate change, desire, love, mythology, art and Bollywood. It was also a day of many women-centric exchanges, one of which was ‘The Changemakers: Bollywood Behind the Scenes’. The conversation between authors Gayatri Rangachari Shah and Mallika Kapur (who wrote Changemakers: Twenty Women Trans-forming Bollywood from Behind the Scenes), cinematographer Priya Seth, producer Guneet Monga and stuntwoman Geeta Tandon, focused on the perils of being a ‘behind-the-camera’ professional and how challenging it is for women to assert themselves in one of the biggest film industries.
The highlight of day four was a conversation between Manisha Koirala and Sanjoy K Roy, on the former’s autobiography, Healed: Life Learnings from Manisha Koirala. “After having been through this journey of cancer and living with the idea of death every day, I have learnt one thing,” said the actor, adding, “Today, no matter what ups and downs I go through, I take it in my stride as a learning experience.”
The fifth day too kept up the momentum. The most important session in the morning was undoubtedly ‘Breaking Free: A New Kind of Beautiful’ featuring Australian writer and feminist Germaine Greer, English professor at Ashoka University Madhavi Menon, actor Manisha Koirala and Odissi dancer Sonal Mansingh in conversation with author and skin cancer specialist, Dr Sharad Paul. The question raised at the panel was whether ‘women today are under pressure to please others, or try conforming to others’.
In response, Greer shared her thoughts, “We have assumed that a woman is an object, because a woman buys make-up products, and a boy does not have to put on any make-up.” She observed that while beauty is derived from one’s “mitochondrial DNA”, the aura of one’s inner beauty is of much more significance.
What got our attention
A scintillating performance by Usha Uthup, who due to the dropping mercury, wrapped herself with multiple layers for her show at the Jaipur Music Stage
‘Clothing as Identity’, a fashion show by
artisan designers from Kutch. The designers showcased
A literary experience by Man Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, who presented The Griot.
A performance at Amber Fort by the Sitar Ensemble of Shakir Khan and Azeem Ahmed Alvi from the Etawah gharana.