HOUSTON: Some excellent panel discussions on literature, art and history, a joyous spontaneity and democratic spirit were the highlights of the first edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival here, organisers said Saturday.
"Shared Narratives", the first edition of ZEE JLF at Houston, took place at the Asia Society Center, Texas.
It featured more than 15 fast-paced packed sessions over 25 authors, and was attended by hundreds of book lovers who met their favourite writers and conversed with them.
JLF, a confluence of East and West, brought together enlightened voices from across the world, to highlight contrasts, recognize similarities, engender empathy, and acknowledge the right of every individual to have the freedom to dream, and to express, they said, adding that it also showed a joyous spontaneity and democratic spirit.
"It is this dream that binds communities together and gives fruition to a creative force, celebrating and embodying every aspect of being human," Sanjoy Roy, festival producer told PTI.
"Looking at the audience response and sponsors interest here, we are certain to make JLF an annual event in Houston," he added.
Festival director Namita Gokhale said that in its first edition, the festival brought in the spirit of Jaipur and shared stories from around the world.
"We celebrate the arts, listen in to writers and thinkers, and investigate and interrogate our ever-changing planet.
"From the personal to the political, from myth and memory to the poetic imagination, from the fictional leap to dreams and dystopias, from the genetics of health to a conspiracy of bones, we welcome all to a weekend of journeys across time and place, language and culture, subjects and situations," Gokhale said.
Among the authors who participated in the JLF Houston included acclaimed writer and politician Shashi Tharoor, classical dancer Sonal Mansingh and Shobha Rao, and Indian Ambassador to the US Navtej Sarna.
Indo-American authors, including Chitra Divakaruni from the city, Milan Vaishnav, Rajesh Parameshwaran and Australian Sharad Paul also shared the stage with them.
Apart from them, American authors Mimi Swartz, Roberto Tejada and Kathy Reichs, Nigerian author Novuyo Rosa Tshuma and Pakistani-origin Anis Shivani also featured in the interactive sessions, they said.
Tharoor shared the stage with Gokhale and discussed topics related to his latest book: "Why I am a Hindu."
In light of the Hindutva movement since the election of the Modi government, Tharoor said he wanted to highlight the tolerant aspects of Hinduism.
Quoting Swami Vivekananda, he said Hinduism favours acceptance over tolerance.
"Tolerance means you believe you practice a superior religion, but tolerate other religions. Acceptance means you accept others practising their religion as much as you accept your own," Tharoor explained.
On the second day of the session, Tharoor and author Milan Vaishnav had a lively political interaction on the topic "The Dance of Democracy", moderated by Texas Southern University Professor and political commentator Jai Aiyer was a great hit.
Tharoor said that India has forever embraced diversity.
"The essence of the idea is having parties work together even if they do not agree in a lot of areas. India has had multiple political parties and need is to explore democracy and emphasise on issues where people will have a clear view of what is being talked about," he said.
The Congress leader said that traditional liberal values and principles were under attack in India.
"The rise of illiberal democracies and their success at sustaining support is causing more and more policy-makers and academics to question whether liberal democracy continues to be a sustainable model for nations seeking economic development.
"Most of the highlighted problem is that it appears Modi's government is willing to allow the decline of some civil liberties like freedom of speech, media independence and protection, and religious freedom to occur without detracting from the economically-focused agenda," he said.
The Indian judiciary and civil society are supposed to serve as watchdogs and balance out the government, protecting society's rights and freedoms.
Economic growth at the cost of basic rights and freedoms does not seem to be an effective model of sustainable governance -- and most certainly is not the path to building a stable democracy, Tharoor added.
"However, the electorate continues to appear supportive of the government's efforts and agenda.
The results of the elections in 2019 may provide a clearer signal of India's future direction and whether liberal values are capable of returning to the political foray in the world's largest democracy," he said.
Houston-based author Chitra Divakaruni explained her interpretation of India's epics from the viewpoint of its female characters.
During the session "Second Thoughts: A Writer and Diplomat" -- Indian Ambassador to the US Sarna, in conversation with Roy, spoke about his life, travels, and writing.
"I think all writers are romantics because you are wishing for a better world, having a nostalgia for a lost world.
I think these are aspects of being a romantic," he said.
Asked about the India and US relationship, Sarna said, "Relationship between India and USA has seen an upward graph for two decades or so.
It is a strategic global partnership, the two are natural allies on several global issues".