Squeezing It All Into One Line: The Jaipur Literary Festival 2012

It is extremely tempting to try and summarize the wildly intense, brain-and-sensory overload that was the JLF 2012 in a series of one-liners, not least because there were quite a few memorable ones..

They ran from the imperative-
dance naked! do it now!‘ (Hoshang Merchant, Indian writer of Gay fiction)

to the critical-
[Obama’s] Nobel Prize was a prize for not being George Bush‘ (David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker)

to the philosophical-
Sikhism is not something of the hereafter, it is about living the right way in this world. A kind of detachment in attachment.‘ (Navtej Sarna, writer and diplomat)

to the historical-
Hitler and Stalin did not inherit absolute power the way that Peter the Great did, they rose to it – it’s not lunacy or moral imbecility, it’s great people skills.‘ (historian Simon Sebag Montefiore)

to the metaphorical-
turn your body into ink and your mind into paper, then turn your bones into a pen‘ (The Vision of the Gurus session)

to the scatological-
Purgatives are like purgatory, they almost make you believe‘ (Indian writer R. Raj Rao)

to meditations on journalism and power-
the job of journalism is to put pressure on power‘ (David Remnick, Editor of The New Yorker)

on journalism and literature-
there is only so far journalism can go, and then literature takes over‘ (Jason Burke, journalist and writer)

or just on journalism-
Somebody won’t often be able to give you a soundbite about their lives immediately. But if you shut up and follow them and spend the time, that truth will emerge.‘ (Katherine Boo, journalist and writer)

and then on how the internet is affecting the aesthetics of literature-
the internet is our greatest living novel…it’s the playground of millions‘ (Argentinian writer Pola Oloixarac)

on modern identity politics-
you’re not purely anything anymore‘ (novelist Teju Cole)

and on how to write that play or novel you have inside you-
Get rid of the delusion that you’ll somehow do it by not doing it. Taking a walk or sitting by the pool isn’t going to magic a play into existence.‘ (Tom Stoppard, playwright)

and finally, perhaps a snippet or two of Bakhti poetry

God, My Darling,
Do me a favour
And kill my mother-in-law

and

Void is not devoid of God

But of course, as the long list of quotes shows, not only have I failed to catch the festival in one line, I have failed to catch it in a few. And that really was what pushed this festival over the edge of being an experience you can process, postmortem, regurgitate and file away neatly, to being an experience that leaves an indelible mark and changes the scale of the way of you think.

It seems inevitable that the JLF will continue to grow, and I often heard it bandied about during the festival that next year, the organizers would have to shift to a larger venue, so I feel privileged to have been able to attend the festival while it was still (just about) Diggi-Palace-size. But I’m certain that however it grows, and whatever corporate sponsors and celebrity guests it succeeds in attracting, the next Jaipur Literature Festivals will still be about a ‘curiosity about the internal life of words, and about the creative imaginations that give birth to them.’ (Namita Gokhale, novelist and festival organizer)

What’s more, and even better, the JLF, with its huge and uniformly enthusiastic number of attendees, its international participants and its cosmopolitan atmosphere, did and does ‘testify in an uncomplicated way to the power of literature and what it can do.’ (Teju Cole, novelist)

Above and below the hobnobbing and professional networking, and certainly beyond the persistent political controversy, the festival seems ultimately to be about interested, engaged and switched-on people coming together, ready to encounter the other through the written and the spoken word.

(For videos of the sessions, pictures and more info, go to http://jaipurliteraturefestival.org/)

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