May 19, 2013
A New Front in the War on Terror
Posted on Feb 16, 2013
This hiccup was as bad as it got. A striking feature of this festival was its vibe of tolerance, of listening even when disagreements were vehement. The experience on the ground was friendliness. Perhaps that was a reflection of the personalities of the founders, who seemed to be having fun (voluble Dalyrymple did sneak a drink in the press area). Or maybe it was just the general spirit of India, where people are accustomed to stepping over potholes instead of complaining about them. The single festival bookstore, Full Circle, was well-stocked, tiny and always packed, but people didn’t whine as they had to squeeze past each other to get to each author’s section. They were focused on the books.
I’d heard that past Jaipur festivals had been chaotic, and though this one wasn’t, it was definitely loose. The first morning of the festival, signage and stores were still being arranged, but attendees just ignored the steel pipes and the workers lounging during tea breaks, their work unfinished. Security was lackadaisical; each day the ladies’ checkpoint operator swiped a wand over my purse but seemed to forget the backpack on my back, or vice versa. Though the festival was free, all attendees were required to register and wear badges, which were scanned inconsistently at the entrances (and, mysteriously, exits) of the six stage areas. There were no fire marshals; people crowded onto the grass when seating was full. Authors weren’t hustled off stage, and they were available to meet at lunch.
It’s gotten around writers’ circles that JLF is a great gig. Jaipur is the favorite festival of Alexandra Pringle, editor-in-chief at Bloomsbury Publishing in the U.K., because it has “the most diversity, the most beautiful city, and the best parties.” Iyer called Jaipur “the most festive festival. The last 35 years I’ve gone to festivals from Shanghai to Bogota, but I’ve never been to another one with elephants, candlelit maharajas’ palaces, vintage Rolls-Royces taking you to the parties at night, huge crowds on a Sunday afternoon, such engagement from the audience, such color, dawn-to-midnight schedules, and such a mix” of authors and genres.
Such extravagance may be why the Jaipur festival was in the red this year. Dalrymple said they plan to professionalize the festival next year, hiring a fundraiser, for instance, to expand existing corporate support. The festival, which started simply as a reading for 14 people in 2005 by Dalrymple and friends, has been a labor of love by the directors and Teamwork Productions, Sanjoy Roy’s company, which may end up subsidizing the festival this year because of overruns.
I hope the Jaipur Literature Festival keeps its vibe of love spiced with a bit of anarchy, the spirit of a Kumbh Mela. Here I’ve barely skimmed the surface of this five-day extravaganza, but maybe you get the gist. This festival has heart as much as brains. It’s a global passport that takes us beyond borders into an uber-land of the mind, our shared humanity, toward bhai bhai, brother brother.
New and Improved Comments