Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The big talkers

In the pantheon of Indian book talk fests, the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) is the biggest rockstar. Every year William Dalrymple and his colleagues bring together distinguished writers to talk about their work and the world. The next edition, scheduled for January 20-24, promises an array of discussions on Bhakti and Sufi traditions; the Arab Spring; Gandhi, Ambedkar and Anna; censorship; writing from conflict zones; theatre; theology; and motherhood, among other topics. Here are the headlining acts at this literary rock fest.

In “The Arab Spring: A Winter’s View”, the talking heads will be Kamin Mohammadi, Iranian writer, Navdeep Suri, retired Indian diplomat, Karima Khalil, doctor and chronicler of Tahrir Square, Raja Shehadeh, Palestinian lawyer and writer, Hisham Matar, Libyan novelist, and Max Rodenbeck, Cairo-based American journalist and writer. This should be illuminating, because the speakers have been at the forefront of probably the biggest historical event since 9/11. Matar was instrumental in Col Gaddafi’s ouster. Expect genuine insights into the movement that rocked every dictatorial Titanic.

At “Gandhi, Ambedkar and the Crossroads at Jantar Mantar” will be Joseph Lelyveld, former New York Times executive editor, Sunil Khilnani, writer and professor of politics, Aruna Roy, activist, and publishers S Anand and Urvashi Butalia. They will discuss non-violent movements in India from M K Gandhi to the Dalit movement to the ongoing Lok Pal campaign.

Among the minor gems, the discussions involving Amy Chua of Tiger Mom and Lionel “We Need to Talk about Kevin” Shriver. Chua faced opprobrium for her book in which she described being an aggressive “mom” and pushing her child hard to succeed. In two talks, one with Puneeta Roy, director of Tehelka Foundation, and another with journalist Madhu Trehan, the audience will witness the demolition of a few myths related to Chua’s method of parenting. In a tête-à-tête with TV anchor Barkha Dutt, Lionel Shriver will discuss her gut-wrenching but beautiful novel about a mother coming to terms with the loss of a son who goes on a killing spree. The novel was turned into a film this year, to rave reviews.

For the first time at JLF, famous playwrights like Tom Stoppard, Ariel Dorfman and David Hare will come, to talk about the art of writing for the theatre. Stoppard is chairing sessions on “The Art of the Play Wright”, “Adaptations” and “Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare”.

Journalism will be celebrated as never before. David Remnick, editor-in-chief of New Yorker magazine, will talk about his biography of Barack Obama, published in 2010. In his distinguished career, Remnick has written about everything from Muhammad Ali to Mikhail Gorbachev and far beyond. His talks are titled “The Disappointment of Obama”, “Journalism as Literature” and “Art of Biography”.

Philip Gourevitch, former editor-in-chief of the Paris Review and a long-time staff writer at the New Yorker, will also sprinkle some journalistic stardust. His coverage of the Rwandan genocide attests to his brilliance as a reporter. At JLF, he will participate in talks on “A Good Man in Africa”, “Journalism as Literature” and “The Weather in Africa”.

Add to this list Michael Ondaatje, Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Ben Okri, Hari Kunzru and Mohammad Hanif — writers and novelists all — among many others.

On the organisational front, one more tent, called Gulistan, will join the four customary ones. As it is, last year the venue Diggi Palace was denuded of horse stables to accommodate more people. Looking at the star studded literary line up, the organisers will have to clean the Augean stables this time around as well.


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