It’s been described as ‘the greatest literary love-fest on earth’, ‘like Hay dropping acid’ and as ‘The Woodstock of world literature’ so 2016’s Jaipur Literature Festival had a lot to live up to. But from the moment I spilled out of the tuk tuk and through the gate of the Diggi Palace in the Rjasthani capital I was captivated.
The venue alone would be worth a visit at any time of year. A welcome oasis from the dust, noise and chaos of the of streets of the Rajasthani capital, which has transformed in the 15 years since I last visited.
The festival takes place over 5 days in 5 venues all inside the palace grounds creating the feel of a rock festival than a literary one. The whole place is teaming with energy and ideas, music, food, drink and bonhomie flow along with the festival goers from one venue to another.
Some sessions I had much anticipated and they didn’t disappoint – Marlon James, who’s just won the Man Booker for ‘A brief History of Seven Killings’ proved he can talk as well as he can write captivating the audience with his charisma and irreverence and delivering some powerful political messages as they are often best delivered, through humour. Stephen Fry’s homage to Oscar Wild is a delight, I adored every second of it. Atul Gawande addresses death in his best selling book‘Being Mortal’ in a way that makes you wonder why no one ever did this before.
Some of my star sessions were the ones I knew least about, Dr Sharad Paul thought provoking journey back through the history of skin was a myth-bustingly brilliant and should surely be a TED talk. Peter Frankopan’s description of The Silk Roads had me rushing to buy his weighty tombe, that traces a part of the world we tend to ignore from antiquity to the present day. James Shapiro on Shakespeare and the Year of Lear was entertaining and insightful and the brilliant,Christina Lamb’s brought to life her considered memories of Afghanistan.
Equity and democracy run through the festival’s veins, it’s the largest free literary festival in the world and genuinely see local children in school uniforms sitting alongside literary agents, authors, politicians and celebrities to listen to readings, debates and discussions from Nobel laureates or Man Booker winners, debut novelists or war correspondents. It’s a space where people can dare to dream and imagine; a powerful statement in a country where such opportunities remain the privilege of the few.
I left with a renewed love of Rajasthan, a suitcase groaning with books, a promise to return next year and a mind expanded by the experience.