All that Glitters - Zee Jaipur Literature Festival 2015

— by Parmita Borah | Jaipur
Zee Jaipur Literature Fest 2015 (photo: Jim Ankan Deka)

My joy knew no bounds when I received a participant registration message from the organizers of the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival. “An opportunity to see the who’s who of the literary world, in person”, I told myself. And therefore I reached the enthralling historical city of Jaipur on 21st of January; despite being jet lagged after a delayed Air Asia flight that couldn't land on time either, I made it to Diggi Palace Hotel (Jaipur Literature Festival’s hospitality partner since its inception) and just an hour before Day 1 was about to end.

This may make me sound a tad snobbish, but I wasn't very impressed on seeing the venue. Jaipur Literature Festival, I was told, is the largest literary festival in Asia-Pacific. But what do I see? The fabric of the pandal – ragged and torn. “Not so grand eh! Doesn't look anything like the images on the internet”, I nearly blurted out. “But lit fests are not about the show, it’s about richness in content, multitude of views and opinions”, I reminded myself. I collected my entry badge from some flustered KyaZoonga volunteers, and got in after the customary security check.

Shabana Azmi, Salima Hashmi and Ali Husain Mir (photo: Jim Ankan Deka)
I was right on time for the session “Faiz and Kaifi - A Poetic Legacy”: Salima Hashmi and Shabana Azmi in conversation. Naturally, I rushed to it with a lot of gusto, only to be apprehended by some more flustered faces at the entrance.

“Are you a delegate?” a young woman asked me.

“A participant, actually.”

“Sorry. Delegates only.” She smiled.

A friend of mine, displayed his press pass and asked if he’d be allowed inside, but he too was asked to head in the opposite direction, politely ofcourse. One doesn’t always get to see Shabana Azmi in person. Therefore, forsaking all sorts of shame, I found a way to peep through the hall window to catch a glimpse of her. What I saw inside, blew my mind, and not in a good way – there were hardly fifty people inside the hall that could easily accommodate over 200! But ofcourse, poetry is only for those who paid INR 3000 per day per person or those who registered for all 5 days and availed a special rate of INR 12000! (#sarcasm) So much for the largest FREE literary festival on earth! The evening got darker and colder and with a heavy heart I retreated to the warmth of my hotel room.

Shashi Tharoor, Amrita Tripathi and Mihir Sharma (photo: Jim Ankan Deka)
On 23rd February, i.e., Day 3, I decided to make another trip to Diggi palace. The itinerary kind of drew me in, and I must admit, the day did have its moments. Amish Tripathi and Bibek Debroy talked about Dharma conflict in Mahabharata extracting interesting questions from audience as young as fifteen years old. Shashi Tharoor and Mihir Sharma discussed passages from Tharoor’s book India Shastra; while Salima Hashmi, Kamila Shamsie and Alka Pande brewed interesting conversations about contemporary Pakistani art. My favorite session however remains “Wanderlust and the Art of Travel Writing” with some hilarious anecdotes by author and journalist Brigid Keenan. Regrettably I missed the sessions by former Indian President Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam and Nobel Laureate V. S. Naipul the next day due to a time constricting travel plan.

The evenings were adorned with musical performances by international artists which could be enjoyed at the payment of four hundred rupees. Fashion quotient was top notch with lovely ladies walking around in fashionable jackets, knee length boots and colored hair. The vast expanse of the Diggi Palace hotel offered numerous food and beverage stalls, and around three stalls to purchase books from. However, what I felt lacked in the ambience, the Jaipur Literature Festival did make up for with a myriad of amazing discussions, and the effervescing energy of literature enthusiasts who swarmed the venue.

By virtue of my netizen nature I clicked a selfie with the Jaipur Literature Festival logo at the background and posted it on Facebook, and here’s the first comment I received “Is Rajnigandha the main sponsor of the event?”

I did not know how to respond to that.